Back to previous post: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Collegium Iustitiae.

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Nebula Awards 2011

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

May 18, 2012

Some Rules of Guidelines for Political Discourse
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:56 PM * 134 comments

I’m pulling this onto the front page from the most recent political thread, because election season is coming, and I for one can’t face the crap we’re already slinging around in this community. Which is a pretty sucky position to be in as a moderator. So, heads up, people.

We, as a community, have become sloppy in our political discourse. We’re painting with much broader brushes than is appropriate, and we’re calling each other out far too quickly and too harshly. So from this point forward, in all political discussions:

1. If you wish to denigrate a group of people of whom you are not a member, do it in as constrained a way as possible, allowing space for the mistaken, the misunderstood, and the misinformed. Do not take the loudest and most obnoxious members of that group as representative without well-sourced evidence that this is accurate.

2. Before you accuse another member of this community of being “disingenuous”, “dishonest”, “lying”, or any synonyms, broadly construed, I want the following:
(a) a clear, sourced and unambiguous trail of why you believe that this person has been inconsistent with either their own stated record or the widely-accepted facts of the matter,
(b) a chance already given to that person to square the account before you make this accusation

I will disemvowel violations of these rules.

I trust this is clear.

Comments are closed on this matter. If you have a problem with these guidelines, email me privately, at my comment username at this domain. On second thought, we might as well discuss it here, because otherwise it’ll clog up the other thread. But make it persuasive and, if possible, pleasant to read. Respectful is a bare minimum. I’ve had enough crabbing already.

Morning second thoughts: Perhaps the first of these rules is too harsh. It doesn’t allow, for instance, the occasional cri de coeur, the outburst of shock, the impulse to shout at the clouds. But what it also prevents, what I am thoroughly weary of, what I am heartsick at the thought of moderating for another election cycle, is the way that those cries and outbursts have turned into the base assumptions for discourse.

Given that, I’ll happily entertain proposed revisions which distinguish between the two. And I’m willing to not disemvowel on sight, if warnings will cause people to do better.

But let’s be clear: conversations where we repeat, unexamined and unspecified, our blanket assumptions at one another about Those Other People—whoever they are—do not make anyone smarter, wiser, or more joyful. Quite the reverse.

Comments on Some Rules of Guidelines for Political Discourse:
#1 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 06:10 PM:

Not a problem so much as an observation:

Those who hold the power in a group are often not representative of the group as a whole. Sometimes they're better, sometimes worse, most often it's a mixed bag.

#2 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 08:27 PM:

Abi, you are my very favorite person on the internet.

#3 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 09:01 PM:

A suggestion for an additional bit:

If you're about to tell people in a group you don't belong to something like "you need to stop letting X speak for all of you", have at least one solid example, well documented, of any other group succeeding in what you're saying they need to do.

I've noticed this as a recurring source of derailment over the years - it always seems so easy for others to do, but then we seldom manage it ourselves and we always have reasons why it's harder for our groups to do.

Practical examples of how the rank and file can move the institutions resting on them are great, welcome...and very rare, at least in my experience.

#4 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 11:31 PM:

I second Diatryma.

This is part of the reason why I can't stand the slinging of opprobrious epithets. As I said, the only group I can think of that really deserves an opprobrious epithet is Westboro Baptist, and I can't think of anything worse to call them than Westboro Baptists.

That noted, I'm going to remain out of the political threads because I don't have the spoons to deal with them. Not that I am especially short on spoons. But political threads are a quick way to use them up.

#5 ::: skzb ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 12:04 AM:

I had the thought that anyone posting a political opinion must be able to point to someone who, in the opinion of the poster, has expressed reasonable and coherent disagreement. Bear in mind, I'd fail this test.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:54 AM:

I apologize for the despairing tone of the original version of the original post.

I'm struggling, as a moderator, with the prospect of an entire election season of discussions where my energy goes to trying to get people to narrow their broad assumptions and add a third dimension to their cardboard characterizations of their opponents. I would love to have spoons left over to, you know, join the conversation. But my first duty is the health of the discourse, and those conversations tend to be engines of outrage which spill over and tense up the whole site.

Also, there are things that go on in our political conversations that drive the moderate voices, the nuanced perspectives, and the complex truths out of the threads. I think we're all poorer for that.

To be clear: I think that one party in this election is, on the whole, better for the country than the other. But I think it's possible to express that, and explain that, without denigrating the sincerity and good faith of the vast majority of the people who disagree with me about which party that is.

#7 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 08:23 AM:

Doesn't it sort of boil down to the golden rule?

"Do not do unto others that which you would find repugnant if they did it to you."

#8 ::: Fred Kiesche ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 09:40 AM:

Actually, continuing with the disemboweling policy would probably be the best deterrent. Or perhaps, a blast of plasma fire?

Thanks for all the moderators do. It's a thankless job.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 11:51 AM:


Having been guilty myself of both the cri de coeur and the denigration of Those Others, I want to say that I too am sick and tired of feeling as if, as the song says, "The whole of life is nothing but a pool of mud," and I'm in an elimination match for World Champion Mud Wrestler1.

Yeah, well, I'll probably slip again, so I'd like to make this deal, preferably with everyone in the community: if I slip up, you (or someone else whose mind is clear at the moment) point out the slip, and urge that I disown the slippage. Only if I continue would you wield the Mallet of Loving Censorship, or such other tool as fits the task. I promise for my part to point out others' slippage in the same way, without rancor or snark.

1. ObWJW: *Sigh* And there are days when it seems that someone has swapped the mud out for cottage cheese.

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 01:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) @9:

I want to say that I too am sick and tired of feeling as if, as the song says, "The whole of life is nothing but a pool of mud," and I'm in an elimination match for World Champion Mud Wrestler

Oh, Lord, yes, precisely. And I am heartsick and weary from it.

I'd like to make this deal, preferably with everyone in the community: if I slip up, you (or someone else whose mind is clear at the moment) point out the slip, and urge that I disown the slippage. Only if I continue would you wield the Mallet of Loving Censorship, or such other tool as fits the task. I promise for my part to point out others' slippage in the same way, without rancor or snark.

I would love to have a deal like that work within the community. I would enforce it with all kindness and patience, knowing that though the flesh is weak, the spirit is willing. That would make such a difference to how it all looks to me right now. It's the difference between hope and despair.

ObWJW [*]

#11 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:14 PM:

My own modest suggestion: use the word "some".

"Democrats are corrupt" (to pick on my own tribe) is false. It's also flamebait.

"Some Democrats are corrupt" is true, far less incendiary, and may lead to an informative discussion of which Democrats are corrupt, and what the evidence for that proposition might be.

Beyond that, I like the observation that LizardBreath once made on unfogged:

If you go through your comments carefully after drafting them, and remove all occurrences of the phrase "Look, dickweed," civility becomes child's play.
#12 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:55 PM:

Charlie @ #7: That's the so-called "Silver Rule", usually attributed to Hillel, and for my money a lot better than the golden one. As GBS said, "Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."

#13 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:56 PM:

I assert, with neither corroboration nor citation, and utterly without fear of contradiction, that I am entirely capable of being extremely uncivil without ever using the word 'dickweed'.

I will not, however, demonstrate this, mostly because I try (I really do) to keep my instances of incivility to a minimum. And will continue to try.

#14 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:10 PM:

I can be entirely uncivil without using words or constructions that I would be uncomfortable uttering in the presence of my grandmother. I can also say very kindly and supportive things using fowl foul language.

#15 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:27 PM:

ObjWJW: Walter Jon Williams on his latest book, The Fourth Wall. He mentions cottage cheese down near the end of this interview. It's worth reading the book just for that one scene (which is near the beginning), but there are many other fine reasons for reading it.

#16 ::: Joe Clark ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:06 PM:

You can’t put markup, including STRIKE, which isn’t even real HTML, in a TITLE.

#17 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:17 PM:

"Having been called names, one looks back at one's own angry outbursts over the years, and I recall having once referred to Republicans as hairy-backed swamp developers, fundamentalist bullies, freelance racists, hobby cops, sweatshop tycoons, line jumpers, marsupial moms and aluminum-siding salesmen, misanthropic frat boys, ninja dittoheads, shrieking midgets, tax cheats, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, pill pushers, nihilists in golf pants, backed-up Baptists, the grand pooh-bahs of Percodan, mouth breathers, testosterone junkies and brownshirts in pinstripes. I look at those words now, and cat stranglers seems excessive to me. The number of cat stranglers in the ranks of the Republican Party is surely low, and that reference was hurtful to Republicans and to cat owners. I feel sheepish about it."
-- Garrison Keillor

#18 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:36 PM:

In the past I have noticed the utility of a silly changing of the subject, at least in groups where people have more or less stable identities. In one newsgroup I recall it was tradition to say, "I like cheese" when it started becoming too much like the Argument Clinic sketch.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:43 PM:

Joe Clark @16:

I can, and I have. Furthermore, I probably will again in the future.

