The internet has made defensive writers of us all
January 7, 2016 4:18 PM   Subscribe

“I realize I’ve begun writing defensively on the web, putting in hedges and clarifications that really aren’t necessary for a charitable reader. I’ve also taken to toning down any rhetorical flourishes that could be interpreted uncharitably in a way that annoys some people. The result: boring writing stripped of a lot of my own personal style.” Paul Chiusano discusses how online feedback has affected our writing styles.
posted by Rangi (114 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love this! I also think it's no coincidence that Ciara's "Work" is also playing at the same time as I read this FPP, since I've been thinking about how frustrated and suffocated my own voice has been, even in MeFi, and how much WORK I have to do 'hedge' my comments and writing all the time. Like, what kind of ghostly anonymous commentors am I trying to please and anticipate? I don't even find myself even generating ideas anymore and being playful with them, or knowing how to pose them in an online form without people attacking me and thinking I'm a total bigot. And even then, I find myself writing comments on MeFi and sometimes the only response I get is a favorite, and not even really comment replies sometimes. I sometimes have a half-baked idea or question, but am not sure how to share it without worrying about it being misinterpreted or yelled at, and I get tired even thinking about how to form it, instead of letting it turn into something interesting. It's sort of all very frustrating.

I don't even know how to write stuff for the internet, without worrying that I'm probably gonna get targeted and doxxed for being a queer woman of color. Y'all, I don't even have my actual name on my MeFi profile because I'm /that/ paranoid. I don't really like this new normal of internet culture that is shaping our online and offline reactions towards eachother and cultural dispersion.
posted by yueliang at 4:24 PM on January 7, 2016 [48 favorites]


It also reminds me of how I reconnected with an older online friend of mine, who wrote a comic that went viral, and she eventually left tumblr because people were hounding on her for a potential misinterpretation she did in one aspect, and people were not fans of having an an actual conversation about what was going on, just pointing a lot of fingers. She got sad and distressed that it happened when she just thought it was a cool way to condense some of her ideas and observations and was open to trying to figure out what to do and actually even fixed some of her comics, but it grew so stressful and she eventually abandoned her blog all together. I am not even sure if she will continue sharing her art in that particular medium anymore, due to that experience. Do we need to bring back guides for how to have charitable conversations now, in the age of the internet?
posted by yueliang at 4:27 PM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2016 [83 favorites]


Everyone wants to point a finger but nobody wants a finger pointed in their direction.
posted by y2karl at 4:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


My advice to myself is always "Stay fucking classy".
posted by Chitownfats at 4:36 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Add in all the paranoia around the millions of eyes and ears, and we're sitting inside of 1984
posted by infini at 4:38 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


she eventually left tumblr because people were hounding on her for a potential misinterpretation she did in one aspect, and people were not fans of having an an actual conversation about what was going on, just pointing a lot of fingers.

Tumblr? Shit, that's most places I've been to online. If she finds a place online where people aren't primarily focused on pointing fingers, I would be so jealous. But I feel like it's going to wind up being like that whole secret invite-only music sharing thing that no one ever invites me to.
posted by Hoopo at 4:40 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.

Well yeah, we're like a college seminar full of over-caffeinated philosophy majors with grudges. You tread out of step and you'll get nailed to the wall pretty brutally (and usually somewhat entertainingly).

That said, there's a least a bit of hard-won decorum and civility now (thanks I think, in part, to Jessamyn's benevolent influence on shaping the site and training the mods). But that's as much in spite of our membership as anything.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2016 [41 favorites]


I am more prone to saying "I consider myself a feminist" rather than "I am a feminist," because I'm usually dreading the moment where some other feminist online will tell me how I'm wrong. And not only that I'm wrong and not a good feminist, but that I'm awful for it. Frustrating, because I'm pretty sure it'll be less about my actual mindset or beliefs and more about some nitpick into one offhand thing I've said somewhere.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


The result: boring writing stripped of a lot of my own personal style.”

Good? I tend to assume that my personal style is overly florid, so I’m glad if the Internet makes us cut back. And if pundits and other commentators had to prefix all of their comments with “IMHO”, maybe we’d be a little more dubious about their claims.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.

Yeah, I mean, I don't care if some faceless Reddit user wants to play games with me but identity on a community site like Mefi matters more. There is more to lose from being misinterpreted when you actually value the opinions and feelings of the people you are talking with.

I thought this link was fantastic, thanks for posting it. I'm glad the author added that there are many times where a hedge is appropriate. Miscommunication isn't always the fault of the listener. Sometimes it's because you said something vague, unclear, or otherwise garbled. Though intentional misinterpretation by bad actors does happen, it's much more common that people simply talk past each other.

I'm okay with defensive writing most of the time, but sometimes it does strip meaning. You just have to decide for yourself what the best mode of communication for the venue is. You have to think about communicating to the entire audience, not just a minority that might nitpick. Sometimes being too defensive means you don't say much of anything at all.

You just can't focus on the bad actors alone when you write. They will find some other flaw with your comments anyway. I've been accused of both talking too defensively and too plainly by the same exact people depending on how I try and approach a comment. At a certain point you just have to accept the problem sometimes isn't how you write, but that people simply hate the opinion you express no matter how you express it.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


We thought we could rely on “the common sense and ordinary charity of readers," but then we read the comments, much to our fucking chagrin.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really appreciate the few folks here who stubbornly continue to march out of step with the rest of the membership on some issues (such as a certain canonized lagomorph, for example). Because we can be a real bunch of jerks to folks we disagree with.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:44 PM on January 7, 2016 [16 favorites]


E-Prime is an interesting exercise in hedged language. There are statements that simply cannot be expressed in it.

I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.

Shh. Be circumspect. The square brackets are everywhere.
posted by Leon at 4:45 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]



Well yeah, we're like a college seminar full of over-caffeinated philosophy majors with grudges. You tread out of step and you'll get nailed to the wall pretty brutally (and usually somewhat entertainingly).

Though not half as entertainingly as we would like to think, I'm sure.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:46 PM on January 7, 2016 [24 favorites]


What drives me nuts is the widespread assumption that anyone stating something evaluative is also asserting at the same time that it is "objectively" true, so that everyone deploys, in response, needless disclaimers that the things they say express their own opinions.
posted by thelonius at 4:46 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


> Like, what kind of ghostly anonymous commentors am I trying to please and anticipate?

> I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.

Yeah. MetaFilter has made me a better and more careful thinker along probably a bunch of axes. Maybe it has even made me a better writer. But man is it ever a game of anticipating all possible avenues of criticism and offense around here. Like, it's a game I must enjoy playing since I keep doing it, and as an intellectual exercise it has taught me a great deal, but it's such a defining part of the experience.
posted by brennen at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2016 [58 favorites]


I think I'm so used to being fearful of hateful, random backlash that I actually got worried for a second that someone would yell at me for actually expressing my own experiences on how to take care of your knees. Who is gonna fight with me and my family's ancient Chinese wisdom?!*

*I don't even know how to express all the nuances of this comment, because I am making fun of Orientalist tropes of ancient Chinese wisdom, which is subversive for me as a queer woman of color who is also very happy to be tied to certain cultural ideas that was passed down from me from several generations of family, especially as it relates to emotional labor and taking care of your body as part of that way of expressing love and care. BUT THIS IS MEFI SO THIS HAS TO BE A NOTE ADDENDUM
posted by yueliang at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Who is gonna fight with me and my family's ancient Chinese wisdom?!

*considers tendonitis in both Caucasian knees*

Uh...not me, thanks.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:51 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


After a certain point, you just have to say "whatever" and hit the post button. Its guaranteed that someone will get offended about the inescapable truth that you always wipe back to front. Or they'll get bent out of shape over grammar, its just gonna happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:53 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Never say "always". Say "nearly always".
Never say "all". Say "almost all".

