Argument clinic: arguing without fighting July 2, 2018 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Arguments are fun. Fights aren't. What makes a good argument, and how do we avoid turning them into fights?

Everyone knows what an argument is, but as is usually the case, the word can refer to different things in different contexts or when used by different speakers. For the purposes of this post, I'd like to draw a distinction between arguments and fights.

An argument is a discussion in which two or more participants present opposing views on a topic. Everyone participating in the argument does so intentionally, explicitly or implicitly acknowledging to each other that they are arguing. For a participant in an argument, the goal can be to reach a consensus decision, to discover the truth of a matter, or simply to gain a more nuanced understanding of a complex topic. An argument can end with agreement if some participants change their viewpoint, or an impasse if none do. In either case, the participants in an argument may agree that the argument was successful if they feel progress was made toward their goal.

A fight is also a discussion in which two or more participants present opposing views on a topic. However, participants in a fight may be there unintentionally. They may feel obligated to refute an idea they strongly disagree with or a claim they believe to be damaging, or they may feel they have been personally attacked and need to defend themselves. For a participant in a fight, the goal is to win. A fight can end with victory for one side if the other(s) acknowledge their loss, or a draw if no one does. The participants in a fight are unlikely to feel the fight was successful unless it ended in victory for their side.

Not all arguments are good, and not all fights are bad. However, in a community space like MetaFilter, arguments are generally preferable, as fights tend to lead to bad feelings and drive away the losing side. A common failure mode for arguments is for them to turn into fights. Another common failure mode is when some participants believe they are arguing, while others believe they are fighting. Furthermore, the distinction I have drawn between arguments and fights is to a certain extent a false one, as many discussions exhibit some argument-like characteristics and some fight-like characteristics.

Do you think the argument/fight distinction I have outlined here is a useful one for thinking about discussions on MetaFilter? What are its limitations, and where might it be misleading? Are there alternative frameworks for thinking about this distinction? How do we recognize whether a particular discussion is an argument or a fight? How can we tell when an argument is turning into a fight, and how can we avoid that? If we're having a fight, can we turn it into an argument instead, and how? Have you ever contributed to turning an argument into a fight on MetaFilter, and if so, what might have helped to prevent that? And finally, are there situations where it's actually desirable to have a fight instead of an argument?

Intent
This is the first in a planned series of "argument clinic" posts to MetaTalk. The goal is to give MeFites a place to talk about how we communicate on this site when we disagree with each other. My hope is that by having an open discussion in which a range of perspectives on this topic can be freely expressed, we'll all develop a better sense of where other MeFites are coming from when they approach an argument. I also hope that new MeFites will be able to use these threads as a way to get a handle on what the community's ideal norms around disagreement and argumentation are.

Currently planned argument clinics include, in no particular order:
  • arguing, riffing, storytelling, explaining, and other modes of discussion
  • the role of emotions
  • when and where to argue
  • good and bad faith
  • the problem of polysemy
Guidelines
I'd like to request that we all try to follow a few guidelines above and beyond the standard MetaTalk norms in this discussion, in order to help it be as productive as possible.
  1. Try to keep this discussion focused and relatively narrow: if the conversation leads into a related but distinct topic, let's set it aside and return to it in a future thread.
  2. If you want an example of a bad argument to illustrate a point, try to use one:
    1. not from MetaFilter, or
    2. where you were the one at fault, or
    3. where the MetaFilter thread is at least five years old, and you are not the aggrieved party.
    This should help to keep the focus on the things we all generally do sometimes that work or don't work in arguments, rather than calling out individual MeFites for bad behavior.

  3. Avoid pile-ons: if you're responding with strong contradiction to someone else's comment, check and make sure two or three other commenters haven't already said what you want to say. If you're just saying the same thing in a different way, perhaps your fellow MeFites already have it covered.

  4. Avoid undefined jargon: if you refer to one of MetaFilter's many in-jokes or jargony terms, try to give a short definition the first time it's used in the thread. E.g., "This topic has a frequent problem with people dropping depressing and slightly irrelevant comments into threads with happy or positive frames, or as we sometimes say, 'dead goating.'"

  5. The perfect is the enemy of the good: if you have something to contribute but are afraid of being judged for not perfectly adhering to any of these guidelines, go ahead and comment anyway. Guidelines are meant to improve the discussion, not stifle it.
Finally, keep in mind this is just a thread on the Internet. If it helps, remember to take a deep breath, and watch a silly sketch before commenting.
posted by biogeo to Etiquette/Policy at 12:56 PM (168 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

This is basically my dad and I when we go from good natured, heated even debates to less fun arguments. It's a sticky question...

We never solved it. I don't expect Metafilter to solve it. I don't mind you trying to bring attention to something that might make things better. I'm good either way.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:00 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Quick note here up front to thank biogeo for the patience on this one; we held it for a bit because of various timing and mod-attention issues, but I think it's a good idea as a way to try and explore some of the complicated dynamics of discussion on MetaFilter (and in general) and I appreciate the thought and effort that they put into writing this out in a way that's not tied directly to any specific difficult or heated context on the site.

I'll basically second the "Guidelines" section above: I think as much as the conversations we have on the site don't and can't be expected to exist in a vacuum, we can aim for this particular thread to do more of a careful, analytical discussion of these things, and I really appreciate folks putting in the effort there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:01 PM on July 2 [10 favorites]


I think RolandOfEld touched on what rubbed me the wrong way almost immediately: debates are fun. Arguments suck, at least for me.

I will acknowledge that I do not come from a healthy attitude toward arguing. Arguing in my house led immediately to fights, no matter the subject.

It does seem to me that you're using "argument" the way I would use "debate," so I wanted to get that clear right from the get-go, in case someone(s) else feels the same way and is about to nope the heck right out of this thread.
posted by cooker girl at 1:24 PM on July 2 [17 favorites]


Do you think the argument/fight distinction I have outlined here is a useful one for thinking about discussions on MetaFilter? What are its limitations, and where might it be misleading?

The distinction, as you've outlined it, seems to be about the stakes of the argument: the extent to which one or both people in the conversation feel that the opposite viewpoint is morally tolerable (i.e. argument occurs when I do not consider another person to be seriously morally mistaken if they retain their viewpoint, even if I think they are mistaken in some other more palatable way; fighting occurs when I consider them to be seriously morally mistaken if they retain their viewpoint, so that I am unwilling to reach a happy compromise or consensus with them, since that would involve a departure from my own moral belief system). I don't want to win in every argument against a viewpoint I consider interesting-but-flawed. I do want to win--in the minimal sense of ending the conversation in disagreement, not consensus or compromise--against any viewpoint I consider to be, for example, dangerous or racist or sexist etc. It seems too narrow to say that we should never challenge a view we oppose unless we believe that the other person's view is morally benign and/or there is some compromise or middle ground to be found, since the other kind of challenge inevitably becomes fighting instead of arguing. A preference for argument over fighting, on these terms, just becomes a preference for low-stakes conversation that leaves fundamental disagreements about what morally matters alone.

I think it might make more sense to say that (a) we should reserve actual fighting, as you define it, for those (relatively rare) cases where something really morally significant is at stake, and (b) even fighting should have rules of engagement that involve treating the other person with basic respect and courtesy. For example, I don't think calling someone names or drawing nasty conclusions about their personal lives from their speech is a useful way of challenging even very bad speech. I can say 'when you say x, it sounds like y, and y implies [racist stereotype]' or whatever, instead of saying 'I see you said x, you seem like a racist, you probably only have white friends'. In general, I think it helps to have a tight focus on what the other person is saying, rather than what the other person is, in fighting as in arguing. I don't think that means everything has to be bloodless and emotionless, people can still tell stories about what is at stake in an argument / fight for them and express anger and frustration at injustices they've experienced; it just requires some care to avoid personalising the anger to the particular person in the thread who seems to be espousing an unjust view.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:31 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

I feel like most arguments on the internet are mostly about preaching to the choir since the opposing side is not really listening.
posted by Memo at 1:39 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


mostly, we just learn what to shut up about. pass the gravy
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:42 PM on July 2 [14 favorites]


I'm thinking a lot about how I interact with people given suelac's recent FPP (Rethinking journalism through the lens of mediation and psychology). Specifically about asking questions and clarifying the other person's values rather than just disagreeing. I'm not sure how to translate that into my comments here -- I think things are still percolating -- but I wanted to bring the FPP to people's attention in case they're interested in reading more about some of this.
posted by lazuli at 1:50 PM on July 2 [18 favorites]


I've learned more from reading the arguments of others than from the results of my own arguments, but yes. I've had my horizons considerably expanded by some of the arguments here. One data point.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:51 PM on July 2 [30 favorites]


I've had my horizons considerably expanded by some of the arguments here. One data point.

Seconded.

And I'm hard headed. Ask dad.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:54 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


Yeah, absolutely have I had viewpoints turned completely around on here.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:16 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


And no-one's gonna tell me otherwise!
posted by ominous_paws at 2:20 PM on July 2 [17 favorites]


I would define arguments pretty much the way you define fights. Your definition of arguments sounds like it mixes what I would call debates and discussions. While debates are for sure better than arguments (or fights), I'm not terribly interested in those either, because the whole points-scoring thing can easily turn it into an argument. I am less interested in catching someone out in a semantic mistake or clever rebuttal than I am in actually trying to understand others.

Whilst I appreciate that there are people who do enjoy debates (also arguments and fights) it can also be problematic if one or more people think they are having a discussion and someone else thinks it's a debate. My personal preference would be for discussion as a default unless someone indicates they want a debate (it is pre-coffee for me, I'm not sure how that would work). But I realise this preference is not necessarily shared here, and it is a big reason why I tend not to comment much - or even read much - on the blue.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:25 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


My personal preference would be for discussion as a default unless someone indicates they want a debate (it is pre-coffee for me, I'm not sure how that would work).

One person removes their gloves and slaps the other with them. Then the one who was slapped decides the weapons and location of the debate. Each person names a second, and all parties proceed from there.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:43 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


In my ideal Metafilter - or my ideal world - people would be willing to argue-not-fight about everything. Absolutely everything, no matter how undeniably wrong and evil they felt the other side was.

You don't have to choose between trying to convert people out of their evil beliefs and trying to find middle ground. Arguing doesn't have to be about finding middle ground. It can also be a way to work toward understanding.

Are you sure you understand correctly exactly what the other person believes and how it's different from what you believe? Too often, one person starts a fight over what they assume the other person is saying but their assumption is wrong. A good argument should start with both people making sure they understand exactly what they disagree about. (And sometimes it can end there, if it turns out the disagreement was simply a misunderstanding.)

Once the disagreement is clear, the two people can work on trying to explain to each other why they believe what they believe. I don't think that kind of effort is ever wasted, even if no one changes their mind. If there are people out there who believe [terribly wrong thing], how can you not want to know why? Understanding the other side can help you work on converting people if you want (but I'd rather have you try that somewhere other than Metafilter.) And it can help you figure out whether your own beliefs really make as much sense as you thought they did.

If it's a fight (where you feel like you have to win because your side is morally right), then you want to make your opponent's side look as bad as possible. You tend to come up with the stupidest possible version of their point of view and try to demolish it in a way that will impress other people. If it's an argument-not-a-fight, you're more likely to be able to open yourself up to the best possible version of the other point of view and seriously consider whether any part of it makes sense. That's what leads to understanding.
posted by Redstart at 2:55 PM on July 2 [10 favorites]


MetaTalk is really the only place where I am at all interested in arguing with/debating another MeFite.

You think differently about a topic? That's fine. I'm okay with letting disagreement stand. We're both (hopefully) reflecting on the FPP and sharing our takeaways (having read it). You're entitled to your opinion. Tell us what you think. Maybe we'll all be richer for it. Or at least more aware of the range of thought in the world. If someone has said something so egregious that IT SHALL NOT STAND, flag it and move on.

I find back and forth arguing on MetaFilter ("the Blue") really obnoxious. Just structurally, it's not set up for it. There is just one thread for everyone. How many people are you excluding in the process? How many people do you assume you're speaking for? How many people have thrown up their hands, seeing the thread already taken over?

I believe if you make a comment, you should be fine making just one comment. Unless the article is literally about you or you are the world's authority on the matter, if you anticipate making a series of comments, I think it's worth taking a step back. If you frequently find yourself in back-and-forths, even more so.

As far as the dichotomy biogeo presents (btw, thanks for making this post), I do think the "argument" (I'd define this as debate, like others) is preferable, because it's focused more on the ideas and FPP subject matter than a "fight," which I see as more wrapped up in the egos of the interlocutors.

But, really, I wish we would move to a culture of "yes, and…" where we approach our contributions with an additive mindset.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 3:54 PM on July 2 [30 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

I guess one thing I'm interested in trying to explore here is a mode of disagreement which can be productive even if no one changes their mind. I actually have had my mind changed occasionally on MetaFilter, either as a participant or (more frequently) as an observer of an argument. But much more commonly, I've had arguments (on MeFi or elsewhere) which I enjoyed and/or felt were valuable despite no one changing their minds. I think what's worked for me in those cases is one or more of the following:
  • I've come to understand my opponent's position better, even if I still disagree. In the future when I encounter others with that position, I'll be better able to understand where they're coming from.
  • I've come to understand problems in my own position, even if I am not dissuaded from it. This gives me something to work on in shoring up my beliefs.
  • I've developed new ways of thinking about and/or communicating my own beliefs through the process of explaining or defending them, giving me a greater sense of clarity about my own thoughts.
  • I've enjoyed the contest of matching my ability to argue against someone whose opinions and abilities I respect, even if I disagree with them about something important.
I actually think disagreements on MetaFilter often have one or more of these aspects, which is one of the really valuable things about the site to me. For example, there was at least one thread on gun control, which is certainly an emotionally- and morally-charged topic, which I felt was valuable for me despite no one publicly changing their opinion. Even though I still strongly disagreed with the people I was arguing against, I felt I understood their position better, and also that I had come up with better ways of articulating my own position. Of course, I would have preferred to convince them that I was right and they were wrong, but even without that I thought the argument was good.

In general, though, I think few threads operate purely in one mode of discussion, and often what I'm calling argument (calling it debate or something else is also fine, my choice of terms is perhaps a bit academic, old-fashioned, or just idiosyncratic) is mixed in with fighting.
posted by biogeo at 4:10 PM on July 2 [10 favorites]


As another person who grew up in a family with a less-than-evolved approach to arguments and disagreements, this starts with a problematic premise for me. "Arguing is fun"? If that's the basis of this discussion, I feel like it's going to take a wrong turn right out of the gate then gallop off down the track and disappear behind the horizon.

Some of us grew up in situations where we were never right: We were girls, and therefore not smart enough to be right. We were queer, and therefore not straight enough to be right. Your experiences can precede you to the point where the person you're arguing with dismisses your argument before you even make it. And yeah, that's probably fun for the other person, because it's easy to have a good time when you know the game is stacked in your favor. Not so much for the person who will never, ever be right.

I think a better way to approach this is "Disagreeing is okay. How do we navigate disagreements without hurting each other?"

Not to dump on you, biogeo, because I'm glad you're bringing this up. I just feel like "arguing is fun" leads too easily to a disingenuous "I was just asking questions," and that's a corner that a lot of us have been backed into for a not-insignificant portion of our lives.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:15 PM on July 2 [49 favorites]


Not to dump on you, biogeo, because I'm glad you're bringing this up. I just feel like "arguing is fun" leads too easily to a disingenuous "I was just asking questions," and that's a corner that a lot of us have been backed into for a not-insignificant portion of our lives.

