Taking your pulse…What makes a good discussion?

By: Andrew S
February 23, 2012

taking pulseHello once again, dear readers of Wheat & Tares…We’ve taken pulses twice before now, and now makes three…the issues I’d like to discuss today is blog commenting, discussion, and community. Or, to put it in a different way…

Mirror, mirror — you-know-who — who’s the fairest commenter in your view?

But before we get to that part of the post, I’d like to share my experiences.

A Brief Personal History of Online Forums

Map of Online Communites

Over my internet-surfing life, I’ve been involved with several different communities. The first message boards and discussion boards I was involved with were the ones at GameFAQs.com. After all, I was already at the site looking for frequently-asked-questions and walkthroughs (sure beat buying actual game guides!) so moving to the forums was only natural. While most of the boards were devoted to particular games (a forum for each game, in fact), there were social forums as well for discussion on, well, anything else.

Eventually, I migrated from GameFAQs to a private, secret (…or was it sacred) spinoff forum that doesn’t exist. I can’t say I’m too proud of it now, but since joining that site on August 2, 2005, I’ve wasted 11,214 hours there. (Yes, the site *does* have a statistic for “hours wasted”.)

The reason that this spinoff site existed was because of many reasons, but one reason in particular was that the creator of the site and the earliest users of that site were protesting against what they felt was the heavy-handed moderation of the GameFAQs mods. So, in contrast, this new spinoff site had very lax moderation: basically, anything went.

For many years, this was fine by me. As I grew older and wanted to discuss more serious topics, however, I realized the inadequacy of that site’s model. It wasn’t just the lack of moderation…rather it was the lack of moderation combined with a culture that pushed people to exploit the lack of moderation. While that’s fun in some cases, at some point, you simply get tired of people trolling, insulting, or derailing threads without warning.

Something Awful LogoEventually, I bought an account at SomethingAwful.

The SomethingAwful forums, rather unlike its name would suggested, had many moderators who weren’t (and aren’t) afraid to suspend or ban members to keep discussions good. In fact, SA has a continuously updated list of users who are put on probation or who are banned with the reasons they were banned…and when reading the forum, posts that lead to probation are marked as such. Before joining, I read several horror stories of people spending $9.95 for a SomethingAwful account, being banned within hours of buying, and then having to pay the money all over again. An idea that many posters provided as advice to new members: lurk, lurk, lurk. Only post after having lurked for months.

To this day, I have not actually made a single post or created a single thread there.

Heavy moderation had one nice effect — it made it possible for really engaging discussions to take place without threat of derail or disruption (or, in my case, it made for really great threads just to read). But I always personally feared to post because I was worried about being banned or put on probation.

MetaFilter Community WeblogEven more recently, I had begun reading MetaFilter. It was easy getting into the best of the web, because it’s free to read MetaFilter…it only costs to comment or gain the ability to post front-page posts. MetaFilter, like SomethingAwful, has consistently thoughtful, intelligent discussions on seemingly any issue (really: any subject that gets a front-page post will draw subject matter experts from out of the wood-work.)

…and yet, there are some issues that don’t go over as well as could be. When religion is discussed, the discussion tends to slant in a secular atheistic way, which is fine by itself, but I can often tell the very thoughtful, conservative religious commenters are 1) outnumbered and 2) not always taken as seriously as they could be.

Reddit Alien…yet, for all of those problems, MetaFilter is loads better than other communities I could mention: take Reddit, for example. Although this post addresses Reddit’s problems with sexism from an atheist community perspective, the things written within are true of Reddit in general. Or, to synthesize some of the other sites I’ve mentioned, at MetaFilter you can read a great post summarizing Reddit’s escapades with child porn and jailbait and the fact that it took an organized SomethingAwful movement (To Catch a Redditor) to use the collective force of the internet to get these subreddit forums shut down.

I don’t know about you, but the way that has turned out says a lot to me about the different communities at play.

…What does this say for any of us here?

Obviously, here on our Mormon interwebs, we don’t have some of the drama that, say, reddit has. (Thank goodness; that’s absolutely MESSED UP stuff.) But we can see that, around the bloggernacle, different sites develop different communities…there are different atmospheres to posting at different blogs.

Much as with the difference between the ban-trigger-happy SomethingAwful and the apparently more lax Reddit, there are differences around the bloggernacle as far as who gets suspended or banned. But even more than the official moderation policies of a site, the quality of discussion is molded by the spirit of the community.

Wheat & Tares isn’t going to start charging people membership fee, and we certainly then aren’t going to start banning to enforce more thoughtfulness through fear. In fact, our moderation policy has been to be as hands-off as humanly possible, especially because we recognize that we have often been seen as outsiders, especially in contexts relating to the church, so we know how bad it feels to be shunned, to be banned simply for saying something. We understand too how it feels to be outside of a clique, so that even when we have tried to engage in conversation, we have been thoroughly ignored.

So, our policy has been (and still is) not to moderate or suspend for content (unless it is gratuitously offensive…which we haven’t seen all that often, fortunately.) And on a personal level, when I have a post, I try to engage with every commenter, just so that they know their comment has been read and acknowledged. The only exceptions (which end up mattering): I also know of sites where all people do is say, “Great post!”, “Thanks for this!” “I agree!” for comments upon comments…I’m not a huge fan of this, so whenever I don’t have any substantial responses to make or a person (either positive or critical), I probably won’t respond. Whenever my only comment would be to say I agree, I may not make that comment.

Content vs. Tone, Time, Place, and Manner

…there is one thing we have seen with respect to commenting, both here or elsewhere. Some discussions simply stop being fun. It’s not necessarily because of the content of what people are saying…rather, it’s because of the tone that the discussion takes or the manner in which certain commenters comment. For example, there are certain commenters who can be predicted almost as if on cue to post concerning certain topics, and what they will say will be just as predictable as when and where they will say it. Even if a discussion is not directly focused on that issue they want to talk about, if it is tangentially related in any way, they will find a way to talk about that.

Let me just give you a protip: this is obnoxious. Don’t derail threads for your pet issues.

Another thing that we sometimes is this dismissive tone that people tend to take on certain issues. This tone produces comments which are oh-so-staccato…there’s not really much content there, because the comments are so abrupt, so short…and yet the comments drip with disdain or dismissal of someone or something (TBMs? Ex-Mormons? It depends on who is making the comment, but I’ve seen it go both ways.)

Let me just give you another protip: this is also obnoxious. Make your comments count.

We really want as many people to feel comfortable with commenting here as possible, so instead of just throwing people out, what we as the permabloggers at W&T want to do is communicate with you when we feel there is something that a particular commenter could improve upon. So, don’t feel bad if, whether in the comments or in a private email, we make a statement regarding commenting behaviors that we want to be changed. Don’t feel bad if one of the bloggers asks you to either relate your comment back to the topic at hand or sit out of that discussion.

Mirror, mirror — you-know-who — who’s the fairest commenter in your view?

So, now we return back to the opening idea…today, this discussion is for us to talk about what makes a good discussion, what makes a site more appealing to comment to (and what makes people want to lurk or leave), and which people here make the entire experience the most enjoyable.

For me, I really enjoy LDS Anarchist‘s comments. LDS Anarchist consistently shows that you can disagree with someone in an agreeable manner. I always find his comments about religion to be well-thought and well-reasoned, even if I understand as well that his reasoning and thinking process comes from such different assumptions and foundations than mine, so functionally, I disagree with many of his conclusions.

…In fact, the agreeableness to which we disagree causes me to think of a different way to phrase it: I like his comments so much that I feel “disagreement” is too harsh a term. Rather, I feel it’s more that, “I am not yet ready to agree.

That, IMO, is a huge compliment. If I had to encapsulate the spirit of a good discussion in one line, then it would be a spirit where even though the positions the various commenters take may be very different…we are engaging in such a way that it’s easy for us to like a commenter’s thoughtfulness and logical process, even if we didn’t agree with their actual conclusion or accept their premises.

In other words, I think a good discussion is one where we can feel the difference between staunchly disagreeing (with no perceived possibility for coming to the other side) and not (yet) agreeing (but recognizing that we really could see ourselves getting there at some point.) If we find ourselves “not (yet) agreeing” more often rather than “staunchly disagreeing,” then I think we can have a lot more fruitful of discussions.

There are, of course, several other commenters I like…some I agree with on many issues, some with whom I don’t…but I just wanted to mention LDS Anarchist for one.

Today’s Questions:

For today’s questions, I’d like everyone to focus on positives rather than negatives. So, who are your favorite commenters, rather than who are your least favorite commenters.

