Back on September 30, I wrote about Dr. David Watson’s attempts to police the tone of the conversation among United Methodists about a variety of issues. The past couple days have brought to my attention what I think is part of the problem. Some folks, no matter how well meaning and wishing the Internet was a space where people could engage thoughtfully and productively in discussions just have no idea how ugly and hateful it is out here. Hence my refusal to allow comments. Trolls – and worse – are out there. The best way not to feed them is not allow them access.
A new post at United Methodist Insight pulls the usual stunt of criticizing the way some people argue.
A recent flurry of blog posts and “sharing” among United Methodists reveals some of the problems we need to avoid if we’re going to make any progress toward resolution of our denominational struggles. One blogger , for example, openly charged that others suggesting that General Conference 2016 be closed to all except delegates and other essential parties are all white straight males trying to protect their privilege. A briar patch of problems we find here. Statements have implications and when we begin to look at them, we see the problems.
The “one blogger” is a reference to Rev. Jeremy Smith, who made the observation that the majority of those supporting the idea of closing the floor of General Conference in 2016 are straight white males acting to protect their privilege and power. Rev. Steve Rankin goes to a whole lot of trouble to make the point that Smith’s “argument” is flawed. I always find posts like this fascinating because Smith’s position isn’t argumentative; it’s descriptive. Furthermore, he isn’t making a categorical statement, viz., all straight white males want to protect their privilege and power and therefore support the closing of the floor of GC2016. Which causes confusion for Rev. Dr. David Watson, who wonder how a straight white male like Smith could make such a statement, without realizing he, Watson, has fallen in to the simple trap of mistaking a factual observation for an argumentative position. Rankin continues the tone and argument policing, insisting that we need to argue better, and Smith’s statement is just bad-bad-bad.
As it happens, today I ran across a post at Lawyers, Guns, and Money that links to a post at freethoughtblogs.com. Before continuing, I just want to warn readers that what follows includes hateful, vulgar language, so reader discretion is advised. It seems there was an online project about misogynistic language used on Twitter and in comment feeds on posts on feminist issues. A couple people whose comments and Tweets were included in this list took offense at being so included, and took to Twitter to express their outrage in thoughtful, proper arguments:
Blocked by @GretaChristina So that’s how it works, you take my comments out of context (The Glue God) then turn your back like a coward? LOL
To which another Twitter user responds in support:
@SteveOortcloud @GretaChristina It’s not much of a lost. She is a filthy looking beast! I would welcome the block from that c**t!
The relevance of all this is simple enough: Neither Watson nor Rankin have any idea, really, how ugly and hateful Internet conversations can be. Attempting to police the way we United Methodists conduct our arguments runs up against the simple reality that, in fact, Smith’s blog post about straight white males was fair, accurate, and made a point about people not aware of their own privilege and power, and how they are perceived as protecting it through their demand that the floor of GC2016 be closed. To get huffy about Smith’s post, then write about it, actually proves his point in a way I am quite sure neither Watson nor Rankin understand. Furthermore, rather than insist on some kind of decorum and proper argumentative procedure (Rankin’s article is subtitled “Why Method Matters”, as if we were all in some kind of graduate seminar), perhaps it would be of use to get out more on the Internet. See how so-called “Men’s Right’s Advocates” (MRAs) and “Pick Up Artists” (PUAs) respond to women who point out their hateful misogyny. This doesn’t even come close to comments when race is involved.
From my perspective, the discussion at United Methodist Insight and elsewhere has been heated but civil, bringing up salient points without any real rebuttal, and focused on the issues at hand rather than the personalities of the persons involved. Indeed, as a lesson in argument on the Internet, the discussions among United Methodists is a model of Internet civility and proper “method” for arguing in a vast forum filled with hate and violence.
So Dr. Watson and Rev. Rankin, take a gander at the rest of the Internet. You should be applauding your opponents for their civility, integrity, and argumentative style, not clicking your tongues at them for doing nothing more but being forceful without either insulting or belittling. It could be oh so much worse.
United Methodist layman Geoffrey Kruse-Safford lives in Rockford, Ill. He blogs at No I Has Heard.