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Bloggin' Noggin
04-21-2008, 12:49 PM
Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of comments lately whose main point is just to "stir something up" -- to sort of bait other commenters.
Other commenters have the choice of taking the bait (giving them exactly what they wanted) or leaving something they violently disagree with (or something genuinely offensive) unanswered.
If you think there's some truth to my initial perception, does anyone have any thoughts about how to deal with this?

I had one thought: Treat the comment as a kind of first draft. Reply with something like, "Can you make your argument without defaming your opponent, making reckless generalizations about everyone who ever attended an Ivy League university or doing psychic psychoanalysis of other commenters?" or "'Poor blacks suck' is simply a slur, not a comment worthy of serious discussion. If you can make an intellectually serious claim, we'll talk."
Then the commenter has been answered, but not in a way that really takes the bait, and other commenters who feel the same way as the first commenter can safely ignore any further vitriol, and the commenter will either produce a better comment or just give up.

Ideally, I suppose the Comment Nanny could be the one to post responses of this type, but if that doesn't happen, maybe we commenters could try. I suppose the big danger is that if we do it, the argument then is in danger of descending into an equally virulent spat at the meta-level.

Maybe it wouldn't work -- other suggestions/comments welcome. It's certainly possible that the majority of commenters enjoy the combat more than I do. Maybe I'm trying to solve a non-problem.

look
04-21-2008, 01:07 PM
Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of comments lately whose main point is just to "stir something up" -- to sort of bait other commenters.
Other commenters have the choice of taking the bait (giving them exactly what they wanted) or leaving something they violently disagree with (or something genuinely offensive) unanswered.
If you think there's some truth to my initial perception, does anyone have any thoughts about how to deal with this?

I had one thought: Treat the comment as a kind of first draft. Reply with something like, "Can you make your argument without defaming your opponent, making reckless generalizations about everyone who ever attended an Ivy League university or doing psychic psychoanalysis of other commenters?" or "'Poor blacks suck' is simply a slur, not a comment worthy of serious discussion. If you can make an intellectually serious claim, we'll talk."
Then the commenter has been answered, but not in a way that really takes the bait, and other commenters who feel the same way as the first commenter can safely ignore any further vitriol, and the commenter will either produce a better comment or just give up.

Ideally, I suppose the Comment Nanny could be the one to post responses of this type, but if that doesn't happen, maybe we commenters could try. I suppose the big danger is that if we do it, the argument then is in danger of descending into an equally virulent spat at the meta-level.

Maybe it wouldn't work -- other suggestions/comments welcome. It's certainly possible that the majority of commenters enjoy the combat more than I do. Maybe I'm trying to solve a non-problem.

I have no problem with him saying his opinion, but there is no reason to engage him, in my opinion, once you've gotten the gist of his viewpoint.

I wish there was a setting where you enter names so their posts won't show up in the thread lists.

AemJeff
04-21-2008, 01:08 PM
BN, I've had the same thought. I think you're suggesting a more productive response than what I'm inclined to do, which is usually to try and say "that's racist" (or whatever) once or twice and then just stop responding, or generic ridicule, which, as good as that feels at the time, just feeds neatly into the neediness that generates the comments in the first place.

AemJeff
04-21-2008, 01:12 PM
I wish there was a setting where you enter names so their posts won't show up in the thread lists.

look, see this (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/profile.php?do=editlist).

Maybe you've already seen it. I don't know how effective it is or if it only block PM's, but there is apparently some mechanism here.

look
04-21-2008, 01:25 PM
look, see this (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/profile.php?do=editlist).

Maybe you've already seen it. I don't know how effective it is or if it only block PM's, but there is apparently some mechanism here.

Just before BN posted this, I had put DT on my ignore list, but when I checked I could still see his name in the threads. But then I rechecked, and I think that now he only shows as replies, not when he thread-starts. Better than nothin'. Thanks for the thought.

Thus Spoke Elvis
04-21-2008, 02:57 PM
I think this is dumb idea. How hard is it to restrain yourself from reading and (especially) responding to stupid posts? If you lack that sort of self-control, you need to stop participating in messageboards, because you've become consumed by them.

Additionally, even "bad" commenters occassionally raise a point worthy of discussion. Without naming specific examples, I can recall a few interesting threads that were started by comments from unpopular posters.

Finally, I think that the ignore function helps reinforce people's ideological blinders. It's easy to think that everyone agrees with you if you ignore everyone who doesn't.

