Snark will be the end of MeFi January 21, 2002 1:42 PM   Subscribe

It's not the petty insults, it's the rank, disrespectful and pretentious sarcasm that's ruining discussions on MeFi. This thread is only the latest example. As discussions go, its useless. The topic, however, merits a reasoned dialogue. I could cite a few examples in which I've crossed the line. I feel comfortable that I've held my worst instincts in check most often; others have not.

It gets worse all the time. It's now customary among the hawkish set to lead off every comment with a sarcastic jibe, instead of an honest reaction. > >
posted by rschram to Etiquette/Policy at 1:42 PM (41 comments total)

That's the "warblog" phenomenon leaking into MeFi; don't offer your own opinion, don't even criticize, certainly don't descend into reasoned debate, just put down different opinions as stupid. When insults are part of a formula and style for communication, you can forget actual discussion. I doubt many people know what a discussion is. I don't want to read or have my name associated with a web site that creates a culture of disrespect and whose members alienate people who want a discussion as opposed to a shouting match.
posted by rschram at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2002

That's all well and good, but could you perhaps provide some specific examples so that this topic can be discussed in more detail?

Sometimes I have trouble (honestly) discerning between insult, sarcasm, discussion, and argument.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:10 PM on January 21, 2002

perhaps a link to the thread you are referring to?
posted by quonsar at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2002

Oops. That was a good speech right up until I forgot to insert the URL. Here we have a discussion in which people are asked to argue why prison conditions are too much of something. Within second, the replies come that those people responding to a question are stupid, and that in fact prisoners should be treated worse than they are.

Sarcastic, deliberately polarizing the debate for effect, and a few insults were thrown around. The point here is not that people might accidentally let slip some "ad hominem" (which has been posted here "ad nauseum.") attacks. The point is the whole thread indicates that the artifically created sides of this conversation already hate one another, whether or not specific people have ever had any contact here or elsewhere. Total garbage -- I expect better from college freshmen, definitely adults.
posted by rschram at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2002

I think it's just one of those "hot-button" issues. People are worked up about the war, terrorism, etc. Emotions are running high. It has become, instead of an issue which presses people's buttons, an issue in which people's buttons have already been pushed. Anything can set them off.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2002

some might say that metatalk as container of rank, disrespectful and pretentious sarcasm is not a false comparison.

this argument can be generalized, i think, without too much difficulty. the agitators who hold one opinion presents his or her views; the agitators among the other side of the spectrum presents theirs; all present them in the harshest light. the discussion is subsequently raised in metatalk, where agitators of either side cry foul at the horrible and fascist mefi police who so ably restrict their freedom of speech in the fifth dimension, since in our world the agitators are still quite capable of spouting off at will and at length.

is serious topical discussion even possible on metafilter? it seems like the few who obviously have no respect for such a thing are always able of ruining the possibility for those who might, some of whom may then think if you can't beat them, join them and thus a vicious cycle is engaged. metadiscuss? we're too jaded for it.
posted by moz at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2002

I expect better from college freshmen, definitely adults.

I don't know what to make of this since both of those terms apply to me.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2002

Personally, I kept skimming that thread for the continuing antics of Steven Den Beste and NortonDC.

I think serious discussion is possible on MeFi, but recently it does seem to be nested in a bunch of static. I'm not a particularly confrontational person; chalk it up to personal issues or whatever. So I tend to disregard name calling, slamming, hystrionics and cutting sarcasm as valid methods of discourse. Other people apparently don't. I tend to think of these people as immature, but I'm sure they don't think of themselves that way.

