Sunstone and safe zones!!

The discussion has already started on one of the two panels I’m organizing at the Sunstone Symposium!! Have a look at the description and see if you can guess the problem:

Do Good Online Fences Make Good LDS Neighbors?

LDS-interest blogspace is divided into a number of different communities: the Mormon feminists, the Mormon mommies, the Borderlanders (or New Order Mormons), the interfaith discussion blogs, Nothing Wavering, Outer Blogness, the core of the Bloggernacle, and probably others. All of these communities overlap and communicate with one another, but they also do various types of boundary-maintenance to decide who’s in and who’s out.

Some of the division is simply a question of people wanting to spend their limited Internet time with people they can relate to, but some of it is a genuine power struggle over who gets to represent Mormonism. Should different LDS-interest groups strive for better communication and cooperation, or are we happier staying out of each other’s hair? Representatives of various communities discuss!

Did you guess?

The problem is that the people who think the Bloggernacle is too risqu for believers won’t touch Sunstone with a ten foot pole. So it’s hard to get them to come and discuss their perspectives with us. However, Bruce Nielson was kind enough to have a friendly discussion about it via email, and even post about it on the Millennial Star, sparking a very interesting discussion.

Andrew S, who is co-organizing the panel, has already posted his response on his blog.

Many people made the point that every community has boundaries, no matter how open it strives to be. And I totally agree with that. And yet, it seems like as far as explicit, deliberate boundary maintenance is concerned, the filter goes in one direction. That is, it appears to go without saying that the more faithful need a safe space to be protected from the less-faithful, whereas the idea that there might be a need for protection in the other direction is controversial at best.

Why is that? Am I oversimplifying or missing something? It would be great to be able to have that discussion at Sunstone, but maybe we can start it in the safety of the Internet…?

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37 Comments

  1. 1
    Andrew S. says:

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the filter goes in one direction…rather, the filter that is going in the other direction would probably be referred to in very different kinds of vocabularies, and it is situated in a different context, but it is still very present.

    On disaffected/exMormon forums, there are usually standards (implied or explicit) against faithful members bearing their testimony. This is a filter, for sure, but it’s not like these disaffected Mormons think that testimonies are “unsafe”…rather, it’s that testimonies or apologetics can quickly become annoying.

    …however, I think in some instances, there can be filters for purposes of safety. For example, when a disaffected Mormon is discussing the issue that harmed them, then those who critique their experience aren’t going to be received well. The argument that usually comes up is that said people are violating the safe space that the disaffected have for venting.

    These kinds of filters can arise even when a site or community prides itself on being open to discussion, argument, disagreement, etc., It’s just then that the argument for filters is something more like, “We aren’t saying you aren’t allowed to express your opinion or disagree…but you will have to express yourself in a more rational/logical/reasoned/thoughtful way if you want to survive around here.”

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  2. 2
    aerin says:

    I haven’t read the comments for either post. But it seems to me that there are also two types of filters. There are some people who are willing to discuss/explore some issues but not others. Like the milk strippings story (for example). The other filter is that there are some subjects that are strictly off limits (i.e. what happens in the temple). Maybe it’s that some people have been excommunicated (in the past 10 years) for talking about the temple on their blogs.

    Along with boundaries in each community (and different languages, acronyms) – different behavior/questions/arguments is/are accepted (or not). I remember reading the new rules on mormon discussion about using a person’s real name or moniker (for example).

    I think each community has the right to define itself, behavior, etc. It’s a little like the scientific consensus process (to my mind). It doesn’t always work that way, but sometimes it does. The community has standards, discusses the boundaries and what is acceptable (or not).

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  3. 3
    chanson says:

    On disaffected/exMormon forums, there are usually standards (implied or explicit) against faithful members bearing their testimony. [...] The argument that usually comes up is that said people are violating the safe space that the disaffected have for venting.

    I’m not convinced of the combination of “usually” and “explicit”. I suspect your example is RfM. However, I think the philosophy of the folks who started it is a bit of an outlier — but their philosophy appeared to have disproportionate influence due to the luck of who was in the right place at the right time during the creation of the Internet.

    its that testimonies or apologetics can quickly become annoying. [...] then those who critique their experience arent going to be received well.

    In any community, people who post comments that are repetitive, irrelevant, or add nothing to the discussion, tend not to be well received. In any community, people who post opinions that go against the local majority opinion will face disagreement. In any community, people whose fundamental assumptions differ greatly from the local assumptions will have difficulty communicating with the locals at all.

    I am arguing that the belief that the faithful need to be protected from hearing from unbelievers (and from “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who might be plotting to “sow seeds of doubt” that might damage their faith) is something additional, over and above unavoidable barriers of human group dynamics.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d like to see some better evidence. ;)

    We arent saying you arent allowed to express your opinion or disagreebut you will have to express yourself in a more rational/logical/reasoned/thoughtful way if you want to survive around here.

    This might be getting somewhere. I brought this point up myself in my comment on Bruce’s post. Policies like the policies here at MSP absolutely limit the discussion. However, as I said over there, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a discussion without some kind of limitations: either topics or tone or positions or people. If that’s true, perhaps not all limitations are equivalent and have equivalent effects.