AemJeff
04-21-2008, 03:36 PM
Elvis, I don't think the issue is "bad" posters, so much as posters who are posting solely for effect. I think there are a couple or three people whose only contribution is noise - it's one thing to have an obsessive bias, or not to be particularly interesting or to be guilty any of a thousand other perceived sins. I certainly don't exclude me from the list of sinners.

What I, personally, object to are the obdurate ones with one or two scripts that they drop like bombs into each successive conversation without support and no attempt even at conversation, and the almost comically belligerent folks whose behavior I'd liken to walking into a room, dropping a turd on the carpet and then berating everybody who doesn't doesn't seem to notice the subtle oaky quality with a hint of pineapple bestowed by their gift. Ok, that metaphor was a little over-the-top. But if you're entire schtick is to start in the middle of conversation and hurl pointless insults at people who have made the effort to try and make their case, it's a problem.

This is a good place to have a conversation. I'd hate to see it overwhelmed by noise and pointless rancor.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-21-2008, 03:55 PM
Without going along with the "dumbness" charge, I agree that a focus on the commenter rather than on the individual comment wouldn't be a good solution for the reasons Elvis mentions: a) People should have the chance to rise above their worst comments and add to the discussion when they happen to have a good point to make, b) sometimes even a dumb comment can be useful for discussion and c) ignoring others could reinforce ideological blinders.

While David Thomson's (I presume he is the "DT" look ignored) comments almost all obsess on the three topics Wollcott mentioned, not all of them are uncivil or ad hominem, and his responses to critics at least sometimes involve making reasonable distinctions.

If we are talking only about ignoring commenters on an individual level (to save our own psyches), I certainly can do that with or without the ignore button. What bothers me is the distraction and race to the bottom that one attention-seeker can precipitate. Theoretically, it shouldn't be a problem, since there's unlimited space for both good comments and bad, but if the bad comments are not merely bad, but hostile and uncharitable, I suspect civil commenters who genuinely want to have a discussion are liable to be turned off. I'd like to find some way to encourage those who have a real point to make it in a way that will get their point discussed intelligently and with an open mind (rather than rejected out of hand on quasi-tribal grounds) and simply bore the people who come here purely to confirm their persecution complexes.

look
04-21-2008, 04:28 PM
I think this is dumb idea. How hard is it to restrain yourself from reading and (especially) responding to stupid posts? If you lack that sort of self-control, you need to stop participating in messageboards, because you've become consumed by them.
Thanks for chiming in on the dumbness of my idea, my level of self-control, and what I need to do, but you don't know me well enough to make those assumptions.

Additionally, even "bad" commenters occassionally raise a point worthy of discussion. Without naming specific examples, I can recall a few interesting threads that were started by comments from unpopular posters.
I don't have the patience to sift through the "so's your mama" level of replies that David Thomson engenders.

Finally, I think that the ignore function helps reinforce people's ideological blinders. It's easy to think that everyone agrees with you if you ignore everyone who doesn't.
Fear not, TSE, I value comments from thoughtful conservatives such as you.

bjkeefe
04-21-2008, 05:00 PM
BN:

Thanks for starting this thread. I'm not sure we'll solve the problem, but it's certainly worth airing things out. This point of yours is especially incisive:

What bothers me is the distraction and race to the bottom that one attention-seeker can precipitate.

I am aware that my bias towards flaming back is part of the problem.

When I see an offensive post of the sort that provoked this discussion, I am never sure whether it's better to ignore it or to register a strong objection. Sometimes it's obvious that the post is nothing but flamebait, and that the best policy is the ancient adage: Don't feed the trolls. Other times, it's not so obvious, and given that there has lately been a serious problem in the political discourse of one side employing the Big Lie strategy, I often feel compelled not to let something go unchallenged.

There are even cases (David Thomson is not one, clearly), where I think it's possible that someone new to this board is used to different standards from other boards. In such cases, it seems worth taking at least a couple of shots to let the person know how his or her post clashes with what we are trying to maintain on this one.

And finally, sometimes it's hard for me to resist ridiculing a whacked-out post, in large part because I believe humor is the best way to combat wingnuttiness. I'm not going to claim anywhere near the same level of wit, but I often wonder where we'd be without The Daily Show picking up the balls that the MSM keeps dropping, or where we'd be if the leftosphere did only reasoned discourse, and didn't have Sadly, No!, TBogg, Roy Edroso, and many others deploying their sharper knives.