I also drink milk past its sell-by date, use the Oxford comma, put two spaces after a period, and carry a bag that doesn't match my shoes.

I'm crazy that way.

#20 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:49 PM:

OK, re the guidelines, revised or not.

#21 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:56 PM:

I tend to interpret LB's observation broadly, to wit: Write what you mean to say, but before you post it, stop and reconsider the wording.

Because, as several have noted, it is very easy to write a pile of ostensibly-civil words that, under semantic analysis, are essentially equivalent to "Look, dickweed,"

#22 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 06:13 PM:

abi (19): I also drink milk past its sell-by date

So do I. The printed date is, after all (as you note), its sell-by date. It's supposed to be good for several days after that!

It really bugs me when people* don't seem to realize that.

*other people, not you

#23 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 06:17 PM:

"It's a great pity, Mr. Donahue, that you and I should oppose each other. We have so much in common."
"Yeah? How's that?"
"You are a man of action. You take what you want, and so do we. You have no respect for democracy - neither do we. It's clear we should be allies."
"It's clear you are screwy. I've been a registered Democrat ever since I could vote. I may not be Model Citizen Number One, but I pay my taxes, wait for traffic lights, and buy 24 tickets to the Policeman's Ball."
- Bogart to Nazi fifth-columnist Veidt in 1941's "All Through the Night"

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 07:37 PM:

19, 22
I eat cheese past its sell-by date (the only milk in my place is dried). Depending on the cheese, of course: some of them you may not get any time after it, others you might have several days. (And if it was vacuum-sealed, it may keep for a year before you open it.)

#25 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 07:37 PM:

Bruce @ 9

I'd like to sign on to Bruce's suggestion at 9. It's how I try to conduct myself anyway, but I'm happy to make it an explicit agreement.

#26 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 07:37 PM:

Oh, rats. Messed up my closing tag.

#27 ::: Emmers ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 07:51 PM:

I think you have a week after the sell-by date to "safely" eat things. And that's largely just a CYA move anyway; if you know your foods, and you know what's likely to kill you (vs. not kill you) if you fuck up, eat whatever you want. :-D

Also, I agree wholeheartedly with this post.

#28 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 08:49 PM:

skzb @ 5

I had the thought that anyone posting a political opinion must be able to point to someone who, in the opinion of the poster, has expressed reasonable and coherent disagreement

Strongly, vigorously, and enthusiastically seconded.

#29 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 09:41 PM:

Joe Clark @16, the problem is that our templates draw upon the same bit of text to populate both the article title and the TITLE section of the document HEAD. What we oughta do is fiddle with the template to run the TITLE text through the PHP function that strips out HTML tags.

#30 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 09:42 PM:

Neil @ #17:

Wait, what's Garrison Keillor got against marsupial moms?

#31 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 10:00 PM:

There, just did it. (Had to figure out the MT attribute syntax, which wasn't hard, once I saw it in action.) That's been bugging me for years.

Problem is, now Abi's article title looks ungrammatical, instead of just weirdly formatted. There's no good solution for that, unless maybe there's some kind of overstrike formatting I can get to through Unicode that's supported in browser title bars....

#32 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 11:57 PM:

abi @ 19: ah, but do you go outside with your hair still wet? That"s the real sign of a devil-may-care non-conformist.

#33 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:15 AM:

Avram @31 -- if you're still feeling like playing, you could see if you could make the strikeout appear in the page and folder headers on Firefox (don't know if it shows up in Safari...).

#34 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:28 AM:

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if were most concerned with politics when we were younger and gradually become less concerned as we aged.

#35 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 01:02 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 22: [on milk] So do I. The printed date is, after all (as you note), its sell-by date. It's supposed to be good for several days after that!

Supposed to, yeah. But I have no way of telling whether it is good, except by drinking it. I'll stretch it to a day past the date, no more.

What, smell? Milk smells horrible no matter how good it is.

#36 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 01:35 AM:

This is just to say
I have forsworn
the "dickweed"
that was in
my vocabulary

and which
you were probably
for flaming

Forgive me
It was agressive
so trollish
and so bitter

#37 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 02:06 AM:

Tom Whitmore @33, I don't know what "the page and folder headers" refers to, unless it's the browser title bar I was already talking about.

#38 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 05:51 AM:

... And, if you'll permit me, here's a good chunk of the problem, in a nutshell: Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of of Koch Industries, are known as big spenders when it comes to lobbying and influencing public policy. Now, a new document filed with the IRS reveals how the Koch political machine funneled over $54.5 million in previously undisclosed funds to a litany of front groups designed to smear Democrats.

(TL:DR; it's those whacky Koch boys, following their father's playbook. In this case, standing on the sidelines funding a propaganda machine to attack folks they disagree with, rather than engaging openly in measured public debate. (Yes, Fred Koch was involved in founding the John Birch society.))

If the other side has backers who appear to be deliberately trying to undermine public debate as a tool to promote their agenda, what is to be done?

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 05:54 AM:

PS: it occurs to me that my point above could be read as being critical of Abi's desire not to descend into mud-slinging and othering. To clarify: it's not, and I agree with her. The trouble is, what do you do if you're trying to play clean in a political discussion and the other debating team playa dirty?

#40 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 06:00 AM:

praisegod barebones @ 32: I live in warmer climes now, but I used to go outside with my hair wet on days when it would freeze before I got to the metro station. Never thought of myself particularly as a nonconformist, though.

Bruce Cohen @ 36: That's terrific.

#41 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 06:38 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 39: I think these are supposed to be guidelines for this particular community, right now rather than guidelines for any political community, ever.

(I suspect that watching Making Light deal with an interlocutor funded by Koch would make for an interesting episode of Extreme Moderation, but its not especially pertinent to any ocnversations which are presently going on here).

#42 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 07:29 AM:

abi @6 I'm struggling, as a moderator, with the prospect of an entire election season of discussions where my energy goes to trying to get people to narrow their broad assumptions and add a third dimension to their cardboard characterizations of their opponents.

As a foreigner of some sort, I have the bad habit of looking at the insane statements of the zany party, and the peculiar declarations of the wacky party and thinking of them, and all there adherents and everyone else as crazy Americans. Which is the same fault from a different perspective. So if I find myself weighing in I will attempt to be specific, to make fewer assumptions and smaller assumptions. Also, +1 to what Bruce says @10

#43 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 09:26 AM:

praisegod barebones (32): I do that, too. Gee, I never thought of myself as a nonconformist.

Roy G. Ovrebo (35): Good points. And I've had milk go bad before the sell-by date.

#44 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 09:40 AM:

Those &*##@$% CLOUDS!!

#45 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 10:03 AM:

Can I suggest that people who wish to have *exclusively* political discussions go to Daily Kos, or another political site, at least for the next 6 months or so. There are a number of authors and fans on DKos, posting regularly. (David Brin is the only one who comes to mind.) I think we could raise the level of discourse there a tad, and keep from lowering it here. And if you really have something to communicate, you might get a larger audience there.

Not that anyone should stop posting here, but I can see this may be a divisive six months.

#46 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:03 AM:

I wonder whether it would help to refer to "the (expressed) policies of the XXX Party" rather than to "XXXs" when pointing out some of the difficulties with various approaches to our political world?

#47 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:28 AM:

(We wish to offer our sincere apologies to Nebulo-Americans, particularly Jo and Bud.)

#48 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Magenta @ 45

Can you unpack what you mean by "exclusively political conversations," please? I'm not sure what you're trying to propose, or how it solves the problem under discussion.

#49 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:57 AM:

Tom Whitmore @46: I find myself consciously dialing back that way when referring to one of my local legislators. Mark Kirk had a stroke semi-recently, and has now gotten out of the hospital and is speaking and so on (so probably will be keeping his seat, at least until the next election).

I wouldn't wish that on anyone, however much I disagree with them, but I will admit to a (shameful) spark of hope when I heard about it that he'd have to have a midterm appointment to replace him, because ... and here's where the dialing back happens.