    Here’s another point I find amusing:

    I deliberately left my question open to the response that maybe there are people who are trying to harm people’s faith — possibly using deceptive tactics — and maybe the faithful blogs have reason to protect themselves from that threat. But you (correctly?) noted that the claim “we think we’re more open than we really are” is more challenging/threatening here than the idea “anti’s are sneaking over there, using questionable tactics to deconvert them.” Perhaps it’s more threatening because we’re sincere about valuing openness? (Of course, I like to think we also value honesty — so the latter discussion might actually be more interesting…)

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  4. 4
    Andrew S. says:

    re 3,

    chanson,

    I’d say that RfM is just an extreme example, but not an exclusive example or an outlier. For example, I would say that nearly anything John Dehlin touches has this sort of thing going on — except kinda on both sides. The Mormon Stories crowd, for example, is often trying to create a safe space for believers *but* they also want to create a safe space for people feeling pain. (But even if RfM and MS are outliers, these still show that this kind of filtering — at least theoretically — isn’t one way.)

    I am arguing that the belief that the faithful need to be protected from hearing from unbelievers (and from wolves in sheeps clothing who might be plotting to sow seeds of doubt that might damage their faith) is something additional, over and above unavoidable barriers of human group dynamics.

    I think I could concede this point (discounting RfM and Dehlin Enterprises, even though I don’t think these should be discounted)…but I don’t think it concedes much. Yes, this filter is asymmetric (ex-believers don’t worry about “losing their ex-testimony” when exposed to faithful material…so, they don’t need a filter from that material to create a safe zone)…but I would just say that there are probably similar filters in disbelieving spheres that aren’t as prevalent in believing community spaces.

    Let me try to frame the filters in a different way…

    At faithful sites, we might say that there is a filter on questioning/critical information to serve as a safe zone for believers. The “safe zone for believers” concept seems to be unique to believing sites and unmatched at nonbelieving sites. But what if instead we looked at this filter as a community guideline to encourage/value/support epistemological methods such as testimony, spiritual experience, personal/institutional revelation, prophetic authority, scripture, etc., over scientific methods, rationalism, empiricism, etc.? In this case, critical material is policed because it uses the wrong epistemological methods.

    At disaffected sites, we could say that a similar, but reversed filter exists. It doesn’t work as a “safe zone for disbelievers,” but instead as a community guideline on encouraged/supported epistemological methods (where “objective” or “scientific” methods are prioritized over testimony, revelation, prophetic authority, etc.,), then it’s easy to see how both communities have filters relatively unique to them…but which parallel each other. So, unnuanced faithful testimony is policied (although probably in a more democratic/community way) because it uses the wrong epistemological methods.

    The problem…each side values its epistemological methods and sees the world through it. So, you use terms like “openness” and want to view everything through that lens. Because we don’t have a similar kind of filter that a faithful site would have, and in fact, our filters tend to be a lot more democratic and community-based, you can say that we are still open, or that our filter is really not unique to us, but universal. Plus, I mean, how can you disagree with demanding *objective* data in a discussion?

    ^But we ignore that we really aren’t as objective as we think. And we still do accept some testimonies and privilege some authority figures.

    To phrase this problem from the flip side: perhaps a believer might us terms like “faith” and “persecution” and view everything through that lens. Because they don’t have a similar kind of filter that MSP might have, they can say they are faithful/managing persecution, so what they are doing is really nothing special. Plus, I mean, how can you disagree with privileging God’s word in a discussion?

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  5. 5
    Alan says:

    I am arguing that the belief that the faithful need to be protected from hearing from unbelievers (and from wolves in sheeps clothing who might be plotting to sow seeds of doubt that might damage their faith) is something additional, over and above unavoidable barriers of human group dynamics.

    Two aspects that come to mind in terms of how I see the Church having a different relationship to the Internet than other groups are: (1) its hierarchy, which affects the Mormon sense of where “truth” comes from, and (2) the mission of the Church, which is to spread “the word” to everyone, everywhere.

    With the first, the Internet is about 20 years old now, which is still too young to be under the watchful eye of those at the top of the Church. It’s not that Mormons consider the Q12 to be all-knowing, all-seeing, or to hold the keys to their individual salvations; but rather I think there’s a sense that the Internet is still new enough that the Church is still trying to get a handle on how to use it. The Church is frequently upended by online happenings — from the 1993 viral sharing of Packer’s talk on “gays, feminists, intellectuals” to that recent situation with that BYU professor making the Church seem racist.

    It’s not like the Q12 are going to jump online and be prophetic. In fact, I’m not sure that the power of the “prophetic voice” can survive the immediacy of the Internet, but that’s a philosophical question I’d leave to a philosopher like Jean Baudrillard or whoever. There’s extra vigilance to ensure that there’s Mormon coherency online — whether that means search engine optimization or “additional protections” from the influences of outsiders on blogs or forums.

    Which brings me to the second aspect: Mormons don’t just do this boundary maintenance on their own blogs and forums, but on outsiders’ blogs/forums/articles about Mormonism. It’s as if the workings of the Internet represent a constant onslaught (or opportunity?) toward Mormon coherency.