Not at all, I'm very glad to hear this perspective. I come from a family in which arguing was recreational, and respectful disagreement could be a form of showing love. For MetaFilter to function well as a community, I think it's important for us to recognize the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds we approach things like arguing with.

Does it scan differently to you if it's aspirational instead? As in, arguing (or debating or what have you) on MetaFilter should be fun, how can we achieve that?

I'll step back a bit now so as not to choke the thread.
posted by biogeo at 4:31 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I don't find arguments fun. I come here for discussion, not arguments and certainly not fights. I never thought this was a place for fights and I always thought that we should be flagging fighty behavior.

I learn (and therefore change my mind) from the linked material and any supplemental information provided, not from comments trying to convince me of their (the commenter's) point of view. I enjoy discussion that praises the linked content's strong points, pokes at weak points, fills in blanks, expands concepts, and provides relevant anecdotes. When people start focusing on opponents, impasses, scoring, winning, convincing, etc. -- that's when things go pear-shaped, casual people drop out, and we go back to the same handful of strong voices over and over. The content should be the star of the post, not the personalities below it.

Arguing will never be fun for me. Just like running, watching football, or sudoku. In a world where people are arguing on television, on the train, in the paper, on social media, at holidays, and in conference rooms, I want MetaFilter to be a place where I can rest from all of that and get away from fightiness. In light of recent MeTa conversations, my question would actually be: how can we as a community de-escalate arguments back into discussions?
posted by kimberussell at 4:45 PM on July 2 [32 favorites]


Exactly what mudpuppie said. Due to a large number of life experiences, I will almost never enjoy arguments or debates because except in very specific environments - of which MetaFilter is not one - I will always lose. Even if I am not in it to win and don't even buy the premise that it is about winning or losing, I will be made to feel that I have lost. That is not fun.

Not speaking for mudpuppie, but for me an aspirational slant does not improve that even remotely. It is like saying "water should be dry". It is never dry. If it is dry, it is not water.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:47 PM on July 2 [12 favorites]


A couple of things I think can help make disagreement - when they do happen - go a little better.

1) Think about if your comments are going to raise or lower the temperature. I think a lot of us get into a kind of Debate Club zone where we reflexively fire off a zinger or start escalating pretty quick when someone says a thing we disagree with - and the more we disagree with it, the more fiery the rejoinder.

Disagreeing with someone raises the temperature by default, so I think we need to work a little harder to keep replies civil, non blamey. One way of doing this is:

2) Avoiding rhetorical questions. They are the worst. They always spike the tension level; they often involve paraphrasing the person you disagree with in an uncharitable or exaggerated way; they don't add anything to the conversation.
posted by smoke at 4:47 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


But also, Nthing, I wish people didn't feel they have to argue about everything. It's bloody exhausting. If you disagree, sometimes it's cool just to move on.
posted by smoke at 4:50 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I find this premise wanting:

Arguments are fun. Fights aren't. What makes a good argument, and how do we avoid turning them into fights?

Arguments are fun for some people, fights are fun for other people, and like cooker girl points out, some people want a good debate.

My take on this is the site is nearly two decades old. By now people on here should have a fairly good grasp of what the site norms are regarding debate, argument, or fighting. I get what you're going for with the idea of discussion clinics, and you may get some interesting input, but I doubt these discussions with change the participation on the site much.

You have a subset of the site users who read meta. Of these you'll have a subset that will read these. And of these, you may have some few who change how they interact. Maybe.

Some people like conflict, some don't. Some see any of the above as conflict. Others as, one person's fight is another person's spirited debate.

I used to enjoy arguing, debating, and fighting. Few things gave me more pleasure than proving someone wrong. I took it as a challenge. If I could take the less popular side and play devil's advocate, that was fine as well. I was just as comfortable on the weaker side of an argument as on the unassailably correct side. As I get older, I just don't have the time or the energy. I don't care if people are wrong any more. I don't feel a need to help others form stronger opinions and beliefs. It's not up to me to educate the ignorant against their will.

And there's the rub for me. If people are engaging in a manner I find objectionable, I scroll and roll these days. Flag it and move on. Or just move on.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:03 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I grew up in an argumentative family where people were constantly trying to prove something. I don’t like debating stuff. I’ve done it a lot on this site, but it’s usually when I’ve felt personally attacked, and no matter the outcome I regret it. That’s something I’ve been trying to be better about. I agree with mudpuppie that a battle of wits is not fun for everyone, and I’ll add that this can be true even for people who get involved.

I’ve said it before, but the big thing for me is that people always make it personal. Like, this is a public space, and everyone is aware that their comments are very public. People want to feel accepted, and it’s easy to feel ashamed when you’ve been publicly insulted. Personal attacks take it beyond disagreement into “you could only believe that if you...” statements, which lead to people getting defensive, and things keep escalating. It can be fun and cathartic to tear someone down, I mean really smack them down, and it can make you feel good about yourself, but man, that doesn’t come for free.

Also, in the vein of making things personal: making assumptions about someone. That they must be X if they believe that, or Y if they don’t understand, or that what they’re really saying is Z.

I don’t expect arguments or debates to go away, but I think things would go more smoothly if we worked to address instances where people did classic bad faith engagement like that. It sounds like people have been flagging more lately, and I think something we can all do now is flag stuff that seems to take things in a really personal and uncharitable direction.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:09 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


I don't find arguments fun. I come here for discussion, not arguments and certainly not fights.

They may be closer than you think.
posted by Splunge at 5:13 PM on July 2


I’m pretty tired of Nordic Larping “internet debate club”

I’m way more interested in discussions that are based on using curiosity as a manner of clarifying perspectives and not so interested in people picking an oppositional stance from whence defense and opposition is played.
posted by nikaspark at 5:31 PM on July 2 [24 favorites]


I come from a family in which arguing was recreational, and respectful disagreement could be a form of showing love.

It's definitely a different perspective. My wife comes from a toxic argument family, she has tended to view disagreement as disrespect. I don't. I've told her many times I don't argue with people I don't respect, I just smile and nod and move on. And there was never anything personal in debates in my family, that was a line you didn't cross.
posted by bongo_x at 5:58 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


My ideal is a discussion that is neither an argument nor a fight. It's cooperative, it's interesting, it's full of "yes, and" dynamics, even when there's disagreement. But it seems like so many people (especially here) assume that doesn't or can't exist--even the premise of this post zooms right past "discussion" to give credence only to the oppositional subsets of argument and fight.

No offense to this post, though; I think parsing a friendly argument from a combative fight definitely has value. I'm just one of those people who doesn't actually enjoy either one, and is instead longing for discussion.
posted by theatro at 6:16 PM on July 2 [10 favorites]


I was trying to articulate why something about this thread rubs me the wrong way, and I'm going to try to explain it here. The thing that happens on MeFi that is bad is this: Person A posts something that legitimately upsets Person B. Person B posts a comment to say "This made me feel bad and here's why." Person A thinks "Oh good, an argument! I love arguments! Here's my rebuttal!" and Person B just feels like Person A is really railing on them when they're already obviously upset.

I'm sure I've been Person A sometimes and Person B other times. Text-only communication makes this tough. Trying to hold a clinic on it kind of strikes me as...well, being the Person A. Being the person who, in their mind, is having this totally interesting, detached, theoretical discussion about a thing that, in reality, has made Person B feel bad and they want to say they feel bad without dissecting it or having to defend an argument like they're in internet court.

I don't know - is anyone else feeling this?
posted by capricorn at 6:25 PM on July 2 [32 favorites]


The people who are saying arguments aren't fun for them all seem to be describing the type of interaction biogeo calls a fight and suggests we should avoid. I'm squarely in the "arguments are fun" camp myself so I could be completely wrong about what the argument haters are thinking but my sense is that they don't believe biogeo's argument/fight distinction really exists; they feel like it's always about trying to win.
posted by Redstart at 6:29 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


I do believe biogeo's distinction exists and I find argument enjoyable in other (in-person) venues. I also think both modes involve oppositional dynamics—even when theatrical rather than malicious—and end up dominating a shared space.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 6:37 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I disagree, Redstart. I think for some people, even though they can see and acknowledge the distinction, for them, it's a distinction without a difference. Not everyone sees disagreement as a zero sum game. Not everyone wants to be forced to choose sides in order to discuss substantive topics. I've had to wean myself from the habit of arguing for points, myself, because that's just the way my brain works. But the world isn't here for me to dissect, and I've learned to really internalize that things I enjoy can be hurtful to others regardless of my intent. So I try to engage as lightly as possible these days. Sometimes I fail, but it honestly feels worth the effort to me.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:51 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


I’m pretty tired of Nordic Larping “internet debate club”

Extremely same.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:55 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

I think that this question sets us up to answer "no," and decide that arguments are just wastes of time.

My mind has certainly changed on some topics, but usually not all at once. It's not always when I'm an active participant, either - my mind has been changed just as often (or more often) when I'm a lurker.

But I do think that cichlid ceilidh makes a good point about "arguments" dominating a shared space. Basically, the most aggressive or oppositional styles of handling disagreement will win out when it comes to setting the tone of a thread. That tone will not be comfortable for a lot of people. I think that if you enjoy debate and argument, but want MetaFilter to be welcoming, you need to be aware of that.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:10 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


This post while I fully believe is well meaning seems to go counter to the issues raised about how to make metafilter more welcoming. If I'm in a thread and people are arguing for fun or fighting I nope right out as I just don't have the spoons to be part of people scoring points even if it's for fun. It just sucks any energy out of the thread and becomes about the people arguing. It seems to be if we want to be more welcoming then we could focus more on how to step back from an argument and engage with the FPP. Not to mention I feel like arguing already happens here and it's resulted in people quitting as it's hard to tell what's just for fun and what's a person doing it to be mean. Especially for marginalized members.
posted by kanata at 7:17 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


I'd like to point out, too, that one of the things I changed my mind about after arguing here was precisely this matter of whether arguing was one of the things I ought to be doing here.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:22 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Capricorn, I’m very much with you. I’m fine with debate/friendly argument over posts like “What is a sandwich?” or “Are these baby animals adorable? Yes or VERY YES” but none of us can know where every site user’s buttons are. What may be an intellectual argument to you may be deeply personal to me. I think we need to be conscious of that. If Metafilter wants to remain a place for discussion, actively encouraging argument may not be workable.
posted by epj at 7:23 PM on July 2 [12 favorites]


I think this is actually a decent discussion, rather than a fight. It can be done!

Also, I’ve started saying “I think” and centering comments on my perspective more, because I’ve been thinking of the classic “I feel” statement in relationships. I’m super obsessive, so I always think hard about how I’ll phrase something (even if it doesn’t always show), and I went through a phase recently of trying to be more declarative: to say that something is true, not that I think it is. It’s what they always taught us in persuasive writing lessons.

Screw that, I’ve gone postmodern! I claim no truth but my own! No, but really, I wonder how much the tone even in heated exchanges would shift if things were centered less on declarative statements: “I think that’s offensive” vs “that’s offensive.”

All of this was a long-winded way of getting at the idea that it’s probably less important whether we prefer arguments or don’t, than whether we perceive them as such or don’t. And for that I think it’s always going to rely on flagging and stuff like that, because the same sentiment can be expressed in radically different ways - that may not be obvious to the person writing it.

Sorry, that was another episode of Shapes’ Stories That Don’t Go Anywhere, but I hope what I’m getting at makes sense and can be said more concisely by someone less scatterbrained than me. Like

Tl;dr intent doesn’t guarantee that your message will appear innocent, so it’s up to the rest of us to keep an eye on things. It’ll never just be a matter of individuals policing themselves (Jesus, I need coffee)
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:36 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


I saw a 1970s interview with Natalie Wood last night. She mentioned she and her husband having "practice arguments" so that when they really disagreed about something they would know how to act and not get carried away.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:42 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Does it scan differently to you if it's aspirational instead? As in, arguing (or debating or what have you) on MetaFilter should be fun, how can we achieve that?

It doesn't, no, but I totally respect where you're coming from with that framing. The problem is that, in reframing it, you want to present the act of arguing to me as something I can learn to like. After all, it's something you like. But it's a thing that's antithetical to pretty much every bit of who I am and I'm never going to find it comfortable, let alone fun. Your framing it that way is fine -- it's a way of seeking common ground, which is good! It just goes back to us disagreeing, and possibly even disagreeing about what we're disagreeing about, and trying to find a way to make that discussion okay.

For what it's worth, I think this thread, so far, is a really good model for that -- discussing disagreements in an okay way. There's been disagreement, but no grar, and I'm comfortable sitting in this virtual space with it going on around me.

That said, I closed my laptop and walked away for a few hours after posting my original comment because I expected arguments in return, and I wasn't up for them this afternoon. I don't know if that's a site problem (see previous thread) or a me problem, but it's there, and arguing isn't fun for me, so there you go.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:42 PM on July 2 [16 favorites]


With respect to biogeo's well-thought-out post, I really do not think that the careful distinction that is drawn here is a useful one for MetaFilter. As explained by capricorn, I think it is all too common in MeFi threads that one party is "arguing" while another party is "fighting". A fun and theoretical argument for one person might feel like a deeply personal attack to another person in the same conversation - or even to someone reading the conversation after the fact. I'd much rather MeFi be a place for collaborative and cooperative discussion than a place for fights, arguments, or debates. I think those sorts of discussions are best done in more private modes of communication.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:43 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


There may have been times on MetaFilter when I've learned something from an argument but I have learned so much more from threads that, instead of arguments, contain sharing of experiences and perspectives.

My point of view is that this type of rich sharing happens only rarely in threads that have argument. Argument in many MetaFilter threads is like a noxious weed that chokes out the opportunity for anything better to live.

Which doesn't mean that we shouldn't be better about disagreeing with each other, but I'd much rather find ways to cultivate threads that aren't full of argument at all, even if that argument conforms to whatever norms we develop around "arguing well."

Interestingly, though, I'm pretty okay with argument in MetaTalk and I'm interested in having the discourse in this space be improved. Anything that tilts this more towards "Hey, I'd really like to understand where you're coming from and then maybe I'll have a response" and away from "I'm pretty sure I already know exactly where you're coming from and let me tell you why you're wrong wrong wrong" would be an improvement here.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:43 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


I also wonder how much of an introvert/extrovert divide there is here. Arguing sucks the energy and joy right out of me because I am a capital-I introvert and engaging with any two-legged beings (birds excluded) on that level just drains me. I can also see where those bizarre creatures known as capital-E extroverts might gain both joy and energy from a spirited argument.

*cough* freaks *cough*

posted by mudpuppie at 7:56 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Whatever you want to call it - argument, debate, etc. - I don't think it's fun because I don't care for competition. Like, I play a lot of sports, but I'm one of those don't-keep-score, everyone-gets-a-participation-trophy types. Winning just doesn't mean much to me, and when it does, that usually makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong.

I guess I just don't expect that anything I write will change anyone's mind. It's never my intent to try. One of the things I like about Metafilter is that it's a place where I can just express my opinion about something, and not worry if some disagrees. Writing that out, it kinda sounds like drive-by commenting, so maybe that's not such a good thing, but it's helpful, dare I say therapeutic for me. There aren't many places in the world that allow you to say what you're thinking. It's cool to feel like you have a voice, even if no one actually listens to you.

