Is being an ass really an inalienable right? May 29, 2013 7:21 PM   Subscribe

This has come up several times recently. Whether it's when someone makes a post in bad faith, that's just baiting crap, or is just generally being a prick without provocation...

Before i start, i'd like to add that this isn't a callout of any specific person, or even several people. These are examples and there's absolutely no point in being exhaustive. This is a pattern of behavior i keep seeing all over the place on here.

I've seen this approached from several different angles. To start, in a euthanized MeTa pracowity brought up the concept of a "Not being nice" or "Unnecessarily mean" or "Being a dick" flag.

This spawned a number of comments as to why this wasn't a great idea, which fell pretty flat to me. They quickly escalated in to what essentially sounded to me like the kind of disappointing arguments i've seen on here before that pretty much amount to "Who says i don't get to be an asshole? you're not the boss of me!"(one, two) some even went as far as to compare being an asshole on the internet to like, the opression women and minorities face in being compelled to "not rock the boat" or something.

Stepping out of just that MeTa though(and i do not want to seem like i'm trying to carry any of that discussion over here, or "continue" that)

this thread is full of the kind of thing i'm talking about, including posts like this which seem to be taking hypotheticals seriously just to start a fight. There's plenty of bad faith of that variety in here as well. peruse this one as well.

I could really just go down my recent history and find threads full of people engaging in bad faith, baiting, misrepresentation, and just general dickery of the "i'm right and you're wrong! i'm gonna huff and puff and blow your house down and i'm allowed to be a dick if i feel like it!" kinda crap. Not to mention people doing that and then going "Sorry, but i had to get the last word in!".

I don't know what i actually wanted from this, i guess just some confirmation or refutation of the idea that there's some kind of expectation to discuss things in good faith and not be an asshole here. Or maybe just a discussion about where the line should be, whether i'm alone in being bothered by this.

It almost seems like people are treating the blue and the grey like the green. Because in the green it makes sense, in certain circumstances, to be a bit rough with someone as "tough love"(although this sometimes gets overdone too). On the blue and grey though, it comes off as just riding your hobby horse too hard and flying off the handle because "I'm right dammit!". I don't know though, what do you think. Is this a pollyanna point of view? am i being an uptight jackass? Because it often seems to be a case of this.

as a small side note, i'd like to add that there seems to be a rise in this since the new year. Maybe it's just me, but there's been an awful lot of 400 comment super fighty MeTas and FPPs that people seem to bring siege weaponry into lately... but that's neither here nor there.
posted by emptythought to Etiquette/Policy at 7:21 PM (126 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Oh great another 9 zillion comment thread begins.
posted by jonmc at 7:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I do not want to seem like i'm trying to carry any of that discussion over here, or "continue" that

Unfortunately, that's what you seem like you're doing. I'm not sure what you're looking for here except some confirmation that yes, not being an asshole is something that is in the original guidelines. At the same time, there is a lot of active and vocal disagreement over what "being an asshole" actually means in practice, to say nothing of more complicated ideas like arguing in bad faith or trolling. A lot of people seem to really feel that they're being helpful by making analogies that other people think are complete fight-starting gauntlet throwdowns. MetaTalk is where we go to discuss those outlines but lately (I agree with you) it's seemed like people take the opportunity of a thread in MeTa to grind whatever axe they have that isn't getting enough of a workout on the rest of the site.

And just to belabor this, there is a big difference between saying "Be nice" (which we don't do, though I've told people to be decent) and saying "Try not to be an asshole" (which we say with some regularity) and people who conflate the two statements can sometimes have trouble with other levels of nuance that a large community can require.

But honestly, it seems like at least five of your links are going to the closed MeTa thread and the thread that spawned it, so I can't really see how this isn't just an outgrowth of that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:30 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it too early for me to find this thread exhausting?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:32 PM on May 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


It almost seems like people are treating the blue and the grey like the green.

Is this about that Civil War blowup?
posted by bongo_x at 7:33 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't even need to click on that xkcd link to know what it was.

I agree with jonmc and Jessamyn, I don't see what the point of this discussion might be.

Hopefully it felt better, emptythought, to have expressed it, and perhaps some folks will read and gain some insight.....

peace
posted by HuronBob at 7:34 PM on May 29, 2013


i guess just some confirmation or refutation of the idea that there's some kind of expectation to discuss things in good faith and not be an asshole here.

I can confirm that in Metafilter, as in life, there is an expectation to discuss things in good faith and not be an asshole.

But a lot of people -- for reasons ranging from their personality in general to just-having-a-bad-day to chronically ill-fitting underpants -- can and do ignore those expectations. So it goes. I think it's an important skill in life to try to just route around those folks when necessary, and carry on doing our best.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:39 PM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think people shouldn't be assholes. Including me. But I don't wan't to see what it would look like to try to enforce that. It's the price we pay for communicating with each other. In my opinion.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:41 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Because in the green it makes sense, in certain circumstances, to be a bit rough with someone as 'tough love'(although this sometimes gets overdone too)."

I take issue with your assertion about what's appropriate on AskMe.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:44 PM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Someone is offended on Metafilter? Holy shit, that has never happened before.

Flag it and move on. That's part of adulthood.
posted by dfriedman at 7:48 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I try to not assume the worst about other members' intentions. I succeed less often than I would like, though.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:49 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good faith discussion can get heated sometimes.

I've experienced good-fighty on the blue lately. On one of the gun control threads recently I got in a days long argument with some pro-gun mefites. It got more civil as it went along, especially as we got away from our talking points and knee-jerk reactions.

Having said that, I think you're calling attention to some inappropriate behaviors, and that you're right to call them out. "Bad faith, baiting, misrepresentation" -- yes, less of that please. That's not failing to be nice, it's needlessly derailing the conversation. However, by and large this is a self-moderating community. These are not mod-level problems.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:53 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think most people believe they are acting in good faith at all times, including me. We're just not always right about that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:54 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh great, now we can merge the eat-the-rich cluster and the civil-war cluster.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:59 PM on May 29, 2013


I prefer the Goo Goo Cluster.
posted by jonmc at 8:00 PM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sometimes people fight, because there are problems. It is bad, but other things are worse.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:05 PM on May 29, 2013


One day, we assholes will be free. A great prophet, an Asshole of God, will lead us out into the wilderness and thence unto the Promised Asshole Land. And we'll finally be able to live in a place where everyone is an asshole.
posted by XMLicious at 8:05 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is being an ass really an inalienable right?

Yes, yes it is.

If somebody posts a represhensible opinion or an opinion you disagree with, what's more likely to get a good response and entertain readers:

a. a well-researched, detailed rebuttul
or
b. a pithy put down?

How many of your favorite artists are assholes? Even Saint Ebert could deliver biting attacks on movies he hated. If you don't get to be an asshole, you don't get to express the full range of opinions and emotions and you're forced to tamp everything down into a colorless mush.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:07 PM on May 29, 2013


and what the hell does 'arguing in bad faith' mean? i've been accused of that for liking the new Star Trek movie too much, FFS. just say what you mean, and give other people the oppurtunity to say what they mean, too. tamping down on that means people will be MORE likely to 'argue in bad faith' to avoid getting around the rules
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm feeling an urge to express my full range of emotions.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:09 PM on May 29, 2013 [21 favorites]



One day, we assholes will be free. A great prophet, an Asshole of God, will lead us out into the wilderness and thence unto the Promised Asshole Land. And we'll finally be able to live in a place where everyone is an asshole.


