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One member's opinion: A look at the adversarial dialog

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posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 09:05 AM
Long-time members have experienced it, newer members have experienced it; moderators fret over it. Yet there is nothing fundamentally "wrong" with adversarial conversations in and of themselves.

Why then, I wonder, do we seem to express ourselves as if to inflate the adversarial? Why is it that an otherwise rational person, facing an adversarial response in a thread, seems compelled to escalate the friction? How is it that even when two members recognize the overly dramatic, neither seems capable of withdrawing the angst and vitriol? Is this an inevitable consequence of discussing polarized topics? Furthermore, should it even be necessary to pull in the reigns of explosive exchanges; are our opinions not included in what many call our for as our "right" to "free speech?"

Herein I offer my opinion, hoping that others will give theirs; and together we can at least understand why this relative 'ugliness' happens, what it represents, and whether or not we want to accept it as part of our overall dialog.

In order to construct a good foundation to the discussion, we need to depart from our normal; "I say what I think.. and then .. you counter." Why? Because we are discussing "discussion" itself.

We must agree from the onset, on the terms we will use. Such an agreement will be hard won; because those who argue for the sake of argument (in advocacy of dissent) must stay on the charted course and not resort to veering into hypothetical extensions outside the range of the discussion (for example, "If a poster calls me out, I have a right to defend myself.") Instance-by-instance examples are infinite, and this adversarial phenomenon can not be explored by revisiting discrete strategies (just as you cannot analyze the meaning behind a book, generally speaking, by analyzing the font of the characters used to present it.)

I will try to be as brief as possible here; I believe we need to accept the common ground of context, intent, and execution.

For the sake of the discussion I am attemptng to initiate, the context is broad. Our ever-present immediate context is; our on-line community dedicated to exchanging ideas and information, largely to augment or replace those where people usually get ideas and information (often said to be in many ways inadequate or corrupted.) There are numbers of people who will be inclined to focus on their areas of interest; there are those who will have a 'collection' of topics they frequent; fewer in number are the generalists who can be seen everywhere, dabbling in many areas. The whole body of our content is embraced by the board which hosts our community, ATS.

Intent is less difficult to categorize broadly. Yet the simplicity of the answer is self-evident. We share the same intent, through and through. The intent to communicate.

Execution is where we find the most striking differences between us. I could elaborate on numerous differences in execution on this board (as I did in "The stages of the journey into the community of ATS"); but why not just admit that the methods members use to compose their thoughts and translate them onto the board are as varied as the membership?)

I submit that the execution is the real center of the phenomenon where any dialog can become problematic; regardless of context or intent. Of course there are exceptions to most every rule.... but this is largely consistent. There are ideologues who express themselves without offense, there are tradiotionalists who do as well, there are mystics, and cynics also, who manage to convey their ideas without conflict, and more... yet among them appear some who either a) cannot avoid it, or b) do not care to.


For a moment, let us get some direct questions on these three elements.

Questions of context: Do you "know" the person to whom your responding? Are you responding based solely upon the previous post? Are you responding based upon your assessment of the member over time? Would that include previous posts in this thread, or posts all over the board? Are you responding to the conversation that has occured since the thread began, or are you only considering the last few pages of the exchange? Are you talking about the poster, or posters, as opposed to the topic itself?

There are no correct responses; but not knowing the reponses to any of these questions will affect many posters who may post after you... engendering what some may call ignorance - even if the ignorance is not about the topic. So inadvertently or otherwise, you may create the emergence of the adversarial. To be fair, you may likewise defuse the adversarial; such things are possible in our world.

Questions of intent: Does how you state something depend on what someone before you says, or how they say it? If a person is rude, do you join in the rudeness as a matter of "equity?" Do you believe if you do not respond "in kind" you are weak or wrong? Do you feel appearing weak or wrong in a virtual world is as demeaning as it would be if you were speaking person-to-person? Do you feel that it is your place to "characterize" people who disagree with you or what you want to say is true? Do you believe that it is important to 'expose' posters for their opinions which were given outside the thread your in? Are you bothered, troubled, or somehow put off by what your discussing, or the person with whom your discussing it (and what ideas they express?) Are you here to learn what others think, or to tell others what you think? Do you beleive that you cannot be 'wrong'? Do you believe that the topic, or poster cannot be correct? Can you recognize the difference between knowing and believing an opinion is right or wrong?

Again, there are no correct responses to these questions. It is a matter of self-recognition which - for the most part - drives the execution of our response. How we say what we say is driven by why we say it. Moderators often profess - "speak to the topic - not the poster" and this is a fairly safe way to avoid unintentional offense. in fact, if one offends by speaking of the subject, it is the person claiming offense whose action will first demonstrate the adversarial inclination. Of course, the coy and calculating who can make such offenses happen while seeming innocent are few... but admitteldy, they do exist.

Questions of execution: Do you respond in thread to make yourself "feel better"? Do you construct your response as to "make the adversary seem a fool?" Do you construct your response to make yourself seem "less" a fool? Are you contributing to the thread (the OP) or are you "talking" to someone? Do you believe that there must be a winner and a loser in a discussion? Do you beleive that when one person is right in an argument the other "must" be wrong? Do you ever find yourself regretting what you have said - or how you said it? Do you believe that you need to be an excellent and well-spoken person to get your point across? Do you find yourself repeatedly in the position of stating something in your post while mentally reciting to yourself how you "don't care what others think of it?"

When you gird your mental loins to enter the fray in an exciting or contraversial topic, you may find yourself asking these questions of others - but you should always know the answers as they apply to yourself. We execute our communications, often as challenges or reposte - but just as often - we don't have to respond that way... and the second choice of how to answer may prove to be the less contentious and more productive.


Tools of derission, Tools of conciliation, and the dangers of the d-ego.

We have a recurrent dilemma in our world.

While being virtual people to each other, some lack sensitivty to the real person behind the words. To those, there is freedom to lash out because they can cause 'no real harm' from their perspective. Social competence requires the acceptance of the dignity of "the other"... such acceptance engenders responsiblity for ones words. The dilemma further extends itself because lacking a real presence, to some (often the same people) they needn't worry about, nor have any inclination to protect their own image - as it has no value they can measure - assuming they don't care about this virtual second home for many of us.

The tools of the derrisive are many. Some of these tools are quite clever, subtle, and damaging to their targets. Others not so much so. I will enumerate only those I personally believe are 'given' to us from the institutions of our societies. That list will follow further on.

There are "peacemakers" in our world. I am grateful they are around. Sadly I would like to see more of them around here; but the scarcity is not their fault. These are the members who see the conflict, and do not begin a tit-for-tat exchange with an obtuse adversary; but instead focus on the OP, attempt to rationalize the varying arguments in respect with one another; and when the offense diminishes our board, alerts a moderator so they may attempt to salvage the exchange. The tools of reconciliation are inherent in most members who think outside the d-ego box. They sense, or know, that adversarial conflict often leads to the dilution of the OP, the distraction from the point, and the overall unpleasant feeling it spreads across the participants in the thread.

The d-ego.... a term which many have come to hate, reject, despise, and otherwise find generally repugnant. What is it? Let all manner of philosopher, sociologist, and deep-thinker slam away at it... but in my humber opinion it refers to a single vice. Pride. Many feel the d-ego is a good thing, just like pride. They cite pride in what you do, who you are, where your from, what you accomplish, what you know, what skills you have and how well you 'perform.' In the end - I simply maintain that if it can move a person to intentionally injure another - it is not a good thing. In fact, every effort to belittle, diminish, disrespect, ridicule, or otherwise damage the reputation of another member is an offense against all of us. That is not "how we roll" at ATS.

But how can you blame some people for taking that path? After all, we are conditioned to 'admire' it. It's insitutionalized, publicized, glorified, set to theme music and produced into a 'show.'

Our members, regardless of any categorization you would like to apply to them (rightly or wrongly) are subject to an indoctrination like no other: "institutionalized" tools of manipulation include: Misinformation, Disinformation, Lies, Hoaxes, Propaganda, Rhetoric, Hyperbole, Demagoguery, Inflammatory presentation, Sensationalism, and Sophism ...

Our "talking head" celebrities are applauded for it, they 'have at each other' on air continuously, talking trash about each other, their group, party, religion, etc. And the more clever and shocking they are the better. Those tools of circular logic, straw-man attacks, mischaratcerizations, petty sniping, vapid histrionics, are all part of what we are 'sold' as "intellectual conversation" by the one thing that we all share in common... we are consumers of "produced information for profit." Which, as all commerce does, promotes the idea that consumption of information is more important than understanding... therefore, to make it 'look good' 'sound good' and 'dumb it down' is their norm. And their "norm" becomes what we are indoctrinated to "be like" - except here... in my second home ATS... we don't need their communication gimmicks, their "marketing" and psycho-babble "public relations" tactics to express the truth between us.
edit on 4-4-2012 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 09:47 AM
Well said, my friend.

Adversarial dialog, or debate is fundamental to understanding the views of that person on the other side of our computer screen.

But adversarial doesn't necessarily equate to being angry or shouting someone down, or otherwise trying to obfuscate the issue... It means asking tough questions, and looking for an answer together.

I take this to mean two opposing views coming together to reach, hopefully, an understanding of each other. ...and hopefully reaching a mutually satisfactory answer to each others questions. That is how ATS is supposed to work, and how it's supposed to work outside of ATS, as well.

Again, well said, and well written.


posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 09:50 AM
reply to post by Maxmars

Great topic, Max.

Like you mentioned, it can be difficult to remember that people we communicate over the internet are real people with real feelings and not just digital bits.

It's very normal to have our passions triggered and to respond more emotionally or with more antagonism than we should.

A good point to remember is 'Post unto others as you would have them post unto you.' Before hitting 'submit,' think about how we would feel to be a recipient of such a post. Is it antagonizing someone? Is it insulting towards another? Would you feel upset if someone used the same tone to you? Then reword the post.

Also, understand others will believe things that you do not and vice versa. Don't jump on them just like you wouldn't want them to jump on you. We can't help our beliefs or what makes sense to us and neither can anyone else.

So be good to each other and leave the sniping out. Good point about the celebs, too. It's almost as if they thrive on outdoing one another.

Great topic.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 10:01 AM
Great Thread.

"To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered." - Voltaire

edit on 4-4-2012 by rom12345 because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 10:08 AM

It's very normal to have our passions triggered and to respond more emotionally or with more antagonism than we should.

Agreed but this is what make's ATS so great. The fact that people are passionate about topics is what makes threads interesting. Without that no one would look into a topic, research it, or argue it. A place like this needs the passion and emotion. The problem comes when people realize "oh, wow, maybe I WAS wrong about the topic," or something along those lines, and they get angry about it. No one wants to be wrong, but instead of accepting it they feel the need to attack, discredit, or simply make fun of the person who is right.

What some new people tend to fail to realize is that being wrong, especially in a place like this, is a good thing. The quest for knowledge also includes learning what information isn't correct, and it is probably just as important, if not more. Members who don't realize this are doomed to be the ones who become the adversarial.
edit on 4-4-2012 by Bigfoot12714 because: punctuation and such

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 11:26 AM
A word about passion though...

As we find ourselves 'stoked' and 'pumped' about the chance to discuss something fascinating or important; our passion leads us into a vulnerable place. What if another poster is not passionate about it... or demonstrates openly that not only does he or she not share your passion but feels your passion is out of place....

....bang! potential conflict right there. Some (certainly not all) may take the difference of opinion personally, or find that to be so characterized is an offense. What if in retrospect you find your passion was misplaced? How do you "undo" passion?

Passion has value in creativity, in any struggle against odds, and whenever it's purpose is constructive and positive. Passion has value when confronting passion.

But can we be certain that we are capable of "using" or controlling passion? Or is it more likely that we may in fact be 'subject' to passion or afflicted by it?

It may seem like splitting hairs, but truthfully, passion is not a function of fruitful communication... it is an element which more often presents itself as a complication and distraction from it.

We are all human, and like it or not, the norm seems to be that we will experience passion in many ways. But to subject another to your passion often presents an opportunity for conflict.

It would be inhuman to expect passion to be eliminated from the human experience, but it must surely be controlled; or we become it's victims.... for example.... your country is attacked ... your leaders point in some random direction and yell "Go get 'em boys! Death to the enemy!" ...and .. inflamed by passion ... the killings begin....

... expect to burdened with an unpleasant possibility... that your passion was used by others for their own purposes. Such is the way of passion.

edit on 4-4-2012 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 11:38 AM

"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred." -Jacques Barzun

I think the real task is properly defining a threshold where discourse becomes abuse.

edit on 4-4-2012 by rom12345 because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 12:55 PM
reply to post by Maxmars

Well then I ask you; What is the cause of this passion?

your country is attacked ... your leaders point in some random direction and yell "Go get 'em boys! Death to the enemy!" ...and .. inflamed by passion ... the killings begin....

This is passion, sure, but it is passion fueled by hatred and anger, and yes, it will almost certainly result in conflict. But I offer this; I am a musician and my passion in life is and will always be creating music, it is an unconditional love. In fact, I am sitting in a recording studio as I type this, writing and recording songs. This form of passion is fueled by love, happiness, enjoyment, and all other things positive. If someone were to say, "In my opinion your music is terrible because it's not rap," would I be offended? Sure, to some extent, but I would not try to discredit them by saying "Well I make rock music and all you listen to is rap, so you're wrong." That's their opinion, and I feel that passion is seeded in opinion. If this same person were to say "Your music is bad because the guitars are out of tune and the drumming is off beat," well then great, thank you, I would be more happy about a comment like that instead of getting bent out of shape. I guess what I'm trying to say is there are different forms of passion, and, in my opinion, passion on this site is more fueled by love for a topic, not hatred toward others. And that's what I love about ATS.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 01:12 PM
At the risk of appearing obtuse... I don't think we have ever really had a "political correctness" problem at all....

I can say this because I believe in the notion of "political correctness" as much as I believe in the notions of "traitor" or "patriot" and "heretic" or "martyr."

It is always a matter of who get to "declare" the definition. The concept of "political correctness" is invaluable to business marketing and public relations, it vital to political theater and revisionist history. But it is entirely a construct of convenient expedience; and is as valid and lasting as a temporary tattoo.

I cannot be responsible for who chooses to take offense. I can only be responsible for intentionally offending. The rest is theater... and for the most part... bad theater. Half the time those taking offense do so with full intention of 'using' the offense for purposes particular to themselves.

You cannot legislate morality lest you become a religion. You cannot codify "PC" unless you are willing to accept that it is transient... like bell-bottom pants, and astro-medallions.

edit on 4-4-2012 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 01:15 PM
reply to post by Bigfoot12714

... get ready for it....

"Passion is as passion does" - paraphrased from the Gump.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 01:21 PM
'Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.'
-Winston Churchill
'Tact is the ability to step on someones shoes without messing up the shine.'
-My father

One of the issues that I have seen in my 27 years on ATS
is not in the response, but in the way the response was worded.

Disagreement is a wonderful thing. This "conflict" is how we learn, how we grow. A properly worded response/rebuttal can carry more weight that an insult.

Caveat; yes I have been guilty in the past, but am always striving to better my "turn of phrase".

(just my 2 cents)

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 02:01 PM
reply to post by beezzer

I feel the same way. We need to be able to dissect both sides of any two-sided issue (unless, like me, you are inclined to reject the notion that any issue is ever truly that "black and white.")

Tactful diplomacy is an art worth cultivating. Much of it's success hinges on the habit of not presuming you KNOW what your adversary thinks, or will say.

My dad started me off long ago by challenging me to always "be effective enough to craft what you say without giving anyone a cause to complain about how or why you say it... that way you keep your audience all in the same place... (and if there are any distractions from the message... it is your adversary who brings it; not you.)"

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 02:16 PM
reply to post by Maxmars
And there in, lies the problem.

Discussion, debate, conversation is a lost/dying art.

Texting, email, tweeting, all have replaced writing.

How can we truely debate, when we can't even converse?

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 02:47 PM
Caffeinereply to post by Maxmars

I'd blame caffeine, I've done writing experiments and found caffeine brings out the overly dramatic female type response that your talking about.

Go for a walk in the woods...and then come back and post.

Hope this helps,

Mr medinet

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 03:06 PM
reply to post by mrmedinet

I don't know about you, but I hesitate to blame caffeine for what I type... because if I did, I would have to give it credit for the good stuff too... and that ain't happening

But in general, it's never a terrible idea to walk away from the keyboard when you are feeling angry (or worse) and intend to "remedy" that anger via the keyboard....

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 03:15 PM
I think alot of the abusive dialog that can come along when responses come from different opinions as well as the way that those that have a different opinion are used to making their argument.

We are more or less wanting to prove our points more then actually understanding the meaning of sharing your opinion in the first place.

But with that said there is a form of derailing that seems to me to be the biggest conflict. When a thread is going well, its well presented, thought out, and you can tell that the OP has dont their homework, it can only sometimes take one member with such an annoying/close-minded response, that it makes others not want to participate in order to prevent such debate.

When that is seen more often then not, those that are aware of these tactics remain strong willed in responses to avoid such disasters.

Until we can agree, to disagree, in the manner that ATS was intended, then this will not stop. No matter how many owners, mods, and contributors, come in politely and ask for what most should have already, which is common sense.

I am still (after 3 yrs) learning how to dismiss those types of responses and come here to do what I enjoy the most... and thats to learn, share, discuss, and ultimately have a second home away from home in a community that understands that life is bigger then our ego's.

Peace, NRE.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 03:46 PM
I think this guy has given a little insight into the argumentative nature of conversations on here.

I have encountered so many posters who do nothing but argue, no matter what you say to them. It end up being just like the argument sketch from Monty Python. Makes me wonder how much they are making.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 03:55 PM
My personal philosophy is that if I get on a thread and make comments that the OP doesn't like, all he/she has to do is tell me any further comments are not wanted and I will leave the thread, no need to stay when the OP is irritated with me, seldom does anything good ever come out of an openly hostile OP who is ticked about poster's comments. It is also my way of respecting the OP who took the time to write the thread, and they set the tone, pace and depth of discussion/debate.

I have no hard feelings about it either. It is their thread, they created it, they want to discuss only certain things, then so be it. I bring only my perspective to threads, and really try to avoid conflict in favor of mutual understanding, but it is not always easy to do that.

If we cannot debate without getting angry or melting down the thread, then for me that is no debate, just a train wreck of a thread, and my intention is to not wreck a thread that the OP took the time to write....I just get the heck out of dodge, it is one thing when people are open to others perspectives and willing to look at where I am coming from, but if all I hear is venom....I depart because I know I am fighting a losing battle....those kind of "debates" can never be "won".

As for debating other posters in the thread, my philosophy is the same.....if the OP does not want that debate on their thread, just say so....I have no problem respecting their wishes, from my POV their thread is their baby....I only want to be where I am welcome or at least tolerated.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 04:15 PM
reply to post by NoRegretsEver


Thanks for joining the conversation! I was reading your post and thought about your take on "derailing." I suppose everyone around here knows that refers to unintentionally or otherwise changing the subject of the discussion, but I thought I'd reiterate it just in case.

When it comes to derailing, I have to say, I am somewhat old-fashioned in the blame-casting department. After all, it takes two to tango. Although, often the derailing takes place between two members who didn't start the thread; and then the OP is powerless to restore the topic because of the one-up-manship that often accompanies the verbal sparring of the errant members. What I as a mod appreciate most is when I am alerted to the development prior to the thread being lost to foolishness. It always troubles me when a good discussion is marred by the distractions of others.

I will concede that some members seem to be fixed on the idea that there is a "winning" part to discussing topics. Some are simply appear as cynical antagonists who cannot allow themselves to let others speak their thoughts without feeling compelled to make a snide comment. But even the cynics who posture themselves as "not caring" what others think can't help but share their own thoughts as if we - of course - will care about theirs.

But in all of this I do not fault the person. Many of us lack the opportunity to develop these skills - especially dealing with the kinds of topics and issues we deal with here. I truly believe that what ATS does more often than not is allow us to re-learn what critical thinking is, to rediscover what a conversation is really like - as opposed to the garbage most media pumps into our lives 24/7 implicitly calling it 'dialog.'

I don't know if it is the best answer, but I have found that patience, and a willingness to withdraw serves best to make my modding go easier. I have had quite a few nasty thing tossed my way, from the outrageously presumptuous to the downright hurtful and mean-spirited. But this is the world; and we must forge ahead, and try as best we can to create an environment where such transgressions are self-evident and immediately recognizable. So much so that the speaker wouldn't want to be "that way," let alone be "known as that kind of poster."

Like anything, we learn by doing... and what we do makes us what we are... As for me, I know what I don't want to be more than what I do want to be... so I try my best not be a jerk... because I don't want to be one.

posted on Apr, 4 2012 @ 04:26 PM

Originally posted by AwakeinNM
I think this guy has given a little insight into the argumentative nature of conversations on here.

I have encountered so many posters who do nothing but argue, no matter what you say to them. It end up being just like the argument sketch from Monty Python. Makes me wonder how much they are making.

That is a very entertaining bit of fiction there. Unless of course, we are meant by the author to 'believe' it was submitted as fiction to protect him from any consequences..... (ah, the conspiratorial mind is ever churning!)

I will tell you that while this account is presented as such, there are some "water armies" out there who do professionally flood the internet with their "product" - but frankly it is about making money for your client; bad-mouthing competitors products, and such... that kind of thing.

In the public opinion world (especially in such an environment as the internet), such an operation would be plucked out and crushed like a tick by any number of organizations, they would make prime targets for many MANY types of active intelligence services, and it would be very expensive and offer little value in return.

This is not to say that there aren't certain places where this might happen. But most of this kind of manipulation is done for the benefit of policy-makers and politicians who can easily be isolated and fed information; while others re-enforce the information via subterfuge.

Our "argumentative" lot here is not about that at all (in my opinion.) It is about those whose values and ideals outweigh their reason. Those who aren't here because they want to participate.. they are here to be heard. Our challenge is to make them hear themselves... so they might realize that they are failing at accomplishing the very goal they set out with. Rather than gaining a voice with which to enlighten and broaden all our horizons, they are shouting at the top of their metaphorical lungs; sending most everyone within earshot scurrying away.

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