Why make an ASSUMPTION about someone's intent? January 7, 2004 11:14 AM   Subscribe

It's common knowledge that written text lacks some of the communications cues used in speech, like intonation and body-language. So we all know that it's easy to make a false assumption about someone's intended meaning. Yet I see constant flame wars breaking out on the MeFi sites because two people interpret the the *subtext* of a post in two totally different ways. My question is, why make an ASSUMPTION about someone's intent? And if you do make an assumption, why make a negative assumption? If you think it might be intended as an insult, why not ask (via email preferably) the writer about his intent BEFORE posting a nasty retort? [more inside.]
posted by grumblebee to Bugs at 11:14 AM (72 comments total)

Here in MeTa, siW just posted "When I used to read MeFi regularly...", to which monju replied, "it's hard not to sound rude or snide when you say things like 'when I used to read MeFi regularly.'"

I don't get monju's assumption. I can see how a POSSIBLE interpretation is "I quit reading MeFi because it sucks," but that's only one interp out of many, including, "I quit reading MeFi because I got a new job that keeps me very busy." Assuming this is the case, how ELSE is SiW supposed to explain that he hasn't been on MeFi in a while.

He could have explained WHY he's been absent, but doing so who be to assume, ahead of time, that he's posting in a highly paranoid environment in which every ambiguous statement is likely to be interpreted as a negative statement. Those of us who aren't cynics have a very hard time thinking that way.

I'm not trying to make a big deal out of that small interchange. I just brought it up as an example. Recently, I was involved in a similar exchange (the "godly feelings" thread) in which a bunch of people claimed I was being rude and hypocritical because I said (a) I respect Matt's right to delete any content, but (b) I disagreed with his decision to delete one of my posts.

I just couldn't understand why I was being accused of rudeness, when my INTENT was not to be rude at all. But I guess, if I try really hard to place myself in a suspicious frame of mind, I can interpret my own post as, "it's okay for Matt to delete posts -- as long as they're not MINE."

But that's NOT what I meant, and that's not the only possible meaning of my words. So why not give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I know more about what goes on inside my head than you do?

Here are some questions:

--do you assume that everybody thinks pretty much the same way you do? If so, consider the possibility that you may be wrong. Your belief that you can correctly guess someone's intent may be based on the incorrect view that the inside of their head matches the inside of yours.

--do you immediately look for rudeness in a knee-jerk sort of way?

--do you assume the world is a naturally combative sort of place? (If someone says, "you look really nice today," do you immediately think, "is he saying I looked bad YESTERDAY?")

--do you just enjoy conflict and find flame wars kind of fun?
posted by grumblebee at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2004

Oops. This is my first FPP ever to MeTa. Sorry I posted to the "bugs" category. I got confused. I hope that doesn't detrail discussion.
posted by grumblebee at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2004

I assumed you posted in "bugs" because you felt you belonged there, grumblebee:-)

You raise a good point. You're right - some people have a naturally antagonistic or negative explanatory style.
posted by orange swan at 11:24 AM on January 7, 2004

This is my first FPP ever to MeTa.

FPP stands for Front Page Post, this is Metatalk. The front page is Metafilter.

posted by eyeballkid at 11:33 AM on January 7, 2004

(that, of course, was an overt example of unkindness)
posted by eyeballkid at 11:34 AM on January 7, 2004

Okay, but metatalk DOES have a front page. I meant it was my first post there rather than a reply to someone else's post.
posted by grumblebee at 12:01 PM on January 7, 2004

So, is it a FPMeTaP?
posted by tr33hggr at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2004

It's a good point, grumblebee, but it goes back to the simple fact that some people are just assholes. I usually see most overreactions and misreadings coming from just a few of us--the rest of us are pretty ok. (for instance, the other day someone misread what i wrote in an AskMe thread re: drinking, but I wasn't that clear to begin with, and other members jumped in to clear it up)
posted by amberglow at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2004

This is my first FPP ever to MeTa.
Ever notice the growing stages that members go through. Notice it's not just their membership age also their participation.

Some added criticism. The way you worded your post. Thought you were pointing at the "acid" post itself, not realizing it was the question's general example. You did post the meta thread under etiquette, yet I was still thinking the member whom posted the "acid" thread had been impolite somehow.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2004

italicize first line above
posted by thomcatspike at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2004

So we all know that it's easy to make a false assumption about someone's intended meaning.

Often from stupidty, wishful thinking or simple malice: my example would be how this got turned into this and this--now, who changed the subject and made the bad argument?
posted by y2karl at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2004

Well, grumblebee, I sympathize fully - but this is the Internet and nobody is really inhibited by the same fear of social retaliation which you would expect when being an asshole in the outside world.

I thought five fresh fish was being an outrageous asshole in that god thread, and was about ready to swear off Mefi for good when so many people seemed to support his obstinacy. But two weeks later I spent thousands of dollars based on his advice. I didn't think this was irrational at all. There's a natural and inherent trust that frequent participants in a community will by and large contribute positively to it.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2004

"some people are just assholes."

