Preached down to four

Preached down to four October 16, 2010

Clarence Jordan, the late founder of Koinonia Farm (the community that gave us Habitat for Humanity), used to tell a story that nicely illustrates the importance of "Test everything. Hold on to the good."

In the 1950s, an old hillbilly preacher invited Jordan to come and speak at his church in rural South Carolina. Jordan arrived to find, to his surprise, a large, thriving and racially integrated congregation — a remarkable thing in that time and place. (Sadly, it's actually a remarkable thing in any time or place.) So Clarence asked the man how this came about.

When he first got there as a substitute preacher, the old man said, it was a small, all-white congregation of a few dozen families. So he gave a sermon on the bit from Galatians where Paul writes: "You are all children of God … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Here I'll pick up from Tony Campolo's retelling of Jordan's story:

"When the service was over, the deacons took me in the back room and they told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more."

Clarence asked, "What did you do then?"

The old preacher answered, "I fired them deacons!"

"How come they didn't fire you?" asked Clarence.

"Well, they never hired me," the old preacher responded. … "Once I found out what bothered them people, I preached the same message every Sunday. It didn't take much time before I had that church preached down to four."

That story gets at something I was trying to say Thursday in my strange phone conversation with the Granny Inquisitor, my first-time-caller, long-time-nonlistener.

And yeah, that really happened — at 11 a.m., no less, which is for me pretty much still the middle of the night, the equivalent of 3 a.m. for those of you who work 9 to 5 (although she couldn't have known that).

I'm still a bit frustrated by the thought that this was probably my only chance to have a conversation with this fierce aunt and that I didn't make better use of this one chance to communicate the most essential things I wish I could have expressed to her, in part because I lost my temper. My patience with her for the first 20 minutes or so really was commendable, I think, but it doesn't excuse my angry impatience in the last five. Confronted with someone confrontational and constantly shouting interruptions I eventually wound up just shouting back — a failure of imagination and bad behavior on my part.

When I'm more awake, I often try to approach such situations by asking WWDND? or sometimes WWTDD? What would David Niven do? Or What would the Doctor do? In his Cliff-Notes summary of the Sermon on the Mount (in Romans 12), St. Paul said, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." That's sound advice (or, if you like, a wise command), but it's far from easy. So sometimes the next best thing to overcoming evil with good is to try to respond to it with an unflappable politeness.

In this case, I'm afraid, I turned out to be quite flappable. I flapped. Instead of overcoming evil with good, I wound up just naming it as such, loudly, and then hanging up. Could have done worse. Should have done better.

As a result I wasn't able to ask what I really wanted to ask her, which was this: Your nephew has rejected something or someone — but are you sure that it's really Jesus? Was he rejecting the genuine article, or just some counterfeit impostor?

The former would, in my view, be grounds for great sadness. The latter, however, ought to bring rejoicing here on earth as it does in heaven.

After all, we can't hold on to the good if we're trying to hold on to something else instead.

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  • @Ursula L: Exactly what I was going to say.
    Who the hell speaks for the fetus — if the mother then we don’t need to do anything but let the mother make the decision for herself.
    If someone other than the mother then there goes her freedom of choice.

  • For people who don’t recognise their mistakes, a good verbal shake-up is probably quite helpful to make sure that they do realise that their behaviour was not cool. Otherwise they/we will jsut keep going and possibly say the same thing again elsewhere, because no one spoke up loudly enough to make sure the Not Cool bell got rung.

    Sometimes this is almost certainly true, but I’ve also seen many, many, many occasions where someone types something without thinking, gets snapped at for it, and immediately goes on the defensives because they’re being attacked. Causing them to embrace a view that they were otherwise neutral on, just because they’d been attacked.
    Again, this is far from always the case, but I do think that we here are a bit too prone to jumping down people’s throats.
    I know how most people here feel about intent, but I really do think that there’s a difference between a well-intentioned, but still unthinkingly bigoted, remark and one deliberately malevolent. If nothing else, the person making an unthinking remark would be, in my limited experience, more receptive to being gently corrected than being attacked for it. :/.
    Still, I know only a very small subset of a small subset of a small subset of people on a tiny part of the internet, so any conclusions I draw from that are far from the be-all and end-all.

    Tim: I suggest that, if innocent-if-ignorant people don’t want to be condemned for saying stupid things, they educate themselves so that they don’t.

    I’d say that most of the time a defining characteristic of being ignorant is not knowing that you are ignorant.
    If you know that the English language is just packed with words and phrases that are unintentionally bigoted, and that western culture also has lots of innate bigotry to it, and that there’s lots of bigotry towards groups that are generally not recognized as disadvantaged by the world at large, then you should indeed do research and think before you say something.
    However, how many people really know that? And if you don’t know that, then how can you be expected to do research on it? Newton was smart, and it seems a bit unfair to say that he shouldn’t have written anything (or was ignorant) about Gravity because he got stuff wrong about it.
    The way I look at it is that everyone is born ignorant of…pretty much everything. As we grow we become less ignorant about a small section of things. The fact still remains that, even should we live to 150, we’ll still be ignorant about the vast majority of things. Ignorance is not something to be ashamed of or offended by*, it’s simply everyone’s default state. You’re free to leave people ignorant on a given issue, because it is indeed not anyone’s responsibility to educate anyone else, but hatred/dislike on the basis of ignorance?

