"why we hate the dissenter" May 9, 2001 4:19 PM   Subscribe

There are some interesting things going on here worthy of discussion without this becoming a "why we hate the dissenter" metatalk thread.

Someone makes some pretty loaded statements many agree are worth explanation, and they're fairly shocking statements so names get thrown around too (perhaps just a normal reaction to being shocked).

Person returns and talks around the initial questions, claims everything is opinion so further investigation is pointless, and plays the victim as much as possible. Calls everyone on the site closed minded for shutting out his opinion.

Two things:

- This happens a lot (the "all you metafilter people blah blah blah...), and is worthy of further thought. How can a group claim to be open minded on one hand, but react strongly to someone going against the grain?

- Like many usenet sociological work before this site ever existed, there are obvious patterns on the behavior of strong dissenting personalities. I've seen posts in a thread just like this a zillion times before, funny how it repeats.
posted by mathowie (staff) to Etiquette/Policy at 4:19 PM (34 comments total)

- so for the first question I would argue that people here tend to think of themselves as open minded because they formed most if not all of their opinions on their own under circumstances they would think were open minded. I'd say by and large the active metafilter userbase is an educated bunch, and in the course of my education, I've had to come to many conclusions after carefully considering all opposing viewpoints. I'd argue that I continue to do that, and I'd still call myself open minded. I do want to know how exactly Tim-whats-his-name came up with his conclusions, for the sake of hearing another viewpoint, adding to my understanding of others regarding the issues raised.

There's nothing better than hearing a very intelligent, well-thought out opinion that is opposed to your own.

Now, a lot of opinions expressed here tend to be "lefty" or "pc" and when someone says something that stands out against the grain, tempers flare, the word troll gets tossed around, etc. But the response of the person dissenting is vital. If they come back asking why they are hated, state their position, an understanding is often reached. If they come back with similar name calling, or retreat to a weak argument position, no one gains anything from the exchange.

- my second point above is unclear, what I meant to say was that I've seen stuff like the linked thread many times before, but I wonder what we can learn from it. Can we identify previous patterns and ask people to stop sooner? Can someone's behavior here be predicted ever?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:28 PM on May 9, 2001

In reading the comments of the thread in question, I found myself grappling with the limits of open-mindedness. Almost always, I think we should hear competing points of view and try to illuminate our differences.

But. Are there not limits? If someone were saying the same things about Jews or African Americans that Tim was saying about homosexuals, would we tolerate that? To me what he was saying became, over time, nearly a form of hate speech. I try very hard not to be judgmental, but when someone tells me that I should be outlawed, that I'm despicable, etc., then how else am I to respond except to tell that person that his opinions are out of bounds?

Note, however, that I did not address that issue in the thread in question. I chose to stick to my own experiences and some related comments because I could tell immediately where Tim was coming from. And I knew that he wasn't going to change his opinion. Arguing with him would only harden his views about homosexuality and cause him to become more combative. Besides, I'm not sure I could have answered him without becoming angry, and he's not worth it.

I think there's a linkage here. I think that people who hold views beyond the bounds of what's considered acceptable here are not interested in discussion. Extremists generally aren't. If they were rational, they wouldn't be extremists.

I received a lot of positive feedback about what I posted in that thread. It made me feel good. And despite some initial qualms about the vigor with which some people were responding to Tim, I think I feel good about the general nature of the response. Maybe MF is the kind of place that simply won't tolerate homophobia. Hooray!

posted by anapestic at 5:13 PM on May 9, 2001

There was a thread i participated in recently, where my views we're attacked by one individual in particular, where my view was just that and their view happened to differ. Unless it's actual facts we are talking about there do seem to be to many members who feel that their own views are right and everyone else must be wrong.

I will correct people tactfully if it's facts we are talking about, but never have i belittled someone for their own personal view or opinion on a subject.

I did not respond with a thought out or intelligent comment because the only thing i felt like doing was smacking that indidual across the head multiple times with a baseball bat for belittleling my view on the subject at hand.