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  6. 6
    Daniel says:

    At disaffected sites, we could say that a similar, but reversed filter exists. It doesnt work as a safe zone for disbelievers, but instead as a community guideline on encouraged/supported epistemological methods (where objective or scientific methods are prioritized over testimony, revelation, prophetic authority, etc.,), then its easy to see how both communities have filters relatively unique to thembut which parallel each other.

    This seems like a false equivalence. Requiring evidence is not a filter. Nor is insisting that people argue from facts instead of fallacies.

    I personally don’t mind if someone shows up on my blog and witnesses. It’s annoying, but at most I’ll roll my eyes or fire back a trenchant comment. I won’t worry that their testimony will draw others away from the truth. But maybe that’s just me.

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  7. 7
    Andrew S. says:

    Daniel,

    Requiring evidence isn’t a filter. The kind of evidence that is accepted is. “Facts instead of fallacies” contributes to one kind of narrative.

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  8. 8
    Andrew S. says:

    (a narrative that could easily be seen on a faithful site too, BTW. It’s just that “facts” there would include testimony of spiritual experience, etc., and “fallacies” would be something like the philosophies of men.)

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  9. 9
    chanson says:

    @7 & @8: So are you saying that a “filter” and a “narrative” are two different things?

    I would say that nearly anything John Dehlin touches has this sort of thing going on except kinda on both sides. The Mormon Stories crowd, for example, is often trying to create a safe space for believers *but* they also want to create a safe space for people feeling pain.

    This is an interesting point. I am not that familiar with the dynamics of John Dehlin’s community. Do they explicitly exclude non-validating responses to people’s faith journeys? Do you think the fact that his community discussion is largely on Facebook (where there’s an explicit “friend” list — plus potentially varying privacy settings) affects the dynamic?

    Note: John Dehlin actually offered to participate in the panel. I had originally invited him, but he didn’t accept until after I’d already invited too many people, so I asked him to be a back-up. However, I think it might be very interesting to have his perspective on this.

    Which brings me to the second aspect: Mormons dont just do this boundary maintenance on their own blogs and forums, but on outsiders blogs/forums/articles about Mormonism.

    This is an interesting point, and actually touches on the theme of my other Sunstone panel:

    Who Gets to Say What Former Mormons Are Like?

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints likes to believe that the only ones qualified to talk about Mormonism are its most faithful members, or — ideally — the church itself, through its appointed spokesmen. And, being a multi-billion-dollar operation, it has the resources to convince people: through organizations like the More Good Foundation, Mormon Voices (a.k.a. the Mormon Defense League), and the Washington Post column of church PR-guy Michael Otterson.

    The irony is that the church has no hesitation about making up all sorts of inaccurate (and often insulting) claims about what ex-Mormons — “apostates” — are like. We may not have as much money or political clout as the CoJCoL-dS, but, using tools such as the Internet, we can take ownership of our own narratives and claim our place in the public discourse on Mormonism.

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  10. 10
    Andrew S. says:

    re 9,

    chanson,

    It would take me some time to try to sort out how I feel “safe zones,” “filters,” “narratives,” etc., all differ, but are connected to one another.

    As for John Dehlin’s communities…the one thing I can say is that they are just…weird. It seems like it’s a collective tightrope act…so yeah, certain non-validating responses to people’s faith journeys are moderated/unfriended/deleted/banned from the various private groups. it’s not all one side or the other, either.

    P.S., what a fascinating little note. If we could have an NW representative AND John Dehlin on the panel, we might truly see some sparks fly.

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  11. 11
    Daniel says:

    Requiring evidence isnt a filter. The kind of evidence that is accepted is. Facts instead of fallacies contributes to one kind of narrative.

    Yeah, but it’s not like comments that don’t conform to that narrative are forbidden. They’re simply seen for the the irrelevant comments that they are.

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  12. 12
    Andrew S. says:

    re 11,

    Daniel,

    Top-down moderation isn’t the only way to create filters and barriers. Group ridicule, dogpiling, etc., from the community are another way.

    To use a real-world example…yes, a site like By Common Consent is not afraid to outright ban users, put their comments in moderation, etc., But what their community is also good at is completely ignoring certain comments and commenters, which is just as effective in making those commenters feel unwelcome.

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  13. 13
    Daniel says:

    Forgive me, Andrew, but if someone came to me complaining that they were made to feel unwelcome on a blog because they ignored their comment, I’d say they were being precious. Poor petal. Did those bad people ignore you?

    I thought we were talking about something real here.

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  14. 14
    Andrew S. says:

    I’d say that snarkasm is another good filter method often in employ at those kinds of sites, depending on the comment or commenter at hand.

    As your comment exemplifies, snarkasm is well alive and a part of MSP culture. But I would say further that it tends to thrive throughout outer blogness blogs, forums, etc.,

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  15. 15
    Daniel says:

    That’s how it works online. You get to say what you want; there’s no expectation that people must pay attention. On any blog.

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  16. 16
    Andrew S. says:

    Daniel,

    Absolutely incorrect. Different blogs/forums are at a whole lot different level in terms of people being interactive/inclusive of new commenters/etc., as opposed to being cliquish/telling inside jokes, etc.,

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  17. 17
    Andrew S. says:

    Completely as an aside, your last comment reminded me of the latest Example of the Internet Being Collectively Misogynistic Dicks.

