I made a pledge once to be civil. I shall try to do so in the following. There has been much discussion lately about who is welcome in the bloggernacle. I think that this is fruitless. Until such time as we begin to demand subscriptions for reading, there isn’t an effective way to ban someone from blogs. Even in the face of banning and comment deletion, people can effectively bypass most systems and comment if they so desire. It is often said that the only effective way to deal with a troll is to ignore them. In the internet, shunning is the most effective means for keeping the peace.
What peace is there to be kept? Well, we are all familiar with the flame-wars that regularly erupt in cyberspace. Something about the impersonality of the internet allows us to set aside some inhibitions, like alcohol does, letting us speak our own mind in ways that are simply unavailable to us in real life (that is, if we don’t want to get shunned, fired, or beaten up in real life). The consequences of being banned from a blog are minimal; there are a thousand other blogs out there and, if desperate enough, you can even start your own in an attempt to get your voice heard.
I have often argued that the nature of blogging means that anything you put up can (and likely will if you are on a popular blog) be criticized. If you are worried about what people will say regarding your post, health, sanity, hygiene, and so forth you should not post in Internet forums. As we have often revealed, our level of taboo (in disparaging the other guy) is very low. As with “bless your heart” in the South, you can say almost anything if you put a lightening emoticon after it ;) Sometimes we forget the emoticon we never intended.
Yesterday, a friend of mine tried to explain what he found troubling in certain areas of Mormon internet discussion. Some people read themselves into his post, which pointed no specific fingers. Others did not. I am curious as to why that is. It is not as if anyone here is entirely free of embarrassing moments of internet hyperbole (with the possible exception of the always level-headed RT). Another member of the community, whom I have always respected and hope to someday consider a friend, read herself into Stapley’s post, even though I don’t think she has demonstrated the characteristics he mentioned as troubling there (although, I am certainly not familiar with all that she does on the internet). I wish she hadn’t. I would have thought that the bloggernacle’s respect for her was self-evident. But now, she’s gone.
Much talk was made regarding acceptable behavior in the bloggernacle. I don’t know what to make of it. Certainly we should be polite. However, I don’t think politeness is a necessary criterion for participation. Some wondered if a certain level of belief was necessary. I don’t believe it is; certainly we have no dogma. I had thought at the beginning of this post that a certain level of trust should be given; but as I write it, I realize that I am unwilling to extend that trust to some of the participants in the discussion. There are some people who I wouldn’t miss if they didn’t come back. I assume that there are some who think the same of me.
In his essay, “Why the church is as true as the gospel,” Eugene England argued that the one greatest effect of the church is that it puts you into situations with people whom you would never voluntarily associate with. In these situations, if you are a good church member, or even if you would only like to be one, you are supposed to serve these people out of love. Serving in love, with all our heart, is the one thing really asked of us by Church service. And we have to extend that love to everyone, in and out of the church, but particularly in, where we are easily frustrated by the bigots, sexists, liberals, feminists, conservatives, and John Birchers among us. We’re supposed to love everybody.
The internet isn’t like that. Ultimately all internet participation is voluntary. We don’t ever have to be here (as spouses tell us all the time). Therefore, we tend to congregate in groups of like minded people. The argumentative among us will engage in excursions to the other side under the guise of dialogue, but usually with an understanding that we are doing this for fun or as a distraction. If real human emotion was considered to be in play, we wouldn’t discuss half the things we discuss and we certainly wouldn’t talk about them the way we do.
The bloggernacle isn’t a place where everyone is accepted with equal trust. Trust must be earned within it. Some people will always be viewed with suspicion, simply because of the questions they ask, the manner in which the questions are asked, and because of implied agendas (real or imposed) behind those questions. In other forums, they will be welcomed and embraced. I don’t truly know if this is a bad thing or a good thing. It simply is.
Attempts to define the bloggernacle are as pointless, ultimately, as attempts to exclude or include within it. People will come and go as they please. Hopefully, we are welcoming to those who are willing to sincerely journey with us. Hopefully, we are not unduly rude to those who are not. But being polite is not the same thing as welcoming and the two shouldn’t be confused.
Ultimately, the reason “The church is as true as the gospel” is because God, priesthood, and revelation run the church, insuring through divine guidance that the people we meet and are obligated to love are people who will grow with you in the process. In the bloggernacle, we have no priesthood, no authority. The company we keep is not always divinely inspired, instead it is personally chosen. It is well to remember that.