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Chip (on the shoulder) Monks

by Ovid (Cardinal)
on Jul 04, 2000 at 01:03 UTC ( #20942=monkdiscuss: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Warning: This is a long post and contains a lot of information. You may or may not agree with the content of this post. Regardless of your feelings, please do not reply to this post right away. Take the time to think about an appropriate response, if this issue is important to you.
Do you like Jon Katz? If you're a regular reader of /. (Slashdot), you know who he is. Quite often, his posts meet with vicious, rude, and insulting comments. Katz is hated by many on /. and they often express this hatred in ways that, frankly, are not worthy of third-graders.

Is this what we must be reduced to?

I am not going to mention any names because I don't want this to become a pointless thread of accusations and counter-accusations. That is not my intent (of course, if you've been around for a while, you'll know who I am referring to). Instead, I would like to solicit the opinion of other Monks regarding how we can deal with this issue, and I will also offer my own thoughts.

I came to Perl Monks because I had problems with some Perl scripts I was working on (big shock, huh?). I stayed because I was pleased with how friendly and helpful the other monks were. If Perlmonks becomes another Slashdot, I will leave. Here are just a couple of examples at how things have gone:

One well-regarded Monk posted a warning about another Monk's bad code. He posted his warning in a huge font with the word "warning" in the title. Naturally, monks rushed to see what the warning was, only to discover that the problem was a potential infinite loop. Many felt that the warning was deserved, but that the huge warning was alarmist given that the problem was only an infinite loop. (If there was also a security problem, the poster of the warning did not make this clear)

To make a long story short, there was a lot of ugly discussion in the Chatterbox and a useless thread that caused the original poster to edit there post to be more acceptable to other Monks. In the course of this, I saw a lot of name-calling and general unpleasantness. In fact, at least one Monk said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the if the users of the site don't like what they see, they can pick up their toys and go home. Ironically, that "Monk" had been around for a while, but had never contributed to the site by posting.

[At the request of the author two paragraphs were removed to respect the privacy of the Monk used in this example ]

My perspective:

Why is it that people who are often polite in real-life become inconsiderate jerks online? Were they beat up too often in high school? Is it an inferiority complex? Or is, as another Monk suggested, a reflection of who that person really is? Regarding my first example: I'm not suggesting that the original poster was a jerk. He was just expressing his viewpoint, albeit in a way that many did not care for. It was his "defender" who I feel was out of bounds.

When I say "jerks", I don't mean a negative response to a post. It is sometimes appropriate to point out when someone wrote bad code. Sometimes we need to tell someone when their 600 line post asking questions about C++ is inappropriate for Perlmonks (I made up that example). But we don't need profanity. All of you reading this at work through a proxy which logs "naughty" words can appreciate this. Further, we don't need to be insulting. You don't get your point across by calling someone an "idiot" and then proceeding with your rebuttal. They stop listening at the word "idiot" and start thinking of a defense or counter-attack. If you disagree with me, it's because you're an idiot.

I know, I know, someone's going to respond to this and say "I oppose all censorship". My first question is: if you met Ghandi, would you tell him to f*** off just because you could? If you were not a Christian, would you tell a Christian nun to f*** off for saying "God Bless You"? Probably not. But are you censoring yourself? I think most would agree that you're merely being polite. While those are extreme examples, we can probably scale those examples down until we find some level where you don't mind saying f*** off to someone. And my point?

Being considerate of the feelings of others is not censorship.

If we disagree with someone, we don't need to be insulting or use the seven dirty words. We can simply point out our reasons and let it lie at that. Often, when someone posts a rational rebuttal, interesting debate arises. Yet when we post flames, the resulting thread often degenerates to a point where no useful purpose is served. How can we stop this on Perlmonks? It's a user-driven community, but I, for one, will not be a user if we drive into the gutter. I suspect others may feel the same way. I go to /. now only to read the news. The comments are often so juvenile and vulgar that I'm not willing to wade through it. If Perlmonks is just a "town square", we cannot, and should not censor the contents. But if this is a place where people voluntarily congregate for the specific purpose of building a Perl community and discussing Perlish things, why shouldn't those same people set standards? If we continuously have to deal with juvenile comments, will the nice monks leave? Will only bullies be left on the playground? This is Perlmonks, not Perlkindergarden.