"Because he's a flaming Nazi" is never really a valid political comment, however emotionally true it's felt to me hearing his various political ads over the years. "Because he consistently enacts policies that only benefit well-off white suburban people, and consistently supports policies that penalize urban-dwellers, especially the poor and black" is a little more checkable of a statement, but still hits his supporters-or-neutrals as hyperbole on my part.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:03 PM:

Magenta Griffith @45:

I would suggest, rather, that those who wish to have partisan-political, or perhaps tribal-political discussions should take them to someplace like Daily Kos. I don't think this community can, or should, spend the summer collectively ignoring the election. It's not in our nature. I just think that, in the range of discussions that will inevitably take place, we need to pick which slice we have here.

Don't anyone, by the way, read "tribal" as a pejorative term. Tribal sentiment is enormously important in politics, for good as well as ill. Many people use it as a source of strength against the nastiness of the opposition. So there have to be places where those who need it can get that energy.

The problem is that this community, at the moment, contains people who are really turned off by that side of things. And yet they, too, may want to talk about politics, because the election affects them, as it does us all.

Moderation is always about picking which voices, and which conversations, we have. Because it's impossible for one community to contain everything; some stuff is genuinely mutually exclusive. I've tried on Making Light to protect some of the quieter ones, which are sometimes driven out or silenced in other communities.

#51 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Charlie @ 38:

The only strategy for dealing with Massively MultiSockPuppet Astroturf like that of the Koch Bros. that I've been able to come up with is transparency: out their sockpuppets and their spokesmercenaries so that those who might believe their propaganda at least get a chance at an informed decision. Bu that's a global strategy, not a local one that helps much in the context of a single dicussion or online community like Making Light.

#52 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:36 PM:

Abi and Kay-Tei: I don't mean we should ignore the election, just that if people wish to discuss partisan politics and issues in detail, other sites might be more productive. I guess I mean discussion of specifics about campaigns, national or otherwise. This might be along the lines of agreeing not to discuss a******n. This is meant only as a suggestion but it might be something we could agree on to make the moderators lives a little easier.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 03:38 AM:

I think it's unlikely that we will avoid discussing the specifics of the campaigns. I'm willing to do that. It's the manner of the discussions that I want us to be mindful of more than the content.

There are things we don't discuss here at all, because they're both irresolvable and emotive: the Matter of Britain and gnu control come to mind. I'm holding out hope that the election does not end up being one of them.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:18 AM:

Tribalism is necessary, but it's also dangerous. The us-them circuitry in your brain always lies in wait, ready to convince you that what is unfair when done to your side is well deserved payback when done to the other side. Tribalism makes it easy to accept crap arguments for your side of an issue you'd never accept from the other side. It makes you susceptible to preemptively discounting arguments that might show you where you are wrong about something, because you already know the people making them are wrong because they're the enemy.

Given how they evolved, it's a wonder our brains can do abstract reasoning and logic at all. The spirit is willing, but the software is buggy. If you want to be able to think clearly about the world, it really pays to understand the list of known bugs in our brains, and tribalism triggers many of them both wrt rational thought and wrt moral reasoning.

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:22 AM:


I think the extreme case of a paid shill is indistinguishable from a human with a set of mostly consistent, sometimes contradictory opinions. How would you tell if I was a subtle long-posting paid shill? How would I tell if you were? This devolves into the problem of figuring out who in your group of friends is a paid informant of the secret police, or an infiltrator.

#56 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:42 AM:

I like to think that my tribe is one that tries to be inclusive, and my apologies if that came across all wrong. These days, my words feel like egg shells.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 11:06 AM:

albatross @54:

I put tribalism with fear and fire: good and useful servants, terrible masters. Our tribe is the group of people small enough that we can effectively care about them, but larger than our blood relatives. That's a necessary balance, and having a deep-seated need to find it is part of why we are where we are.

I have not the power to remove it from politics. I don't even have the power to tone it down in the wider political discourse. All I have the power to do is to say less of it here, please. And I am saying that.

and @55:
I think the extreme case of a paid shill is indistinguishable from a human with a set of mostly consistent, sometimes contradictory opinions. How would you tell if I was a subtle long-posting paid shill? How would I tell if you were?

obXKCD, particularly when that's you saying it to praisegod barebones. If either of you is a shill, BRING YOUR FELLOW SHILLS TOO! Let's have a shill party!

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 11:10 AM:

Serge @56:

The problem I am trying to tackle here is not what we think of our own tribe.

It's what we think of—and how we talk about—those other fellas over there.

#59 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 11:14 AM:

Abi @ 58... Point taken.

#60 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 12:09 PM:

Tom @46: I do try to do "the policies of [y] political group" or "some [x]" because I am old enough to remember when there was some honor there.

But I have lately noticed that many members of the intransigent and not-awfully-logical, not to mention inimical-to-me-personally wing of the Opposition, have pretty much worn out my Fairness coding.

Which is why I have a small blog, where I get to vent. Also, I believe we can--and should--vigorously oppose the Opposition's policies without getting personal, but I readily admit that we're not always successful. Anyway, I will try harder. Though that may mean occasional light gadfly rather than full scorpion.

#61 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 01:21 PM:

Two parties, both alike in dignity,
In bleak November, when we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
As oppo research brings up tales unclean.
From forth the fatal words of TV ads
A pile of poisoned discourse takes its life;
While pundits, op-eds, and push polls make scads
Of statements calculated to cause strife.
The button-pushing memes of faith and race,
Which are so far removed from sense or truth,
No other object have save sway the base,
And trot them forth to fill the voting booth.
The argument of this is now made plain;
In four years we'll be doing it again.

#62 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 01:23 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 61... Two parties, both alike in dignity


#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 01:37 PM:

Serge @62:
Must you? Every time? Even when it's pastiche?

This is exactly, precisely, and specifically what I am talking about. And here you are doing it right on this thread.

Please stop. Now.

#65 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 03:00 PM:

I propose a model for thinking about the parties:

There are a lot of companies out there, all with rather similar legal and administrative structure. I do business regularly and pretty happily with some, like Apple and Starbucks. Others, I do business with reluctantly as needed, like Comcast and Facebook. Still others, I won't do business with given any choice ar all, like AETNA and Verizon.

One way of thinking about these companies is to imagine that the good ones to deal with are in some sense good guys, or perhaps are run by good guys, and the bad ones to deal with are criminal or are run by criminals. And both may be true to some greater or lesser extent.

But mostly, the differences between those companies probably comes down to some combination of what business they're in, and a kind of corporate culture that having grown up, takes a life of its own. (This is a kind of path dependence, I think--having built up a certain corporate culture, it takes time and effort to change it.). Starbucks is pleasant for me to do business with largely because that is what works for their business, both globally (if the company were selling expensive coffee and bad experiences drinking it, they'd be out of business) and locally (an individual store that's unpleasant to sit in will probably be driven out of business by the huge number of stores everywhere around here). Verizon and Comcast have the corporate culture of regulated monopolies whose customers have few alternatives. Both companies can make extra money by putting weird charges on your bill that are hard to notice, "assumptive selling" of unwanted options you have to explicitly refuse, and having complex billing terms that will sometimes lead you to suddenly be surprised by a huge bill.

It's intuitive to think of Starbucks as a good person or entity, and Verizon as a bad one. But really, they're large organizations without any central brain or conscience, which operate as rhey do for complicated reasons of their incentives and their history.

My model is that this is also true for the big political parties. The GOP is the way it is, to a large extent, because this is the kind of party you have to be if your voting base looks like the Republican voting base; the same is true of the Democrats. On many issues, that makes the Democratic party less awful than the Reoublican party--for example, since the Democrats purged/lost a lot of the Southern white voters to the Republicans, it just works out that appeals to racist white voters work out better for Republicans than for Democrats. Similarly, even though there's a fair bit of reason to think that Republicans at the top are mostly fine with gays, the cost of coming out in favor of gay marriage or gay rights more generally turn out the be much higher if you're a Republican than if you're a Democrat--as witness Romney's backpeddling on his earlier history of being quite friendly to gay rights as a Massachussets political candidate.

There's not a person named Starbucks or Verizon or GOP or USA with a mind and a consceince. Instead, there are millions of decisionmakers and some organizational structure and history. One way I think it is common to get wrapped around the axle thinking about politics is to mistake large organizations for entities like people.