As evidenced by the "writing that out" clause in the previous paragraph, I find value in writing comments as a way of thinking through topics and refining my thoughts. One of my absolute favorite moments here was an Ask about stocking a pantry and fridge. I had intended to comment with some suggestions for Trader Joe's, and I ended up with several pages of thoughts that completely changed my approach to stocking my fridge. It was the first time I'd had an opportunity to think about the topic systematically. I hope my answer was helpful to the asker, but I know it was helpful for me. With that in mind, I guess, maybe it's helpful for me to think of disagreements as more like friendly suggestions from an editor. I just thought of that while writing this out. Ha.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:58 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


I'm someone who, in past times, would've been very inclined towards what you're putting out here. I did speech-and-debate for 8 years through high school & college. It was one of my main hobbies for a long time. I got the National Forensics League gem pins and all. And it's not like this is badly presented, it's a very nice sort of post.

But honestly? It's a false distinction. There's no such thing as an interaction that's objectively in the "Argument" bucket or "fight" bucket as you present them. It's entirely dependent on the people within. And not in a "It's up to the people involved to keep it an argument" sense.

The distinction, as noted above, boils down to "Is this an academic argument, by which I mean everybody involved is able to treat it as a purely academic pastime because it's abstract and at a remove and not of any import to the people involved?"

I used to love doing the "Take on any side on a topic, blood firing up and teeth flashing a grin at the thought of getting to tear into something recreationally" thing. But that lasts precisely as long as it takes for it to touch on a topic that meat-and-bone *matters* to someone. Because at that point either you have to kill the debate, or you continue onward and get to be the asshole. And depending on how much momentum you've built up, it may be hard to notice in time to not be the asshole.

And for as broad of an active userbase as we aspire to have (if not succeed in at times), I'm not sure what topics are out there which are both (of some level of import above "Is a hotdog a sandwich?") and (Aren't going to have someone deciding whether they want to get into a fight nor not).

I've given up on the NFL standard line of debate being able to change the world to a statistically meaningful level. Habermas, in what limited exposure I've had, has been hugely influential for me, because that gets to the core question of "For as much as we talk about the value of rhetoric, we still got Nazis, and look how effective rhetoric was there. Now what?"

The way for an argument to avoid turning into a fight is for there to not be people for whom the topic is fight stakes. And I'm not sure that's a valid option.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:11 PM on July 2 [16 favorites]


I also wonder how much of an introvert/extrovert divide there is here.

I'm a huge introvert and I love arguing. Being polite and sensitive to other people's feelings is what drains me.
posted by Redstart at 8:16 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


I used to love doing the "Take on any side on a topic, blood firing up and teeth flashing a grin at the thought of getting to tear into something recreationally" thing. But that lasts precisely as long as it takes for it to touch on a topic that meat-and-bone *matters* to someone. Because at that point either you have to kill the debate, or you continue onward and get to be the asshole. And depending on how much momentum you've built up, it may be hard to notice in time to not be the asshole.

This. I grew up in a "Debating is fun!" household, but looking back, it was really only fun for my (white, straight, cis, generally privileged) father; the rest of us were fighting for our humanity. My father is a compassionate person who loves us a lot, and it's not like he was purposely trying to hurt us, it's just that for him, "Oxford comma, yay or nay?" and "Women should have equal participation in society, yay or nay?" were equally fun debates; for me, they were not. (He's mellowed over the years, I feel the need to say.) I absolutely can get in there and thrash around and defend my points against all attackers, but... I don't want to. I like discussions, not debates, and certainly not fights. I want to hear other people's experiences, not watch others poke at them. That's how I learn to shape or re-shape my thinking, by hearing other people talk about themselves and their thoughts, not by arguing about my own.
posted by lazuli at 8:26 PM on July 2 [20 favorites]


So, a few hours and several dozen comments in now, I'm curious to know how people think this thread has gone so far, and how this thread itself fits within some of the issues I raised in the original post?

I think this thread so far is carrying at least two modes of discussion, one in which people are sharing their personal perspectives and experiences, and one in which people are reacting to the original post or to other commenters with either agreement or disagreement, providing evidence or reasoning in support. In this second mode, I actually think this thread is a pretty good example of what I'm trying to identify with the label "argument" in the original post!

Personally, I'm a bit surprised at the direction the conversation has taken overall. As I read it, the majority of people commenting in this thread so far have a pretty strongly negative reaction to the idea of argument as a potentially productive mode of discussion on MetaFilter. Several people have expressed reluctance towards the word, but several have also been very clear that what I have attempted to describe, a mode of discussion characterized by disagreement in which the participants mutually engage with each other willingly, is what they dislike, regardless of the name. I'm also hearing the idea that trying to find ways to have more positive or productive arguments will detract from other modes of discussion on MetaFilter. A small minority have expressed positive sentiment towards what I am calling argument. That's my current takeaway, but I'd like to know if others think I'm reading the thread wrong.

As a follow-up question, I think the question kimberussell asked above is a really important one, and I'm very interested in hearing others thoughts on it, particularly those who do not like what I've trying to suggest as positive argument. Unless MetaFilter is to be a place where any disagreement is forbidden, which seems unlikely, we need to have tools for addressing conflict. So to re-pose their question:

In light of recent MeTa conversations, my question would actually be: how can we as a community de-escalate arguments back into discussions?

I'm especially interested in hearing what the de-escalated argument looks like, and how it differs from what I've described.
posted by biogeo at 8:52 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


I was raised in an arguing family and was in high school debate. I have soured on the adversarial model of discussion (especially since working collaboratively in some labs and reading Deborah Tannen's The Argument Culture). It's too easy to "win" a "rational debate" with the right tactics rather than the right positions.

I think it's probably good to avoid superficial sources of conflict in more serious discussions. A start is to try to boil what you are responding to down to its core truths. That nitpickable factual error? It may not actually bear on the core truth of their statement. Even a misguided course of action may be a response to a correctly-identified problem. In the worst case, I try to think of it like a user or client reporting a bug to me: they may be totally wrong or have a bizarre mental model of what is happening, but their report is in response to something real.

I really like the Calm Metafilter extension that helps me pause before commenting. I impulsively write fighty (or more often, pointlessly argumentative) comments all the time, and then try to edit them down to something constructive. Half the time that means not posting anything, which is probably better.
posted by Jpfed at 9:03 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


In light of recent MeTa conversations, my question would actually be: how can we as a community de-escalate arguments back into discussions?

I think that's a good framing, too, and worth exploring some more. And I don't want to dig in too much mod-side right now because I am really appreciating hearing all this discussion from a variety of voices in here, but one thing I'll note real quick from a mod perspective is that that idea of de-escalation describes a lot of what we end up trying to do with gentle steering and private notes to folks. And I think it's a really good skillset for everybody on the site to foster and to think about, because when stuff de-escalates there's more room to move in the conversation. The volume is lower so quieter voices can be heard. People feel comfortable sharing. Discussion can be more easily collaborative.

I don't think argument or debate is inherently bad; I think a lot depends on the context and the stakes, etc. But in the sense that there is this kind of continuum from e.g.

collaborative discussion -> contraposed argument -> combative fighting

...there's basically never a situation where a thread hasn't gone better because things successfully trended toward the left end some. So regardless of how any given person feels about the value of discussion vs. argument vs. fight, everybody thinking some in terms of that continuum and being mindful and intentional about sorta down-shifting the state of things a little as a matter of habit seems like a helpful practice.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:38 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


I think cichlid ceilidh's point is good; the structure of MeFi isn't conducive to argument.

I do think it's fine to register disagreement once and move on, and I think the OP here is a good practical guide for how to do that without provoking a ton of pushback. Or at least ensuring the pushback is more likely to be on the substance of what you were trying to say. But I don't love argument or debate here.

(I completely biased because I don't have the energy for more than one or two posts and evening anymore regardless of site norms.)

piling on

This is one of the two things that I've seen kill potentially interesting discussions are posts. I still remember one post where I got so worked up and was typing a response when someone pointed out that the thing that had riled me up was like 3 comments by two MeFites out of 100 comments, half the others where people responding like I was about to. What made it feel like a big back-and-forth that absolutely needed my contribution was, perversely, the fact that so many people where vigorously arguing my position.

The other is immediate hard negative comment on the OP. Even good MeFites who take time to read the link usually see the initial comments and responses first and it frames the response for the whole discussion. I feel like some threads could be saved if there were a moratorium on dismissive comments for ten comments or four hours, whatever comes first.
posted by mark k at 10:11 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


Too often, one person starts a fight over what they assume the other person is saying but their assumption is wrong. A good argument should start with both people making sure they understand exactly what they disagree about.

I think this kind of is the most intractable fight I see that could be an argument instead. For example:

Person A: “Eggs must be broken on the big end!’ (The actual disagreement)
“People who break their eggs on the little end are just cowards!” (The frequently negative opinion on why the other side believes as it does)

Person B: “We aren’t cowards! (Defensive about the moral judgment) “Actually the little end is more convenient for everyone!” (Back to the disagreement)

Instead we could have:

Person A: “I believe that the best and most moral way of breaking eggs is on the big end!” (Making an opinion statement rather than an objective reality statement)

Person B: “Why do you think that? I believe the best and most moral way of breaking eggs is on the little end, because Y” (asking to elucidate, plus explaining their own reasoning)

In my eyes, the first one is a fight, the second is an argument/discussion. And you can have the latter about even stuff that’s important to you, if you trust the first person is acting in good faith and will hear you when you say things like “I’m sensitive about this, please be kind” or what have you.
posted by corb at 12:08 AM on July 3 [7 favorites]


More like "people who break their eggs on the little end are usually puppy-kickers too! i know this because my dad was a puppy kicker and also broke eggs on the little end!!"

Person C-Z "yeah you're right, puppy kickers all break eggs on the little end"

and now it's about puppy kickers again.
posted by some loser at 12:45 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]



piling on

This is one of the two things that I've seen kill potentially interesting discussions are posts. I still remember one post where I got so worked up and was typing a response when someone pointed out that the thing that had riled me up was like 3 comments by two MeFites out of 100 comments, half the others where people responding like I was about to. What made it feel like a big back-and-forth that absolutely needed my contribution was, perversely, the fact that so many people where vigorously arguing my position.


This point also really struck a chord with me. Like, at what point during the dogpile do you realize that you're not necessarily fighting back anymore, but are instead just adding to the crush syndrome?
posted by some loser at 12:57 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Here’s my one request for people who like to have debate/argument discussions:

recognize and remain aware of what is abstract for you and remember that other people may be having a high stakes visceral reaction while you’re just batting around a piece of string
posted by nikaspark at 12:59 AM on July 3 [23 favorites]


One thing that seems key is—of all possible arguments or fights or argument-fights that would actually end in an indisputably positive outcome, perhaps arriving at a gestalt of viewpoints so sublime and profound it would make the planets align, how many could happen on MeFi? Only an infinitesimally small percentage of them, I would think: the constraint of mod resources alone would prevent most.

The ones that can take place here all need to have the characteristic that they either resolve themselves of their own accord relatively quickly in the course of the good outcome or show so much promise and productivity and insight early on that anyone at a glance could tell that the discussion is destined for great things.

Somewhere out there across the Crisis on Infinite MetaFilters is the sole MeFi that would actually have a chance of solving I/P or finally reconciling atheism and agnosticism and religion; but it's one of the ones that somehow ended up with eight normal immoderate members and 62,000 mods.
posted by XMLicious at 2:41 AM on July 3


I think a better way to approach this is "Disagreeing is okay. How do we navigate disagreements without hurting each other?"

Late to the party thanks to my European time zone. I just wanted to stress how much I agree with mudpuppie's take on this. I once posted something on the blue that I thought was funny and it turned into a huge shit fest because TFA was deeply hurtful to some other folks. During the course of the thread I just hunkered down and shut up while other people went back and forth and eventually popped back to apologise. I learned a lot over the course of that thread but hurting people in the process was never my intention and, more importantly, much too high a price to pay for that education.

I do like this post; I am glad, OP, that we are having this discussion. For me, personally, a friendly and fun debate can be had in person only. It is simply impossible, for me, to have fun debating or arguing online. Clearly, it is fun for some folks but I am not one of them. Like, maybe if there were a thread clearly marked as FUN DEBATE TOPIC: How to Shower, that would be one thing. But that's not how it works.

The topics of argumentation here often involve important issues that appear to be essentially academic to the folks having a fun debate but may be (or feel like) matters of life or death to the folks actually affected by the topic at hand. The stakes for the individuals in the discussion will always vary. For me, the key question is how we can learn, as a community, to navigate disagreements with more skill. This is discussion is a great place to start.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:03 AM on July 3 [7 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

Maybe, maybe not. I've changed my mind about several things after witnessing fights between other mefites though.
posted by Dysk at 3:49 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


"Debates: fun or not" is irrelevant in my opinion. Debates and fights are going to happen, so I think this topic needs to be thoroughly explored.

I strongly favor Aravis76's suggestions near the top about not getting personal. If any one change comes about from this thread, I hope that's it.
posted by heatvision at 3:52 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Just throwing in my three cents as a member of this community who really likes it here:

1) Yay for discussion
2) Yay for feeling safe with sharing our perspective and respectfully listening to other people's perspectives
3) Boo to arguments and debates. I do not want Metafilter to become a place where everyone is trying to win people over or score points. Winning people over may be a side effect of 1 and 2, but it should be approached as an unintended consequence, not as an objective.

This post is welcome and so far a model of the type of experience I like from Metafilter, but I don't want a 10 point list of Rules of Engagement. I'm just gonna try and live my Mefi life encouraging and practicing 1 and 2.
posted by like_neon at 3:59 AM on July 3 [6 favorites]


I find back and forth arguing on MetaFilter ("the Blue") really obnoxious. Just structurally, it's not set up for it.

...

I believe if you make a comment, you should be fine making just one comment. Unless the article is literally about you or you are the world's authority on the matter, if you anticipate making a series of comments, I think it's worth taking a step back. If you frequently find yourself in back-and-forths, even more so.


This rings true with my perception of Metafilter. The single monolithic thread is simply not conducive to conversation. I'm not advocating changing that and introducing threaded commenting, because I think this format is great for everyone having an equal voice and all being in the same room, but it really isn't great for battling through nuances with someone without giving everyone else the shits.

Years ago (it's 20 years! Good lord.) I was very active on a couple of band forums where it was structurally easy to have a private conversation in public, in a sub-thread or whatever. Those places really fostered friendships and community in a way this place has never got close to, and I don't think aims to. It's a different conversation style, it's a different structure and I think it's worth acknowledging what we can't do, conversationally.

I have learnt a hell of a lot on mefi, often through people sharing very difficult, private or hurtful things. I can't think of much I've learnt through vehemence, or through a couple of people having a good old back and forth argument though.
posted by deadwax at 4:26 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


“How do we navigate disagreements without hurting each other?” is a framing for this that works well for me. I am one of those people for whom debates are never fun or welcome, and I’m unlikely to ever intentionally wade into one, but I’ll still occasionally end up in threads that turn fighty where the topic is too important or interesting for me to just walk away from the thread. A future clinic thread about how to de-escalate when things head that way would be great.
posted by Stacey at 4:34 AM on July 3 [6 favorites]


"How do we navigate disagreements without hurting each other?” is a framing for this that works well for me

The problem is kinda that some disagreements are inherently hurtful. You can be polite as anything, but if you're arguing against rights or recognition for groups of people, you are inherently hurtful.