If you break those rules, or make any other absolute categorical statement, someone will point out an exception. Even if the exception has nothing to do with your argument, they will feel honor bound to let you know about it.

And if you don't have a comment system, then dozens of people will all point out the same exception by email.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


@scaryblackdeath - tendonitis sucks, I'm sorry. <3 Sending you much love.

Also your fears are so real, about even declaring yourself a feminist. I think it's actually a gross distortion and injustice of the point of feminism, of which it is always a process and a learning and growing experience. I myself haven't even published any of my feminist writing online (yet) because I am concerned about getting something /wrong/ when in reality, maybe it's important to embrace the possibility of being wrong and not being able to see everything clearly...because that's what compassionate discourse is for. For people to share their experiences and build on eachother's knowledges, so we can all use it all together to help build a better world. Augh!!
posted by yueliang at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is a simple workaround to this problem. Opening up the post window doesn't obligate you to post. Write natural and proofread once. If you think people won't like it do not bother with editing. Say, "they don't get this one" and close the window.

You can even keep a tally if it really bothers you.
posted by bukvich at 4:59 PM on January 7, 2016


I hedge more in MeFi than I do anywhere else, TBH.

Don't. The easiest thing in the world to do is to complain, or argue, or insult, or demean, or criticize on the Internet. I have a policy. If you complain on the Internet, it's not important.

If you do things like make phone calls, send letters, etc.? Then there's an issue. But the cost to complain on the Internet is as close to zero as to make no difference. So, when I realize you are "so angry" that you are willing to spend exactly $0.00 to say so, well, you're not actually angry. You're just another species of troll on the Internet.

Spend $0.48 on a letter? Or $0.02 on a phone call? Or start an organization and spend hours of your time and many of your dollars to combat it? Then you clearly have an issue and I need to address that.

Bitch at me on the Internet? BITCH AWAY!

This is also why spam is everywhere, because complaints and spam both cost basically nothing. So, I treat them with the exact same answer.

Delete and killfile, unless I'm feeling mean, then I mock first.

You want to change the world? Good. You should do that. You want to change the world by complaining on the Internet? It's not even worth laughing at. Seriously. Delete and move on.

And don't change your voice until enough people take real action to convince you that your voice is wrong. That's what jscalzi and cstross do. They'd be nothing if they let people complaining at them on the Internet influence their voice.

You want to argue with them? (or me?) Reasonable tone, actual evidence. You bring the evidence? I listen. You call down the twitter brigades? Well, I'll have to spend a day blocking and reporting as spam, but hey, I won't have to listen to you again.
posted by eriko at 4:59 PM on January 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


You just can't focus on the bad actors alone when you write. They will find some other flaw with your comments anyway.

What can be worse, sometimes, is when those bad actors egg on the rest of the community into a Five Minutes of Hate thing — including moderation, on some occasions, unfortunately. I've definitely hedged my writing style — even down to how I use grammatical voice in sentences (!) — in order to minimize opportunities to misquote and ramp up outrage.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 5:00 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow! I really disagree with this article, both that what the author describes is a predominating phenomenon, and that if it were, it would be a bad thing.

"Common sense and charitable reading," cast in another light, can often look a lot like "shared assumptions of the dominant culture and rolling over in the face of hostility." I find that people who talk a lot about "common sense" and its value often have little experience seriously engaging people who are not in a variety of ways similar to them. To me, the kind of writing the author derides sounds like thoughtful, accommodating language that I would appreciate reading.
posted by threeants at 5:01 PM on January 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


TBH I'm surprised we're not already arguing about the whole "men do better at geometry problems" thing, but then maybe that was why he put that in there...?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:02 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Never say "always". Say "nearly always".
Never say "all". Say "almost all".

If you break those rules, or make any other absolute categorical statement, someone will point out an exception. Even if the exception has nothing to do with your argument, they will feel honor bound to let you know about it.

And if you don't have a comment system, then dozens of people will all point out the same exception by email.


Also 'some'. I use this a lot. Internet experience has taught me that if I don't use 'some people', 'some women' 'some men' any point will get attacked with #notall....
posted by Jalliah at 5:03 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


But man is it ever a game of anticipating all possible avenues of criticism and offense around here.

yep. It wasn't always so, but it sure seems to be baked into the culture now.

Like, it's a game I must enjoy playing since I keep doing it

and this is why I basically don't, anymore.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:05 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Oh yeah, so anyway, I would have really liked the author to have offered some, really any, evidence supporting his claim that "the web has made us all write more defensively," because my own experience has not led me to witness this trend. If anything, I feel like overstatement and presumption are the norm.
posted by threeants at 5:06 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


@threeants - I would be so interested to hear your context and positionality and experiences, since I'd like to know where you are coming from. I write my comments due to me usually hanging out in MeFi and social justice spaces, and I've seen huge, awful examples of non-charitable and some very good charitable reading. I know for me, I've been mostly shaped by how people will attack if not every single aspect of the comment is not left somewhat vague, so that people can't latch onto a single point and argue to death, while ignoring the rest of the argument. But, I usually choose to hang out in those spaces, because at least I trust that the dominant discourse is that people know that intersectional oppression is something that has to be acknowledged (usually.)
posted by yueliang at 5:06 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Almost never say “always”. Say “nearly always”.
Almost never say “all”. Say “almost all”.

posted by Going To Maine at 5:08 PM on January 7, 2016 [25 favorites]


God, hedging. My language is somewhere inside that hedge maze in the Overlook, it's so bounded-in by worry about saying the wrong thing. Admittedly, my take on this is influenced by some pretty severe social anxiety. At work, everything has to be carefully calibrated not to make anyone uncomfortable, no matter how stupid and mean they are being, because the customer is always right, and we must consider that our coworkers are also customers, and so my language becomes this flat chirp of helpfulness that is totally devoid of authenticity or even emotion. I end up shaking and constantly on the verge of tears because I am not allowed to respond in a natural way to bullies. Which is probably why I keep Ativan next to my work computer.

And then I see all that leaching the authenticity out of my other writing, too, with the worry that I am breaking a rule, that if I am honest, I'm going to hurt someone, or more likely, be hurt by their criticism. My writing gets so artificial. So careful. Which opinion is it okay to have? Which opinion should I elide over, so I can pretend I don't have it?

I spend an awful lot of my life worrying over what I should say, and then shutting up about it, and then suddenly I'm not shutting up and what I say is tainted by venom because I'm just so mad all the time about not being able to have a regular conversation. Watching other people talk is like looking in department store windows, everything is so in its place for other people. Even people I identify as my own people, my queers, my disableds, my people who freak out over everything, even they are having these rich deep conversations full of honesty and humor and life, and I'm stuck on the other side of the plate glass because I am so afraid of saying the wrong thing and being shown to be shallow, stupid, reactionary. Far less enlightened than I pretend to be. And it's all true. Other people have life experience and stories and souls. I have some opinions I came up with while hiding in my room. But I don't want anyone to know that. It's the being shown part that is the worst. Commentary is murder.

For the longest time I just gave up on writing altogether, because every time I would write something, it would be so marked by that fear, that it would be either unfinished or bad. I had to stop submitting things to publishers because I just couldn't take the implicit criticism of their silence and rejection. I stopped blogging, stopped cartooning, stopped everything. Would suddenly get an idea and hope would well up and I would put down twenty thousand words in a rush before the fear hit again, and then it was over. Print it out, hide it away. Don't let it become part of a conversation. Don't open yourself to criticism. Don't be looked at. I can't imagine people who actually write things online in such a way as to receive commentary. Even in a relatively nontoxic place, how can anyone bear it?
posted by mittens at 5:09 PM on January 7, 2016 [31 favorites]


Approximately 150 years ago, a friend of mine asked me for input on some technical writing project, and one thing I told him was not to write for hostile audiences who are just looking to nitpick and complain. Once you start writing for them, you stop writing for the normal, emotionally healthy people who are reading to understand something. Complainers are going to complain no matter what. Hedging is often so reflexive and so overdone that even when you explicitly qualify a statement, the complainers will gloss right over it and proceed to rebut by pointing out the qualification you already mentioned. Which can make it almost tempting to double down, qualify everything, and double or triple qualify when you really, really mean it. Which would be good for word counts but bad for coherence.