The way you get companies to treat their customers and employees and suppliers right is to make it in their interests to do so, and to change their internal structure and culture until they're capable of doing so. The same applies to political parties. If it becomes in Starbucks' interest to start serving me lousy coffee and making it unpleasant to stick around to drink, then that's probably what they will start doing, sooner or later. If it becomes in the interests of the GOP to support gay rights, then sooner or later they will probably find a way to start doing that.

This makes me think that the important stuff we can do in politics mostly centers around creating incentives for the parti to behave better. If psychopathic foreign policy and gay bashing and endless deficits and creepy police state powers pay off, we can expect to see more of them; if they cost votes consistently, we can expect to see less of them.

#66 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 03:11 PM:

albatross @65: Thank you for writing that up. It's a way of thinking about things that is making me...well, think about things. Which I think is good. It's far too easy for me to start reacting rather than considering, after a certain level of familiarity hits.

(I don't have much of substance to add. But I did want to note that, hey, I am finding this model a useful thought exercise.)

#67 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 04:33 PM:

Albatross... Good points, and, while there isn't a person called Starbuck, aside from the one played by the likes of Katee Sackhoff and Leo Genn, I give the outfit my business for the reasons you list (and the ladies there smiling when I show up every morning for my cuppa) and I'd warn them that I'll go elsewhere if they changed their practices.

#68 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 04:58 PM:

Serge Broom @ 56/Abi @ 58

I would suggest that thinking rightly about our own tribe[1] is very helpful in thinking rightly about the other tribes[2].

On the issue of inclusion specifically, I will re-quote one of my favorites(.pdf).[3]:

Liberals tend to view themselves as live-and-let-live people. It’s the other side, we believe, that wants to start wars, keep the poor in their place, and make second-class citizens out of gays, non-Christians, non-English-speakers, and anyone else who didn’t come out of their cookie-cutter. We’re the nice guys. We believe in tolerance, diversity, and letting people be what they have to be. It’s hard for us to credit the idea that someone could be afraid of us.

Someone is. And for good reasons. Understanding that uncomfortable fact is the first step towards grasping what has been going on in this country’s politics for the last quarter century.

Our belief in negotiated commitment - that people are not obligated to relationships they did not choose - is like one of those devastating European germs that white settlers spread throughout the world three centuries ago.

Often, "inclusive" manages to include the people we can see from where we are. Thus, a big part of the smaller-group rights movements (e.g, gay, limited mobility, non-neuro-typical, trans-gendered) has been making the population visible.[5] Far too often, when the person being inclusive can't see the whole population from where they are, the inclusion feels to the invisible, it ends up feeling like it ought to be a Monty Python skit:

The food shop:

Emp1: Hello sir, and welcome to the food shop: we've got all the food you need!

Customer: Yes please, I would like some corn and lima beans.

Emp1: I'm sorry sir, but we have no corn. No lima beans either. We're the food shop: we've got all the food you need. We've got roast beef, boiled beef, grilled beef, rare beef, chipped beef on toast...

Customer: No beef, please, I was wanting vegetables--corn, lima beans, carrots...

Emp1: But we don't have vegetables. We're the food shop: we've got all the food you need. We've got roast pork, pork chops, pork breakfast sausage.

Customer: Ahh, sir

Emp2: Pork Liver sausage.

Customer: Actually, sir

Emp1: Italian sausage.

Customer: Sir

Emp3: Head cheese.

Customer: SIR

Emp1: Were you wanting some head cheese then?

Customer: No, I do NOT want head cheese. I'm a vegetarian; I want some vegetables--corn, lima beans, carrots, green beans...

Emp1: Vegetables? But we don't sell vegetables. We're the food shop: we've got all the food you need. We've got lamb chops, and veal chops, and pork chops, and

Emp2: And chit'lins, and gizzards, and duck liver

Emp3: And pickled pigs feet.

Customer: VEGETABLES. NO MEAT. I'm a vegetarian; I want some vegetables--corn, lima beans, carrots, green beans, cabbage.

Emp1: Vegetables? Who eats vegetables? We're the food shop: we've got all the food you need. We've even got some excellent foie gras.

Customer: VEGETABLES. VEGETABLES. VEGETABLES. Not MEAT, VEGETABLES. You know, that come from plants.

Emp1: Vegetables? Plants? Horses eat vegetables, but we're the food shop: we've got all the food you need. We've got roast chicken..


Emp1: You're not a horse, are you?

Customer: I eat VEGETABLES. Is there another food shop, that sells vegetables?

Emp1: Another food shop? We're the food shop: we've got all the food you need; we've got turkey breast, and...

Customer walks out.

Emp1: You might try the feed & seed if you want horse food. Wild laughter from all 3 employees.

Emp3: What an odd fellow.

1) What evil have I done, to deserve having HIM [4] on my side?
2) Every institution appears to its participants to be run by secret agents of its enemies.
3) Doug Muder/Pericles, "Red Family, Blue Family"; a superb demonstration of how to disagree passionately, well.
4) Another "here's how to do it, from one of my much-enjoyed, recently-discovered bloggers: Mathbabe (Cathy O'Neill) on How do you disagree?
5) The larger group rights movements--black rights and women's rights--did not need to do this as much, because most people already knew they knew someone in the group.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 06:18 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 61:

Very nice. May I suggest a title? "Towards Entropy", in opposition to that of Mike Ford's sonnet.

#70 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 07:38 PM:

SamChevre @ 68... I must be more tired than I thought because I'm not sure I understand. I can't blame the lack of coffee though. :-)

#71 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 09:48 PM:

I'll add a variation to Bruce's suggestion at # 3. If you are about to say, "The moderate X's need to speak up," you may benefit by first listening to the ons who are actually already speaking up.

#72 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:28 AM:


Also. beware the availability heruistic (where you reason on the basis of the spectacular and offensive stuff which shows up in the news and is easy to remember) and confirmation bias (where you more easily notice and remember facts that agree with your starting beliefs). Those can combine to convince you that there are no moderates pushing back on issue X, even when there are lots of them.

My favorite funny example of this is often highlighted on Radley Balko's blog, where he will quote someone saying basically "here is evil X and the fact that the ACLU or Reason Magazine or the IJ don't comment on it is proof that they don't care about this issue," and then link to a half dozen places where the origanization in question has complained or commented or filed lawsuits on exactly that issue. Depending on the speaker, this may be conservatives who want to know why the ACLU never files lawsuits to protect religious freedom of Christians (it does) or liberals who want to know why libertarians don't care about injustice in the criminal justice system when done to poor blacks (they do).

If you're about to say "why dont any x care about y," it's worth doing a Google search or two to see whether you can find any x caring about y. Or simply rephrase the statement as a question: "It seems to me that the stated rhetoric of x should lead them to care about y, are there examples of this?"

The other side of this is that it is always possible to find some offensive and evil and stupid person on the other side, and respond to him rather than to the smart people on the other side of some issue. (Recently, I recall some of the Zimmerman/Martin discussion where TNC explicitly said "I'm not really interested in discussing the career of Al Sharpton here," which catches exactly the problem with this kind of pattern of discussion. Like most ways to bullshitting your way past a real argument, this is easy to see when done against your side, and hard to see when done against people you already know are wrong,

#73 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:35 AM:

misty morning posting
captured in a spamfilter
incorrect gnomenclature used

[I have released
the post
that was in
the tearoom

With which
you were probably
to mooch some biscuits

Forgive me
it was missing an apostrophe
so spamlike
yet so pertinent

— Wilhemina Carlotta Willberforce-Billings, duty gnome]

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 01:35 PM:

SamChevre @68:
Far too often, when the person being inclusive can't see the whole population from where they are, the inclusion feels to the invisible, it ends up feeling like it ought to be a Monty Python skit:

It feels like this sentence is less a summing-up of your reference to less-visible populations than a wave at something else, some point I should be guessing at or deriving.

If so, what? What population do you feel that the self-identified-inclusive group is excluding?

I feel like I'm navigating in the mist here. Can I get some landmarks?

#75 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 01:46 PM:

@73. I can't tell you how pleased I am to find that not only do the posters at ML write poetry, so do the gnomes.

#76 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:08 PM:

abi @ 74

Far too often, when the person being inclusive can't see the whole population from where they are, the inclusion feels to the invisible, and the situation ends up feeling like it ought to be a Monty Python skit:

It feels like this sentence is less a summing-up of your reference to less-visible populations than a wave at something else, some point I should be guessing at or deriving.

