I’m not signing Dan Fincke’s “civility pledge”

I’ve got a bunch of things on my plate to date, so this isn’t going to be the long post I’d like it to be, but here it goes anyway: I think Dan Fincke’s “civility pledge” is horribly wrong-headed, for a number of reasons, including:

  1. I think there’s a certain level of being-taken-seriously that needs to be earned, rather than being something everyone’s entitled to. Of course, that raises the question of “what level?” I don’t have time for a long answer, but my postson reading charitably may give an idea of what I mean.
  2. Actually, I’ll say this much: not everyone is entitled to the assumption that they have something worthwhile to say. Some people don’t, and all you can do with them is either try to get them to see why their wrong or else ignore them. You shouldn’t be trying to persuade people to adopt your views at all costs, but there are situations where having persuasion as your main goal is fine. Like Russell Blackford, I think that in some of those situations “ignore” may be the better option, but that’s a pragmatic one, not an issue of “civility.”
  3. The fact that we may not strictly “need” to use certain words (say, “asshole”) doesn’t keep them from often being useful, even the best word for the job in some situations.
  4. Words like “asshole” worry me far less than careless accusations  of lying, misogyny, etc. Which is not to say I don’t think such charges should be made when justified, as anyone who’s followed my blogging on William Lane Craig knows.


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Avoiding divorce doesn’t make you a traditionalist
  • MNb

    As the English show again and again it’s perfectly possible to insult and humiliate someone in an utter civilized way. I hardly ever use words like “asshole” because I think they make reason impossible, but I do use them to express my emotions.
    In general I think this is a fruitless discussion. Let any blogger decide for him/herself what the limits are instead of trying to impose them on others.
    So I won’t sign either, albeit for slightly different reasons. I want to have the freedom to call Edward Feser a dumbhead when it comes to physics – and it’s very easy to show why.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

    I have been reading through his pledge and mulling it over.

    It is a little bit overly verbose which makes taking it all in a bit difficult. I understand why he has felt the need to cover as many bases as possible but, at the other end of the scale, the more you add the more reasons there are for people to opt out.

    I think, like you, I have some problems with his hardline stance on words like ‘dick’ and ‘cunt’, especially that he links them to his article ‘why misogyny matters’ thereby conflating the claim that women who use birth control are all sluts with simply telling an individual they are being a twat/cock.

    I am going to have to give this some thought today.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability D4M10N

      My biggest qualm was also the hand line on so-called gendered insults. I don’t use them as gendered slurs; at least I don’t think that I do. For example, I’ve been known to quote Wheaton’s Law, but I’m fairly confident that I’m not disparaging people with dicks. Actually, this is more of a quibble than a qualm. I’m going to try to avoid any sort of group slurring or even unwarranted out- and in-group language, even though I expect that will come less naturally than the other major points in the pledge.

      • Chris Hallquist

        When I saw “dick” listed among the gendered whatevers, that was definitely a WTF moment for me. Calls for civility on the internet have gone from “don’t be a dick” to “don’t say dick” – what?

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

          I think words like ‘dick’ are wrongly getting packed together with words like ‘tranny’, ‘nigger’, ‘faggot’, ‘whore’ etc
          I put my thoughts on why this is in a vid yesterday, it is on YouTube but (as yet) unlisted, hence it is unviewed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfN7HTqGbXA

        • http://twitter.com/Iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

          Well, to be fair, if you’re somebody who get’s super-upset over the word “cunt” as a gendered insult, I think taking a stance against parallel use of the word “dick” gets you points for consistency. That said, I really don’t get upset so much about –gasp, those words– as I do over a kind of needlessly insulting behavior that those words in many cases embody.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    Chris, I don’t see how points 1-2 or 4 are incompatible with anything I said. You can ignore people. I am talking about when you engage them, to only engage them in a way that respects them as a human being despite your disagreement.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’m going to cut and paste what I said in reply to you on Facebook.

      Dan, 1 and 2 were directed at the very first sentence of your post, which reads:

      “I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.”

      The point is that if someone’s not worth engaging with in that way, it may be a waste of time to talk to them at all… but it’s not civility that should be stopping you from just trying to show them they’re wrong, rather than worrying about “mutual understanding” or anything like that.

      • http://inmyunbelief.wordpress.com TCC

        Chris, I think you’re reading Dan’s first sentence uncharitably; it very easily can be read as Dan has described above, i.e. “I commit that I will always engage public arguments with a sincere aim…” Does that wording clarify matters? (And Dan, have I accurately expressed your sentiment?)

        • Chris Hallquist

          I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

          • baal

            At the risk of putting words in Dan’s mouth, Dan is suggesting the goal of discourse be finding out what’s right and not ‘winning at all costs’. It’s a near neighbor idea to the charitable principle or listing to the other person to see if you’re wrong of if you need to modify your position to be better.
            The persuasion only crowd have more or less thrown truth out the window and have decided they are right and have the big T truth regardless of what anyone else says. The same crowd will wave ends in your face whenever you disagree with their means.

