Sometimes a scream….

….is better than a thesis. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882

A number of people directed me towards the New York Times article headlined A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs, which talks about bringing civility to the web and discusses The Blogger’s Code of Conduct, an initiative called for by Tim O’Reilly.

Read it for yourself, it is important to do that. [Too often, far too often, I’ve met people who critique something without ever having seen the something in question. This happens particularly in a systems context, but the trend seems to gloop into other spaces as well].

In itself there is nothing I can object to in the Code of Conduct. Nothing I want to object to, it looks like nothing more than a sensible exposition of YOYOW. For those who hadn’t read it before, I quote (from Wikipedia) Katie Hafner stating what Stewart Brand said about YOYOW:

I was doing the usual thing of considering what could go wrong… One of the things that could go wrong would be people blaming us for things that people said on The Well. And the way I figured you get around that was to put the responsibility on the individual. It meant that you’re responsible for your own words, and if you libel somebody they sue you, not us. And what that turned into was copyright insanity, where people thought that their precious words should not be copied in other contexts.”

Brand wanted people to be careful even then; I’d love to know what he thinks of the current kerfuffle.

For me things are simple. I am all for doing away with anonymity in the main. If people want to protect anonymity in specific contexts, that is fine as well. But I will say what I want to say onymously, and encourage others in the conversation to do likewise.

What I am far less comfortable about is the implied attempt to moderate tone.

Attempts to moderate tone via the Trojan Horse of civility are dangerous. Everyone who challenges the ideas of his day can easily be painted as not being civil. Every such challenge can be made to sound bullying and manipulative, from Martin Luther’s Here I stand, I can do no other to Patrick Henry‘s Give me Liberty or Give me Death. In fact why stop there, go back as far as the Bible. In the context of those times, Jesus Christ is meant to have used some choice words in describing the Pharisees. I wonder what today’s equivalent of “whited sepulchre” is, in the context of civility.

When you take the lyrics of John Lennon, or for that matter even some of the early Bob Dylan, civility is not the word that comes to mind. They’re passionate to the point of being irascible. When you look at Hugh Macleod‘s gapingvoid, not everything he says or draws is civil. I know Hugh and he is a very civil man. I have many T-shirts with his drawings on them. Some I would wear anywhere. Some I would not wear in front of children. Some I would not wear at all.
But the choice is mine, what I do is not because of an explicit code of conduct. I do it because. Just because. Not because of some law or the other.

Do we really want the Blogosphere to be Bowdlerised?

Personally, I believe in building people up, not cutting them down. It is something I have taken time to learn, the power that words have, the damage that badly chosen words can do. Damage to those you love, your family and your friends. So I am not embracing being uncivil per se.

God is in the Details. So is the Devil. Civility is good, it is something I believe in. What I am less happy with is any attempt to legislate for civility, either formally or informally. Why? Because civility is a big word, and can mean different things to different people at different times and in different places.

So let’s go for being onymous where and when we can. Let’s go for owning our own words.

6 thoughts on “Sometimes a scream….”

  1. It’s nice for me to be reminded that, every now and then, I am in fierce agreement with JP! I definitely agree that everyone should read O’Reilly’s draft and the NEW YORK TIMES article about it. After that I get self-aggrandizing and point to my own efforts in text analysis to express opposition to O’Reilly’s whole approach:

    http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/2007/04/on-blogger-code-of-conduct.html

    Mind you, this still has the seeds of where I depart from JP’s position. I still believe that we should look for guidance from governance; and he is still big on Identity (big enough to rate a capital letter). However, both of us seem to care more about the integrity of the social world than O’Reilly does; and that may be the biggest fly in the ointment of any code-of-conduct solution.

  2. Nicely put, Stephen. It is through the things we agree on that we can find the strength to disagree constructively. At least that’s how I learn, I look for things that I can agree on, and then build from there.

Let me know what you think