The comment section at Pharyngula is becoming a bit too wild west lately. I am all for vigorous, unhindered language and the expression of strong opinions, and I think dumb ideas need to be dealt with harshly, but we also need to allow opportunities for those ideas to be fully expressed. Too often, the conversations are beginning to go like this:
Stranger: I think…
Old hand: [Pulls out six-gun, shoots stranger down]I do believe I didn’t like your accent, stranger, and you were a bit cross-eyed.
I’m not at all keen on this. It makes the comments a very hostile place to new people (I like seeing new people here, don’t you?) and if it keeps up all we’re going to have left are the twitchiest, most psychopathic contributors. To encourage a little more restraint, I’m going to ask everyone to voluntarily impose a 3 comment rule on themselves. What that means is that if someone comes along and says something, no matter how outrageous, engage them in polite conversation first, give them a chance to clarify and expand on the idea, and then if it’s still utterly insane, you can cut loose.
I am quite fond of most of the commentariat here, even when they’re turning their teeth on me — it is exactly what I want, a fierce legion of harsh, sarcastic, opinionated, ferocious critics who can unreservedly shred fools and assholes and who are unrestrained in their expression. I’m not going to back away from my comments section at all; you are the people I want here, and I affectionately regard you all as my local meatgrinder.
Please don’t change. And when necessary, unleash hell.
Let’s be clear — there’s nothing hypocritical about simply changing one’s mind, if that’s all this were. It’s just funny to see another reminder that wisdom and morality are not the results of linear progression, whether on the macro- or micro-level. Individuals and cultures both have to keep relearning the same lessons over and over again. He’s aged six years, but somehow managed along the way to forget what was previously clear to him. No doubt he’s convinced himself that the uniquely monstrous nature of his enemies and the absolute urgency of his moral mission justify his volte-face. And no doubt he’s confident that the power of his “rationality” will allow him to surefootedly navigate the well-trod path where other ideologues have fallen. His comment section combines the worst elements of both in-group cliquish posturing and “read the fucking manual” hostility, but his newfound missionary zeal means that he now sees the “twitchiest, most psychopathic contributors” as crucially important shock troops.
I repeat what I said just a few weeks ago about basic principles taught to anyone who ever took a Philosophy 101 course: Never allow your ego to land you in a position to be hostile to correction or questioning. The easiest way for that to happen is when you allow your self-image to get intertwined with your ideological stances — “I’m right about everything of importance, and I sure do look cool being that way.” When you turn differences of opinion into zero-sum battles of the utmost moral significance, you make it impossible for anyone to back down gracefully. And when you inevitably put a foot wrong, the panic of perceiving your entire identity under attack makes you look even more foolish when you employ fallacy after fallacy to defend yourself at any cost. No intellectually honest person should ever want to encourage such group dynamics.