(Some years later, that guy ended up writing a book about technical writing, and he included my advice and gave me a free copy and a shoutout in the book, which makes me a famous celebrity of this specific topic.)
posted by ernielundquist at 5:15 PM on January 7, 2016 [25 favorites]


It just seems to me like this article's basically "omg I can't write anymore without any sort of criticism so I have to hedge ALL THE TIME because criticism is ALWAYS AWFUL", and also doesn't make enough of a distinction between being defensive because you're a minority and those with privilege hate being challenged vs having privilege and being checked by those more marginalized.

What if the writer came from the perspective of "criticism and disagreement is something that can be embraced rather than avoided at all cost" and "you know, sometimes it's OK to be told that you're wrong"?
posted by divabat at 5:16 PM on January 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


The internet's sometimes like one of those Maoist depersonalization-through-self-criticism programs, only without any specific target ideology. You're just as likely to get hammered from the far ideological extremes as from rabid fans/haters of some celebrity, book, or TV show, but you're going to get it from somewhere at some point or you've already internalized what the author's worrying about so much you don't even notice you do it anymore.

That said, if you write, you've got to be able to handle criticism.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:17 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


And just the other day, here on the Blue, I was chastised for equating a mandate with a trope. This is fucking rich.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:18 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


@threeants - I would be so interested to hear your context and positionality and experiences. I write my comments due to me usually hanging out in MeFi and social justice spaces, and I've seen huge, awful examples of non-charitable and some very good charitable reading. I know for me, I've been mostly shaped by how people will attack if not every single aspect of the comment is not left somewhat vague, so that people can't latch onto a single point and argue to death, while ignoring the rest of the argument. But, I usually choose to hang out in those spaces, because at least I trust that the dominant discourse is that people know that intersectional oppression is something that has to be acknowledged (usually.)

I guess where I'm coming from on this is that while it's clear there are oodles of bad-faith actors out here on the internet, "charitable/uncharitable reading" is a framework I find un-useful. If someone is clearly going out of their way to misconstrue another's comment in a way that's not reasonable-- well, that person is just acting in poor faith and there's no reason to pay them further attention. If someone misconstrues another's words because room was left for misunderstanding, the original commenter can confirm the error and no harm done, right? I don't think it's super wacky to expect people communicating in public to consider how their audience might encounter their words, but on the other hand I also don't think it's a horrible thing for people engaging each other honestly to have to feel out what each other is saying a bit to reach an understanding.

Not sure if that really addresses your interest in my context/positionality/experiences at all, which is appreciated but also feels like a dauntingly broad question! :)
posted by threeants at 5:23 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


What if the writer came from the perspective of "criticism and disagreement is something that can be embraced rather than avoided at all cost" and "you know, sometimes it's OK to be told that you're wrong"?

The culture of the Internet emphasizes shame over guilt. Stupid things you say or do follow you around forever, and they're forever brought up as the kind of thing that you (as a foolish / bigoted / cruel person) are. (The intersection between this and privilege can be complicated: women are particularly prone to these sorts of criticisms.) In those contexts, I don't think there's any real advantage to saying things and then admitting that you're wrong, because you'll still have to publicly disown your statements decades down the road when trying to discuss a completely different subject. Better to be silent now, or to spend hours trying to hedge your bets.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:23 PM on January 7, 2016 [47 favorites]


I'm very new here and the approach I've taken to posting is (mostly) cautious. It's one of the reasons I joined here as opposed to somewhere like reddit or tumblr, the comments I make here have weight to me. In the past week I've typed out comments or replies in eight threads, proofread them, deleted them, started them from scratch, and then decided that what I was going to post wasn't important enough. This article made me wonder if it was because of me or because of the unknown, reading the comments. Probably a combination of both of them.

One of the commenters in the article advocates commenting on 4chan and the absolute need for anonymity and "freedom" whatever that means. Which is like, no? Maybe learn empathy and that the people you're talking to are human beings even if you cannot stand how they come across online. There's this spillover from chans and increasingly from reddit where everything is a nasty argument and everything should be picked apart and your opponent should be totally destroyed. Yesterday I said something (perfectly innocent) about geeses which was, apparently, the wrong thing to say.
posted by Neronomius at 5:25 PM on January 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


2nding steady-state strawberry. Beat me to it before I could reply.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:26 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter has made me a better and more careful thinker along probably a bunch of axes. Maybe it has even made me a better writer. But man is it ever a game of anticipating all possible avenues of criticism and offense around here. Like, it's a game I must enjoy playing since I keep doing it, and as an intellectual exercise it has taught me a great deal, but it's such a defining part of the experience.

I feel the same way and (for me anyway) I think this has been a 100% positive thing. It's made me consider my words and what they mean and how the come across to others. I tend to think that the vast majority of our day to day IRL interactions and conversations are heavily reliant on nonverbal communication cues and when that's stripped away, it is often very, very hard to interpret the sentiment behind the words when there's not a corresponding smile, wink, shrug or whatever. And I also think it's very hard to convey these things accurately through writing (though some people are good at it - it's a skill like any other).

So because I've never really developed a skill in writing things that I think reads the way I mean them to come off, I've learned to err on the side of caution. And I continue to learn every day. Some of the extra nitpicky stuff that people have mentioned that puts them on the defensive isn't always great and it for sure can kill a good conversation, but it's opened my eyes in countless ways about what I say and the effect it has on people and spaces around me, both online and IRL, and that's a really good thing for me. It's something I never learned until I started to read and participate in spaces on the internet because people generally don't say these kinds of things to your face in person (for bad and for good). And it's not only made me consider what I say and do so much more carefully but it's also made me assess what important - like, is it worth saying something that may alienate or hurt another person for no reason other than to throw out some stupid joke or comment that I'll forget about in five minutes? I'd rather err on the side of caution and have internet discussion spaces be better than the cesspools than they currently are (in general). And I guess I don't think this has to be at the expense of being authentic or interesting. I think we just have to learn a different way of expressing ourselves when we can't fall back on all the nonverbal cues we usually rely upon with in-person communication.

one thing I told him was not to write for hostile audiences who are just looking to nitpick and complain. Once you start writing for them, you stop writing for the normal, emotionally healthy people who are reading to understand something. Complainers are going to complain no matter what.

I agree with this. I think there's a line, and it's not well-defined at all, when it seems worth it to discuss something, and where you're just being drawn into an argument for the hell of it. I'm still learning this, but I think that both sides generally making an effort to operate in good faith is always a positive thing.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:27 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


okay so one way to short-circuit the tendency to hedge is to adopt a real willingness to apologize and back down when people correct you. especially here, I can assume that if one of the Smart Decent People (and this place is basically crawling with smart decent people) is telling me I'm being offensive or wrongheaded, and how I'm being offensive or wrongheaded, then I'm probably being offensive or wrongheaded. and I can then promise not to do that again and everyone comes out of the encounter better.

