I was reading something over at Pharyngula today where PZ Myers was alerting his commentors to brace for an influx of creationist debaters following a particular story getting picked up by both Digg and Reddit, and he reminded them of his 3-comment rule for dealing with newbie debating opponents.
Don’t attack without mercy until they’ve made stupid claims in at least 3 separate comments.
PZ recommended this to his readers when he found that the regulars in the comments threads were getting a bit too zealous for his taste, and the discussions were descending into vitriol spitting contests without enough leavening of actual interesting discussion.
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 certainly seeing rather a lot of this around on some of the blogs with loyal regulars laterly: there’s a circling of the wagons going on against the newbies, whether they’re genuine antagonists or just people who aren’t au fait with the zeitgeist. As PZ says,
if it keeps up all we’re going to have left are the twitchiest, most psychopathic contributors.
So what do you think? Would regular feminist commentors voluntarily imposing on themselves a 3-comment rule before handing the newbie his scalp perhaps improve the tone in a few places?
I rather like PZ’s vision for how the conversation would progress in this envisaged new order:
Stranger:1I think all women are chattel.
Old hand: Pardon me, friend, but are you using humor, irony, sarcasm, or satire? Are you perhaps about to expand on a deeper philosophical point?
Stranger: 2No, I just think women are meant to serve my needs.
Old hand: This sounds like a most unfortunate and disagreeable belief. Why should you hold such a demeaning attitude?
Stranger: 3Because the Bible, which is the literal word of God, tells me so.
Old hand: [Smashes whiskey bottle over stranger's head. General brawl commences.]
See? Isn’t that much better? You can still have your fun in the general melee, but let’s just slow the onset down a little, hold fire for a few minutes, and see if we can get a few words through the macho murk first.
I reckon bring it on. Make it absolutely clear to all concerned that they have no-one to blame but themselves.