Other individuals took a much more ADULT root and voiced their opinions which differed from mine without insulting me.

I'd like members of this community to think twice before responding in a way that will insult the person they are talking to in their comments.

Common courtesy, that's all.

posted by Zool at 5:17 PM on May 9, 2001

Could it be more of an attitude issue, rather than one of position held? If someone disagrees with me, I may or may not find him maddening.

If his attitude is "Of course I'm right; you're just too stupid to see the brilliance of my position; so there's really no point in trying to explain it to you because you'd never understand it anyway" then I think he's an asshole.

If his attitude is "I think I'm right and I'm willing to try to explain my position to you" then we'll do fine together.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:17 PM on May 9, 2001

so part of the problem, as it occured to me while reading that thread, is that it's often unclear (esp. with newer members and esp. as the community grows) if someone's trolling or simply offering (often in jarringly unpolite terms) an unpopular opinion. and the follow-up questions: how do we as a community allow dissent, offer education, criticize the thought but not the thinker, etc?

in this case, this guy has what he holds as a fundamental belief, that in my personal opinion i hold as ignorance and prejudice. does that mean i don't want the guy to be part of this community? well, no. and i don't want to participate in an exercise that banishes that kind of dissent. does it mean i wish people in that thread offered alternative studies and other kinds of less-pointed criticism to the guy? yeah, but i also want to be clear that i think there's value in a community that pushes back nearly uniformly against ignorance and prejudice. it's a hard struggle. i think that for the most part, people tried (in that thread at least) to be more respectful than i expected they would when i first clicked through...in many ways i think we are a very conscious community in that meta-sense, where we keep finding ourselves over here in metatalk figuring out why and how we do what we do as part of this community.
posted by judith at 5:24 PM on May 9, 2001

How about filtering any sentence with the word "troll" and replacing it with -

"Wow, I don't think many people here would agree with that. Could you share your reasoning with us please?"

It takes no effort to dismiss "trollish" newbies and make them feel like outsiders. But the discussion would benefit from the entire spectrum of opinion.

1) Agreed. I think we should make an effort to insist on (or at least encourage) valid arguments. People who only toss out "It sucks", "It's immoral","Bush is an idiot", etc. don't contribute to Metafilter. I thought we wanted to be a community promoting healthy, spirited discussion.

2) Such is the nature of humankind. But I think this place is much better than Usenet. Much.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:27 PM on May 9, 2001

Darn, I forgot to add my thoughts on this

"How can a group claim to be open minded on one hand, but react strongly to someone going against the grain?"

(not using the i tag for the rest of the day....)

If a person is throwing out contentious and combative one liners that clearly go against the grain, and other posters continue to ask them what the reasoning is behind their opinion, they will eventually

a) Share with us and become part of the discussion.
b) Learn that we're about discussion, not name calling. Or
c) Get bored and leave. (or banned)

Sometimes I think we don't try. Calling someone a troll isn't trying. Of course the way Tim dropped into the thread it's hard to blame people.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:47 PM on May 9, 2001

Zool - I think you are, rather sadly, missing my point.

In the interests of illustration - Turning a petty name calling spree into a Metatalk thread does not enrich the community. It only enriches your slap fight. The best thing that could happen would be for both of you to apologize.

And leave me out of it. I'm not interested.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:13 PM on May 9, 2001

Justify your dissent. Or at least contextualise it. There are plenty of people here who do it well, on all sides. And there are lots of strong opinions, but strong opinions are usually strengthened by having plenty of intellectual -- or emotional -- foundation. That's why anapestic's opening post was such a good one.

Should we treat, um, aberrations of tone, as heckling? Perhaps.
posted by holgate at 7:24 PM on May 9, 2001

y6y6y6, i did apologise in that Metatalk thread i started, maybe you should go check it out and in what way am i involving you?

You made a point i happen to agree with, i don't need, want, desire or require your involvement so stop deluding yourself that your somehow involved.
posted by Zool at 7:31 PM on May 9, 2001

Back on topic real quick-like...