That sentence was completely borked in my editing of the following skit (and was intended as a summing-up of the comment to that point): here's what it was supposed to say.

Far too often, when the person being inclusive can't see the whole population from where they are, the intended inclusion does not include the invisible, and it ends up feeling like it ought to be a Monty Python skit:

It was not a specific reference, but a general one; I'm seen this dynamic over and over, in widely different contexts, where groups intended to be inclusive[1], but just didn't know enough to manage it well and/or were only willing to be inclusive of people who took the same things for granted that they did.

1) Including various Christian intended-to-be-ecumenical groups[2], the feminist/queer/transgendered community, some technical-interest boards, etc.
2) Notably, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Counsel.

#77 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:29 PM:

SamChevre @ 76... only willing to be inclusive of people who took the same things for granted that they did

We do that? In my original comment, inclusiveness ws intended to mean that we do not all take the same things for granted, and that there's room for all of us, except for some items that are not negotiable: for example, who I can marry, which God I can believe in, including no God.

#78 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:43 PM: I'm not sure how my original comment is inaccurate.
Would you have a specific example?

#79 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:48 PM:

Conversation with a friend who lives on hamburgers and fries:

"They say that eating more vegetables would improve your health."

"Vegetables? That's what food eats."

He was only half kidding.

abi @74: Can I get some landmarks?

If I may: What I'm getting is that "food" is one of those common words we all feel we understand. But in the case of the shopkeepers, food=meat, whereas in the case of the customer, food is "edible life-forms that provide nutrition," of which meat is a subset. Neither side explicitly declares their equivalency, so they are responding orthogonally to each other, each entirely missing the orthogonality.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Jacque @79:

I got the food analogy. I was asking for clarity about the "inclusiveness" thing.

#81 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:08 PM:

abi: Thank you. Let me try this (which will fail, because I'm not completely clear, myself).

Friend of mine is a fundamentalist Christian. When I say "lifestyle acceptance," I mean of anybody whose beliefs and behaviors differ from mine, as long as what they do doesn't hurt me or mine. When she says "acceptance," she means of anybody whose beliefs and values are recognizably Christian in outline, and not even all of those. Behaviors don't even enter into it. Took me forever to unpack this distinction.

Does that make sense/address your question?

#82 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:11 PM:

I think I'm going to have to avoid coming here when I'm angry about something. I'm afraid I'll lose my temper and say something intemperate.

[Deleted here: a statement that, while entirely temperate itself, might lead some others here to say things that I would feel forced to react to, leading to me most likely losing my temper. In fact, right now I'm feeling like I can't say much of anything because of that likely outcome. I wish I were a more even-tempered person, but I know I'm not.]

I remember at the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1993, the leader of one of the Abrahamic religions got up and called for unity, saying "After all, we all worship the same God."

He was excluding several different kinds of neo-Pagans, all the eo-Pagans (like Hindus), and all the types of Buddhist who consider Buddhism a religion at all. What Jains and Zoroastrians felt about it I don't know.

The thing is, I don't think it was intentional. The only group who went there with the specific purpose of flouncing were the Greek Orthodox, who at least at that time had a distinct reputation for going to interfaith gatherings and flouncing, and the 1993 Parliament was no exception. This guy wasn't Greek Orthodox.

So because he was ignorant, his call for unity was actually divisive. The Abrahamic religions are privileged with not noticing that no, not all religions worship gods, not all the ones that do worship a single god, and of those, the god they worship isn't always named "God." So he made a bigoted fool of himself, while trying to work for unity.

Gotta learn some stuff, privileged classes.

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:18 PM:

Jacque @81:

Actually, I was reiterating my earlier question to SamChevre about whether there was a subtext to his comment. I got the food analogy. It's OK.

Xopher @82:

Do we need a "Shouting at Clouds" thread? Would that help?

#84 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:29 PM:

abi: Maybe. But would you want to moderate one? And if it's completely UNmoderated...ugh.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:35 PM:

The only rule in the thread would be that no one gets to be the clouds and answer back.

#86 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:39 PM:


Jacque: "Goddammit!"

Classmate: "Dammit yourself. I'm busy."

#87 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Xopher... abi... What if the clouds are Debussy's?

#88 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:48 PM:

Abi @85, or if they do answer back, they can only say "My children have defeated me!"

#89 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:52 PM:

abi @ 80

I really don't think there's a subtext; in the current political situation, there are several obvious applications, but I"m deliberately not talking about specifics. Xopher @ 82 is talking about the same dynamic.

I'm trying, hard, to keep this thread about "how do we have discussions that make us smarter and happier, instead of angrier and stupider." I do not think bringing up specific cases of current controversies is very likely to do that.

If there is a subtext, it's this: if what you want is to win, and for your opponenents to lose, don't delude yourself and don't lie to your compatriots. If, in the world you are working for, group X gets less of what it wants than it currently has and you get more, that's not a compromise--especially if you expect and intend that next year, you'll get a little more and they'll lose a little more. There are places where it's worth saying "I'm right, he's wrong, and I intend to win by any means necessary". If that's what you are saying, own it.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:56 PM:

Avram @88:

Or, alternatively,

"Not so much wailing and clamour, if you please."

#91 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 03:58 PM:

If, after the clouds stop thundering, you find yourself driving thru London then suddenly wake up and find yourself facing Leo McKern or Peter Wyngarde, you're in Big Trouble.

#92 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:15 PM:


Very true. And yet, I think that comes down to a comment abi made awhile back:

One of the lessons of many years of marriage is that there are no win-lose solutions, not in the long term. If one partner "loses", in the end, the whole thing founders. And the American Right and Left are wedded to each other by history and geography. We have to make this work.

There are places I think we come to irreconcilable conflicts as a society. (An extreme case is something like slavery, where either you pick your own cotton or your slaves pick it for you and there's not really a good compromise point.) But wherever possible, we really need to try to avoid I win/you lose situations in politics.

The example that comes to mind here is separation of church and state. One big advantage of that is that the next election is not about whether the Catholics or the Protestants will have the whip hand in the next four years, or who will have to attend relgious services they don't believe in to keep their job or stay out of jail. That is a huge win for us as a society.

#93 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:38 PM:

After thinking about this post for several days, like the introvert I am, I want to respectfully submit that there is a place for nukers in political discourse. It's not always about "tribalism," exactly; sometimes it's a pain response to being othered on a constant basis in one's day-to-day life.

Earlier this month, my beautiful, talented, sweet, clever cousin put a gun to his head and blew his brains out. Because he was gay, and he couldn't face life in a closet, and our corrosive "christian" family had let him know repeatedly that he was a pariah and it would be better for him to be dead than gay.

I didn't go to the funeral, because I was not welcome. Because I'm lesbian, and I refuse to knuckle under to their disapproval, and (fortunately) have resources that Gary didn't to let me make that decision.

If I seem angry about this, I am. I am furious, and I am grieving, and I am frequently having trouble being even barely civil to people in my life who express their agreement with any group that espouses ideology that considers my life, my relationships, and my cousin to be acceptable collateral damage.

I don't think anyone has a right to tell me that I don't have a right to be angry. I know it often seems like an academic exercise, and we've had plenty of back-and-forth about whether being "good on gay rights" makes any difference at all when both parties are perfectly happy to continue killing people in far away countries, but I've just had yet another visceral reminder that I'm in this fight for my life, whether I want to be or not. So I'm angry, and I'm scared.

And I have a niggling disagreement (I think) with some of the original post. I think if you put all the burden of being understanding and civil and making room for difference of opinion and good-faith disagreement on the people who are fighting for their lives, it has the effect of giving support to those doing the oppressing, or at least of removing support from the oppressed. Delegitimizing anger serves to silence those whose anger is righteous, as well as those who are used to using anger as a tool to get their own way.

I mean, you are utterly within your rights to say, "this is not a safe space for people who are angry because they are being hurt to express that anger, pain, and frustration." It's your space, and if that's something you don't want in it, that's your decision to make. But this is me speaking up to say, not all of us have a lot of spaces in which to express our grief and our pain and our anger. And sometimes, that anger is legitimate. Sometimes it takes hearing anguish in the voice of someone they like or respect before those who are causing the hurt recognize that's what they're doing.

And I also, respectfully but very strongly, disagree with the statement that someone who is angry because their civil rights are being denied and someone who is unhappy that the cultural hegemony they have enjoyed in the past is beginning to wear away so that their religious whims are no longer catered to by sacrificing the civil rights of people outside their faith tradition are or should be weighted the same. That's false equivalence.