  1. Who are your favorite commenters either here or elsewhere? What do you think makes them so enjoyable?
  2. What do you you the like and dislike buttons we have here for? Do you ever find yourself using them instead of commenting, or do you generally use them along with commenting? Do you use them for a comment’s tone, content, or logical strength? (As I mentioned before, as a post author, I try to respond to the majority of commenters on my articles, especially because when I’m commenting at other sites, I hate the feeling of being ignored, so I don’t want that to happen to anyone. However, I dislike empty comments almost as much as being ignored, so I don’t have anything constructive to respond with or something to ask…OR if the only thing I have to say is, “I agree with you,” then I probably won’t comment. This is bad, because sometimes, you don’t know that people like what you had to say unless they EXPLICITLY say it. So, I use the like button when I like what the person said — so that they know that someone’s out there reading them. However, I use the dislike button considerably differently. I don’t use it when I didn’t like content. I use it when I didn’t like tone, or when I thought the comment was an empty, one-off critical comment. Finally, I use it when I think a comment is plain illogical.)
  3. Are there sites — either in the bloggernacle or completely outside of Mormon issues — that foster consistently good discussions? What do you think is the reason for the success?

Tags: , , ,

77 Responses to Taking your pulse…What makes a good discussion?

  1. question on February 23, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    haha. i think it would be funny if no one commented on this post. like not a single person.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on February 23, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    I have lots of favorites: Wayfarer on StayLDS, SPG on NOM, Chino Blanco, Course Correction, DKL, Kevin Barney – there are far too many to name. What I like most is an articulate comment with a fresh perspective that advances the ball of the discussion. I also like comments that use humor effectively. I get bored by idealogues who don’t respect the opposing argument. I like a discussion that makes me think my own views through more than I otherwise would.

    I can’t think of a site that I think has consistently good discussions. They all have good and bad ones, IMO. The topic has to be interesting and the people talking about it have to be fun to read.

    I think the general consensus thumbs up comments are almost always worth reading!

    question – I looked back through, and I found your comments quite good. Succinct and on point, and several that were crowd favorites.

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  3. Jeff Spector on February 23, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    I actually do not have favorite commenters because I find that everyone has their good days and bad days.

    I have some unfavorite ones, but that is more having to do with tone rather than substance. I can always handle a good discussion even when we disagree.

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  4. Jake on February 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    I don’t have favorites mostly because I’m bad enough at remembering names of my family let alone the number of people who comment on various online forums. I tend instead to just focus on what people say rather then who is saying it. The comments that I enjoy most are the ones who challenge the way I think, or allow me to see an issue differently.

    I tend to use the like buttons for comments that I enjoy reading regardless of if I agree or not, or if they are particularly well written or make me laugh. Dislike is essentially my dogmatic, obnoxious button, used for anything that fits into those categories. I like the buttons as I can use it for vicarious comments, as when I can’t think of anything interesting to say thankfully the like button is there instead.

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  5. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    re 1,

    question,

    You have no idea how much I fear something like that happening on a post like this.

    re 2,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    The comment like/dislike plugin that we have has a premium version (I don’t know how much it is…probably just a few bucks), and that one allows you to sort out top liked comments, top disliked comments, etc., I sometimes think it would be neat to get that just to be able to sort them or to see which people tend to have well liked comments.

    I’m trying to figure out how to rephrase things to get a site. When you say “they all have good and bad ones,” does that means that it’s about evenly good and bad? can you think of some that have more good than bad (in your opinion)?

    re 3:

    Jeff,

    Does a commenter having a bad day mean they cannot be a favorite?

    Maybe “favorite” was a bad word…

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  6. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    re 4,

    Jake,

    you snuck on a comment while I was commenting!

    I guess another question I should’ve asked, so I’ll ask it for everyone here:

    For those of you who comment regularly, do you ever check to see if your comments have been liked or disliked?

    For me, I definitely do. So, even if I haven’t been responded to, if I’ve gotten a bunch of likes, that’s still pretty cool.

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  7. jmb275 on February 23, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    I really like Paul’s comments, and Ray’s comments. I often don’t see things the same as they do, but I feel that they provide a sapient tone that compels me to listen and reevaluate my feelings. I also think there’s a level of trust I have in them. I’m willing to listen if for no other reason than that I trust their experience and wisdom. They have both good tone and good content, with a strong dose of compassion.

    I also wanna add to this discussion slightly by mentioning that I personally feel I am also responsible for learning to appropriately read comments. Not everyone is an English major and can write/say what they really mean. I think if I’m sincere in advancing the discussion I need to try and balance my parsing with my “reading between the lines” to appropriately capture the thought being conveyed.

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  8. jmb275 on February 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I do like the like/dislike mechanism a lot. I almost unilaterally “dislike” only for tone. However, I will “like” for tone, or for content (if I agree strongly with it).

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  9. ?????? on February 23, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I have favorites, not going to list them.

    I am often surprised at the direction a discussion takes. A post that seems fairly benign to me can develop a life of its own and end up in a place I did not see coming. Conversely, a post that would seem to generate buzz kind of ends up dying on the vine. Go figure.

    I’m not the smartest egg on the planet, nor am I stupid. When discussions start using bigger and bigger words, even though I know what they mean, I tend to drop them. I think it is important to remember that sometimes simple comments are the most profound. For what it’s worth, I wish “nuance” would drop from the planet.

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  10. SilverRain on February 23, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    To be blunt, I comment here a lot less often than I used to because of the like and dislike buttons. I have observed that they are generally used to bully more than anything, so while I may read a post, I don’t comment unless I feel particularly moved, even more than otherwise, or if I feel my comment is very neutral.

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  11. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    re 7, 8,

    jmb,

    I also like both Paul and Ray. I will only casually admit that I sometimes get their blogs confused, attributing one to the other and vice versa.

    In particular, I like that Ray is very particular about language and parsing…however, I also agree with your later statement that when reading others’ comments, sometimes you have to read in between the lines.

    re 9,

    ??????,

    So, you’ll post anonymously and not list favorites…awwwww.

    Anyway, yeah, I’ve been surprised too at which posts become popular (and how the discussions move) and which ones don’t seem to. I mean, there are some issues that we can predict will be popular because they are controversial, but we’re trying to find a way write about other issues/topics so that they will draw as much attention.

    While I do tend to use the term “nuance,” it’s about as often as not in a tongue-in-cheek manner to poke fun at those who use it totally seriously…so, is that good or bad? ;)

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  12. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    re 10,

    SilverRain,

    It’s unfortunate, but I have also noticed dislikes being used to bully. I mean, when a particular poster gets a dislike for anything s/he says, *no matter what s/he’s saying*, then that’s problematic. I don’t quite know how to address this.

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  13. Fred on February 23, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    What’s with the word “tone”? It is quickly becoming THE way of putting down somwone’s comment. I don’t think you even read the word on the Blogs a few years ago(?)

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  14. Howard on February 23, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    I enjoy Jake’s and Andrew S’ comments for their clear thinking, Ray’s for balance and Will’s because he’s willing to say what he thinks even when it means a lot of dislikes.

    Sometimes I feel the like/dislike buttons are over used in petty ways but I enjoyed this recent thread and several commenters said they did too. It had many likes and only a few dislikes and I don’t recall any significant disagreements or arguments: http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/02/22/the-future-of-the-church-evolve-or-burn/#comment-30644

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  15. Jeff Spector on February 23, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Andrew S.

    “Does a commenter having a bad day mean they cannot be a favorite?”

    I have folks here that I tend to agree with, but we all have good days and bad days.

    I’d rather focus on the comments themselves since, for the most part, I do not know anyone personally that I know of.

    And I agree with Silverrain that the like/dislike buttons are sometimes used improperly.

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  16. dba.brotherp on February 23, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    I’ve been lurking here since the beginning of Wheat and Tares (I’ve been following most of you since Mormon Matters) and only recently started commenting.

    The thing I like best about W&T is the relatively hands off approach by the moderators/OP authors. Some blogs have a dictator feel about them meaning don’t disagree or you’re banned and stay on topic or you’re banned. I also appreciate the diversity of opinions that are express here.

    The thing I like least is the like/dislike buttons.

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  17. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    re 13,

    Fred,

    To the contrary, I think good blogs and forums have always had an intuited, implied understanding of tone. They didn’t have to talk about it because they would shun and or suspend people directly.

    Meanwhile, the rest of people who didn’t talk about it didn’t have a good handle of it, and so their discussions suffered as a result.

    …But really, tone isn’t a surprising thing. It’s something that doesn’t sound weird at all when we’re talking about offline discussions (we know people who are obnoxious), so why not remember it in online discussions (simply put, people can be obnoxious online AND off)?