I just read through the thread about 10 minutes ago, and I was frustrated that I didn't see it earlier and jump in. It really frustrated me when people used expletives, like "you'd better fucking back it up..." (just an example, m.polo) to attack timbooker. I don't think that gets anyone anywhere, and only serves to heighten emotions and tempers. Reading Metafilter has made me a more informed person, and helped me understand issues from all perspectives. This is the A number one thing I love about Metafilter. That, in most cases, people state their opinions, debate a topic, and each member learns from the other.

While tim's initial comment was very provoking, not backed up with any evidence, and seems to me to be more of a way to provoke a fight, I don't know. He's obviously a newer member (in the 7k's), and may not fully understand how discussion really takes place. He also looks fairly young from his picture, and may not have ever interacted with people different from him. And the steroetypes in the media don't help, either.

But I think we have a duty to hold a civil dialogue (especially with new members) on subjects such as this. Each side can present his or her viewpoints, and each can try to understand where the other is coming from. tim has yet to provide a "why" to his comments, but I truly feel that the initial emotional comments against tim made him very defensive. Put yourself in his shoes. You've just joined this great new community, you're commenting on your perspective, and people start attacking you. Who's not going to feel cornered and defensive?

All I would ask, is in the future, take a lesson from Tin Man. He handled an agressive, provoking email civilly and tactfully, and really changed someone's perspective. I hope MetaFilter can do the same.
posted by gramcracker at 7:54 PM on May 9, 2001

I'm sorry, but we are not here to babysit people who don't know how to participate intelligently in a discussion. We are here to discuss. In real life, if you walked up to a bunch of people who were talking about this particular topic, you wouldn't barge in with "All homosexuals should be outlawed!" and then shut up. That would be really stupid, and unless you backed up your statement real quick-like, you would quickly get thrown out of that discussion. I would hope that Tim knows this about real life interaction, and if he had lurked around long enough to know how discussions here work, he should have known what was going to happen.

As for the expletives, well, it's an emotional topic for some of us, and text, even hypertext, sometimes lacks in contextual terms, and it gets a little trite sometimes to make up fake tags for context when you can just use the word "fuck" to mean the same thing. And hey, he was the first to push us off-balance, why can't we get a little back before we get into the discussion? Sorry, that's the Nietzsche coming out in me. No pun intended.
posted by starvingartist at 9:17 PM on May 9, 2001

It is hard to divest emotional dialogue from posts. I've been here a while and still screw up. Especially, involving the mix of humor and taste.

That Tin Man link is a great example. If someone could do that with poor Dave, he might actually have sex again before he dies.

Not only have I learned about various topics here, I am learning how to be more civil in my writing. Even if you are an expert, you can benefit from this place's ability to stem over-confidence.

I am confident I have learned a lot here. However I am not sure I have learned enough to be over-confident about how much I learned, but I'm still learning so it could happen any day now.
posted by john at 9:49 PM on May 9, 2001

I'm not so sure it's too bad, in re to dissent here. Quite the opposite, oftentimes. A good example was today's thread on examples of whitewashing in Japanese history texts, or rather the nation's allegedly avoiding the negative aspects of its history in a conspicuous manner. It was becoming awfully stereotypical awfully fast. I'm center-left, usually even in cases where I won't admit it to myself, but threads like that one get me feeling like I'm lost out in deep right field. Even when I knew one well-known (to metafilter, at least) Bush supporter was right in the middle of the America-bashing, I thought it sounded too PC. Which is not to say that America bashing is wrong per se, and it's an international community here blah blah . . . but it sounded like going to far to me, also dreadfully naive. I was thinking, "Oh no, they'll think I'm Pat Buchanan Jr.," (even though I'd heard from a black super-lefty attorney that Pat B. is actually rather friendly to debaters, warm, etc., just a freak, and you could do worse, actually). So I spoke up, got a couple or three or four folks to agree got bashed from the right, then the thread seemed to improve, then varied wildly.