If that means I am no longer welcome in political threads here, then, like Xopher, I'll just have to avoid them.

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 06:27 PM:

asalfi @93:

First of all, I'm sorry for your loss.

Second, there is absolutely a place for nukers in the political discourse. I've never denied it. I've never said people don't have a right to be angry.

But there also must be a place for people who are driven out of the conversation when the nukers start nuking. And I happen to be one of those people, and I also happen to be the person who does most of the donkeywork of moderating this blog. So I tend to think I have some right to lay down a few rules to make my role possible.

That's not me delegitimizing anger. That's me saying we cannot host the entire range of possible conversations on Making Light. And that's not news; we've said that for years. Protecting the quieter voices has long meant asking the louder voices to take part of their discourse elsewhere.

I'm sorry if you feel that there is no "elsewhere" to go. I suspect there is, if you look further: the Slacktiverse, for instance, might be a good place. Or someone there might be able to recommend somewhere. That would be my first port of call.

I know this seems dismissive. But damnit, I get to have my limits, too. I cannot be all things to all people. It's not humanly possible.

#95 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 06:59 PM:

alsafi @93: For what it's worth, I think this post of yours is amazingly Fluorospherian and right in the main center of the kind of discourse that is acceptable on this blog in general.

Individual threads may be designated safe spaces for one group or another (and have been in the past); however, there's a lot of ranting and anger that sometimes erupts that makes the whole place really uncomfortable even for people who AGREE with the ranter ...

It's a tough problem. And add to the fact abi's particular needs (and the fact that abi's kind presence makes the existence of lovely Fluorospherian discussion on this site possible in the first place) ... it gets even tougher.

#96 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 07:11 PM:

alsafi, I am so, so sorry about your cousin.

While I am not abi, my reading of these guidelines is not "Don't express anger here." It's more "Make sure of your target and your aim before nuking here."

I mean, I've seen some awesome nuking happen here. I think Making Light as a community totally agrees there is a place for nuking in political discourse. Sometimes people deserve all the flames you can throw at them, and Godspeed. My understanding of abi's requests is just, take a moment to make sure that's the case before opening fire.

(For example, one that's stuck with me is Jim Macdonald's eloquently profane reaction to one emergency-response failure after Katrina: "Why You Fucking Do Not Fucking Put a Fucking X on a Fucking Door Unless You Personally Have Fucking Gone In and Fucking Looked." That's not the most recent nuking, or the most ferocious, or anything. It just stuck with me.)

abi: Do you think it would work if we tried to become a bit self-aware and label when we're venting, ranting, or cloud-shouting? And on the other side, learned to recognize it a bit and say "Hey, it sounded like you were venting there. Were you? Do you want a response?" rather than jumping straight to "NO U."

#97 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 08:38 PM:

abi @ 94: I don't think you are being dismissive in the least, and I absolutely agree that you have a right to protect your own space, and indeed, to have protected spaces where your voice can sing out. On the whole, I'm not much of a nuker (my sister-in-law has described it as "in your face activism--if that's okay with you!"), to the point where I was, some years back, taking very much your own position on a thread on Slacktivist, pointing out to one of the long-established nukers there that it had the effect of silencing even people who agreed.

I've regretted, though, that after a thoughtful reply, zie decided to stop commenting there altogether; though zir voice was often intemperate, a lot of what I have learned about feminism, examining my own privilege, and being careful about my own blind spots started with zir comments. So I think it's that experience that I'm trying to articulate--that I wonder if there's a way to strike a balance that does allow for the hurting to express anger at remarks that are hurtful-but-technically-"civil" without then being the ones who get called on the carpet for not being civil enough? And maybe there's not, or maybe not here, or maybe that's what you meant when you called out the cri de coeur as being within bounds.

I guess right now I'm just feeling like a gentle, angry person who is singing for her life. I hate election years.

But I can't really express how much I appreciate the work that you do here. This place is one of my resources that keeps me safe and sane, and I know the constant vigilance of moderation is one of the chief reasons it is as safe and healthy a community as it is.

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:06 PM:

alsafi, #93: I hear and witness your anger. And insofar as it's possible for me, straight and not knowing your cousin (but having many GLBT friends), I share it.

I had a close friend who died of a stroke, many years too soon, and was buried by the relatives who drove her away from her birthplace and made it clear that who she was wasn't acceptable to them; the people who loved her weren't even told about the funeral because said relatives blamed us for her not being who they wanted her to be.

This kind of shit SHOULD NOT HAPPEN.

#99 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:25 PM:

I think people who harass someone until they commit suicide (especially if they actually tell them they'd be better off dead) should go to prison. I dunno, Murder Two, Depraved Indifference? I don't care, we need laws to jail those bastards.

#100 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:41 PM:

alsafi, I am so, so sorry. It should not have happened.

I don't believe in karma, exactly. But I do believe What Goes Around, Comes Around. Here, or hereafter.

#101 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:55 AM:

alsafi, that's terrible. I'm so sorry to hear you're going through that right now.

I just wanted to note that I think your post upthread nicely balances the tension I think you're describing. I personally appreciate that sort of post here, and find it different from what I perceive abi as objecting to in this thread, which is (I think) the dogmatic, often reflexive criticism of entire groups (generally political parties) based on sweeping generalizations about "how they all think/act," and associated nastiness spilling over on to other members of this community. Not at all what I see you as trying to communicate.

Of course, I'm not you or abi, so I may be misreading things.

#102 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:13 AM:

asalfi @97:
So I think it's that experience that I'm trying to articulate--that I wonder if there's a way to strike a balance that does allow for the hurting to express anger at remarks that are hurtful-but-technically-"civil" without then being the ones who get called on the carpet for not being civil enough?

That's slightly different, if we're talking about "expressing anger at remarks". If someone is being hurtful-but-technically-"civil" here, and I don't catch it, then I would expect you to call it out without escalation and wait for me to come in with my Moderatorial Voice on. Unlike the Slack, we have mods here. Use 'em.

(This is not a denigration of the Slack's mod-free culture, whose existence is a marvel of the internet.)

KayTei @101 has it right. I'm not saying "this is not a safe space for people who are angry because they are being hurt to express that anger, pain, and frustration." That sort of thing is precisely what I mean by cries de coeur. ("Shouting at Clouds" is a slightly different thing, more akin to the Glorious Standalone Rant).

My problem is, indeed, with the dogmatic, often reflexive criticism of entire groups (generally political parties) based on sweeping generalizations about "how they all think/act". Many of these things things started as cries de couer, but have descended into commonplaces. Our high-water mark has become our minimum water level, and it's damaging the conversation.

It is all but impossible to articulate the personal standards that I bring to moderation, beyond my stock rule of be appropriate. But here are some guidelines, in the Pirates of the Caribbean sense.

1. Everybody in the conversation deserves to be treated decently until they show themselves to be malicious. Even if their style cannot be accommodated in the community, if they're sincere but oafish, they should be escorted to the door with as much kindness as their attention span permits. (Some people need a sharp word just to get their attention.)

2. People outside of the conversation should be treated justly. If they've been flaming assholes, go ahead and call them flaming assholes, preferably explaining why so that we can all appreciate the sheer astonishing flaming asshollery. But if they're in the same political party/religious organization/dance troupe as the flaming asshole, they're not fair game for the flaming asshole label on that grounds alone. And given the "internet dropped on your head" phenomenon, it's wise to be extra-careful with your evidence when dealing with private individuals rather than public figures.

3. Organizations should be judged by their collective actions and can be characterized appropriately. Note that other people, to whom that organization may be dear, may have a problem with this. Be prepared to defend your views with evidence and careful reference to (1) above. Also, members of those organizations should be given the benefit of the doubt about why they are members; membership does not equal full agreement with every jot and tittle of the organization's beliefs or actions.

4. Comments that do not make us smarter, wiser or more joyful must have some other reason for existence. I may ask what that reason is; be prepared to explain. Note that to the extent that we bring our cries de couer to the community so that they may comfort us, those fall under "joyful" in my book.

I'm not requesting that people be bloodless shadows of their former selves lest I wield my flaming sword upon them*. I'm saying that, if they violate these guidelines, I am going to treat them as though they have done something wrong. We can then get into why, and whether it was justified, and how we can repair the conversation from that point forward.

* I know I did at first. I, too, cry from the heart and shout at the clouds sometimes.

