On Civility

I note that one topic that often pops up in various postings and comments here and elsewhere is the issue of civility. A writer will fequently charge another with incivility, and there will be a riposte charging hypocrisy, since, after all, the first writer has occasionally vented…and so on. Of course, discussions of religion and irreligion tap into deep passions, and philosophical debate always risks bruised egos. So, small wonder that our missives occasionally get heated. Also, of course, there is the nature of the medium. People tend to be much ruder online than they would ever be face to face. On the other hand, I don’t think that blog postings and comments need to be as staid and prim as, for instance, articles in refereed journals. Remarks with a bit of a bite are fun to write and fun to read, and unquestionably one reason we blog is for the entertainment value. Still, too much heat does obscure the light, and gratuitous rudeness is not excusable in any medium. So, what sorts of rules of civility should we respect in our postings and comments? I suggest the following:

1) Start by being nice. Realize that someone who disagrees with you is another mere mortal, trying to make it through this vale of tears as well as he /she can, and that, given the severe limitations imposed on human cognitive capacities, might well have reached, rationally and in good faith, a conclusion opposite yours. So, try, at least initially, to express your disgreements firmly but politely.

2) Ignore most rudeness. Darwin observed that a big dog will scornfully ignore the snarling of a little dog. Be a big dog. Let the little dogs snarl and yap. You have better things to do than to get into a contest of bandying insults with boors.

3) If someone is persistently and gratuitiously rude and nasty, and you’re fed up, and you are not afraid to get into the proverbial pissing contest with the skunk, then go ahead. Let him have it if you feel like it. One of the best ways to let them have it is to point out their gratuitous rudeness, and this will sometimes shame them into silence. On the other hand, the really hard cases–like some of the various online “apologists” who have made a career out of scurrility–are incapable of shame. With these guys, no one can rightly charge you with incivility if you pay them back in kind since, after all, that is the coinage they themselves have chosen to exchange.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15722369667098658477 Dave




    Atheist? We can fix that…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03034292023591747601 PersonalFailure

    I think one of the biggest problems with the internet is that when I’m snarky or sarcastic or joking in real life, you can tell in an instant that I’m not trying to offend. Perhaps I am failing to be funny, but no, I’m not trying to be rude. Online, the mediums of facial expression, body language and tone of voice are gone, and something like 90% of human communication is nonverbal.

    I try to come at it from the opinion that a poster is acting in good faith (so to speak), that they are not trying to be rude, and that I am simply missing some cue that would provided to me in face to face communication.

    You’ll actually see that in my comments section when I ask people “was that snark?” or “ummm . . . what?” That’s me, reacting to something that I could find offensive, but I’m giving the commentor the benefit of the doubt.

    The funny thing is, 9 times out of 10, if they respond to me, it’s to provide further explanation that removes potential offense.

    My point? Approach online interactions with the understanding that you’re missing a lot because of medium, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    The ultimate rudeness is asking Biblical scholars for evidence for their pronouncements.

    Those people are scholars! And amateurs are asking them to back up their claims.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11269648076936947425 White Rabbit

    I find the same problem in emails. the right words with the wrong inflection can sound quite different. I often forget that my voice and body language aren’t carried with my words. It’s been mentioned to me that wrongly read I sound somewhat coarse.

    W R