I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass
February 4, 2013 § 30 Comments
As a long time Internet veteran, I have a few suggestions about how to have a productive discussion. They are worth what you paid for them and you are welcome not to follow them; but I make every effort to follow them myself, so if you want to have a productive discussion with me you should be aware that this is my approach. Furthermore, at my own blog my personal approach can sometimes achieve juridical force when in my view a discussion has gone too far off the rails.
First, there are really two kinds of discussions to have. In some we hash out unattributed ideas. In others we hash out attributed ideas.
When hashing out attributed ideas, it is important to quote or at least link to the text which is the source of the idea so that it can be evaluated accurately. If I say “Bob says that Hitler was a great man!” I ought to at least provide a link to where Bob says that, so that readers can assess for themselves whether or not it is a fair representation. Ideally I would actually quote in-line the specific part where Bob says “Hitler was a great man!”
When hashing out unattributed ideas, we should feel free to make general characterizations (e.g. “some people”). It is important for readers of such discussions not to take things personally. There is nothing out of school about discussing unattributed ideas, trends, etc. There is also nothing out of school about considering them to be straw men. The veracity, pervasiveness, etc of unattributed ideas, attitudes, etc are up to each reader to discern for himself. If I say “many traditional conservatives give female bad behavior a pass” or “many manosphere commenters seem to think that women are not moral agents” it is perfectly fine to refuse to believe it without specific examples. At the same time it is unreasonable to demand that every writer spend every moment documenting every contention to your personal satisfaction. Trust me: you can’t afford my hourly rate.
Second, I personally find most discussions which focus on the personal attributes and psychology of discussion participants to be a waste of time — at least for me. That kind of stuff isn’t my cup of tea. That doesn’t mean I am passing judgment on people who like that kind of thing. But if I can die without knowing everyone on earth’s dirty laundry in detail and without having psychoanalyzed every person I’ve encountered on the Net I’ll die that much happier a man. I prefer to discuss substantive content, whether attributed or unattributed.
Third, if your approach to having a discussion with me is “Zippy, I’m just trying desperately to understand how it is that you are not a jackass,” be aware that I am unlikely to treat you as an adult interlocutor; because you aren’t acting like one.