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  18. Justin on February 23, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Andrew:

    That, IMO, is a huge compliment.

    I’ve remarked at the LDS Anarchy blog that:

    You must know that I take it as the utmost compliment to hear that someone who disagrees with me can still enjoy reading what I wrote. I can enjoy being disagreed with — knowing you at least can see the merit in the opinion expressed.

    I’ve noticed it with myself personally and online: one group will say I’m close-minded, disrespectful, and argumentative — while another group say I’m open-minded [if not too open-minded], respectful of all different kinds of opinions [if not too willing to accept any other opinion], and generally inquisitive towards the views of others.

    I’ve never figured out what the difference can be — because anytime I ask a disagreer, they perceive it as me being even more argumentative for asking.

    As far as:

    What do you think makes [your favorite commenters] so enjoyable?

    I agree with what you wrote in the OP — in that I don’t mind disagreement that is coming from an internally consistent point-of-view.

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  19. Justin on February 23, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    I think that people who don’t like the like/dislike buttons are ones who usually get pinked — which probably explains why they don’t like them…

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  20. Jake on February 23, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    I hadn’t thought of the likes/dislikes being used for bullying. I guess thinking in that way about them it makes them seem a bit like the story of the Wemmick people that I have heard a billion times in Church about the man Ponchenello and the wooden people who stick stickers onto each other, and he feels bad as he only gets bad stickers and then Eli his creator teaches him that they only stick if he lets them. You can read the full version here (if by some miracle you have not already heard it in Church): http://www.oocities.org/heartland/fields/6670/wemmick.html

    That said I only really use the like button, and some days when I am feeling particularly contrary and intentionally say something outrageous, I even take the dislike buttons as a compliment. But then that’s just me.

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  21. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    re 14

    Howard

    Wow; those are a lot of yellow comments…now, I’m thinking it would be neat to see what post has the greatest percentage of yellow comments, but I fear Alice’s discussion would already have a lock there.

    re 15,

    Jeff

    I guess focusing on the comments (rather than commenters) is good because different people can have particular good comments on certain subjects, but then not-as-good comments on other subjects.

    re 16,

    dba.brotherp

    Yeah, without naming any names, we definitely try to avoid the feel of certain other blogs that have the dictatorial feel. At the same time, I do feel like topicality is at least somewhat important…if I see that a discussion is moving to a different topic, I’d rather invite someone to write a guest post about that issues (so that we could have a post dedicated to that issue) rather than to have the one discussion go completely to a different topic.

    re 18,

    Justin,

    Great minds think alike, so it seems (except for all the occasions where they don’t.) Yeah, I have no idea how to interpret multiple completely opposite reactions to the same posts/comments…I guess it’s just a love-it-or-hate-it sort of deal?

    re 19,

    I think being pinked is one thing…but rather, I can understand that with the way things work, you don’t really know WHY people are disliking your comments…so you can’t tell if people just don’t like your content or if they dislike your tone. And plus, since likes/dislikes are anonymous, anyone can do a drive-by disliking.

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  22. Mike S on February 23, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    Great post.

    I like the like/dislike buttons. They tend to draw my attention to more pertinent comments – especially in posts with a large number of comments. I don’t tend to use the buttons much myself. Dislike is generally for someone who is condescending, snarky, or disrespectful, as opposed to someone with whom I disagree. Like is not necessarily for someone with whom I agree, but for someone who makes a valid point.

    Regarding favorite commenters, there are many and they are varied, as mentioned above. My biggest criteria for a “favorite” is someone who can back-up their point with some sort of reason. I don’t really care if I agree with someone or not, so I really like the idea of “I’m not yet ready to agree”. My own opinions have been changed over time in some areas because of various comments.

    I really do appreciate the wide variety of insights we get here. We have a tremendous number of different backgrounds here, with each person bringing valuable insights.

    And mostly, I appreciate the openness of the site. There are several LDS sites I no longer visit. There are sites where comments are moderated, and unless you agree with the poster, they are deleted. There are sites where I leave a comment as simple as “This is a test” and it doesn’t get through (maybe I’m blacklisted or something). In any event, I don’t go to those sites anymore. Echo chambers don’t interest me. Does it make this site a bit more “messy”, sure, but I wouldn’t change it at all.

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  23. LovelyLauren on February 23, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    One of the things I enjoy most about Wheat and Tares is that I rarely feel ignored when I choose to comment. I often receive responses, whereas I feel pretty much ignored at BCC. There was a thread on BCC awhile ago that talked about experience vs. argument based discussion in the bloggernacle and I like that there is a balance of both here. I can relate my experience without being told that anecdotes are worthless or I can argue intelligently without hurting feelings (which happened recently on an FMH facebook discussion group.)

    I like the like/dislike buttons. I use them when I feel someone has made a really good point and less often when I disagree with their sentiment (more though when I disagree and I find their argument worthless.)And I always like when I get a bunch of likes, who doesn’t? I even like when I get dislikes because at least someone is paying attention.

    I can’t think of any commenters I particularly like, most because I can’t really remember, but there are several here who express sentiments I often enjoy and find interesting.

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  24. Justin on February 23, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    I agree with dba.brotherp #16

    The thing I like best about W&T is the relatively hands off approach by the moderators/OP authors.

    I don’t even mind when conversations wonder completely off topic — though I can see how a post’s author might not like that.

    The LDS Anarchy blog comment policy has been to only moderate spam and profanity. And the rather-open comment policy here is what makes this the blog I comment at 2nd most frequently.

    I think people should be free to speak their thoughts and minds as they see fit, without fear of censorship.

    Censoring opposing viewpoints only cuts down on how much we can learn something new or gain greater tolerance for different or opposing viewpoints.

    Andrew:

    And plus, since likes/dislikes are anonymous, anyone can do a drive-by disliking.

    But isn’t that the point? We vote in State elections in an anonymous fashion — right? If I disagree/was offended by what you said and I wanted to engageyou, then I would engage you in the form of a comment.

    To me, a down-vote means, “That was crap and I’m not going to bother to pick it apart.”

    The only criticism I’d lay on the up/down-voting system is that there are only two colors. Many downs with no up-votes gets the same “Controversial“-pink as many ups with but a few down-votes.

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  25. SilverRain on February 23, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    Justin, I’ve gotten overwhelmingly “liked” as much as “disliked” here. My own personal experiences don’t color my opinion.

    I find that like/dislike buttons in a forum such as this one contributes to mob mentality almost solely. If I profess and opinion and get twenty likes while someone else gets ten and another person gets twenty dislikes, it fosters an environment which encourages people to pander to the mob in order to feel liked. I gave up that garbage in junior high school and have never looked back. I don’t participate much in communities that tolerate such an environment, no matter how much I might like them otherwise.

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  26. SilverRain on February 23, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    And your last comment only corroborates my opinion. It fosters an environment where cowards, mockers, or the lazy can try to force another’s opinion with no personal risk.

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  27. FireTag on February 23, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    I often use likes when I just don’t have time to comment and want people to know they “done good”. Dislikes are more often for tone than “crap but no time to pick it apart”. Those who live by the pink shall die by the pink.

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  28. Justin on February 23, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    it fosters an environment which encourages people to pander to the mob in order to feel liked.

    I guess it would take anecdotal evidence from other commenters to convince me that this is the case — but I’ve never felt any encouragement to post or not post a comment based on what I felt “the mob” might like or dislike.

    I’m honestly surprised I don’t get pinked more often — given my comments on anarchy and polygamy [which are generally unpopular states of opinion among LDS].

    It fosters an environment where cowards, mockers, or the lazy can try to force another’s opinion with no personal risk.

    I don’t get it — pink, yellow, or none — what “forces” an opinion out of you?

    Those who live by the pink shall die by the pink.” — right?

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  29. Justin on February 23, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Also, SR:

    And your last comment only corroborates my opinion. It fosters an environment where cowards, mockers, or the lazy can try to force another’s opinion with no personal risk.

    Would you say that our anonymous voting in State elections fosters an environment where cowards, mockers, and the lazy force their opinion?

    Is the church model of open voting, where everyone sees the raised hands, a better way to vote?

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  30. shb13 on February 23, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    re 11

    Andrew S.

    This is from ?????? I will identify myself a little.

    I will say that I have enjoyed most of you who post at one time or another. I think it is a topic issue for me.

    Thank you for explaining how you use the word nuance. Good or bad is a waste of time for me. It is what it is. But I think the good – bad question was tongue in cheek also!