    Always in these discussions, people will say, “That’s how it works online” or “That’s gaming culture” or “Boys will be boys” or whatever.

    But you know…there are different kinds of sites. This isn’t something we have to concede as ubiquitous and give up on.

    (That being said, I’m not saying that public ignoring, snarkasm, cliquishness, or other exlclusionary practices are anywhere near as bad as *death and rape threats*…)

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  18. 18
    Daniel says:

    Wow, so I have something in common with misogynist creeps? Thanks, Andrew!

    I wanted to ignore that comment, but I didn’t want to create a less-than-welcoming space. Now I’m off to read the rest of the Internet — wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

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  19. 19
    chanson says:

    Andrew — I’m still not totally clear on the point you’re making. You seem to be repeatedly asserting that human group dynamics inevitably make some people feel unwelcome and excluded. That is something I agreed with myself in the OP and in comment #3.

    To put it simply: it is not possible to avoid offending everyone unless your statement is so banal as to be totally without interest (eg. “It’s raining.”).

    But where is your train of thought going from there?

    Are you saying that “I find your argument uninteresting/irrelevant/unconvincing” is fundamentally equivalent to “Some people here cannot even be exposed to your criticism of the GA’s / discussion of Egyption hieroglyphs / tapir jokes because they might damage fledgling testimonies”? Or do you think there is a difference between the two?

    Are you saying that trying to be inclusive and trying to be exclusive are really the same, so even making the attempt is ultimately futile and pointless?

    (Note: I’m not assuming here that “attempting to be inclusive” = “exmo blogs” and “attempting to be exclusive” = “faithful blogs. We can talk about who has what strategy after we’ve discusses whether differences actually exist or are just an illusion.)

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  20. 20
    Andrew S. says:

    chanson,

    It isn’t “inevitable” or universal to respond to certain positions with ridicule, mockery, snark, sarcasm, and community-wide ignoring. So, nope, I’m not repeatedly asserting that “human group dynamics inevitably make some people feel unwelcome and excluded.”

    If we use an example of MSP (and I know that at the end of your comment, you said that you’re NOT assuming that “attempting to be inclusive = exmo blogs”, but I’m going to venture that you would think that MSP doesn’t have overt, non-generalizable filters), then I would say that where we disagree is that you think that if someone feels unwelcome and excluded at a site like MSP, then that’s just life. You can’t appeal to everyone all the time, after all. In other words, what may cause people to feel unwelcome/excluded at MSP are generalizable, universal, inevitable human sociodynamics.

    But a contention that you’ve raised a few times before is that faithful sites aren’t like this. Faithful sites have a unique filter ABOVE and beyond generalizable, universal, inevitable human sociodynamics — they go above and beyond create a safe-zone for believers.

    And I’m saying, “Nope.” There’s a difference between having regular convictions that are of course not going to appeal to everyone, and making the conscious decision to specifically go out of your way to, say, snark at someone because you don’t want to address their comment substantially (or, at the very least, making the conscious decision not to do anything about your community perpetuating these things.)

    You put up as an example: “I find your argument uninteresting/irrelevant/unconvincing.” But what I’m saying is…that’s not all that’s happening. Rather, we go out of our way to say things like:

    Forgive me, Andrew, but if someone came to me complaining that they were made to feel unwelcome on a blog because they ignored their comment, Id say they were being precious. Poor petal. Did those bad people ignore you?

    I thought we were talking about something real here.

    I mean, I understand the kernel of Daniel’s point. He’s unconvinced. But he’s not just saying he’s unconvinced; he’s signaling he thinks the idea is worthy of snark, ridicule, etc., And even more, that if you can’t handle this, then you should GTFO or STFU.

    It’s true that such behavior isn’t “fundamentally equivalent” to “Some people here cannot even be exposed to your criticism of the GAs…etc.,” because the purposes and contexts of each are different. The latter creates a safe-zone, but the former really isn’t. But in effect, in consequence, they are analogous: they both are filters. They both are ways to maintain and enforce boundaries.

    Are you saying that trying to be inclusive and trying to be exclusive are really the same, so even making the attempt is ultimately futile and pointless?

    I’d say that people often state they are trying to be inclusive, BUT they aren’t aware that this is a lot of work. There are many different ways to exclude people. The people who explicitly try to be exclusive at least aren’t deluding themselves on that front, whereas the people who say they’re trying to be inclusive — unless they are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating — probably are.

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  21. 21
    chanson says:

    Aha, so that‘s our point of disagreement!

    It isnt inevitable or universal to respond to certain positions with ridicule, mockery, snark, sarcasm, and community-wide ignoring.

    So, you’re saying that it is possible to have a community where everyone feels welcome…? Briefly, what would that look like, and how would it work? (eg. Can/should you prevent cliques from forming within the community? If so, how?)

    Im going to venture that you would think that MSP doesnt have overt, non-generalizable filters

    No, not true. We have moderation and a comments policy that act as filters.

    A good contrast to illustrate this would be to compare the discussion here with the discussion at Pharyngula. Here, you’ll get the cold shoulder and possibly a mod warning if you can’t make your point without calling people names (and/or we’ll have a discussion about whether label X is “name calling” or a valid description). On Pharyngula, creative name-calling is part of the draw.

