Daily Kosplay (or Conversational Parameters)
On March 15th, Daily Kos’s shock troops will be storming in, taking down your Bernie Sanders signs, and ripping them up into little bitty shreds!
- Constructive criticism from the Left is allowed. There’s a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Do I need to spell it out? It’s the difference between “We need to put pressure on her to do the right thing on TPP” versus “she’s a sell-out corporatist whore oligarch.” In general, if you’re resorting to cheap sloganeering like “oligarch” or “warmonger” or “neocon”, you might want to reframe your argument in a more substantive, issue-focused and constructive matter. Again, I’m not interested in furthering the Right’s hate-fueled media machine. If that’s what you want, might I suggest Free Republic?
- Saying you won’t vote, or will vote for Trump, or will vote for Jill Stein (or another Third Party) is not allowed. If that’s how you feel, but have other places in which you can be constructive on the site, then keep your presidential feelings to yourself. Those of us who care about our country and it’s future are focused on victory. If you aren’t, then it’s a big internet, I suggest you find more hospitable grounds for your huffing, puffing, and stomping of feet.
- If you are going to be pessimistic, you better support it. There’s a difference between “Clinton can’t beat Trump” and “Clinton can’t beat Trump in Alabama”. There is also a difference between the blanket “Clinton can’t beat Trump” and “Looking at the polling, I’m worried that Clinton is falling behind Trump because X, Y, and Z”. Obviously, that also applies to races and issues down the ballot, not just the presidential. If you are going to be a Debbie-Downer, you better have a damn good reason to justify your pessimism. Rank, unsupported pessimism is anathema to our data-driven, reality based culture.
In our recent threads about Twitter, we often discussed general views on the balance between inclusion of viewpoints and inclusion of people. It’s a tension that we have struggled with here at Ordinary Times in the past, and one I see in a lot of places and a lot of contexts.
Among the conclusions I drew a long time ago is that it’s a hard issue to discuss in the abstract because so much depends on the context of the site and the site’s mission. If the mission is to provide for discussion, then obviously you want and need people to be able to speak their minds. However, a fruitful discussion forum will almost always involve parameters. Here at Ordinary Times, we specifically want to be able to take pride in welcoming a lot of diverse viewpoints. We may not succeed at this, but that’s at least the goal. However, we also want to provide a comfortable environment for all kinds of people. This leads to a very natural tension because one person’s viewpoint is another person’s reason not to show up.
That framing makes the second person sound closed-minded, or cowardly, but there is no real reason for that to be the case. We all have a rather limited amount of time and who wants to spend it voluntarily in an unpleasant environment? You can take this too far and demand a virtual echo chamber, but the alternative is going to be unpalatable to anyone who is neither a troll nor a masochist. The operators and the community may be perfectly fine with this, or they may wonder how they can go about keeping this from happening. Or, what often seems to be the case, they can be not fine with this and have no clue how to go about preventing it.
A site like Daily Kos, though, is pretty much laying down the law of the parameters of their discussion. Which is not only their right as a private enterprise, but also an extremely defensible position. They define their goal as trying to elect a Democratic majority and to set the sails of the country to the left. They further define the former goal as the means by which they hope to achieve the latter. That may be tactically right, or tactically wrong, but they are in a better position to make that decision than anyone.
Virtually any worthwhile conversation is bound to require a degree of consensus. To talk about how to achieve a goal, we must agree on a goal. Otherwise, you’re discussing competing goals rather than how to achieve them. The latter conversation cannot exist without either formal or informal conversational parameters. Otherwise, the person who disagrees the most and the loudest can derail just about any conversation.
Imagine a group of people who want to discuss some aspect of the Bible. If they both accept the Bible as the Word of God, then there is quite a bit to talk about! However, if one of the participants wants to say “But there is no God!” then that conversation simply cannot occur unless the participant holds his or her tongue. There is nothing wrong with the guy who wants to argue that God doesn’t exist. He’s just sitting at the wrong table. And if he won’t leave, a rule will have to be established or the person will have to be informally chased off with antagonism.
And, of course, antagonism itself must be contained. Because if antagonism defines the parameters of the discussion, that’s worse than management doing so; at least management is setting the course deliberately. That’s where Twitter’s actions can be (though not necessarily are) justified. If the nature of the discussion is being skewed through coordinated or uncoordinated harassment, that’s no less a change of the conversational parameters than official Twitter policy. There is some mistrust of whether Twitter enforcement is occurring evenly or as yet another way of enforcing conversational parameters, but there are parameters any which way.
Places like Daily Kos or Redstate have it a bit easy because there is no pretense of aspiring to a free exchange of ideas. Which is perfectly fair and reasonable. And, in a way, a bit depressing.