In principle, it ought to be easy enough to ignore the posts tagged with usernames that one knows from past experience. But there is a lot to be said for the point of view that asks, why should we have to? So, in the end, I remain unsure whether it would be better for us all to agree to ignore the trolls, a policy that is hard to maintain, or whether it's useful for us to pile on in response, to let the offender know how unwelcome such thoughts are.

Thus Spoke Elvis
04-21-2008, 05:09 PM
When I said the idea was "dumb," I did not mean to imply that anyone who found it appealing was therefore an idiot or needed to be rescued from the impulse to reply to every trollish comment. Apologies for the confusion.

PS: I like reading your comments, too, look.

look
04-21-2008, 05:14 PM
I'd like to find some way to encourage those who have a real point to make it in a way that will get their point discussed intelligently and with an open mind...
Well, Sir Noggin the Kindheart would say that, wouldn't he? I appreciate what you are saying, and assume that you find some value in DT's posts. But to be honest, I see DT as a Johnny One-Note who will have a civil discussion, but time after time revert to their original argument, and that's fine, but unproductive, as far as I'm concerned.

look
04-21-2008, 05:35 PM
Apologies for the confusion.
No worries.
PS: I like reading your comments, too, look.
:-)

TwinSwords
04-22-2008, 02:57 AM
These disruptive personality types thrive on attention. If they are NOT talking about politics in a substantive way, and they ARE focused on stirring up trouble with other commenters, they should be assiduously ignored. Deprive them of oxygen. It's the most basic principle in existence.

When I was a kid in elementary and junior high, there was always a clown or two who thought it would be great fun to sit in the back of the class and shoot spitballs at various students.

Whenever I felt one of them bounce off my shoulder, I would ... completely ignore it. Why? Because I didn't want it to continue. And I provided no fun at all for the instigator by pretending to be completely unaware of what he was doing.

Without fail, he always found someone else to target, until he found someone who would turn around and make a big show of their outrage. That's the reaction they he was looking for. And then he would sit back and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

The problem with attempting to ignore bad actors in forums is that it's hard to coordinate everyone to simultaneous ignore them. Someone will always take the bait, and give them what they are looking for. I will confess I am as guilty of it as the next guy, despite my best efforts.

Frankly, it's all too human, because it's easy. I might not be able to refute something said by the erudite conservative law professor, but instead I can make my point by calling someone in the forum a Nazi. Talk is cheap and easy. Thinking, presenting an argument in writing, and reaching mutual understanding are all quite difficult. Inevitably, there are those who do the easy thing instead of the hard thing.

Oh, and it doesn't help that people on opposite sides of the politcal spectrum usually feel genuine contempt for one another -- and often much more than contempt. When people feel contempt or hate for other people, they are strongly motivated to upset and insult them.

TwinSwords
04-22-2008, 03:09 AM
What bothers me is the distraction and race to the bottom that one attention-seeker can precipitate.
This is true, and a real danger. There's a forum I used to post on more often, part of the Michigan State forum. Wells Hall (http://www.spartantailgate.com/forums/wells-hall-off-topic-board/). But it is completely overrun by extreme partisans who do little more than trade insults all day long. It's an extremely active board, with a lot of intelligent members, but I can't stand reading it because it is so juvenile.

I know the mods over there have tried different strategies to deal with it, most recenly by suspending users who engage in personal attacks for a period of some days, depending on the seriousness of the offense. I don't know if it has been successful at all.

vBulletin does include some features to deal with these problems; for example, the warning system. One forum I know actually shows every user's warning level in their postbit. When you reach 100%, you're gone. Each offense earns you 20% -- so it's five strikes and you're out.

But I doubt BHTV will ever dedicate a resource to patrol the forum in this fashion. You hardly ever see a moderator or admin. (Thankfully there hasn't been a need for one.)

Let's hope things remain as good around here as they have been.

bjkeefe
04-22-2008, 03:49 AM
Twin:

But I doubt BHTV will ever dedicate a resource to patrol the forum in this fashion. You hardly ever see a moderator or admin. (Thankfully there hasn't been a need for one.)

It is rather amazing how long these forums have stayed good, without outside intervention, isn't it?

I take your point, in your other comment, that the best way to deal with some trolls is to ignore them, and I'm trying to take it to heart. But as I said elsewhere in this thread, there just comes a time, sometimes, when it seems worse not to speak up. I think we can all agree that David Thomson is an obvious example of someone who is best ignored, but there are others who aren't so obvious. Or maybe, it's that their words are so hateful that I cannot bear to see them go uncontradicted. I am reminded of what you said about Steve Gilliard (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=74708#post74708) elsewhere.

