site stats WhizGidget Wonders...
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I. Am. Tired.
...I am tired of politics, I am tired of debates. It’s seriously screwing with Halloween coming up. I own a message board and I am tired of fielding complaints that one person on the playground isn't playing nice and when I change the rules said person and company decide that I'm a controlling bitch who doesn't make the playground fun anymore.

So I cruised the web to get my mind off it, and in the course of clicking from one link to another link to another link I found Dilbert's rules for internet debate, which didn't take my mind off it but gave me other things to think about.

1. Turn someone’s generality into an absolute. For example, if someone makes a general statement that Americans celebrate Christmas, point out that some people are Jewish and so anyone who thinks that ALL Americans celebrate Christmas is stupid. (Bonus points for accusing the person of being anti-Semitic.)

2. Turn someone’s factual statements into implied preferences. For example, if someone mentions that not all Catholic priests are pedophiles, accuse the person who said it of siding with pedophiles.

3. Turn factual statements into implied equivalents. For example, if someone says that Ghandi didn’t eat cows, accuse the person of stupidly implying that cows deserve equal billing with Gandhi.

4. Omit key words. For example, if someone says that people can’t eat rocks, accuse the person of being stupid for suggesting that people can’t eat. Bonus points for arguing that some people CAN eat pebbles if they try hard enough.

5. Assume the dumbest interpretation. For example, if someone says that he can run a mile in 12 minutes, assume he means it happens underwater and argue that no one can hold his breath that long.

6. Hallucinate entirely different points. For example, if someone says apples grow on trees, accuse him of saying snakes have arms and then point out how stupid that is.

7. Use the intellectual laziness card. For example, if someone says that ice is cold, recommend that he take graduate courses in chemistry and meteorology before jumping to stupid conclusions that display a complete ignorance of the complexity of ice.

The other good one is the cognitive dissonance rule:

1. Good people are not criminals.
2. Criminals break laws.
3. I break certain types of laws.
4. But since I know I am a good person, my reason why it’s okay to violate those certain types of laws is (insert something absurd).

Aren't those great rules? /sarcasm Notice that you can utilize stupidity in 5 of the 7 rules? Now I know how some others play on the playground. Not that I didn’t realize this before, but seeing it in black and white and cyberbyte makes it a little more real. If someone believes in something that you don't like, you have license to call him or her stupid. Heck, you can call someone stupid or unintelligent (to use a more politically correct term that doesn't sound *as* offensive) because they don't agree with you on anything. And you can call them a pedophile. Or a terrorist. Or Un-American. Or whatever adjective suits your purpose.

And because that's your opinion, despite the fact that it may insult a great many people, that makes it OK and you don't have to say you're sorry. Oh and guess what? The reverse is true, but if you can’t take that then you need to step away and stop calling people things according to those rules. But those aren’t guidelines that I want to play by – I like give and take conversations not one sided shark attacks. But what I see on the Internet more than anything else is when someone disagrees with you politely, it's an attack on you and therefore you can bare your teeth right back. It doesn't work that way, though. It *shouldn’t*.

But I've been accused of bias because I won't let people who agree with me be attacked. And that it’s ok to attack the viewpoints that I don’t agree with, or even better – silence the viewpoints that don’t agree with mine.

That's complete bullshit. If it were true, then my message board would probably only have… 5 members? 6?

I have a mental rope. It's only so long. I watched political threads start. I participated in them, cited my opinion and got clearly stomped on. I didn’t try to change anyone’s mind – I just stated my opinion. I watched that same thread continue. Then it died out, and another one started. It died but much more quickly. A couple of side discussions started but never really caught fire. Then another one started that was titled provocatively and clearly stated a few responses in that the author had made her point much more quickly than she thought she would: that the people who did not agree with her would cry and whine when their feelings got hurt. Thread... meet end of rope.