    I don’t mean this as a reproach to Pharyngula, BTW — PZ is intentionally shooting for a different audience and different style of discussion than I would prefer to have here at MSP. And I think that’s great — it’s one of the positive parts of the Internet that not everyone’s doing the same thing, but instead different sites have different styles and different themes.

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  22. 22
    chanson says:

    But hes not just saying hes unconvinced; hes signaling he thinks the idea is worthy of snark, ridicule, etc.

    Some ideas are worthy of snark and ridicule. I don’t think that inclusiveness requires acting as though every idea is of equal merit.

    Id say that people often state they are trying to be inclusive, BUT they arent aware that this is a lot of work. [...] the people who say theyre trying to be inclusive unless they are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating probably are [deluding themselves].

    This, also, hits on the crux of our disagreement.

    Believe me, I know that attempting to be inclusive is a lot of work. I know that it requires constantly (self) evaluating and re-evaluating. It requires being open to criticism: allowing criticism to be aired and listening to it.

    The people who explicitly try to be exclusive at least arent deluding themselves on that front,

    To this, I will say the same thing I said about racism:

    Every time you notice an unfounded prejudice that you hold, you should be glad that you noticed it — because it is only by noticing it that you can root it out. Having empathy for all humanity is something you can work on for your whole life and never truly succeed. Yet, some things are worth doing even though they’re very hard.

    I’m sure you know a lot of people who think they’re not racist, but really they are. Yet I wouldn’t say that it’s better to just give in and go join a “whites only” club because then at least you’re not deluding yourself. I think there is merit in holding up inclusivity and empathy as ideals, even if you can’t perfectly reach your own ideals.

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  23. 23
    Andrew S. says:

    re 21,

    So, youre saying that it is possible to have a community where everyone feels welcome? Briefly, what would that look like, and how would it work? (eg. Can/should you prevent cliques from forming within the community? If so, how?)

    A community where everyone feels welcome would be the community where people only make banal statements, as you allude to in comment 19. Saying that there are NON-universal, NON-inevitable group dynamics that can make people feel unwelcome doesn’t mean that there aren’t different group dynamics that may be universal and inevitable, or inherent to non-banal statements.

    But what I am saying is that it is possible to create a community where people who disagree, where people who find themselves in the minority position, etc., can still find themselves welcome, even though content-wise, they are not in the majority. My personal ideas on how to create this are through an active force of community leaders (for example, forum admins or permabloggers) that make an effort to respond and reach out to commenters — even ones with not-that-popular opinions — and who also correct/reprimand/call out people who engage in anti-social/unwelcoming/excluding behavior (not only snark/ridicule/dismissiveness, but also obnoxiousness, abrasiveness, or whatever else that is more about tone/style than content itself)

    [And maybe that's just creating a "filter" for abrasive/dismissive/snarky people instead of creating a welcome environment for everyone. Then my bad.]

    I think your Pharyngula contrast to MSP is a good example, but I see these as a difference in degree rather than kind.

    I do not think MSP’s moderation policy is its primary filter. It lacks force. It’s kinda only there for show. Because what counts as “name-calling” is, as you yourself concede, something we might “have a discussion about”)…and as you said on another venue, even if you warn people for name-calling (even if you deem that their behavior amounts to such)…that doesn’t mean much else will happen. Finally, name-calling is a small range of anti-social/unwelcoming behavior. So MSP isn’t a place where creative name-calling is in employ. You just have to be creative and *not* call people names, is all.

    re 22,

    Some ideas are worthy of snark and ridicule. I dont think that inclusiveness requires acting as though every idea is of equal merit.

    This to me feels like a non-sequitur. Saying “Every idea is not of equal merit” does not imply to me “Some ideas are worthy of snark and ridicule.” You don’t have to snark and ridicule an idea to still be able to deem it of lesser merit than another idea.

    Of all the options you have to distinguish ideas of different merits, it’s your (and your community’s) choice if you’re going to use snark and ridicule. If you think snark and ridicule are your only options, then it’s understandable you would think these are inevitable/universal human group dynamics. But these aren’t your only options, and so it’s not inevitable or universal.

    On the racism analogue…I would personally say I agree that it’s not necessarily better to just give in and create or join a “whites only” club because then at least “you’re not deluding yourself,” but from my perspective as a black dude, people who explicitly join or create whites only clubs are known quantities. I know what I’m dealing with. So on that level, I often have more frustration with the people who claim to be inclusive/non-racist, but then continually (and inadvertently) do/say/perpetuate racist things, all while being unable to accept that they are doing/saying/perpetuating these things, because they have internalized that racism is overt, done by Those People, and they aren’t burning crosses in anyone’s lawn, so they must be different.

    So, as you said earlier: attempting to be inclusive is hard work. It requires being open to criticism: allowing criticism to be aired and listening to it. Color me skeptical, but I think that a person just saying they know these things doesn’t mean they are able to live up to it every day, or that they really are trying to live up to it — in the same way that someone saying they understand the problems with racism isn’t necessarily going to confront his own prejudices when they are pointed out.

