When to be uncivilized

| Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This would normally go on my other blog due to being almost entirely unrelated to WoW, but it's in response to a couple fellow bloggers: Elnia and Chastity

Ideally we would all be polite. We would rely on intelligent discourse. We would have emotion without being emotional. In other words, we'd use emotion to generate values, but not to drive argument.

We don't live in this world. Instead we have all manner of trolls and demagogues and liars. Again, ideally we'd never sink to their level. But sometimes that is the only way to be effective.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a disturber of the peace, a disruptor of society, a man who spent so much of his time shaking apart society. In an ideal world he'd have never existed: been unnecessary. But he was needed. The disturbances he caused were needed to fix a major flaw in our society.

There are some times when civility must be suspended. There are times to argue, to fight, to kill, to destroy, to tear down all of society. Rarely do we see these times. They are the appropriate responses to tyranny and oppression, and just about nothing else.

Being uncivil has a cost. Presumably the cause you fight for would make the world a better place. But the process of the fight has some cost, some way that it makes the world a worse place. This may be a mere opportunity cost, of writing letters of protest to senators, taking time from other without causing any apparent harm. Then there's protesting, time-consuming and disruptive, but not truly harmful It runs all the way up to terrorism and war and assassination.

For all of these the person engaging in them must consider if the damage of the process is less than the benefit of the result. In real life terms this means that while I despise some politicians and regard them as harmful to America and the world, I do not kill them because the act causes more harm than the politicians would. It sets a standard of violence as a form of political voice when we still have available to us the ability to protest and vote. If there were to rise a more dangerous politician, an American Hitler (pardon the Godwin), then assassination would be worth the lost civility.

On the opposite end of the scale is World of Warcraft. While it is important to me, it remains a game, or more accurately, an alternative world, secondary to the real one. As such, any uncivilized activity should be taken carefully, since the benefit is so much smaller, so the potential costs are proportionally larger. In other words, there are times to be rude and profane and riot, but a 5% nerf is probably not one of them.

This does not mean that we should constantly run a calculus of civility in our minds for every action and opinion. But we should not forget that there is always a tradeoff. On the other hand, we must be careful to not use disturbance of the peace as justification for silencing opinions. All opinions will disrupt the peaceful tranquility of nothing being said at all.

As a rule of thumb, there's pretty much nothing you can say wrong if you say it politely and logically and start with reasonable assumptions. The civility cost is low enough to be nearly insignificant. In other words, don't censor yourself, just say it better.

[edit] To clarify, I did not mean to imply the Martin Luther King Jr. was rude. But he was not passive and he was not silent.


Stabs said...

Martin Luther King was never, afaik, impolite.

He was an effective activist because he was the voice of quiet reason, a much bigger noise than the Black Panthers.

I think the point about forum trolls is that they make what should be an enjoyable aspect of a game (discussion) horrible.

I've written carefully thought out pieces on the WoW forums and got tldr as the only reply or ad hominem responses or biased emotional arguments that don't attempt to engage the discussion.

It makes me not want to post there.

So the danger of unmoderated cess pits of mutual abuse is that they become self-selecting. Only trolls would want to inhabit them and anyone trying not to be a troll gets trolled by all the trolls.

I think this is what Ghostcrawler is trying to head off with his Troll Here! thread.

Hats off to GC he has my respect.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the posts I read seem to miss the actual focus of the problem.

It has never been about how Blizzard or GC or Adam H. doesn't want you to disagree with Bliz and would rather you shut up about it; it has always been about HOW you voice that disagreement. As Stabs pointed out, it's the difference between Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers.

G-Rebel said...

It's impossible to reason with the unreasonable. The perfect would would include everyone being civil, but we don't live in a perfect world, we live in a material world and I am a material girl...or boy, I can't remember which.

Assasination is the only solution. For the Alliance!

Klepsacovic said...

@Stabs: All I can say is that the forums reflect real life all too well.

@Anonymous: That's what I'm trying to address, to create a sort of cost-benefit analysis of the form of presentation vs. the benefit. There are times to be obnoxious and horrible. Those times will rarely come up in WoW.

@G-Rebel: If only we actually could kill our problems away. In a more perfect world we could. But in this world, killing as communication tends to cause terrible cycles of terribleness. See: African civil wars.

Stabs said...

"All I can say is that the forums reflect real life all too well."

Nonsense. I chat to people all the time. Professionally to library users, socially to friends, casually to neighbours and shop-keepers.

People are almost always friendly and polite.

Even if you argue with some stranger about whether God exists over a beer it's friendly.

In the WoW forums (or any other big gamer forum) people will slap you down as their first reaction. That's not real life, that's just nerd culture.

Klepsacovic said...

@Stabs: None of those are the environment that the forums simulate. It's nothing to do with nerd culture.

Try the US Congress for something more similar. A few hundred people all scrambling and whining and trolling. And they are very representative of their voters.

Surely you've seen town hall meetings or the ridiculous protesters at tea parties or the periodic strikes at French factories

Stabs said...

I don't actually know much about US Congress apart from some Gregory Peck film where he has to stay on his feet talking endlessly.

I did work for three years at the House of Commons here in London indexing the parliamentary debates. Most of what is actually said is politely listened to. Occasionally people will laugh or get noisy and then the Speaker tells them to settle down.

In forum terms it would look like wall of text after wall of text with the occasional "lol!" which is quickly squelched by a moderator.

Doing some research I found this:

"Mr. COBLE. Mr. Speaker, I previously
came to the well of the House
to voice my disappointment in the then
recently announced decision to prosecute
certain Gitmo detainees, Gitmo
terrorists, in New York City."


I fail to see how that is uncivilized or looks anything like the WoW forums.

I suspect what actually happens in your legislature is not quite like what you believe happens.

G-Rebel said...

Yeah, but what if we just nuke everybody in the world, then nobody would be uncivil anymore. Problem solved! :)

Stabs said...

Well it would promote plenty of civil defence (Boom Boom!)

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