Did I act quickly or too impusively? No. Because the guidelines that I'd released later that day were actually ones that I'd discussed with my co-admin for two weeks (and I have the emails to prove it). We knew weeks before anything happened that the boiling point was near. It’s too bad that we didn’t act more quickly, but things were dying down. There was no reason to act pre-emptively but hindsight now says we should have.

Did I make the message board less fun? Perhaps - for those who want to really get into people's faces and talk trash on candidates. There are thousands of boards around the internet for such, and blogs too. So what's the purpose of coming into a nice quiet board and stirring up a hornet's nest? Or deciding that because you don't like the politics and the new guidelines that starting a disruptive username that's all in caps so it's sure to be noticed is a smart thing to do? I figure that the individual behind the username, whomever it is, is just desperate to make a point with a contrary viewpoint that she figures will be heard if she shouts the loudest.

They who shout the loudest (or in caps) do not win the argument. Hey, that should be an internet law.

I've been accused of treating people like children. Well, when someone does something as childish as that, how the hell should I react? I shake my head at the childish behavior of one that makes it difficult for everyone else, and I end up on the firing line because I'm the visible one that takes the heat for the rules. I got quite a few thank you emails for the changes, so I don't think that I was off the mark. I know that I can’t force people to respect each other, but I can encourage them to treat each other in a respectful manner. Didn’t anyone read my last blog entry on politics? And no, I haven’t definitively decided who to vote for – I just know who I am *not* voting for and why.

While we’re at it, let's look at the cognitive dissonance rule: Because you love something so very much, and you're a good person, that makes it OK to trash talk the opposite something that someone holds in high regard, no matter the effect to anyone else's feelings. Because, after all, you are a good person and therefore no one will think less of you. Maybe people will think more of you because you are not afraid to speak your mind and free speech is a right protected by the Constitution?

If that were really true, then no one would have the need to say sorry, and we could throw out all those libel and slander lawsuits that clog up the courts from time to time. Free speech, right? Say anything you want, it doesn't matter and you won't get in trouble for it. But that's not the way it works either. Inflammatory statements, direct comparisons without why you think that way, and the rationalization that because someone does not agree with you therefore makes them wrong and you right aren't nice ways to play on the playground. And hey, just because you think you’re right doesn’t make everyone else wrong. You’ve chosen what is right for you and what you believe to be right for the country. So, can you respect that other people have made the same choices for themselves? That they have chosen what is right for them, what they believe to be right for the country? If you can’t, then what does that make you?

I'll take the heat for trying to get everyone to simmer and settle down in the interest of continuing debate. What else can I do? Start assigning blame? No, that gets everyone nowhere fast. And it’s wrong. The only other thing is to ban political debates completely and I don't want to do that because I know we can have constructive discussions despite differing viewpoints. We managed to do so about birth control a couple of months ago. We've managed hot topics off and on for a couple of years now with respect and dignity. But I’ve noticed passionate voices missing. I think that’s because I said to treat the candidates as if they were members of the community – and if they couldn’t say anything nice, then saying nothing at all was the only other choice.

So what is it about politics that gets people so unhinged? You'd think that cheering on sports teams or discussing musical tastes would get people more passionate because those are two things that some folks hold dear as well (and if you don't think the discussion of the evolution of a rock band can't get nasty, then I've got some message boards for you to visit). I recognize when there's passion involved and when there's a need to draw blood. The last two online political debates involved one person trying to not only draw blood but bash people over the head with a rock. That's not nice. That's not even playing fair, especially when others aren't trying to do the same to you.

One, however, cannot forget Godwin's Law (recently paraphrased in email to me by Suz): "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." The Economist declared that a good rule of thumb is that the first person to call another a Nazi automatically loses the argument, and Suz's paraphrase was this: The first person to compare something to Hitler automatically loses the argument. I like all of these rules and clarifications. I like them a lot. Especially since I recently saw a candidate compared to Hitler on little more than cosmetic ideals: charisma, speaking skills and hero worship. There were a few other points like vegetarianism and environmentalism and blaming banks for the wrongs of the world (it wasn’t that Hitler didn’t blame the banks actually – he allegedly starting printing his own money because he believed money should not be backed by gold, but instead by something of real value – the *labor* for public works built), but I’m going to address those three on a similarly cosmetic platform – you could say the same thing about John F. Kennedy.