Decency isn't a property a person has or doesn't have. it's a skill we develop. being wrong and admitting it is how you sharpen your skills.

all of which is to say um sorry about the ageism I gave into during the middle of the star wars fanfare thread.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:27 PM on January 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


It just seems to me like this article's basically "omg I can't write anymore without any sort of criticism so I have to hedge ALL THE TIME because criticism is ALWAYS AWFUL", and also doesn't make enough of a distinction between being defensive because you're a minority and those with privilege hate being challenged vs having privilege and being checked by those more marginalized.

It's so funny that you did the always/never thing mentioned in this thread and in the OP. Substantive criticism is not what's being discussed.

it's not about avoiding criticism or being told one it's wrong, it's about (needlessly) trying to avoid crabbed, bad faith, uncharitable interpretations of ones writing. those interpretations will happen regardless, so we might as well just say what we mean.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


And,

I write my comments due to me usually hanging out in MeFi and social justice spaces, and I've seen huge, awful examples of non-charitable and some very good charitable reading.

it's definitely thought-provoking to see this article resonating with someone who's coming from your perspective, because to me the piece pinged all of my crypto-"why can't I say the n-word / culture of political correctness / SILENCED ALL MY LIFE" radars.

Which is actually a kind of interesting illustration of the article's very point! In the author's framework, the above paragraph probably offers a deeply "uncharitable" reading; to me, this is just a matter of considering words within the context of the world they exist in, which is a reasonable and important thing to do.
posted by threeants at 5:32 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


On the Internet, all of our past selves are easily conflated.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I personally stopped not only commenting on but in fact reading Making Light because it was affecting my style-- not only the hedging, the trying to get in front of all counter arguments, but the way that sincerity was equated with a YA sort of diction, especially with "devastating" final paragraphs of one sentence, always beginning with "but" or "and."

NO REGERTS.
posted by Hypatia at 5:34 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also 'some'. I use this a lot. Internet experience has taught me that if I don't use 'some people', 'some women' 'some men' any point will get attacked with #notall....

I think this is actually properly necessary even for charitable readers. If someone tweets for example "Women are cruel", it can be genuinely ambiguous whether they mean "There exist some women that are cruel" or "I believe women are all cruel, intrinsically". In my observation, to many people, a "some" is contextually clearly there, which can lead to the assumption that it's bad-faith reading that leads people to respond with Notall. But for many people it is contextually clearly not there, which means that even well-meaning people misunderstand each other and things typically don't go well.

I suspect this contextual expectation of "some" vs "all" may be a dialect thing - shared and understood within certain groups, but not at all shared among English-speakers.

So, worse than ambiguous, "Women are cruel" can be an unambiguous - but completely different - statement, depending on who is listening.

So; don't leave it up to the wildcard of the reader's dialect.
posted by anonymisc at 5:36 PM on January 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


There's some conflation in the thread about hedging and precision. What I most often see abused (not on MetaFilter, however) are hedges lending emphasis to exception. Declarative, evaluative statements are not easy to substantiate. Yet they're often given when describing and fleshing out a topic. I'm with threeants' criticism of the article.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:37 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also 'some'. I use this a lot. Internet experience has taught me that if I don't use 'some people', 'some women' 'some men' any point will get attacked with #notall....

I think the main miscommunication circling around #notall is that people pointing out exceptions aren't generally trying to say #notall, they are trying to say #notmost.
-
Oh yeah, so anyway, I would have really liked the author to have demonstrated his claim that "the web has made us all write more defensively

He probably should have hedged that better. I think what he meant was that it is a trend he is seeing among a lot of writers online, at least the types who actually care about their writing and about other people. Nobody is going to accuse Gamergate or Trump supporters or TERFs or all other varieties of online bully groups of hedging too much and writing too carefully to avoid offense.
-
Anyway, on reflection, I wonder if this is really an online trend and not just the offline world catching up with us? When I think about it, I tend to hedge way more face to face because I have social anxiety issues. I imagine even people with much less anxiety are generally more careful when they have to look someone in the eye. Writing online is in that weird space between writing and face to face conversation because it can have the instantaneousness of conversation combined with a physical separation from the people you are speaking with. I think where to draw the appropriate lines is something we are still figuring out.
-
I end up shaking and constantly on the verge of tears because I am not allowed to respond in a natural way to bullies.

I know the feeling. The worst part about bullying, to me, is not just the bullies. It's the toxic relationship bullies tend to have with authority and the way they effortlessly manipulate social situations to their advantage so that the victim standing up for themselves ends up the bad guy. It leaves you in a pretty hopeless situation. Reading this was one of the most cathartic things I have ever done. It is my favorite work of fiction ever by far. Even a bunch of teenage bullies can scar even an extremely strong, smart person for life if the system lets them get away with it, but it doesn't mean you have to give up on yourself, ever.

That was a beautiful comment Mittens. It described so much of what I have experienced with social anxiety in my life way better than I could. You are a great writer.
-
okay so one way to short-circuit the tendency to hedge is to adopt a real willingness to apologize and back down when people correct you.

This is an excellent point. There is no shame in admitting you did not communicate well or did not realize you communicated something harmful. People are more willing to be charitable in the future when you show via actions that you care about how your words impact people.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:37 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's the toxic relationship bullies tend to have with authority and the way they effortlessly manipulate social situations to their advantage so that the victim standing up for themselves ends up the bad guy. It leaves you in a pretty hopeless situation.

QFT. Hierarchies need bullies.
posted by Leon at 5:41 PM on January 7, 2016


Along with the crypto-"zomg political correctness" pinging threeants mentioned that I also felt, I also wonder if the solution to this is not just "hey! let's stop hedging!" but also, and more importantly so, "think about what it is you're actually saying, rather than just spewing the first thing out of your head, and consider whether your statements are at all useful or accurate".
posted by divabat at 5:41 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


It just seems to me like this article's basically "omg I can't write anymore without any sort of criticism so I have to hedge ALL THE TIME because criticism is ALWAYS AWFUL", and also doesn't make enough of a distinction between being defensive because you're a minority and those with privilege hate being challenged vs having privilege and being checked by those more marginalized.

I think these dynamics of privilege and marginalization can be relatively clear out in the big world but can get complicated in smaller shared social spaces online, especially when individual identities might go in multiple directions and are complicated by the particular dynamics of that group or space. It's something that I find frustrating with social justice and feminist sites in particular, because when there's serious disagreement, it doesn't often come down to strength of argument or breadth of experience, but to whoever wields the most social power in that space. I might be somebody pretty marginalized out in the world interacting with somebody also marginalized out in the world in the exact same way, but if they're better known and respected on the site and we happen to disagree, I'm probably going to hedge or back down more, or just delete my comment in the first place. I mean, with MeFi, we've probably all been in the position of reading a wall-o-text comment with 100+ favorites and strongly disagreeing and maybe having some relevant experience, but just figuring, "not worth engaging, not gonna bother." And I think conversations can be poorer for that.
posted by thetortoise at 5:45 PM on January 7, 2016 [29 favorites]


There is some conflation in the thread that something a *Scala user* said merits any attention whatsoever. Seriously.

On the other hand, knowledge is hard, and I'm not sure that the world makes sense. So saying anything about anything is difficult, and the difficulty of writing without exposing yourself to contradiction is just a reflection of that fact.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:48 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I suspect this contextual expectation of "some" vs "all" may be a dialect thing - shared and understood within certain groups, but not at all shared among English-speakers.

So, worse than ambiguous, "Women are cruel" can be an unambiguous - but completely different - statement, depending on who is listening.