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  31. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    re 22,

    Mike,

    I think the idea of using likes/dislikes to go to more pertinent comments is interesting…since I usually either try to read all the comments (or I’m reading comments at a stage when not many likes/dislikes have been given), I haven’t seen the likes/dislikes in that way.

    But the next time I read a discussion that’s been going on for a few hours already, I’ll definitely have to remember to skim by reading the highlighted comments first.

    re 23,

    LovelyLauren,

    I wasn’t going to name any names, but if someone else will, ;)

    But on another note, I hadn’t thought of the difference between posts based on experiences vs. posts based on arguments…now I’m going to have to go through a mental check of which bloggers here tend to blog with their own personal experiences.

    re 24,

    Justin,

    I can see the point in having likes/dislikes be an anonymous option, but at the same time, I can also see what would be attractive about making people accountable for their likes/dislikes (this is why, I think, most like systems are based around Facebook’s…where you can’t really dislike, but your likes are publicly tied to you.

    I will say that there is code in our current like/dislike system that would allow us to have another comment option to yellow and pink — that option allows a post to be hidden if it gets too many dislikes. Commenters can still read the comment, but they have to click to expand it after it’s reached the hiding threshold.

    We’ve played with the idea of using this as a community moderation feature, but ultimately, we just think it’s a bad idea. Right now, yellow and pink comments are kinda fun, even if they can be abused. But if people’s comments could be *hidden* if they dropped below a certain threshold, that would cause all kinds of trouble. It would be the WORST of the mob mentality that SilverRain speaks of in a further comment.

    So for now, we only have the two options…

    re 25,

    SilverRain

    That’s actually a really good point against likes/dislikes. I guess it would be interesting to see if people try to comment in ways that avoid dislikes and that purposefully try to get likes…personally, I haven’t ever tried to modify my comments, but then I’m just one person…

    re 30,

    shb13,

    I guess we’ll have to eventually have one of these pulse checks where we ask what topics everyone likes to read best. Because I know that we try to be a bit broader in scope than some of the other LDS blogs out there, and yet sometimes, people don’t really like our economics, culture, politics, or science posts. Go figure?

    But I think the good – bad question was tongue in cheek also!

    >_> I plead the fifth.

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  32. hawkgrrrl on February 23, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    Andrew S – I honestly can’t think of a site that usually has great discussions. Maybe the one I think does it best is Mormon Mentality, although I don’t go there very often any more. I think LovelyLauren’s point about feeling included in the discussion is important. I do feel we usually only ignore trolls (or those we deem trolls) here. We are generally interested in those who are interested in the discussion. I often don’t feel that way on others sites. There are some that are very inclusive, but they feel a little too inclusive, like group therapy. We choose the sites we like based on personality I suppose.

    SilverRain’s point about bullying is worrisome. I have seen this a few times with people getting pinked for basically nothing, like their very name was enough to generate loathing. I don’t love that. I take great pleasure in giving a “like” to someone whose comments I usually disagree with but who has made a valid point or added to the progress of the discussion well.

    As I recall, part of the reason we are called Wheat & Tares is a reference to our light moderation policy. The likes / dislikes can also give people feedback on whether people see them as a wheat or tare in the discussion – but they can also contribute to group-think which I don’t like to see happening. I do think our posters at least have avoided any pressure to change their post styles to garner more approval from the mob, though.

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  33. LovelyLauren on February 23, 2012 at 6:27 PM

    Andrew, I should clarify that I have had mostly good experiences on the FMH blog, but the facebook group is almost TOO close of a discussion community and because of that, people seem get offended much easier.

    I shouldn’t bad mouth because it’s a community that I DO enjoy participating in, but there is definitely a different standard of what is and is not appropriate in conversation.

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  34. SilverRain on February 23, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    I submit that a great deal of the selection is backstage. Anecdotally, I know of people who refuse to comment or read here because of the perceived hostility towards dissenting points of view, and some who think I’m nuts for reading as much of W&T as I do. Granted, many of them won’t participate on other blogs without that function. The bullying is not caused by the buttons by any means. But I feel that the buttons make it easier to bully because you have complete anonymity, even more than usual, and utter lack of need to defend your negative opinion. Plus, it puts a tacit stamp of official approval on that behavior simply because of the existence of the buttons.

    According to what I’ve heard, that is partially why Facebook has refrained from creating a dislike button.

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  35. aerin on February 23, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    I’m a fan of most commenters everywhere. Even the anonymous commenters.

    I have received one or two of the long almost copy/paste testimony comments on my personal blog – I would much prefer comments that relate to the post or issues brought up in the post.

    I use the like/dislike buttons as an “I agree” or “I strongly disagree”. I can see where they could be problematic. I think it’s poor form to automatically like or dislike someone’s comment depending on who they are.

    Places with consistently good discussions?
    I don’t want to get into a popularity contest, which inevitably ends up with someone feeling left out. So there are a lot of good places out there.

    I know the places that don’t have good discussions are the ones that either shut down honest inquiry/questions or who have a myopic moderation policy. Myopic meaning they are not willing to allow people with a different point of view to comment.

    Also, on completely non mormon related boards, when people bring personal/business/financial drama to a board or discussion forum, that usually spells trouble. (Person x feels that person y wronged them or has said negative things about them which may or may not be true, etc.)

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  36. prometheus on February 23, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    Favorite commenters? I have lots, some of whom I find myself heartily disagreeing with, which is great. I appreciate alternative viewpoints, as a general rule.

    As far as the like / dislike buttons go, I am a big fan of the like buttons. It lets me say that I liked the comment, even though I don’t have anything of substance to add. The dislike buttons, meh – too easy to dislike without actually engaging in any counterpoint. I don’t know.

    Consistently good discussions? I don’t even get that in real life! :D Honestly, I find that most threads here are pretty civilized and that people are engaging in a real conversation.

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  37. hawkgrrrl on February 23, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    Silver Rain – I’m surprised that you are saying there are people who don’t want to comment due to perceived hostility for dissenting POV. Can you elaborate? I really would like to know more because we really do seek diversity. The permas do anyway, the commenters – who knows? Is this perceived as commenters or permas or both? Is it because we don’t mod?

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  38. Jake on February 23, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    I find it interesting that the like/dislike button would put people of commenting. I guess for me I don’t really think about it when commenting, I don’t sit there thinking… well I want to comment, but its likely to get maybe 5 dislikes so I won’t, or, if I say this then hopefully I will get 6 likes. I tend to just think ‘I think this about such and such’, and right now I am self-conceited enough to think that its worth sharing with others with little thought in how it will be received.

    I think that Prometheus, Aerin and Silverain bring up two important points about the dislike button. Is that one it is a lazy way of not engaging in the conversation. If you disagree then you should own that disagreement and make a case for why you disagree, in this respect it may in fact close down discussions, as instead of people engaging with a comment (other then the arrogant, bigoted trollish ones – which deserve to be ignored) they simply click dislike.

    The second being perceived hostility towards other points of view. To have a button that says we are able to judge what you say, and if we don’t like it then we will let you know about it with a mass dislike, does seem a bit hostile and passive aggressive for people when they come on. I had never seen it in this way, so thank you for highlighting this Silverrain. I can only echo hawk in that I want diversity , my way of seeing the world is that flawed I need as many other views to sort mine out.

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  39. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 8:45 PM

    re 32,

    HG,

    I guess I probably should’ve clarified my question: it’s meant to be more expansive. So, I’m not just asking about Mormon-related blogs, but any sort of interactive site.

    Maybe I’m just still in the honeymoon stage with MetaFilter, but excepting a few topics (which then, it’s not even that bad, it’s just I know how the discussion will slant), for *any* front page post I happen to be interested in, I’ll generally find a really interesting discussion.

    (Then again, maybe I’m also falling prey to selection bias. There are a lot more front page posts each day to MeFi than, say, W&T posts in a day…and I don’t read every FPP. Additionally, there *are* moderators at MeFi who will occasionally take down FPPs if they aren’t up to par. Finally, MeFi has a lot larger readership…so different people can self-select for topics in which they have expertise, making each individual discussion sound informative because the people who specialize in those subjects have piped in for those.)

    But, getting to the rest of your comment…

    As an aside, I love that “pink” has become a Thing (e.g., “getting pinked”)…

    OK, man, I have been all over the place responding to your comment. But seriously, I think one of the issues with likes/dislikes is that they represent something out of the permas’ control. So, on the one hand, we want to have a low-moderation policy, but with the dislike buttons…even though they aren’t official moderation, we can’t really control WHAT people will dislike for…so if people are disliking people *just because they don’t like the person*, then 1) we can’t figure out who’s doing it and 2) we can’t effectively stop it.