    I didn’t sign up for anyone’s support group, I didn’t take a job as a teacher, and the feelings of the ignorant are not my problem.

    All true, but if the feelings of the ignorant aren’t your concern then why do you bother to correct them on them?

    It is not for you to say what hurts my cause.

    …And now I prepare to step on a landmine. >>
    Without in the least trying to be offensive, nor implying that I do, in fact, know your own cause better than you, I am curious about this. Let us say that an outsider to your cause (though one who had experience with another, at least somewhat similar one) gave you advice, would you really consider them to be out of place?

    Sounds to me like she is handling the situation perfectly. She is calling her son on his behavior, while recognizing that his intent is not to be cruel. So, she’s sensitive to that. She is not letting the lack of intent prevent her from speaking up, but she is still mindful of it. It is not fun to call people on bad behavior when you know they do not “mean it.”

    And here’s what I’ve been trying to say, put much more succinctly.
    I feel that people should always be called on bigoted statements, what I dispute is the idea that the first response should always be to yell at them.

    My goal is to defend those who are hurt by sexist (or whatever) statements. And I generally find my methods to be very productive for my goals.

    Ah, well then, I guess most of the above stops applying then, doesn’t it? Your method will certainly be better at that than asking nicely.

    Well, you have to start SOMEwhere to define a human. In the past it was a lot more nebulous but these days, DNA’s pretty much the qualifier, since we know humans have (mostly) 46 chromosomes with (mostly) the right kind of base pair sequences, and variations from these are known (and more are being found all the time) and do not disqualify a person from being human.

    Heh, and I’d disagree. :D
    How much variation can one’s DNA have before one stops being a person?
    What if** I could create a replica brain out of computer chips and give it all of my memories and thought processes, would that not be human? What if we find intelligent aliens, would they count as human for the purposes of having rights?

    You know, Lunch Meat, in the future, it might be a good plan to do research on topics you want to know about.

    Er, isn’t that what zie’s doing? Best way I’ve found to learn is to ask questions. And better yet, asking questions in the comment section of a blog means that no one is being forced into the role of teacher if they don’t want to be. Seems a pretty good solution to me.
    *Now, there are times when ignorance is offensive, but that’s when people are deliberately ignorant. Refusing to learn is, in every situation I can think of, wrong. But that’s different from the ignorance I’m talking about. Someone who is deliberately ignorant certainly isn’t going to be swayed by kind words.
    **I know, I know, but this what-if is actually rather plausible as these things go (researchers have come a very long way in creating artificial brains. Nowhere near an actual human one, of course, but still much closer than most people think.)

  • chris the cynic

    I admit I have a strong trigger regarding anger in general, which is my own problem.
    Have you made any progress on this? I remember you discussing it before and it seemed like it was quite a large problem for you whenever a situation in which it applied came up. Have you seen any improvement? I hope it is getting better for you, and if it isn’t I hope it starts to get better soon.

  • Eric

    @GDwarf: “Er, isn’t that what zie’s doing? Best way I’ve found to learn is to ask questions. And better yet, asking questions in the comment section of a blog means that no one is being forced into the role of teacher if they don’t want to be.”
    Even asking about things that aren’t controversial, this is still frowned upon:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=lazyweb
    Seriously, there are TONS of #ISSUE# 101 resources out there.

  • Ursula L

    All true, but if the feelings of the ignorant aren’t your concern then why do you bother to correct them on them?
    I’d say that the feelings of the ignorant are not my concern, but the effects of their behavior on others, including myself, are my concern. If someone is running around kicking people, I don’t care about the feelings of the kicker, I care about the people being kicked.
    Which brings up something I wrote here a while back, but which is worth repeating:

    Tolerance and intolerance are opposites, and like most opposites, are mutually incompatible. I’m not intolerant of you – I value tolerance, which means, by definition, that I oppose intolerant behavior.
    Tolerance doesn’t mean “everything for everyone.” It is a positive, affirmative values system, which has a proper moral structure. It says “this is good” sometimes, and “this is bad” at other times. It isn’t relativism, it isn’t the idea that everything is good, or the idea that you can’t know good from bad. The values of a culture which are positive and affirming for everyone are to be celebrated, while the values of a culture that are harmful and intolerant are to be changed.
    Tolerance isn’t a “kick me” sign, or a “go ahead and kick whom you want” sign. It’s a “no kicking” sign. Because “kicking” however defined, harms other people, and harming another person is wrong.

  • I hope it is getting better for you, and if it isn’t I hope it starts to get better soon.

    Thanks. It’s not really a day-to-day problem outside of close relationships. The advantage of being an adult and no longer in school is that I can more easily avoid the company of men who seem stereotypically “angry” – truck drivers, construction workers, football players, police officers, military men, hunters and so forth. And I feel guilty for stereotyping that way. I have a private joke that my idea of a non-angry man would be Raffi Cavoukian or Ralph Covert. Even an avowed pacifist like Gandhi would seem, not violent or threatening, but at least stern and judgmental.

  • Even asking about things that aren’t controversial, this is still frowned upon:

    …Why is asking a question in a public forum, where people are free to answer, or not, as they wish, frowned upon?
    Over half the reason I spend time on the internet is to learn stuff and ask questions. It’s rather unsettling to be told that daring to ask a question about something is a major crime.