Upon reflection yes, it is context and dependent on the audience. I agree.
I think I'm more annoyed by the times when I've written something longer which starts with something like a 'some' clarifier and have gotten dinged because I've left it out at some point later. I stated it's 'some' but if I've haven't made sure that every single time 'some' is there then 'gotcha!'. I end up having to wordsmith more intently because having a plethora of 'somes' in a few paragraphs starts sounding awkward. I'm not a super great or fast writer so at times I end up just not writing at all.
posted by Jalliah at 5:51 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think this is actually properly necessary even for charitable readers. If someone tweets for example "Women are cruel", it can be genuinely ambiguously whether they mean "There exist some women that are cruel" or "I believe women are all cruel, intrinsically". In my observation, to many people, a "some" is contextually clearly there and it could only be bad faith reading that leads people respond with Notall, but for many people it is contextually clearly not there, which means that even well-meaning people misunderstand each other and things typically don't go well.

Huh. This is extremely interesting, because now I am really curious as to whether or not this is a legitimate dialectal difference in English speakers' grammar. It never would have even occurred to me but I'm willing to be convinced of it.

Though, digging into this a little:

If I was displeased with the number of broken MBTA trains I had ridden recently (NOT BASED ON A TRUE STORY), it would be vaguely nonsensical to tweet "Trains are broken".

"MBTA trains are broken" would, on the other hand, effectively convey my intent to readers. However, two implications would be widely understood: 1) I have not actually confirmed every single MBTA train to be broken, and probably do not believe that to be literally true, and 2) I am making a generalization about MBTA trains that I find in some way useful.

So (thanks for joining us on today's episode of Sidewinding Through Pragmatics!), I think I actually remain skeptical about the idea of the "Women are cruel" construction being non-problematic in some mainstream idiolects. Probably nobody saying "women are cruel" is claiming to have empirically evaluated the cruelness of each of 3.5 billion women; the problem is in implying that it is useful to generalize empirical experience with a subset of them.
posted by threeants at 5:53 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hm. I think because I am still unsure of how to write my comment without destroying actually what I want to say, and trying to be precise and using judicious amounts of hedging/not hedging, I'm gonna take a break from this and come back with some responses. I'm falling again into a mental trap of trying to anticipate how people will respond to me, and it's getting in the way of me having an enjoyable experience writing my comments in a discussion like this. Thanks y'all for the thought provoking replies. I wonder what observations and solutions that might be helpful or useful would arise from this thread?
posted by yueliang at 5:59 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think I'm more annoyed by the times when I've written something longer which starts with something like a 'some' clarifier and have gotten dinged because I've left it out at some point later. I stated it's 'some' but if I've haven't made sure that every single time 'some' is there then 'gotcha!'.

Yep, I totally agree that's crappy and not the writer's responsibility to endlessly re-establish it.
(Perhaps a caveat (HEDGE!) is that in today's world of tweets and soundbites and deeplinks and topten lists etc, material often ends up being presented without its fuller context, so I'll try to make sure that the potential "take-away" quotes or TL;DRish parts can stand on their own. That's extra wordsmithing and guesswork and not always successful, but ah well)
posted by anonymisc at 6:02 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Regarding Women are cruel...

Rhetorical mode, or modes of discourse, (which is pragmatics) is being ignored for a less precise category of "charitable" to achieve an evaluation of dubious value.

Do I sound like an ass?
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:03 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Essentially my hypothesis is that no speakers of mainstream English employ the "Nouns are Adjective" construction without the implication that there is some value to be gained by generalizing from the subset. (I would be super-interested to see examples disproving this, though.)

Which goes to show how silly it is to understand "hedging" as a semantically/pragmatically neutral prose styling choice. Because to do that is to come down on the way wrong side of a "do words mean things" argument that doesn't really need to be had.
posted by threeants at 6:04 PM on January 7, 2016


"MBTA trains are broken" would, on the other hand, effectively convey my intent to readers. However, two implications would be widely understood: 1) I have not actually confirmed every single MBTA train to be broken, and probably do not believe that to be literally true, and 2) I am making a generalization about MBTA trains that I find in some way useful.

It does not effectively convey your intent to me. There is an excellent chance that I would interpret you as giving me a heads-up that the MBTA system is down today - the trains aren't running today. That you do believe all trains are broken.
posted by anonymisc at 6:06 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's something that I find frustrating with social justice and feminist sites in particular, because when there's serious disagreement, it doesn't often come down to strength of argument or breadth of experience, but to whoever wields the most social power in that space.

I think it works both ways. For some people, self-righteousness is itself a means to social power.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:06 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. It's a really important discussion.

After a certain point, you just have to say "whatever" and hit the post button.

I have lost count of the number I've times I've said "whatever" and then just hit the close tab button. There are times when it's good to walk away and not comment, but I do it a lot more now because hedging is too tiring, because we don't really give the benefit of the doubt on controversial issues (which tend to be quite important). It's too important that we challenge possible interpretations rather than true intentions. Not that there isn't a balance between the two, but it feels more skewed than is healthy at times. "Get used to apologizing for how you use language, it's good for you" really doesn't appropriately relieve anyone's reticence to participate, either. I think it's healthier to solve problems by fundamentally starting with a benefit of the doubt over common ground, which tends to more more winsome and community making (I think), when done appropriately, and ultimately more successful. Or else it just strikes me that you have to be on the guard about how everyone is constantly using language to appease every possible offense as the most important thing, and while an interesting thought/social experiment, I think we'll eventually find it is not very pragmatic at the end of the day for substance change, because it's actually pretty tiring for everyone, and sometimes it's easier to just not participate any more.

*thinks about just closing tab*
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:20 PM on January 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


For me it's such second-nature to qualify my statements that I don't see it as an imposition from my audience. It's just a part of how I express myself. But I do have a bit of a programming background, so that might have some significance to the matter.
posted by RobotHero at 6:28 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Y'all, I don't even have my actual name on my MeFi profile because I'm /that/ paranoid.

That is not very paranoid. Seriously, I used to be actually paranoid about such things, and that is nothing. Don't worry about it. I for one am still of the old-fashioned opinion that attaching your real-life name too obviously to your Internet handles is slightly bad form even if you don't mind everyone knowing them both.

Any hedging or attempts at unnecessary precision that succeed in making my comments here defensively boring are for my own benefit, reflective of my personal boring style, and not usually intended as any kind of precaution against other real or imagined uncharitable readers.
posted by sfenders at 6:33 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember assertiveness training. The idea is to assert by qualifiers, unless you want to be in declarative mode, then one must whip out the citations. The Citations, a good possible name for a small chamber group.

Asserting is not weakness or poor writing, or toothless discussion, it leaves room for a lot of comfortable exchange, without the fight or flight. There is plenty of room for nuance, facts, or emotion. I feel, I think, it seems to me, I interpreted X's writing to mean...or call in the Marines.

I grow old, I grow old...
posted by Oyéah at 6:38 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely sure how much hedging I do, and I've been a MeFi lurker for the better part of a decade, and I only recently took the plunge to pay for an account because reddit is draining, and while some folks on MeFi can be aggressive I don't necessarily feel anyone's been a flat out jerk to me, and I've definitely said some stuff that was both well received and chided at the same time.

I don't know, part of the reason I don't like focusing on hedging is because it makes the assumption that I already know what the hell I am talking about, and most of the time I am pretty sure that is not actually the case, even if I attempt to present an idea as though I know what the hell I am talking about.

Several of the chiding responses have been very enlightening. I suppose, in a community like this, I feel like I can deal with some aggressive constructive criticism, and I almost think getting that genuine idea from someone else which really challenges your own helps you grow more than just doing your best to prevent such comments from arising to begin with.