    I want to say that the likes/dislikes don’t change the commenting behavior of people TOO much, but I’m reading an awful lot of comments suggesting otherwise, so I have to think on this…

    re 33,

    LL,,

    I understand. I think there’s always a bit of a tension…when people are really close, then that makes sharing personal stories a lot easier, but at the same time, then people are personally invested in those stories.

    I think it would be interesting if W&T had offline meetups and stuff, and I think it would definitely change things online too.

    Again, I don’t think of your comments necessarily as “bad mouthing.” Rather, it’s pretty neutral to state that what would work at one blog might not work at another, and vice versa.

    re 34,

    SilverRain,

    I definitely think that hostility toward dissenting points of view is something we want to try to work on…it’s just interesting how when we try to make a space for those who are marginalized in many other spaces, it often ends up creating a space that marginalizes others. It’s not a conscious policy to do so…it’s just sometimes, we don’t have the nicest commenters when it comes to certain positions.

    I’m definitely now intrigued in trying to look at a different way to look at the buttons. It seems the permas need to find a creative solution to address the unintended consequences they seem to be having.

    re 35:

    Aerin,

    I like your way of addressing the traits that make good or not-so-good discussions, rather than focusing on names. I should’ve made my question focus more on traits to begin with.

    re 36:

    prometheus,

    Well, one thing about real life discussion is that you don’t often get to pick your fellow conversants. With the internet, you could be talking to anyone, because people self-select based on their interests rather than geographic proximity.

    re 37

    HG,

    I’m not SilverRain, so I definitely want to hear what she’s going to say as well…but I can venture an answer.

    This gets back to what I was saying about loss of control. As permas, we can seek diversity all we want. However, because we want a loose moderation policy, we can’t really control the environment that the discussions provide. So, I would guess that SR’s point deals more with other commenters and *not* the permas.

    To put it in another way: if you had to guess the political or theological bent of the “average” W&T commenter, could you do it? Our position of advocating for advocacy from the top means that theoretically, we shouldn’t be able to do this, because we should have such diversity that there isn’t an “average” W&T commenter.

    However, I think it wouldn’t be too hard to do for several issues, because as it turns out, some voices end up being heard more than others.

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  40. Andrew S on February 23, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    re 38,

    Jake,

    I think what SilverRain said about “the bullying not being caused by the buttons” should also be taken into consideration. So, the dislike button creates an environment that implicitly supports hostility, but we can see people making dismissive, hostile comments *anyway*. So people do tend to “own up” to many of their dismissive comments.

    So, I think that’s the problem. It’s the fact that ideally, we would just dismiss empty, no-content comments…but really, some people are dismissing a WHOLE lot more.

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  41. Jon on February 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    I most of you know, I typically comment on the political posts, I guess I always figure I might actually change someone’s mind someday, so far doesn’t seem to be working, politics seems to be more tied to feelings rather than logic and reason, so I guess I should give it up, especially since it doesn’t seem the comment section is the best place to change people’s minds, although I’ve changed mine and have learned quite a bit though.

    Having said that, I would have to say that my favorite commenter, for politics, has to be jmb since he is actually able to understand what I have to say and translate it for everyone else and actually understands where I’m coming from. Wish I was a powerful enough writer so I could actually have other people understand my viewpoint, not necessarily agree with me, but just understand it. JMB seems to be able to bridge the gap between the libertarians and progressives.

    But my comments do tend to be a bit tactless sometimes, unfortunately, in the real world it is quite different.

    I also enjoy many other commenters including ones mentioned already and people that have comment on this post.

    As for the like and dislike buttons. I’ve noticed that people do tend to use the dislike regardless of what is written. It would be nice if someone takes the time to dislike to actually say why, I can understand my tactless ones but some of my comments are fairly benign and still get dislikes, but whoever does it doesn’t say why so I am left wondering why it was disliked.

    Since I do comment on the political ones quite a bit and coming from the anarchist point of view it is nice to get the up vote occasionally since there are so many progressives that comment one feels like the lone one in the wilderness, but the up vote helps make it not seem that way and the occasional comment from people that don’t ever comment that agree with me.

    Anyways, that’s longer than I wanted to write.

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  42. sw on February 24, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    I love the idea of tracking the most popular commenters. They ought to be recognized.

    If we could figure out some way to make the thumbs up button look like wheat, and the thumbs down look like tares, that would be pretty nifty as well. I can’t decide if that would just be gimmicky or not though. :)

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  43. hawkgrrrl on February 24, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    sw – cool idea about the wheat & tares icons. Not sure it can be done, but I like the thought.

    SilverRain’s comment about some folks not spending much time here, I do think some blogs have almost an entirely faithful (some might say TBM or apologist) following. I enjoy and learn from faithful commenters as well as those who are no longer in the church, and I wish we had more participation from them. As I think about faithful commenters in particular, though, there are a couple of types, and they probably don’t all fare equally well here:
    1 – personal experiences. These types of comments are always welcome and I believe well-received. Jared comes to mind – very much a favorite in these parts.
    2 – defenders of the faith. Apologist viewpoints sometimes seem tiresome to our audience (I believe) or lack credibility here because there are also those who’ve left the church, and most are somewhat unorthodox.
    3 – hobby horse enthusiasts. Nobody likes this, when someone shows up and starts lecturing on a pet topic.

    But by the same token, there are unfaithful versions of the 3 above, and I do believe those types of comments are tolerated here more than their faithful counterparts, perhaps because (as Andrew points out) the site tolerates both whereas other sites are not as welcoming to the dissenting POV. Which is kind of strange since most of our bloggers (certainly not all) are pretty average Joes in terms of church activity.

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  44. Justin on February 24, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Comment #1 acts as a good example of what I was saying in #24 about having only two comment colors.

    Seven up-votes and 4 down-votes gets him/her the same pink as if s/he got all 11 of the votes down.

    SR wrote:

    I know of people who refuse to comment or read here because of the perceived hostility towards dissenting points of view

    which gets back to what I was saying in #18 — about how two different people describe the same thing is opposing ways.

    The rather-open comment policy here is what makes this the blog I comment at 2nd most frequently. I would say my opinions almost always “dissent” — yet SR reports many acquaintances won’t comment here b/c of hostility towards dissenting opinions.

    And Andrew:

    that option allows a post to be hidden if it gets too many dislikes. Commenters can still read the comment, but they have to click to expand it after it’s reached the hiding threshold.

    I saw this at FPR — and then they took it down [maybe BIV would know the reason why] — but I would think it would be worse on the “bully”-scale to make comments hidden.

    In the case of “pinking” someone — attention could actually be drawn to their comment b/c its color stands out of the crowd.

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  45. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    re 41,

    Jon,

    Would you say the major focus of your commenting is to try to change people’s minds? Interesting.

    But my comments do tend to be a bit tactless sometimes, unfortunately, in the real world it is quite different.

    What do you mean “unfortunately, in the real world it is quite different.” do you mean that in the real world your comments have more tact, or that in the real world, being tactless isn’t as much of a problem?

    Wish I was a powerful enough writer so I could actually have other people understand my viewpoint, not necessarily agree with me, but just understand it. JMB seems to be able to bridge the gap between the libertarians and progressives.

    Maybe we could get jmb to reach out to you so that you can improve your approach?

    re 42,

    sw,

    At 14 pixels (or however small these buttons are), would people be able to tell a wheat from a tare?

    re 43,

    HG,

    Changing the icons would probably require donating to the plugin developer to get the Pro version. And even then, I don’t know if that’s a feature that would be explicitly enabled or if it would be something we’d have to request separately.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve seen Jared get some pretty harsh reactions in the past…he’s mellowed out a lot since, say, Mormon Matters days. So that has been an interesting change over time.

    re 44,

    Justin,

    I see what you mean. I can explain why that is.

    Basically, as I was mentioning before…the plugin has three different comment options. There is “highly rated,” “hotly debated,” and “poorly rated.” Currently, we only have highly rated and hotly debated turned on, because poorly rated will hide comments when they go below a certain threshold.

    Unfortunately, the criteria for “hotly debated” (the pink) is just whenever Likes PLUS Dislikes is greater than or equal to 8.

    (This contrasts considerably with how highly rated calculates: it’s likes MINUS dislikes. Similarly, poorly rated would calculate by taking dislikes MINUS likes.)

    Unfortunately, this means that any combination of likes and dislikes that gets to 8 or more could make a comment go pink (I’m wondering if 7 likes and 1 dislike would do it?)

