In defense of flamewars
August 23, 2001 6:38 AM   Subscribe

In defense of flamewars Bravest thing I’ve read all year. ‘Rules against all flaming favor politicians and passive-aggressives. These people are experts at sticking the knife in subtly. When the victim yells out in pain, the politician/passive-aggressive feigns innocence and claims he/she is the victim and the true victim is the aggressor.... ¶ Rules against all flaming discriminate against those whose communication skills are less developed. A brilliant writer can pillory an opponent without seeming to. A less-skilled victim of such an assault knows that he/she is being attacked, but can’t muster the same subtlety in response.... ¶ The worst thing you can do is to post something like “Please take your flames off list”... People flame on list because they feel that their reputations have been sullied publicly. Telling them to take it off list is just like telling them to shut up and take it’
posted by joeclark (23 comments total)
I, too, have been thinking about this for years (more than nine), and have come to the conclusion that anyone with poor communication skills should keep their trap shut until such time as they can join the rest of us in civil, on-topic discourse.

Check out the newsgroup The list is filled with an appalling amount of third-party attacks, off-topic non-sequitirs, trolls, etc. That kind of flaming there's no justification for.

Also, Joe, you've selectively quoted the guy. His conclusion is the more essential part of his message. His conclusion, in summary, is: Have perspective. See the big picture. Be untired, sober and healthy when flaming, or your judgement will be skewed. Your words will be archived for posterity: is that how you want to be remembered?

And his best line:

"As for agent provocateurs, drive-by posters, and trollers, I recommend that we set up a slush fund and then use it to have them whacked."
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2001

As a counter-point to consider, I recommend a recent discussion on kuro5hin about the purpose of argumentation.

You have to ask youself, why do we talk about things online? Is it to make everybody feel good about themselves? If so, then maybe, maybe flamewars have a point (allowing the attacked to defend themselves). But if the purpose of online argumentation is rational discussion and learning, then flamewars are just noise.

Besides, if we give people free reign to flame because their communication skills are poor, then why should they improve their communication skills? And if we give people free reign to flame because they've been insulted while discussing an issue they feel passionate about, then where's their incentive to develop emotional maturity? Accepting bad behavior, even in limited circumstances, only encourages it.
posted by gd779 at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2001

Heh. So let's play spot the politicians and passive-agressives...
posted by andrew cooke at 8:03 AM on August 23, 2001

Proclus once said "Truths come out in moments of madness and times of war". Flame wars online and in real time serve a general purpose. They tend to allow people in an unemotional medium to express the typical human vitriol of what the current subject matter might be. It allows people to expose their passions in a safe and sometimes illogical way. It allows for the expansion of the myopic human mind... a way to (un)gracefully introduce a new way of thinking and sometimes, even come to acceptance of a new idea.

At the very least, flaming is a purging of the unwanteds and heedless on your list whether through righteous indignation or self-deprecating embarrassment. I tend to embrace Joel Gazis-Sax's Rules for Flame Wars in theory even if not in practice. Just kidding. :) (interject light humor here please)...

I disagree with the last paragraph above from gd779. Should we take away a person's unalienable right to bitch simply because they have bad grammar or poor communication skills? How else would someone learn if not through mistakes? Is it so hard to imagine that passionate, poetic, eloquent waxing on a subject near and dear, did not start, at some point, with a "screw you!!"?? Emotional maturity (as all maturity) is built on a foundation of trial and error. Who are you to deny them that moment in time to learn from their mistakes? Beyond that, if they are truly an ignorant cad out to prove to the world that THEY ALONE are right; I doubt if any listowner would allow them to stay on for long. So that solves that little problem.

Often if someone takes the time to gently redirect a flame and allow it to evolve into an exchange (sometimes passionate, sometimes heated) of ideas, then all can learn. Sometimes all you need to kill the flame is the simple statement "You are heard".
posted by gloege at 8:22 AM on August 23, 2001

Communication is--or should be--a right enjoyed and practiced by all, whatever his particular views, opinions or perspectives. Some forms of communication are disruptive. The question is, how much disruption can be tolerated within a particular society or forum? At what point does the noise-to-signal ratio become suffiently skewed to hijack the debate or drown out the voices of reason? It is difficult to even agree on what constitutes "noise," in most cases. One man's "troll" is another man's dissenter.

Poor communication skills (bad grammar, spelling, rhetoric, etc.) just damage the individual's credibility more than anything else. Therefore, I would count it as valuable information in assessing other people's messages, rather than mere noise. A knee-jerk penchant for flaming seems far less defensible.

Having been involved with online discussion and debate for ten years, I still find it a very difficult issue, one which is very poorly addressed by the majority of forums.
posted by rushmc at 8:45 AM on August 23, 2001

Wow. I “quoted selectively.” Quoting any way other than selectively isn't quoting, it's replication. The entire posting was available as an hyperlink for easy reading. Get over it.
posted by joeclark at 8:46 AM on August 23, 2001

?Curious. Is this a subtle commentary on the ParisParamus/Ptrin dispute (Palestinian/Israeli) of 21.08.01? Ptrin's not "rolling over" retort was inspiring. As a result - cheers gloege - I, to learned.
posted by malwilde at 9:16 AM on August 23, 2001

gloege: I completely agree with you: passion is often the beginning of eloquence, and sometimes people need to kvetch. HOWEVER, if you want to whine and moan, do it on your weblog or to a friend via email. Online discussion groups do not exist for the benefit of your emotional health.