Of course, even in this instance, I don't actually really know what the hell I am talking about (is admitting that hedging?), and at the same time, not all the comments are enlightening. There's definitely plenty of people on the internet who care a hell of a lot more about semantics and pedantry than they do having a constructive dialogue.
posted by deadaluspark at 6:44 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've noticed this trend a little but didn't know how many or much writers are affected by idiots, schmucks and trolls. Maybe because I'm a little older or have had reasonably varied life experiences that have thickened my skin to comments from others but maybe I've been selfish. I may read a good piece of work, enjoy it and not say a word to the author. It is like someone giving me a great beer without a thank you in return.
Maybe I could contribute on some sites I read by tossing some supportive comments such as:
Write want you wish to write with your own words!
Don't hold back, self-censor or consider others!
Other than a fart, you don't need to listen to an asshole!
Your effort in writing is more substantial than their one minute snarky comment!
What would George Carlin do?!
posted by Muncle at 7:10 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Other than a fart, you don't need to listen to an asshole!

totally going to cross-stitch a sampler of this
posted by thetortoise at 7:12 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


As with Jon Ronson's book about being the target of internet shaming, I feel like this article has a kernel of truth that really ought to have been explored by someone other than a white (as far as I can tell) male of the professional class. There's a big difference between "social justice culture is a bit too quick to brand people as Eternally Problematic for honest mistakes" and "gosh, you can't even be a little bit racist any more, I mean jeeze".

Not saying that Chiusano's article definitively falls in the later category, but it'd be easier to take at face value coming from a different source.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Come to think of it, the one circumstance under which I consciously hedge my statements as the result of bad reactions online, (rather than out of any natural tendency to do so) is when I want to contradict what someone else has said. Some people react to that sort of thing very poorly.
posted by RobotHero at 7:14 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


What would George Carlin do?!

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups?
posted by squeak at 7:28 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would pay a pretty sum to not have to listen to that nagging self-critic anymore. I love metafilter for the commentary, but it leaves me feeling like I can't do much better than reiterate a position that has been better-reasoned by somebody else, whether upthread or downthread.
It makes for some decent exposure therapy.
posted by Valued Customer at 7:32 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Is this the yin to the yang of the efflusive, meaningless clickbait headline? Because the internet era of journalism is boring me with hyperbolic ledes that EVICERATE meaning.

I would like to say that you all are very thoughtful, even precise writers; and I enjoy reading you on metafilter. <3<3<3
posted by eustatic at 7:47 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ugh, I want to hate something that opens with a quote from Pinker, but maybe that would just make me a part of the problem. I hedge so much and spend so much time obsessing over comments that aren't always worth very much attention that it's kind of a real problem for me. I think if you totaled up how much time I spent every week just being anxious about how comments on internet sites would be received, you'd get a pretty sad picture. I'm talking about time spent writing things out, looking at them, and then closing the tab because "it'll probably sound dumb anyway." Or even worse, getting discouraged because someone might make some witty and hilarious burn in response to my comment, and then everyone could have a good laugh.

It's not like this is the only site where I ever need to hedge, but it seems like the more I care about something the more I want to be clear to people reading my comments that I care, to make it clear that I'm not trying to shit all over everything, even if I may still do it without meaning to. And I typically care about stuff on this site, so it adds up to a lot of anxiety and hedging, and a lot of fear that I'm going to sound unreasonable, or be unreasonable, or just come across like a jerk.

Honestly, the internet makes me kind of miserable a lot of the time, and even if this essay wasn't perfect, at least it's nice to know that maybe other people feel shitty about it sometimes too.
posted by teponaztli at 7:49 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


I would like to say that you all are very thoughtful, even precise writers; and I enjoy reading you on metafilter. <3<3<3

Your welcome, irregardless of what other people think, we all make an effort to be the best writer's we can.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:50 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


A lot of these bad reactions are paid for, not personal at all.
posted by Oyéah at 8:07 PM on January 7, 2016


Maybe it's being a professional writer, but am I the only who who thinks about post and comments on this site as in some weird way part of your body of work?


maybe just in a court of law
posted by gottabefunky at 8:31 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


"As with Jon Ronson's book about being the target of internet shaming, I feel like this article has a kernel of truth that really ought to have been explored by someone other than a white (as far as I can tell) male of the professional class. There's a big difference between "social justice culture is a bit too quick to brand people as Eternally Problematic for honest mistakes" and "gosh, you can't even be a little bit racist any more, I mean jeeze".

Not saying that Chiusano's article definitively falls in the later category, but it'd be easier to take at face value coming from a different source."

If I'm honest, this makes me uncomfortable and I'm pretty sure it's not in a uncovering-my-own-privilege way.
posted by Phyltre at 8:50 PM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


"I feel like this article has a kernel of truth that really ought to have been explored by someone other than a white (as far as I can tell) male of the professional class."

Perhaps I could have found a similar article by someone who's not a white male professional, and posted that instead, but that's on me, not Chiusano. I don't think he should second-guess publishing his opinions based on his race+gender+class.

(And I didn't get any hint of him secretly wanting to be racist. He's a technical writer, so I think this piece was at least as much about pedantic technical nitpicks as pedantic social nitpicks. Compare "You said C++ is a systems programming language, but I've used it for a web server!" versus "You said men catcall women, but some men are black, so you were being racist!" Both are more about distracting from the author's main point than about providing useful feedback. Those are just illustrative examples, I don't want to cause a derail about catcalling—or about C++.)
posted by Rangi at 9:05 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


one way to short-circuit the tendency to hedge is to adopt a real willingness to apologize and back down when people correct you. especially here, I can assume that if one of the Smart Decent People (and this place is basically crawling with smart decent people) is telling me I'm being offensive or wrongheaded, and how I'm being offensive or wrongheaded, then I'm probably being offensive or wrongheaded. and I can then promise not to do that again and everyone comes out of the encounter better.

One problem with that approach is that it takes time and energy for someone to correct me when I say something callous or clueless. It's true that I am being given the opportunity to become a better person when I get called out for speaking out of privilege-blindness, but the price of that benefit to me is going to be paid by people who have heard that exact same clueless, harmful remark a thousand times before.

Yes, apologize when you say something offensive, but don't make the same mistake twice. Better yet, educate yourself (e.g. trans 101 - previously). Then hedge! People who are speaking from a position of privilege who want to be allies really do need to monitor their own speech, or at least I know that I need to do so.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:07 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


People who are speaking from a position of privilege who want to be allies really do need to monitor their own speech, or at least I know that I need to do so.

More generally, people who are speaking from a position of ignorance who want to participate in an informed discussion need to hedge their speech. You don't need to be a software developer to talk in a thread about, say, neural networks, but you also shouldn't post ignorant rhetoric about what they're good for. (I suppose social topics like race and gender do get more than their share of uninformed extreme rhetoric, since everyone feels qualified to speak up.)
posted by Rangi at 9:15 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I appreciate everyone who was given their own experiences with this type of discomfort, especially here at MeFi. Because I think this has been a big part of why I'm a mostly-perpetual lurker here rather than an active contributor. Which, while entertaining to read, is a pretty lonely experience.
posted by Salieri at 9:15 PM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


I am two minds regarding this.

On the one hand, trying to be more careful about what I say, forced me to think about what I was saying and overall that has been a good thing. It hasn't stopped me from occasionally blurting out the the wrong thing but definitely clarified my thought process and helped me articulate my thoughts better.

On the other hand I occasionally get frustrated that I cannot discuss things that might be triggers for some people openly in a mature manner simply because it might be a trigger for someone and/or it might upset someone.

I also have a sneaking suspicion it may have to do with being perceived as stupid or proven wrong in a public arena. I used to worry about that a lot, not just in internet comments but also on mailing lists, irc etc, mostly when interacting with other programmers and technical people (basic sciences too). But over the last decade, I have gotten better at not giving a shit. If someone proves me wrong, or makes me look like a fool, all power to them. I will admit my mistake, smile and move on.