Considering that this song once topped the largest music poll in the country, I may already live in such a place.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:10 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


But honestly, it seems like at least five of your links are going to the closed MeTa thread and the thread that spawned it, so I can't really see how this isn't just an outgrowth of that.

Only because this point was attacked head on there by 3-4 comments(out of a thread of what, 400?) and it had recently been discussed there. The point of this post wasn't the point of that post, and 99% of the discussion there wasn't about it. It was almost a derail to have this discussion over there. Get what i'm saying?

It's an outgrowth, but its also an incidental thing that isn't really related to the "eat the rich" thing at all, but simply to well... people acting poorly in a broader sense.
posted by emptythought at 8:13 PM on May 29, 2013


How many of your favorite artists are assholes? Even Saint Ebert could deliver biting attacks on movies he hated. If you don't get to be an asshole, you don't get to express the full range of opinions and emotions and you're forced to tamp everything down into a colorless mush.

I feel like this, and several other points made here(and elsewhere, in the threads i linked to) along these lines are intentionally pretending that there isn't any ground to cover or differentiation between a snappy comback/putdown/teardown of something and just being a prick for no reason.

Just like being nice isn't the only alternative to being an asshole, you can obviously criticize something without being one as well. There's scorching take downs/criticisms of posts on here all the time that don't involve just being a prick.

I get that being a dick is in the eye of the beholder, but i can't help but feel that people who make points similar to what you're saying often just want to be able to do both whenever they feel like it.

So i guess my point is, what does being a dick in the way i'm describing in my original post add to anything? it's completely negativity for its own sake with a side of public masturbation on the part of the poster.
posted by emptythought at 8:17 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


emptythought: "this thread is full of the kind of thing i'm talking about, including posts like this which seem to be taking hypotheticals seriously just to start a fight."

Comments. Including COMMENTS like this.

/pedantry
posted by Chrysostom at 8:17 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know what i actually wanted from this, i guess just some confirmation or refutation of the idea that there's some kind of expectation to discuss things in good faith and not be an asshole here. Or maybe just a discussion about where the line should be, whether i'm alone in being bothered by this.

The world in general and America in particular (which is where I live and only the place I feel qualified to pontificate about) are more polarized these days, which spills over into everyday communications. There seems to be a large sense among individuals or sub groups that they're being singled out or attacked. Left, right, male, female, straight, gay, Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans, everyone.

So fewer people want to act or talk in good faith, because they interpret that to mean they'll somehow get screwed. I suspect it's a negative outgrowth from the internet, where we have easy access to a steady stream of societal injustices and just plain crazy shit. The world can seem like it's against you, even though things are generally better than they've ever been throughout human history.

So i guess my point is, what does being a dick in the way i'm describing in my original post add to anything? it's completely negativity for its own sake with a side of public masturbation on the part of the poster.

Who said it's supposed to add to anything? On certain topics (gun control, slavery wasn't the reason for the US civil war, healthcare in the US, voting rights, treatment of minorities and women, etc, etc), I'm not wiling to compromise or approach a discussion in "good faith" because there's no such thing if the "other side" is starting from a standpoint of stomping over people or their rights. I see no reason to be nice in those instances, merely vaguely civil.

Hell, I'm not even sure what you mean by "being nice" and surely you realize that different situations call for different attitudes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:30 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


i guess just some confirmation or refutation of the idea that there's some kind of expectation to discuss things in good faith and not be an asshole here.

"Bad faith" is a tricky accusation....it goes back to the Great Question, which is, why are other people wrong about things, when the truth is known? There are only four possible answers: Ignorance, stupidity, madness and evil. To accuse someone of bad faith is to attribute their wrongness to evil, and it happens a lot in contentious mefi threads when the quality and length of the debate eliminate ignorance and stupidity as possible causes of the wrongness one's opponent is continuing to manifest...

In reality, of course, the cause is by far most likely to be stupidity, or to frame it more nicely, the cause of other people's wrongness is that they genuinely perceive the truth differently than we perceive it, that no matter how well or how thoroughly we explain our truth it cannot overwhelm and replace their own. In other words, 95% of the time, people honestly believe the shit they say, even when it seems to us manifestly asinine and/or deranged.

But it's hard for people to accept that, because for the truth to be the truth it must be universal...so people are far more likely to default to thinking their opponents are evil, if at the end of a thread they haven't changed their minds and cons round. I think accusing someone of bad faith is almost always a thread-wrecker, because it's a declaration of disrespect. If we're talking etiquette of mefi, I think it'd do more to lower the temperature round here if people refrained from making the accusation than if the mods went round tsking everybody and telling them not to argue in bad faith...
posted by Diablevert at 8:32 PM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Surely it's friday somewhere, right ?
posted by iamabot at 8:33 PM on May 29, 2013


The only sane option is to just not take the bait.

Many good people are sometimes assholes. I'm sure that sometimes I write something so poorly that I'm an unintentional asshole. It happens.

Flag it and get on with your life. Mods will deal with it if needed.
posted by 26.2 at 8:39 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The world in general and America in particular (which is where I live and only the place I feel qualified to pontificate about) are more polarized these days,

The U.S. has always been deeply polarized. In fact all politics always has been.

If you take a look through the record of American political discussions from day one, you'll find all of the same vitriol and backbiting that you see here.

I mention this not to be pedantic, but to encourage people to realize that there is nothing new being done here. The newspaper commentary during the Lincoln-Douglas debates would make even our most hardened "trolls" blush with shame. There are no extenuating circumstances, we are not unique people in a special place, we are not boldly seeking out a new path through the epistolary wilderness.

Historically papers that had no circulation failed. Letter writers who went beyond the pale went unanswered. People who were overloud in their cups weren't invited to the best parties. In short in this small slice of life history has shown that if you ignore the problem it *will* go away.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:50 PM on May 29, 2013


its all america's fault. the world was nice and polite and not warlike and brutal until America came along. Dante was exiled in a civil war in an Italian city that nobody today knows the cause of. people got killed over tiny theolgoical differences in the middle ages. but america is polerized.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:52 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mods will deal with it if needed.

I think I'm down with what you're saying in spirit, but I'm just going to briefly haul out an ancient, creaky hobbyhorse that I used to ride way back in the days when moderation actually started becoming a thing here on Metafilter, to push back against that statement a bit.

My problem in letting mods deal with it (or government or cops or mom or god or whatever) is that thinking of it in this way frees us from responsibility for our own actions, and from expectations of other people that they will behave well. If we subscribe to an understanding of behaviour-in-community that emanates from a balance between do-what-thou-wilt and if-you-transgress-authority-will intervene, then we are implicitly forgiving if not outright encouraging bad behaviour, I think, by making it something that we accept as a given. It becomes just another way to behave, without the onus of generalized peer disapprobation, and we can leave the consequences to the people who are in authority.