Personally, I'd like to see polite hurtfulness get shut down a lot more often and readily than it is at the moment.
posted by Dysk at 4:38 AM on July 3 [15 favorites]


Yeah, that makes perfect sense, and is probably why I should not post from my commute, where I am distracted and not 100% focused on the task at hand. Those tend to be the conversations I nope out of immediately because for my own shaky mental health, I often just cannot participate in an argument or discussion or whatever where my own identity and right to exist is up for casual debate, so that wasn’t where my thoughts were headed. But it’s an important point. Not all disagreements deserve the same ground rules.
posted by Stacey at 4:54 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


Whatever its flaws, Hacker News has a guideline that I think solves some of these problems: if you're going to argue with someone, respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what they said, not a weaker one that's easier to criticise.

So many otherwise interesting threads get derailed because someone says something that could, if you turn your head sideways and look at it out of the corner of your eye, be read as expressing a slightly unpopular opinion and elicits a swarm of sarcastic restatements or variations on the always-lovable "congratulations you just threw X under the bus". Then they respond and before too long everyone's having almost as much fun as used to happen in the good old days of the img tag.

This requires some careful discretion on the part of the moderators (of course, the rule doesn't apply to moderation decisions!) but I don't know, it may be a case of prevention being less work in the long run.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:46 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


I don't understand this - if you people don't like fighting, then why do you call yourselves "MeFites"-?

Of course, some may say that it's all in the name, "MetaFilter". But I think that's just another sensible reason why we should all vote #1 quidnunc kid!

I will solve the problem immediately by simply banning each and every "MeFite," so that we're guaranteed to have no more fights, and instead we'll have only me. May change the name of the site too, from "MetaFilter" down to, well ... "Me".

But that should save us a whole heap on pixel costs, surely! OK then, so we're all agreed: vote #1 quidnunc kid for a site without fight!

And, uh ... without any users.

Oh, and ... I guess, then ... maybe overall revenue would take a little hit?    :-(
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:47 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


I'm wondering how people see the "discussion not argument" model actually playing out. I'm having a hard time picturing a way of discussing a disagreement that wouldn't be an argument.

Let's say people are talking about how to break eggs and someone says, "Breaking eggs on the big end causes Lyme disease," and someone else is 100% sure that is untrue and wants to say so.

Or someone says, "This study showed that breaking eggs on the little end uses 27% more energy so if you do it that way you're contributing to global warming," and someone else wants to point out some flaws in the study design or point out that the amount of energy involved either way is so tiny it's not important.

Is there a way to make those points that wouldn't feel like an argument? Is there a way for the person who made the original statement to respond without it feeling like an argument?
posted by Redstart at 5:50 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Whatever its flaws, Hacker News has a guideline that I think solves some of these problems: if you're going to argue with someone, respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what they said, not a weaker one that's easier to criticise.

I'm 1000% in favor of this guideline. Working toward this as a norm might be the single best way to improve discussion here.
posted by Redstart at 5:53 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


Is there a way to make those points that wouldn't feel like an argument? Is there a way for the person who made the original statement to respond without it feeling like an argument?

"I haven't heard that before -- what sources are you using for that?" and "That study seems to be have overlooked XYZ, though. I wonder how factoring that in would change things / This study looked at that and found ABC" or "Yeah, I guess it does take more energy, but I don't mind making a little more effort because I think the omelettes taste better when I do it that way."

vs.

"That's just totally wrong, fearmongering crap" and "That study's awful" or "So what? That's a totally irrelevant point in the larger scheme of things."

I think that's what people mean by "Yes, and..." replies. Rather than outright dismissing any viewpoints that don't line up with your own, come at them with curiosity or some deeper engagement and respectful explanation of what factors are leading you to think differently.
posted by lazuli at 6:02 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]


"I haven't heard that before -- what sources are you using for that?" and "That study seems to be have overlooked XYZ, though. I wonder how factoring that in would change things / This study looked at that and found ABC" or "Yeah, I guess it does take more energy, but I don't mind making a little more effort because I think the omelettes taste better when I do it that way."

This is exactly the kind of thing I'm imagining when I talk about an argument. This is what I imagined biogeo was talking about. Arguments don't all have to be full of vicious attempts to score points. I wonder if there are anti-argument people out there who think even these examples are too fighty.
posted by Redstart at 6:12 AM on July 3 [7 favorites]


I think maybe a lot of it is about tone. Which goes for both parties -- making sure we're asking questions or raising objections in a sincerely respectful curious way (rather than setting up "Gotchas!"), and reading other people's questions or objections as if they're sincere and respectful (rather than immediately assuming someone's setting up a "Gotcha!").

This all gets horribly complicated when we also have discussions about vulnerable groups/marginalized identities, though, and I don't (here or in my personal life) have any sort of framework for differentiating the two, or figuring out when sincere and respectful questions have nevertheless crossed a line into hurtful.
posted by lazuli at 6:21 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I find the most obnoxiously hostile comments tend to be artfully constructed edifices of passive-aggression rather than that kind of direct attack, especially because the moderators don't seem to see passive-aggression or slightly repressed hostility as so much of a problem (or, at least, a lot more of it slips through). Personally, I'm fine with "that study's awful" plus some kind of explanation of why the study's awful. Maybe that's just me, though.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:29 AM on July 3 [12 favorites]


When I have team members fighting, I ask them to do an exercise together which takes "yes, and" one step further. In a discussion, one person makes a point. And then the other says: "what I like about what you said is X, and I would like to build on it by saying Y."

It sounds, and honestly feels, totally goofy. But I've seen it work over and over again. The act of remembering that the other person is a person and finding something to like about their point of view seems to take a huge amount of venom out of the discussion.

This works best in exercises, but it can also be carried out in discussion. I don't do it enough here, and I think I should.
posted by frumiousb at 6:38 AM on July 3 [13 favorites]


I can't wait for the riffing clinic
posted by chavenet at 6:39 AM on July 3


I would like advice on how to better frame posts on Mefi so that they facilitate polite arguments and do not degenerate into full blown fights or derail-y spats between the same two or three people.


:Sigh::
posted by Faintdreams at 7:23 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


In seriousness - you can always drop us a note at the contact form with a draft, we're happy to look it over and note potential trouble spots. One of the most common things I see causing kneejerkery in the comments is when there's a hot-button keyword in the title (I suspect that's what's happening with your post, tho I just came on shift)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:28 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


An argument is a discussion in which two or more participants present opposing views on a topic.

In Australian English as I have always heard her spoke, a discussion where opposing views are aired in a civilised fashion is a debate, and any reasoning laid out in support of each of those views is in and of itself an argument. In other words, in contexts where civility is maintained, one person can argue, or have or make or put an argument, even with no response from anybody else.

In cases where "argument" does get used to refer to a discussion as a whole - as in "I heard my neighbours having an argument" - it means that the discussion in question is a verbal fight.

So the argument/fight distinction doesn't really work for Australian English; debate/fight would be better here, even though "debate" does have connotations of a formal game where no party can actually be assumed to subscribe to the position they're arguing for.

Be that as it may: in most of the fights I've seen erupt on Metafilter, the dynamic at work seems to hinge largely on people talking past each other by failing (sometimes apparently wilfully) to acknowledge that words do have different connotations, even to the extent of having quite different meanings, to different people.

I quite like the Hacker News guideline about seeking the strongest possible interpretation of what somebody else is saying. Personally, though, I wish people could get a bit better at doing their level best to find a sympathetic reading of other people's words, even if that reading seems at first a little implausible. If there's some way to read what another person has written that doesn't involve the reader making an assumption that the writer is just an insufferable know-nothing poseur or in some other way The Arsehole, then to my way of thinking that ought to be the preferred reading even if it's not the "strongest".

On unmoderated sites where 90% of contributions consist of some form of trolling, this isn't really feasible. But on a forum with moderation as good as Metafilter's, I think it works pretty well most of the time.
posted by flabdablet at 7:29 AM on July 3 [15 favorites]


maybe overall revenue would take a little hit?

quidnunc, quidnunc, he's our kid
if he won't fund it, no one did
posted by flabdablet at 7:34 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]


do not degenerate into full blown fights or derail-y spats between the same two or three people

This is not a knock on moderation -- sometimes this is just the way the wind blows on a particular topic -- but there have been a few times lately where I've read a linked article and had a thought, only to come into the (sometimes relatively-new) comment thread to find a bunch of just-this-side-of-fighty comments and noped right out.

I do agree that "argument" is the wrong term for what seems to be relatively-polite discussion, but taking it as it's described, it can be fine. But it very, very frequently degenerates into an actual argument (fight) before long. Even discounting topics that are personally-important to people where a difference of opinion can actually be hurtful, I don't know how you "protect" against people who look at every discussion as an opportunity to "win."
posted by uncleozzy at 7:41 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I think one way to avoid getting into interpersonal fights is to debate the issues and not the other people in the discussion.

1. Does your response really need to quote or be addressed to another user specifically?
2. Check-in before calling-out. "Pardon, it sounds like you're supporting this. Could you clarify?"
3. If you must quote, do so carefully. This isn't twitter and ideas are often developed over the course of an entire paragraph.
4. Let other people have the floor. If it's not going anywhere after two or three posts, back off and let other people have their say.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:49 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Lobstermitten thank you for the mod note in my most recent MeFi post.

I do need to consider sending draft posts to mods more often. My mindset is currently to call mods for help when something goes wrong, instead of asking for help BEFORE things go wrong, and that is something I need to work on.

I just know the mods work really hard and my inclination is not to bother them with (subjective) trivialities
posted by Faintdreams at 7:49 AM on July 3


Here's something that strikes me about--let's call it about how we handle disagreements. I'm someone who really does enjoy arguing* and will happily argue against my own devil's advocate positions, given the chance; I'm also someone for whom arguments immediately stop being fun and start being upsetting the instant a situation stops feeling safe for me.

What I mean by that is that I have a lot of fun with arguments as long as I can trust some really fundamental things about the people I'm arguing with:

a) they are willing to listen to me and concede when I make good points, even if we fundamentally disagree
b) they respect me and will pause to let me speak as long as I do the same thing
c) if the argument gets overwhelming or hits me somewhere that hurts and I say so, the debate will pause and my 'opponent' will check in with me to figure out what happened. If the argument is for fun, no one should be upset or hurting.

(Fights are different, and in my experience, arguments often turn into fights when someone yelps "ow! fuck off!" and the other person instead of pausing and letting the first person regroup and explain what actually hurt--or draw a boundary--presses on, either out of anxiety or panic or plain old unresponsiveness. I would like us to collectively consider how to respond when someone stops having fun, but I also think that the mod practice of simply removing people who are clearly going into fight mode is a good general one. Sometimes you need a minute to pause, breathe, and grab equilibrium before actually being able to handle a situation.)

I have a hard time not engaging in arguments when I'm having fun; I don't really conceptualize discussion without being allowed to chew on my own preconceptions and gently shove at other people's. But I also don't think fighting is fun, and I certainly don't think it makes the community better. So I suppose right here I'm thinking about ways to encourage that kind of checking in if someone appears to be upset and maybe seeing if you can find a point of agreement to build off of as well.

There's an interaction here I remember where GenderNullPointerException did this very well, in a topic that was (I think) heavily emotionally charged for both me and them: becoming frustrated, saying "look, I agree with you about point X!" and then calling attention to the point they felt was being ignored. I think those types of frustrated, explicit statements of agreement are incredibly helpful to pulling fights back over to arguments, because they toss out reminders that this isn't a pitched battle between enemies; this is a conversation between people who are at least generally predisposed to like each other. They help us breathe and come back around. And I think we could all try to focus more on both extending those olive branches and also on taking them and trying to extend olive branches of our own when things get heated on disagreement. You don't have to agree on everything, but it helps us all to understand the disagreement better when we're clear on where we do agree as well as where we don't.

*operational definition here: same as biogeo's
posted by sciatrix at 7:51 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I think I screwed up badly in that thread, but don't feel like revisiting it.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:08 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Oops. Hell, I'm sorry.
posted by sciatrix at 8:31 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I think you can do some things well even in a thread where you're screwing up badly. (Not saying I agree that you did; I haven't read that thread in detail, and I'm not interested in making that kind of judgment here anyway.) If you've had a heavily emotionally charged disagreement with someone, and they feel you said something that helped de-escalate successfully, I think that's a really positive example of the kind of thing we're looking for here.
posted by biogeo at 8:34 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


sciatrix: Not a big deal and no apologies needed. Thank you.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:38 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]


There's enough conflict and disagreement on the internet. I'm not here to contribute to that. So, my personal position is to avoid fighting and argument. If it means one of us has to leave the topic temporarily, then I'll almost always volunteer.
posted by FJT at 8:47 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


"I haven't heard that before -- what sources are you using for that?" and "That study seems to be have overlooked XYZ, though. I wonder how factoring that in would change things / This study looked at that and found ABC" or "Yeah, I guess it does take more energy, but I don't mind making a little more effort because I think the omelettes taste better when I do it that way."

The difference between this and your "fight" example is definitely clear, but this is also a great example of something that feels really innocuous when you're doing it but can sometimes feel unintentionally hostile if you're having it done to you. (There's a thin line between intentional and unintentional JAQing (ugh sorry I know rationalwiki isn't the best source but I need to get to a dentist's appointment).) I think the most important thing is to explicitly ask "are you up for some back-and-forth debate on this?" That gives the other person a chance to say "no, this topic is way too personal for me" or "no, I'm not interested in changing my stance about this".
posted by capricorn at 9:17 AM on July 3 [9 favorites]


On the one hand it feels unhelpful to quibble with the language, but, on the other hand, I don't want to debate, or argue or fight with people on Metafilter. Discuss, on the other hand, most definitely. In thinking back over the things that have made me the most angry, it's been times when either a) someone was just being plain old offensive or b) I felt like I wasn't being listened to--ignored, dismissed or flatly told I was wrong, rather than being disagreed with. It feels like the latter happens when people assume we're arguing for sport and, while that may be the case for them, it's not for me [in that situation]. (And, to be clear, this is not one-sided. I'm sure we've all done it to others and had it done to us.)

I don't really know that I have a point here distinct from what anyone else has said, but it finally dawned on me what I was thinking and couldn't pin down when I first read this post.
posted by hoyland at 9:54 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


Whatever its flaws, Hacker News has a guideline that I think solves some of these problems: if you're going to argue with someone, respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what they said, not a weaker one that's easier to criticise.

This is an interesting idea. I do leap to do sarcastic rephrasing in the style of Jon Stewart pretty readily. (I try to restrain myself when posting, if I'm feeling level-headed.)

That said, this really asks for the reader to shoulder quite a lot of work. It takes both the reader and the writer making an effort to achieve clear expression and clear understanding.
posted by puddledork at 10:27 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


It definitely takes both, but as things currently stand, I think the burden is overwhelmingly on the writer. I remember some MeTas in the past where people defended biting off heads by saying "it's not my fault if you can't communicate clearly." I just think that's an unrealistic standard to hold people to, that no one owes you the slightest benefit of the doubt. It makes people scared to comment, and those who do feel obligated to hedge against any possible objection, some of which they couldn't possibly anticipate. Obviously, we don't all need to be doormats, either, but respectful dialogue is going to be really hard to achieve if we default to not respecting the participants.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:06 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I know plenty of people who aren’t straight/white/cis/men who like a good debate, myself included. More generally, rhetoric, argumentation, and logical reasoning are all skills that we should get a chance at developing. Places like metafiler are some of the few places marginalized people can come and actually have something like a level playing field. Which is partly why it’s disappointing to me when agreement is over-emphasized, or when people are encouraged to see disagreement as rude or inherently aggressive.