Oh well. But I lived.
posted by raysmj at 10:15 PM on May 9, 2001

Agreed, starvingartist. We're not here to babysit. But if we're here to discuss, why not educate and remove stereotypes at the same time? Maybe you're right. Some of tim's other comments don't seem to me to be too productive, either. I'm just saying I think there's a possibility that tim might have learned something and been more open to listening to other points of view had the thread not started out the way it did. And hell, has anyone been on an AOL chat or online game recently? They throw around stereotypes and epithets like nobody's business. Maybe tim's coming from an online community like that, where it's okay to comment that way. Or even worse, tim's coming from a real life community where a comment like "All homosexuals should be outlawed!" is okay.

What good does it do for the thread (and for anyone involved) to attack a poster? If (s)he is a troll, then attacking is just what the poster wanted. If they posted something out of ignorance or stereotypes, it just gets the replier more riled up, and puts the poster on the defensive. If they were being sarcastic, but were misinterpreted, it causes unnecessary hostility that could be cleared up with a simple, "Did you really mean that, gramcracker, or were you just kidding?" I understand the topic is emotional for many, but I think it's in MetaFilter's best interests as a community to be kind to others--especially new users--just as one would in the real world.

If he was the first to try to push you off balance, don't be the first to react. As my mother would always respond, "It takes two to tango."

I see comments like tim's to be an opportunity for education. If you can get someone to listen, or really think about your point, you might just set the ball rolling for them to change their opinion. And that is a beautiful thing(tm).

Interesting sidenote I just recalled, on Matt's topic: a phenomenon called group polarization. Groups tend to become more and more polarized over time, and I don't see why this shouldn't hold true in an online group. If a group is initially liberal on an issue, it will tend to become more liberal in its decisions and opinions over time. If it is initially conservative, it will tend to become more conservative over time.
posted by gramcracker at 10:44 PM on May 9, 2001

gram, the group polarization you mentioned is interesting, recently there was an article (industry standard? cnn?) talking about how online communities could lead to narrower mindsets because studies have shown people randomly surf the net until they find a like-minded group, then they tend to stay there, and over time are continually exposed to a single point of view.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:59 PM on May 9, 2001

It's interesting to see pretty much the same conversation going on over at filepile. Note the posts by c-man here and here.

I don't hang around people very often that have a problem with homosexuality, and things like the metafilter thread and the filepile threads are good in a way, to remind me the world still has a ways to go to understand and accept others.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:13 PM on May 9, 2001

I'm very interested to read this thread.

Quite frankly, I object to effectively being told "your opinion is wrong, you are closed minded". It's illogical.

If someone has an opinion to share, I don't believe they should be mobbed, as I was yesterday. I have already stated that I would have continued to argue my point, but telling someone that they better fucking back it up isn't the way to inspire discussion.

I apologise if I was rather harsh in the way I expressed my opinion.
posted by timbooker at 2:24 AM on May 10, 2001

I don't believe there should be limits to genuine opinions no matter the topic (and before the argument comes up, yes it's Matt's property, he can do as he wishes, but this is general discussion). Not tolerating homophobia - what does that mean? Removing posts and let the opinions remain? I trust that the flawed ideas of homophobia show themselves in any discussion (unless it's religious which is belief, not necessarily logic). I trust that talking about it is the way to change minds to my opinion (that homophobia is superficial, like racism). I trust that it's best to talk about someone's homophobia or racism - not to ignore it. With these reactions to homophobia it's no wonder homophobics keep their unpopular opinions silent.
posted by holloway at 3:06 AM on May 10, 2001

timbooker, I'm pretty sure the way you expressed your opinion wasn't the problem, harsh or otherwise, it was the fact that despite being asked repeatedly to back it up, you never did and instead repeated that you were entitled to your own opinion.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, yes, but if you're prepared to say it in public, you should also be prepared to defend it.

(especially on a forum for discussion! holloway)

Saying "it's your personal opinion. No one can disprove that, because it's opinion. Not fact which can be proved or disproved." doesn't cut it. We've had plenty of equally bloody discussions on the death penalty around here, and the participants have nearly always had the courtesy to expound on why they believe what they believe, and have provided links to clarify their positions when attacked on them, instead of clamming up on their position and crying foul.
posted by lia at 3:43 AM on May 10, 2001

I don't think we have addressed anapestic's point about hate speech.

