dueling ettiquette? or tea party manners?

t (MemeLab@aol.com)
Sat, 17 Apr 1999 10:36:26 EDT

From: <MemeLab@aol.com>
Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1999 10:36:26 EDT
Subject: dueling ettiquette? or tea party manners?
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

In a message dated 4/14/99 5:47:04 AM Central Daylight Time,
A.Rousso@uea.ac.uk writes:

>> Finally, thanks for your comments, Jake. It seems that you
are just as good at making your comments when you are not
being abrasive or arrogant. And it's good comments that
attract my attention (and presumably everyone else's), not
inflamatory ones. Abrasive and arrogant comments just wind
me up, and when you are staring at a computer screen rather
than in conversation with someone, the effect is exacerbated
- presumably why we have so many heated debates on this

cheers, alex rousso.<<

I dunno, Alex. I have considered your points on this long before you ever
made them. Its not a closed issue for me, but rather an evolving rules of
engagement. I try to view this as a performance, there is some degree of
"putting on" and hence some degree of conscious control. I can play it both
ways. But its when I start forgetting that it is a performance that things
tend to start turning really ugly. For that reason I used to act extra
polite and gracious in EM and bulletin board exchanges, and I still do when I
think it is valuable to the dynamics of the discourse.

Unfortunately not everybody respects that and few will reciprocate
completely on the one hand which can lead to some pretty sour disintegrations
of the discussion, and on the other hand involving yourself more personally
can lead to more extensive discussions if done in a measured and controlled
way. I think this initial desire for graciousness must be a reflection of
the degree of control necessary for "real life" exchanges (perhaps even the
very real possibilities for danger though rarely acknowleged consciously).
Certainly appreciating and being capable of employing such graces is still a
valuable aspect even in cyberspace.

But over the years, I have come to the realization that the dynamics are
just different, like it or not. I have come to recognize that some aspect of
ad hominem is inevitable to most cyberspace discussions that people care a
lot about. Its not pretty, but I have found that its true. In cyberspace,
there are just fewer restraints, and with fewer restraints it tends to get
oddly more personal in some respects even with some of the depersonalizing
aspects that cyberspace presents.

So lately I have been a little more experimental in my approach. I have
embraced the inevitiability of ad hominem on the one hand, and on the other I
try to control it and use it to shape the dynamics of a discussion.
Fundamentally unadulterated ad hominem is irrational, and one should never
pretend that it isn't. But I think it is almost as bad to try to act
unrealistically angelic about it.

That's why if I sense that my response is getting a little personal, I try
to force myself to couple that with other messages and points that I see as
more rational. The pure and unadulterated ad hominem that is not connected
to something more legitimate is really pointless and pathetically crude IMO
no matter how cleverly put. Examples might be "I think the mistake was mine,
in that I made the error of attributing an intelligence and ability to you
which you do not possess." and "I don't think you are a stickler for
anything. You're a sloppy mind spouting sloppy nonsense."

See there is no point to those. They are just non-refuatable ad hominems.
There is nothing of substance to argue with. In real life, the cleverness
might be more prominent and interesting - certainly harder to ignore and more
physical performance involved, but in cyberspace it just doesn't engage like
it unavoidably would IRL. An unadulterated ad hominem, no matter how clever
just isn't as interesting in cyberspace - it is just too easy to ignore. If
I wanted pure cleverness, I might start reading those jokes that people keep
EMing me on a daily basis.

If and when I find something like that in my messages, I either excise them
out, or I connect them to something else. If you present somebody with ad
hominem undertones it should be coupled with something that can be rationally
attacked. It's far more sporting. It gives the ad hominem the status of
refutablity despite the non-rational personal substance that is attatched to

Example "'Scientism' is just a jackass word to be legitimizing,". You can
clearly see the ad hominem undertones of this statement. I am impliedly
saying that somebody who would use the word, is a jackass. But we have
*something*else* to talk about other than the possiblity that the other
person is a jackass - we can talk about the use of the word "scientism" and
whether it can be used for more legitimate reasons. There is something that
we CAN talk about rationally. If I just called someone a jackass, that would
be a pretty short and pointless conversation. But connected to something
more rational, it provides a principle of refutability. I guess the
principle that I think is at work is that if you are going to take shots at
someone else, you out to at least do it in the context of a less personal
point providing them with targets to legitimately shoot back at, otherwise
they are very unsporting and cowardly shots.

I know, that perhaps you find it apalling that I would embrace the more
personal and ad hominem aspects of online communication. We tend to think
that "flame wars" are a bad thing. I simply view them as inevitable, and
only truly bad when done in a cowardly way.

Generally I don't get personal just for the hell of it - if I do, it is
generally because I involve myself in issues both intellectually and
emotionally. Actually I think everybody does, but most try to behave in
denial of that reality. Of course I could be more dispassionate and gentle
in my approach, but I recognize both the likelihood that the facade may
detiorate especially when not reciprocated, as well as the probablity that
expressing myself more personally will compell me to advocate my position
with the energy that it deserves. The problem with coming in with a facade
like that, is that when it breaks down as it almost invariably will, I tend
to get far uglier, as my suppressed sense of commitment turns to indignation.

I don't hold my approach to be a necessarily inflexible mode of behavior -
in fact I try to experiment with all sorts of ranges of verbal behavior while
avoiding the unseemlier extremes. This just seems to be a mode of behavior
that has evolved. Perhaps you don't like it? I am certainly open to hear
your criticism of it. But within recent months has dawned on me that trying
to act unrealistically angelic in my discourses has lead to far more
deteriorations and far less interesting discussions than taking a more
realistically partisan and human attitude about it. I think the real effort
should be in developing more realistic and conscious rules of engagement -
perhaps a sort of dueling ettiquette rather than more lighthearted angelic
tea party manners.

Since you seem to have been the most upset about my approach, I would be
interested to hear your thoughts on this.


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