This is not to say that people should be allowed to have every disagreement. Some disagreements are inherently aggressive. But many of them are not.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:06 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


"Arguing is fun"? If that's the basis of this discussion, I feel like it's going to take a wrong turn right out of the gate then gallop off down the track and disappear behind the horizon.

Nicely put, mudpuppie. As someone who comes from one of those families that did argue a lot (and yes, it was oft enjoyable), I do need to hear stuff like this every now and then. I guess my response is similar to Redstart's ...

Being polite and sensitive to other people's feelings is what drains me.

Obviously, I need to be drained, some of the time anyway. But other times, that's genuine and passion that's going down the drain and good discussions do need some passion. It can't all be negotiating eggshells in deft avoidance of a possible wrong thing toward only saying the right thing, and thus leaving a lot unsaid.

For instance, I just had a more or less feature length discussion (90 plus minutes) with someone I haven't seen in a while. We had a coffee and got to talking. We didn't agree on everything. We sometimes outright argued, but we didn't fight insofar as nobody ever tried that hard to WIN. Mostly what we did was dance through a vast range of stuff, dipping and diving in and out of each other's impressions and positions, reflecting and deflecting, sometimes refracting. I loved it. In fact, it was an immediate real time version of what Metafilter does for me when it's truly clicking.
posted by philip-random at 12:00 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I really like discussions. Expanding on points, highlighting nuances and differences of opinion, sharing personal anecdotes and feelings -- all that is great. Engaging with people who have a broad diversity of opinions and experiences is great in general.

But I hate arguments/fights and while I can tell that the OP has been very careful in their definition of them, I think it's ultimately a distinction without a difference. They exist on the same continuum -- adversarial engagement. I'm not big on relating in an adversarial manner, whether we're meant to be discussing a relatively "bloodless" subject or not.

I don't think that we have to be adversarial on Metafilter. Being adversarial is a mode of behavior and is not about whether there is consensus on a subject or not.
posted by rue72 at 1:28 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]


I grew up with people who argued all the time. I have no idea if they enjoyed it or not, but I found it exhausting and demoralizing. I see arguments and fights as the same thing and avoid them whenever possible. I wonder if there's as big of a divide between those who enjoy arguing and those who don't as there is between Ask vs Guess cultures.
posted by Lynsey at 1:57 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


highlighting nuances and differences of opinion,

For the record, I don't see this as being hugely different from debate and/or the kind of argument discussed by OP.

Hard to tell how much of this is a terminological issue, and how much of it is people fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement (which is how I am reading a lot of these comments, perhaps mistakenly.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:08 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I feel like part of the problem is that everyone can theoretically agree that certain ways of engaging are negative in the abstract (no one should pile on, don't get personal, don't strawman a viewpoint you disagree with) but many people also have particular topics or viewpoints that they find so offensive that they feel the regular rules of engagement shouldn't apply. In practice, this often means that the people who have the biggest emotional response to the way a certain thread is going end up dominating the conversation and escalating the rhetorical heat in an effort to drive the offensive viewpoints out of the thread.

One thing I find particularly frustrating about that dynamic is the (unrecognized?) assumption that the person who is feeling threatened or marginalized by a particular conversation speaks for their entire community. Above, some folks have mentioned that particular points-of-view are inherently hurtful or oppressive. While I can definitely think of things that fall into that category, I've more often been frustrated by someone asserting that level of offensiveness on behalf of a group I fall into when I don't agree. To use myself as an example--I've seen other mefites speak up in a thread to say a particular viewpoint is so sexist or hurtful or threatening to women that it shouldn't even be voiced, let alone debated. Or seen other women speak up in a thread to tell men to stop posting, because they have nothing valuable to add. I sometimes agree, but just as often do not - but even when I don't agree, it's awfully hard to speak up "against" someone who is clearly hurting because of the way their own history interacts with the subject in question. I feel like it sucks the oxygen out of the room, and the net effect is for the person who is hurt the most by the conversation to silence other women, even when they see themselves as just shutting down sexist men. Over time, I think that does polarize conversation, as only the most strident voices (or willing to argue / "call out" other members) remain.

I don't know that there are any easy solutions. But I do think it would be helpful for those members who feel like civility is only possible for people who aren't emotionally invested (and/or those who don't share membership in a particular marginalized group) to consider that isn't necessarily true. Some of us need a base level of civility to participate at all, even in the face of viewpoints we really strenuously disagree with.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:20 PM on July 3 [29 favorites]


I wonder if there's as big of a divide between those who enjoy arguing and those who don't as there is between Ask vs Guess cultures.

It also all seems very gendered, with women being more likely to see disagreement as a negative. I don't think that women should lean into this particular bit of socialization.

The world in general requires that women couch everything in "I think" and/or tie ourselves into knots trying to make ourselves, our opinions, our knowledge smaller so as not to be seen as being argumentative. I disagree that metafilter should be an extension of the world in that particular way, especially given that it's one of the few spaces on the internet (maybe even in the world) where women can legitimately participate in conversations as equals.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:24 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


The corollary to that is, of course, that we should also try to avoid the types of "argument" that are less about communicating information, and more about verbally punishing people for saying something that we dislike (but that is not actually harmful.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:38 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


My point of view is:

- There are can be disagreement without arguing with other users
- One can argue a point (forcefully!) without getting into an argument with other users
- I'd like to see less of the user-to-user dynamic of arguing because it narrows the parameters of a thread and excludes many people—I want to hear more voices and ideas

(As an aside: so far as I can tell, quite a lot of us in this thread's "less-arguing" camp are men.)
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 4:02 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I just know the mods work really hard and my inclination is not to bother them with (subjective) trivialities

That's my secret, Cap: I'm always—

That is to say: bothering with all the sundry, often small-scale stuff folks need to bring to our attention or want to ask about or express a concern about or so on is the thing we work hard on. It's part of what keeps us busy, and that's a good thing. When we only hear about stuff after it grows from being a subjectively trivial thing to being a bursting dam of unaddressed badness, it's so much harder to help with in a quick and clean fashion.

If something's up, let us know. If something's sort of up but not a big deal but it's nagging at you a little bit anyway, let us know. In the odd case that we're actually so busy we need to defer, we'll let you know; in the rare case that you're, like, obsessing over something that really doesn't seem addressable, we'll gently let you know that too. But that happens very very rarely. Rarely enough that it's probably safe to say folks aren't reaching as often as we'd like; having a surfeit of info about what's going on the site is almost never gonna be a problem for us, it's kind of the goal.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:05 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Or seen other women speak up in a thread to tell men to stop posting, because they have nothing valuable to add.

I've also noticed that people will make convenient assumptions about the identity and background of other users, when it suits a rhetorical purpose. I've seen multiple threads where someone would angrily accuse someone of, say, mansplaining, only for the other person to write back and say "I'm not a man!"

I think an immediate solution to that, and to a lot of issues, would be to more strictly enforce rules about how we refer to other users. You can't say "fuck you," but you can say "well, if you have no experience with abuse, you should really stay out of this conversation." It's a shitty comment because it forces the other person to either reveal something they don't want to have to talk about (like, that yes, you do have experience with abuse), or shut up and let the insult stand. It can be hurtful, and doubly so because it insults something you might also be very emotionally invested in. It's just, as you said, very easy to overlook that someone might care very deeply about something, even if they don't have the exact same response you do.

I think one thing we can all do, besides try to avoid that behavior in ourselves, is to flag it when we see it. I know the person behind the comment isn't irrelevant, so it's not like I'm proposing some hard and fast rule. But there have been enough obvious examples of this kind of commenting that I think we could stand to nip out at least a little more of that kind of behavior, to everyone's benefit.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:21 PM on July 3 [18 favorites]


I love this post and also agree with those saying that the hardest arguments to navigate are the ones where people are personally invested. I mean, yeah, I'm not saying we’re immune to nazi rainbow cake syndrome. Just that usually, it’s someone who has been insulted or marginalized or otherwise hurt, repeatedly, by the position you’re putting out there. They’re not interested in politely asking why you think that thing or telling you where your study went wrong. They want you to STOP SAYING THAT THING. Because maybe it’s the first time you’re saying it but it’s the 40th time they’ve heard it and they’re done. And this sitch is so common, I just don’t know how we navigate that. A lot of what we talk about here on mefi is theoretical for 98% of us and a hugely important life-defining thing for 2% of us. (Or in the case of ANY gender convo, it’s probably 51/49!) The stakes aren’t the same for all of us. And it’s hard to agree to the same set of rules in those circumstances. In those cases, it can end up feeling like tone policing.

(And I say this having read iminurmefi’s comment, and agreeing with a lot of it. These things are messy and difficult to navigate.)
posted by greermahoney at 6:59 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


I'm finding myself getting resentful at being told that no, I really do like arguments, or that I only say I don't like arguments because I'm socialized feminine, or that not liking debate means I don't want any disagreement. Please stop putting words in my mouth. If you're not understanding, you can ask questions to clarify.
posted by lazuli at 7:48 PM on July 3 [11 favorites]


One thing I find particularly frustrating about that dynamic is the (unrecognized?) assumption that the person who is feeling threatened or marginalized by a particular conversation speaks for their entire community.

I've also noticed that people will make convenient assumptions about the identity and background of other users, when it suits a rhetorical purpose.

I have had cases were where someone says something like "The men here are the ones taking position X not the women" (where I'm sometimes not even sure why it's a gendered thing) but as I'm a man and took a position similar to X I try to look into it and see if I can learn something and find all the people favoriting my comment are women.

Women, like people of every group, have a lot of different opinions. I really do feel like a lot of people get shut out of conversations because of comments like this.

Sorry to be so vague, but I'm not going to dig up old conversations to argue about them. That's not a good argument.
posted by bongo_x at 8:14 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


lazuli, may I ask what specifically you're referring to?
posted by biogeo at 8:16 PM on July 3


it's awfully hard to speak up "against" someone who is clearly hurting because of the way their own history interacts with the subject in question. I feel like it sucks the oxygen out of the room, and the net effect is for the person who is hurt the most by the conversation to silence other women,

I think it is really injurious to the discourse to talk about women silencing others when all those women have done is report their experiences, take positions, and forcefully argue them. the difficulty that other women may feel in responding is real, but inside this walled garden that constraint is imposed from within, not from without.

I also think that positions wrong enough to merit actual silencing (via deletion, bans, etc.) are wrong without regard to whether or not they trigger personal pain or traumatic memories in specific individuals. and it is no kindness to those in pain to consider them unable to understand or unwilling to consider a reasoned response, unless they have said so.

(I acknowledge that sometimes people do say so. I try not to engage in those cases, though I sometimes do. but I'm not silenced there either; it's a choice.)

I think the general metafilter sort-of-feminist consensus is frequently mistaken, usually oversimplified, and often badly argued even when correct, by people who know the right thing to say, but not why it's right. I say so less than I used to because conscience makes cowards of us all, but I still say so pretty often. in spite of that, as far as I can tell, I still come across as one of "those people" -- the strident hive-mind feminist brigade or whatever. the consequences of dissent feared by self-silencers have not happened to me. and you'd think they would have, I disagree more than is ideal by community standards. I frequently express disagreements with other women when I have them, even on sensitive topics, because I am interested in what they think and what they say.

what this says to me is that women can say a lot more than we sometimes allow ourselves to say, without dire consequences. not everywhere and not always. but in many spaces. the worst that will happen here is your comment gets deleted and a lot of people get huffy, maybe you get angry comments back, maybe you get banned. and so what. you can choose not to say what you think for the sake of peace, and sometimes we all should do that. nobody ever knows what brutal true things we choose not to say, that's the worst part of silencing ourselves for courtesy. but we can say always what we think, if we think it's important.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:28 PM on July 3 [12 favorites]


lazuli, may I ask what specifically you're referring to?

I've been taking care to make sure that I'm speaking for myself and not making generalizations. It may be a quirk of timing, but I'm feeling like comments quickly following mine are making generalizations about women or about people saying they don't like arguments. I am totally fine with people liking arguments -- I totally get, that given agreed-upon ground rules, they can be fun; my brother I and riff/debate fairly often and I enjoy it -- but I feel like people are stating assumptions about what my individual comments mean for others as a group and I'm uncomfortable with that and wish it would stop, because I feel like I'm getting lumped into groups I don't fit.

It's also a good example of what I mean by discussion vs. argument. People sharing their own viewpoints feels like a discussion. People hypothesizing about others' viewpoints, or using a couple comments to start hypothesizing about entire groups of people, starts escalating things toward argument, at least for me.
posted by lazuli at 8:30 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

I feel like most arguments on the internet are mostly about preaching to the choir since the opposing side is not really listening.


Sorry I just skimmed the rest of the thread but I wanted to say, yes I totally have! In fact it was a thread I completely flamed out on and disabled my account for like 6 months over the only time I’ve ever flamed out anywhere on line and I’ve been a Mefite for about 15 years. The details aren’t important, but I was reacting to someone else’s emotion about a topic that another respected Mefite (who left more or less permanently after this) after this person posted something in good faith not recognizing that they framed it in a way that was offensive to an entire class of people. This particular class of people is not commonly seen nor identifies as a unified group within the US of A and as such many of us were caught off guard by someone’s vehement protest and as such it felt that the original poster was being attacked as a racist when in reality they (and many US Mefite) were naive about the issue and basically I joined the pile on to defend Respected (now-ex) Mefite. If you look back at the thread it’s ugly and emotional and ugly and you’d think the debate had ended with just anger and failure to come to some kind of resolution.

And yet, here I’m back. I’m still friends with Respected Ex-Mefite. And with dispassion, I realize Offended Mefite had a valid point and I wish this all had ended with “Huh, this post was interesting by itself and Offended Mefite really raised our awareness about Issue and we are all now better.” What I learned from the experience is that if someone is really genuinely pissed off (even if they are lashing out at people who meant no harm), you better shut up and listen. Not that everything Offended Person says is true, but there’s something in their world view that is worth understanding and anything I might say is going to inflame and make things worse. The other thing I learned is that if I am personally feeling really injured and inflamed there are ways I can express that which lead to further hurt and escalation and there are ways to express that which might lead to less hurt and maybe even understanding. And that feeling critical of a hurt person’s tone might be useful but expressing that criticism is not going to help anyone because their tone may not be their fault or under their control. Listen dispassionately and be exceptionally reflective.

Cut slack.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:36 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]


I am not lazuli, but I suspect she is referring primarily to Rock Em' Sock Em's comment and secondarily to the general... put it this way, this thread started out with a dude talking about arguments (which, by the way, I don't think you were wrong to do; I would not necessarily have framed things dissimilarly) and later had several women saying "actually I don't enjoy arguing for its own sake at all" and often "I associate arguing for its own sake with things that suck for me." It was a pattern that stuck out to me, too, even though there are many men here who also do not care for arguments qua arguments and who prefer minimizing open conflict.