#103 ::: Kirino ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 08:01 AM:

Thank you Abi. I'd like us to remember the people on the other team. Let me tell you about the ones I know:
My mom, who is a moderate and knows so little about politics that she's still in the early 1980s. She can't be informed, either, its just not possible due to reasons of personality and phisiology. Here reflexive responses to minorities do not bear close examination.
My co-worker, who watches Fox, and reads (only) the op Ed section of the WSJ. Believed the general outline of supply side econ and 'lower taxes + Saddam threatened our manly posturing. Caught in a time warp too, since he doesn't pay close attention to politics. He also voluntarily takes care of an elderly person, loves animals to the point of feeding fat squirrels, deer, and at one time, city rats, during the winter. I think he's a documentary away from being a vegetarian. What's his deal? Short attention span, and not a terribly deep thinker, with some uncritical patriotism on top. But he loves all living things.
My college buddy: says he doesn't believe conspiracy theories, but loves to read them, owns a gun out of a sense of manliness and inchoate unease, and in combination finds gnu control conspiracy theories plausible. Loves militaria, and the usual classic SF authors, classic loves country/fears government type, except he feels that way when Rs are in power too.
An old co-worker, devout Christian, an ally on most things, savvier on Cory Doctrow style anti-survellience rights than race or gender theory. But feels obligated to vote against THAT one particular issue when it is brought to his attention. (Possibly also against marraige equality?) Big on practical results, though, so against the usual boondoggles (capital punishment), even if he thinks they are morally permissible (e.g. capital punishment.)

I know well that there are many here who would hold "such people" in contempt, but these particular real human beings are a part of my 'tribe' in the 'I live with, work with, and love these folks'. These people aren't committed soldiers to the cause of the OTHER SIDE, they have just fallen into a way of thinking and being that matches their life experiences and abilities. They aren't anybody's committed enemy, at least, if they arent attacked.

All these people live in blue states.

#104 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 09:06 AM:


God, what a horrible thing to happen. I'm sorry.

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 09:07 AM:


God, what a horrible thing to happen. I'm sorry.

#106 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 09:25 AM:

asalfi #93: That is just horrible. You have every right to be angry.

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 09:29 AM:


There is a style of discussion I have seen on some conservative sites, in which some subset of people talk about libtards and make constant reference to the ideas that liberals are traitors, hate Christians and whites, are socialists, and are either secretly Muslim (Obama) or are weak wrt Muslims. These are tropes which are commonly accepted in some conservative circles, despite being pretty obviously nonsense. I've seen otherwise smart, reality-grounded people throwing them out as part of their argument in those circles.

Now, there are real issues which sort of fit into some of these broad assertions, if you squint--gay marriage, gun control, brtn, Obamacare (formerly Romneycare, oddly enough), more willingness to regulate industry and raise taxes than to deregulate industry and cut taxes, all those are real issues about which people have disagreements. But in general, those blanket assertions about liberals don't make the people who accept them smarter, they make them dumber. They are contradicted by easily observed reality. By painting with a broad brush like this, the speaker often builds his argument against a policy he really disagrees with on bullshit. Among other thigns, this makes it very hard for people not steeped in those conservative tropes to recognize when the speaker is right, or at least has a serious point worthy of careful thought and discussion. Start a discussion of the likely problems with Obamacare with a rant about creeping socialism and death panels, and many people will tune you out even if you have serious, worthwhile points to make later on in the discussion.

It seems to me that this phenomenon is not limited to conservatives. When I hear liberals in a crowd of liberals building their arguments on tropes like "conservatives want to dismantle the government," a claim as much at odds with observable reality as the claim that Obama is unwilling to attack Muslim countries, it looks like exactly the same thing. Someone who doesn't buy the trope (because conservatives in power tend to make government bigger and more powerful when they can, but grow and shrink different parts of government than liberals when in power) may not see where you have a real point to be made (like, the Bush administration's mismanagement of many government functions looks pretty observable to me, even though Bush had no more interest in dismantling the government than Obama has in surrendering to Islamic fundamentalists).

Along with making dumber arguments (because when your premises are nonsense, your conclusions often also turn out to be nonsense), this makes it really hard to reach across the partisan divides, so that when a conservative and a liberal share some concern, they can make common cause. It even makes it hard to find out if there are places where your concerns should be mine, too. Again, imagine someone with a serious critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy, who prefaces it with a throwaway read meat for the base comment about Obama being secretly Muslim or constantly apologizing tor America.

In the extreme case, we end up speaking such differernt languages that we almost can't communicate at all. This is probably a win for people who want to make sure their base is stuck with them, and for powerful people who like the bipartisan consensus of the powerful on stuff like financial regulation and immigration and affirmative action and foreign policy. It probably helps partisan media (particularly right wing talk radio) keep audience. But it's very bad for the country, and for us as individuals.

#108 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:19 AM:

abi 102: I hadn't understood before, and now I do. Thank you.

To your 3, I'd add that membership in an organization is not always perfectly obvious to people outside that organization. For example, people sometimes say "The Roman Catholic Church" as if that meant "the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops," whereas to a Catholic it means them too. I have taken a fail on this one myself. I try to say "the leadership" or "the hierarchy," or just explicitly exclude the rank and file.

One could argue that the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops proclaim themselves as having the sole right to speak for the RCC, and blur this distinction whenever possible, but I doubt you'd find many rank-and-file Catholics who think, for example, that those nuns should just snap to and stop messing around with all those damn poor people.

#109 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:27 AM:

@97: I may very well have been a commentator on the same thread (or, if not, I was very much part of a related conversation).

My issue with nuking is that it's as much a symbol of status as anything else. Nuking someone implicitly says: I am able to dictate community standards here and you are not. One does not nuke -- or one is very cautious about nuking -- if one is not *very* confident that the rest of the community will back one up. Nuking (and this may be a distinction that only I make) differs from a flame war in that the opposite side does not have the power to fight back. Nuking is, in essence, a form of bullying -- forcing someone out of a community (or at least silencing them) not through official means but by singling them out and making them feel unwelcome.

Sometimes -- in some contexts -- that's acceptable, *if* the community is generally officially unmoderated, the community is explicitly on one side of an issue, *and* the commentator being nuked is extremely out of line. The major problem (well, one of the major problems) comes when people fail to realize that nuking *is* an expression of privilege and start to use it to enforce their own stances on relatively minor issues.

(Like other forms of bullying, it also has a massive fallout range, but that's another story altogether.)

(Note that what this means that nuking is unnecessary when one is a moderator. Nuking is an unofficial way to shut down dialogue. Moderators have much easier ways to do so -- *and*, because they are in charge, they have a much easier time shutting down a debate.)

#110 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:56 AM:

I am adoring this thread as an embodiment of everything that makes me love the Fluorosphere ... and also feeling a deep rightness in the fact that it's happening the week before Wiscon, so I can go there with all this wonderful level-headedness and these discursive tools fresh in my forebrain.

#111 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:55 AM:

abi @ 102 Thank you--that gives me a much better understanding. Reading it, I think the niggling disagreement I thought I had was not really one in fact.

And thank you all, for the kind words.

#112 ::: Anon Amos ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:57 AM:

abi et al: On the topic of how Rules for Civility intersect with Defending One's Own (and in the general spirit of Rewarding Desired Behavior), I just want to point out that, in two cases this week (which I reported over on the DFD thread), I was able to respond to conflicts with coworkers promptly and emphatically, while at the same time maintaining throughtful appropriateness.

I credit about 70% of that ability to participating on conversation here on ML. abi, in particular, has articulated and modeled principles and behaviors which I have been able to internalize, resulting in my becoming a kinder and more thoughtful human being.

Shorter me: Ur Doin It Rite, It's Catching, and I Want You To Know That.

#113 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:03 PM:

I'd second that. Living in a civilized community helps shape you as a force for civilization in other communities, online and IRL.

#114 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:10 PM:

Yep, so say we all. Or at least I do.

#115 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Moi aussi.

#116 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:14 PM:

Thank you--I very much appreciate the feedback. I have learned a heck of a lot from this community; I'm a profoundly better person for the exposure to it.

#117 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:14 PM:

Moi aussi.

#118 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:14 PM:

(duplicate French stuff - feel free to delete)

#119 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:48 PM:

I think I've figured out another pattern that makes political talk a lot less useful-- assuming that the other side intends all the ill effects of what they've done. This can be amplified by assuming they intend all the hypothetical ill effects of something they might be imagined to do.