I wonder if this is true. Well, of course it is true sometimes, but, on the other hand, MY knee-jerk reaction is to assume everyone who says "blow me" (or whatever) is an asshole.

My post here is about that question: I assume asshole. But, if someone said to me, "I'm going to kill you and all your friends," I would interpret that as an attack and I might respond with "blow me."

If someone said to me, "I used to visit MeFi," there's no way I interpret that as an attack, so saying "blow me" would be innappropriate -- for ME. But I guess if I interpreted it as "mefi sucks," my "blow me" response wouldn't come because I'm an asshole who was just enjoying offending someone. It would come because I genuinely interpreted "I used to visit MeFi" as a threat.

My plea to people who REGULARLY interpret posts here as threats, insults or flames is to consider the fact that your interpretation meter might be out-of-whack.

Even better: refrain from EVER posting retorts. Or at least refrain from retorting until you've got confirmation, from the original poster, as to his intent.

Another issue: some people have thicker skin than others. I may call you an asshole because it wouldn't be such a big deal to me if you called ME an asshole (in fact, I might enjoy it if you called me an asshole, because then we could engage in a fun insult battle). Since it's not that big a deal for me, I might assume it's not that big a deal for you.

Again, I would ask that thick-skinned people who, perhaps, like a little rough-and-tumble remember that other people are much more affected by insults than you.
posted by grumblebee at 1:14 PM on January 7, 2004

I quite agree, grumblebee. In fact, I was making this point only a few days ago: particularly in reference to assuming the worst with comments that are open to interpretation.
posted by nthdegx at 1:28 PM on January 7, 2004

...y-a-w-n...wakes up, after dreaming Miss Pewee was lecturing my 3rd grade class for the 100th time whom cried during school several times form our behavior(s).
Said it before(matt doesn't like it) this place maybe like a "playground" when it comes to learning social web skills.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:32 PM on January 7, 2004

tr33hggr: that's awfully unwieldy. Let's shorten it to "FAP."

fap fap fap
posted by keswick at 2:24 PM on January 7, 2004

So what's the solution? I'm not naive enough to believe that this thread will stop flames. But I find that, for me, if I understand motivations, I don't get so angry when people don't act the way I want them to act.

In light of this, it would be awesome if some of the more combative people would comment here. If you find yourself chastising people often (with strong words), what goes through your mind when you do this? I won't assume you're an asshole. I just want to understand.

Do you feel like people will only change their behavior (i.e. stop double-posting or whatever) if you chastise them? Do you just get really angry when you feel someone is abusing mefi and express that anger? Do you enjoy a little conflict now and then? Are you actually just joking (just a little fun teasing?
posted by grumblebee at 2:50 PM on January 7, 2004

> In light of this, it would be awesome if some of the more combative people
> would comment here. I won't assume you're an asshole.

Little bunny come inside, safely you'll abide. First tell me if I'm on amber's short list or not.
posted by jfuller at 3:03 PM on January 7, 2004

It's often about context. SiV said "When I used to read MeFi regularly..." and then said something relatively negative about MeFi now -- to me, that negative comment colored his introduction, making it sound as if the problems he cited were part of the reason he doesn't read MeFi regularly anymore.

People need to read what they write and make sure they're communicating their point clearly. People also need to take a chill pill and not jump all over someone who has an opinion they don't agree with.
posted by me3dia at 3:06 PM on January 7, 2004

you're not, jfuller--we just disagree about stuff, but I don't see you personally attacking people or being personally insulting (btw--I only have 3 people on my shit list)

And I second what me3dia said about writing carefully (we all need to)--the meTa post below this is a good example of not doing that.
posted by amberglow at 3:23 PM on January 7, 2004

me3dia, your comment is really interesting to me. Let's look at SiW's post in detail:

1. When I used to read MeFi regularly, it was generally accepted that ...

2. ... I guess this policy has changed....

3. ... (This is really not meant to sound rude or snide, apologies if it's taken that way)

If you read the post literally, he's saying "it looks to me like a policy has changed." Presumably he wants to know if, indeed, it has changed or if people are just breaking the rules and getting away with it. The bit where he admits that he doesn't read MeFi regularly explains why he isn't able to answer this question himself ("I haven't been to London in years. Do they still have all those fish and chips places?")

I don't get where he's saying something relatively negative about Metafilter. It's true that he gives examples of FPP links to boingboing and other popular blogs, but he's not pejorative about he. He doesn't say "those damn FPPs!" For all we know, he might LIKE those posts. He's simply noting that back in "his day," those posts wouldn't have been allowed. Now they're at least tolerated. And he wants to know if this means a policy has been changed.