I don't know what the solution is; in my classroom I'd just shut the "unhelpful" discussion down. But this is more of a democracy. Maybe more positive reinforcement from the moderates is called for. Giving a shout out to a particularly clear-headed statement or participant, even if you don't agree with the position, may be a hint to the brawlers that this isn't a barroom.
posted by dness2 at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2002

that's a good idea, dness; maybe a little bit of cheerleading's not such a bad thing. although if it applauds the "wrong" sentiment, i suppose things could only become more enflamed...
posted by moz at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2002

well, sometimes the snakes takes the shape of prey.

sorry if I've added to the static.
posted by victors at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2002

even more ironic, victors, because as I read it, you two agree. He was giving counterpoint examples of why the abuse and coverup fears may be overblown and you were calling for more evidence before passing judgement. Maybe the ambient din is making everyone's interpretation a little off. including mine, I still don't know what the hell 'fucking McCarthyistically arrogant' means; it sounds brilliant though.
posted by dness2 at 4:51 PM on January 21, 2002

Get ready for more.
posted by mcsweetie at 5:03 PM on January 21, 2002

Glad we're all in agreement. I think the solution lies in learning how to discuss/listen/argue. We all have opinions; an onion can have an opinion. An onion can defensively proclaim theirs to be right. What's step two? How do you get something out of a situation in which multiple interpretations are possible, and everyone feels they have an inside line on the truth?

There are a billion does/don'ts to Internet groups. They're all wrong: too focused on personalities (This is a troll), and types of negative action (That is a flame). The Internet may intensify counterproductive discussion, but it didn't give birth to it. The lessons of real life should easily map on to cyberspace.

A tutorial of some form that interactively presents common pitfalls of debates, provides analysis and suggest alternative ways to approach the problem Or, an interactive analysis of the good things about good dialogues. (But then where are the good discussions on the Internet?)
posted by rschram at 5:07 PM on January 21, 2002

A tutorial of some form that interactively presents common pitfalls of debates,

this would be a good starting place: SoYouWanna avoid common logical errors?
posted by mcsweetie at 5:16 PM on January 21, 2002

Don't forget Logical Rudeness.
posted by darukaru at 5:32 PM on January 21, 2002

lest we forget...

it sounds brilliant though

hardly, just another boomer reference

common pitfalls of debates, provides analysis and suggest alternative

well, I've found that after all the analysis about human behavoir in group discussion dynamics, blah blah blah -- more than not it all comes down to hitting 'post' when you're well rested, fed, and sexually satisfied as opposed to not. (OMG I sound like my mom!)

and while irony rules my life, alas in this case it lies elsewhere because he and I did not agree at all about underlying issues and the real shame is that even the post-din analysis doesn't reveal this.

posted by victors at 5:46 PM on January 21, 2002

[quonsar-approved™ detention facility]

posted by quonsar at 5:59 PM on January 21, 2002

victors -- I know who McCarthy was, thanks for the attempt at a history lesson. I was referring to the combination of words. Are you sure you're well rested, fed, etc ?? Maybe Freud is popping up..
posted by dness2 at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2002

this would be a good starting place: SoYouWanna avoid common logical errors?

I was thinking of an analysis of process. Formal logic is just one technique for seeing what people are saying, but it limits one from seeing whether or not your and others messages are actually being received. Logic has normative or prescriptive connotations which don't always apply, plus I think the point is to avoid catching someone on breaking rules per se, thus making them more wrong.

One logical fallacy being paraded around these days is the big Them. Terrorists are Them, so are anyone the US points the crosshairs at. But it's common sense that Islam, Laksar Jihad, Abu Sayyaf, and the Taleban are all different things, even though their members may cross paths, even substantially. What's good for one Them in a particular situation is suddenly good for all potential Thems.

Fine and dandy. And I'm not the first to point this out. However, what does one do with this keen insight. My suggestion would be to challenge the person falling into this to explain it through, rather than leave it assumed. Do not assume that they consciously recognize the conclusion of this train of thought, and jump to assailing the person for all the substantive reasons you think they are wrong.

This is just one example among many wherein a gentle request for someone to examine assumptions out loud is called for, and should be heeded. You could easily find others. People arguing from an anti-war position rarely set forth where they got the idea in the first place that the US stands for human rights (Since when?). Similarly there are few who think about the potential for the conspiratorial connections could have taken place, and freely speculate on potential sins of our leaders. You just can't assume that the person on the other end has thought it all out, and knows how you would react. That's why you should ask.
posted by rschram at 6:20 PM on January 21, 2002

Quonsar, take it to Metafilter. Better yet, shove it up your ass.
posted by Optamystic at 6:25 PM on January 21, 2002

One logical fallacy being paraded around these days is the big Them

Of course, your argument is slanted anti-war because you do not believe there is a "Them" when some of us see obvious signs that there is.

