The Mannerly Art of Disagreement

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Title: The Mannerly Art of Disagreement, or Jeffersonian Debate is Alive and Well on the Internet
Creator: Macedon
Date(s): December 7, 1997, revised 2000
Medium: Meta
Fandom: Multifandom
External Links: The Mannerly Art of Disagreement, Archived version
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The Mannerly Art of Disagreement, or Jeffersonian Debate Is Alive and Well on the Internet was written by Macedon in 1997 and revised in 2000.

It formed the basis of ASC policy and was sent out as part of the regular ASC FAQ.

The introduction: "A FAQ intended to compliment Peg Robinson's "'The Mannerly Art of Critique'."

When it was first posted, it had this introduction:

This FAQ is being posted due to recent debates becoming a little to personal [1]. I request that all particpants read this FAQ. This FAQ will be posted on an as needed basis, until I can redo the posting schedule. -- Stephen Ratliff, FAQ Maintainer. [2]

Many other fandoms have included it in their FAQs as well, as a guide for fans engaging in online disagreements. A few weeks after it was posted, a fan asked:

Would it be appropriate and OK for me to share this with another NG I sub to? Some people there have been having some not-so-mannerly disagreements lately, and this says what they need to hear a lot better than anything I could say. I would, of course, keep the author's name and credits attached. [3]

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Rules of Engagement
III. What If One Participant Refuses To Play Fair?
IV. Is It Ever All Right To Break The Rules?

Some Excerpts


Among the greatest problems faced in a public forum is how participants may disagree without descending into either personal attacks or not-so-witty one line repartee. There are certain "rules of engagement," if you will, which can prevent name-calling and other debate no-nos.

But first, we must dispel the myth that polite equals namby-pamby. In fact, it is possible to disagree--even to disagree significantly--in civil manner. Disagreement is never *comfortable*, but if we refrain from permitting it to become a war (or on the internet, a flamewar) we might learn something and keep our blood pressure down at the same time. Disagreement can be fruitful. But it will be fruitful only so long as certain guidelines are followed.


Aren't there some topics that just don't *deserve* Jeffersonian debate? Aren't some positions so disgusting that they shouldn't be dignified by polite responses? What about posts by hate groups, neo- Nazis, pornographers, etc.?

This is a problematic question since it may lead down a slippery slope--rather like censorship. The automatic pitfall of free speech is that it IS free: people you don't like and with whom you disagree have just as much right to state their positions--short of slander--as you have to argue with them. Child pornography or its advertizement is illegal; debate about it is not...however disgusting or horrifying one may find the phenomena.

There are certain topics which are so widely regarded as morally objectionable that if one attacks them with non-Jeffersonian methods such as name-calling and invective, one may be cheered by most if not all the on-lookers. Yet there are other subjects, more controversial, which involve opinions just as virulent--such as homosexuality or abortion--but about which there is far less consensus. Some consider homosexuality or abortion to be as reprehensible as child pornography or murder, and refuse to engage in any polite debate about it because, of course, they are *right* and everyone who disagrees is wrong (and usually disgusting and stupid, too). The reverse can be equally true: defenders of either may automatically see all opponents as bigoted or irrational (often based on past experience), and refuse to even listen to other positions as they're too busy screaming their own at the top of their (virtual) lungs.

Neither side is trying to *debate*. They're just on rampage and should be treated accordingly: Laugh at them, ignore them, or get out of their way, but don't lower yourself to their level by copying their methods. Doing so certainly won't accomplish anything except to make you look just as foolish. If, however, you meet up with someone who IS being polite in debate--no matter what you may think of his or her position--IF YOU WISH TO CONVINCE ANYONE ELSE OF YOURS, stay polite yourself.

In other words, No, it's never wise to break the rules. Not unless you're applying for God's job.

Related Links
People Macedon, Peg Robinson, Stephen Ratliff
Places ASC, ASCEM, Trekiverse
Things The Mannerly Art of Critique