Now I'd be the first to admit that I might be missing something crucial, but I can't see how you can read this as anti-Mefi without making some kind of cynical assumption (i.e. he's lying; he's got an underlying motive; etc.)

And this is exactly what I'm talking about. Even if you think he MIGHT have an agenda, why assume it? Why not either give him the benefit of the doubt or ask for clarification? That's what I don't understand.

I think it's interesting that Siw anticipated a negative reaction and tried to soften the blow by apologizing ahead of time.
posted by grumblebee at 4:24 PM on January 7, 2004

me3dia, just so I'm clear (here's MY apology ahead of time), I don't think you were rude to SiW, and I'm not trying to get on your case. I just think it speaks to the heart of the matter that you and I interpreted that post so differently.
posted by grumblebee at 4:26 PM on January 7, 2004

grumblebee, it's also historical--we've been primed A) for metatalk posts to be negative (90% are, or more i bet), and B) for people who leave to come back and insult the rest of us.
posted by amberglow at 4:32 PM on January 7, 2004

amberglow, that reminds of something that happened to me a few years ago: I was walking down a quiet street, and I heard footsteps behind me. I causally glanced over my shoulder and noticed a guy walking behind me. This barely registered in my conscious mind -- in fact, I only remembered that I looked back over my shoulder in retrospect.

As I continued to walk, I became aware that the guy behind me was mumbling. Soon the mumbling became cursing and then shouting. I didn't catch most of it, but it seemed to be directed at me, and I remember, "...if you're FUCKING scared of The Black Man, then...."

The whole thing made me a little nervous, so I ducked into a coffee shop. The guy glared at through the window and moved on. After he was gone, I searched through my mind to try to figure out what the hell had happened.

Then I remembered my briefcase: back then, I used to carry this really heavy briefcase. It was so heavy, that I could only hold it in one hand for about 30 seconds. So, as I walked down the street, I would switch it from hand to hand.

The guy from the street -- a black guy -- had found himself walking behind a white guy (me). The white guy had turned around, looked at him, and switched his briefcase to the other hand -- the hand furthest away from him.

Now I don't blame the guy for getting pissed. I know what it's like to spend years of your life being persecuted and misunderstood. But his assumptions of my motive were 100% wrong.

Still, I was really glad I figured it out. It turned him, in my mind, from a crazy/scary person to an understandable human being.

And, believe it or not, a few years later, I had a similar experience. I was on the subway, and this black girl sat next to me. Again, I didn't really notice her. Then I felt her messing around in the small space between our sides. I figured she was trying to adjust her walkman or get something out of her pocket or whatever. So I moved over a bit to give her some room. She immediately took offense and said, "if you're so damn nervous about me, I can MOVE." I realized that she thought that I thought she was trying to pick my pocket. I don't think that I would have understood this if it wasn't for the earlier experience with the guy on the street. This time, I was able to apologize and explain that I was only trying to give her more room.
posted by grumblebee at 4:46 PM on January 7, 2004

It's common knowledge that written text lacks some of the communications cues used in speech, like intonation and body-language.

posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:07 PM on January 7, 2004

Some added criticism. The way you worded your post.
Grumblebee, my criticism, I confused you with SiW's and his post below. It's been a very long week for me.(worked the past weekend) Sorry about confusing you with him when I added the criticism. His posting had me pretty confused. Excuse my absent minded brain.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:16 PM on January 7, 2004

No prob, thom, I'm always absent minded and confused.
posted by grumblebee at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2004

some people are just assholes
Often, the truth comes in the simplest statements. Some people are just arseholes, or act like arseholes here, anyway. Sometimes you just have to ignore them and move on, otherwise you get sucked in to the maelstrom and end up being an arsehole back. Next thing you know, you are an arsehole yourself.
posted by dg at 5:41 PM on January 7, 2004

As I see it, dg, there are three options and you've outlined two of them:

1. ignore the assholes and move on.
2. become an asshole yourself and retaliate.
3. try to learn more about why the asshole acts the way he does.

I'm confused by "some people are just..." statements. What does this mean, exactly? Does it mean that personality traits are 100% instintual and the asshole himself couldn't speculate about why he acts the way he does? Or does it mean that you simply don't care to find out why he acts the way he does?
posted by grumblebee at 5:55 PM on January 7, 2004

What does this mean, exactly?

It means exactly what it says.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:01 PM on January 7, 2004

You gotta love a good tautology! But if I understood the meaning, I wouldn't have asked about it.
posted by grumblebee at 6:04 PM on January 7, 2004

I had an experience like yours, grumblebee. I was in the parking lot at Safeway and some guy came up to me and started asking me how many bodies I could fit in the trunk of my Buick, because, you know, he had a few to dispose of.

It was only in retrospect that I realized that he did that because I had started down one lane in the parking lot and later changed to another one. It must have looked to him like I did it because he was black. In fact, I did it because I realized I had gone down the wrong lane -- my car was parked one lane over. As he might have noticed since I had pulled out my key and unlocked my car just as he came up.