    [What SR wrote] gets back to what I was saying in #18 — about how two different people describe the same thing is opposing ways.

    The rather-open comment policy here is what makes this the blog I comment at 2nd most frequently. I would say my opinions almost always “dissent” — yet SR reports many acquaintances won’t comment here b/c of hostility towards dissenting opinions.

    I still think that there are two slightly different phenomena at play here…so, the rather-open comment policy is something that we set up at the top, as permabloggers, admins, etc., But the hostility can come from anyone. At least, I don’t think I’m hearing comments that the *permas* are being hostile…

    I saw this at FPR — and then they took it down [maybe BIV would know the reason why] — but I would think it would be worse on the “bully”-scale to make comments hidden.

    In the case of “pinking” someone — attention could actually be drawn to their comment b/c its color stands out of the crowd.

    Indeed, “pinking” marks a comment as hotly debated/controversial, so in some ways, the point is to draw attention to them as well.

    I guess the major issue with allowing the ratings to potentially hide people is it takes even more control OUT of the permabloggers’ hands for setting the moderation policy. How can we say, “open comment policy” if you can have your comments hidden if enough of the other commenters don’t like what you had to say — for whatever reason?

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  46. Jon on February 24, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Andrew,

    What I meant to say was in the real world the flow of discussion is different so it is easier to be tactful since the conversation progresses differently.

    I suppose we could have JMB translate for me all the time :) . No, that is something that I would need to work on by myself, I would think, there’s plenty of material out there already that I could research if I wanted to take the time.

    As for changing people’s minds. I suppose that is like the mission, you go on it to bring people to Christ, likewise, in politics, I am trying to bring people more fully to Christ by helping them realize love is not only ideal but practical. It seems though, the bloggernacle isn’t the place to do that. I’ve had much more success in my personal life helping people realize putting a gun to people’s head isn’t the way to help them change to become better and, in the end, the consequences are the opposite of what was set out to be done.

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  47. [...] S’s recent post about what makes a good discussion resulted in some feedback that for some of our Wheat & Tares [...]

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  48. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    re 46,

    Jon,

    If we have JMB translate for you all the time, then that’s giving a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish. ;) In any event, I don’t think this has to be an individual effort either.

    As for changing people’s minds. I suppose that is like the mission, you go on it to bring people to Christ, likewise, in politics, I am trying to bring people more fully to Christ by helping them realize love is not only ideal but practical. It seems though, the bloggernacle isn’t the place to do that. I’ve had much more success in my personal life helping people realize putting a gun to people’s head isn’t the way to help them change to become better and, in the end, the consequences are the opposite of what was set out to be done.

    Maybe the issue is framing. So, you use the language “putting a gun to people’s heads,” but I don’t think anyone would describe what they are doing as that. So, already, I don’t know what page you’re on, because you’re describing a position that I don’t think anyone has.

    Everyone,

    There is now a quick poll about likes and dislikes.

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  49. Jon on February 24, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    Andrew,

    Yeah, it’s the iron fist in the velvet glove analogy. But there are a lot of people that “putting a gun to people’s heads” is the correct language, but when people are advocating that they don’t like to see what they are actually doing. Anyways, I’m getting way off topic. I think I’m just not going to comment on those posts any more, it’s really a bit of a waste of time for me. I have tried other language before but when I first started out some people just rejected the ideas whole sale without even looking at the logic and reason. So really, I think I’m just wasting my time and should move on.

    But, W&T is set up pretty nice in how it let’s people voice their opinions.

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  50. jmb275 on February 24, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    Re Jon
    :: blushes :: awww shucks.

    It seems though, the bloggernacle isn’t the place to do that.

    I think this is an important realization. Face-to-face conversations have much more power to persuade. However, I think one difference between you and I is in the reason we say what we say. I have come to my conclusions after being convinced I have been wrong in the past. This has made me much more hesitant in believing I’m right. When I throw my views into the mix I don’t do so to try and persuade, I do it to get feedback on my views, to augment them, and possibly change them. In other words, I don’t think I’m right. I don’t think my way is the right way. I just hold my opinions because they’re the best I’ve been able to come up with so far which I hope to improve with each discussion.

    The parallel to a mission is interesting. If I’m being truly honest, and could redo my mission, I would change it in a similar way to what I said above. I would try and explain to people what has worked for me, what conclusions I’ve come to. I would try and tell people that it might work for them too. But I wouldn’t try to persuade them I’m right, primarily because I’m not sure I’m right.

    BTW, I’m not faulting you, or saying you should be like me. I’m just pointing out a difference I see. And, again, I’ll point out that I’d be a horrible politician that no one would want to vote for because I wouldn’t “stick to my guns” especially if it became clear to me I was on the wrong side of a debate.

    Re Andrew

    Our position of advocating for advocacy from the top means that theoretically, we shouldn’t be able to do this, because we should have such diversity that there isn’t an “average” W&T commenter.

    I think there are too many assumptions wrapped up in this to make it a reliable indicator. Or perhaps, to phrase it more clearly, it’s not clear to me that diversity of political views is/should be our goal. After all, if we take your point, why should we favor political views? Why couldn’t we substitute any number of diverse attributes? If you can guess the average religion of W&T commenters then we don’t have enough diversity. If you can guess the average gender/age/salary/education/etc. then we don’t have enough diversity. If diversity is something we want here, we should be more clear about what that means. Maybe this is your point though, and you were just using political views as an example.

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  51. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    re 50,

    jmb,

    t’s not clear to me that diversity of political views is/should be our goal. After all, if we take your point, why should we favor political views? Why couldn’t we substitute any number of diverse attributes? If you can guess the average religion of W&T commenters then we don’t have enough diversity. If you can guess the average gender/age/salary/education/etc. then we don’t have enough diversity. If diversity is something we want here, we should be more clear about what that means. Maybe this is your point though, and you were just using political views as an example.

    But that’s the thing…in *many* of these characteristics, we are seeking greater diversity than we have. I think the answer to your question here is that it’s a policy goal: we determine what kind of site we want to have.

    With respect to political diversity, the idea is this: most of us permas seen many sites that are *just* for politically liberal people, and many sites that are *just* for politically conservative people. our experiences with many of these sites (echo chambers, preaching to choir, closed to dissenting views, etc.,) gives us motivation to tyr something different in this arena. But the question is…are we effective at doing that?

    To say, “it’s not clear to me that diversity of political views is/should be our goal” then raises another question: if not, then what political views should be privileged? I don’t think you’d like the answer given the status quo of who tends to comment and what view they have.

    Or, let’s look at religious diversity. We’ve talked about it occasionally, but the idea is that we are trying to be more than “just” a Mormon blog, so it’s actually quite REASONABLE for us to try to encourage diversity of “the average religion of W&T commenters.” The issue here is that, for whatever it’s worth, we come from a background of being a primarily Mormon blog. Our permas are all from some sort of Mormon/Restoration background. We sometimes face resistance when we have posts that “aren’t Mormon enough.”

    But when we say things like we want to write about science, politics, culture, etc., that’s a policy goal of the permas to be *more* than “just” a Mormon blog.

    We have been having a similar issue about gender: it’s too lopsided toward men. This is an issue where we can take steps from the top (e.g., who comprise the permas? Could that have any impact on how things flow down?), which is why it’s great to get guest posters like alliegator.

    And I think we could look at each of the other issues: age, salary, education, etc., We haven’t really decided that we want a site that caters more to one demographic than another (e.g., on education: there are other sites that are more academic and can alienate a whole lot of other people based on that…we’re not trying to go there.)

    So, maybe we need to have behind-the-scenes conversations on what kinds of diversity it is that we want to encourage, BUT I was under the impression that when various people here talk about have an open, accepting environment, then that should apply to virtually ALL of the possible categories you mentioned. We shouldn’t *just* be an open, friendly environment for politically liberally, theologically unorthodox uncorrelated/disaffected/liberal Mormon, decently educated middle class dudes.

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  52. SilverRain on February 24, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    I, personally, have never found the permas here hostile. If I did, I’d not participate at all. There are a couple of websites where that has been the case, and I don’t even bother to read their posts any more.

    There are groups of people who are particularly hostile to the more loyal point of view, and I know they sometimes rally people specifically to come and dislike particular comments or posts at various blogs. Whereas that happens anyways, the dislike button makes it particularly easy, and does discourage some people from commenting.

    Only fanatics are going to be motivated to come and set out a less-than-popular opinion when it is so quickly and easily obvious that no one wants to hear them. I can’t speak for everyone who has expressed a disinterest in commenting here and other sites, only that I’ve heard things now and again.