I don't believe any rules of engagement are going to move anyone from their positions on this issue. Stances remain the same as they were on 9.12.01...
posted by owillis at 6:46 PM on January 21, 2002

Maybe Freud is popping up

no doubt. it's true that most acts in a forum like this reflect (over) compensatory behavior perhaps even more than sleep, sustanance and sex depravation. back to my cage...
posted by victors at 7:02 PM on January 21, 2002

I don' t think it's a question of moving anyone from their position to another. I'd like to bring this discussion back to the first thing rschram said in this thread:

It's not the petty insults, it's the rank, disrespectful and pretentious sarcasm that's ruining discussions on MeFi....It gets worse all the time.

When insults are part of a formula and style for communication, you can forget actual discussion.

people used to vigorously disagree, but it never used to be like this. it's why I don't participate here much anymore.

and I don't give anyone a free pass anymore for 9.11. it's been four months. if you're still unable to hold a civil conversation with someone who diagrees with you on any subject that even remotely touches on afghanistan, then go get some professional help. it was a lame excuse in the first place and it holds absolutely no water now.

metafilter has become one big, long screaming match.
posted by rebeccablood at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2002

back to my cage...

:) Hopefully your cage is nicer than quonsar's.
posted by dness2 at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2002


Of course, your argument is slanted anti-war because you do not believe there is a "Them" when some of us see obvious signs that there is.

that's a good example, owillis. logic would allow one to ignore a statement such as you what you wrote. it does not follow that, because rschram may believe that there is a difference between Islam and the Taliban, his sentiment must be anti-war.

whether or not people care about the logic of arguments, i don't know (most people seem content not to, but perhaps i generalize).
posted by moz at 7:27 PM on January 21, 2002

rebeccablood: why I don't participate here much anymore.

If that's true (ie: more than just having a bad day) then that really is a shame because I for one look forward to reading your thoughts and input.

Despite my occasional (embarrassing) outbursts I try never to post a personal insult about another poster (even though when I think about it, for me, it's less about 'Them' and more about 'You All').

So while I don't promote "rank, disrespectful and pretentious" acts in general, I do love sarcasm as a conversational tool and I wonder at those who can use it without the aforementioned attributes. It does require a thicker skin than 'normal, civilized' conversation (especially when certain lines are crossed) but an entire form like MeFi/Ta without a touch of the scandaleuse seems, well, a tad pale.

posted by victors at 7:46 PM on January 21, 2002

that's a good example, owillis.

I thought about that just now, and I agree somwhat with owillis. It doesn't diminish the point I was trying to make; "Them" is just an example.

When I read something I agree with, no matter how poorly crafted, I tend to do the mental work that the author probably did but isn't revealing in their expression. So stuff I agree with sounds more convincing, not because of bias, but because I'm already thinking along the same lines as the author. That wouldn't diminish the fact that the author couldn't be criticized for not explaining themselves clearly. You can now see why I might reach for an pro-war argument as an example; I'm sitting here racking my brains for a poorly-argued anti-war argument and can't remember any!

It doesn't matter what I think. Anyone can do this examination with any position. The point is more along the lines of what Rebecca said. Be nice about it. Don't act arrogant or sarcastic if you are giving a hostile reading to something you don't like.

Some people who argue in support of US military actions can be articulate. I'll bet that most of you guys wonder how there can be so much ignorance of what's pretty obvious to you. Is it, however, ever a fair assumption that everyone knows everything you do, or would come away with the same idea?
posted by rschram at 7:50 PM on January 21, 2002

metafilter has become one big, long screaming match.

When it comes to some subjects, that is sometimes true, anything related to September 11 being the prime candidate for jumping up and down and screaming. That's unhappy and unpleasant, I agree.

(Disclaimer : I've posted some inane shit here occasionally (some would say frequently), and had people very helpfully point it out to me repeatedly, and publicly. That's my own personal cross to bear. (small, sefl-indulgent joke)

But I very much disagree with you, rcb, on a blanket statement like that, and although I know that there are a lot of long-time members who agree with you, I still think this place is Good. Wobblier, messier, more strident and (as rschram notes at the beginning of this thread) less observant of the rules of common courtesy than it used to be, sadly, but is far from being 'one big, long screaming match', in my humble etc.