Still haven't figured out how to start or get involved in sensitive topics without coming off as an asshole no matter what I say though.
posted by ding-dong at 9:29 PM on January 7, 2016


HA HA YOU USED AN ANALOGY HERE IS A WAY IN WHICH YOUR ANALOGY IS NOT EXACTLY LIKE THE THING YOU'RE ANALOGISING WHICH IN NO WAY AFFECTS THE USE OF THE ANALOGY THEREFORE I HAVE DISPROVED THE ABSTRACT PRINCIPLE YOU ARE ILLUSTRATING WITH AN ANALOGY YOU SURE ARE STUPID HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:32 PM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


One problem with that approach is that it takes time and energy for someone to correct me when I say something callous or clueless. It's true that I am being given the opportunity to become a better person when I get called out for speaking out of privilege-blindness, but the price of that benefit to me is going to be paid by people who have heard that exact same clueless, harmful remark a thousand times before.

This is true, and you should keep it in mind when you post, but also I would say that the most energizing experiences I have had when confronting people online is when they took the criticism as an opportunity for honest self-evaluation and made it clear they considered what I said.

People who care about these issues are going to be expending this energy anyway, the result of caring people listening to their criticism and expressing a willingness to change is often a very positive moment in the face of 99% of people just not giving any fucks.

So, with that in mind, my advice would be that as long as you are willing to be humble and considerate if the tide turns against you, it can often be very productive to just speak your mind even if you are not going to win the debate in the end. Just don't dig into a trench on defending your opinion, be honest with wanting the feedback.

HA HA YOU USED AN ANALOGY HERE IS A WAY IN WHICH YOUR ANALOGY IS NOT EXACTLY LIKE THE THING YOU'RE ANALOGISING WHICH IN NO WAY AFFECTS THE USE OF THE ANALOGY THEREFORE I HAVE DISPROVED THE ABSTRACT PRINCIPLE YOU ARE ILLUSTRATING WITH AN ANALOGY YOU SURE ARE STUPID HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW.

All of this is exactly like a car. Probably a 2007 Jetta.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:43 PM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's being a professional writer, but am I the only who who thinks about post and comments on this site as in some weird way part of your body of work?

It's possible that you're oeuvre-thinking things.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:58 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


I have spent ten minutes writing and rewriting and rerewriting a comment to post here, just to scrap the entire comment and post this comment instead.
posted by Bugbread at 10:20 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


thats a cop out.

But I understand.
posted by clavdivs at 10:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I want to post, and I'm trying to frame what I think clearly.

Metafilter is all about the beanplating, and this thread is a perfect example. I think that you can just take a general, try not to be an ass, approach in reading and writing. However, as was brought up in various forms upthread this effect of this is that it places a variable degree of emotional labour on people who are on a different axis of privilege or who are from a different cultural context. That is to say, it would appear to be better to be precise with what you say in a serious discussion as it can improve communication between all parties. It does not appear to me that this places an undue burden on any individual writer.

There are various meta levels of critique to this whole conversation, and it's making my brain ache.

It also occurs to me as I'm writing that this idea of hedging has a lot in common with how many women are taught to write and talk by society. Adding qualifiers and politenesses in order to make the reader feel better. Personally, this stinks of emotional labour, but a labour worth doing. That is not to say that it shouldn't be put above commenting at all though.
posted by Braeburn at 12:58 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: All of this is exactly like a car. Probably a 2007 Jetta.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:05 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I use qualifiers like "some" and generally try to be clear about what I’m saying, but I do that in conversation. Clarity is good, but hedging is kinda pointless. there are certain people that don’t really read what you write, they respond to what they think you said, or what they thought you were going to say before they even read what you wrote. People who will always read their own agenda into everything. You know, those people.
posted by bongo_x at 1:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Too much of anything can tend to be bad, but I don't think this is overall a negative trend.

Back in the early 90s, I was a sysop and very active user on an old-fashioned BBS. It was, for a few years, an extremely popular one, with many highly active discussion groups, most of which I participated in (I probably spent on average at least an hour or two per day on this for several years). The community there was unusual for BBSes in that people had to use real names, good grammar, punctuation, and structuring of arguments was strongly encouraged, and there was a low threshold for bullshit.

It was also extremely confrontational, in retrospect probably fairly hostile to women, although we had more female users than most BBSes, and we managed to be quite progressive on other issues like race, sexuality, gender, etc., long-winded pedantic arguments were the norm, engineer's disease was rampant, and it was kind of a typical teenage to early 20s male nerd space.

It was probably the place where I learned the most about arguing, presenting my case, structuring my thoughts and opinions into a coherent argument, defending them from criticism, and, occasionally, changing my mind radically on a major issue (I was a WIRED magazine reading libertarian nerd type at the beginning of that period, I came out the other end a democratic socialist, being honest to god convinced to change my mind in a many-month political discussion). I wouldn't have been without it.

But it also made me arrogant, cocky, and privileged.

Metafilter is in some ways similar: It's full of incredibly smart people, bullshit is called out, weak arguments are not really tolerated, and some people at least can be very confrontational and nitpicky. But, Metafilter has, especially over the last few years, made an effort to become more sensitive to privilege, less tolerant of abuse and trolling, and requiring users to actually consider their audience and what effect their words might have on them.

Metafilter, I think, has made me even better at presenting my argument and structuring my thoughts, but more than that, it's taught me to consider the effect of my words, check my privilege, and treat others with respect. Metafilter, in short, taught me to be kind. I'm very grateful for that, and very happy about it.

Some might think I'm not particularly kind on Metafilter. They might be right, but, well, you should have seen me before.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:18 AM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


Your arc is very similar to mine, Joakim, which might be why I'm strongly inclined to see "the internet is forcing me to hedge my statements" as a good thing, in most cases.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's some conflation in the thread about hedging and precision.

I thought the distinction between hedging and qualifying was a useful one. Instead of including in your comment a way to disavow its content later in the face of unfair criticism (hedging), avoid general statements that might provoke arguments about whether your comment was universally true (qualifying). I was particularly impressed by the discussion that statements that might be truthful as generalities (x happens more often than y) can be offensive and harmful when communicated or understood as simply "x is true."
posted by layceepee at 8:26 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


But man is it ever a game of anticipating all possible avenues of criticism and offense around here.

yep. It wasn't always so, but it sure seems to be baked into the culture now.

Like, it's a game I must enjoy playing since I keep doing it

and this is why I basically don't, anymore.


I just like to play the "How long until my comment is flagged and deleted?" game. That's about all I can do in such a sterile environment.
posted by MikeMc at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


it's definitely thought-provoking to see this article resonating with someone who's coming from your perspective, because to me the piece pinged all of my crypto-"why can't I say the n-word / culture of political correctness / SILENCED ALL MY LIFE" radars.

Honestly, even if that wasn't the intention and being perfectly capable of seeing the other side of it, i got this vibe too. And just kinda couldn't shake it.

More because i expect this article to be taken, and twisted, and misused. There are a bunch of people who are going to think it's Super Meaningful because they read it that way. There's going to be some kind of bullshit Scott Aaronson-esque thinkpiece popping out within the next couple weeks or month on the same topic that drives down that exact road.

Because even if it wasn't meant that way, there's a whole bunch of people who really want it to be and are primed to board that train and ride it until it derails.

It's like, i hear what he's saying and there's plenty of good discussion to be had about it... but anywhere it happens, it has the stinky fart cloud of silenced-all-my-life lurking just a few feet away.
posted by emptythought at 12:47 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Apparently the author couldn't hedge his article about hedging appropriately without giving off the wrong vibe.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Maybe it's being a professional writer, but am I the only who who thinks about post and comments on this site as in some weird way part of your body of work?

They are part of your body of work.

No, really. This was brought home to me when I unexpectedly found a reference to Ask vs Guess (paraphrased, correctly attributed to me, but with no mention of Metafilter) in a book by a well-known NYT op-ed writer.