    For myself, though I appreciate other perspectives to shake up mine, I don’t find controversy compelling much any more. If I know the majority of my audience doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, I’ll spend my time elsewhere.

    When it is possible for random drive-by people to comment down things I say swiftly and without verbalized reasons, it serves to make it not worth my time to bother commenting in the first place. It silences people. There is no real way around it that I know.

    The problem is not the open commenting policy. (Though I think that can be interpreted in unfortunate ways.) The problem is that tomatoes can be thrown, essentially, with no way to know why or where they are coming from.

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  53. Adam G. on February 24, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    Like/dislike buttons are probably a necessary evil. They allow the commenters to express the universal human trait of bullying dissenters and reinforcing group think, without having to waste a bunch of comments to do it.

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  54. jmb275 on February 24, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Andrew

    if not, then what political views should be privileged?

    Ah, but enforcement of said diversity *may* necessarily mean exclusion of another view. In enforcing any specific diversity, we inherently create exclusion if there’s even one more person who wanted to contribute, but couldn’t because their POV would tip the scales. I’m being a bit hyperbolic to demonstrate.

    I don’t think you’d like the answer given the status quo of who tends to comment and what view they have.

    Hmmm, that’s weird. I don’t think that at all.

    So, maybe we need to have behind-the-scenes conversations on what kinds of diversity it is that we want to encourage

    Exactly. That’s all I’m trying to get at. But I think it’s important that we all realize that as soon as we clarify this goal of diversity, we will inherently run the risk of excluding/discouraging someone else from commenting. A forum for dog lovers is NEVER going to have an equal portion of non-dog lovers. The forum *inherently* excludes non-dog lovers by design. That’s okay if that’s their goal. I just want us to realize this. You can’t include everyone, and enforce diversity.

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  55. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    re 52,

    SilverRain,

    When it is possible for random drive-by people to comment down things I say swiftly and without verbalized reasons, it serves to make it not worth my time to bother commenting in the first place. It silences people. There is no real way around it that I know.

    Based on my participation at certain other forums, I still feel as if it’s possible to set a tone that that sort of behavior isn’t acceptable. So that people know that if you’re going to respond to someone’s comment, then you need to have some sort of reasoning to your opposition.

    I think there is a soft way to do this: as permas, I think we can be a lot more proactive in reaching people via email when we see dismissive comments and telling them to either add more substance or knock it off.

    Maybe it’s naive to think that’ll have any effect.

    The problem is not the open commenting policy. (Though I think that can be interpreted in unfortunate ways.) The problem is that tomatoes can be thrown, essentially, with no way to know why or where they are coming from.

    If we get rid of dislikes (which, depends on how that poll turns out, but we’re definitely very aware of the issue now), then we can at least get rid of the aspect of not knowing *where* the tomatoes came from.

    However, for people who throw tomatoes and don’t provide reason why, I think that requires the proactiveness of the permas as I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back. Basically, an open comment policy shouldn’t mean people are open to lob tomatoes in comments without backing anything up.

    re 53,

    Adam G,

    Yet here we are trying to change human nature…

    re 54,

    jmb,

    Ah, but enforcement of said diversity *may* necessarily mean exclusion of another view. In enforcing any specific diversity, we inherently create exclusion if there’s even one more person who wanted to contribute, but couldn’t because their POV would tip the scales. I’m being a bit hyperbolic to demonstrate.

    The “may” being right next to the “necessarily” is totally tripping me out…I don’t agree that enforcement necessarily means exclusion (although, I guess I can’t say the same thing for the idea that it “may” mean exclusion.)

    Let me put it in a different way. I think this is a case of Sorites Paradox (to throw a wikipedia page I had stumbled upon a week or two ago.) If you have a jar full of marbles, how many marbles do you need to take out before you say it’s “not full”? Perceptually, it’s more than 1, but probably not exactly 50% + 1 or any concrete threshhold.

    Similarly…the name of the game with exclusion is *at what point* does someone perceive their viewpoint is unpopular. How many people supporting their viewpoint need to be a part of the community before they will stop seeing their viewpoint as being unpopular? You probably *don’t* need 50/50 support/opposition to achieve this, so as a result you don’t have to maintain 50/50 balance.

    I don’t think you’d like the answer given the status quo of who tends to comment and what view they have.

    Hmmm, that’s weird. I don’t think that at all.

    Interesting…I would’ve imagined economics posts and politics posts could get kinda lonely for you ;)

    A forum for dog lovers is NEVER going to have an equal portion of non-dog lovers. The forum *inherently* excludes non-dog lovers by design. That’s okay if that’s their goal. I just want us to realize this. You can’t include everyone, and enforce diversity.

    Right. But this is because they are a forum for dog lovers. But is our goal to be a forum for dog lovers (or, in this case, politically liberal, liberal/post/disaffected/unorthodox Mormon, decently educated middle class dudes)? If yes, then fine. But I get the sense we don’t agree that’s what we are trying to do.

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  56. Jon on February 24, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    jmb275,

    Yeah, I’m a fan, it was you and FireTag’s posts that I enjoyed the most and brought me over from MM. And no, I am not trying to align my and your views together, I see our views being very different, just like I like Justin and LDS Anarchy’s comments but see my views very differently from theirs also.

    I have come to my conclusions after being convinced I have been wrong in the past.

    I too have come to my conclusions after being convinced I have been wrong in the past. Hence the reason I went from the red team to the black team. And my views are a bit more nuanced than there is time to write here.

    However, I think one difference between you and I is in the reason we say what we say. This has made me much more hesitant in believing I’m right. When I throw my views into the mix I don’t do so to try and persuade, I do it to get feedback on my views, to augment them, and possibly change them.

    Coming from the point of view from the scriptures I don’t see anything wrong with approaching it with trying to convince people to be more loving. As seen in the scriptures:

    And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.

    And it came to pass that many means were devised to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth; but it all was vain, for they delighted in wars and bloodshed, and they had an eternal hatred against us, their brethren. And they sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.
    —————————-
    And after this manner did they teach them.
    And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance.

    I do believe in right and wrong and that it is wrong when someone uses unjust force against another person. So I do think I have a right and a duty to try and convince people that it is wrong for them to try and hurt me and my family. Christ also came to convince the people not to just discuss but to teach. I try and do the same and if I err and someone comes up with a good argument of my errors then I change my mind, I have changed my mind on topics that I have discussed here on W&T, but there are core beliefs/principles that probably won’t change because seem to be true, like the NAP or 2nd great commandment.

    I would try and tell people that it might work for them too. But I wouldn’t try to persuade them I’m right, primarily because I’m not sure I’m right.

    Yes, that is where the analogy breaks down (no analogy is perfect). If someone isn’t responsible for hurting me then yes, I would approach it differently.

    And, again, I’ll point out that I’d be a horrible politician that no one would want to vote for because I wouldn’t “stick to my guns” especially if it became clear to me I was on the wrong side of a debate.

    I doubt I would either. It is true that “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” That’s one reason why I reject most supposed authorities.

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  57. Jon on February 24, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    SR,

    I’ve found a couple of the permas to be quite hostile and unreasonable (I would think that they think the same of me too). But most are pretty good. And the couple that I consider to be hostile I don’t fault them, people grow up in different circumstances and sometimes are stuck in their ways. Hence the reason it is so important that we teach the next generations to have open and critical minds, something I think most of us seek but fail since we live in our paradigms and it is hard to see outside of that.

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  58. jmb275 on February 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Re Jon

    I try and do the same and if I err and someone comes up with a good argument of my errors then I change my mind

    For me, some of my views have changed because my idea of what a “good argument” was changed. In fact, I would say this is a far bigger reason for most disagreements. Most people have “good” (in their mind) reasons for believing what they do. What differs is whether or not we agree with their “good” reason.

    Re Andrew

    Interesting…I would’ve imagined economics posts and politics posts could get kinda lonely for you

    Ah, snap! There you go discouraging commenters again ;-)

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  59. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    re 58

    jmb275,

    For me, some of my views have changed because my idea of what a “good argument” was changed. In fact, I would say this is a far bigger reason for most disagreements. Most people have “good” (in their mind) reasons for believing what they do. What differs is whether or not we agree with their “good” reason.

    This is good stuff. There needs to be a post all about it. *saves in my blog notes file*

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  60. LDS Anarchist on February 24, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Andrew,

    I just wanted to say that I am flattered by what you wrote about me in the OP. Where did you want me to send your $50?

    Btw, I’m sure you probably got me mixed up with Justin, who posts here much more often than I do. But regardless of the mix-up, it was fun reading your compliments. It made my day.

