Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival #27, and E-rudeness

The latest Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Heaven Tree. (Note that we need someone to host the next one, so check out the guidelines and then volunteer!) I thought this month's entries were pretty good, actually...

I especially liked Will Wilkinson's post on Self-Deception and Self-Construction, which more or less suggests that the former is necessary for the latter.

Clark on Blogging and Risk was also interesting. I'm not convinced that the reason people are ruder online is because there's less "risk". Clark considers the risk of misdirected mail, but even without such accidents, it seems to me that it can be significantly more risky to act like an ass online than in person, for spoken words dissipate long before written ones do. Consider the sort of person who leaves rude comments on a blog apparently for the sole purpose of rambling about how he is the "intellectual better" of the author. This rude behaviour is now one of the first things anyone will see of the commentator when Googling their name. One can imagine how that could have unfortunate consequences.

So why do people do it? I guess you could still say that they simply don't realize the risks. (And I guess the notorious rudeness of anonymous commentators supports the 'risk-free' explanation.) But I think it's more than that. You wouldn't speak that way to a passing stranger, even if you were wearing a mask and a bullet-proof vest. In person, perhaps, their humanity is too salient to deny, and so too the immorality of (mis)treating them with gratuitous rudeness. Online, however, the interacting subjects are significantly abstracted. One may attack a persona, rather than a person, without suffering pangs of conscience. Indeed, one can more easily construct an image of the other as one pleases, filling out the details so as to reinforce their villainy or inhumanity. ("The fool deserves no better!", the flamer reasons to himself.) In person, by contrast, the details are not so much left open to your imagination. The reality is there, confronting you, and basic decency requires you to treat the other with a modicum of respect. Perhaps the artificialities of the online world sometimes lead us to forget this basic moral truth.


  1. I think you've got hold of the right explanation, Richard. We evolved to deal with people face to face and pick up on all kinds of visual and auditory cues (more information is transmitted that way than via actual words), but when those cues aren't there the emotional chemistry of interaction becomes vastly different. Plus there's no real-time feedback, and thus nobody to interrupt us and stop us from saying something stupid.

  2. Richard,

    If you still need somebody to host the next one, I'd be willing to host again.


  3. Thanks, should be okay for this one, but I'll get in touch when a second round is needed.


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