Judging from the publication date, he was probably writing the book during the comment's fifteen minutes of fame. He was entirely within his rights to use it, and I wouldn't have objected to it if he'd asked, but I didn't know about it, and stumbled across it unexpectedly about a year ago. I was gobsmacked.
posted by tangerine at 1:42 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I would almost certainly say that I comment less, not because of any one particular set of users of metafilter but because of the fear that something might get misconstrued to sound lik

This is a great post, and I'm saving it to remind myself to not hedge needlessly and not spend 5-10 minutes wondering whether I should post comments that most other people are going to read and forget shortly afterwards. Being online has absolutely made me a more cautious writer/commenter and I've known it for a while but never seen it stated so plainly. Thanks.
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:56 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


People who think other people have become too sensitive sure are sensitive.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I tend to get most irritated with people who are showing undue irritation.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:51 PM on January 8, 2016


When I was in high school and getting bullied quite badly, eventually I had a talk with the headmaster about it. And after ten minutes or so of conversation, he said that my problem was that I used too many qualifiers, too many 'mosts' and 'nearly alls' and the like. This, he very strongly implied, was part of why I was being bullied.

I still use lots of qualifiers - probably too many. Even there, I could have just written 'too many', but there's doubt and it's my opinion and so on and so on. I wrestle a lot with being precise, and trying to convey what I mean, and it's all wrapped in a great big bow of anxiety that can hit in waves.

And still, I think this article is being uncharitably received by a few users here, because it's being considered as a cover for 'silenced all my life!'-style bigotry rather than anything he might have intended to say about how the internet can be very good at neutering and silencing conversation because the price of engaging just becomes too high. The actual assumption is that as a straight white guy - a presumed straight white guy - he can't be noting something that occurs in his experiences online, he must be secretly covering for his desire to be offensive. Or, and this is even worse, that even if he didn't mean any of that, other people will decide he meant that, and so his original point doesn't matter, because the wrong people will use his words how they want to.

It's all actually a pretty good illustration of part of his point, which is that in order to try and prevent uncharitable readers from twisting your words online people find themselves hedging and over-detailing and writing to pre-empt objections, when if someone has decided that you're wrong or there's no point to your words, then there's nothing you can be writing that will change that.

I've certainly encountered this dynamic before now; it happens all over the spectrum, though usually in differing forms depending on the forum. But hedging and qualifying and editing and, as stated above, how that just leads to a lot of not posting from presumably reasonable people isn't an ideal result, I believe. It's an actual downside, not just a cover for arseholery.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:47 PM on January 8, 2016 [19 favorites]


The Citations, a possible good name for a small chamber group.

Nay, a doo wop quartet. Who could forget Footnotes in the Snow by the Citations ?
posted by y2karl at 5:06 PM on January 8, 2016


gadge emeritus: "he said that my problem was that I used too many qualifiers, too many 'mosts' and 'nearly alls' and the like. This, he very strongly implied, was part of why I was being bullied."

But then isn't that the opposite?
posted by RobotHero at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2016


What I mean is, Chiusano says he was adding hedges to his writing to avoid a reaction, but you were told to remove hedges from your speech to avoid a reaction.

Is it idea that bullies will see hedging your statements as a sign of weakness?
posted by RobotHero at 9:28 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it idea that bullies will see hedging your statements as a sign of weakness?

I guess? I mean, I can't say I put any stock in his point of view once he tried to tell me that, but that could well have been what he meant.

But then this was face-to-face vs. internet, so projecting weakness has different results.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:21 AM on January 9, 2016


The problem here is that, if you start to delve into the author's other writing, surprise surprise, you find stuff like this:
There had been plenty of programming languages with hacks and warts before C++, but C++ was the first popular language deliberately crippled for pragmatic reasons by a language designer who likely knew better.
Wow, as a developer I can't think of anything more deliberately inflammatory to write.

The problem here for me is not author's having to write language defensively. Its anti-social, white, middle-class, male, CS post-graduates who seem only able to speak in absolutes and take every opportunity to belittle those that disagree with them.

Then they suddenly act surprised when their tone gets a hostile reaction. Which leads, inevitably, to these whiny blog posts about how awful it is for them to police their own writing.

(The warning sign here for me is "functional programmer" in his profile: It seems to me pure functional programming attracts this type of developer in spades.)

I have zero sympathy and, to be honest, if we had more defensive writing I think programming tech would be a better industry for people to work in, particularly minorities.
posted by axon at 5:31 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


It is pretty ambiguous without examples, and I have no idea what scenarios that specific guy is thinking of, but let me illustrate the sort of thing I am thinking of with a ripped from my headlines example.

Someone has an older computer that she's considering finding a use for, and she asks whether she'll be able to "learn Linux." She's smart and perfectly competent but a tetch technophobic and unsure of herself.

People are in the process of answering her question, in her context, and assuring her that she'll be able to figure it out.

And then, "Actually Guy" comes in, explaining that you don't "learn Linux," and starts describing the history and architecture of Linux on the desktop. Nothing he says is untrue, but in that context, he's giving the impression that it's far, far more complicated and intimidating than it is. That particular guy was likely not trying to one-up the people answering her question more charitably, but Actually Guys are a common thing, and many of them are. When they're not straight up bullshitting (which many do), they're unnecessarily complicating things, creating a defensive type of environment where people feel a need to muddy things up by preemptively responding to any possible objection. And if you're spending your time worrying about what the Actually Guys, you're ignoring the needs of your intended audience, whether they're users or developers or the people making decisions about your project.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:34 AM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


I haven't really noticed me doing this, but maybe I'm an asshole. There are definitely things I wouldn't say now that I used to say in the past--but it's not because I'm worried about getting yelled at, it's because in the intervening time period I've come to find those things distasteful and wrong. Which was largely influenced by minority groups pointing out my closemindedness and lack of experience. It's like talking about protein folding and claiming sequence determines folding pattern, and then someone points out all the ways it doesn't and you're like "oh, huh, got that wrong" and correct yourself.

Where I've really noticed this is in how my tastes in humor have changed. I rewatched The 4--Year-Old Virgin the other day, and jeez, I didn't remember there being so many off-putting gay jokes. Is that because I'm self-censoring? Or is it because the cultural context in the past decade has changed enough that the stuff that seemed edgy is now just dumb and lame?

I don't think he should second-guess publishing his opinions based on his race+gender+class.

You know, if we're just talking about programming that's one thing. But if we're talking about politics, poverty, racism, sexism, classism, things where your race+gender+class do influence your opinions and perceptions? Yes, by all means, PLEASE FUCKING SECOND-GUESS YOURSELF.

Because, for example, the past week has been full of White people whining about BET or how Black people get to say whatever they want in the media and not get criticized and how being a old rich White woman is the hardest thing in the world and I'm just like can you please not.
posted by schroedinger at 11:24 PM on January 22, 2016


Because, for example, the past week has been full of White people whining about BET or how Black people get to say whatever they want in the media and not get criticized and how being a old rich White woman is the hardest thing in the world and I'm just like can you please not.

Wait, it has? What did I miss?
posted by Going To Maine at 11:35 PM on January 22, 2016


A sampling of responses to the criticism of the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards: We would all be better off if people in positions of privilege maybe checked themselves before spouting off their asinine bullshit opinions. Somebody asking themselves "hey, I wonder how my privileged life experience has influenced my perspective" isn't a bad, free-speech-hating thing. It's called basic self-awareness.
posted by schroedinger at 12:01 AM on January 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Rampling is appalled that the world is wildly misinterpreting her comments. She regrets our lack of reading comprehension, and offers the following: "I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration."
posted by mittens at 6:14 AM on January 23, 2016


What revisionist bullshit.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:24 AM on January 23, 2016


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