  • @MercuryBlue
    apparently this student went to the 9/12 thing and a few other things and took a bunch of pictures and only six percent of them were offensive and none were racist
    Wow, that is…an incredibly terrible research method.
    @Will
    mentally dividing the world into Normal People and Women does not parse
    Yeah. I was at the library today to get books for a paper, and closed and put back a book that, from the catalog entry, looked useful, because any book that straight-facedly describes women as a subspecies of human is going to make me too angry for me to get any information out of it.

  • @Rebecca: ny book that straight-facedly describes women as a subspecies of human is going to make me too angry for me to get any information out of it.
    Are you having us on? Was this a book written anytime in the last 100 years?

  • renniejoy

    On C-sections (trigger warnings) – Even if the procedure is NOT against the mother’s will (for varying degrees of will) it is still MAJOR abdominal surgery. The doctor cuts through several layers of muscle to reach the uterus and there is NO guarantee that those muscles will EVER regain their full function. And the patient is recovering for 6 weeks, minimum. NOT a cure-all for abortion.
    BTW, this is why my OB-GYN did not want me to get a tubal ligation (esp. after 2 c-sections) – it is major abdominal surgery.
    Trigger warning off (I think) – according to the info with my birth control, even a tubal ligation (where the fallopian tubes are cut and cauterized, theoretically preventing an egg from traveling to the uterus) is NOT 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.
    IIRC, the pregnancy rate with a tubal ligation is ~99.8% (which I want to say works out to 2 in 1000) – that leaves lots of room for unintended pregnancy, even after taking precautions. Abstinence (from PIV sex) really is the only sure way to prevent conception. I just don’t think that it’s a fair or realistic expectation for most people.

  • Edwin Carshall (a pseudonym)

    Ursusula L, that seems a bit of a double standard, since you presumably have no problem with unborn children being kicked. Isn’t tolerating intolerance itself intolerance? I ask nothing except that you consider my words in relation to your beliefs.

  • Eric

    @GDwarf: Uh, did you read the article I linked to? It’s lazy. Now, if you do a little initial reading, locate a forum where people are interested in fielding newbie questions, and ask, that’s one thing.

  • Ursula L

    ..Why is asking a question in a public forum, where people are free to answer, or not, as they wish, frowned upon? Over half the reason I spend time on the internet is to learn stuff and ask questions. It’s rather unsettling to be told that daring to ask a question about something is a major crime.
    It has to do with respecting the space that the host of the forum is trying to create, and the conversation the host wants to be having.
    You don’t put a first-grader into an advanced calculus class and tell them to ask questions about the math until they understand what is going on. For someone who isn’t prepared to take advanced calculus to go into the advanced calculus class and start asking questions would ruin the class for everyone who was there to actually learn advanced calculus.
    Pretty much every civil rights cause and group these days has people running blogs and websites dedicated to helping folks with “101” type questions. That’s the place to start. If you haven’t even run a Google search on whatever it is you want to know about, you’re quite likely to wind up derailing the conversation the host wanted to foster.
    Imagine how boring the Left Behind discussions here would be if we had people coming in every week and asking very basic questions about the Left Behind stories, when we’re all wanting to talk about Fred’s latest analysis and the theological, political and social points he’s wanting to make. There is an ongoing conversation here, and an art to joining the ongoing conversation without demanding that the conversation be restarted from page-one fore the newcomer.

  • Eric

    Now, please consider the example in question: someone arguing a point on a contentious issue (abortion) and then trying to backpedal with “really don’t know that much about pregnancy-related medical procedures”… I’d have a real hard time not responding “then why do you have such a strong opinion on abortion, something you JUST admitted you don’t know much about?

  • Lunch Meat

    Now, please consider the example in question: someone arguing a point on a contentious issue (abortion) and then trying to backpedal with “really don’t know that much about pregnancy-related medical procedures”… I’d have a real hard time not responding “then why do you have such a strong opinion on abortion, something you JUST admitted you don’t know much about?
    Excuse me, but this really misrepresents what happened. In no place did I argue for anything. At no point did I ask a 101 question, or even a factual question. I expressed no strong opinions. I asked a specific poster a specific question about the views he had already described. I was at fault, yes, for not clarifying to whom I was speaking, but I apologized and clarified that as soon as I saw there had been a misunderstanding. And as soon as someone responded with something I had not thought of, I agreed that what I said was silly and immediately stopped defending it.

  • GDwarf: Uh, did you read the article I linked to? It’s lazy. Now, if you do a little initial reading, locate a forum where people are interested in fielding newbie questions, and ask, that’s one thing.

    Ah, I’m afraid I didn’t read the article, no, I assumed it was a sarcastic link to a google search.
    But if you don’t want to answer the question being asked then don’t. Heck, even killfile the person asking. It’s not as if a question harms you in any way.

    It has to do with respecting the space that the host of the forum is trying to create, and the conversation the host wants to be having.
    You don’t put a first-grader into an advanced calculus class and tell them to ask questions about the math until they understand what is going on. For someone who isn’t prepared to take advanced calculus to go into the advanced calculus class and start asking questions would ruin the class for everyone who was there to actually learn advanced calculus.
    Pretty much every civil rights cause and group these days has people running blogs and websites dedicated to helping folks with “101” type questions. That’s the place to start. If you haven’t even run a Google search on whatever it is you want to know about, you’re quite likely to wind up derailing the conversation the host wanted to foster.
    Imagine how boring the Left Behind discussions here would be if we had people coming in every week and asking very basic questions about the Left Behind stories, when we’re all wanting to talk about Fred’s latest analysis and the theological, political and social points he’s wanting to make. There is an ongoing conversation here, and an art to joining the ongoing conversation without demanding that the conversation be restarted from page-one fore the newcomer.