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  24. 24
    chanson says:

    and who also correct/reprimand/call out people who engage in anti-social/unwelcoming/excluding behavior (not only snark/ridicule/dismissiveness, but also obnoxiousness, abrasiveness, or whatever else that is more about tone/style than content itself)

    My personal experience with moderating has been that the above is difficult to carry out in practice. The biggest problem is that it is extremely difficult to judge precisely which comments cross the line. I intentionally avoid micro-moderating the tone because maybe my opinion of which comment is obnoxious is wrong.

    In this thread, for example, some people maybe think Daniel’s comment @13 was out-of-bounds. Probably other people think that one was reasonably civil, but that your comparison of Daniel with misogynistic dicks @17 was obnoxious. Probably some people think that both crossed the line. My real opinion is that neither one did.

    But my philosophy is generally to let the readers make up their own minds as much as possible. Then leave people (mostly) on the honor system to make a good faith effort to keep their remarks civil and constructive — knowing that if they fail, their reputation suffers accordingly.

    Also note: many people find micro-moderation itself to be obnoxious and unwelcoming.

    In short: I don’t think that there is one perfect solution. I think that each site has to do its best to come up with workable customs, based on the goals of the site.

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  25. 25
    chanson says:

    Also….

    [Note: It's my own crazy ideas about what is "welcoming" that makes me hesitate to get into an extended point-by-point -- because when two people exchange too much text back-and-forth, a lot of times it discourages others from reading the whole damn thing and breaking in with their own points. But what the hell. Let's try new things today.]

    I would personally say I agree that its not necessarily better to just give in and create or join a whites only club because then at least youre not deluding yourself, but from my perspective as a black dude, people who explicitly join or create whites only clubs are known quantities. I know what Im dealing with. So on that level, I often have more frustration with the people who claim to be inclusive/non-racist, but then continually (and inadvertently) do/say/perpetuate racist things, all while being unable to accept that they are doing/saying/perpetuating these things, because they have internalized that racism is overt, done by Those People, and they arent burning crosses in anyones lawn, so they must be different.

    I understand that perspective (and especially the frustration of it). Yet I still think that trying is discernibly better than not trying because at least trying holds the door open for the possibility of improving.

    For example, if you’re following the atheist blogs, you probably know that there’s been a huge, repeatedly-reopening drama about diversity — and in particular about preventing sexual harassment. It has become quite apparent that there are (unfortunately) plenty of racists and misogynists in that community. Yet it’s because the (at least a big part of) the community holds inclusiveness as a value that it has turned into a battle over how to address the problem, as opposed to simply closing ranks to defend the offenders.

    This to me feels like a non-sequitur. Saying Every idea is not of equal merit does not imply to me Some ideas are worthy of snark and ridicule. You dont have to snark and ridicule an idea to still be able to deem it of lesser merit than another idea.

    They are two separate (related) opinions. You’re right that one does not necessarily follow from the other.

    Because what counts as name-calling is, as you yourself concede, something we might have a discussion about)and as you said on another venue, even if you warn people for name-calling (even if you deem that their behavior amounts to such)that doesnt mean much else will happen. Finally, name-calling is a small range of anti-social/unwelcoming behavior. So MSP isnt a place where creative name-calling is in employ. You just have to be creative and *not* call people names, is all.

    That’s a fair criticism. Let’s open it up for discussion.

    In my own interpretation of what constitutes civil and constructive comments, I generally think that (for example) speculating about people’s character and motives is unhelpful and no constructive. But snark and even some degree of ridicule? OK, I’ve been less picky about that. Especially if the remark actually is clever.

    But I’m willing to believe that maybe we’re allowing/encouraging too much snark to legitimately claim that we’re really trying to keep the discussion civil and constructive.

    Opinions….?

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  26. 26
    Andrew S. says:

    re 24,

    chanson,

    The line isn’t an objective thing, so it’s not like you have to weigh your opinions against some shadowy objective standard. The line is negotiated by community and the community leadership. When you say, “I intentionally avoid micro-managing the tone because maybe my opinion of which comment is obnoxious is wrong,” that sends a message too. “I defer to the community for standard setting on these matters.” (And that is not in itself a bad thing.)

    What is clear is that whether people thought comment 13 or comment 17 is out of line, it’s unlikely that community leaders will do anything about it separately from what the community will do. (Which is why I say the moderation policy isn’t the primary filter here.)

    I completely agree with the following:

    In short: I dont think that there is one perfect solution. I think that each site has to do its best to come up with workable customs, based on the goals of the site.,

    But we don’t even have this issue if we don’t assume that inclusive is better than exclusive, or community-management is better than top-down micro-management, or whatever. These things just *are* different ways to achieve similar effects.

    re 25,

    Yet I still think that trying is discernibly better than not trying because at least trying holds the door open for the possibility of improving.

    And I think that the door being open to the possibility of improving isn’t totally depending on trying or not trying.

    It has become quite apparent that there are (unfortunately) plenty of racists and misogynists in that community. Yet its because the (at least a big part of) the community holds inclusiveness as a value that it has turned into a battle over how to address the problem, as opposed to simply closing ranks to defend the offenders.

    yet, from the perspective of many of the people afflicted, “simply closing ranks to defend the offenders” is a good summary basically of what happens. I see polarization and separation in the camps rather than everyone coming together. which I mean, maybe that’s ok. But “polarization” and “separation” sounds an awful lot like where we began this conversation: boundaries and boundary maintenance.

       0 likes

  27. 27
    chanson says:

    And I think that the door being open to the possibility of improving isnt totally depending on trying or not trying.

    Not totally depending, sure. Sometimes people do things by accident. However, I think that wanting and intending to do something discernibly increases the probability that you will actually do that thing.

    Actually, I’m kind of intrigued that this would even be a controversial point. Learn something new every day on the Internet. ;)

    But we dont even have this issue if we dont assume that inclusive is better than exclusive, or community-management is better than top-down micro-management, or whatever. These things just *are* different ways to achieve similar effects.

    I’m not trying to claim that one site’s goals are necessarily better than another’s. That was part of my point @21 — I’m glad that different sites have different styles. That is also why I was a little hesitant to use the example of “racism” @22 — that choice implies a value judgement (since we all agree racism is bad), whereas it would have been better to find an example where the goal is merely different.

    I agree with you that they’re different ways of achieving similar results. However, they are not different ways of achieving the same result. MSP’s goals and values are different than those of BCC, of RfM, of Pharyngula, of M*, of Mormon Stories, of W&T, etc., and vive la difference !! Their corresponding policies are different, and the results are discernibly different. I think that MSP succeeds better than M* as MSP’s goals and that M* succeeds better than MSP at M*’s goals (even if neither necessarily succeeds 100% at their own goals) — and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way — and I wouldn’t presume to judge one’s success rate based on the goals and values of the other.

    Perhaps our main point of contention is that I think it is at least as interesting to analyze the differences as it is to point out the similarities. Of course it is helpful to recognize and analyze both when deciding on which policies to adopt.

       0 likes

  28. 28
    Andrew S. says:

    re 27,

    chanson,

    just as background on the whole “wanting/intending” thing, I’m coming at this analogously to how I would argue about belief formation/change in general. I don’t believe people consciously choose their beliefs, and I don’t believe people consciously choose to change their beliefs. Beliefs certainly change, but it’s not generally because of a person’s intentions or desires.

    As for the racism thing: we don’t all agree racism is bad. That’s the thing. Very obviously, racists don’t think racism is bad. But on a general level, even those who would not describe themselves as racist, and who would say they work very hard to avoid racist actions/speech, etc., may end up supporting or agreeing with things that would arguably be racist.

    But I agree that racism is problematic to this discussion as an analogy because it is very loaded, and sensible people would like to think of themselves as being utterly opposed to racism in all of its forms.

    When I say, “Achieve similar results,” the result I’m thinking of is “limiting the discussion to people/ideas/themes/discourses we prefer.” In this extent, I think that MSP, BCC, RfM, Pharyngula, M*, Mormon Stories, and Wheat & Tares all use different methods, but basically achieve similar results. (Well, not exactly, the fact that the members of different communities may have criticism for their *own* site shows that reaching the goals isn’t perfect.)

    it’s not the *same* result because we aren’t all limiting the same thing, or limiting for the same reason.

    Of course, then, MSP succeeds at MSP’s goals better than M* succeeds at MSP’s goals — because they prefer different things for different reasons. But all I’m saying is that it’s not like M* is doing something new and unique and only seen “in one direction,” while MSP is doing some generic, universal, and inevitable.

    Rather, M* is doing something particular for its preferences and reasons, and MSP is doing something particular for its preferences and reasons.

    So, let’s take what you wrote in your original post here:

    Many people made the point that every community has boundaries, no matter how open it strives to be. And I totally agree with that. And yet, it seems like as far as explicit, deliberate boundary maintenance is concerned, the filter goes in one direction.

    For some definitions of “explicit” and “deliberate,” (e.g., “top-down moderation/banning/suspension from permabloggers”), you may be right. HOWEVER, for (what I believe are) more important definitions of “explicit” and “deliberate” (which can include community-driven, social exclusion, etc.,), this isn’t right.

    I think we’ve gone around a lot of different issues, but I think this is the key point of contention, at least IMO.

       0 likes

  29. 29
    chanson says:

    No, I don’t think that’s our key point of contention. (see the last paragraph of @27)

    If you had been debating the position that what we do is nothing like what they do, and that we’re totally open, unlike those other guys — believe me, I would have debated you just as doggedly.

    You’ve written me another 11 paragraphs to re-state that the parallels are really the only significant part. I say that’s an oversimplification.

    I agree with you that the parallels are significant and interesting. To suggest that the parallels are insignificant and uninteresting is wrong. To suggest that the differences are insignificant and uninteresting? Also wrong.

       0 likes

  30. 30
    Taryn Fox says:

    I agree with Chanson @29, and I’d just like to give my perspective since this is something I’ve noticed a lot.

    In my experience the safe zones on both sides are meant to prevent pain, and I’ve noticed two kinds of exmormon safe zones. The biggest and most prevalent one is the one where any kind of religious / spiritual content is met with contempt, to the point where you can’t even say “some organized religions do good things” or “some people have a need for spirituality” without getting snarked at, sometimes viciously.