That seems to me a bad way to organize a society or a community. I think bad behaviour -- including 'being an asshole' (whatever we take that to mean) and arguing in bad faith and much else -- needs active and conscious discouragement from the whole community.

This is not at this point any kind of argument against moderation (as a role some members of the community assume), though. Just an argument against appeals to authority, explicit and implicit, as a way of circumscribing the limits of acceptable behaviour within the community.

OK, back down off the geriatric hobbyhorse. Apologies for the clouds of dust.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:57 PM on May 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm not wiling to compromise or approach a discussion in "good faith" because there's no such thing if the "other side" is starting from a standpoint of stomping over people or their rights.

This is actually a really good example of a mentality that I've seen around Mefi lately: one person says something that could be seen as being stated in "bad faith" (whether it was or wasn't aside) and X number of people take that to mean that "good faith" for the thread no longer exists, isn't warranted, or that licenses has been granted to drop civility and match the "tone" of the thread (even if the tone is negative).

This is why I have always kind of wanted an "Unnecessarily Mean" or "Tonally Inappropriate" flag pony. More or less just so that I have a more specific way to flag comments that are technically correct but seriously fail to read the room.

Note: Mods, of course, have the final decision, and a flag only serves to draw attention to a potential issue. I'm in no way trying to suggest that Mefi be turned into a Magical Compliment Fairyland. Just that I think there is some value to drawing a mod's attention to assholeish comments and the offensive/sexist/raciest flag doesn’t always describe that.
posted by Shouraku at 9:00 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


i don't trust people who aren't assholes. they're usually horrible in their private lives and they make bad art
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


i don't trust people who aren't assholes. they're usually horrible in their private lives and they make bad art

Did you have something to contribute to the thread already in progress? Because you've been making a lot of comments about yourself and very few that seem interactive with the other people here. Make an effort or consider taking a break from this thread for a bit?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:08 PM on May 29, 2013 [30 favorites]


including posts like this which seem to be taking hypotheticals seriously just to start a fight

Not to drag the subject of the linked thread into this one, but what you link to is exactly the kind of rigorous, honest questioning that should be taking place here way more often. People get away with dishonest "hypotheticals" way too fucking often around here and it is good to see it called out, for once.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:10 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


"This is why I have always kind of wanted an "Unnecessarily Mean" or "Tonally Inappropriate" flag pony. More or less just so that I have a more specific way to flag comments that are technically correct but seriously fail to read the room."

1. this seems overly nanny statish

2. Flag'em as noise. If they really are a problem, an intelligent second opinion will address the issue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Be not schmuck, be not obnoxious, be not bell-bottomed bum nor asshole......"
posted by brujita at 9:14 PM on May 29, 2013


Surely it's friday somewhere, right ?

Nope; sorry.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:16 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


i don't trust people who aren't assholes.

What is wrong with you?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:17 PM on May 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


If you're having a policy debate on something relatively dry, or if you're commenting in a post about movies or art or some cute cat video, or if you are on the green asking for help with a life problem that you are really struggling with and that is causing you significant pain, then sure, I think it behooves everyone to be nicer than they think they should be. I've said before in Meta that I don't think it would kill anyone to be nicer than they think they should be.

But if you make a comment that denies or calls into question someone's basic humanity, then, one, I don't think you can expect much civility in return, and, two, harping on civility in that case is disingenuous because it assumes that the only way to be "nice" or to argue in "good faith" is to use kindly constructed words and never sound angry or petty. Civility also includes acknowledging the dignity and worth of all people, and not every comment does that. If you express an abhorrent opinion, you should be prepared to be called out on it. You don't get to appeal to tolerance as a value when you are intolerant. You don't get to appeal to civility when you are uncivil.

I also tend to think that people who are most shocked and offended at "rudeness" (in the particular way we are talking about in this case; I'm not talking about stalking or threats of violence) on the internet are people who are used to having their every word and opinion fawned over, and they experience someone doing a very basic examination or refutation of their point as "rudeness" because the comment doesn't first thank them for participating and assure them that they are still a good person before disagreeing with them.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:17 PM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


What is wrong with you?

We were all young once. It usually gets better eventually.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:19 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


People get away with dishonest "hypotheticals" way too fucking often around here and it is good to see it called out, for once.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:10 AM on May 30 [+] [!]


The irony runs deep.
posted by zarq at 9:20 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it Groundhog Day?
posted by cjorgensen at 9:23 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh look, I'm "some"! As in "some even went as far..." It's like being the "some" in "some say" on Fox News.

I stand by the comment. The injunction to "be nice" has been pretty pernicious in American history (at least, I don't know other histories as well) and especially in its gendered variant. I don't believe in being an asshole, and my definition of that is about provoking people in order to take pleasure in their reaction. That kind of interaction is as shitty on MeFi as it is anywhere. But I have a lot of trouble thinking of MetaFilter as a place where there's going to suddenly be a demand for everyone to be "nice." It's entirely possible to be respectful, decent, in-good-faith, serious, earnest, impassioned, and completely appropriate without being "nice." The idea of prizing "niceness" is one that, to me, elevates non-conflict and the veneer of politesse above meaningful - sometimes heavy and sometimes painful, but meaningful - discussion.

I'm 100% down with "don't be an asshole" and "be decent." There's a big difference between that and actively being ordered to be "nice." There's nothing wrong with being nice on this site and a lot of people are amazingly nice a lot of the time. But I'd never want it to be the baseline standard for behavior here.

I don't really think there's been an overall rise in assholishness. In general I think the standard of discourse has improved across the board, but it sometimes seems like it hasn't because right now we have a few highly visible skilled provocateurs.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


Is being an ass really an inalienable right?

I think people forget that this is not a public space; it's a private one. We're all in Mathowie's house here, and ultimately he and the mods make the rules. They are gracious enough to let us voice our opinions and help shape what those rules should be.

We should all, as a default, be nicer to each other. Even if we're debating things that were care about passionately. 'Passionate' need not equal 'angry'. 'Angry' need not equal 'asshole'. We could all be more self-aware in that respect; but that's a personal process, and not an issue of community control or moderation.

But once someone hauls out their douchecanoe and starts paddling, it's difficult not to respond in kind. That's where the mods can help; so instead of kneejerk GRAR, either respond as calmly as possible, ignore, or flag it and move on. The 'other' flag would seem to serve this purpose. This pony already exists and has been racing for ages.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:25 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a prisoner's dilemma with really crappy odds of both players doing the right thing. The only solution is more MeFi meetups to put faces and real conversations behind usernames.
posted by michaelh at 9:26 PM on May 29, 2013


People get away with dishonest "hypotheticals" way too fucking often around here and it is good to see it called out, for once.

If only people would acknowledge they were wrong after definitively being proven incorrect. But that would take an iota of introspection and humility, elements rarer than astatine.
posted by Falconetti at 9:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm 100% down with "don't be an asshole" and "be decent." There's a big difference between that and actively being ordered to be "nice." There's nothing wrong with being nice on this site and a lot of people are amazingly nice a lot of the time. But I'd never want it to be the baseline standard for behavior here.