I do think there is probably something of a gender divide here and I think it has to do in part with women being more likely to associate argument with shitty feelings--either with having personally relevant things treated as abstract or with respect to being talked straight over by other people. At least, those are the experiences that I have had, as a naturally cheerfully argumentative person, which have led me to sharply drop in comfort about arguments--especially on the Net. That being said, obviously gender isn't the primary distinction here when it comes to identifying different people's comfort with open conflict; there's a lot of failure modes! I'm not sure that introversion is, either, or Ask vs. Guess; I think that a big part of this puzzle is the individual emotional state of a given person at any given time: how safe and confident they feel in an open discussion, what the conflict they are currently envisioning looks like, what their social interactions with specific users in the conversation looks like.

I'm not sure how I feel about hypothesizing other folks' viewpoints--sorry, lazuli, I saw your response after I'd started typing--being a more escalating argument kind of approach, though. I usually think about those broader hypotheses as being more of an idea tossed around for folks to bat at--like, here's an idea about what the divide might be, what do your experiences say about it? Conversations that are just people sharing examples from their lives without some other context to hold those examples up against are not really my cup of tea, and I often find that they tend to fizzle some unless they're explicitly framed as a sort of "tell me your stories!" kind of thing--people come in, drop their stories, and then they don't really go anywhere from that. I like conversations that build on each other.

Obviously, that's all personal preference. Your mileage may vary.
posted by sciatrix at 8:39 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Oh! And here's a thing I meant to add, queenofbithynia: I really appreciate it when you disagree with a broad consensus, because I can always trust you to talk about why and also because I think your disagreements often illuminate more interesting things to think about that make the conversation better. I guess one thing I am struggling with conceptualizing right now is that I find it hard to imagine interesting conversations in which there is no conflict or question we're collectively gnawing over--and even if it's just "MeFi tries to solve a joint puzzle together!", you still get mild conflict along the lines of what I would characterize under biogeo's argument taxonomy about the best ways to approach problems, the different things other folks' experiences have told them, what has and hasn't worked, and so forth.

I really love those conversations! I would like to have more of them. I'd like to find more places where we can disagree and gently argue with each other and trust each other to both listen to the other person and also explain with some amount of patience what we are thinking and feeling.
posted by sciatrix at 8:45 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


I agree with what you're saying, sciatrix. I think my issue in this context is that the post framed this thread as a "Tell me your story" and people seem to be quick to jump in with "Here's my overall hypothesis on how all this works for everyone." Maybe just because I recently read the "complicating narratives" article I linked above, but I think jumping to conclusions tends to shut down discussion, rather than open it.

Also, my own brain tends to make patterns out of very little data, so I get the impulse. If you want people to feel comfortable sharing, however, I think participants should shy away from making big pronouncements about "This is apparently how X group behaves!" It forces people to then have to deconstruct the model you've set up if they want to share any viewpoint that deviates from it.
posted by lazuli at 8:47 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


Oh, yes, I see what you mean! I usually try to frame things as a question--"I think there might be a gender divide here because X" or like, "I'm thinking about it, and I believe that part of the issue might be that such and such"--rather than being "It's because this, isn't it!" The harder your pronouncement about Why Things Are is, the more likely that someone is going to be to sharply refute it in irritation, and then you're much more likely to get that annoyed fight.

But I think that tentativeness about gender divides happened here, too! And I don't actually think that asking people to deconstruct your idea is necessarily a bad thing for a discussion, either--for example, the introverts/extroverts example was cheerfully thrown out very quickly indeed. I think that for a lot of people, a hypothesis to deconstruct offers a lot more structure to say something than carefully minimizing inferences mid discussion does, so that "Oh, I don't think that's it" can spur more engagement than simply not offering a hypothesis does.
posted by sciatrix at 8:54 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I would like to gently push back a little bit on the idea that, if there is indeed a gendered division in how people participate in debates/discussions, it necessarily behoves MetaFilter for women to lean into traditionally-coded-as-masculine modes of interaction. I’d posit that a lot of the verbal flourishes like “I think”, “I feel”, and “in my experience”—that we have unfortunately come to associate with unassertiveness—actually provide a really useful sort of redundancy-in-meaning, which is super important especially in a text-only medium. These tics provide additional cues for the speaker’s tone and state of mind in the absence of body language and vocal cues. I recognize that it can be draining to feel like you’re constantly on your guard to be hyper-sensitive and polite and not offend people, and as many of us consider MetaFilter our home it is super understandable that we want our interactions here to be easy and natural rather than effortful. I also think that this is a practice that becomes easier the more we do it, and the ultimate benefit from a cultural perspective outweighs the marginal cost.
posted by Phire at 8:59 PM on July 3 [29 favorites]


Thank you for clarifying, lazuli. On reviewing the thread I think I can understand how you are feeling. However, I don't read those comments as specifically responding to you. Within that context, when I say that to me it looked like your comment was pushing a fight, can you understand where I'm coming from?

I'm trying to phrase this very carefully, and I hope you will be willing to give me a little benefit of the doubt if it seems like I'm attacking you. I do not mean to. I really don't intend to say that you were pushing a fight, only that that's how your comment read to me. I asked for the clarification because I was uncertain about my first read and wanted to extend good faith. I'm also really, really not trying to call you out or criticize you or anything. Rather, I'm hoping that describing what my initial reading of your comment was will help us all to understand the differences between how different people may interpret the same words.
posted by biogeo at 9:02 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


as far as I can tell, I still come across as one of "those people" -- the strident hive-mind feminist brigade or whatever

I can't speak for mid-fifties white comfortably self-funded retired tech-priesthood fat barefooted neckbearded fathers in general, but personally I don't recall ever reading a single thing from you that struck me as strident or even less than well put. You come across as a strong, thoughtful and generous voice whose contributions I'm always glad to see on this site.
posted by flabdablet at 9:12 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Yeah, biogeo, that's fair. I ... I have a whole argument about "lack of emotion" and I'm too tired to get into it right now. Which is another reason I don't like arguments -- I feel like they require that I be "on" in ways that I often don't want to do, or end up pretending to do rather than being authentic. I'd prefer people just be authentic.

I recognize that it can be draining to feel like you’re constantly on your guard to be hyper-sensitive and polite and not offend people, and as many of us consider MetaFilter our home it is super understandable that we want our interactions here to be easy and natural rather than effortful. I also think that this is a practice that becomes easier the more we do it, and the ultimate benefit from a cultural perspective outweighs the marginal cost.

For this, I would say that I actually tend to write "I think," "I guess," "I feel," etc. a lot, and I edit them out here. The closer I am emotionally to my correspondent, the more I use those sorts of constructions. I don't use them as much here (though I've left them in in my comments in this thread) because MeFi tends to feel like such a battleground that I feel I have to suit up in uncomfortable, effortful armor and be more forceful than I want to be.
posted by lazuli at 9:14 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


And yes, queenofbithynia, I always appreciate your perspective. Even if I don't end up totally agreeing, you always make me think and you tend to broaden my view of any given question/issue.
posted by lazuli at 9:15 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


I have also often appreciated how you do that without attacking or belittling anyone, too.
posted by lazuli at 9:16 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


There is a difference between disliking arguments and disliking openly sharing differences of opinion. I dislike the former because frankly, I find it recursive and maddening when people devolve into "Issue: Pro or Con?!" arguments (which are virtually all arguments, seems to me), and I prefer discussions where there is room for more diversity and nuance.

I dislike arguments because they more often than not come off to me as a bunch of windbags sucking the air out of the room, and I like discussions because they are actually eye-opening. When everything isn't some narrowly defined debate (and the terms of that debate defined by the most aggressively debate-y person in the thread, natch), the thread has room to breathe and more people have room to join in without turning on each other.

The difference between discussion and debate is a difference in behavioral style and not a difference in how much of a "consensus" there needs to be. It's also a real difference in preferences and not just semantics.

lazuli, may I ask what specifically you're referring to?

Not lazuli, but what I thought of when I read lazuli's comment (which I wholeheartedly agreed with) was this:

Hard to tell how much of this is a terminological issue, and how much of it is people fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement (which is how I am reading a lot of these comments, perhaps mistakenly.)

I don't think that anybody here is misunderstanding terminology, and I disagree that many people (any people?) are "fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement."

The question isn't whether disagreement is acceptable on Metafilter, it is how to express that disagreement.
posted by rue72 at 9:20 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


And I accept that that was a pretty "debate-y" comment -- but after the theory got floated that people who don't like arguments and fights are against any open dissent, I figured it was important to openly dissent! 😉
posted by rue72 at 9:23 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I guess one thing I am struggling with conceptualizing right now is that I find it hard to imagine interesting conversations in which there is no conflict or question we're collectively gnawing over

it happens with discussions of art sometimes, when everyone has complex positive opinions that are different from each other or insightful about different things. but that's rare. still, it does happen. although I can be enraged by other people's opinions about art, usually am, I don't need to be to have a good time.

but personally I mostly don't try to have my non-argument conversations here because the group sensibility here is very different from my own, it is not congenial to my temperament, it makes me impatient, and I neither want to change that nor have any ability to. which is fine. but because other people do hate arguments so much, I make and try to keep to my own argument rules, which are:

1. never start something just because I feel like having a fight and I know how to get people going. just never do that ever.

2. if everybody else already said what I would say, don't say it, what is the point. don't argue just to be in on something.

3. most importantly, follow these steps: when the aggravation vapors rise to my brain and condense into words, say them. if I can tell from replies that nobody understood what I meant, follow up once with detailed clarification. If I can leave it there, leave it there. if I MUST do so, I can repeat the original thing, rephrased, one more time. no more. I may speak again when I figure a new and different thing to say to the topic, but I may not repeat my first point again. every new point is likewise allowed one clarification and one repetition, maximum. no more. if I said something twice and nobody cared or nobody got it, I have to leave it be.

this rule I do break sometimes but I think it is a damn good rule
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:25 PM on July 3 [8 favorites]


Well, the reason why I don't like fights, arguments, and probably even debates is not because of a gendered reason. Not speaking for anyone else, part of my reason can be pinpointed exactly to the 2016 primary and election. I do not want to go through that again. I don't want to be that way ever again.

I don't want to endlessly argue or debate with people that I can probably agree with most of the time or even half the time. I don't want to undermine who they support, and I certainly do not want to prime myself into a state where I dislike who they support or even dislike them.

And I'm not perfect and occasionally say something argumentative. But I can see, especially in the 2018 election year, how things are sliding back into a 2016-ish state, without even directly referencing the 2016 election itself. And rather than jump back in, I've noticed myself taking a step back. Doing things like leaving a topic, closing Metafilter, or logging out.

I can see how some could see this is a privileged position. I don't have a good answer to that part, but just to say it is part of my thought process when I'm here.

Just to note, this doesn't mean I don't ever change my mind anymore or don't take in any new information. In fact for me, I sometimes feel that debate/argument with others is unnecessary. The internet has so much information and so much argument going on somewhere already, that chances are that two people have already argued about something I just thought of. And they're probably better at it than I am. My own preference is also sliding more towards reading and listening rather than talking.

But I see how some view debate as a positive and want to engage in that and I'm not trying to cut that down either.

Finally, this is mostly about politics and related hot button issues I find important. I'm okay with arguing about things people find trivial. Like what are the best pizza toppings.
posted by FJT at 9:58 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


lazuli, thanks for understanding what I was trying to say. Let me add also that I've really appreciated your contributions to this thread.

Which is another reason I don't like arguments -- I feel like they require that I be "on" in ways that I often don't want to do, or end up pretending to do rather than being authentic. I'd prefer people just be authentic.

I think this is a very interesting point. One of the things that has been difficult for me in reading some of the comments in this thread is that I am actually in some ways quite the opposite of what you describe. For me, the mode of discussion I originally called "argument" is how I discuss as my most authentic self for topics I care passionately about. Fights trigger my social anxiety and I generally hate them, and bloodless debates with rules and point-scoring are artificial, meaningless chores to me. A discussion in which someone I respect and I can explore the strengths and weaknesses of various facets of an idea about which we disagree, leading each other down surprising chains of implication, and learning more about the idea, each other, and ourselves in the process, this is one of the things that is the most authentic expression of myself.

So it has actually been very difficult for me reading the numerous comments here responding negatively to the idea that the kind of mode of discussion that I originally labeled "argument" has any role at all on MetaFilter, even in limited contexts. It is hard not for me to hear that as saying that there is no place for my authentic self on MetaFilter. It's also difficult for me to read this mode of discussion described as "JAQing off" or as a mode reserved for privileged individuals with nothing at stake, as this is the way I engage with ideas and topics that matter the most to me. However, I also very much appreciate the diversity of perspectives offered, including these.

I don't believe there's a single mode of discussion that works well for everyone in all cases. On MetaFilter, different threads usually seem to move through a few different modes of discussion, with varying degrees of success. Threads that focus on shared reactions to something positive, like cute animal videos, are something I think almost all of us enjoy. Threads that are nothing but fights are something I think that very few of us enjoy. But there are also threads on MetaFilter in which people attempt to engage in good-faith discussion about a contentious issue, and there may be a variety of ways to approach those. Perhaps not every such thread is for every MeFite. Perhaps we need some such threads to be only focused around different individuals sharing their personal experiences and perspectives, without directly engaging with each other in disagreement. Perhaps we need some to be more argumentative, in the sense I originally intended. And perhaps some need to take a different style entirely.
posted by biogeo at 9:59 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I disagree that many people (any people?) are "fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement."

I believe that cichlid ceilidh, Rock Steady, and FJT at least have expressed this viewpoint in this thread, unless I have failed to understand them.
posted by biogeo at 10:13 PM on July 3


Would it help if we recognized that each of us represents a facet of a greater phenomenological truth and that instead of it having to be sides defending and opposing we were all instead representing a facet of a greater understanding? I get that some things are flat out wrongly stated and in those cases saying “you’re wrong” is going to achieve absolutely nothing but causing the wrong person to double down. That said sometimes you just have to call shit out tersely because there’s no super polite way to put it. Like the time I got tersely scolded and schooled on my ignorant opinions on sex work here on metafilter and went and read a lot about sex work and damn that made me a better person.

So maybe then it would help us all to recognize that we are ignorant of many things and hold ignorant opinions on things and in this spirit of trying express our own facets and see as many others at the same time, it may be necessary to recognize when the particular facet you’re representing is factually incorrect and ignorant and lacking game to the point that someone is gonna be terse with you. And in that moment instead of reacting in that embarrassment and anger, go google some shit and challenge your own ideas and come back into that thread when you’re more informed.

On the other hand when you’re the person that has to speak plainly and tersely to someone, be a touch more compassionate about their ignorance because there are many things you yourself are ignorant on that they may be better informed about.

I think having different viewpoints is crucial to metafilter surviving.

I just remember the first time someone flat out called me ignorant and I was so pissed but the dude was right! I was fucking ignorant! I am ignorant on many things! The world is vast and knowledge is great and there’s too much of it for any one person to not be ignorant.

So yeah a little more shared compassion about everyone having some kind of ignorance and a little thicker skin on being told by a commenter “you lack the range to surf this thread” would go a long a way towards to elevating the discourse and turning down the heat.
posted by nikaspark at 10:26 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


I have also often appreciated how you do that without attacking or belittling anyone, too.

that's more generous than I deserve but thank you anyway!