Personally I think that to attack people because of their race or sexual orientation is beyond the pale.

Sorry if that doesn't sound very open minded.

posted by lagado at 5:26 AM on May 10, 2001

Genuinely sorry?
posted by holloway at 5:39 AM on May 10, 2001

btw, in case that wasn't clear, I'm not advocating censorship of Tim or others expressing these kinds of views. I'm just personally not interested in exploring this territory with them.
posted by lagado at 5:57 AM on May 10, 2001

Matt - over time this site has built up a strong sense of (for want of a better word) community. As with any community the members stick around because they like whats going on - in our case (mostly) intelligent discussion - and enjoy their participation. When a dissenter comes along and attacks the (unspoken but I feel, generally held) beliefs of the majority (not necessarily the subject matter, more the etiquette), the community closes ranks.
I think our young friend was lucky that he was asked to explain his comments first, most places on the web are shoot first, ask questions later. Metafilter is more 'adult' in the approach taken toward such people and in general it pays dividends. I think most people just got mad with timbooker as he made no attempt to justify his position or to form any sort of rational argument ('it says so in the Old Testament' is not an argument on MeFi, neither is 'because it was always that way'). He was (and still is by the look of it) unaware of or unwilling to toe the line and provide intelligent and reasoned arguments for his point of view, so he got slapped down by one or two people. It happens on and offline, it's human nature I think.
posted by Markb at 6:39 AM on May 10, 2001

Matt, or anyone else:

My website has been receiving multiple referrals from the URL of this discussion thread, http://metatalk.metafilter.com/metadetail.mefi/551, but there's no link from this page to my site. What's going on? I don't get it.

posted by Tin Man at 6:39 AM on May 10, 2001

No link? Sure there is.
posted by xiffix at 6:45 AM on May 10, 2001

Well said, lia. (Tin Man, I linked to it in this comment.)

I think open-minded, at least for me, is hearing a viewpoint different from mine, and thinking about it. Really considering it. As stated before, "I wonder why they think that way. Are there facts I'm missing? Do I not understand this issue and how it affects all types of people, besides people like me?"

I had a great experience on an Alternative Spring Break trip last year to Jefferson City, TN. I was eating a dinner prepared for our group by a local church, and several church members came by to meet us and talk. One man introduced himself, sat down, and said, "Y'all are from the North, right? What do you think about gun control?" I was surprised by his bluntess, but I thought about it, and told him my point of view. He explained to me his, and how gun laws affect him. No need to get into the details, but it really made me think about how gun control is viewed by a population of people I had never considered before.

I think emotions count for something. If someone says, "I just feel this way because I do," it's not valid to completely void their argument; there is a reason for almost every attitude. Why do I do XYZ? Maybe my parents raised me to do X. Maybe my friends do Y. Or I have a past experience with Z. So, just because someone feels a certain way "just because" isn't necessarily true. It just means they don't know where the feeling is coming from.

To keep adding in my social psych knowledge: attitudes can be emotionally-based (how you feel/values about a topic), cognitively-based (what you think about the topic) or behaviorally-based (how you react to the topic). The best way to change someone's attitude on the topic: fight fire with fire. So, if I think a certain way about the death penalty, the best way to convince me is to present me with facts, or different ways to think about it, not to persuade me by saying, "But you're killing a person!" (a value/affect argument). This is a central idea to persuasion in advertising. And Markb, you're perfectly describing group conformity and how groups deal with minority opinions. :>
posted by gramcracker at 6:48 AM on May 10, 2001

Whoops. My bad... :-)
posted by Tin Man at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2001

"If someone has an opinion to share, I don't believe they should be mobbed"

When the opinion is as inflammatory as yours was, I fail to see how mobbing would come as a surprise.

"telling someone that they better fucking back it up isn't the way to inspire discussion."

Neither is "Homosexuality should be outlawed."

