Saturday, January 16, 2010

Of ripples in a pond

Writing an opinion piece is like throwing a stone in a pond: you're bound to produce ripples. Writing an opinion piece is taking sides, otherwise it wouldn't be an opinion piece. It also implies that there is another side to consider. Writing an opinion piece is also an ego thing: my opinion is important.

But the most compelling reason is why should you write an opinion piece? Is it just trolling, getting attention for a cause you don't care that much about, but will give you at least some exposure for your bruised ego? Is it because you want to convince people, change something?

If you ask me, I've been contemplating this for some time and the reason is very clear to me. Comments simply didn't give the cause I hold so dear enough exposure. I was sick and tired of FOSS bloggers and commenters taking a defensive position. I wanted to attack, turn the barrel around. But most of the time I don't even have to act, I react, as you can clearly see for yourself if you go through my posts.

At first, it was because of Microsoft, their business practices and their abysmal products. A little further down the line, it was because of attacks from "inside" the community. I've always loved the basic principles of FOSS, openness (also where communication was concerned), the bazaar, the blunt honesty, the variety and the freedom. I think these are basic values which have to be preserved. Ethics, if you really want to use that word.

Nothing infuriates me more than violation of these basic principles, whether it be "there can be only one" attitudes, FUD (or blatant lies, if you want to) and dishonesty, not living up to your own principles. The latter one forced me to define my own commenting guidelines, which I'm happy to reproduce here:
  • Don't spam;
  • Don't be obscene;
  • Don't break the law;
  • Don't attack people on their acts and thoughts, if it doesn't have to do with the issue involved or can't be substantiated;
  • Don't wander off, keep focussed. I'm sure your recipe for Buffalo wings is very tasty, but that's not the issue right now.
Everything else goes. Sure, opening the lines makes you vulnerable. People can attack you close to home, but that is all in the game. It was you who threw the stone in the pond in the first place, wasn't it? Now face the consequences and dance.

People have asked me why I allow myself to be attacked so viciously, but frankly, that is in my own interest. If my reasoning is flawed I can only gain from someone exposing these flaws, or – as my old mentor put it – "If you win a discussion, your ego is stroked. If you lose a discussion, you have learned something". Since I'm a very curious guy I prefer learning something. That is more important than my ego. As a matter of fact, fooling myself by removing good comments would bruise my ego much more. But that is just me.

My opponents in this case use a weird multitude of arguments why it is correct to cut off a line of commenting or simply delete comments. The first is that if you want to comment on their opinion piece, you can create a blog of your own. Although that is completely right, the connection between what you have written and the other side is written is somewhat lost. You're still in your own realm of righteousness, where your ego is safe and discussion is impossible. I know of a blogger that applauded the discussion that came from an article of her, while her own commenting guidelines made it impossible to discuss the issue in the first place because every single opposing view is eradicated.

The second is, that since it is their own personal blog, they have the right to do that. Well, that is an ambiguous statement. I do not dispute the fact that they have the power to do that. But the right, that is another matter. Does a vicar have the right to visit a titty bar? There is no law preventing him to do that, still most people do not agree, because he does not live up to his own principles. So it quickly becomes an issue of a moral right. And since morals differ, so does the outcome of that question. It will only result in an unhelpful "I have - no, you haven't".

That brings me to the next point where they tie in the statement that "freedom of speech is not absolute". That's like kicking in an open door, but why should that apply to you? If you make clear guidelines, you're already restricting "freedom of speech". And that's exactly what the government does. But those guidelines are and should be there to preserve the open discussion, not to make it impossible! A clear indication of that they don't want to be tied to their own guidelines is that they do not define any guidelines, as I have. And for the record: "Everything opposing my view" or "I do as I please" can hardly be called "guidelines to preserve an open discussion". Or be a man, don't beat around the bush and clearly state that you don't want an open discussion. That's not the purpose of your blog, you just want to be applauded - like the chairman of a Chinese party congress.

Finally, they state that it is "just too much work" to comment every comment. Well, if your reasoning was sound in the first place, people won't be able to find any significant holes. And if they come up with additional arguments that you have not covered, make a followup. I've done that in several cases. "Rufus" was one of my favorite commenters, because he was able to force me to make a followup several times. In short, I try to refrain myself from commenting my own blog as much as possible. "Some people have howled in outrage. Their anger makes them nearly inarticulate." Well, since when it that my problem? They just prove my point.

The fact simply is that people who write an opinion piece and don't have a liberal commenting policy are like rascals throwing in a window and then running away very quickly before the owner comes out. They can't face the music, afraid that their fragile reasoning is exposed and consequently their equally fragile egos are bruised. Am I taking the moral higher ground here? If you put it that way, I suppose I am. But you're welcome to test me. Comments are open.


Anonymous said...

a comment Bruce Byfield refused to print on his latest entry that you reference:

"Bruce, do you feel that any set of circumstances ever justifies publishing non public and shadily acquired nude photos of a person you dislike or disagree with? Is this ever possibly right, ethical or moral?"


Bruce would not address this issue.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"Does a vicar have the right to visit a titty bar?" YES! As long as he doesn't berate anyone who is doing the same thing. Turnabout is fair play. Judge not lest you be judged.

The Beez' said...

@Comment deleted
- Violation of ad hominem attack
- Violation of "stay on issue".

Anonymous said...

how can you have an ad hominem attack when you specifically don't name an individual and you cast the entire statement intentionally to be as generic as possible?

Anonymous said...

an ad hominem attack must replace substantive argument with irrelevant personal attack. I suggest you are using an incorrectly broad definition of what is a precisely defined rhetorical construct.

Anonymous said...

An ad hominem argument has the basic form:
Person 1 makes claim X
There is something objectionable about Person 1
Therefore claim X is false

An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument toward the person" or "argument against the person") is an argument which links the validity of a premise to an irrelevant characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.[1]

The Beez' said...

Remains it is not on issue.

Jonquil McDaniel said...

Thank you a lot for leaving a link to this post on my blog. It was very helpful. Things have changed a lot in the six years it's been since I picked up blogging again. People used to be respectful, but I guess it isn't that way any more. Anyways, it was a good read. :) I have to do some thinking on whether or not I want to continue blogging. On one hand, I feel it is a creative outlet that allows me to explore and connect with others (which is why I allow comments in the first place). On the other hand, it's became one gigantic pain in the *ss to deal with all the trolls and flames I get. So I have some decision making to do. Here's a hint though: your post made me feel a lot better about going ahead and doing it, not caring what anyone thinks.