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Old 08-25-2010, 11:34 AM
rfrobison rfrobison is offline
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Tokyo
Posts: 1,629
Default Requiem for civility

"It's nice to be nice to the nice."--Maj. Frank Burns--

I've been following the recent "flame war threads" with a growing sense of dismay, if not alarm. And now, at the risk of sounding self-important and schoolmarmish, I'd like to share a few thoughts on the decline in tone that I've seen over the last few months. I hinted at it in a jokey thread along the lines of "let's all take a cruise together and see if we can't play nice."

But I guess there's no budget for that, so...

How about keeping the following principles in mind?

1. One does not need to win every single argument.
In the offline world, most everyone over the age of 12 learns that part of getting along with other people means knowing when to drop it. If I had a nickel for every exchange between the regulars (who are usually, though not always, the most ideologically committed) that went one or two posts before degenerating into a lot of juvenile taunting, I'd be a wealthy man.

Sometimes you can strengthen your case (or at least salvage your dignity) by saying, "You know, we're just not going to persuade one another on this one. Let's try again some other time."

2. Avoid the genesis fallacy.
This is something I read in a book once. It means judging the validity of an argument based on its source. In our context, it goes something like this: "Argument X made by commenter Y is (stupid/disingenuous/crazy/etc.) because commenter Y is (conservative/liberal/middle-of-the-road/left-handed/a bagpipe player/etc.) People here are generally smart. Smart people don't (regularly) commit the genesis fallacy.

3. Make your arguments about ideas, not people and their motives.
This really goes without saying, but since I'm in full schoolmarm mode, I'll say it anyway. Nobody likes having their intelligence called into question, and they like having their having their integrity called into question even less. Don't do it. You don't really know anyone here, unless you've met them in the flesh, in my opinion--and probably not even then.

You want to disagree vociferously with someone's contention or argument? Fine. If you want to say why you think someone's views are bad for the country, the planet, humanity? Knock yourself out. But if you can't disagree with what someone is saying without reference to his or her intelligence or (lack of) ethics, you've lost the argument, as far as I'm concerned, even if I agree with your position on issue X.

4. Don't bring up what someone said in an unrelated post six months earlier just to make him/her look bad.
We all have lapses in judgment from time to time and say mean-spirited things, particularly if we feel insulted by what someone said. I still shudder over a dust-up with a commenter about a year ago (Pampl, if you're out there, sorry man) that I wish I could undo. The point is we should cut our adversaries, as well as our brothers and sisters in ideological arms, a break and give them the benefit of the doubt. To the extent possible, we should strive to treat every discussion as self-contained and evaluate what people are saying on the merits, without reference to the bone-headed comment they made on unrelated issue X. (See 2.)

5. Use a bit of nonthreatening humor, for chrissake!
Today I got tagged by a commenter for my "novel" (read: morally indefensible) position on the Ground Zero mosque. I decided that rather than get all hot under the collar, I would go into the novelty business. I offered the commenter a snow globe. (Lame, I know.) The point is, one can ratchet down the tension with a joke once in awhile--even a lame one.

6. Try to see things from the "other's" perspective.
Those of you who know me know I'm pretty conservative. But I'm also enough of a Calvinist to believe that we're all sinners and when it comes to politics it simply isn't possible to be correct (or incorrect) about every issue under the sun. Those of us on the right (the few, the proud-- on this site) ought to be willing to concede that occasionally Obama does good things. Same for Palin and lefties. Oh, fine, nothing she does is right, but doesn't she look better in a short skirt than most politicians you've seen? (Sorry in advance for the sexism. You can say something sexist about me if you like. I'm a guy. Just so you get it right.)

As an intellectual exercise, I'd be happy to do a sort of political Boxing Day (on Boxing Day?), wherein I would take the liberal position on a recent topic on bhtv, and a liberal commenter take the conservative side. This is an old debating club exercise, but it might be useful on a personal level as well. Any takers?

7. Be willing to say "sorry"--and mean it.


OK, enough with the schoolmarm. I just wanted to get that off my chest because in all honesty, I love this site. It's challenging to me and fun. And despite the recent ructions, the level of discourse is admirably high, for the most part. I'd hate to see it slip through our fingers.

Take it easy,
Send lawyers, guns and money/Dad, get me outta this
--Warren Zevon--

Last edited by rfrobison; 08-25-2010 at 11:19 PM.. Reason: missing comma, hyphen; them>>him
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