Ultimately, I agree with Miko on this. I'd prefer that people not be jerks, but what I really want is for comments to be relevant to the discussion at hand. Nice is gravy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being an ass is anyone's right, but no one gets to expect no consequences for their assness.
posted by rtha at 9:33 PM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


As a person who has been categorically proven wrong many times I can personally attest that it's extremely difficult to write or say the words "you're right, I was wrong." Like wicked hard. My brain just doesn't want to go to there.

I think it's helpful to remember this when you're on the other side of the equation, too. Also leading by example is quite effective, I've noticed.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:35 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, if you are looking for strategies to decrease your own asshole behavior on Metafilter, I will share mine. One, if a thread gives me an adrenaline rush from just how wrong some people are, then I don't post in that thread. I do whatever I have to to not post in the thread, log out, take a walk, watch a movie, remove it from my recent activity if I broke the rule and commented, anything. I've never had anything good come from breaking this rule. I broke it recently in a thread that made me so mad that I didn't read all the comments and only realized later that I had posted something that had been addressed and refuted multiple times.

A new strategy I'm playing around with is donating money to a cause or movement that speaks to me when there's a thread where someone is being a particular ass (to my eye) about the cause or movement. For instance, someone got all shirty about llamas recently and instead of posting something about how llamas rock your mom sucks co- I caught myself and donated $20 to the Pro Llama League. It really helped. (n.b.: the thread was not actually about llamas.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:38 PM on May 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


We all have assholes. Many of us are so much more than that.
posted by mazola at 9:39 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can personally attest that it's extremely difficult to write or say the words "you're right, I was wrong."

Used to be for me, too, many years back. I'd viciously argue shit I didn't even believe any more, sometimes, just to get the other person to back down, so I could 'win'.

I don't do that anymore. In the fullness of approaching dotage, I'm learning that I'm almost always wrong about almost everything that isn't actually inside my brain, and wrong about most of that, too. This realization has been liberating.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:41 PM on May 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm learning that I'm almost always wrong about almost everything that isn't actually inside my brain, and wrong about most of that, too. This realization has been liberating.

Isn't it, though? Yesterday I stumbled onto a comment I wrote 6 years ago, and it was as though another person had written it. I can't claim to not be jerky or cranky, but there was just so much anger, spite and worst of all, certainty that I wanted to just give 6 years ago me a hug and tell me to calm the hell down.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:14 PM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would like to congratulate myself for not being an asshole in the "tell me about your paranormal experience" thread currently on the green. This is progress for me!
posted by Justinian at 10:17 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would like to congratulate myself for not being an asshole in the "tell me about your paranormal experience" thread currently on the green. This is progress for me!

I wasn't an asshole and still got my skeptical comment deleted.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:22 PM on May 29, 2013


I'm glad I'm too tired to go poop all over that thread like a goose full of butter.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 PM on May 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Everybody please keep your poops here. Or perhaps somewhere even closer to your own person.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: "I wasn't an asshole and still got my skeptical comment deleted."

I didn't see the comment, so I'm just speaking generally: I get the impression your asshole-meter is calibrated quite differently than most of the folks on the site. You don't consider the comment to have been an asshole comment, but it's very possible that most other MeFites would have considered the comment to be an asshole comment.
posted by Bugbread at 10:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


we have a few highly visible skilled provocateurs

How is that not assuming bad faith?
posted by ambient2 at 10:40 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get the impression your asshole-meter is calibrated quite differently than most of the folks on the site.

That impression belies a misapprehension about the possession of or intent to use such a device.

Or maybe, perhaps:
If you don't get to be an asshole, you don't get to express the full range of opinions and emotions and you're forced to tamp everything down into a colorless mush.
the device exists and is used, but only shows a green light and quietly chirps "go for it!" when consulted.
posted by mph at 10:43 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also didnt start a brand new Metatalk complaining about the paranormal thread! 2 for 2. Go me.
posted by Justinian at 10:49 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know, this website is open to whoever comes and pays $5 to start commenting. There will always be a certain level of hostility, because there will always be people who would ordinarily never consider talking to each other. (Occasionally some pretty serendipitous dialogue can happen because of that, but also people just don't like each other.) I have only ever seen the level of consistent good vibes the OP is hankering for, internet-wise, in group-blog type situations where there are 10 or 15 people and most all of them actually know each other. I wish there were more of those.

I mean, I guess you could pull it off here if each and every comment were vetted by moderators prior to making it public, or if politics & news were just not part of the site, but that last ship sailed so long ago they have beardo reenactors reprise the voyage every year in a three-masted frigate.
posted by furiousthought at 10:58 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"i don't trust people who aren't assholes. they're usually horrible in their private lives and they make bad art"

ARG. It's like you're a constant beam of inane stuff I believed when I was 22. The more actual artists you know, the more you realize that no, you don't actually have to be an asshole to make great art. And there are plenty of just assholes convinced they're great artists. Not everyone is Ed Weston, there's also Harry Callahan.
posted by klangklangston at 10:59 PM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Sorry, I fooled myself into commenting in a thread that seems like it's all about poorly defined terms (so people can have pretty diametrically opposed arguments and still both be right, e.g. "nice" v. nice) and weird personal grudges.
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: "Sorry, I fooled myself into commenting in a thread that seems like it's all about poorly defined terms (so people can have pretty diametrically opposed arguments and still both be right, e.g. "nice" v. nice)"

Klangklanston, there's no "gray area" here. Nobody can be Nice, it's a literal impossibility, and anyone who says otherwise is an obvious troll.
posted by Bugbread at 11:08 PM on May 29, 2013


"I don't believe in being an asshole, and my definition of that is about provoking people in order to take pleasure in their reaction."

That's a very narrow definition of asshole. There really aren't that many people who provoke others in order to take pleasure in their reaction. Not to mention that this definition depends upon knowing someone else's inner-state. (Although I agree that a few people leave so many clues that in those cases it's a safe conclusion.)

While I agree that most of us do this very occasionally, most likely with people we're close to, I feel certain that most asholeish behavior, especially here, is not about being a jerk as a means to an end, it's an end unto itself. It's simply not caring very much about how they treat another person, so they treat them badly if they feel like it — and especially if they think they're justified. A few people simply have a strong tendency to not care. But most people, when they act like an asshole, do so because they think they have a license to not care, they have a reason, which they can defend.

I think that 90% of all unproductive behavior — everything from outright insults and hatefulness to targeted sarcasm to haughty arrogance — comes from the presumption of bad faith on the part of others. Or, if that's an overstatement with regard to the milder forms, then at the very least, it comes from a disregard of the possibility that the opposing interlocutors are as real and as earnest as oneself.

This is very relevant to stav's discussion of his self-doubt. I think it's entirely possible to balance radical self-doubt with having the courage of one's convictions and taking moral stands. For me, the value of self-doubt has always been to reduce the moral cost of being wrong by trying to avoid being wrong. But that's self-defeating if it equally interferes in the moral benefit of being right. So the secret is to create an asymmetry elsewhere. Self-doubt is more important in some contexts than in others.