I have noticed that when I'm disgusted & want to be scathing but rewrite a comment ten times to water it down and nice it up before posting, it is often deleted with extreme quickness. whereas when I say Fuck it, I am going to say what's what, let them ban me I do not care, this is too important plus fuck everything anyway, & dash off something brutal-in-my-own-mind, nothing much happens.

what I think this means is, attempts to soften and I-statement and disclaim everything don't help as much as one would think. people hear our tone of voice even when we think we have masked it fairly well. 'tone doesn't come across well in text' is always a convenient fiction, it comes across all too well. and when I think I am most offensive -- on purpose even -- is never when I am. this teaches me nothing but there you are.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:04 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


I'm basically asleep, so I'm not going to say much. But nikaspark's comment resonated with me and one of the reasons (beyond things like threading) that I'd argue MetaFilter is bad at disagreement is that MeFites as a whole are too gosh darn certain.

They're sure of what they think and they're sure of what other people think and they're sure of the qualities of the subject of an article (usually either a saint or a garbage human). We all must work for the NSA, because everyone's got the inside scoop. I hem and haw and use language like "I think" and "I believe" and "perhaps" and other stuff coded as female because, you know, I'm ignorant about a whole lot of things and I'm trying to figure it out. And maybe I'd like to figure it out alongside all of you, but it's super tiresome when you're trying to have a stroll and take in the sights and you've got a tour guide with a bullhorn shouting a destination (the same destination as last trip).

Get down from your dais and let's wander a bit. Hopefully we'll everyone of us arrive somewhere unfamiliar having learned something new.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 11:06 PM on July 3 [9 favorites]


I like to argue. For me, an argument is a set of logical entailments that proceeds from a set of facts or premises. It is distinct from a discussion, though discussions may imply arguments; it is distinct from an opinion, though opinions often explicitly include arguments.

Narrative digression: One of my wife's college courses assigned a book called "Prolegomena to Philosophy" by Jon Wheatley, and I'd give a strong yet qualified endorsement: It is an excellent primer on argumentation written by someone who believes that all Continental philosophy (Derrida, Foucault, Sartre, Heidegger, etc.) is best analogized to the type of shallow coincidences that teens confuse for insight (he literally says that "existential situation" can best be compared to the vague usage of "scene" by 1970s [then contemporary] teens, and is no more meaningful).

One of its stated goals is clarity of language; that goal, as well as the regular use of intuited boundaries to common words, means that it's easy to plow through. The clear animus toward Continental philosophy leads to Wheatley making unjustified overstatements that are more apparent due to the temporal distance between Wheatley and any readers today. The whole goal is to build arguments about what meaningful arguments are, and Wheatley's arrogance is ultimately helpful, if not in the way he intends.

Arguing is a skill; arguments are work. Most people are bad at arguments and do not practice nor want to practice arguing. People are prone to confusing opinions for arguments, and confusing descriptions with value statements.

Required MetaFilter digression: Advertising is basically a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to exploiting those facts.

Asking for a lot of work to participate in Metafilter is unsustainable at the size Metafilter is, with the constraints Metafilter has. I do believe that having discussions about what an argument is for Metafilter, why some people loathe them and some like them, is valuable in that, at least in theory, it does some of the work of clearing the rhetorical brush so that forest fires don't burn more than they have to.

(Well, it's official, I've lived in California long enough that I think fire ecology is pretty apt metaphor for most things. A future MeTa comment will explore mods as firefighters versus forest rangers; to what extent the gray is a mudslide; a lengthy discursion on the metaphorical pot farmers on national forest land; the abutment of rain forests and fire ecologies vis a vis online communities — all topics for future research, funds pending.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:31 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


Hard to tell how much of this is a terminological issue, and how much of it is people fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement (which is how I am reading a lot of these comments, perhaps mistakenly.)

I don't think that anybody here is misunderstanding terminology, and I disagree that many people (any people?) are "fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement."

The question isn't whether disagreement is acceptable on Metafilter, it is how to express that disagreement.


If I've misunderstood what people are advocating for because we mean vastly different things by "argument" or "debate" (which you are saying is the case) then that is the terminological issue to which I am referring.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:37 PM on July 3


I'm finding myself getting resentful at being told that no, I really do like arguments, or that I only say I don't like arguments because I'm socialized feminine, or that not liking debate means I don't want any disagreement. Please stop putting words in my mouth. If you're not understanding, you can ask questions to clarify.


Was this directed at me?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:42 PM on July 3


I would like to gently push back a little bit on the idea that, if there is indeed a gendered division in how people participate in debates/discussions, it necessarily behoves MetaFilter for women to lean into traditionally-coded-as-masculine modes of interaction. I’d posit that a lot of the verbal flourishes like “I think”, “I feel”, and “in my experience”—that we have unfortunately come to associate with unassertiveness—actually provide a really useful sort of redundancy-in-meaning, which is super important especially in a text-only medium. These tics provide additional cues for the speaker’s tone and state of mind in the absence of body language and vocal cues. I recognize that it can be draining to feel like you’re constantly on your guard to be hyper-sensitive and polite and not offend people, and as many of us consider MetaFilter our home it is super understandable that we want our interactions here to be easy and natural rather than effortful. I also think that this is a practice that becomes easier the more we do it, and the ultimate benefit from a cultural perspective outweighs the marginal cost.

Interesting. I agree with you that these cues communicate tone and state of mind. That is a large part of my problem with them. If they were simply neutral placeholders for "let's not fight" then it would not be a problem. However, they are not neutral. They reflect and reinforce the way that women are socialized to take on a one-down, subordinate posture, or at least to gesture as though we are taking such a posture, or be punished for it. The ultimate effect is women being unable to clearly express distinctiveness, confidence, expertise, or passion, because we must instead prioritize an elaborate dance of non-threateningness. (The exception to this limitation on our ability to directly communicate is communicating our pain or our weaknesses, which we are always allowed to broadcast loud and clear --- but that's the flip side to the same coin, because they were experiences that were foisted upon us and do not represent us, our achievements, or our strengths.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:13 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


I hem and haw and use language like "I think" and "I believe" and "perhaps" and other stuff coded as female because, you know, I'm ignorant about a whole lot of things and I'm trying to figure it out.

I don't really understand why people keep saying these things are "coded as female", but I do that for the same reason. I think of them coded as "not an asshole".
posted by bongo_x at 12:32 AM on July 4 [17 favorites]


Instead of women leaning into masculinity I’d prefer that men lean out of it.
posted by nikaspark at 12:37 AM on July 4 [13 favorites]


(That’s speaking mainly to the whole lean in thing from a few years back)
posted by nikaspark at 12:39 AM on July 4


They reflect and reinforce the way that women are socialized to take on a one-down, subordinate posture, or at least to gesture as though we are taking such a posture,


yes but/and also when it's insincere, it shows. these phrases are all different from each other and none of them is a neutral politeness noise like please and thank you, which people ought to say even when they don't feel thankful. when you say "in my experience," if what you really mean is "in sober fact, objectively, for the whole world," it sounds as fake as it is. say it if you mean it -- god bless people who really mean it -- and don't if you don't, it benefits no-one to train yourself into empty noises.

I say all these things selectively; I say "in my experience" sometimes but not to self-deprecate; rather, to draw attention to the impressive experience I have. other times I say it when I have real reason to believe my experience is different from others' and I want people to know I know that, so they don't feel a need to tell that back to me. it is also useful when one wants to be an understated dick about something but this is not a trick to overuse.

but to say it as a softening gesture to wring the meaning out of my assertions as one wrings water from a sponge? fuck that and fuck encouraging other people to do it. again, if they don't really mean it, you can tell, and performative false modesty is more infuriating than sincere unfounded overconfidence.

plus "I feel like" and "I think that" are a million miles from interchangeable. the biggest gendered pressure I notice on myself and on others is for women to redefine thoughts as feelings: inherently subjective, of primarily anecdotal and personal interest, untestable, uncontestable, to be taken on faith, humored, and then forgotten about. I say "I think" a lot to gentle down my bald statements of fact, I admit. but I feel fine about it because my thoughts are good ones and I can prove it. do I talk about my feelings? yes, when I have thoughts about them.

subtlety is also 'coded feminine,' as people like to say, and it's the best. it's absolutely great. but all these weakening phrases are as unsubtle as they come.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:57 AM on July 4 [9 favorites]


I say "in my experience" because trans women are treated like a fucking monolith and infuriates the hell out of me to no end that I can't just speak my mind like a cis woman without my words being interpreted as "that trans woman is speaking for all trans women everywhere". And then even in communities of trans women it can be bad because we reify the damn monolith and get into fights with each other so I have to very intentionally and specifically all the time specify that I am speaking for myself to all people cis and trans in order to to avoid being interpreted as speaking for all "my people".

I mean, okay you see that as performative false modesty and I see it as "the only way anyone will not lump me into a fucking monolith for umpteenth million time".
posted by nikaspark at 1:19 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off if more people would use 'I think', 'I believe', 'I feel' and 'in my experience'. It indicates that you are not stating facts per se, but relating how you experience the world.

Stating opinions as if they were facts pisses me off. And no, it's not implied that you are giving your opinion if you do not indicate that somehow! I've seen people state that and it doesn't work for me at all.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:28 AM on July 4 [5 favorites]


> It indicates that you are not stating facts per se, but relating how you experience the world.
... and it gives other people the space to disagree.

^^ this came to me after posting the above so I want to add it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:31 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


What? People are taking the time to reflect on what they wrote here and follow up with clarifications a few minutes later? Methinks I've left the internet.

Reading this thread made me recall being told to stop cleaning the kitchen because mom figured out I was just doing it to eavesdrop on her friends. When I was four I could feign sleep on the couch. At eleven I cleaned so I could listen to women argue. It was so much more information, so many more clues than I could glean from listening to men argue.

Thanks for reminding me.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:25 AM on July 4


And no, it's not implied that you are giving your opinion if you do not indicate that somehow!

I think it is.
posted by Dysk at 3:48 AM on July 4


Thank you biogeo and everyone who commented on this thread. Reading the responses here (as well as suelac’s FPP) has helped me better understand a recent, offline conversation that had been frustrating and confusing me. I realize now that what I perceived as an invitation to debate was actually just an effort to be heard and understood. If the person I was talking with seemed disproportionately defensive, it was likely because he experiences even friendly argument as stressful and unpleasant and/or because he felt his identity (conservative man) was under attack. It genuinely hadn't occurred to me.

For my part, I very much enjoy reading big, passionate back-and-forth arguments, and I love seeing the smart, articulate people of MetaFilter bat an idea around for fun. However, I don't want people feel like they need to fortify their every post against attack. Especially on topics related to identity, shame, trauma, or other sensitive issues, debate isn't fun at all for many of those most affected. In those cases, a less combative, more discussion-oriented approach seems far more likely to result in a diverse, informative, and surprising conversation.
posted by Kilter at 4:01 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


I don't think that anybody here is misunderstanding terminology, and I disagree that many people (any people?) are "fundamentally wishing to avoid vocal, explicit disagreement."

I'd be willing to bet that everyone here is misunderstanding terminology at least some of the time. After all the back and forth, I'm still not sure exactly what "discussion," "debate," "argument," or "fight" mean as used in any specific comment. I'm getting the idea that some of the people who say they hate arguments may mean only that they hate a particular mean, competitive type of arguing and they're actually okay with some other types of discussion that I would call argument. But I'm honestly not sure how true that is or how many people it's true for. One person helpfully clarified how they view discussion vs. argument, but most of the people who have drawn a distinction between the two haven't made it clear (to me, at least) what the difference is to them. I've been trying to decide if some/many people are saying it's best to avoid explicit disagreement and I honestly can't tell. Am I just dumber than the rest of you? Does everyone else completely understand what everyone else is saying? I'm pretty confident the answer is no.
posted by Redstart at 5:32 AM on July 4 [8 favorites]


yes but/and also when it's insincere, it shows. these phrases are all different from each other and none of them is a neutral politeness noise like please and thank you, which people ought to say even when they don't feel thankful. when you say "in my experience," if what you really mean is "in sober fact, objectively, for the whole world," it sounds as fake as it is. say it if you mean it -- god bless people who really mean it -- and don't if you don't, it benefits no-one to train yourself into empty noises.

Yes, absolutely. I do not for a second think that there is anything to be gained by people reflexively sprinkling softening phrases into their language when they don't mean it, especially not if they think they're condescending to do their conversational partners a favour by pulling punches. I would like more people to consider whether the thing they're saying is, in fact, a qualified statement, and attach rhetorical markers if so.
posted by Phire at 6:09 AM on July 4 [8 favorites]


One person helpfully clarified how they view discussion vs. argument, but most of the people who have drawn a distinction between the two haven't made it clear (to me, at least) what the difference is to them.

I prefer discussion over argument. As alluded to up thread, I think discussions can have many facets, but arguments seem to become binary, like a tug of war, which is directionally limited.

And I have an even more simplistic (!) distinction between arguments and fights. With an argument we stick to wrestling with the topic. When we start 'wrestling with the person' and making assumptions about and aspersions toward a person's character, we are fighting.
posted by puddledork at 7:29 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I agree the terminology here is problematic, in large part because a lot of this is artificial distinction along a spectrum, and in other large parts because I think people are getting at tone and intent being more important sometimes than the words used, which is harder to talk about in a text medium.

The distinction that I like, which I got from When Anger Scares You, is "anger" versus "rage," which I also don't think are particularly helpful terms, but! He defines "anger" as constructive -- "I'm bringing up a point of disagreement and hurt because I want us to work through or better understand the issue" -- and "rage" as destructive -- "I'm bringing up this point because I want to hurt you."

I think MeFi can sometimes get stuck on the rage-y end. Which also, I think, ends up with moderation stifling constructive anger, because everyone in the room starts reading any disagreement as destructive rage and so conflict-avoidant people tend to get nervous that it will balloon in bad ways (which, given the userbase, it often does).

"Am I trying to hurt this person, or am I trying to better understand this person or have them better understand me?" seems like the salient question, to me. It also takes a reasonable amount of self-knowledge and self-reflection (making sure I'm not getting caught in an ego-driven "Well, not being an idiot will certainly help this person in the future!" self-righteousness) as well as some degree of vulnerability to share rather than attack. And it's hard to have that vulnerability if other people are attacking.

I'm certainly not perfect on any of this, and I've participated in my fair share of attacking, but it's less and less interesting to me over time and more and more likely to make me close a thread.
posted by lazuli at 7:31 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


Oh, yes, and sides! I think that's what I was reacting to above, being put on "a side." If you start thinking that there are only two sides to any given thread/issue/discussion, you're in fighting/argument mode, in my mind.
posted by lazuli at 7:33 AM on July 4 [5 favorites]


Ctrl+f "right room"

Disappointed.
posted by yhbc at 8:04 AM on July 4


biogeo: "It's also difficult for me to read this mode of discussion described as "JAQing off" or as a mode reserved for privileged individuals with nothing at stake, as this is the way I engage with ideas and topics that matter the most to me. "

I think I'm the only person who mentioned JAQing off in the thread, so I'll assume this is a reply to my comment and I'll try to clarify where I think my comment may be unclear. I'm talking about how different people can have different perceptions of, and reactions to, the same discussions. I am actually pretty similar to you, and I can spend hours dissecting and examining an idea. I find it a really enjoyable and invigorating experience. It's how I learn.