    The people enforcing this safe zone think they’re standing up for objectivity and rational thought, but while they sometimes repeat (and/or misapply) arguments that could be used to that end what they seem to be mostly doing is protecting their sensitive spot. They’re newly-converted atheists who had a salvific experience when they discovered the beliefs that make the most sense to them, and then had the trauma of having everyone important to them reject them for having those beliefs. Anything even resembling the kind of statements Mormons made to them during their trial by fire is going to be aggressively moderated, usually by throwing the offending commenter to the wolves.

    The other kind of safe zone is when the exmormons in question are abuse survivors, and left because of things like LGBT issues which affected them personally. Mormons (and to a lesser degree even some exmormons) tend towards victim-blaming, homo- and transphobia, and a general unawareness of what survivors go through. A lesbian exmormon who lost her family is unlikely to let comments about how she is the one who needs to change survive, no matter who makes them or why.

    I think what’s important is to be self-aware about not only what kinds of safe zones we’re creating, but why there’s a need for them also. Personally, I put a much higher importance on the need for safe zones for people who’ve just been traumatized (i.e. many, if not most, exmormons), than for people who’ve been conditioned to react negatively to anything — including finding out how they caused others pain — that questions their beliefs. I see the former filter as being necessary and good, and the latter as only being necessary to protect the power structures that hurt others.

    The one big exception would be in John Dehlin’s realm, where he goes out of his way to respect both sets of filters so that he can get faithful (and questioning) Mormons to finally see what others experience. I think his work is very important to building empathy, in the extremely hard-hearted Mormon community. I don’t think everyone’s capable of it, though, and wouldn’t try it myself — the pain’s still too raw for me, and for many other exmormons.

       0 likes

  31. 31
    Andrew S. says:

    re 30,

    Right. On.

       0 likes

  32. 32
    Taryn Fox says:

    @31

    Yeah … I’m sorry for blowing up at you on your blog earlier. I don’t know why you let jerks like Seth spew their crap there, but I get that you’re a lot closer to John Dehlin than I am, both in that you’re apparently trying to reach out and that you’re able to do so.

    I’m personally a lot closer to the “abuse survivor” end of the spectrum, and I’m a theistic one at that, so I’ve mostly had to find support outside of the online exmormon community. It’s not really a safe space for someone who needs to come to terms with their spirituality post-mormonism — pretty much noplace in it is. I’m beginning to think the ones who leave for reasons like mine usually end up finding a different community of support.

       0 likes

  33. 33
    Andrew S. says:

    Taryn,

    No need to apologize…I mean, Seth has been pissing off folks for a long time, on many, many sites.

    I may probably be naive or whatever, but I don’t see Seth as *just* a jerk who spews crap. Abrasive? Yeah. Contrarian? Absolutely. But I mean, he’s not a troll, IMO. And even though some of his arguments stretch credibility to me, it’s not like he’s blindly believing whatever he believes without having put any thought into it at all.

    I would agree with your earlier comment that John Dehlin respects both sets of filters — which means that people on both sides can get shut out if they aren’t careful. I think that’s one way to preserve a level of safety on both ends and thus have a grounds for communication in the middle.

    That hasn’t been my style, however…if only because I do have the experience of being banned from sites and I don’t like it. So, rather than respecting both sets of filters, I see myself as subverting both sets of filters. If I am able to reach out to both sides, it’s not because I have a safe zone for one side or the other, but because I will rampantly challenge any sense of, I dunno, unearned certainty that I see from any side.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know how to really change that for anywhere but my little site, or (to a similar, but still different extent) at Wheat & Tares. For example, I am well aware of the extent to which the Outer Blogness community tends to trend to an agnostic/atheist/secular kind of viewpoint, and don’t really know much about what to do about that without just pissing a whole bunch of people off.

       0 likes

  34. 34
    chanson says:

    I think thats one way to preserve a level of safety on both ends and thus have a grounds for communication in the middle.

    Both ends? I know I’ve used the term “spectrum of belief”, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way that communities differ or that “Nothing Wavering” and MSP represent two poles with you conveniently in the middle…

       0 likes

  35. 35
    Andrew S. says:

    chanson,

    whoa, yeah, that sentence was a disaster. (another time when I inadvertently say something that is almost exactly the opposite of what I intended.)

    It’s more like: I think the John Dehlin approach is one way of preserving a filter level on both ends and thus have a grounds for (safe) communication in the middle. The ends aren’t “safe” in any stretch in that environment.

    I will openly admit that “spectrum of belief” isn’t the only way that communities differ. But supposing that it is a relevant metric for a way that communities could differ, where would you put Nothing Wavering, MSP, Mormon Stories, and even “me”?

       0 likes

  36. 36
    chanson says:

    I think all of these communities differ in a number of non-negligible ways. Just to name a few off the top of my head: topic, theme, basic assumptions (including, but not limited to, a belief in a particular cosmology or political viewpoint), objectives (you suggested @28 that the common goal is to limit discussion to things the community would find interesting — and I agree that’s a common goal, but it’s not the only goal a site might have), tone, and probably plenty of others.

       0 likes

  37. 37

    [...] person for the first time, I’ll be able to talk about one of my favorite blogging topics, for I have been invited to participate in a panel on the ways that online Mormon communities create boun…. Hawkgrrrl covered this topic a bit yesterday, so I hope you aren’t burnt out on the [...]

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