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  61. Mrs. Nemesis on February 24, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    I have never commented here before, but have been reading your blog since its creation.

    I have hesitated to comment before because I am not LDS. I am married to my lovely husband who was raised in the Church (he has been inactive for 20+ years), and most of his family whom we are close to is involved to some extent or another. I read the Bloggernacle in order to stay up on Mormon culture, current events etc. My children, even though they are not being raised in the LDS faith are still descended from the culture and have family members who are practicing.

    Wheats and Tares has become one of my go-to blogs for keeping my finger on what’s going on in the Mormon world. I particularly enjoy the variety of perspectives here, and the fact that non-LDS opinions are actually given the time of day.

    I have used the like and dislike buttons periodically. Mostly because I am pretty intimidated to comment in a faith community that is not my own. I typically use the buttons to indicate my agreement with a particular viewpoint. Though I also will “like” things that are intriguing and well written even if I don’t agree with them.

    I can certainly empathize with Silver Rains concern of the buttons being used to silence or bully particular commenters. I belong to another community which utilizes similar buttons, but adds Like, Dislike, Agree, Disagree, Funny, and Love. I find that there is still a fair degree of drive by disagrees and dislikes….people just being ornery for the sake of it. But far more often, it does serve to cut down on the amount of back and forth bickering. This other community allows users to opt out of seeing the buttons as well.

    I will quietly go back to lurking and reading now. Thank you for the interesting community, I really enjoy reading you all :)

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  62. MH on February 24, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    Mrs Nemesis, I’m so glad to hear you comment here. Of course you’re welcome to continue lurking, but we’d love to have you comment more often as well!

    Obviously, there are opportunity costs associated with the Like/Dislike buttons. From the poll so far, it seems that most readers like the dislike button.

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  63. Andrew S on February 24, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    re 60:

    LDS Anarchist,

    I think Justin’s a pretty interesting commenter too, but I was definitely thinking of some of your comments on my last post.

    re 61,

    Mrs. Nemesis,

    Wow, thanks for commenting!

    I know that you said that you’d go back to lurking and reading, but if you ever are interested in writing a guest post, then we’d certainly love to oblige.

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  64. bnielson on February 24, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Hawkgrrl says: “But by the same token, there are unfaithful versions of the 3 above, and I do believe those types of comments are tolerated here more than their faithful counterparts, perhaps because (as Andrew points out) the site tolerates both whereas other sites are not as welcoming to the dissenting POV.”

    I do agree that the dissenting voice is more tolerated. But I can’t agree that this is because there are “other sites [that] are not as welcoming to the diessenting POV.” Certainly it is not the case that there are more faithful sites then dissenting sites. Indeed, trying to find true “safe zones” for faithful voices proves far more difficult than the reverse.

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  65. Andrew S on February 25, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    re 64,

    BNielson,

    long time no see.

    Since it appears that HG paraphrased something I had said, I’d qualify that how I’d say it instead is that it’s not so much that “other sites” are not as welcoming to the dissenting POV, but that most offline Mormon venues are not as welcoming to the dissenting POV. For example: church on the whole.

    And institutionally, within Mormonism, the church itself has a lot more clout and prevalence than any number of websites.

    That being said, I don’t like the idea of saying, “Well, faithful Mormons have church, so they shouldn’t come on this site.”

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  66. hawkgrrrl on February 25, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    bnielson – I did a guest post this week on BCC about the topic of discernment, specifically did Bishops have the right (and the actual gift) to use discernment to prevent someone from going to the temple who ostensibly was worthy based on answers to the TR interview. I could have done the same post here (it also included a poll), but we had a similar topic running. Even at BCC, the poll results stated that bishops shouldn’t let discernment override the answers to the questions.

    But the key difference there (at least I think it would have been different) is that several bishops and counselors commented and shared their personal experiences with discernment in their calling. It was really interesting. I was glad to hear their experiences. I’m not sure we would have gotten that here. Maybe we would have, but maybe not.

    Whether my observation is right or wrong, the question I have is what can we do about that? I also tend to agree that all sites are mostly welcoming of the unorthodox viewpoints. Personally, though, I think that all sites welcome thoughtful or personal experience based faithful comments. When someone just spouts the party line, I think it’s found to be tiresome. Here, that stuff gets a thumbs down. But on other sites, it’s just there and people might disagree or whatever, but nobody is voted down. Perhaps that’s what SR is describing.

    Mrs. Nemesis – always nice to meet a lurker, and I second everyone’s comments – we’d more than welcome your comments, and also if you are ever interested in guest posting, let us know!

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  67. Howard on February 25, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    I think a lot of discussions come down to belief vs. logic. To me science, reasoning and Spirit promptings are all valid sources of truth and knowledge. I respect faithful or orthodox comments when they share their their experience or belief or prompting particularly when it is done with clear thinking and an open mind and I welcome this kind of comment. I’m less interested when they appeal to authority stating what the scriptures or brethren say or what the church teaches unless it is directly relevant to the discussion. They loose me with illogical or unlikely apologist spin, conflation, righteous condescension, a call to repentance or anything close to these.

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  68. Brian on February 25, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    If a baseball player had the same batting average as a bishop does with “discernment”, he would never make the high school team.

    Many years ago I remember being in a stake presidency meeting which was taking place a short time before the president was going to be released. The SP was discussing releasing one of the current HC members who did not do much because he did not want to “burden” the new SP with the do-nothing HC member. Release didn’t happen and the HC squatter ended up being the new SP.

    My experience in working with three bishops as a counselor and three more as exec sec and ward clerk is they are mostly good men doing a really hard job. I can honestly say I never witnessed anything I would call supernatural help, just super human effort.

    Way more misses than hits, like recently when I was called to be the gospel essentials teacher because of a spiritual experience the ward mission passed on to the bishop. When the bishop called me to that position, I reminded him that a month ago in a farewell meeting I had with him that I called Joseph Smith a liar and a charlatan.

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  69. Andrew S on February 25, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Brian,

    did you mean to post that on Hawkgrrrl’s post at BCC?

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  70. Sunshine on February 25, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    I never post – I’m a lurker, but I want to express some appreciation for Stephen Marsh. He is my favorite. The pictures with scriptures are endearing – who wouldn’t like those? =)

    Also, I feel like he can address specific issues or topics in his posts that are the type we talk about here at W&T, while still embodying the essence of the gospel: faith, love, humility, and a desire to learn/grow through Christ. I appreciate that tone.

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  71. Jon on February 25, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Howard, #67,

    I’m less interested when they appeal to authority stating what the scriptures or brethren say or what the church teaches unless it is directly relevant to the discussion.

    As Ron Paul (you like that, appeal to authority :) ) – and I’m sure others say – you need to speak to people in their own language. Like when he talks about the constitution, he is talking in the language most Americans appeal to, so he takes the principle from there to explain his positions.

    I agree with you, straight appeal to scriptures/authority does nothing in a conversation if not backed up with reason and logic, even appeal to belief does nothing for a conversation except tell the other person that the debate or conversation is over with and the conversation cannot proceed.

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  72. Andrew S on February 25, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    re 70,

    Sunshine

    Thanks for commenting and saying that…I don’t know if Stephen is subscribed to this post’s comments, so I went ahead and forwarded the comment on to him.

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  73. thinking on February 26, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I really enjoyed this post and all of the comments. I saw a good mix of humor along with the serious. I am looking to find a better mix of both the serious and humorous in my life.

    This is a killer site. I have followed it since the day it began. I lurk and I comment. I have a vested interest here.

    I am late getting in on this, so who cares? I really enjoy shenpa warrior. His posts are great but I really admire his ability to interject the possibility of looking at things differently.

    I appreciate JMB, Andrew, and Ray for being willing to admit they may not have stated their positions correctly and make another attempt. It seems important to them to be clear on their intentions. However, they do not hold out their views as being the only correct ones (except when they start sparring with each other – which I find humorous.

    Hawkgrrrl has the ability to cut through the “stuff” and submit solid views. I like the “Bishop and what would you do posts.”

    This is not a popularity contest, which is why I was hesitant to dig in. I have found value in most posts and comments. It is my responsibility to read – sometimes between the lines – and get a feel for what is being said.

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  74. thinking on February 26, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    Forgot to say. The posts have moved on. I do not expect a reply, and that is ok.

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  75. Andrew S on February 26, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    re 73,

    thinking

    I am late getting in on this, so who cares?

    I care.

    :D

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  76. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 26, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    And so do I.

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  77. [...] was a big week for maps! Marriage equality is growing, and the CoJCoL-dS is having trouble with retention. [...]

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