20 October 2007

The trouble with SDN

For many months, during my self-imposed exile, I've had the feeling that something has gone wrong over at SDN, and furthermore, it went wrong a while ago. My original plan was to stay exiled for 90 days, and come back 1 September. It is the middle of October now and I'm still not back. Admittedly, I haven't finished HI yet, but I hadn't expected to get it done in 90 days, either. I really haven't been in any particular hurry to get back. There just seems to be something off about the place, and I haven't been able to articulate what it is.

Then this morning, I looked in Off Topic, and discovered Kanastrous did it for me.

Hey, fucktard, are y'all such total obnoxious asswipes that your pleasure in life is calling people names when they ask a simple (or what ought to be a simple) question?

Searching a board for the meaning of an acronym is a waste of time, at least, if I'm going out on a limb and thinking that just maybe people around here aren't such a pack of assholes-for-the-sake-of-being-assholes that they can't even bring themselves to answer a pig-fucking simple question.

You must be one incredible fucking coward in real life, if you have to build yourself up and get off on pointless rudeness to total strangers who are too far away to smash your fucking teeth in, just for daring to ask a simple question.

What the fuck is wrong with you? Didn't your mother pay you enough attention, when you were young?!
The background: Kanastrous asked the meaning of the word "RAR!", assuming it was an acronym. DPDarkPrimus responded "It's a board meme", a magnificently unhelpful response to which Kanastrous replied, "Thanks. That's magnificently unhelpful."

At this point, Fleet Admiral JD replied thusly:
Hey, fucktard, why don't you take a look at previous posts and figure it out? It's not a hard thing to grasp unless your skull is as thick as a frigging tree trunk. Then again, judging by some of your posting behavior, maybe the truth is that simple concepts are beyond your comprehension.
Kanastrous then opened fire with both barrels, which I quoted above.

The thing that has been bothering me (and, I suspect, more than a few other people) is not acrimonious debate. That topic was brought up on the board a little while ago, and while I do believe the issue of civility in debate is not limited to the binary choice of "Miss Manners" or "Everybody is an asshole all the time", I think, in the balance, most people get exactly what they deserve in board debates, and at any rate, I would not trade honesty for civility.

(I do think that a good general rule would be to give any poster at least one civil reply, to see if he's debating honestly; if he's not, then call down the napalm).

But this incident didn't happen in a debate; it was just a question, one that would have been easy to answer. I don't want to seem like I'm picking on Fleet Admiral JD here (I don't hold any grudge, or indeed, much of an opinion at all on him), but he DID act like an asshole and, so far as I can tell, for no better reason than because he could. I suppose you could argue that Kanastrous's snippy reply to DPDarkPrimus warranted a hostile response, but really, DP should have answered the question fully (or not said anything at all), it wasn't DP who responded, and really, JD's response still would have been massive overkill if it had come from DP.

In real life, only an epic prick would act like JD did in the thread, and that epic prick would have to be pretty certain he could win the fight that he'd likely start by acting like that. Yet acting like that has become completely acceptable on SDN (one reply to Kanastrous was "Overreact much?").

Somehow, on SDN, the idea that any level of hostility is acceptable in a debate has mutated into "any level of hostility is acceptable, all the time". Especially, I suspect, when it is directed against newbies or unpopular posters. I'm absolutely positive I'm guilty of this too (I didn't bother doing a search of my own posts, in part because I need to do a Google search to find them, and in part because I really didn't want to see them), but that doesn't mean I was right. Part of why Kanastrous's response resonated with me was because he pinned down some of my own motivations for acting like an asshole in the past. I could try to justify it by saying I have had to sit and take shit from bosses, students, parents, etc. in the real world and so my hostility on SDN is driven by a desire to unload what I can't unload on them, but really, it's not much of an excuse. It's still acting like a giant prick because I'm unafraid of retaliation.

So what to do about this? Well, speaking as a Senator and a member of the administration...not very much. There's no practical way to enforce "Don't be an asshole" without A) forcing moderators to make value judgments on what's "too nasty", which they will undoubtedly get wrong often and will be accused of getting wrong oftener, or B) writing a great hairy clot of rules regulating posting behavior that will annoy everyone, accidentally force people to be nice to dishonest jerkoffs in debates, and allow people to act like pricks anyway once all the loopholes have been found. The best way to change the culture on the board to something more civil, without turning it into Miss Manners, is to do exactly what Kanastrous did: when someone acts like a big dildo because he thinks he can get away with it, flame the living shit out of him.

Combat hostility with hostility. It's the SDN way.