    All that’s fine, if this was a blog dedicated to discussing the minutia of civil rights issues, but it isn’t. The ongoing conversation here, as far as I can tell, is pretty big on introducing people to the basics of privledge and similar. So the rebuke seems more in line with being upset for a university freshman in a calculus class asking for clarification on something they didn’t get. The person has the knowledge level expected for the place they’re in, and are asking appropriate questions, and then get rebuked for not knowing the answers that the place is there to answer*.
    *I realize that the comment section here doesn’t exist solely for the purpose of answering basic questions, but I’ve seen plenty of people come in here (my self included) with a very limited/non-existent grasp of many of the things that get talked about and get tutored into the community.
    That’s…kinda what I’d expect for a blog, too. A forum dedicated to a topic? It makes sense there to expect a certain level of knowledge before someone wades in. But a blog? You’ll have new people dropping in all the time, and if nothing else I’d be a bit disappointed to scare them off because they feel that they have to read a large textbook’s worth of essays before they’re allowed to even ask questions.

  • Pretty much every civil rights cause and group these days has people running blogs and websites dedicated to helping folks with “101” type questions. That’s the place to start. If you haven’t even run a Google search on whatever it is you want to know about, you’re quite likely to wind up derailing the conversation the host wanted to foster.
    Imagine how boring the Left Behind discussions here would be if we had people coming in every week and asking very basic questions about the Left Behind stories, when we’re all wanting to talk about Fred’s latest analysis and the theological, political and social points he’s wanting to make. There is an ongoing conversation here, and an art to joining the ongoing conversation without demanding that the conversation be restarted from page-one fore the newcomer.

    This is ringing some alarm bells for me because as far as I know the host here isn’t trying to foster any particular type of conversation on most of the topics we discuss. We start out talking about the post and then the conversation wonders were it will. If we’re talking about host intent probably 60% of the discussion here is outside anything Fred intended to talk about. That being the case, discussing host intent feels more than a little presumptuous for lack of a better word. The fact that there are posters who loath doing 101 doesn’t say anything about how the host feels. Certainly if Fred at some point indicated that the threads here are a no-101 space I missed it.
    Even when it comes to the LB posts it seems a bit of a stretch. They’re all hosted on this site and we’ve had plenty of times when someone new comes in, makes a comment and gets directed to an earlier post without creating some epic thread derail.
    Yes, there’s an art to joining a conversation in progress but there’s also an art to keeping a conversation fluid and open to being joined. If we’re going to declare certain discussions or certain aspects of some topics off limits I think we’re risking become more clubby and closed than seems good.

  • P J Evans

    @ colorlessblue
    I’m certainly impressed. The colors are lovely, too.
    (I knit lace and socks and scarves, mostly, and, the occasional sweater or throw.)

  • Dav

    Why is asking a question in a public forum, where people are free to answer, or not, as they wish, frowned upon? Over half the reason I spend time on the internet is to learn stuff and ask questions. It’s rather unsettling to be told that daring to ask a question about something is a major crime.
    Yeah, but is your *first stop* to step into the middle of a controversial discussion, or do you perhaps stop off at google or wikipedia on the way in? (Note: not that wikipedia is the be all and end all. But “late-term abortion” or “third trimester abortion” refers you to D&E.) Looking for discussions, articles, or sites on abortion will bring up a ton more info.
    In this particular case, I think the question was pretty open-ended, and felt free not to respond – but it’s not like the op was asking about a top-secret brief on the issue – minimal research pulls this stuff up. It’s an example of behavior that *can* be disruptive, even derailing (I think it’s actually the first or second suggestion on Derailing for Dummies, followed not long after by You’re Hurting Your Cause By Being So Angry). It also *can* show a sense of entitlement – after all, you’re asking other people to spend their time on you, for something you could discover relatively easily on your own. Most activists don’t just encounter this once in awhile, but constantly, which is one reason I’ve cut way back on the amount of 101 I’m willing to do these days – it’s an invitation to be a walking resource, therapist, and guru, whether or not you’re good at any of those things.
    In short, I think people should make some general effort to educate themselves before asking about issues. Even if it fails spectacularly (we’re not all good at picking up info from reading about it), it at least shows good will, and may give you enough of the broad strokes so you can understand the nuances better. It’s sort of the difference between showing up to class unprepared, without a textbook or notebook, and coming to class having done the reading and having some idea what’s being discussed. One is respectful of others, and takes responsibility for your own learning. The other isn’t, and doesn’t.
    Of course, sometimes you’re in casual conversation and these things come up, and that’s fine. But if you’re setting out to learn something, especially from a disadvantaged group, it’s respectful to spend a little time on your own first.

  • Eric

    @LM: After looking back, I have to largely concur with your analysis. I guess I was a little irritated with your hypothetical- I might suggest it’s even a “101” hypothetical- but it’s one I got stuck on at one point, so I really can’t talk. GDwarf’s comment really prompted me to post, and Ursula fielded that one more elegantly than I managed to.

