Thursday, July 27, 2006

How NOT to Run a Blog

Out of concern for the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Lebanon, I turned to Google this morning to consult informed opinions on whether the Hezbollah are "freedom fighters" or "terrorists." I found a lively discussion of this issue on a blog called The Language Guy. The moderator of the blog and most of those who left comments felt that the Hezbollah are terrorists, but one dissenting voice, Hugh, felt that they are freedom fighters. I am still undecided on this volatile issue, but I do have strong feelings about how to best foster honest debate in the blogosphere. I will let the primary sources speak for themselves.

Here is The Language Guy's decision on how to handle Hugh, the lone dissenter:

Hugh's comments on this blog will be deleted from now on. I refuse to take abuse from a teenager on my on blog. Criticism is fine. Hugh acts like a teenager and will be treated like one.

Here is my reply to The Language Guy on his blog:
Dear Language Guy,

I greatly respect your academic training as a linguist and your desire to apply your expertise for humanistic purposes; however, your impeccable credentials as a linguist do not make you infallible in the political arena. If you are going to run a public forum, you had better expect people to disagree with you and to criticize you on occasion, as I must now regrettably do. I'm not going to flame you, but I'm not going to pull any punches, either. I assume that you know how to graciously accept constructive criticism from a concerned colleague.

I have read every comment in reply to your original post, and I find nothing "abusive" in anything Hugh has written. To characterize simple disagreement as "abuse" makes you seem too thin-skinned to participate in public political discourse. Resorting to wholesale censorship by banning Hugh's dissenting voice from your blog was a bad decision, and I strongly urge you to reconsider it. Do you want real discussion on this blog or do you just want everyone to agree with you all the time? Is this a public forum or a vanity press? These are certainly pointed questions, but if you can answer them honestly, you will have a truly great blog.

You have criticized Hugh for allegedly committing the logical fallacy of appealing to authority in citing Chomsky, but you have made an unwarranted assumption. We academics cite the works of others all the time (in formal papers by including a literature survey with a supporting bibliography), and nobody confuses this with fallacious reasoning. As you well know, it would be wrong for Hugh to pass off Chomsky's arguments as his own; Hugh did the right thing by acknowledging his source. Hugh certainly has every right to cite the works of others if he feels those works have something relevant and meritorious to contribute.

Hugh never said that Chomsky was an unimpeachable authority—that was your assumption about his intention! One could argue that you have committed the straw man fallacy by attacking an argument that Hugh never actually made. One could also argue that you have committed the ad hominem fallacy by categorically dismissing every statement attributed to Chomsky merely because Chomsky said it. Just because Chomsky said it doesn't mean it is without merit. If you have disagreed with Chomsky in the past, it does not automatically invalidate his current arguments. On these singular points, I find your reasoning to be specious, but I am quick to add that these mistakes do not mean you are incapable of formulating a cogent argument.

You clearly have a lot of worthwhile things to say, but when you are dismissive and censor those who disagree with you, you risk losing both your audience and your credibility. If you want me, and others like me, to continue reading your blog, I respectfully suggest that you stop telling others how they may or may not make their case and simply let the discussion unfold in a natural way.

Wishing you success,

Dr. Taoist

The Way of Peace
No doubt, it is much more easily said than done, but I sincerely hope to uphold the same high standards on my blog which I have recommended to The Language Guy for his blog. Let me now remind both myself and my readers of the guidelines I set down for this blog in my inaugural post:
I welcome civilized discourse from all interested parties, including those who offer points of view which differ from my own. "Civilized discourse" means that no matter how passionately you feel about your point of view, you will not use profanity, resort to abusive language, or engage in personal attacks. Such behavior will not be tolerated here. Your comments must show sincere respect towards the other participants of this blog.
On a personal note, I will soon be moving back to the United States after eleven wonderful years living, studying, and working in Canada. Although my blog has been almost completely dormant during the past year—a time of significant transition for me—I expect to revive my blog after returning to my home country. I invite you to stay tuned for more news, commentary, analysis, and opinions—yours as well as my own!


Blogger Language Guy said...

Here is what Hugh said in the offensive post. I highlight the offensive parts.

LG you are a disgrace. What is wrong with quoting people? I make it clear when I do so, and who said Chomsky was "unimpeachable"?

So how about this for your ridiculous logic, I won't quote anybody, instead I will say what they say and pretend these are my own words?

You are an ass LG, and rather than address the issues that I attempt to draw peoples attention to, you let your ego get involved and start grumbling about whom I quote.

Things like this are unwelcome. The practice of quoting others is very limited in quality academic work. Usually one does one's own thinking and "cites" those who have provided supporting evidence. Quoting would be used only when something has been said in a particularly interesting way. In any event, my blog is not academic and I can set the rules the way I want to. I see quoting Chomsky or anyone else in support of this or that view of the Middle East as being asa unwelcome as quoting the Bible in a debate about the existence of God. I am interested in what commenters think, not in what Chomsky thinks.

July 28, 2006 6:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Taoist

I very much appreciated your supportive posting, I am pleased to learn that I am not the only participant in LG's blog that feels he treats me prejudicially simply because I strongly disagree with his position and claims.

I have responed to LG partly to clarify his comments about the censored post that he found so insulting and that you were unaware of, I trust the inclusion of a copy here will not be conisdered inappropriate.


======== COPY OF RESPONSE To LG ======
Well for what its worth I'd like to say I agree with you; I regret stooping to the level of "ass" a mode of expression that although brought on by complete frustration is nevertheless a personal slur.

It's a little like the very first response you made to my first post on this topic that began "Hugh, you are either incompetent at engaging in rational discourse or unwilling to discipline yourself to do" I could have chosen to label this as "personal" (ie I am described as being either 'incompetent' or 'unwilling to aply self discipline') but I really dont care for such petty stuff

The evidence is here for all to read themselves anyway, LG reacts rather badly to being openly and bluntly disagreed with and I suspect that this may well be a "vanity press" after all, or else you may deliberately hurl criticisms of my whole 'attitude' in order to avoid the issues I raise, namely is Israel in violation of international law or not, this appears to be a question that you resent.

Incidentally the reference I made to 'ridiculous logic' should be obvious; by telling me I am not permitted to quote others I could just as easily embed these words and silently imply they were mine, you would have no way of knowing and so the rule itself acheives nothing and is therefore illogical.


PS: I'm copying this to Dr Taoist's blog just in case you enforce your censorship option.

July 28, 2006 6:38 PM  

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