The thing I am trying and maybe failing to make clear is that the effect of this on other people can sometimes be draining, exhausting, and feel like an attack. If someone else seems to be clinically, detachedly debating something that is a life-or-death matter for you, it may feel like someone is JAQing off to derail or troll the discussion even if they would never in a million years have that intention.

I think this is a tough conversation to have, because I don't want it to come down to "the type of in-depth discussion biogeo is describing is Bad For MetaFilter: Yes or No?" I don't think that's a productive conversation, because the answer is "it's part of what makes MetaFilter such a nice place but it also goes poorly in some cases". What I actually want is for us to check in more often with others in the threads we're having conversations in and make sure that no one feels like the fight line has been crossed. I want us all to be more willing to walk away.

This insight actually comes from a real life experience. I brought up a position that someone I was talking with disagreed with. My conversation partner said "you know, I enjoy debating these kinds of things. Are you up for that?" and I said "yes, I enjoy these debates too!" and it was just such a nice way to get the conversation off on the right foot. I think it's particularly relevant because a third person walked up to us and thought I was being attacked in this conversation, and got offended on my behalf in a "can't you just let capricorn eat her breakfast without interrogating her?" kind of way, and that's such a great example of how discussions look different depending on who is experiencing them and what information they have.
posted by capricorn at 8:14 AM on July 4 [6 favorites]


I mean, okay you see that as performative false modesty and I see it as "the only way anyone will not lump me into a fucking monolith for umpteenth million time".

No, it's not false if you really mean it -- like I say, that's one of the big three reasons I use that or similar phrases myself: when I want to underline how different my experience is from that of other people. especially when people are talking as if all people in a certain group have the same things happen to them and feel the same way about it. in those cases I break out the I feel and My experience like nobody's business.

when I do it that way it's confrontational b/c my subtext if not my text is not "we all have different experiences, how nice, how about that" but rather "your general statement about women is false and I'm giving you evidence of it, so next time you say it it I can call it a lie, not just a mistake." other people do the same thing regarding various groups they're part of, I think.

I'm against saying it when you don't mean it out of some misguided idea of politeness, and I'm against encouraging people who don't mean it to say it more. because I want to be right when I trust that people mean what they say, as much as it's possible to be. I'm not against saying what you mean, even if you mean something completely different than I ever do.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:36 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


capricorn, thank you for elaborating. I think I understand your perspective much better now. I think you were the only one to have used that phrase specifically, but not the only one to express that concept, so I wasn't aiming that sentence at you specifically. However I'm glad to get a better understanding of what you meant.
posted by biogeo at 8:39 AM on July 4


Thanks, biogeo, I appreciate that.
posted by capricorn at 8:40 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


One person helpfully clarified how they view discussion vs. argument, but most of the people who have drawn a distinction between the two haven't made it clear (to me, at least) what the difference is to them.

my point, which I probably didn't make well up thread, is that in free discussion, we often tip into argument for a while (ie: tactically endeavoring to prove a point that runs counter to what another is positing), but this is often just a passing phase of the discussion. Indeed, in a healthy discussion, this is usually how it plays. The point is either taken by the other side (or surrendered by me), or the friction gets intense enough that both of us see the wisdom in backing down, returning to more inclusive ground. I suppose the stakes have a lot to do with how easy it is to back down. A disagreement on which live version of Neil Diamond's Solitary Man is best* being magnitudes less loaded than ... well, very many other things.

the 1971 BBC version if you must know
posted by philip-random at 8:57 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Some of what I am reading in the comments above seem to be viewpoints on individualist thought vs. collective thought.

I think this is a pretty weighty sticky point in our community here.

I could identify as a fat, single, cis, straight, child-free almost-41-year-old white female working in tech in the finance industry. But that does not mean that all fat, single, cis, straight, child-free almost-41-year-old white females working in tech in the finance industry can speak on behalf of me or know my feelings, opinions or thoughts.

I want to hear from others who are of "socially acceptable weight" on the topic of fat-shaming. Those people have a perspective as well, even though it might not be an emotionally-weighted issue for them.

I understand the basis of the argument that "we've heard from those damn skinny people for all of time, it's time to hear the voice of the fat!" But I just don't agree. It's a power shift in the other direction, where I, a fat woman, then get the moral authority to counter-marginalize skinny people and silence them.

Many people of "socially acceptable weight" really want to understand how it is for me to live and exist day to day in a fat body, and even more want to be in on the discussion. And I want to engage with everyone, without people being silenced just because they're not of the same collective identity. They likely have worthwhile things to say on the topic (my skinny family members have LOADS of valuable insight!). And as long as others engage in good faith without snark, hostility, dismissive sarcasm or aggression (passive or outright) is there a space here on Metafilter for them to do so?

I want there to be. But maybe that's just me.
posted by bologna on wry at 9:39 AM on July 4 [12 favorites]


Like some others, I don't think that arguments are fun, and the space between the not-fun of "arguments" and the not-fun of "fights", as defined by the OP, is pretty minimal. So I don't recognize the argument/fight distinction as an interesting problem for Metafilter to solve, and I'm not particularly interested in either thing happening here. I have gradually enjoyed arguing less and less over the 12 years that I've been a participant here; if I have a controversial opinion I'll usually keep it to myself, and if I must put it out there, I almost always just let it ride and don't engage further. If I feel like I'm responding to someone in particular, in any non-affirming way, I usually feel like I'm making a mistake. This has mirrored my evolution from mostly a user of argument-centric Metatalk to a mostly collaborative, problem-solving user of AskMe. And mirrored my evolution into a happier, more functional, easier to get along with person, in my opinion.

That's the style of comment that I'd like to read, also: back and forth arguments or fights take up a lot of space in the thread and take it in a particular direction, and I'd rather hear from varied perspectives without people seeing the argument taking up all the space in the room and feeling like they shouldn't say their piece if they aren't contributing to it. I don't often enjoy reading the formal arguments of others, of the kind that klangklangston describes, and find that I get the most enjoyment out of people sharing their own opinions and perspectives on basically any topic without any non-affirming back and forth, the kind of interaction that MoonOrb describes. I think Metafilter culture has gradually filtered out the sorts of personalities that enjoyed arguing for argument's sake, or has asked us to change, and that has been a good way that the site has evolved.
posted by Kwine at 12:19 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


Phire: "I’d posit that a lot of the verbal flourishes like “I think”, “I feel”, and “in my experience”—that we have unfortunately come to associate with unassertiveness—actually provide a really useful sort of redundancy-in-meaning, which is super important especially in a text-only medium."

Thank you for saying that. I agree. Strongly.

It sent me searching for something I remembered from Ben Franklin's Autobiography:
I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix'd opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.
Out of everything in the whole Autobiography, that's the thing that stuck with me.

For me, reading these phrases from others would vastly improve 90% of the comments that make me feel bad ... and using them more myself would certainly improve the expression of my own points, and would probably have prevented me entirely from making the comment I most regret in my years here.

Adding "in my experience" to just about any comment is almost like a spell, reminding the speaker that their experience is not universal, and also reminding the reader that the writer's truth is neither universal nor non-existent.

(And now I'm imagining a Greasemonkey script that adds "In my experience" to every comment. Gosh.)
posted by kristi at 12:57 PM on July 4 [13 favorites]


Yes, I use phrases like "in my experience" not as softening or submission, but because I try to say things as clearly, directly, and factually as I can. "I believe the sun will rise tomorrow" is the clearest way to express that thought for me (without going into long qualifiers).

The more someone "knows" something, the more certain certain they are, and the more they try to convince others, the less weight I tend to give their opinion.

This has become more of a habit since I've been on MF, but I don't think it's a burden, it's just something I should have been doing more all along.
posted by bongo_x at 1:24 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]


When I post here, read here, or generally read or write anything, most of the time my goal is to learn or teach. Since there's nothing to learn from or teach to someone who believes exactly identical things to me, this usually means I'm interacting with someone who disagrees with me in some way, and one or both of us will be trying to explain our belief to the other. Eventually we communicated however much we can communicate, we walk away, and one or both of us learned something. This is really the only way I know how to interact with people and it sounds like an argument, by the post's definition.

However, for me, this process doesn't have anything to do with:
- Making a collective decision about what the right beliefs are
- Feeling emotionally attached to continuing believing what I do
- Feeling emotionally attached to convincing anyone else
- Being likely to change my mind very much all at once (since my opinion is often based on a lot of experience, so a lot of new experience may be required to change it)

I actually used to refer to this as an argument, but then I learned that many people would connote "argument" with contentiousness, or rudeness, or winning and losing, or things like that. So I try not to do that if I want to be understood.

Metafilter culture actually doesn't seem to agree very often with my way. The big difference is seems to be that in a lot of interactions here, people consider the presence of many common wrong beliefs to be severely harmful to them or others in a day-to-day kind of way. So it's natural to consider "convincing others" and "making a collective decision about the right belief" (moving toward "fight" territory in the parlance of the post) to be actual goals of the interaction, superior to each individual just learning or contributing what they can. As long as this remains the case, arguments are going to be on the contentious side, because the stakes are high and winning matters. To the extent that this has become more common over time, I think it's mostly because Metafilter started focusing more and more on topics that people perceive as high-stakes.
posted by value of information at 5:29 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]


I do not for a second think that there is anything to be gained by people reflexively sprinkling softening phrases into their language when they don't mean it, especially not if they think they're condescending to do their conversational partners a favour by pulling punches. I would like more people to consider whether the thing they're saying is, in fact, a qualified statement, and attach rhetorical markers if so.

I agree with basically all of that, yeah. I don't think faux-mannered speech gets us anywhere, and, yeah, politesse strictly for show rather than as something genuinely meant usually accomplishes somewhere between zero and negative. But I also think there's a lot of value in really stopping and checking to see whether what one's saying should be checked and qualified some. I try to do that with most of what I write on the site (and don't always succeed), so that when I'm making a point about e.g. something that I very strongly feel to be so, I say that I strongly feel it, not that it merely is so, etc.

It's a complicated pile of rhetorical choices, and one of the things that makes it difficult is everybody has different practices and different thresholds for where qualification vs. assertion, softening vs. aggression come in.

I think it's really useful to talk about in an analytical, stepping-back way like this thread has done, not because I think that'll just solve it outright (I don't think that's really possible in groups larger than a handful) but because in the face of it being an intractable aspect of large group dynamics it's really helpful to have everybody at least be sort of aware of and mindful of it.

Even just knowing that we have different, sometimes incompatible methods of interacting makes it easier to successfully navigate those incompatibilities instead of having them come to a head.

What I actually want is for us to check in more often with others in the threads we're having conversations in and make sure that no one feels like the fight line has been crossed. I want us all to be more willing to walk away.

I like this framing as well. I think that's a lot of what I'm getting at above: we don't need to (which is good, because we also can't) get to a point where everybody agrees on what every discussion should look like or whether or how much argument-cum-fight is permissible or appropriate in a given context. But we can try to be aware that those differences are always in play, and try to stop and recognize distress in others and distress in ourselves and work to slow down, de-escalate, disengage, etc. when things are getting shirty or hot or so on.

There's a huge amount of community value in being able to look at someone's comment, know you think they're completely wrong, and still conclude that it's okay to say, hey, we definitely disagree about this but I don't want to ruin your day or mine just to prove it.

to what extent the gray is a mudslide

Man, with Secretariat's geology background and particular interest in erosive processes this is a metaphor we could go deep on, on things like preventative maintenance, the literal precipitation of critical events, etc.

Disappointed.

The skit is linked in the post! Ctrl-F is an imperfect tool, and like any tool when relied on too heavily becomes a crutch, etc. etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:01 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


A lot of what we talk about here on mefi is theoretical for 98% of us and a hugely important life-defining thing for 2% of us. (Or in the case of ANY gender convo, it’s probably 51/49!) The stakes aren’t the same for all of us.

I think the most intractable problems actually come less from 2% arguing with 98%, and more with 2% arguing with a different 2%, where the issue isn't abstract for either of them and they greatly differ.

Like - just off the top of my head - there are people who are seriously, sincerely religious, and there are people who have been seriously, sincerely harmed by people who were using religion as a justification. And like - often, it seems like both of those people have good reason to feel they can't leave a serious, sincere comment by either group unanswered. So what do you do in that scenario? Or like - one that's come up on Metafilter before, People Who Love Birds vs People Who Love Cats.
posted by corb at 6:29 PM on July 4 [9 favorites]


Adding "in my experience" to just about any comment is almost like a spell, reminding the speaker that their experience is not universal, and also reminding the reader that the writer's truth is neither universal nor non-existent.

That's just, like, your opinion, man.
posted by This time is different. at 10:34 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I just say “I think” and stuff because that’s how I talk. The comments I write the fastest are the ones that read like my natural speech, so they end up having a lot of “I think” and “I feel like” along with plenty of “like” and whatever dumb phrasings pop into my head. It was removing all those little qualifiers (because I though I’d sound more decisive and more persuasive) that was mannered, for me. I would much rather move conversations in a softer direction, rather than see everyone adopt a more firm stance, but that’s just my personality.

I understand why people would feel very differently about talking like that, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea that it’s fake humility, or that I’m encouraging a gendered thing here.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:13 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


It's interesting because much K-12 and college schooling trains students to avoid this thing that teachers call "unnecessary metadiscourse". Definition and example. Has anyone else come across this? I think the rationales of clarity/brevity is interesting, but because I'm not a student anymore, I can think of a few criticisms of this rhetorical culture. But unless a lot has changed in writing/composition, most students are still trained to not to use "I think/experience/feel" sentences and they would probably get red marks for doing so.
posted by polymodus at 2:13 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


It's interesting because much K-12 and college schooling trains students to avoid this thing that teachers call "unnecessary metadiscourse".

I was definitely educated that way and I take all those qualifiers out of my academic and formal writing. I also went on to become a therapist and have learned the importance of all those words in helping during difficult emotional conversations. So part of the issue may also be the kind of weird space that MeFi conversations often occupy between "academic-ish writing/argument-making" and "difficult emotional conversation."
posted by lazuli at 5:59 AM on July 5 [8 favorites]


Tangentially: emotion-related words vs time, a chart from a 2013 analysis “The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books” based on the Google Books corpus and published in PLOS One.
posted by XMLicious at 9:36 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

Speaking for myself, I haven't really seen my position immediately flip on a contentious issue after being in an argument on Metafilter but I've certainly had them shift over time from participating in and witnessing multiple threads. My guess is that's fairly typical. Attitudes and opinions on complex topics probably shouldn't immediately flip because of one discussion all that often. If it does you probably hadn't thought through your position very well in the first place. But a more gradual shift as the weight of arguments and evidence changes and you think about it more makes sense.
posted by Justinian at 11:24 AM on July 5 [10 favorites]


Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?

I don't know how emotionally-charged they were, but I have had several long-held convictions started on the path to change by MetaFilter discussions. Several of them were things that were simply intellectual exercises for me until I heard from people whose real lives were affected.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:05 PM on July 5 [10 favorites]


"Man, with Secretariat's geology background and particular interest in erosive processes this is a metaphor we could go deep on, on things like preventative maintenance, the literal precipitation of critical events, etc."

I am here for you

"Has anyone ever changed their mind to the opposite point of view after actively participating in an argument/fight about an emotionally charged topic in MetaFilter?"

Yes, several times. The first big time I remember it happening was about the relative number of men's vs. women's toilets at stadiums.
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


« Older Podcast on the to-go menu   |   PSA: "Stylish" browser add-on steals your internet... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments