Civil Discourse *ba dum tish*


Inspired by this thread, I got to thinking about the arguments, counter arguments, and eventual… slap / scream / gripe fest that it became.

I think it’s safe to say this will not be a one-time occurrence on here, but we can deal with such behavior and questions in a way that it doesn’t ‘drag us down,’ as it were, while also remembering to consider and discuss points that are actually valid.

Let’s be clear, here: the question on GMO safety is a valid question as far as nutritional health, and one that I would assume we would have on this board as it relates to individual products. Without specificity, however, it is not a valid question as it’s akin to having a discussion on whether or not radiation is safe.

A second valid concern that’s related, is the business of GM crops, down to and including the farming behaviors and cross contamination issues. This is a separate type of discussion that I would think fits here as well, but only under the assumption of the pursuit of achieving a diet that is not only complete, but also has a relatively small environmental impact, and again, with specific in mind.

However, the larger point that Elixium was asking / stating was “can we trust Rob because of his opinions on GMO’s” [assuming that they’re bad / run by evil corporations / unstudied]?

It is safe to say, that this is not a valid question or concern. Few of us hold to every word of an individual, and it doesn’t make sense to hold every single idea of any person as fact. Keep in mind, however, that this plays the other way too; every idea of a crazy person isn’t necessarily crazy.

For some hyperbolic examples… Einstein held to his grave that quantum uncertainty wasn’t possible, but his theories on special relativity hold true today. The story of Darwin praying to God on his death bed [regardless of whether or not it’s true] holds no weight whatsoever to the ideas or theories of evolution.

These are fallacies many of us are more subtly aware of, but in hopes of bringing them to light, we can recognize what is valid, and dismiss what isn’t. More importantly, to know when to not let the conversation derail [or just put it on a more stable track].

TL;DR: A couple behaviors to keep in mind / watch out for:

  • Understand the propensity for loose associations

  • Understand strong perceptions of persecution and conspiracy [ avoid the knee-jerk reaction to this word, though, and consider where it is valid. The US government is actually collecting massive amounts of communication data, after all.]

  • Understand the tendency for rigid thinking and a superiority complex

We’re not going to be able to argue against these behaviors, and thankfully they’re pretty easy to spot once you know what to recognize. It’s better to simply flag a post, and move on to whatever discussion is valid, or to, y’know, step away from the keyboard entirely.

If in some cases where a connection or association is dubious, a small question or two is a quick way to learn more about the subject, or the mindset of the individual making the claim (everyone loves answering questions, after all).

Remember kids, only you can prevent flame wars.


Just for the sake of clarity, mrob – two participants did in fact flag the thread for mod attention. Julio’s decision was to allow it to play itself out on the (mistaken) assumption that it would die a natural death. The result was predictable. There are times when, free speech or no, a thread needs to be locked for the good of the community, particularly when one or more participants are willing to carry on indefinitely and/or are impervious to logical persuasion. Just my 2 cts. worth.


To add to the bullet points:

Remember that you’re writing at a screen but you’re talking to a person - major trigger to watch out for is feeling annoyed at someone else’s point of view. If you’re feeling angry, do not reply until you’ve calmed down - there are other places you can go to get angry at people (one of the funnest pastimes), but this is meant to be a friendly place for informed discussion. Put any conflict between your points of view down to miscommunication wherever possible. Example particularly for those who were led here from LessWrong or similar: the other person may not have had the benefit of rationality training, so don’t reply as if ey should find it blindingly obvious that ey is committing a fallacy.

(Sorry for the basic nature of this advice - heaven only knows why it’s not taught in schools, and in general it seems not to occur to many people until it’s pointed out to them.)


I would definitely agree: free speech does not mean free audience. At some point the mod has to step in, but a secondary purpose in the posting is that too much mod reliance is itself a dangerous thing. This may or may not be a self-serving ideal considering I’m currently running the soylent subreddit, and would like to think the community at large can take care of its own rear end when needed.

The whole thing probably could have been handled much better using the ‘reply as new topic’ feature so the original thread can be flagged to oblivion, and an actual discussion take place elsewhere (still might not be a bad idea). This would explicitly separate the valid points of discussion from the, well, schizophrenic ones.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


This isn’t meant to be a post about continuing the GMO argument - that thread was locked for a reason.


Seconded. There’s an ‘off-topic’ flag, feel free to use it.


Thanks for pointing this out - I didn’t realise it was there. The wonders of Discourse are not yet fully revealed to me!


Woah I thought I was contributing. My mistake.


No worries! Just be sure to stay on topic, or create a new one (there’s a new topic button to the right of the currently read comment). We’re all still new to the discourse arena as well.

Obviously some threads won’t be as strict, so depends pretty heavily on the context and how other users perceive the post.