I haven’t entirely been following this, but David Smalley wrote an article saying that petty disagreements were killing the atheist movement. PZ Myers disagreed, and it got hashed out in the Dogma Debate podcast. I have a lot of trouble listening to podcasts, so I mostly heard about it through Trav.
One of Smalley’s points is that we should resolve conflicts more amicably by “picking up the phone”.
Let’s pick up the phone and have conversations when we disagree. If you don’t have their phone number, send them a private message asking to get on Skype to talk it out.
PZ Myers argues that many of our conflicts are too substantial to be resolved over the phone.
My own reaction: calling my phone to talk about an internet disagreement would be hella aggressive. Sending me a private e-mail is also aggressive. I am astounded that people who want more civility sincerely advocate such nasty tactics.
Obligatory disclaimer: This represents only my own feelings about private communications, which may be different from your feelings.
When folks from the blagonets send me private e-mails, it feels like an encroachment on my personal space. Here I am sorting through workplace spam and some complete stranger* from the internet is demanding my one-on-one attention? Maybe I just don’t care about you that much, dear stranger! Maybe I have better things to do with my time! Sometimes I respond to people if I feel like being nice to strangers, but otherwise I ignore them or tell them to leave a public comment.
*Smalley’s presumption that we are friends just because we are in the same movement makes me seethe. We are strangers! Why are you denying our beautiful strangership?
And that’s when people are being nice. When people send me e-mails to disagree vehemently with me, it feels downright abusive. If we’re going to have an argument, I’d like a bit of social support, and for many topics that support comes from the internet. You want to get me alone where I don’t have support? Fuck your civility!
Admittedly, there are some situations where taking it to the public can feel like escalation. Mainly, this happens when someone is very popular, and gets a lot of social support. PZ Myers is relatively popular, so when he posts something the horde descends upon it. But not everyone is a celebrity, and in fact most people aren’t.
If you are interested in being civil, private communication is not the way to achieve it. Ask people’s preferences, and respect them.
Also, civility is overrated.