It's one thing to have near certainty about the wrongness of some behavior. It's one thing to oppose that behavior. But it's quite another thing when one's certainty about wrongness becomes judgments about the moral character of others and then actions against others that result from those judgments. In our personal lives and historically, presumptions about ill intent and motivations and the character of other people is like tipping the first domino in a long chain. It's occasionally right and necessary, but it has vast consequences, most of them destructive, and when mistaken it's both a specific injustice and a contagion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:08 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually, on second read, I take that back. There are some pretty good comments up there from Stav, Snarl, couple others.
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 PM on May 29, 2013


"Klangklanston, there's no "gray area" here. Nobody can be Nice, it's a literal impossibility, and anyone who says otherwise is an obvious troll."

I am her uncle, asshole.
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 PM on May 29, 2013


I wasn't an asshole and still got my skeptical comment deleted.

You were actually kind of being an asshole by askme guideline standards, yes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:12 PM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Stav, Snarl, and Klang sound like MeFi's own Dinobots. (In a thread about increased "grar.")

I agree the site feels more...negative, or fighty. But if you go back and read some older contentious threads, what I think you'll find is that the situation's more complex: Those threads used to contain invective much worse than what's tolerated now. Yet I agree, the site does feel more contentious recently. I wonder how much of that is jadedness, for lack of a better word.
posted by cribcage at 11:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it's entirely possible to balance radical self-doubt with having the courage of one's convictions and taking moral stands. For me, the value of self-doubt has always been to reduce the moral cost of being wrong by trying to avoid being wrong. But that's self-defeating if it equally interferes in the moral benefit of being right. So the secret is to create an asymmetry elsewhere. Self-doubt is more important in some contexts than in others.

'struth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:30 PM on May 29, 2013


"Klangklanston, there's no "gray area" here. Nobody can be Nice, it's a literal impossibility, and anyone who says otherwise is an obvious troll."

I am her uncle, asshole.


What the hell is going on here? This is turning into a cleverbot vs eliza conversation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:41 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "What the hell is going on here? This is turning into a cleverbot vs eliza conversation."

This is not the start of the conversation.
posted by Bugbread at 11:52 PM on May 29, 2013


Nobody can be Nice, it's a literal impossibility, and anyone who says otherwise is an obvious troll.

Stop city-kin shaming. I may appear human but I am actually the city and its spirit.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:02 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Surely it's friday somewhere, right ?

This week has been the Eternal Friday. Memorial Day probably fucked things up.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:39 AM on May 30, 2013


Oh great another 9 zillion comment thread begins.
posted by jonmc at 3:24 AM on May 30


SEE THIS IS EXACTLY THE SORT OF THING I'M TALKING ABOUT GRAAR.
posted by Decani at 2:53 AM on May 30, 2013


Read their comments aloud Grimlock-style:

SNARL SAY NO BE ASSHOLE.
STAV USED TO FIGHT EVERYONE. NOW PICK BATTLES.
KLANG EAT NICE.
posted by zarq at 4:56 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


ARG. It's like you're a constant beam of inane stuff I believed when I was 22.

And then after favoriting comments like this, he refuses to change his behavior. Gah.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:02 AM on May 30, 2013


Your hate only makes him stronger.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:07 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


cribcage: "I wonder how much of that is jadedness, for lack of a better word."

I think this may be a part of it. I certainly feel frustration when I see yet another thread that seems to playing out the exact same tropes as always. I generally just go do something else, but not everyone does that.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:27 AM on May 30, 2013


not caring very much about how they treat another person, so they treat them badly if they feel like it — and especially if they think they're justified. A few people simply have a strong tendency to not care. But most people, when they act like an asshole, do so because they think they have a license to not care, they have a reason, which they can defend.

Hm. Well, I don't think "not caring" about an issue or person makes someone an asshole. I don't think it's reasonable to demand that people care about others. It's reasonable to demand that their behavior fall within acceptable boundaries, but not that people care in some ineffable, sincere way about others. It's beyond the control of the site.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on May 30, 2013


Klangklanston, there's no "gray area" here. Nobody can be Nice, it's a literal impossibility, and anyone who says otherwise is an obvious troll.

We are the Knights who say "Nice"!
posted by gauche at 8:53 AM on May 30, 2013


Hm. Well, I don't think "not caring" about an issue or person makes someone an asshole.

How can you be so mean?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love how what I said, is paraphrased as "You're not the boss of me." I would posit that if you think that's what I said you lack reading comprehension. "You're not the boss of me" is a childish argument, and while I am not above childish arguments, I would say putting words in my mouth and deliberately misrepresenting what I wrote is an assholish thing to do.

See, asshole is in the eye of the beholder.

I would also say to "not call out specific people" by linking to specific examples in a previously closed contentious thread is also a bit jerkish and is little more than wanting to continue adding to the garr.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:57 AM on May 30, 2013


I could be nice in Nice.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:53 AM on May 30, 2013


In my experience, the championing of being an asshole -- described as an effort to "experience all emotions" -- is done by people who ironically fail to appreciate the entirety of the spectrum of other, non-asshole emotions.

Put another way, Bitterness as a flavor in food and drink is as important as the other four tastes. Pretending Bitter shouldn't happen is ludicrous, but don't let it become the only flavor you experience.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:54 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not championing being an asshole, what I am saying is there's no good way to police failures of niceness, and people's meters are calibrated differently. What one person views as acceptable might be into the red zone for others. Then there's tolerance.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:39 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Bad faith" is a tricky accusation....it goes back to the Great Question, which is, why are other people wrong about things, when the truth is known? There are only four possible answers: Ignorance, stupidity, madness and evil.

Your entire comment (not fully quoted above) was very well put, Diablevert. I have a sincere question: when someone is "doing it for the lulz", as it were, or trolling, or to get people riled up, or because a person thinks its fun to get other people upset...would you classify such behavior as ignorance, stupidity or evil? I'm having a hard time fitting it into any of those one-word buckets, and I am trying to avoid conceiving a fifth possible answer.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2013


Speaking as one of the participants (and probably the most attacked/misrepresented participant!) in one of the threads that the OP linked (the HIV stigma one), I have a hard time seeing where anyone was acting in bad faith in that thread. Yes - there certainly was a highly unsatisfying and conflict-laden argument, and I was certainly getting frustrated from my standpoint as someone with a background in health policy and community development, if the way the tone of my comments veered at times was any indication. But I would be cautious about accusing anyone in that topic of acting in bad faith, because it minimizes their background and viewpoints and implies a profound lack of respect for where they're coming from.

Ultimately, it was a highly charged topic that touched a lot of people personally. I expect that the people I was talking with have had to defend both to themselves and to others their decisions frequently in the past. I also understood that many people would have had highly personal and traumatic backgrounds with the issue. From that perspective, I can easily understand how my comments, despite all of my precautions in not passing value judgments or speaking about individuals, would have put people on the defensive and thus forced them to search for the most uncharitable interpretations and interpret as personal attacks.