Incidentally, if anyone has checked out some of the stuff on my homepage, then you know that I'm not exactly an "establishment" type of guy. I am, in many respects, a very rebellious, open-minded individual. But being rebellious and open-minded does not mean being a jerk. Remember Martin Luther King, Jr? (That's an illustration, not a comparison)

Comment on Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by le (Friar) on Jul 04, 2000 at 01:14 UTC
    If I could, I would vote more than one ++ for this node.

    Seems to me like a general problem in the web, that sites, that were really interesting in the beginning became absolutely unreadable because of needless users commentaries, once that more and more visitors came around.

    Let's work together that this does not happen to our Monastery.
RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by redmist (Deacon) on Jul 04, 2000 at 03:02 UTC
    Hmmmm...I certainly agree with you on the whole Slashdot thing. If PM turns into Slashdot, I will cry myself to sleep for about 6 months and never EVER come back. I haven't seen any wrong stuff happening...only the result. In any case, if anyone is doing something bad, please stop.

    redmist
Chip Monks and Trout Monks
by BBQ (Deacon) on Jul 04, 2000 at 06:38 UTC
    As with all new communities, there are waves that come in and out. It seems right now we are riding a bad wave, where the good and bad monks in this monastery are being slowly devided. I feel that I have made many new friends here and at #perlmonks, and I enjoy coming back to this site not only because of the perl content, but because of the (net) friends that I have made over the past 6 months.

    I suppose it is only natural that we will hurt each other in the process of getting to know one another better. But civilized people learn from their mistakes, and forgive others that might have offended them. This is where I think the biggest devisor comes in: those that aren't interested in cultivating good relations with the others and are interested 100% in perl, and those that have come to care more about the people behind Perl Monks than the content of the site itself. To put it simple: those who care and those who don't care.

    We have all built a community here, with all of the pros-and-cons that growing societies bring with them. I see it as a period of adjustment, and hopefuly perlmonks will come out of its growing pains to be a great place to talk about perl, learn, teach, and have lots of fun.

    #!/home/bbq/bin/perl
    # Trust no1!
      I started programming perl and looked for good sites with documention on it.
      I discoverd 4 Sites:


      Perlmonks is in the first place somewhere I post when I don't really understand the documention of modules.

      But The more I spend on PM the more I feel involved with the community. But with the growth of a community there are more people coming to PM with different opinions. And sometimes people with bad intentions.

      IMHO the solution to weed out people with bad intention is(not sure how you say that in english) social control. It means that when somebody is offended you speak up and stand up for the person - immediatly -!!! And making sure it doesn't escalate to immens proportions of flamming eachother.
      --
      My opinions may have changed,
      but not the fact that I am right

        You have an excellent point; the world would be a much better place if we defended each other from insults, slights, and discrimination.

        There are times, however, when coming to another's defense will not do any good, and may very well do more damage than simply leaving it alone. One person making insulting comments is an annoyance. A dozen people loudly shouting back and forth about someone else is far, far worse.

        I'm not saying you should ignore other users making insulting or degrading comments. But make sure your defense is welcomed before you make it. Give the offended party a chance to handle it their own way. It's better to quietly offer support, and make a vocal defense only when you are sure it will be appreciated, than it is to speak out of turn and possibly make a situation you know nothing about even worse.

        - Ozymandias

RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by mrmick (Curate) on Jul 04, 2000 at 16:36 UTC
    Sorry I could only give one ++vote for this. I have noticed, although I'm new here, that there does tend to be a lot of 'attacks' on individuals here.
    I appreciate that this post was well thought out and that it did not mention anyone in specific.
RE: Communities
by mcwee (Pilgrim) on Jul 04, 2000 at 17:54 UTC
    (a little OT, but . . .) One of the most interesting (IMHO) observations Bruce Sterling makes in THE HACKER CRACKDOWN (palmDOC, html, txt, paper) is that a person will fight harder to protect his/her community than he/she will for anything else, even to protect his/her self. (side note to the OT post: I've been reading BEOWULF, and note a great resonance in this kind of thinking-- after all, whenver Grendel is spoken of, the speaker foregrounds the fact that the monster is "the horrible walker alone"-- I.E. it has no community. Grendel first attacks Hrothgar's kick-ass longhouse on acount he (Grendel) hears the vibrant community inside and feels lonely, and thus jealous, and thus enraged.)

    At any rate, as a sort of barometer of how wwe're doing, as a community, I note that we are making a big hullaballo about threats to our commune-integrity (as well we should.) This, I think, is a very good sign. I really value this community, am charmed by its erudition and good-nature, and will be damned if I'll leave it to be gore-streaked by the lonley monsters who skulk through the web.

    I swung by Slashdot for a while yesterday (prior to my monkification, I used to hit slashdot 30+ time a day), and was heartbroken to see what a mess it is-- the sig-to-noise ration is ridiculously low, and all of the noise is harsh, meaningless, hurtful attacks. And, basically, no one really cares anymore. SOme folks gallantly try to carry on the good ole discussions, but it's nigh-impossible to follow them, as they're drowning in a sea of "you're a fag" and "penis bird" posts. There's no community there, and it's sad. How the mighty have fallen and all that jazz.

    Well, I've reached my belly-aching quota for today. Let the good times roll.

    The Autonomic Pilot; it's FunkyTown, babe.

RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by barndoor (Pilgrim) on Jul 04, 2000 at 19:41 UTC
    I fully agree with this. It seems that some people hide behind an agressive ego when online. Perhaps they are making up for insecurities with their physical existence. (Sounds a bit metaphysical!!). I've only been a monk for a few months and have found it a great place to get advice, tips and information. The people I've met have always been helpful and I've (luckily) never come across the said behaviour here. I really hope this continues. The more people put into a site like this, the more they get out.
RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by Ovid (Cardinal) on Jul 04, 2000 at 20:50 UTC
    One Monk e-mailed me and said he wanted to post, but felt he was too new of a monk to have his contribution seriously considered. While I disagreed (I feel that Monks take into account the quality of the post rather than the level of the poster), I could understand his reluctance. I asked permission to reprint what I thought were some excellent points. Here they are:

      Your every point was spot-on. Lack of civility, even when spun as "well meant," brings on more of the same. How often have I heard people defend their incivility by saying they "believe in" free speech, or that no one has a right to police their speech? Answer: too often--and invariably the appeal to free speech was a puny and uncompelling defense of those folks' desire, simply, to flame other folks for the sheer fun of it.

      I almost never go to /., but the few times I've been there have persuaded me not to bother going back very often. Egad. What a cesspool of nastiness.

      For several years I moderated a nationally "broadcast" sexual-politics-issues forum on one of the networks (not Usenet). I had hard-and-fast rules about flaming. Attack ideas if you wish; but belay the rude remarks. This worked for a while until the flame-junkies found the conference. People who would surely have been more or less polite to one another face-to-face were willing to say the most vile things; and the nastiness escalated over time. It was a steamroller going downhill with the brakes off. It could not be "physically" moderated after the fashion of newsgroups, and my efforts aside, I lost control of the threads. Finally, when the atmosphere became too poisonous, I gave it all up. Let someone else play the parent, I thought. It was sad...

    Incidentally, I was chatting with another Monk about this topic and realized that people who are rude online are probably doing it because we can't retaliate. If someone steps in front of me on the sidewalk, I'm likely to say "excuse me" and go on my way. If the same incident occurs, but we're both in cars, I might curse up a storm.

    In another case (I tried desperately to find the reference to this), a university was doing a study of prison guards and assigned students to be "guards" and others to be "prisoners." The guards soon learned that they were pretty much invulnerable and the study had to be halted prematurely due to how the guards were treating the prisoners. (And anyone who lives in a major city can probably think of a police story or two which illustrates this).

    The common thread that I have seen in every example has been freedom from retaliation leading people to act obnoxiously. People are showing what they are really made of. We expect no retaliation, so we do what we will. Our true level of maturity comes out.