In that instance I think the guy should count himself lucky I didn't call the police. In fact, I sort of wish I had.
posted by kindall at 6:19 PM on January 7, 2004

But if I understood the meaning, I wouldn't have asked about it.

"Some people are just assholes." I'm not sure what you're having trouble with, here. Let's break it down, just for fun, shall we?

Some : this indicates that we're referring to a subset as opposed to an entire group

people : human beings

are : third person plural of the verb 'to be'.

just : used in this sense to indicate a sense of resignation, or a situation that cannot, through one's best efforts, be ameliorated

assholes : unpleasant, unkind, cantankerous, plain bad people, from one's own perspective. This word is perhaps the only one that requires any elucidation here, as the appellation 'asshole' means different things to different people. Suffice to say it is pejorative, and that if we perceive someone to be one, we don't like them, because of their behaviour.

So, we have 'A subset of the group of human beings, despite our best efforts to the contrary, and beyond our individual control, will behave in a way we find unpleasant, unkind, nasty or in some other fashion bad, and are people for whom, as a result of their behaviour, we are inclined to feel some sort of animus."

What else do you need?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:24 PM on January 7, 2004

(Am I being one yet? Heh.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:25 PM on January 7, 2004

I've been on BBSes since... god, must be sometime around 1984. After twenty years of this, I've developed a thick skin, a realization that words from people I don't know are worth only what I choose to value them at, and a sense of exaggeration that's required to get heard above the noise. Which, all combined, probably accounts for what's seen as assholism.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2004

What does this mean, exactly?
Excellent explanation, stavrosthewonderchicken! Grumblebee - sometimes things just are what they are and not only is there no point in trying to change them, trying to understand them will only lead to exploding heads. Just shrug your shoulders, go "eh" in a dismissive fashion and walk away.
posted by dg at 6:49 PM on January 7, 2004

If that works for you, dg, great. For me, the more I understand, the better. Saying "some people are just assholes," seems to me like saying, "the nazis did what they did because they were evil."

Okay, but what made them evil?

Nothing. They were just evil.

Does this mean that "evil" has no cause? It just IS? I don't buy that. Surely SOMETHING made them evil. Genes. Upbrining. Cosmic Rays. Whatever. And if we can understand it, maybe we can prevent it. Or learn to avoid it.

I think a fair question to ask me is, "let's say you understand why assholes are assholes. Then how are you better off than you were before?" That's a question I can't answer. I can only tell you that I feel better about almost anything if I can understand it. When I'm stuck in a subway tunnel, I feel so much better if the conductor makes an announcement explaining why the train is stuck -- even though his announcement doesn't get the train unstuck any faster than if he never made it. I'm sure not everyone is like me. I'm also sure I'm not the only person like me.

Stav, I understand what the individual WORDS mean. I just don't get the concept of "just assholes" -- assholes as uncaused events. It seems much more likely that there is a cause -- or many causes -- and that they are, to some degree, knowable. In this thread, I've speculated about some possible reasons.

Thanks for your honest post, fff. I think a problem is that your thick skin leads you to treat others too harshly. If someone tells you to "fuck off" or whatever, it doesn't bother you much because you choose not to value the insult. So of us have a much harder time doing that.
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 PM on January 7, 2004

I know, grumblebee, I was just being a smart-ass. I guess buried in my little definition is that one person's asshole is another person's bed of roses. Er, so to speak.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2004

Grumblebee, meditate on this: words have only such meaning as you assign them.

As proof of this, please visit timecube for but a brief moment. You will find the author calls you "stupid" and feels you are unworthy of life on earth.

I am confident you are not upset by the timecube author. Why, then, should you be upset by anyone whom you do not know and will never meet?

You hold a conflicting worldview: on the one hand, you readily write-off the insane rantings of a schizophrenic who has managed to access the web; on the other hand, you hold my FFFishian rantings as personally valuable to you. Why should you treat me differently than Gene Ray/timecube?

I know, I know: FFFish at least ocassionally gives the appearance of sanity. Heck, maybe I've even managed to impress you with an uncommon display of intelligence and insight. I hope so; when I'm being serious, I do usually try to be sensibly so. That probably should give me at least a little leg up on Mr. Timecube.

But still, at the fundamental core of it all the "FFFish" entity is entirely a construct of your own mind. I am only what you have chosen to conceive. Yes, I do provide the words and sentences and arguments and such -- but you are responsible for weighing their value, fitting them into your worldview, and deciding whether they are useful or useless to you.

So if telling you to go fuck yourself sideways causes you pain, it's because you choose to hold me in such high regard that that statement causes hurt. Frankly, I can't imagine why you'd wish to give me that power.

I suppose all I've done here is reiterate your last paragraph, eh?