So extending that to a more general comment, while I certainly do think there is a problem here, I don't think it's appropriate to describe it as acting in bad faith because people are making justifiable, if not completely constructive reactions due to their backgrounds, values and beliefs. While I think it's perfectly fine to express frustrations at the way people react sometimes, I don't think it's particularly smart to make value judgments on the repository that people draw their reactions from especially if we don't have any information on where they actually come from. If we want people to approach things with a more open mind, the last thing we need to do is force them to become even more defensive by questioning the validity of their background.
posted by Conspire at 12:01 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your entire comment (not fully quoted above) was very well put, Diablevert. I have a sincere question: when someone is "doing it for the lulz", as it were, or trolling, or to get people riled up, or because a person thinks its fun to get other people upset...would you classify such behavior as ignorance, stupidity or evil? I'm having a hard time fitting it into any of those one-word buckets, and I am trying to avoid conceiving a fifth possible answer.

Trolling falls under evil. "I know what the right thing is but I'm doing/saying the wrong thing because I enjoy pissing you off" is malicious. Personally, I tend to think far more people get accused of trolling than actually are.
posted by Diablevert at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


> I don't think it's particularly smart to make value judgments on the repository that people
> draw their reactions from especially if we don't have any information on where they actually
> come from.

It's insufficiently borne in mind that, unless you have some kind of inherent inborn superiority of virtue that would prevent it, if you had lived their life and had their life experiences instead of yours you would be them.
posted by jfuller at 1:54 PM on May 30, 2013


I have a hard time seeing where anyone was acting in bad faith in that thread. Yes - there certainly was a highly unsatisfying and conflict-laden argument, and I was certainly getting frustrated from my standpoint as someone with a background in health policy and community development, if the way the tone of my comments veered at times was any indication. But I would be cautious about accusing anyone in that topic of acting in bad faith, because it minimizes their background and viewpoints and implies a profound lack of respect for where they're coming from.

I wasn't necessarily implying bad faith in that specific thread(oh Jeeze, in before someone starts lawyering at my original post about exactly how it was phrased) just poor behavior.

Nothing is gained from standing up from the dinner table and yelling. The entire thing reminded me of thanksgiving dinner with your extended family after everyone is 5 drinks deep.

I get that it's a charged, loaded subject. But if you can't approach it without getting super, erm, "energized" and riding your hobby horse really vigorously then maybe you should butt out after a comment or two stating your point.

There's plenty of people on this site who will never agree with each other, and a lot of times they don't butt heads. But when they do its like... Can't you just state your opinion, maybe reply to someone else who doesn't agree with "these are the facts or my opinion of why you're wrong" and open up another thread, or even do something else?

Several of the threads I linked turned in to one, or a small group of 2-3 people jumping on either each other or anyone else who entered the thunderdome for like the entire thread. This kind of thing happens in both that HIV thread, and the wikileaks thread.

Do you not get how that kind of hobbyhorse get in your bunker and hunker down to fire shots out the gunports all night long shit just kills threads and takes an awfully loud gassy shit all over any decent discussion that could be going on?

and by the way, I really do appreciate your comment. It's one of the few to address what i was saying head on that's like "yea, sorry I got upset. This is why" and actually admits to it rather than ITS MY RIGHT TO BE AN ASS HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT LIMITING MY EMOTIONS
posted by emptythought at 2:20 PM on May 30, 2013


Nothing is gained from standing up from the dinner table and yelling.

I disagree, depending on what the specific situation is. It's not an act that should be done often, but to say its something that should never done is just wrong.

Yes, we're probably going to have to agree to disagree on that.

But when they do its like... Can't you just state your opinion, maybe reply to someone else who doesn't agree with "these are the facts or my opinion of why you're wrong" and open up another thread, or even do something else?

You can do the same thing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:10 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My main point with the second sentence you quoted was that it often only takes 2 or 3 people jack-hammering on each other to ruin a thread. It doesn't matter if everyone else butts out, and it isn't like it's the same fighty people 99% of the time. There's just a wide enough spread of people here that a couple people will always respond to the call of the chair.

I'm not even saying that someone always throws the gauntlet down in that manner. It's often just a "these are some facts, and this is my opinion" post, then another one that's like "Well i disagree with you because XYZ"(with or without snark, doesn't matter) which then leads to "WELL YOU'RE WRONG BECAUSE ZYX" and then maybe another person or two jumps in. Whatever other discussions were going on in the thread usually get steamrolled or simply responded to by the fighty people and dragged in. The only people who have real hope then are the ones who drop in comments unrelated to the fight that don't get responded to at all, or not by the fighty people.(I'm imagining that scene from star trek TOS when the guy walks through the brawl in the galley, and doesn't spill his drink)

As for the first point, there is a very narrow set of circumstances in which "standing up from the table and yelling" so to speak is ok, and it's similar to the circumstances in which it's ok to punch someone. Mainly in that even when it's justified, it's often just not worth engaging. Notice that nowhere did i say it should never be done, just that nothing is gained. It's very often an "even if you win the battle, you lose the war" situation and i'm pretty sure you know exactly what i'm talking about. Flipping the table over at someone whose full of shit or otherwise aggressively calling them out may feel good, and get a bunch of favorites and such. But most of the time what was gained beyond just ignoring them?

I feel like were coming back to the point here again where i started from, that people feel like getting angry and fighty and being a bit of an ass is some sort of justifiable thing way more often than it really is. There's a time and a place for it for sure, but the fact that so many people stood up to go HEY YOU CAN'T TELL ME NOT TO BE AN ASSHOLE(and a few sounded like assholes doing it) kinda highlights a lot of the problem here. A deep vein of "someone is wrong on the internet!" runs through this.

And yes, i'm very well aware of the irony that i keep replying to people to clarify my points or continue the discussion.
posted by emptythought at 4:22 PM on May 30, 2013


Can't you just state your opinion, maybe reply to someone else who doesn't agree with "these are the facts or my opinion of why you're wrong" and open up another thread, or even do something else?

Sure you can, but only if your idea of a "discussion" is a shallow exchange of disagreements. If all disagreeements started and ended with just noting the disagreement and walking away, we'd never be able to resolve conflicts or educate ourselves. So it's not true that "nothing is gained;" people change and they learn and they rethink and all sorts of other outcomes as a result of discussion ensuing from conflicting opinions.

There is really nothing wrong with disagreeing. And discussions include things like challenges, critiques, questions, examination of arguments, the production of evidence, attempts to reframe, etc. I don't think there's any reason to ask for discussion to be shut down just because people disagree.

Now, when you talk about 2 or 3 people "jackhammering" each other, I think you identify a real phenomenon. At the same time, that's not the same thing as the existence of conflict, which is a fine thing. It's monopolizing and escalating the discourse. But even then, both parties can be conversing in utterly good faith and moving forward productively.

I think people have different tolerances for conflict in discussion, and what some see as "fighty" and empty can often be enjoyable and interesting for those engaged in it.

At the same time, there certainly are times when it seems like a few users are just picking fights, or getting lulz from prodding and poking people. That's entirely different from a sincere interest in following a line of reasoning or continuing to develop a case for a point of view, and it comes from a different kind of approach to the site. So I think asking everyone universally to "be nice" is not going to address the problem; for some of us, being "nicer" might eliminate the often challenging but fascinating discussion we look forward to having here, while really having no effect on people who are participating with the intent to irritate, provoke, and draw negative attention to themselves, which is basically what intentionally being an asshole is all about.
posted by Miko at 5:06 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]



Sure you can, but only if your idea of a "discussion" is a shallow exchange of disagreements. If all disagreeements started and ended with just noting the disagreement and walking away, we'd never be able to resolve conflicts or educate ourselves. So it's not true that "nothing is gained;" people change and they learn and they rethink and all sorts of other outcomes as a result of discussion ensuing from conflicting opinions.