One small point in favor of the latter view is that arguing back often provokes some people into revealing just how worthy they are of ignoring in the future.

Or not. Some have also responded in a good way, by cutting down on the flame bait and trying harder to make a reasoned presentation of their points of view.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-22-2008, 10:29 AM
Hi Brendan,
I certainly wasn't thinking of you in particular. I have exactly the same reaction to some of these posts: I feel it might be best to ignore them, but feel at the same time that they can't just go unanswered. I've also ridiculed certain arguments.
Parody is sometimes an effective strategy, and not without a logical foundation (depending on how it's employed). Arguments should be valid, and the way to show that an argument is invalid is to present an argument of the same form that is clearly invalid. This logical technique can be regarded as a form of parody. And of course, I love John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose satire does strike me as genuinely effective.
The danger of ridicule is that it can exacerbate liberal and conservative "tribalism". It can look like a mere appeal to the majority, and it can keep those who have been ridiculed in a closed-minded and defensive mind-set. With some, it does work though (not that it necessarily changes their minds, but it does sometimes get people to try a better argument next time) -- and some people clearly will be closed minded no matter what.

In theory, a focus on logic and standards of debate could make it clear to some commenters that their point of view is not the thing that we find wanting. Even those with views we find objectionable could theoretically be coopted into the community of rational debate, and they might find that when they had to reformulate slurs as debatable claims and then argue for them that their positions weren't all that tenable. In practice, a lot of die-hards sense that they won't do very well in rational debate and they avoid fair-mindedness and reasonableness for that very reason.

It's true that this discussion board is quite good on the whole, and there may really not be a lot we can do about the occasional troll or rigid partisan.

I can't stand it when I feel that an attempt to explain myself reasonably is met with a lot of hostile interpretations of both my words and my character. I feel I'm offered the choice between letting slurs against me stand and prolonging a futile and unedifying exchange. But here, I probably just need to take Elvis's response to heart: I probably just need to toughen up enough to let the attack stand.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-22-2008, 10:36 AM
Well, I wasn't saying that David Thomson's posts were particularly edifying for the most part, but I was happy to see that he could actually listen to criticism and respond - even respond civilly and sensibly on occasion.
That's something that seems to put him in a different class than fedorovingtonboop and Whatfur, who both seem to interpret disagreement with them as clear evidence that one is either stupid or evil.

bjkeefe
04-22-2008, 11:53 AM
Thanks for the comeback, Bloggin.

One quibble:

The danger of ridicule is that it can exacerbate liberal and conservative "tribalism".

I suppose, although here's how ridicule affects me: If my words are specifically ridiculed; i.e., the response is focused on what I said, I find that makes me reconsider what I have said. I might myself ask if I made too sweeping a claim, indulged in exaggeration or oversimplification, just said something boneheaded, or whatever. So, ridicule can be useful. Either it brings me back to Earth or if I decide the ridicule is unwarranted, I might sharpen up my argument in response. (The latter is something similar to what you said, as well.)

A second possibility could be ridicule along the lines of "typical {woolly-headed, bleeding-heart, America-hating, [your adjectives here!]} liberal blah blah blah." My reaction in this case is to dismiss the respondent as an wingnut, an outlier not really representative of serious or even mainstream conservative thought, or thought at all, for that matter. In this case, ridicule is a non-issue.

There are other scenarios which I could imagine that risk exacerbating tribalism, I do agree. But I don't think it's a big problem, especially compared to hate speech, ad hominem attacks, mindless recitation of party dogma, etc.

There are other factors to consider here, too. Remember that it is the instinct of a good liberal such as yourself to say "You may have a point there." Thus, for example, excessive ridicule by a lefty of a righty will tend to bring other lefties to the defense of the righty, at least to the extent of saying "You went too far in your ridicule."

TwinSwords
04-22-2008, 01:08 PM
I take your point, in your other comment, that the best way to deal with some trolls is to ignore them, and I'm trying to take it to heart.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what I believe myself. I initially agreed with everything BN said in his original post, then proceeded to agree with pretty much every response as I read through the thread. Everyone has made good points and there are valid considerations on each side. By the time I got around to responding, I tried to advance a convincing argument in favor of one point of view, but there are many other factors to consider and every poster and situation is unique.

Also: Sometimes it's just fun to beat up on the trolls.