Oh. My. God. Did I really do that? I compared Kennedy to Hitler. On *cosmetic* reasons. Does that make me an awful person even if the similarities are true? No. Does it made Kennedy a bad person? No. Is it a big stretch to compare those two? Absolutely. But you could say that about Reagan and Thatcher too - avid following, charismatic leader, excellent orator - and about many leaders in history.

Perhaps I should add them to the guidelines of the board and make it even less fun. Then we couldn't discuss the horrors of the Holocaust - not that we do that anyway – actually, I don’t know if we ever have. The original point of Godwin's law was to illustrate that the opposition must be getting desperate if they decide to pull the Hitler/Nazi card. And I think Mike Godwin, who was the first counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was absolutely right in saying it. If you’re pulling out Hitler or the Nazi’s in an argument that has nothing to do with that time period, or with genocide, then you’re desperate to polarize people to your side. Or to stir up trouble and get people upset. Godwin made the statement to get people to think about how glibly someone can use Hitler/Nazi references and perhaps others would think more carefully about the Holocaust – and that is a topic that should not be discussed lightly.

I could also get into Reductio ad Hitlerum, where you use linear logic to say "Hitler/Nazi was for X, and therefore X is bad" or "Hitler/Nazi was against X and therefore X must be good" but that's faulty logic as well. Just because someone bad believes in something does not make that something bad. Otherwise, we'd have tons of arguments against God and religion. Didn't Jeffrey Dahmer believe in God (he was allegedly "saved" before he died) - because Dahmer was a serial killer and was bad, and he believed in God, then using Reduction ad Hiterlum, God is bad, right?

But God isn't bad, right? That's what I've been taught and still believe. God is all-knowing and good. So wait, if God created us in His image and likeness and there are serial killers and rapists, therefore it would mean that God is one of them, right? Wrong, because we have been taught that God is inherently good. Of course, you could take the complete literal meaning, in that God created us to look like Him, but that’s not what the Church teaches. God may be perfect, but we have free will and mankind apparently has been making mistakes since the very beginning. And we’re still making mistakes today. Especially in logic.

If you're an avid cross-stitcher who protects her work carefully, then you cannot possibly be a smoker, right? Because smoking would harm your work (ashes, smell, burning the project accidentally). So if you smoke and you claim to be a stitcher, you must be lying about one or the other because you cannot possibly be both. Another piece of faulty logic as I know stitchers who smoke (no, I am not one of them). But I can't sit here and call you hypocrite if you smoke and cross stitch anymore than I could call someone a hypocrite for being a San Francisco Giants fan *and* a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And I definitely can't call you awful names because they are both good teams.

Same goes in politics because it's sticky business. Politicians often say one thing and then flip to something else. And some will say things and stick with it. Either way you don't win. If you don't change your mind on something, then you're inflexible, and if you do then you're flippy-floppy. At least according to your critics. Same goes for supporters of candidates, but it's a little bit worse - if you're inflexible in your thinking and forceful about shoving it down other people's throats, then you're going to get the reputation of being disrespectful to other people's opinions. Calling people names or shoving them into categorizations (little boxes) that suit you is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that everyone is entitled to their opinions if they don’t agree with you. And there’s no shame in admitting you’re wrong when someone has you up against the wires. Just as there is no shame in a candidate admitting that they were hasty or wrong and have learned more about something and changed their mind. Doesn’t make them wishy-washy. Doesn’t make them uneducated either. If anything, it means they did more research after a reaction and has admitted a weakness on their part. No one is perfect, and admitting you’ve learned from an experience or further research isn’t a bad thing, even if you’re in the highest office in the land.

Hey, maybe I’m not as tired as I thought I was. I do have a little fight left in me. And yet, I’m still tired.