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Gary Kamiya on civilised discussion

November 14th, 2007

For a long time, I’ve insisted on civilised discussion on this blog, to the point of banning coarse language, not because I don’t allow such words to pass my own lips but because I think it tends to encourage flaming and other such behavior. I may not have done a perfect job, particularly as I tend not to follow the kind of long-running interchange between two or three commenters where flames emerge, but I hope the place is a bit less offputting in this respect than a lot of other blogs. It’s nice to get some reinforcement in this view and here is a piece from Gary Kamiya at Salon.

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  1. al loomis
    November 14th, 2007 at 20:15 | #1

    gk had nothing to say that you haven’t said, well enough in my view. but it was a productive detour: there was a post ‘when did we become like syria’ that i feel deserves wide publicity.

    people who imagine that that the usa has some moral quality above that of a street-corner thug should read stories like this and re-think. it would be nice if they also came to understand that trusting public officials to do the right thing is not only foolish, but a failure to bear the responsibility of citizenship.

  2. Ikonoclast
    November 14th, 2007 at 21:08 | #2

    Hear! Hear! Well said al loomis. Perhaps a quote from Christopher Brennan is in order;

    “Let them devour and be devour’d!
    So spake my anger yesternight
    and watch’d where the loud city tower’d,
    black, reddening all the western night

    because their men of war had done
    some little deed of blood and fame;
    my anger watch’d till night was run
    and lit a sombre answering flame.”

    Such lines gain a new resonance after watching the Middle East burn on CNN.

  3. SJ
    November 14th, 2007 at 21:18 | #3

    Vonnegut has one of his characters, Eugene Debs Hartke, say something similar in the first chapter of Hocus Pocus:

    “There are no dirty words in this book, except for ‘Hell’ and ‘God’, in case someone is fearing that an innocent child should see one. The expression I will use here and there for the end of the Vietnam war, for example, will be ‘when the excrement hit the air-conditioning’.

    Perhaps the only precept taught me by Grandfather Wills that I have honored all my adult life is that profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their eyes and ears to you.

    The more alert soldiers who served under me in Vietnam would comment in some amazement the I never used profanity, which made me unlike anybody else they had ever met in the Army. They might ask if this was because I was religious.

    I would reply that religion had nothing to do with it. I am in fact pretty much an Atheist like my mother’s father, although I kept that to myself. Why argue somebody else out of the expectation of some sort of Afterlife?

    ‘I don’t use profanity’, I would say, ‘because your life and the lives of those around you may depend on your understanding what I tell you. OK? OK?’”

    It’s a useful perspective sometimes, but not always a reliable guide, because the wingnuts, wingnut governments and corporate shills will always game the ref to try to redefine what is profane and obscene, and what is not.

  4. Ikonoclast
    November 14th, 2007 at 21:39 | #4

    Yes, exactly. There are obscenities and there are obscenities. Didn’t Apocalypse Now (Redux) have a scene where it was not allowable to write a swear word on a napalm bomb? Of course it was still allowable to drop it on villagers including women and children.

  5. 2 tanners
    November 14th, 2007 at 21:58 | #5

    I used to frequent a forum whose mode was specifically unmoderated (it had an unmoderator) and the sense of the place was that anything went. It was bright and intellectual and sparkly, and often crude and confrontational. As a means of adolescent entertainment, it was second to none and as a means of serious discussion it was always open to subversion.

    I regret its passing (long since) but at the same time feel that the demand for and value of such places is pretty limited compared to the value offered by blogs, plogs and websites today.

    I think for every comment I post here, I kill two before sending, and I sometimes think some others should do the same, if for no other reason than to avoid being repetitive.

  6. November 14th, 2007 at 22:52 | #6

    Blood oath! We wouldn’t want to scare off the x and Y gens with their refined sense of etiquette. It is good to remember the origins of the word courtesy, the manners of the royal court where a veneer covered hypocrisy and deceit.

  7. al loomis
    November 15th, 2007 at 07:32 | #7

    don’t knock that veneer, when the real human peers out from behind the screen of civility, it’s hard to continue pushing the barrow of humane-ity.

    let’s not allow the vietnam warcrime to lapse into obscurity out of shame or simple embarrassment. the answer to ‘when did we become like syria?’ is ‘shortly after the declaration of independence’.

    the mexicans and native americans, the people of south and central america, can all add evidence to exposing american hypocrisy and brutality.

    i believe oz doesn’t need to hide behind the biggest bully anymore. continuing this association has blackened the national reputation around the world, and the resulting well-founded fear of retribution has allowed the pollies to institute anti-terrorism laws that are turning oz from a sheep station to a police-state.

    much as i despise the sheep station, it was streets better than hearing about ‘men of middle esatern appearance’ being lifted off the street without judicial assent, or public knowledge.

  8. pablo
    November 15th, 2007 at 15:08 | #8

    As 2 tanners intimates there are horses for courses on the net and some seem to manage the abuse better than others. Catallaxyfiles is one such, currently running a comp on the most irritating blogs which is amusing. JQ would probably know the worst offenders. Catallaxy probably gets away with it by ‘virtue’ of its political leaning. On the other hand I lament the virtual mothballing of Antony Loewentein’s blog but the name-calling abuse it attracted would be enough to deter most posters. Maybe indicative of its bold subject matter that plenty of msm won’t touch.

  9. November 16th, 2007 at 09:17 | #9

    I always thought that poor manners came after spam on the list of things that are most dangerous to the internet.

  10. derrida derider
    November 16th, 2007 at 13:39 | #10

    Well, pablo, I often used to comment at catallaxy but now rarely do. Most of its posters (Jason, Rafe, etc) are interesting but these get swamped by the two or three turkeys who have nothing to say and say it over and over. I wouldn’t mind the abuse so much if it was inventive and if it bore some relation to the topic discussed, but the same phrases repeated soon lose their appeal and the sheer quantity crowds out better posters.

    It’s a pity there are so many commenters who can’t distinguish robust disagreement from irrelevant abuse. It’s a fine line for a moderator to have to tread, but I think John errs a tad too much towards safety at the cost of excitement. Much better than catallaxy at the other extreme, though.

  11. pablo
    November 16th, 2007 at 14:44 | #11

    Yeah DD I can understand your reticence. The core posters at Catallaxy are good and as libertarians feel they have to put up with the dross which are many, and repetitive if you count them. It’s hard to know if many of them take themselves seriously whereas the abusers Antony copped sounded like the type who would follow you home. Coming to JQ is like finding a quiet room with a good book.

  12. 2 tanners
    November 19th, 2007 at 20:43 | #12

    DD’s point at 10 is the important one, I think. The good comments and commentators get swamped and disgusted and go home, leaving the field to abusers etc. I prefer JQ’s approach, where the discussion can still be robust but doesn’t have to get personal.

    Slagging off is sandpit stuff, and there’s too much of it already.

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