But as I said elsewhere in this thread, there just comes a time, sometimes, when it seems worse not to speak up. I think we can all agree that David Thomson is an obvious example of someone who is best ignored, but there are others who aren't so obvious. Or maybe, it's that their words are so hateful that I cannot bear to see them go uncontradicted. I am reminded of what you said about Steve Gilliard (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=74708#post74708) elsewhere.
Right. Good point. It is important to agressively fight dangerous and evil ideas.

I agree with both you and BN that it's not so much the Thomsons that are a problem; the bigger concern is the fedorovingtonboops and Whatfurs.



One small point in favor of the latter view is that arguing back often provokes some people into revealing just how worthy they are of ignoring in the future.
Another good point. There was a university forum I used to post on a lot. This forum had an ultra-right wing character who went by the handle "theprofessor." A lot of the forum members were young college students -- 18, 19, 20 years old -- and because "theprofessor" was much older than they were and knew much more "history" (not really history to him; just his own lifetime), a lot of the students believed every word he said.

The problem: He wasn't really a professor; his personae was a lie. And it really bugged me that he was advancing his lunatic and racist right wing agenda under this false pretense. Rather than ignore him, I took him on head to head and pretty much destroyed his effectiveness. (Not bragging; anyone here could have done a better job than I did. He just wasn't very good at debate and had a very poor grasp of facts. His main source of news was right-wing talk radio.)

But: He was an example of a dangerous lunatic that could not be ignored. As long as he was allowed to persist in his "professor" character, he was seriously misleading a lot of young minds.

look
04-22-2008, 03:03 PM
That's something that seems to put him in a different class than fedorovingtonboop and Whatfur, who both seem to interpret disagreement with them as clear evidence that one is either stupid or evil.

Time will tell, and although abrasive, I don't find Whatfur's arguments without merit. (Although, the 'thread the needle' dead-end was quite silly.)

Bloggin' Noggin
04-22-2008, 05:10 PM
I don't think I said (all) his arguments were without merit. What I said was that he interpreted disagreement with him as a sign of evil or stupidity. I obviously do think his arguments from his psychic psychoanalysis of my character WERE without merit -- but you may disagree. You at least have been around here long enough to get some sense of my character through my comments.. Even if his psychoanalysis is correct, they amount to ad hominem arguments (I don't mean "insults," I mean that he's using the ad hominem fallacy), and therefore they don't have much logical merit.
But I don't make the claim that he said nothing that could be useful. I do get the impression that no matter what I might have said to him, he would never have listened fairly to what I was saying.

AemJeff
04-22-2008, 06:02 PM
BN, I think there's a somewhat fuzzy line defining the extent to which a response to a particular post ought to be considered as directed towards the initial poster - in the sense that you might hope it might have an effect on their behavior - compared to what might really intended for the greater community; either to answer something that you don't want to let go unchallenged, or maybe just to draw a line, to show where you stand regarding some charge or assertion.

You can be contending with a "tar-baby" structure, in which any response just gets you more entangled, but still feel a need to establish certain things. Trying to negotiate all of the parameters can be a hard problem to solve. Without proposing anything very specific, I think that, to some extent, a "community" response might be helpful sometimes - shunning, ridicule, whatever works. Obviously there's not going to be a BHTV Community Response Style Guide and if it looks like a bunch of liberals playing Whack-A-Mole on dissenters that's another problem. But just keeping the idea of trying to evolve an effective response technique would be a nice way to start.

AemJeff
04-22-2008, 06:15 PM
I don't find Whatfur's arguments without merit.
I'd agree with that. But he's all heat and no light. His arguments with BN and Brendan were all about beating up on straw-men and sticking his fingers in other people's eyes. That's exactly the kind of thing that can lead to a forum where there's nothing but sniping and pissing matches.

look
04-22-2008, 07:31 PM
I don't think I said (all) his arguments were without merit. What I said was that he interpreted disagreement with him as a sign of evil or stupidity.
I see what you mean. I guess I would say that my take is he was not insinuating you were evil or stupid, but either obamabots or intellectually dishonest, that is, how could you possibly not see the beauty of Conn's arguments...heh.

I obviously do think his arguments from his psychic psychoanalysis of my character WERE without merit -- but you may disagree. You at least have been around here long enough to get some sense of my character through my comments.. Even if his psychoanalysis is correct, they amount to ad hominem arguments (I don't mean "insults," I mean that he's using the ad hominem fallacy), and therefore they don't have much logical merit.Yes, the psychoanalysis has to go.