  • Yes, there’s an art to joining a conversation in progress but there’s also an art to keeping a conversation fluid and open to being joined. If we’re going to declare certain discussions or certain aspects of some topics off limits I think we’re risking become more clubby and closed than seems good.

    Precisely my point.
    Questions are how people learn, and people become part of communities by learning. If you don’t allow questions then you’ve just said: “The current people are all we want in this community, everyone else be gone.” In some cases this is fine, but you want to be sure you’re speaking for the whole community when you say that, and I can say that I certainly don’t agree.
    But then, if I see anything as sacred then it’s the right to ask questions. If someone asks me something then I do everything I can to give a reasonable and accurate answer, no matter how pointless or inane the question seems nor how busy I am at the time. So I expect my views are probably a bit out of line with the majority.

  • In short, I think people should make some general effort to educate themselves before asking about issues.

    See, this is the sticking point because, to me at least, the best way to learn about an issue is to ask people involved with it.
    I can see your point, and I fully respect any individual’s right to not answer questions, but I’m really, really, really uncomfortable with a…”community standard” of not allowing any basic questions.

  • Are you having us on? Was this a book written anytime in the last 100 years?
    Indeed it was. I’ll try and find the title again, based on remembering where I was in the stacks…
    …Ah, yes. Mozart and Beethoven: the concept of love in their operas, 1977. “Let us begin with the fact that all men are born of woman. From birth they are dependent on a biological subspecies significantly different from their own…”

  • Eric

    @GDwarf: What’s the best way for me to file my taxes? Be specific!

  • Ursula L

    Lunch Meat,
    The problem is, you pretty much did ask a 101 question. “Why not give the baby up for adoption, instead?” is something that comes up in every discussion of abortion. Hypotheticals about premature delivery instead of abortion are pretty common, too. There was nothing in your hypothetical situation that I hadn’t heard suggested before, and had to argue against before. I’m certain that others here had also heard your hypothetical before. There is a reason why we had answers ready, and that is that we’d answered that point many times before.
    And I’m sure that you did know that a C-section, premature or otherwise, involves cutting a woman open. You just didn’t think about it – think about what your proposed solution actually was. And people coming up with abstract, hypothetical solutions to problems without thinking about what their solution really is, that’s another 101 problem, something that happens over and over, in a predictable fashion.

  • Edwin Carshall (a pseudonym)

    EXCUSE ME
    STOP ARGUING ABOUT STUPID CRAP WHICH DESERVES NO CONTENTION
    Thank you.

  • Lunch Meat

    I guess I was a little irritated with your hypothetical- I might suggest it’s even a “101” hypothetical- but it’s one I got stuck on at one point, so I really can’t talk.
    That’s fair, but as for the question of research, A) I would have been satisfied with the answer “That’s a ridiculous idea and you clearly have done no research about the issue or you wouldn’t have asked, and none of us have time to tell you why.” And B) When no real debate is going on, it’s hard not to see this place as casual conversation, where one might say, “Hey, I just thought of this, and unfortunately I’m working on other things right now so I can’t go find and read twenty articles, can you tell me what you think of it?”

  • Pius: Well, you have to start SOMEwhere to define a human. In the past it was a lot more nebulous but these days, DNA’s pretty much the qualifier, since we know humans have (mostly) 46 chromosomes with (mostly) the right kind of base pair sequences, and variations from these are known (and more are being found all the time) and do not disqualify a person from being human.
    Speaking of arguments that made people mad, I once discussed abortion with a guy that thought the definition for person should be “has 46 chromosomes.” He got awfully angry when I pointed out that he had just declared people with Down Syndrome not human…

  • It’s an example of behavior that *can* be disruptive, even derailing

    I think we also have to ask what constitutes “derailing” in this forum. As I said earlier, we start off any given thread talking about the post but most of the time we wonder well off topic before long. It’s also totally normal for us to 3 or more conversations going in a given thread at one time.
    What we seem to be talking about isn’t so much detailing as questions that (at least some) regulars don’t want to answer. I’m not sure that constitutes a community standard, especially as we’re all guests on someone else’s blog and the host hasn’t said word one about it.

    What’s the best way for me to file my taxes? Be specific!

    A perfect example of a question that can simply be ignored.

  • @GDwarf: What’s the best way for me to file my taxes? Be specific!

    I can see your point, and I fully respect any individual’s right to not answer questions, but I’m really, really, really uncomfortable with a…”community standard” of not allowing any basic questions.

  • jackass

    And do not fucking tell me how to approach people saying sexist things, you condescending twit.
    Go fuck yourself, jackass.

    And there’s the ol’ MadGas we know and lo…, er, yeah.

  • @Rebecca: OMG — -head desk — repeatedly

  • MercuryBlue

    Speaking of arguments that made people mad, I once discussed abortion with a guy that thought the definition for person should be “has 46 chromosomes.” He got awfully angry when I pointed out that he had just declared people with Down Syndrome not human…
    Also: http://zyxo.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/list-of-animal-species-with-46-chromosomes/

  • @Edwin Cranshall
    EXCUSE ME
    STOP ARGUING ABOUT STUPID CRAP WHICH DESERVES NO CONTENTION
    Thank you.

    Now, now, sweetie, you need to behave while the grown-ups are trying to talk. Why don’t you go play with your Legos or color in your new coloring book? You could play with your Nintendo DS. Just go play quietly and let the grown-ups talk ok?
    If you don’t behave, we won’t buy you any ice cream later.