Personal attacks, by contrast, simply entrench people in their positions. When people are attacked (or attacking), they become emotionally interested in their position; this makes them closed-minded. Good discussion requires open-mindedness, so the discussion goes downhill from there. Ad hominems, frankly, are generally the weapon of weak thinkers and emotional cowards who don't want to remain open to contrary ideas.

Online discussions (like metafilter) are the online equivalent of public areas. Starting a flame is like throwing a temper tantrum in public. If you want to fight, that's fine; but take it outside. Why do you think that there's so few discussion groups devoted to people who like a good flame? People get sick of it after a while, and the issues they're fighting over never get resolved.
posted by gd779 at 9:30 AM on August 23, 2001

As a list admin, I've seen people who recognize their feelings of being attacked/whatever and their feelings of wanting to attack use that recognition and awareness to grow. I've seen people very tactfully tell other people very delicate things, even very directly, without it being seen as a 'flame'. I've also seen people just attack back with everybody involved trying to be right and get the last word. Flaming (or feeling flamed) can be a tool for whatever it is you want to use it for - LOL. Especially barbeque..... ;-)
posted by thunder at 10:44 AM on August 23, 2001

Usenet is just a big, gigantic pissing contest. It's the worst possible place to go if you want to get some actual discussion done.

And no, I'm not trolling, just being candid. ;)
posted by Hildago at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2001

You guys are fucking faggots. If the guy who runs this neverending pissfest weren't such a dumbass he'd have kicked all you assholes off by now for being so gay. Why don't you self-important San Francisco Boba-drinking would-be visionaries go home and cry on your designer pillows? You people are why Metafilter sucks now.
posted by tweebiscuit at 12:49 PM on August 23, 2001 [1 favorite]


Your mama is a fatty!
You are gay!
Your contrary ideas are stupid!
Why don't you shut your cock-suck hole?!

I'm just pointing this out,
You know,
constructive like. Not like I'm flaming you or anything...
posted by fuq at 1:24 PM on August 23, 2001

Hey, FUQ, great name. Did you and your third-grader friends think of that one all by yourselves?

And I don't talk to people who have websites on Geocities. Sorry.

(oh, and by the way, your "gender" joke made me laugh so hard I fucking wet myself. Fag.)
posted by tweebiscuit at 1:30 PM on August 23, 2001

Member for 4 months
Says metafilter sucks
Shut your fucking mouth

Member for 3 days
Confused by return key
Doesn't edit post

You stupid jerks
Go FUQ yourselves
Snow blossom
posted by gd779 at 1:42 PM on August 23, 2001

You fags arn't worth taking the time to edit my post.

That's great, write haikus, is that what you're leaning in 9th grade english?

tweebiscuit, what the hell kind of fag name is that? you must be one of those dumb shits that like to quote literature that they don't understand. You clearly don't have much of a life since your only friend seems to be metafilter and your cum-encrusted keyboard.

I'm glad we don't flame here on metafilter. You stupid fuckers.
posted by fuq at 2:20 PM on August 23, 2001

I'm not going to wate my time with this bullshit. I hope you're happy -- you've chased another quality poster off of the thread, bringing up the shithead ratio just a little bit. That's just what I'd expect from fucking liberal rastarfarian chain-smoking trailer trash like yourself, fuq.
posted by tweebiscuit at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2001

Bravo, both of you! Very realistic.

posted by amanda at 6:06 PM on August 23, 2001

You know, Hitler was against flamewars...
posted by hincandenza at 6:30 PM on August 23, 2001

i think this touches on the larger debate of regarding those without the intellectual capacity to understand issues or communicate effectively. should they participate in civic discourse or leave it to the "smart people"?

hincandenza, few things online in the past year have actually made me *laugh out loud*. you sir, crack me up. i had to leave my computer and come back before i could respond.
posted by will at 7:59 PM on August 23, 2001

Send in the (geocities) clowns. . .
posted by crasspastor at 12:26 AM on August 24, 2001

i think this touches on the larger debate of regarding those without the intellectual capacity to understand issues or communicate effectively. should they participate in civic discourse or leave it to the "smart people"?

Realistically, what useful participation can someone have who has not prepared themselves somewhat on an issue, by learning about it and coming to some sort of "informed" position? The best the ignorant can ever hope to be is distraction and noise.

However, I would argue that most problems in serial textual discussions, such as those online, arise NOT from the intellectually challenged but from the emotionally challenged. People who cannot control their anger responses to what they read, who risk their ego and self-esteem in their posts, who are quick to take affront and offense...these are the ones who flame at the slightest hint of provocation and derail a debate, in my experience.
posted by rushmc at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2001

your haikus are poor
the form is five-seven-five
just giving info
posted by adampsyche at 9:16 AM on August 24, 2001

A: I saw that too
How dare a man flub haiku?
Thanks for making right
posted by ed at 10:22 AM on September 3, 2001

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