Thursday, July 09, 2009

Anonymous debating.

The past few days I have been thinking that I should really cut down on blog-reading. Having seen a few discussions that weren't going anywhere, or threads in which people took the opportunity to write something about others without addressing what they wrote, I am agreeing with Dr. Fleming more and more that perhaps there isn't any point to writing on the Internet or participating in discussions there.

If we look at the scholastics, the disputations were ideally impersonal, and yet this took place within a community so one nonetheless had to live with the consequences of what one might say. (Fortunately, given the form of the disputation, it was relatively easy to keep anything irrelevant out.) This is true even when the structure of the debate is less rigorous with respect to logic and less formal or more personal. You can't debate with someone in real life and not face the consequences if you go over the line.

But it is easy to avoid the consequences of being nasty when you're online, adopting a pseudonym and communicating with people you don't really know. Blogs and forums (like all forms of written communication) are a rather inefficient way of trying to understand what the other person is saying--who has the time or patience to draw some online discussion out for days, for the sake of clarity?

While some may wish to make themselves available to all inquirers, even if they are somewhat hostile, this may not be the case for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day. I think there is something to be said for learning being an activity that must be done in some sort of community, in which a relationship is established between student and teacher. Confucians (and those following Alasdair MacIntyre as well?) would agree with this. If you do not follow the rules of the community with respect to personal decorum, then you are expelled. Some semblance of this happens online, when users are banned, accounts shut down, or IPs are blocked. But I don't think this is sufficient to inculcate a sense of personal responsibility for what one says. The consequences are too light.

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