Yeah this. What's scarier - an action movie or Stepford Wives? The Matrix or Brave New World? The Villiage in The Prisnor or... something else? When you get enforced niceness you lose something.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:15 PM on May 30, 2013


I'm one of the comments called out here - and I feel I was misrepresented.

The comment regarding launch codes was in answer to my question about what Wikileaks had leaked that actually caused any trouble. I honestly believed that they were claiming that some launch codes had been leaked, and then went and searched for several minutes before concluding that there were none.

I most certainly did not "take hypotheticals seriously just to start a fight" - and indeed, I don't quite see how this can be a hypothetical. Conceivably an earlier comment of mine was misread as somehow saying, "No secrets that could ever be revealed by anyone could ever cause damage" - but it doesn't read that way, and that's a ridiculous claim that no one would ever make.

That thread involved a great deal of acrimony and I was extremely careful not to disrespect anyone else in that thread and to keep any emotionality directed to the matter at hand. I should add that I got a supporting memail from a stranger and a supporting email from a friend regarding that specific thread.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:31 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So I think asking everyone universally to 'be nice' is not going to address the problem; for some of us, being 'nicer' might eliminate the often challenging but fascinating discussion we look forward to having here, while really having no effect on people who are participating with the intent to irritate, provoke, and draw negative attention to themselves, which is basically what intentionally being an asshole is all about."

I think you're quite right about some of the problems with "nice", particularly in its intersection with gender norms, but I also think that the word is overloaded and is therefore distracting in this discussion. "Nice" can be exactly how you're conceiving it, but that's really a subset of the larger idea of "nice" as it exists in common parlance.

And this is doubly true with what I think is your idiosyncratic definition of "asshole". When someone pushes in front of you in a line and ignores your protest, they're being an asshole but they're probably not doing it with the intent to "irritate, provoke, and draw negative attention to themselves". The latter is a variety of asshole behavior, to be sure. But the general idea of being an asshole is to just disregard, in an aggressive way, the things that matter to other people, especially their feelings.

Likewise, I think the broader meaning of "nice" is to be considerate of the feelings of others, and not just as a matter of form, which would probably be more narrowly defined as "politesse".

Your definition of asshole explicitly relies upon intent, mine of both it and nice still circle around intent implicitly. And, obviously, that's a problem because in this context, where we're making utilitarian arguments about policing standards of behavior on a website, intent has to rank pretty distantly behind observed behavior, because it's very difficult to know and very easy to get wrong.

However, there's a profound asymmetry here, which you don't recognize in your previous comment, between advising people to be considerate of others and criticizing them for faiing to be considerate. I know my own mind and I am perfectly capable of being more considerate of other people and evaluating after-the-fact whether I have been. I know my own intent. If you advise me to change my intent, that's not problematic because insofar as I accept that advice, I'll know whether I've behaved in accordance with it. But if you criticize me for failing to take your advice, that's a different thing, because you can't know. As you wrote, you can't police my behavior on that basis, of my intent or whether I care or not, because you just can't fundamentally know that.

The way that emptythought has framed this post and discussed it in this thread conflates the issues surrounding thinking about our own way of engaging with others here, and thinking about how others engage with us here. It conflates policing ourselves with policing others, and the truth is that those are two very different things.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:53 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you get enforced niceness you lose something.

Why do people keep assuming that there's only two options here? "not being a dick" in no way equals enforced niceness. This isn't some kind of "you have to act in this super specific way and be nice" thing i'm trying to describe here at ALL, and there seems to be some kinda shitty readings of what i said with the goal of painting it that way in mind.

This is exactly what came up in the last thread, and any other time i've seen someone say "can we not be dickbags?" on this site. Comparing asking people not to be assholes to the stepford wives is being an asshole, and is borderline trolling.

There's hobby horses being ridden here, and it's tiresome. I really wish people would quit trying to take "not being a dick" to mean "forced to be nice".

If you really think someone asking you not to be an asshole is some horrible infringement on your free expression, then you should probably take a long hard look at how you're expressing yourself. And what you get out of participating in communities like this.

Thanks for providing me with a great example of what i'm talking about though.
posted by emptythought at 6:18 PM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Its the way its enforced, though. its not 'if you're an assholes, you'll be banned'. its 'please consider keeping things from getting too grrary. have a hug cookie!' kinda cloying tone
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:22 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


'please consider keeping things from getting too grrary. have a hug cookie!'

Seriously, stop. That is not happening. You are tilting at windmills. No one gets banned for not being nice enough. No one even gets the night off for failure to be nice. Enforcement is like this: stop being a dick please, it's sucking all the air out of this discussion and we've asked you privately to stop and you seem to either not be listening, or you don't care, or you are drunk. At this point I don't really care. Act like you are not trolling or get treated like a troll.

That is how we enforce things here. No hug cookie. That clear?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


That is how we enforce things here. No hug cookie. That clear?

I wish I could send the mods hug cookies through the interwebs, because this thread is like arguing with that toddler that has a lightsaber and is swinging it about with reckless abandon.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:38 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


When someone pushes in front of you in a line and ignores your protest, they're being an asshole but they're probably not doing it with the intent to "irritate, provoke, and draw negative attention to themselves".

Hm. Yeah, yours is also an idiosyncratic definition, so there you are. I don't think someone who pushes in front of you in line is being "an asshole." At all. They may be, in the worst case, aware of what they're doing and doing it to assert their dominance over you, in which case it meets my definition of "asshole." But they may simply be distracted, poorly mannered, or from a culture in which that's a normal expected behavior. I think you and perhaps others have an overly wide definition of "asshole." Mine is basically knowingly performing asshole behaviors in a way that creates a particular negative reaction in others.

However, there's a profound asymmetry here, which you don't recognize in your previous comment, between advising people to be considerate of others and criticizing them for failing to be considerate

I don't understand what this means. Essentially, I see these things as being conflated in the post and conflated on MetaFilter. "Don't be an asshole" is advice to others and to self and also an actionable standard for moderators. When people promote a "be nice" standard, especially in the context in which this post appeared and in the most recent thread it cites, the concept of "nice" is being suggested as an actionable one - something with a flag, which would presumably give moderators the responsibility to police behaviors which are "not nice." Essentially, there's a strand of discussion that has proposed that if a user says something other users think is "not nice," they flag it, and that contributes to some form of "niceess" value judgment on the part of mods. Maybe that's the same thing you're saying, but it's not clear.

I also don't understand why you added "...which you don't recognize in your previous comment." Why don't you just say you notice an asymmetry? Why does it have to be about exposing a flaw or something? Why try to score the points too?

"not being a dick" in no way equals enforced niceness

Well, we already have a standard for that, so if that's all the "nice" conversation means, the whole thing's moot.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"'Don't be an asshole' is advice to others and to self and also an actionable standard for moderators."