Look, if we just come in and toss down an opinion then this isn't a discussion, it's a poll. I can certainly understand why you feel defensive. I would too. But I frequently refrain from posting my opinion when I know it will just drag me into a discussion I don't want to have.

This thread is a good example. I think that it's silly to just assume that since the universe is so big, that *obviously* life exists somewhere else. But that's not something I can really defend, and I probably don't want to put up with people calling me an idiot on this topic. So I don't jump in.

On other topics I feel passionately and I'm willing to stand up and defend my opinion in a spirited and logical manner.

Lobbing inflammatory one liners and then watching the chaos is the AOL chatroom way. We do things differently here. We like discussion, not just the sound of our own voice.

Tim - I'm glad you're here and I hope you contribute. The trend to group polarization scares me. I'd be happy to see you stir things up a bit. But *engage* us. Don't just inflame us.

posted by y6y6y6 at 7:37 AM on May 10, 2001

I don't know if I can address the topic specifically, because I think I'm a little too involved. I know I focused on Tim because I felt he was dodging the questions people were asking of him, and I'm sorry if I was out of line.

I want to point out that online discussions aren't just a waste of bits, because people walk in with their opinions and walk out with the same opinion, regardless of what happened.

I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but I've been taking part in online discussions, via the Internet or BBSes, since somewhere around 1992. Basically, through all of my adolescence I've been able to get a wide variety of viewpoints and been able to judge each of those viewpoints on the merits of the people forwarding them, and agree or disagree with them based on the facts presented in online discussion.

As a concrete MetaFilter example, my opinion on the death penalty has changed due in large part to the wide variety of reasons people have shared in favour of or opposed to it.

MetaFilter can be a pretty angry place at times, and I still remember what it was like trying to join in the conversation. It's hard, and I don't doubt that we've chased off a number of people because we come down on them so harshly.

But by the same token, we've opened our arms to an even larger number of people since I've joined, many of whom with view points quite different from mine, but all of whom who have based their opinions on a logic that they've shared with us, and let us see.

Some of my favorite people here are people with whom I've had arguments, friendly or otherwise, with. It's much easier to like someone when you understand where they're coming from.
posted by cCranium at 7:56 AM on May 10, 2001

What cCranium said.

I remember a thread about hand gun ownership. I called people names. People called me names. It got very hot.

But at the end of the day I changed my mind on the issue.

I still remember the "wait a minute, he's right" moment. That's one of the things I like best about Metafilter. Sharing, learning, growing.

posted by y6y6y6 at 9:17 AM on May 10, 2001

All I can say is a lot of us could stand to re-read this book. I actually re-read it this week, coincidentally.
posted by kindall at 11:02 AM on May 10, 2001

Since my e-mail exchange was mentioned in this thread, I thought I'd comment...

I think the easiest way to have an exchange of ideas is one-on-one. There's a difference between, on the one hand, that guy sending me an e-mail and my responding to him, and on the other hand, Tim writing his original message and being jumped on by lots of people.

By making his comment public in the way he did, Tim raised the stakes and put his reputation on the line, making it a lot harder for him to back down when he was challenged. Had he been having this conversation one on one, perhaps there would have been less pride involved, and he might have been more willing to admit certain possibilities into his mind. (Not knowing anything about Tim as a person, I could be totally wrong.)

I also think that a one-on-one exchange is more effective for another reason. Notice how, in the original thread, Tim mentioned being criticized by a bunch of "angry homosexuals"? If he had been having an exchange with just one person, perhaps he might have seen that person as an individual, with all the nuances that an individual has. You can get a much clearer view of one person than you can of a group.

Case in point -- that guy who e-mailed me. Not knowing anything about him, I assumed off the bat that he was a religious fundamentalist. But I was completely wrong.

If you can concentrate your energies on one particular person, at least for a little while, and be calm and polite, and maybe get him to see your side of things, then you've done some good. Change happens one person at a time, you know?

People can't think clearly when they feel like they're under attack.

It's all about calm communication.
posted by Tin Man at 1:48 PM on May 11, 2001

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