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RE: In defense of flame wars

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 15:46:12 -0700
To: "WAI Guidelines WG" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Paul Bohman wrote:
> The discussion of differing viewpoints is productive. The absence
> of common courtesy is not.

Common courtesy doesn't seem to be very common.

> Differing opinions in a diverse group are desirable. Flame wars are not.

Some may differ in their opinion. Is that desirable?

> Personality conflicts are inevitable. Personal insults are not.

Some insults seem obvious, others are a matter of perspective. Who gets to
decide when something is insulting? As for the "evitability" of personal
insults, the evidence doesn't seem to bear you out.

Furthermore, personal insults are only personal if we take them that way.
There is an old saying: If you offer me a gift, and I do not accept it, to
whom does it belong? If we rise above personal attacks (no easy task), the
attack is reflected back on the attacker instead. (Ah, grasshoppa, now you
are ready for the Tao of Flaming. When you can snatch the insult from my

> We have a common goal as a workgroup. We need to articulate our opinions,
> support the opinions of those with whom we agree, present alternative
> solutions when we do not agree, and always consider actions that move us
> toward our common goal, rather than actions that sabotage the effort.

I prefer the course of action that you describe, but I can't prove that it
is the right one. If the group wrote guidelines that promoted the rights of
one group of people at the expense of another, would a member be wrong to
engage in a little sabotage -- a sort of "civil disobedience"? Is it
possible that the efforts of this group have been sabotaged repeatedly in
the past by members (on all sides) who thought that their views weren't
being heard? How can this be prevented? Should it be prevented?

Does the lack of consensus here say something about our inability to get
along, or does it indicate something deeper, such as a lack of consensus on
fundamental issues? You say, "We have a common goal as a workgroup." I say,
"The regular flame wars in this group indicate to me that we DO NOT have a
common goal. We have several conflicting goals."

Sometimes when work seems to be progressing rapidly, it is not because
consensus has been reached, but because one group has prevailed over
another. We have all experienced at one time or another the "tyranny of the
majority." Accessibility is a human rights issue, and it is particularly
important when human rights are at stake that everyone be heard. Even if
they have to shout.

In the rough and tumble world of real democracy, ideals often get trampled.
Paul has articulated an excellent goal. Now that we know how we'd *like*
things to be, let's take a look at how they *really* are. Then we can ask
ourselves, How can we work within the limitations of human nature and still
get something worthwhile accomplished?

My opinion, and it is most certainly only an opinion, is that *bad* speech
is counteracted not by suppression, but by *good* speech. When someone says
something hateful, say something loveful. Say ten loveful things. Overwhelm
bad speech with good speech. Show that bad speech is bad not by proclaiming
it bad, but by setting a counter example. Trust people to see the

Chas. Munat
Received on Thursday, 23 August 2001 18:43:53 UTC

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