Not quite. For example, your definition of asshole hinges upon intent and so, when we apply this advice to ourselves, this is knowable. When the mods apply this as an actionable standard to others, they can only unreliably infer asshole behavior by your definition (absent confession). But it is an actionable standard of a sort, so what becomes the acid test is the form and the result, not the intent. Its appearance and its effects.

Similarly, if the definition of asshole is more like mine, with regard to the mods or the community here, then as you point out, in that case also we can't really know why someone did what they did. So the practical result is the same: we recognize it by its form and judge it mostly by its results.

Crucially, this is true with regard to being considerate, too.

Telling people to avoid behaving with bad intent and to try to behave with good intent is not some sort of category error because intent is unknowable. It's quite knowable to ourselves. For this reason, this advice is not equivalent to judging other's success or failure at doing these things, because such a judgment requires information we don't possess. Our judgments about others by necessity need to be based upon evidence available to us.

"When people promote a 'be nice' standard, especially in the context in which this post appeared and in the most recent thread it cites, the concept of 'nice' is being suggested as an actionable one - something with a flag, which would presumably give moderators the responsibility to police behaviors which are 'not nice.' Essentially, there's a strand of discussion that has proposed that if a user says something other users think is 'not nice,' they flag it, and that contributes to some form of "niceess" value judgment on the part of mods. Maybe that's the same thing you're saying, but it's not clear."

It's not the same thing I'm saying, I've explicitly disputed it, which is why I concluded with:
...emptythought [...] conflates policing ourselves with policing others, and the truth is that those are two very different things.
I disputed the idea that a "be nice" standard is equivalent to an enforced moderating standard. I think that emptythought is right to promote a "be nice" community standard for how we regulate our own individual behavior (in the "be considerate" sense, not necessarily the narrower sense you object to), but I think he's wrong to promote judging other peoples' behavior on that basis. It's not entirely clear to me that he does actually fully equate the two, but you do seem to take it for granted.

That said, I want to emphasize again that our practical judgments about the behavior of others ends up being some kind of holistic combination of inferring intent and motives, appearance, and results. I'm not saying that advising others to be nice (or not be an asshole) is essentially and fully distinct from judging others as not nice (or assholes), but that the advice has a solid footing whereas, in contrast, the judgments are difficult and uncertain. We don't have to be nearly as careful about promoting "niceness" as we do about judging people for supposed failures to be "nice".

"I also don't understand why you added '...which you don't recognize in your previous comment.' Why don't you just say you notice an asymmetry? Why does it have to be about exposing a flaw or something? Why try to score the points too?"

It wasn't intended to be point-scoring, I thought I was engaging with your specific argument. I apologize that I was insufficiently considerate to make the effort to avoid giving you the impression that it was point-scoring.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:37 PM on May 30, 2013


Yeah, I think you're making it all seem a whole lot more inscrutable than it is. The standard in practice seems to go as follows: "looks like an asshole, quacks like an asshole. If you're not intending to be an asshole, cut it out. If you still seem to be acting like an asshole, we'll assume you're an asshole." I don't think the mods are really "unreliable" in applying this; if anything, they're pretty reserved about it, giving a lot of borderline assholishness the benefit of the doubt.

I think that emptythought is right to promote a "be nice" community standard for how we regulate our own individual behavior (in the "be considerate" sense, not necessarily the narrower sense you object to),

But I do object to the "be considerate" sense. I don't really know that there's an obligation to be "considerate." There's an obligation to not be an asshole. An absence of maliciousness will do. I think those things, lack of consideration and active malice, are different and don't want to ever demand that anyone "be considerate" in order to participate here. It's a nice thing to be - as it were - but as a demand, it's intrusive. I don't eally give a shit what people are considering, in their own internal narrative, or how they conceive of themselvesas "nice" or "considerate," as long as they behave appropriately, at a minimum.

And I don't care if you're considerate to me (why start now?) I'm not complaining that you're not considerate. I'm noticing that you seem to have such a massive investment in taking issue with me, in particular, by finding flaws in what I write as though they are carefully thought-out and finely wrought essays, and I'm encouraging you to just say what you want to say instead of what you call "engaging my argument." To me, it pretty much looks like point-scoring.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


looks like an asshole, quacks like an asshole

Dear gods, man. See a doctor.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm noticing that you seem to have such a massive investment in taking issue with me, in particular, by finding flaws in what I write as though they are carefully thought-out and finely wrought essays, and I'm encouraging you to just say what you want to say instead of what you call "engaging my argument." To me, it pretty much looks like point-scoring.

Miko, I think that's just Ivan being Ivan. He likes to analyze things very closely, and presumably he finds your comments worth the close scrutiny. (Also it seems worth pointing it out because it looks like one of those friction points where "being an asshole", not that it's reached that point yet, is entirely in the eye of the beholder, which is why I think it's such a hard standard to enforce given the other open-ended aspects of this website.)
posted by furiousthought at 8:24 PM on May 30, 2013


Yeah, maybe.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on May 30, 2013


'Quacks like an asshole' is my Official Favorite Phrase of The Day. I thank you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, yeah Ivan is just being Ivan here, and diving as deep as he can, because that's what he likes to do (and though some people might not, I love him for it. I find it immensely fun, if I'm caffeinated enough, at least).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:03 PM on May 30, 2013


'Quacks like an asshole' is my Official Favorite Phrase of The Day. I thank you.

You, too? I've been trying to fart, "Aflac!" all night.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:15 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aaahhhh! Ow, ow, ow. Dammit!

Apparently, it's possible to strain the eyeball-rolling muscles.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:36 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of my best friends are assholes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:05 AM on June 1, 2013


"Substitute your preferred slang word for female genitalia and see how that goes over here. Oh right, that would be sexist. Don't be a dick, asshole. "

Ah, the ol' If My Aunt Had Balls She'd Be My Uncle gambit.
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Asshole" is, by definition, non-sexist.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2013


Assholes, of course, are like opinions.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on June 2, 2013


If you’re relaxed, open and work at it they can expand more than you thought possible?
posted by bongo_x at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


bongo_x: "If you’re relaxed, open and work at it they can expand more than you thought possible?"

And doing so can result in a sense of acceptance and satisfaction, possibly even what one would call pleasure?

Sounds not-unreasonable to me.
posted by Lexica at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2013


Fulfilling even.
posted by bongo_x at 6:30 PM on June 2, 2013


Opinions are like assholes, I think mine's pretty tight but I've never really examined it.
posted by team lowkey at 7:21 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Opinions are like assholes because everyone needs one, otherwise they'd explode.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:03 PM on June 4, 2013


Opinions are like assholes because if you stretch them too much you can start up some pretty bloody shit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2013


Opinions are like assholes because that's where the poop comes from.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:57 PM on June 4, 2013


Opinions are like assholes, manners prevents me from showing you more of mine.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:38 PM on June 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Opinions are like assholes, if they are causing you chronic pain you should see a professional.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on June 4, 2013


Opinions are like assholes; you’re feeling spunky and give the internet a bit more of a peek than you should have, then later regret it and have to contact a mod.
posted by bongo_x at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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