Here's the key to using forums: take what helps you and leave the rest. If I happen to write something that really works for you, that is just great: take it and run with it. Let it change your life (just don't blame me if it changes it for the worse!) If I happen to write shite, oh well: unless you've got some fecal fetish, I suggest you just ignore it. If I happen to tweak you in such a way that you just have to respond, then go for it: if you're right, be right dammit, and make sure I know you're right. (Chances are you aren't right, because you're disagreeing with me... I thought I was wrong, once, but it turned out I was mistaken.)

You can be sure I'll do the same for what you write.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:56 PM on January 7, 2004

grumblebee, also remember, as fff (who really is kinda asshole-ish lately) just said: we only know people here by their words. If people use antagonistic words and phrases and tone, that's what we have to deal with. Whether it's because they're having a hard day or are just, well, assholes, is out of our reach, and unless they share, we're stuck with it. On the subway, they often announce "There's a red signal up ahead. We'll be moving shortly" but we have no idea why it's red, or they're lying to us and there's something else going on, like a police thing or something. We listen, and deal with it--that's all we can do.
posted by amberglow at 9:00 PM on January 7, 2004

Interesting world view, fff.

You could of course say that everytime I hear someone say something or read what someone writes to me, it's really just my brain talking to itself. My brain's jabberings might be based on input from an external world, but once I'm aware of the jabbering, it's completely internal. Since it's all "just me," I can control it.

I agree with all of this except the last part (Since it's all just me, I can control it). No one has complete control over his own brain. Some people have more control than others, but no one has complete control.

When my wife tells me she loves me, it FEELS like it's coming from her. I can intellectualize that it's really just internal sensation (possibly based on external input), but that doesn't change the feeling. And if she says she hates me (which, thankfully, she never does), it hurts. I can understand it's my brain talking to itself, but that doesn't stop it hurting.

Now, that's my wife -- the closest person to me on earth. Then there's a continuum of people who run from very close to me to totally un-intimate. If a friend says he hates me, it hurts, but not as much as if my wife had said it. If a slight-aquaintance says he hates me, it hurts -- but less so.

You're right, if the timecube guy insults me, it doesn't hurt at all. He's too far removed. (Although his page design DOES hurt -- OUCH!)

You're pretty far removed, so if you insult me, I certainly don't break down into tears. But it does hurt a little. Why? Because, for one, your comments are a direct response to my postings -- to something I said. That makes it feel more personal. Also, many of us view MeFi as a community. If it's a community, that means that to some extent or other, we care (maybe not deeply, but still...) about the opinions of its members.

So, yes, you're just some random guy to me. I get that. And yes, when you prick me, I bleed. Logical? Consistent? Maybe not. But it's how I feel.
posted by grumblebee at 9:05 PM on January 7, 2004

amberglow, I don't think I'm being very clear. I know I can't make the "assholes" go away or stop being assholish. And even if I could, I'm not sure I would. I think I'm just as much of the problem as they are. They don't mind MeFi being a bit of a rough-and-tumble. I dislike it being so. Neither of those visions are problematic unless they're both in the same place at the same time. (A pacifist shouldn't go to a football game; a warrior shouldn't go to a tupperware party.)

I don't think either the hawks or the doves are likely to leave MeFi or change their ways or leave MeFi. We will always have this conflict.

Which means we can:

1. get over it.
2. learn from it.

By "learn from it," I don't mean learn how to stop it or change it. I mean we can gain more knowledge about people we share the planet with. You either find comfort from that or you don't. You either care about it or your don't. You either want to get over it or learn from it. Neither is wrong or right.

I started this thread to discuss, not to solve. Some people feel that if it can't be solved, it's not worth discussion. If that's you, this thread is a waste of your time. Sorry.
posted by grumblebee at 9:16 PM on January 7, 2004

Which means we can:
1. get over it.
2. learn from it.

Why not both? There is nothing to stop you learning from something while at the same time not letting the action itself or your level of knowledge about it affect you in any way. For me, I have got to the stage in life where I accept that there are a huge number of things I will never understand and, while this does not stop me from increasing my knowledge at any opportunity, I can quite easily live without knowing why. I now accept that, sometimes, things and people are the way they are just because. I have also got to the stage of life where I reserve the right to neither get over things nor learn from them if I so choose (which is why I am sometimes an arsehole myself, I think).

Discussion for the sake of it, or knowledge just for the sake of knowing, is a good thing, IMHO. Just don't expect to learn from every discussion.
posted by dg at 10:17 PM on January 7, 2004

Why not both?

There's nothing in that list to indicate you can't do both--it's just a list of things you can do. Quit assuming things!
posted by The God Complex at 10:28 PM on January 7, 2004

And if you do make an assumption, why make a negative assumption?

Because people are shit, generally speaking, and usually out to get me.

J U S T K I D D I N G ! ! !