      First of all, tell the mystery monk to start posting. We need more like them. <G>

      Second, the problem of censoring incivility is not a simple one. Personally, I judge a comment or a rant based not only on the ideas expressed, but on how that idea is presented; are there serious grammatical and spelling errors? Did the poster format their statement for readability; did they use profanity inappropriately? There are those who will say that I am wrong in this, for I should be judging the material solely on the quality of the ideas; but in point of fact, the presentation is at least as important as the ideas. The idea may tell you what the person was thinking; the presentation tells you if they were serious, and how carefully they thought things out.

      Incivility and profanity are tools of presentation. You may not like them as tools, but they are tools regardless, and can in certain circumstances be effective tools. Rather than ban incivility or profanity, rather than police other people on their conduct, I prefer simply to judge them based on that conduct. I would rather defend someone unjustly targeted by such an attack - after being sure they WANT me to defend them, of course - than place restrictive rules in place to try and prevent the attack. For one thing, you can't sweep back the tide; the attacks will happen, regardless, and trying will only force the attacks underground, hidden below the surface. For another, you loose freedom of action in defending yourself. And finally and most important, it is easier to defend your right to speech when it is not abridged in any way than it is to say "this restriction is acceptable, and this one, but this is going too far."

      The true measure of your willingness to defend freedom of speech is to defend the right of another to stand center stage and preach about that which makes your blood boil, to advocate that which you would willingly give your life to destroy. You have the right also to counter that speech; you have every right to use rhetoric as strong and as corrosive to the spirit in retaliation. I hope that this place stays free of such speech. But I hope even more than this place stays free of restrictions against such speech.

      - Ozymandias

RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by TQuid (Sexton) on Jul 07, 2000 at 22:58 UTC
    To join the chorus, "Thanks, Ovid!" It's good to bring this stuff up earlier rather than later. I'd like to make a particular point about profanity. I, too, have had a pretty liberal upbringing and am very anti-censorship. But censorship is about trying to control someone's thoughts. You don't have to let everyone use your printing press however they like. A lot of us forget that censorship used to mean sedition laws, accusations of Communism, "deviant" sexuality, witchcraft, etc., leading to being outcast, not out of some subculture, but clean into the hinterlands where supporting oneself was impossible, or at least unbearable. Asking someone to reign in the four-letter words is not some freedom-destroying imposition, and neither is it a slippery slope to wholesale tyranny. I hang out on #philosophy on IRC. They have a bot there that kicks you if you use certain profanities. I have never seen anyone booted for any other reason. I was so used to throwing in the occasional cussing that I got kicked a couple of times myself. The bot kicks you, then explains briefly why it did so and what happens if you keep doing it. The discussion can get heated and even harsh, but it is a really superior quality channel that stands out strongly from the general sewage of IRC. It's a cost to me that I have to think and restrain my mode of speech, but the payoff is high. A very simple rule has been shown there to markedly increase civility. Their bot is not constantly being taught new cuss words to weed out; there is no "arms war" between people who want to sling profanity and the overlords of the channel. Not being able to sling mud in the most obvious ways really seems to have successfully weeded out the jerks. I would like to propose that we develop a very simple set of rules, preferably 10 (a traditional number, eh?) or fewer, with no more than 20 "bad words". Probably no automated software would be necessary--often, knowing the rules is enough to get people in a more fruitful, less antagonistic frame of mind. Thanks for the soapbox.
Re: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by tekniko (Deacon) on Jan 25, 2001 at 20:11 UTC
    Certainly, I am not providing new information when I state that the anonymity provided (to some degree) and relative remoteness (again, to some degree) by the WWW brings out callousness in otherwise polite people.

    I have often seen PerlMonks referred to as a community. Certainly this is the case. There is a great deal of psychology behind this statement that I will not go into, but suffice it to say that here there are community leaders (established through the politics of this site, e.g. the code and XP system, among other things) and there are the troublemakers (those who make it their business to condemn or otherwise undermine the feeling of community).

    Where am I going with this? As a homeowner, I have neighbors. I do not like all of my neighbors and have little to do with any of them. However, I am polite to all of them because I still have to live here.

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