Like victors, I'm sad that you think it is, and along with a lot of other people who used to frequent the place but no longer do (holgate is the example that leaps most quickly to mind, for me), your voice is missed when absent, by me at least.

But I've said it before, and at the risk of being a broken freaking record, no-one is going to make things better by showing up occasionally and moaning about how bad things have gotten, or posting the rare suggestion, no matter how well-intentioned. The nature of Metafilter, the nature of community, means that the only way you can make things any better (and I'm not speaking specifically to you, rcb, just pontificating in general) is to participate, and attempt to exhibit the kind of behaviour that you think is appropriate, and attempt to draw other people into The Happy Conspiracy. And those of us who care had better do it quickly, before things get too far out of hand. There are those who think it already is too far out of hand... I differ on that point.

This is coming from someone who has shouted 'Eat Me' in 24 point letters in a crowded thread, though, so grain of salt, as always.

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:50 PM on January 21, 2002

I offer as my first point of counter-evidence to the 'screaming match' characterization, this thread that Oliver started today about bigotry and racism, which as I post this has not degenerated into a shouting match at all, and is quite a delight to read. I'm betting that it continues in this manner, lest my evidence be later used against me!

Less specifically, I can think offhand of half a dozen times in the last several weeks that someone has said in threads that their point of view/understanding/preconception about a given topic has been changed as a result of the discourse therein.

(I'm sorry if I'm coming off heavy-handed, but I've lost patience with people crying 'the Meta-sky is falling' a bit.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:06 PM on January 21, 2002

Lick me, fucko.
posted by dong_resin at 12:30 AM on January 22, 2002

I believe currently prevailing opinion indicates that that should be 'lick me, fuckwit'. Just a word to the wise, old fruit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:26 AM on January 22, 2002

Would I be correct in thinking that MeFi started out with an idea and, dare I say it, evolved to where it is now? I am staggered by people's constant bellyaching and whining because it is 'changing'.

Ol' stavros the super poulet has hit the nail on the head, which is not to constantly harp on, but participate and lead by example.
Occasionally, and I know you may find this hard to believe, but I have been led by emotion rather than brain.
Well so what? MeFi allows me to, and that is why I stay. I feel I can breathe here, along with other people, instead of being some nerd who gets shot down because I never finish a sentence with one of those crap colon/bracket smileys.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:42 AM on January 22, 2002

What are you talking about, rschram? The discussion is your typical "shooting the shit" debate, online or offline. Besides, look at how the writeup ends: "Or: who cares," an open invitation for sarcasm or hyperbole.

If you don't like the first couple posts, perhaps you should have posted first. At least on MeFi most of the time, first posts are a bit more than the two words, "First post!"

Ever hear the story of the boy who cried wolf?

posted by mischief at 6:10 AM on January 22, 2002

I love this place. I have found the best links to interesting websites here on MetaFilter. I have found more opinion and passion in the discussions and I have had many preconceived ideas challenged by reading the opinions of a diverse group of intelligent and/or experienced group of people, on a limitless matter of subjects. If I have said anything that was hurtful or stupid, please accept my apology.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:46 AM on January 22, 2002

"Or, an interactive analysis of the good things about good dialogues."

[rolls eyes in utter contempt]
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:25 PM on January 22, 2002

why I don't participate here much anymore.

I wouldn't worry about it too much, victors, rcb's posted those words more times than you've posted.
posted by David Dark at 1:53 AM on January 23, 2002

oh. then fuck her. (huh?)
posted by victors at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2002

posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:48 PM on January 23, 2002


posted by gd779 at 11:22 AM on January 25, 2002

stavrosthewonderchicken - It's either fucko or fuck-o, usually no dash in the full "lick me" usage.
posted by NortonDC at 8:58 AM on January 27, 2002

I think the wonderchicken knows what he's doing, Norton, but thanks for the backup.
posted by dong_resin at 11:08 AM on January 27, 2002

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