I applaud the spirit of this post, I really do. As I continue to grow older, I actually do try to grow up. Not freaking out at every little thing is a major objective. I'm not promising anything except an attempt.
posted by scarabic at 11:04 PM on January 7, 2004

wait. gene ray is not sane?!
posted by quonsar at 11:09 PM on January 7, 2004

Yeah, arsehole, quit assuming things!

(Sorry. I just couldn't resist having that straight line handed over to me!)

gbee: 'zactly. Plus, of course, there's a factor in how important the discussion is to you. I lost it bigtime in a MeFi discussion when someone got wayyyy too judgemental -- on neglible information -- regarding a very close friend. If it wasn't so close to my heart, that same sort of judgement wouldn't bother me.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:13 PM on January 7, 2004

Don't sweat the small shit.

It's all small shit.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:13 PM on January 7, 2004

Isnt any subtext in literature assumed by the reader?
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:31 PM on January 7, 2004

Grumblebee, I'd like to thank you for your persistence in examination of the asshole/snark/sarcasm/perception phenomenon. Much better expressed than this MeTa thread I now realize I was getting at awhile back.

I'm not sure I have much to add except possibly that feelings are a bigger part of society, whether online or IRL, than goes acknowledged. Why? Are they meaningless or invaluable? Less so than intellect? If they are there, they are there, and one must deal with, at least internally. In this case, those bothered by coarser comments can't understand why the seemingly lesser feeling folks can't be more compassionate. I can't help but contemplate the broader view by Grumble that the world would be a better place in that case. Similarly, have , the "feelers" been writing off the "non-feelers" as 'just assholes' all this time? Or is this another smoker vs. non smoker issue?

One of the things I like most about MeFi/MeTa/AxMe is that the community is after a high standard of discussion - the kind that leads to learning and has value (i.e. not just noise, or talk for the sake of talk). Whether thick or thin skinned, coarse or tactless, I do think quality of conversation is what we're all after. And part of what makes it valuable, also, is the willingness to examine things that are taken for granted. One never knows where a learning opportunity will come from - the reshaping of current perceptions is as good a growth exercise as something never encountered. It's just harder to work for.
posted by yoga at 3:48 AM on January 8, 2004

By "learn from it," I don't mean learn how to stop it or change it. I mean we can gain more knowledge about people we share the planet with. You either find comfort from that or you don't. You either care about it or your don't. You either want to get over it or learn from it. Neither is wrong or right.
I started this thread to discuss, not to solve. Some people feel that if it can't be solved, it's not worth discussion. If that's you, this thread is a waste of your time. Sorry.

I wouldn't be discussing if I felt it was a waste of my time. Learning that, as dg says, "sometimes, things and people are the way they are just because" is a valuable lesson that does give more knowledge about people, especially when you're very limited in the amount and types of knowledge you can gain about them, like in an online community. (There's this thing called the Serenity Prayer that's very applicable.)
Everyone's free here to act as they wish, within very broad limits--for all we know, and for all we can ever know, some here might just use Mefi as a vomitarium and only come here and post when they're upset or angry--or--they might be upset and angry all the time--It's not within our powers to ever know what's inside another's head, especially given that we don't have those other clues or opportunities to help us know, so we're left with the words and perceived tone. What IS in our power is the way we react to those words and perceived tones, and what little we know of the other people here.
posted by amberglow at 5:18 AM on January 8, 2004

While I empathize with grumblebee's appreciation of understanding for it's own sake, I would propose that it does have potential for practical use.

Yes, there are some people who "just are assholes," i.e. for reasons beyond our knowledge or control consistently act hurtfully or without consideration for others in the conversation at hand, and have no interest in doing otherwise. However, I believe that in this environment, those people are the exception.

I believe that what's much more common is the type of scenario grumblebee described in the beginning of the thread. Poster A and poster B clutter up the thread and insert a high degree of negative emotion by arguing, not with each other, but with a misunderstanding of what the other person said/meant. Sometimes, if one of the participants or a third party can comprehend the thought processes of each person well enough, it's possible to translate from "A-speak" to "B-speak" and break through the misunderstanding. I do this all the time in my band, and I've done it once or twice on Metafilter.

So, in short, pure research can lead to practical applications. Even in the realm of assholes. :-)
posted by tdismukes at 7:01 AM on January 8, 2004

Well-said, tdismukes.
posted by taz at 7:29 AM on January 8, 2004

I certainly see where grumblebee is coming from the explanation of his take on social distance and emotional sensitivity. Personally, I don't want to completely give up the ability to feel the sting from someone else's commentary, however anonymous that other is. I don't languish in depression after someone insults me online, either. I happen think the more I chip away at caring about other people, their thoughts, their actions, their opinions, etc. the more I chip away at my own as well.

