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RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks

by Ovid (Cardinal)
on Jul 04, 2000 at 20:50 UTC ( #21034=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Chip (on the shoulder) Monks

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.

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RE: RE: Chip (on the shoulder) Monks
by Ozymandias (Hermit) on Jul 04, 2000 at 21:19 UTC
    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

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