But I don't make the claim that he said nothing that could be useful. I do get the impression that no matter what I might have said to him, he would never have listened fairly to what I was saying.And that's where I came in...my sense is that he doesn't fall into the DT/fedorovingtonboop category. We shall see...

look
04-22-2008, 07:32 PM
I'd agree with that. But he's all heat and no light. His arguments with BN and Brendan were all about beating up on straw-men and sticking his fingers in other people's eyes. That's exactly the kind of thing that can lead to a forum where there's nothing but sniping and pissing matches.
I get your meaning, but would you mind listing one or two straw men he introduced?

AemJeff
04-22-2008, 09:57 PM
I get your meaning, but would you mind listing one or two straw men he introduced?

Sure. I hope you don't mind if I don't list a bunch of quotes, but that would feel too much like a point by point defense of another forum member and I think these guys can take care of themselves. But in both cases the characterization of his interlocutor was a fiction designed to facilitate the type of ad hominem "psychological" argument that BN referred to recently. The "straw-man" was a dishonestly rendered version of his counterpart intended as an object of ridicule.

cragger
05-11-2008, 12:13 PM
I think your last paragraph touches on what is a larger part of the problem than the attention whores. That is the Defenders of the Tribe, the posters who identify with a party and feel the need to attack outsiders and defend any criticism of their party, or anyone in it, or any position or action taken by anyone in it, usually by attacking whoever made that criticism.

I don't see this as really ideological, since the issue at hand is often not a question of some core component of conservatism, liberalism, or any other ism. I go so far as to suspect that half the folks involved would be hard pressed to coherently define either beyond "liberals are Commies, conservatives are Nazis" without resorting to Wikipedia. There is a more primitive level of group identification with party that leads some folks to interpret any criticism of the party or promotion of a position opposed by the party as an attack on themselves. This leads, at least in the individuals that seem to post on forums, to attempt to destroy the attacker as well as the political opponents of their party. I think there is a sense of righteous ferver as they vigilantly patrol the forums protecting and promoting their group and attacking enemies and heretics.

This is not to suggest that there are only two motivations for behavior that is destructive to discourse or that they are mutually exclusive. I will offer a third motivation for that matter - people who seek status lacking otherwise in lives which may be unremarkable or unsatisfying, but they can still be King of the Forum, outposting their enemies and "winning" fights. An idea which certainly overlaps the attention whore concept and maybe only suggests one reason why they exist.

It was somewhat refreshing to read a thread that contains actual honest discussion for a change. The diavlog comments have gotten considerably worse in the intervening weeks since this thread was active however. Its a rare thread that goes far before spinning off into attack and counter, most being intellectually dishonest, entirely beside the point, denigrations of other posters, or some combination thereof. The forum is often nearly unreadable unless you are a BH fanatic willing to sift through the dross to find an interesting comment on the diavlog and then parse the next dozen "Obama eats white babies" and "Oh yeah? Sez you!" posts looking for any continuation of discussion.

Clearly, I have no more solution to offer than the previous discussion of the problem. Insofar as internet forums, I don't think anyone has a solution since this is hardly unique to BH. Look at forums dedicated to anything from gardening to ping-pong and as soon as politics are raised things quickly go toxic.

If this were restricted to internet forums it wouldn't much matter. My concern is that it also pervades the political system in which it appears that democracy as a tool to try to optimize results via a "marketplace of ideas" is showing its shortcomings applied on a national scale. It appears to me that there are subsets of the population that are in some way using the system in a manner rational to them to maximize their wealth and power, a large subset that ignores politics as much as possible and just wants to be left alone, and partisans who have formed group identifications that trump application of reason to maximize individual or collective interest - the "winning isn't everything, its the only thing" crowd.

To make a perhaps unnecessary analogy to illustrate: The town has Dem's diner, and Rep's diner. Some folks prefer one, some the other. In an idealized marketplace, Dem and Rep compete, learning to prepare each other's best recipes, improving service, coming up with new and better dishes, trying to lower prices. The system works and the community wins - they devised a good system. What I perceive in the forums and politics writ larger is partisans instead firebombing the other diner. Their diner gets all the customers. The selection is poor, the service is lousy, and the prices are high, but they "won".

While I have no idea how to solve the problem, it would be nice to have Bob bring another evolutionary psychologist in for a diavlog discussing group/tribal identification, its behavioral effects, and in an ideal world how to identify and deal with those effects in a constructive way. It may not lead to an immediate solution but it we all might learn something beyond the latest up-to-the-second political minutae to fight over.

look
09-18-2010, 10:52 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YitmUY8sMuI