11 April 2007

Echo chambers

Here's a really good posting about a subject which has been on my mind on and off lately -- the issue of trying to maintain some degree of coherence on one's website, which can necessitate putting limits on interlopers who have agendas of their own. As poster Lindsay Beyerstein puts it:

If you cast a very wide net, you can attract enough people to sustain a very narrow conversation. Within limits, the bigger the better, especially online. You need a critical mass of dedicated participants to create a thriving community. There aren't a lot of places in everyday life where feminists can talk to other feminists about the finer points of feminism. If I want to defend feminism from first principles with a diehard misogynist, it's easy. So, you can see why an actively managed self-identified feminist community like Pandagon is of great value to its members. If Amanda didn't work at keeping the community within certain relatively permissive bounds, the community would lose a lot.

For those of you who want to start special pleading about how feminism is worthless anyway, spare us and mentally substitute some example you like better. Imagine how you would feel if we were talking about a vibrant community centered around your favorite uncommon interest. For my part, I'm very glad that these specialized voluntary communities exist, whether I think the topic is interesting to me or not--and not just for the sake of the participants. If everyone was scrapping over first principles all the time, we'd never get to any interesting questions.

Similarly, I'm really not interested in getting into first-principles debates with creationists, flat-Earthers, September 11 conspiracy nuts, Holocaust deniers, global-warming deniers, and suchlike. It would take time and energy away from discussions about those "interesting questions" that have actual relevance to the real world.

Note also that this is emphatically not a freedom-of-speech issue. I neither have nor want any power to limit what anyone else can say. But I'm not obligated to turn my own site into a forum for him to say it. He can get his own site easily enough, or comment on one more to his liking.


Blogger Chell said...

Well, if you're havin' a social, focused on one thing or on many things, where all are invited, it's perfectly acceptable to keep one guest from derailing the whole thing for you or for others. If the social is being held in your "house," then your house rules apply, and visitors better wipe their feet on the way in.

13 April, 2007 10:16  

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