I choose to participate in this community. Therefore, I, on some level, give a crap, for lack of a better phrase, about anyone here. Denying that I would hurt if someone attacked me through MeFi denies the basic human response I have in situations where someone I feel allied with in one fashion or another makes me feel unwanted. It eats away at my empathy. There are already enough everyday influences to do that. I would like to think, as I suspect grumblebee does (there I go assuming!), that MeFi could be a place where that might not happen as much.
posted by oflinkey at 10:22 AM on January 8, 2004

You guys should all know that I've received a bunch of email about this thread. Most of it is from people who say that they rarely post on MeFi anymore because they're scared they'll get attacked if they break some minor rule.

While the thick-skinned amongst us might say, "well, if they can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," I think that this situation creates a problem for all of us.

MeFi/AskMe are sites we come to in order to find out interesting/fun/useful information. We don't want people holding back useful info because they're too scared to post here. That hurts the entire community.

I'm probably about midpoint on the think-skin/thin-skin continuum. When I find an interesting link, sometimes I post it, sometimes I don't. I post it when I'm feeling thick skinned. But I know exactly what it feels like to think, "why should I bother? I'm just going to get attacked."

I DO think it's possible to ease the situation -- at least, it could get better on some MeFi-LIKE site. I'm not sure it could improve here. It could only improve if enough people care about the problem to brainstorm and lobby. Trouble is, I think we've got a large minority of people who REALLY care, but who are also too timid to do anything about it. Then we've got the overwhelming majority who would rather hang out in a more polite environment, but they don't care THAT much, so they don't do anything about it. And, of course, we have the small -- but very vocal -- group who like to antagonize.

If *I* were setting up a MeFi-like site, the #1 rule would forbid rudeness and public chastisement. There would be other rules too (no double-posts, self-linking, etc.) And if you found someone violating one of them, you could respond by sending them a private email, reminding them of the rules. If they ignored your email, you could contact the site manager. But under NO circumstances could you publicly humiliate them. If you did, YOUR post would be considered a worse offense than the self-link (or whatever). Your post would be deleted, and if you continually posted flames, your membership would be revoked.

We have the exact opposite situation here. For instance, I started a AskMe thread in which I violated a procedural rule. So my thread was deleted. Then someone else posted something about my thread to MeTa, in which he told me to "fuck off," and said various other rude things about me. HIS post was not deleted.

I assume this means that Matt doesn't consider rudeness to be as bad as other sorts of behavior. (Or maybe it's just too difficult for him to deal with all of the rude posts). Fair enough: it's his site. But things COULD be different.

My version of MeFi might not work (has it ever been tried?), but at least it's an attempt to solve the problem. Someone else might be able to come up with a better solution.
posted by grumblebee at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2004

Quit assuming things!
Good point - funny how we read things into what others write/say - I could have sworn there was an "or" in there somewhere.

grumblebee - your version of Mefitopia sounds way too polite and well-mannered to ever work with real people, but there are some good ideas in there.
posted by dg at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2004

If *I* were setting up a MeFi-like site, the #1 rule would forbid rudeness and public chastisement...under NO circumstances could you publicly humiliate them.

Well, with all possible respect (echoes of FFF there), I'd have to say that I'm glad you're not running this site.

There's a difference between public humiliation and pointing out someone's transgressions publicly. As someone who's been in and out of classrooms (as a teacher) for a good part of the last 15 years, I'm extremely aware of this.

People saying things like 'grow a skin' or 'get over it' annoy me, too, and public humiliation is a game for the cruel, and I do agree that there are far too many assholes around at Metafilter these days, and that we've lost many, many good, smart and perhaps overly sensitive people as a result.

But. There's a line at which you've got to say 'buck up and deal, friend'. If someone has a vendetta (and there are very few, to be honest) against you, OK, turn away. But if somebody snarked you or did the j'accuse in Metatalk, and it made you feel bad and hurt your feelings, and you leave because it's all too scary?

Well, boo freakin' hoo, is my possibly assholish response.

I understand and respect what you're saying and trying to do in this thread, grumblebee, but we're all adults here, and I honestly think that as such, we should be able not only to moderate and modify our own behaviour individually and collectively, but to deal with the consequences if we run (as we will inevitably do) up against someone unpleasant.

Someone suggested, way back when, that Metafilter self-governs through 'public shaming' and that's just bullshit. It's another of the convenient phrases that people remember and come to take as gospel, and which hide the reality. Although, thanks to a stagnant userbase, rampant assholery and a steady increase in personal attacks, Metatalk particularly has become a place where old grudges and petty differences are psychodramaed out interminably, very rarely is someone 'humiliated' purposefully.

Your suggestions smack very strongly to me of the sort of nannying, let's-all-let-our-love-light-shine, crypto-PC stuff that drove me out of North America many many years ago, and continues to keep me away.