          • Chris Hallquist

            I agree with you on rejecting “winning at all costs” (and say so in the OP), but it seems what Dan is claiming here is much stronger.

      • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

        Well, I think you can translate that to “If I’m going to engage someone in discussion, then I’ll do so with an aim of mutual understanding and not just persuasion”. If you aren’t willing to add that aim to your purpose, then you shouldn’t engage with them, but once you engage with them you must keep that aim in mind. That gets around your concern that not talking to someone who you feel it would be a waste of time to try to understand is a pragmatic issue, not a civility one, as civility comes in when you decide to engage.

        That being said, there are also practical reasons for that rule: if you are going to try to persuade me of your view, you won’t get very far if you don’t understand my reasons for holding the position I hold, and if you presume them, especially if you jump to negative reasons — such as “hatred” or “bigotry” — all you’ll do is tick me off.

        (Note: I am not saying that you, Chris, yourself do that. Just an example [grin]).

        • Chris Hallquist

          Yes – I think we agree on what Dan was trying to say. You describe exactly the view I mean to reject.

          • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

            Then I admit to being puzzled why you reject that. If you choose to engage in civil discussion, then you really should aim to understand their point of view, even if you think it wrong. And if you choose not to engage in civil discussion, then you don’t need to keep that in mind … but then we can easily say that you aren’t engaging in actual civil discussion and I, at least, would wonder why it would be worth my time to do so.

          • hf

            Most obviously, VS, he’s not engaging in civil discussion with William Lane Craig. He’s explaining to other people why Craig is contemptible.

            Also, if I present a string of symbols (perhaps used in probability) that ends with “2+2=5″, and I appear to believe it, you should only care about “understanding” if that helps persuade me otherwise (or furthers a general understanding of humanity).

  • DR

    On the subject of “bad words”, I’ll just quote the immortal Minchin: “this is language one employs
    When one is fucking cross about fuckers fucking boys”. Words are tools, they carry emotional charge, and they should be used when appropriate. To argue that some words are never appropriate is just plain dumb. Even the N-word is appropriate when used in the right context.
    This is not to say that there isn’t a case for limiting the use of profanity to cases, like Minchin’s Pope Song above, where “this is language one employs…”.

    But as for civility in general, fine. If *you* want to be civil all the time, by all means be the civil one. If you believe that will make you more credible, though, I have news for you. People who fear to use the tools at their disposal due to a false sense of propriety are not typically seen as “more credible”, just as “more naive”. Credibility has to be gained on its own merits. Chris Mooney may wail all the time about how it’s better to be nice to religious people, but he is widely (correctly) seen as little more than a pathetic bootlicker. DeGrasse Tyson is also much more civil than, say, PZ, yet he doesn’t have that stigma. That’s because Tyson actually has standing and he has chops. Mooney doesn’t, so he tried to gain credibility on the “strength” of his “civility” (which is really nothing but a form of pandering), and little else.

    Civility has its place, but really only insofar as the other side agrees to play according to the same rules.

  • eric

    In my little suburb there is a dive bar, a slightly more upscale pub, a slightly upscale wine bar, and a very upscale restaruant (with dress code, etc.). The upscale stuff is very nice when I want it. The dive bar is very nice when I want that sort of experience instead. And the mid-scale places are really nice when I don’t want to deal with some of the hassles associated with either extreme. So I have to say that what I like better than any specific set of social rules is variety and freedom to choose between social settings.
    In that respect, I very much prefer having a variety of blogs – moderated, unmoderated, clean, dirty, police, impolite, etc. – than any one particluar type of that list. I’m glad there are virtual bars like Dan’s. And I’m glad there are virtual bars that aren’t like Dan’s. For me, the internet would be a much more dismal place if all blogs followed Dan’s social rules – or if none of them did.

    • Kodie

      I’ll sign this.

    • baal

      Let’s add another bar to the mix. In this bar, the women are gropped (only by ‘accident’ not a complete free for all), stuff gets thrown on the floor with some regularity and the city has no smoking rule that’s regularly flaunted. How bad does the place (what level of general abusiveness) have to be before you think it’s violated minimum standards? Do you say the Slymepit is fully acceptable eric or do you speak out against it? How do you tell the difference between what’s a dive that’s great for a certain mood and a dive that’s fundamentally harmful to everyone associated with it? If the difference is ‘what’s in your heart’ or depends on ‘what tribe you prefer’ then you’re stuck in a morass.
      I’m still waiting for the ‘need a range of expression’ folks to define a lower end that they can be held to. All I’m seeing from the feminismists, the MRA, the xtian fundamentalists, the tea party and other groups is some variety of essentialism where the ‘evil’ group should be abused to the full extent of your powers as often as possible coupled with a variety of defensive mechanisms that absolve them of responsibility for the harms that they do to the ‘evil’ people.
      I don’t really like pledges but /signed Dan’s since he have given this issue a lot of thought and his ‘rules’ strike me as very tepid minimal standards.

