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April 09, 2006

Everybody Welcome

Given how testy I've been in a recent comment thread, I thought I'd mention this in an entry of its own:

Everyone is welcome here, even the people who think I'm full of crap.

One of the things I have been deeply happy about here at the Whatever is that the "crowd" here -- the people who comment and participate in discussion -- includes people with all sorts of points of view, political, social, economic and so on. Having all these points of view here makes me feel good because it means I've created a place where all sorts of people feel comfortable visiting. I really love that.

Often times these folks have points of view wildly different from mine, and often times when I write something they'll be happy to tell me in the comment threads that I'm full of crap. My thought on this: Good. I don't like being told I am full of crap, but you know what? It doesn't matter if I like it. Sometimes I am full of crap (please note the disclaimer, point #2), and therefore someone pointing that fact out is not outside the bounds. If you've got facts and figures to go along with the assertion, so much the better.

If you suggest that I am full of crap, I will most likely get annoyed; that will probably be evident in my response. But! My being annoyed does not mean you have either shut up or leave. If I think you've overstepped some bound (as noted in my comment thread rules), I'll either reel you in with a follow-up comment, or (if you're truly obnoxious enough) I'll delete the message. I have yet to delete a message from a person who was genuinely participating in a discussion (I've deleted some flyby dickishness, but even that is rare), so make of that what you will. Short of me saying something to you in a very explicit fashion (i.e., "Dude, you've gone beyond the bounds, and here's why, and if you don't stop I'll delete you") you are golden and may continue to poke and prod.

I prefer you treat other commenters with respect and confront their ideas and not them. However, you need not be terribly gentle with me. I mean, I prefer you attack my ideas and not me, too. However, I know myself well enough to know that personal attacks don't bother me in a long-term fashion. By the same token, be aware I am not always gentle when I think something you've said is full of crap, and from time to time I might go over a personal bound with you. If you think I've gone too far into the personal realm when we're going around, let me know in a comment or e-mail. I'll recalibrate.

No, seriously. I do try to be sensitive to people's comfort zones; some people can take more of this sort of thing than others. Because I can take a lot of crap and because I've spent over a decade talking various sorts of crap on the 'net, by default I assume other people can take a similar amounts of crap and brush it off. If I am wrong in your case I want to know, as soon as you feel uncomfortable. I want this place to be challenging and sometimes confrontational -- I don't want people to feel like they're being abused, particularly by me.

In a general sense, I do try to follow the Inverse Golden Rule in comment threads, which means I do onto others as they have done to me. I'm confrontational to people who are confrontational, mellow with people who are mellow, substantive with people who are substantive, nasty to people who are nasty. That's what I try for anyway. I am human. I don't always succeed. I do hope you'll forgive me if (when!) I go off the rails.

This next thing is important: When I start a new entry, I hit the reset button. Whatever arguments, confrontations or disputes are in an earlier comment thread get left there. You and I might argue in one thread and agree in another. Each comment thread is its own event. I treat them that way and I suggest you do too. Life is too short to carry grudges based on comment threads.

The reason I can hit the reset button with each new comment thread is simple: At the end of the day I believe people who come and comment here are good people whom I would be happy to know in real life. I assume that no matter how heated an argument can get in a comment thread, at any point in time we could stop and one of us would say "I'm getting this round." This is in part rooted in my real-life experience with friends; my best friend from high school and I, for example, can get into arguments that to an outside observer looks like we're about to stab each other to death, and then after we're done we'll go get something to eat at the nearest family restaurant. I assume that people who like each other can and do argue passionately and even politically incorrectly and still like each other when the argument is done.

If I'm arguing with you, it doesn't mean I don't like you, or wouldn't like you if we were to meet. Believe me, if I don't like you, you'll know, because I'll tell you. There's no point in being coy about it. Unless I tell you that, however, please do assume that as a human, I think you're all right. Because, really, aren't you? Exactly.

In sum: Whoever you are, I'm glad you're here. I hope you'll stick around. And I hope you'll feel free to tell me when you think I'm full of crap. It happens, you know. It's okay to point it out.

Posted by john at April 9, 2006 01:16 PM

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TexasPatrick | April 9, 2006 03:17 PM

Thanks John. This is a nice place. And one of the reasons I like coming around, and keep doing so is that while, yeah, sometimes I think you're full of crap (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), you're honest about where you're coming from, and why. Which makes honest arguments possible. That's all that anyone could ask. Oh, and in an aside, have your commenters ever changed your mind on a topic?

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 03:23 PM


"Oh, and in an aside, have your commenters ever changed your mind on a topic?"

On some deeply held belief? No, but I don't think that's the way it works anyway. You expose yourself to people with differing points of view who can well-express their position, and then you can come to understand where they come from. From there it's possible your own position may change based on new information. It very rarely happens in the space of one conversation, and if it does, it's probably not a belief you've deeply held, anyway.

I have have people convince me to, say, read a book or listen to a band I might have otherwise dismissed, based on the course of a conversation or comment thread. But that's not exactly the same.

JonathanMoeller | April 9, 2006 05:21 PM

If you're *that* full of crap, perhaps it's time to invest in a quality laxative. You'll feel a world of difference.

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 05:35 PM

No, no. It's quality crap, not quantity crap.

Smurf | April 9, 2006 08:17 PM

Is this regarding something I did?

Dave | April 9, 2006 09:10 PM

Part of the reason I stick around is that, in your own rough-hewn way, discussion here sticks to what I like to think of as Chicago rules. As long as a commentor don't commit one of the Aristotleian fallacies, or act like a total dickhead, his perceived merit is pretty much proportional to the level of interest he is able to conjure in his statements, irrespective of his position. I find it an extremely civilized and fun way to run a discussion, if not without it's pitfalls (e.g. just because a position is counterintuitive, doesn't mean it's not horribly wrong).

In short, feel free to bounce jerks. We trust you not to bounce mere heretics.

Brian Greenberg | April 10, 2006 01:56 AM

Thanks for this post, John. I think it's as important to point this out once in a while as your other disclaimer rules.

You're a good man, Charlie Brown. Next time you're in or around New York, I'm still happy to buy you that beer...

Jon Marcus | April 10, 2006 01:10 PM

Thanks and kudos for the post. I'm just sorry I missed the comment dustup on Saturday.

That said, does it have to be the nearest family restaurant? The IHOP 'round the corner is pretty icky...

Robert Rogers | April 12, 2006 10:16 AM

John. I do not think you are full of crap. You are way to young to be completely full of it . Maybe when you get to be my age you will be three quarters of the way, but intil then please feel free to listen to people like me who are way ahead of you in the full of crapness game.
PS: Good job on the nominations.
PSS: Katrina loves to see all the pics of her cousin on here.

Robert Rogers | April 12, 2006 10:19 AM

Sorry about this. I have one more comment. The part about stabbing each other to death is silly, everyone knows that real men fight it out with potato peelers.

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