  • oh darn… I got his name wrong..
    Normally I would double check, but I don’t really particularly give a shit if I get the name of trolls wrong.

  • jackass

    You are mansplaining
    sexist, much?

  • Dav

    See, this is the sticking point because, to me at least, the best way to learn about an issue is to ask people involved with it.
    Sure. And if that’s your learning style, that’s great. But I still think there’s a place for looking around. For one thing, maybe your question has been addressed somewhere else. A lot of sites do maintain FAQ sections, and there’s not many questions that haven’t been asked at some time, *especially* if you’re new to an issue. Interestingly, this applies even to totally random stuff. I was doing a little research for my boss the other day, and needed to know how heavy the dried abomasum of a baby goat is. Astonishingly enough, that information is readily accessible online, along with other helpful information. You really can learn the most startling facts on the internet. That said, I didn’t have to call up the local university and troll the professors until I found one familiar with kid goat innards. And when I did have to find a prof familiar with goat innards, I had enough knowledge to nod knowingly when he talked about enzymatic actions and rennet production. (Of course, we then proceeded to discuss the local football team, but that’s expected small talk this time of year.)
    It’s not that you’re banned from asking questions – it’s that you’re encouraged to come prepared so discussion can get awesome right away. It makes your questions better – stronger, more pertinent, more interesting. In turn, the answers you’ll get will be more personalized, more engaged, and more provoking. To be fair, 101 *can* be awesome right away, but it’s easier if people do a little background reading first. Usually people need a little time while concepts sink in and foment.
    If you really can’t or don’t learn like that ever, then there’s plenty of people around who will indeed take you through things. But if you are able to, it’s respectful to begin with a little of your own work.
    I think we also have to ask what constitutes “derailing” in this forum.
    An excellent point. I guess I meant “derailing” here as a kick to a topic that people don’t want to follow along with, but feel obligated or goaded to. Say, if we’re all talking about sexual harassment and some scapel-like mind shows up to point out that he’s never noticed sexual harassment and hopes all of our scenarios are hypothetical. At that point, you can point and laugh, or address his points, or try to go on with the conversation, but it’s not just a neutral aside that you can pick up or not, like the bit earlier about meringue on key lime pie. (I scrape mine off.)

  • Edwin Carshall (a pseudonym)

    Dismissing a comment by calling it immature? How mature. I would love nothing more than to leave this place forever and get back to finishing Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but when God calls me to correct the errors of the lost, I might as well try to ignore a bullet in my head. My skill at debate is far too valuable an asset to waste when it could go to His service. But the endless bickering about the minutae of tone of language that go on here. Could drive a man of less mental fortitude mad.

  • Sort of OT, sort not.
    Talking about C-sections. Over a decade ago I had to have surgery very similar to a C-section to remove very large tumours that might have been cancerous (they weren’t — insert happy dance here.)
    You cannot imagine, unless you have had this type of surgery, what it does to your abdominal walls. Not only did I have a scar that could frighten small children at the beach but a whole set of muscles had been cut through. Oh, and it turned out I was allergic to morphine.
    Every time I read/hear someone talking about C-sections as ‘easy way to get a baby out’ I have to restrain myself from giving the speaker/writer a graphic demonstration of exactly what one feels like.

  • Lunch Meat

    The problem is, you pretty much did ask a 101 question.
    I suppose you’re right, and I’m sorry for that. I guess I’m frustrated because I wasn’t very serious with the question–more of a very, very idealized Star Trek-y world where surgery is easy and we have artificial wombs–nor did I think of it as The Solution to All Abortion Evar, and I really did mean to ask Pius based on his specific definition of personhood. I didn’t phrase it well.
    It’s a little frustrating to have ten people answer you, though, when you’ve already realized you said something stupid and have withdrawn the question. I don’t mind being answered by a lot of people if I disagree with them, but it feels more like dogpiling when I’ve already surrendered.

  • Tim

    The difference is that “non-confrontational” behavior only works if there’s some other relationship between the people involved that mediates the non-confrontational path better than the confrontational one.
    Example: A mother telling her son nicely but firmly not to say “that’s so gay” already has, one hopes, a good relationship with him in that she treats him well, disciplines consistently, and in general does the things one expects a parent to do for a child. In turn, the son obviously pays attention to his mother and obeys her when instructed.
    Now, Y HALO THAR RANDOM TOTAL STRANGER CAN YOU PLZ NICELY NOT SAY THAT ANYMOAR?
    Whaddya think random stranger’s gonna say, particularly someone already predisposed to aggressively shut down someone else’s complaints via a number of avenues?

    It depends on the stranger. That’s my point. They might not be predisposed to shut people down aggressively. They might be genuinely ignorant people who do not understand how their comments are hurtful and will stop when you point it out. I have met and had a positive experience with people like that. If they do respond aggressively, then sure, react in kind. I’ve had experiences with those people to. In public, it’s certainly easier to tell which is which. But in situations where you can’t tell, I think confirmation is the best option, since I’ve seen aggression blow up on people spectacularly, myself included.
    Non-confrontation isn’t going to work here. There’s no pre-existing basis on which the two people have a common ground that allows social barriers to already be lowered so that nicely asking actually works.
    Okay, chances are maybe the random stranger will knock it off.
    Chances are maybe they won’t.