Which is merely my two bits. Most are probably aware that I can be a complete asshole when attacked, so large grains of salt are on the menu.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:22 PM on January 8, 2004

To paraphrase Justice Stewart, I know an asshole when I see one. This particularly tedious discussion of whether or not assholes are hurting MetaFilter is long on navel gazing and short on real examples. Grumblebee began this thread using my reply in the previous thread as, I guess, an example of the kind of response he would rather not see around here. I don't see any particular need to defend myself, as I thought it was an appropriately polite response to the now-tiresome refrain of "MetaFilter was better in ye olden days." Perhaps I assumed too much, but I simply took the comment in the context in which it was given.

As for real assholes, those are better dealt--on the rare occasion that it actually warrants it--with a specific callout.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2004

OK, I give up -- I'll turn myself in.

I admit it, I'm an asshole.
posted by matteo at 5:15 PM on January 8, 2004

I understand and respect what you're saying and trying to do in this thread...
Your suggestions smack very strongly to me of the sort of nannying, let's-all-let-our-love-light-shine, crypto-PC stuff that drove me out of North America many many years ago, and continues to keep me away.

posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on January 8, 2004


What's unclear there, LH? Should I have said, '...crypto-PC stuff that I dislike intensely, and would hate to see as guiding principles here, and that drove me...'?

That I understand and respect grumblebee's ideas but disagree with his/her proposed 'remedy' are not two things that are mutually exclusive, as far as I can see.

I admit that did type that before my first coffee this morning, when I'm not usually -- to put it mildly -- at my best, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2004

Well, it read to me like "I understand and respect what you're saying and trying to do in this thread, namely the sort of nannying, let's-all-let-our-love-light-shine, crypto-PC stuff..." and that seemed fairly self-contradictory, but obviously that's not how you saw it. And I feel your pain about the coffee -- I don't recommend anyone try to deal with me before mine.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 PM on January 8, 2004

What's unclear there, LH?

stavros, it's just sort of hard for us to tell how you really feel.
posted by namespan at 6:42 PM on January 8, 2004

I hate you all, of course.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:38 PM on January 8, 2004

I think rule-offenders need to be stopped. I'm only against public humiliation and rudeness. My objections stem only partly from a love-thy-neighbor feeling. Mostly, they stem from an observation that harsh chastisements rarely improve the situation. They generally lead to escalating flame wars.

So lets say someone self links. What is more likely to stop them breaking more rules? A private email pointing out the rules of the site, or public chastisement?

Having said that, I'll amend my earlier post by saying that I'm not totally against this sort of thing:

A: please visit www.mysite.com

B: please don't post links to your own site; it's against the rules.

(Though I still wonder if a private email wouldn't be more effective.)

Here's what I'm against:

A. please visit www.mysite.com

B. don't post self links, you fuckhead!

How does B's response help the community? Why is it more tolerated than A's self link? Neither is acceptable, but B's transgression was purposefully meant to wound. A's wasn't. Which is worse?
posted by grumblebee at 9:14 PM on January 8, 2004

And the reason I posted my scenario of my version of MeFi was not because I thought it was such a hot idea. Rather, I was hoping it might spark discussion and brainstorming that would lead to better ideas. The question is, how can we achieve a more harmonious community in which data can flow freely? The other question is: do we want a more harmonious community? What is more fun, war or peace?
posted by grumblebee at 9:16 PM on January 8, 2004

How does B's response help the community?

it informs fuckheads not to self link.
posted by quonsar at 9:28 PM on January 8, 2004

No, it chastises them. How is "fuckhead" a necessary part of the info?
posted by grumblebee at 5:09 AM on January 9, 2004

While I too think peace is better than war, I have to say that fear of shaming can be a more effective stimulant than a kindly reminder. Have you ever seen a kid running amuck in a public place (or someone else's house) while a parent periodically says mildly "That's not nice, you know" (and the host grits teeth and tries not to glare too noticeably)? Well, a lot of people never grow out of being that kid.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2004

No, it chastises them. How is "fuckhead" a necessary part of the info?

It informs them that they are a fuckhead. If you were a fuckhead, wouldn't you want to know it?
posted by kindall at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2004

What is more fun, war or peace?

In this particular context--so many things: sanctimony, cruelty and revenge. Someone getting on your nerves? Someone smarter than you? Someone not doing it your way? Cut them down to Harrison Bergeron size. Is that monkey green? Get 'im. Sanctimony and passive aggression are socially sanctioned here. Metatalk: Making yourself right by making him wrong. Join the crowd. There's a new one forming daily.
posted by y2karl at 10:46 AM on January 9, 2004

"Dashes anger love light still being civil placidly rote cannot hypocrite Let new days reap thou hast sown confess saw boy stretched table saw suspect Like door thrown open pleasant hut totally protégés must moulded let start yearly distributed support miners piteously pleading looked up face Dashes anger love light still Dashes anger love light still families present itself true wisdom true being civil placidly rote being civil placidly rote tutored think subtle lore cannot hypocrite cannot hypocrite many friends true past past dead dead groans Let new days"

typeloop #0545..................excerpt
posted by clavdivs at 11:35 AM on January 9, 2004

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