      • eric

        I react to places like that by not frequenting them. And by telling my friends ‘don’t go there.’ If I end up in a place like that by accident, I have no problem complaining to the management about the atmosphere. They may choose to ignore me, but hey, I’m going to tell them why they lost this customer.
        If they do something blatantly illegal while I’m around (illegal in the ‘big’ sense of some major federal or state low, or in the more local sense of violating a local ordinance – analogous to a corporate hosting policy), I have no problem with informing the authorities about it.
        How’s that?

      • eric

        I’m still waiting for the ‘need a range of expression’ folks to define a lower end that they can be held to.

        I’m pretty much a supporter of free speech, so you won’t find me supporting any effort to make offensive speech illegal. But illegality is not often what’s being argued; its something of a straw man. I just mention it here to make my position clear. I’m perfectly fine with social movements and voluntary agreements that make offensive behavior less acceptable. I don’t want to criminalize nose picking either, but applying social pressure on people who do it in public to stop is fine by me.

  • J. Goard

    “try to get them to see why their wrong”

    Tsk, tsk, says you’re old third-grade teacher.

  • eric

    Test run. Let’s analyze this:”Dan, that pledge is a a plording poople off the bleeger end of the arglebargle beast, and here’s why…”
    #1: the “here’s why” fulfills the ‘seek understanding’ bit.
    #2: I’m not saying anything about the person at all.
    #3: I’m not saying anything about the person at all.
    #4: I’m not saying anything about the person at all.
    #5: the “here’s why” fulfills the requirement to weigh their position
    #6: my desciptions aren’t even real words, so they can’t be offensive language.
    #7: no ablist language. As mentioned in #6, most of it isn’t even words.
    #8: the “here’s why” fulfills the non-troll component. My comment doesn’t use trigger words, and (yet again), the comment is directed at the argument, not the person.
    #9: Any statement can be consistent with this, because it doesn’t have to do with argument content.
    #10: This one is so broad that practically anything could fail it. Its easy to imagine two people who took Dan’s pledge then arguing with each other that they each broke #10. I’d throw this away because its too opaque to serve the normative function its supposed to serve. But let’s try and define it in such a way that it does add a clear and normative statement: I pledge to try and get my friends to do pledge bullets #s 1-12 too. Okay, if we interpret #10 that way, my statement is consistent with that.
    #11: I’m not saying anything about the person at all.
    #12: I’m not saying anything about the person at all.

    Its interesting that fully half of the pledge’s points are fulfilled by comenting on the person’s argument rather than them. Its also interesting that, with the execption of #10, one can be clearly insulting towards a position or argument without breaking the pledge – so long as you explain what you think is wrong with that argument too. And breaking #10 is so broadly worded that anyone can be accused of breaking it for almost any sort of post. Someone could come along and claim this post is not compassionate. How could I even respond to that? Do I now have to argue about the nature and definition of compassion before proceeding? #10 seems tailor made to allow people to derail topics by making it about someone’s civility, good will, compassion, etc. rather than about the argument they give. It is, ironically, sort of a carved-out exception to #8. #8 says you can’t troll, but #10 says you should respond to someone’s post by pointing out their lack of compassion, if you think they aren’t being compassionat. Which could easily be considered a type of trolling.
    So, a real mishmash which probably doesn’t do what Dan wants it to do while at the same time containing a lot of redundancy. The gist of Dan’s stuff could probably be summarized better as: “I will address arguments, not people. I will give reasons why those arguments are wrong/should be dismissed. I will not ‘mercenary insult’ – i.e., use words or phrases I know I don’t need to use, just to put them on tilt.’

    • Chris Hallquist

      Actually, I don’t think Dan is saying, “I will address arguments, not people.” If he were saying that, he would be even wronger than he actually is.

    • baal

      Dan’s verbosity is a direct response to the type of noise you’re throwing up here eric. He’s trying to preempt the usual slate of bullshit the phrangulite horde use to abuse folks who suggest they are a problem and not a solution. As such, I don’t think you get to hold the verbosity against him. see also, can’t-win-situation.

      • eric

        Noise! I’m insulted – apologize. or violate #9. Implying I’m a pharyngulite shows no compassion. You’re not following #10. See the problem?
        Now to substance.
        I’ve read plenty of Dan’t posts; he’s almost always verbose about philosophy and ethics. That’s not an insult, its his field and he’s always trying to say something nuanced or deep about those subjects. However, I think the fact that you can look back over years of posts and find many that are this long directly undermines your assertion that his verbosity is a ‘direct response’ to anything recent. Months ago, before he moved, he wrote three posts of about the same length as his 12-bullet one when he was simply eliciting ideas for a comment policy, ffs. Verbosity is just something he does. Again, its not necessarily bad, but its not caused by people like me, either.
        Anyway, I gave you my ‘slate’ above (in response to your other post, after you wrote this, so I’m not banging on you for not addressing it here). But before you respond to this post, respond to those; if you think my slate is bullshit, tell me why.