    And based on that, you then proceed to confrontational tones and tactics.
    The usual rule I used to follow way back on the Interwebs was ask nicely once, then if a person kept insulting gay people, get them booted out of chat posthaste.
    Usually worked well as a behavior modification tool, too, since within six months people stopped dropping “fag” every second sentence.
    Could never get them to shut up with the derogatory crap about black people though, no damn matter how hard I tried.

    That’s what I’m in favor of, though. One polite ‘Don’t do that’ to test the water, than all speed ahead once you’ve confirmed a target.
    When you’re well past the “I asked nicely” phase and well into the “God damn it JUST NO” phase, being told to go back to first principles can rankle.
    All I’m saying is that I find not assuming a new entity is a ‘god damn it just no’ encounter until given evidence of it is more effective than assuming it is, that the way Kit treated Rusty, the way Mary Kaye treats her son, the way Rowen treated the Lessor, is something I find a good way to treat people in general. I also find the way Rowen treated that Lessor later on an excellent way to react to someone.
    With a known entity, someone you know will not budge, open and unrestrained confrontation can very well be the absolute best option. I have no objection to that either.
    At most, I’m saying I don’t find going automatically to confrontation as helpful. I’ve found it quite personally disastrous in the past.
    Maybe you find something else works better for you. That’s fine. I’m not trying to tell you different, sorry if I come across like I’m trying to tell you how to live your life. Really, I’m not, for however much saying that is worth.

  • GDwarf: I don’t yell at people on the Internet for their own good. Fundamentally, if I’m yelling at you, I’ve probably already written you off–unless you do something to convince me otherwise.
    I yell for the benefit of the audience: to give other people who are hurt or offended notice that someone else gives a damn about this issue, to let people know that this is a Not Okay thing to say and that people are going to hate them when they say it, etc.
    Now, I’m exaggerating my position a little here. There are situations where I’m willing to start out soft: hey, this word in this context can come off this way; it seems like you’re implying X, and I’d rather you didn’t; etc. But if someone wanders in all “What’s this privilege nonsense?” or “Why are the gay people making such a fuss?” or “How can you call yourself rational and believe in God?”…those people aren’t really worth talking to, and I don’t think they’ll be worth talking to even if I do the slow-and-gentle 101 dance. They’ll just be dipshits some other way.

  • Also, confrontation means I don’t have to deal with people as often. ;) I find that if I’m a bitch, beckwits tend to walk off in a huff, and then I can get on with the all important business of filing my nails while watching old Zero Punctuation videos.
    …man, I’m just working on my Cranky Old Lady badge in advance here, aren’t I?

  • @cjmr:

    Okay, either Pius is confused or I am.
    I thought that D&C (Dilation and Curettage) is the procedure for early stage abortions (and also used for removing some uterine tumors and in the instance of un-shed uterine lining cause by some hormonal conditions) and D&E (Dilation and Extraction/Evacuation) is the procedure for late stage abortions. (And neither of those is the procedure used in most ectopic pregnancies, which require a surgical removal of part or all of the Fallopian tube, depending on how advanced the pregnancy and whether the tube has ruptured.)

    I bet it’s me, most likely. By all means correct me on that if I mistakenly referred to the wrong procedure.

  • Deoridhe

    Mary Kaye: I am currently trying to find the way to express anger that makes it clear that yes, I am angry, but doesn’t cause him to jump from there to “She’s going to abandon me.”
    Forgive an outsider and feel free to disregard if it is not useful, but I have a client who has attachment issues playing out with me. I found that what worked well was distancing gently but firmly when his behavior was unacceptable with a comment about when I would return worked wonders. He discovered I would come back, but also that I wouldn’t stay to be abused.
    The most important part is to be neutral in emotion when you go. Don’t yell, or become aggressive, but just say. “That is unacceptable. I will return in X time when your behavior is proper.” And then leave.
    Hope it helps. Parenting can be a real challenge!!

  • Emcee, cubed

    It’s a little frustrating to have ten people answer you, though, when you’ve already realized you said something stupid and have withdrawn the question. I don’t mind being answered by a lot of people if I disagree with them, but it feels more like dogpiling when I’ve already surrendered.
    I know how this can feel. But one thing to keep in mind (just to keep things in perspective). The format here is somewhat…non-linear, for lack of a better term. Personally, I tend to read through all the comments to the end before I post, just so I don’t repeat what someone else just said. But not everyone does. They may have read your first comment and responded, not realizing that you “surrendered” later on…and unless they make a different or significant point (and even then, only if you want to), my opinion would be that you aren’t obligated to respond. It’s likely they will get to your later post in time, and understand that you realized your error. (And if not, and they press the issue, you can direct them to your later post.)
    Usual caveats: this is just my take, others may differ, YMMV on if this is helpful or how you want to act.

  • Consumer Unit 5012 colors OUTSIDE the lines

    @Edwin Carshall – We’ve got questions for you in the previous thread.
    Mmy – I know the punctuation-inside-quotes rule, I think think it’s a BAD one, so I deliberately break it.
    What’s the “Five Paragraph Rule”?

  • P J Evans

    Dismissing a comment by calling it immature? How mature. I would love nothing more than to leave this place forever and get back to finishing Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but when God calls me to correct the errors of the lost, I might as well try to ignore a bullet in my head. My skill at debate is far too valuable an asset to waste when it could go to His service. But the endless bickering about the minutae of tone of language that go on here. Could drive a man of less mental fortitude mad.