Malice exists. Gross callousness exists. But so do general incompetence, not to mention making mistakes.

#120 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:15 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @119, that's a good point. The other side intends all the ill effects or hypothetical ill effects of their actions. Our side, of course, intends only the best and is innocent of ill effects.

#121 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 02:16 PM:

Where does that put the Iraq War? The events leading to it involved misleading statements and outright lies, questioning the patriotism of people who had questions of their own, and ignoring the opinion of people who know how wars should be started then pursued.

#122 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:01 PM:


My impression is that at least a large subset of the Bush administration and GOP folks pushing for the war really believed it was a good idea. Certainly, they didn't intend to preside over a disaster. My sense is that plenty of those folks really believed that Iraq somehow posed some kind of threat, but may have believed that the evidence was not quite convincing enough and needed to be "sexed up" (to quote one report on the whole process), and contradictory evidence omitted or quieted down.

And many other people, of both parties as well as most of the respectable media, went along with it, though many or most of them knew better or should have known better. But again, I suspect few people who went along expected a disaster--instead, they probably figured that, as with our kinetic humanitarian intervention in Libya, this would be a fairly low cost bit of bombing some third world peasants and draftees that would depose a genuine thug from power, and wouldn't threaten US interests.

With no deep knowledge or solid data, I am reluctant to trust my intuition here. But it's hard for me to believe that most people will intentionally, actively work for a disaster that they will be blamed for, or seek to do evil for its own sake. Plenty of people have evil beliefs that may lead them to do evil, but they don't generally seem to go around thinking of themselves as evil. Plenty of people are willing to make tradeoffs (the essence of all politics and really all hard decisions), and will weigh their interests more strongly than those of the country or the world or foreigners or people outside their district or people who wouldn't vote for them anyway. Witness the widespread willingness to see nasty stuff done to suspected terrorists and criminals in order to "keep us safe," or the endless willingness to run deficits every year rather than ever raise anyone's taxes or cut anyone's benefits, or the political unacceptability of serious measures to address global warming. But that seems different than actively seeking evil, and even there, I think it's common for people to convince themselves that what is good for their political career is also pretty much good for the world--yes, those fighter jets are a little pricey, but they Keep America Safe; no, the president probably shouldn't have those powers, but he's a good guy and won't misuse them, efc.

#123 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:20 PM:

albatross @ 122... many other people, of both parties as well as most of the respectable media, went along with it

Politicians kind of get nervous about keeping their job when they're branded as traitors and unpatriotic, especially when the 'respectable' media makes itself the mouthpiece for the folks doing the accusing. By the way, I am not excusing my Party's behavior during the 21st Century's first 8 years, but it is easy for me to call them cowards when it wasn't *my* job that's at stake. (I think my boss knows what I think of him, but I haven't actually called him a fucking worthlesss sack of poop.) Also, in case the above hasn't convinced people that I am not a mindless apologist for my Party... Eight years ago, I worked on Howard Dean's campaign and, after watching my Party tear him down, I decided that I'd never work for any candidate, nor would I give any of them any money. Frankly, we're so good at going after each other's throat in public that it's amazing we ever win an election.

My apologies, everybody... If this got into the territory we're trying to stay away from, disenvowel me.

#124 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:29 PM:


Very true, and I know you're not a mindless apologist for your party. And I've more or less implied that in the past, and I'm sorry--that was me making the world and ML a worse place in the midst of my shouting at the clouds.

I suspect the same thing was happening in the respectable media--many people probably thought they might be hounded out of a job if they were insufficiently patriotic, the post-9/11 patriotic fervor convinced a lot of people that challenging the president when he said we needed to go to war to keep America safe was close to treason, and the 9/11, anthrax, and DC sniper attacks scared the hell out of a lot of folks at the top of media companies who set the tone for everyone else.

#125 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:37 PM:

I miss my America, the one that used to tell tales about itself as the Good Guy like during WW2. They may have nothing but propaganda, but the tales you tell about yourself contain the truth of hat you want to be.

#126 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:40 PM:

Thanks, Albatross.

#127 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 02:05 AM:

abi @ 102:

Thank you for articulating those guidelines; I think they make a good framework in which we can have discussions that are neither cheerleading sessions nor flamefests.

I would like to make one suggestion: a cri de couer or a venting rant would be much more acceptable if couched in verse or in Shakespearean parody (or Shavian parody, if you feel up to it). Even when we disagree with the sentiment, being able to admire the rhyme and scansion can help IMHO to alleviate any offense.

#128 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 04:24 PM:

coeur. coeur. coeur.
Please? It's starting to hurt my inner editor.

This is your cry from the heart for the day. :)

#129 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 07:09 PM:


Oh, sorry. Cut and paste means "One Source to spoil them all."

#130 ::: praisegod barebones sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 03:17 PM:

Kirino @103 I know well that there are many here who would hold "such people" in contempt

Are you sure you know that? I've seen contempt expressed on Making Light, but most of it has been aimed at scammers, spammers, and the flagrantly irresponsible.

#131 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2012, 01:29 PM:

Commmenting on some of the above discussion, as well as some of the recent discussions on the Health-care decision thread, I think I'm better able to articulate one of the dynamics that makes participation difficult and irritating for me.

The assumption that conservatism is based on a positive liking for authoritarian/hierarchical structures. It's like the assumption that homosexuality is based on lack of sexual self-control. Both arguments manage the trifecta of being wrong, insulting, and impossible to argue against.

#132 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2012, 02:58 PM:

SamChevre, I think part of the problem (from my limited perspective as a cranky old liberal) is that there are several intertwined threads of conservatism. One is the fundamental idea of "don't fix it worse if it's not broken", the concern that any give change might make things worse rather than better. Another is the idea that social hierarchy should be maintained and strengthened (in opposition to the "progressive" idea that social hierarchy should be flatter). And then there's the actual behaviour of people in power who describe themselves as conservatives.

There are probably more threads that I'm overlooking (maybe individual responsibility, freedom from unnecessary government interference, etc?)

Personally, I find that first thread completely sympathetic, even when I disagree that a given change will make things worse. I too want to preserve society, even as I want to fix the broken parts. I think any time a change is proposed, it's valuable that someone ask "will this really make things better, or is there some unintended consequence that will make things worse over all?"

The second thread is more complicated. The idea of equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome sounds good, but I don't believe it's practically possible to separate opportunity from outcome. Not when a child's opportunity depends on their parents' outcomes. I certainly see the value of a limited amount of social hierarchy when used for good (e.g. to enforce the laws that make society possible).

As for the third thread, as much as I dislike the policies of most conservative politicians, I have to admit that moderate politicians haven't been as much of an improvement as I would like. However, it makes me sad that in politics today, the only acceptable antonym for "conservative" is "moderate". Just as we need people saying "don't break it in the hopes of making it better", we also need more people saying "instead of patching it, let's replace it with something much better."

Personally, I will try to avoid treating conservatives as a monolithic other. I'll also be a little less likely to nod along when someone else does so. Thanks for pointing that out!

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2012, 04:52 PM:


For a variety of reasons, I think a really depressing amount of our political discussions, and especially our understanding of other peoples' political and social beliefs, come from TV talking heads and talk radio jocks. Call it the Limbaugh effect--the loudest and most obnoxious voices become the ones the opposition thinks about and responds to. And a world where the political debate is largely between people responding to the Hannitys and Limbaughs and Sharptons of the world is not one where any high quality thought at all is happening.

This is compounded on the right, IMO, by a lack of conservative voices willing to call the idiots on their own side idiots. There's not enough of that anywhere, but the amount of deference some clown like Limbaugh gets from "serious thinkers" in the conservative movement is dismaying, and it makes it very difficult for those serious thinkers to talk any sense when they have to stick to (or at least pretend to take seriously) the talking points and dogmas of those windbags.

There is nothing easier than to convince yourself that They (for whatever value of They you like) are all knuckle-dragging neanderthals, or gullible idiots, or traitors, or racists, or whatever. When you find yourself believing such a picture of the world, it should make you suspicious that you're being conned....

#134 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2012, 10:46 AM:

I know this thread si a couple months old, but I keep referring back to it; it's one of the great and helpful threads.

Via Mark Kleiman, I ran across this Glenn Loury paper on "Self-Censorship in Public Discourse; I'm linking it here because it has such a good, clear articulation of how self-reinforcing tribalism, in the sense used above several times, is.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.