Thursday, January 21, 2010

Civility: Mud-Wrestling & Roller Derby

First, a disclaimer: I did not attend Science Online 2010 last weekend. I did follow the official conference twitterfeed, and my blogosphere buddies’ tweets.

One session sounds like it rocked, like a mud-wreCivilitystling meets roller derby event: Online Civility.

The analogy oft repeated in blogworld since that time: My blog is my home, and I set the rules.  Don’t come in and piss on my carpet.

A whole bunch of posts have been spawned by attendees, both those “against” civility and those who would never want piss on their carpet.

The “don’t piss on my carpet” crowd takes exception to the linkage with the American civil rights movement. And they are wrong to ignore this link.

I can remember people complaining about blacks (note: original terminology from my youth has been softened) wanting to eat in the same dining room or use the same water fountain as “us.” Changing these inequities required breaking the rules, getting arrested, and generally upsetting those who made the rules.

“But it’s our state (school, restaurant, bus) and these are our rules. People who want to be in here with us need to follow them or go somewhere else.” Not too hard to do in blogworld; but is this the message you really want to send? “If you don’t want to play our game, go elsewhere.” If those who disagree with you go away, you may never discover you are wrong. At least not until it is too late to make a graceful change.

I have also found that the “standard” for “niceness” is different for men or women. Men expressing different opinions disagree; if a woman expresses a different opinion she is bitchy, shrewish, or on-the-rag. [Note: twat was another term that could have been included, but it seems that this is a “cute” term among the “don’t piss on my carpet” crowd, and, therefore, inoffensive.]She couldn’t possibly have a thought-out opinion (unless another man present agrees with her, of course).

RosaOne important thing to remember: When you chastise someone for “pissing on your carpet,” you may go down in history  as “arresting Rosa Parks for sitting on the bus.”

What seems like a small act of rule enforcement today may not be judged that way by history.

After 2 children and 2 cats (and being a nephrologist) I have developed a talent for getting piss out of the carpet. Try to get to the toilet, please, but a little rug tinkle will not be the end of the world…


  1. This has been the best response to that session I've seen so far.

  2. Excellent response, Pascale. You have articulated what I have failed to be able to grasp in the face of yelling and F-bombs. Who knew?

  3. sooo, I'm a trifle uncomfortable with resorting to the most extreme examples. Not that modern struggles for equality are lesser, but rather because I don't think the argument *needs* to rest on the extreme case. The deconstruction of personal "civility" rules applied to all should be evaluated as a case of personal preference being confused with a universal standard.

  4. Very nice, particularly the section on the different expectations for civility between men and women. I consider it fully civil to break an unjust law and decidedly not when you verbally intimidate someone merely because they have a different point of view. That this could have happened during a panel on civility is beyond me.

  5. I'm quite impressed with this. Very concisely articulated argument you present, Dr. L. The next time I'm tinkling on the carpet in your office I'll keep this in mind!

  6. All this "pissing on the carpet" shit is just cover for some serious unresolved masculinity issues. These "don't piss on my carpet" douchebags are the same ones who get in fights in bars because some other d00d looked at them funny or accidentally bumped into them on the way to the fucking men's room. They're just insecure little boys playing at being big, tough, men-in-charge.

  7. It really wasn't that long ago that swearing was fine, so long as there *weren't* women and children present. It should not be shocking that 'politeness' and "civility" are still judged differently for men and women. I really don't understand why people don't get that.

  8. Becca, you are correct. Standards are gender-specific; I get far more grief for my language than men with similar expression patterns do (I'm sure it's because I really should be home setting a good example for the little ones).
    DM, I have picked some rather "out there" examples. But I can remember hearing and reading discussions from white (and some black) people asking why "those rebels" couldn't just work within the system and follow society's rules. Acts of "civil disobedience" in more subtle situations may be even more difficult because the injustice is more subtle.

  9. Read John Wilkins and engage him in honest discussion, he will return in kind. Stawmen bore us all.

  10. Especially in the case of Wilkins, the "piss on the carpet" is not gender-based. He aims his ire at trolls and people who disagree without substantive comment. I have never seen him dump or moderate without good reason and I have been a fan of his for years. He was wittier ways to deal with people he disagrees with other than to just dump their comments as unworthy. Take this as a possibly biased defense of Wilkins, but I am sincere in this.

    I have moderated comments at my blog not because of the gender nor the racial background (if I can even tell what that may be,) from people who think that because my blog is public then it is as much theirs as mine and after repeated requests to discontinue a certain type of onerous behavior for which I had warned them, they continued and were banned.

    To use "piss on the rug" as a blanket statement that dissent will not be tolerated based on gender is sexist in itself. And I think, if we are going to use 'Evolving Thoughts' as an example, you should at least go back and check Wilkins' history on that.

    I am not all that familiar with Henry Gee, and like you I have only heard third and fourth hand about this panel discussion, but it is very hard to decipher specifically what happened at the panel to raise his ire so quickly, and I would imagine that it is not as simple as is being portrayed.

    And CPP is as usual jumping in without knowing anything of the situation. I understand why Wilkins left ScienceBlogs and its herd mentality by "the enforcers. "

    Laden is fortunate at least in that he is able to detach and make fun of the situation.

  11. Drugmonkey, illustrating an *ism using the examples of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Susan B Anthony, MLK Jr, etc, is sometimes THE ONLY WAY white d00dz will recognize an *ism. I can't get dudes to recognize (and act on) that no women on a major society board is sexism. If the d00dz aren't physically restricting access or doing bodily harm to non-white-doods, they shrug their shoulders and move on because it's not THEIR problem. I wish I could pick and choose which examples of *isms actually knock the bolts of their privilege loose, but only the textbook ones, not the everyday bullshit, are comprehended (and thoooose "textbook examples" are chalked up to sins of the father, not the Nice Guys in the present *ism situation). The everyday *isms are the imaginations of oppressed groups who of course need microscopes to find shit to whine about, so it's dismissed as not being an *ism.

  12. I didn't make it, either, but if I had, this had been a gold-starred session. I'm still sorry I missed it.

    I love your conclusion about a little piss being able to wash out of most carpets. When I tried to argue that a while back, on the stomping ground of aforementioned verbal dissenter who had decided to "get in the face of another audience member" (to quote Dr. Isis, to whose post I can't seem to link right now), I was similarly quelled. But I survived. Though my memory of the encounter might imply I haven't quite gotten over it. I still resent the episode, even though I have a lot of respect for many of his other views.

    Interesting that this panel on civility was made up entirely of women, that the main discussants following the incident to which I refer were women (this gentleman aside), and that it evolved into a long and finally fruitless discussion of the uses and abuses of comment moderation, again almost entirely among women. As one woman mentioned in the thread to which I can not link, and I think her comment didn't get enough visibility, "I bear the responsibility for being unhappy about perceived injustice". A responsibility to either get over being unhappy, or to do something about the underlying injustice.