    I believe it’s too late and you’ve already been driven mad, as otherwise I think you would already have left. As for God calling you to correct the errors of the lost, are you really certain that’s Her talking to you, and not Nicky Gavilan?

  • Rusty

    @GDwarf:
    It’s rather unsettling to be told that daring to ask a question about something is a major crime.
    GDwarf, that’s just the way it is here. With few exceptions. You probably saw what happened to Kirala 13 pages ago. It’s normal. And it’s also why so many readers of this blog choose to never read the comments section, or to only lurk if they do read it. You’ve made some good points in your well-written comments, and yet the response has been quite chillingly negative. As Ursula says, It has to do with respecting the space that the host of the forum is trying to create, and the conversation the host wants to be having; you may or may not have realised this yet, but it turns out that Fred is not the host of the comment threads on Slacktivist! It is, rather, those who consider themselves the owners of this space (see MG’s statement of “My goal is let them know that that behavior is not acceptable in this space”) by virtue of their having been here longer, or made more posts, or whatever. Kudos to Fred for allowing uncensored and unmoderated conversations to take place here.
    There may eventually have to be conversations that take place entirely between the n00bs* who don’t have the privilege of eight years’ worth of Fred’s excellent writing and others between the old-timers. Regardless of the question you ask, and the words you use to ask it, you WILL be attacked here. If not for truly being the bigot you appeared to be by virtue of your words (not your intent), then for simply being ignorant and failing to educate yourself before coming here. The people who contribute regularly to this forum are smart, intelligent, and interesting- but they have an incredibly elitist view when it comes to people they perceive as ignorant or foolish. It’s quite uncommon for a comment thread here to remain on-topic for longer than a page or two; by that point it’s rapidly devolving into exchanges between hostile regulars, a troll, and a few puzzled and ignorant n00bs. Nuance is only valued when applied to ‘regulars’ who’ve already defined their own version of the English language, and who apply said definition to newcomers with dictatorial harshness and an unwillingness to recognise that others may still be using (surprise surprise) Standard English in their attempts to communicate. Generally, the first thing said to you will indeed be civil (unless you are an utter ass right off the bat), but if you question the response, even politely, you will be ‘shown the door’ so to speak.
    Hopefully that clears up some of your confusion about why you haven’t been treated civilly. One possible way to preempt the issue might be to address any questions you ask to a specific person, and simply ignore anyone else who responds or jumps in with “ZOMG UR AN INSENSITIVE PRICK!!!1!”. But YMMV. Remember, though, that many of those people aren’t here because they agree with what Fred says, but rather because he hasn’t stepped in to say ‘You’re being offensive, please leave now’ and they perceive this as a place they can establish dominance. Fred is a rarity on the Internets, and while he’s done an admirable job of opening his home to one and all, it has the unfortunate side effect of squatters who feel it’s their duty to police the place to their standards rather than Fred’s.

  • It depends on the stranger. That’s my point. They might not be predisposed to shut people down aggressively. They might be genuinely ignorant people who do not understand how their comments are hurtful and will stop when you point it out. I have met and had a positive experience with people like that. If they do respond aggressively, then sure, react in kind. I’ve had experiences with those people to. In public, it’s certainly easier to tell which is which. But in situations where you can’t tell, I think confirmation is the best option, since I’ve seen aggression blow up on people spectacularly, myself included.

    HUGE DISCLAIMER: If I have mischaracterized anyone below, I apologize without reserve and will accept all clarification, admonishments, etc.
    For some people, and I assume MadGastronomer and Izzy are among their number, they’ve found too many times that the people they politely ask to knock X thing off don’t do it.
    Well, if you get enough of that over the years, you’ll just start bypassing the nice part and zooming straight to the STOP IT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU’RE BEING RUDE part. And MadGastronomer has pretty well said this, although phrased differently.
    Moving to the subject of stranger/stranger interactions as opposed to friend/friend interactions or family/family…
    Here’s the key point: I have no way to predict how a stranger will react to being asked nicely.
    In point of fact, for some people being asked not to do something just makes them want to keep doing it (consciously or not, it’s something I’ve noticed happens sometimes to people). It’s their issue, and their problem, but what it creates is a feedback loop that can only be broken by one person being able to shout down the other and destroy the feedback mechanism.
    Other people, if asked nicely will purposely and with malice aforethought not modify their behavior. Same result.
    Because of the sheer unpredictability of these behavioral distributions it is not really fair to ask people who have already found they are in the minority or the margins of society, to be the ones to show amazing forebearance and gentility of expression when too many people on the other side are doing the equivalent of either unintentionally or intentionally repeating the behaviors they’ve been asked to stop.
    Words on a screen are a pretty mild statement, considering that for some people, being subjected to yet another “why don’t you just ask niiiiiiicely?”* whine will make them physically want to break something.
    I might wryly say words are less painful than having your skull knocked about. :P

    * the truly ironic thing is that Canadian and US society acculturates its people to “be nice” as the standard refrain to teach children how to behave. Imagine the confusion and anger when obeying that cultural maxim results in being rudely told to shut up and go away.
    Now imagine that you’re a black person who’s been told by every well-meaning beckwit on the planet to just be nice and white people will stop being jerks, never mind that asking nicely got the equivalent of “go away” a zillion times already.
    You’d be just the teensiest little bit tweaked off by the zillionth and one “be nice” refrain, wouldn’t you?