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To be able to develop and share ideas, we have to make ways to talk with each other that are open, constructive, considered, based on facts where they exist, and non-abusive.

Open, constructive discussion

Campfire Convention is all about the development of new ideas and ways of acting in the world, and sharing the good ideas that are already out there. To do this, we have to assume:

  • That wherever we come from and wherever we are going, we share some fundamental principles of fairness, tolerance, celebrating diversity, wanting a better world for everyone
  • That we are bound to disagree with each other sometimes, often passionately

To be able to develop and share ideas, we have to make ways to talk with each other that are open, constructive, considered, based on facts where they exist, and non-abusive.

Some suggestions for our working process on this site:   

  • Aim to be constructive and considered
  • Think ‘build’, not ‘tear down’ in response to a previous contribution – ‘yes, and’, rather than ‘NO!!’
  • If you would not say it to someone’s face in a friendly setting, don’t write it. If you are the kind of person who likes abusing people face to face, are you sure you are on the right website?
  • Think for a minute before responding: knee-jerk reactions are often (as we all discovered in our early use of emails) embarrassing to read afterwards, and can lead to ‘flaming’, or a vicious cycle downwards of abuse
  • Be a little wary of rhetoric, slick phrases: it’s appealing to try to write or say something that we hope will bring everyone to our point of view, but rhetoric is also a weapon that can be used to sway emotion and stop debate
  • Twitterbug – some things just can’t be fully expressed in 140 characters, or a one line response in a forum.  Sometimes it is better not to try, but instead spend longer and more space exploring and sharing what we think. 
  • The evidence is that using language with violence metaphors can actually lead to people being more prepared to be violent – yes, even ‘Let’s fight for justice”.
  • Over-reaction – perhaps because we feel that an argument is going in a direction that makes us uncomfortable – can stray into the absurd.

Example: in response to Owen Jones writing about his disappointment about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership so far, someone actually responded with “This will knock back the working classes by twenty years”.  Really, just one short article aimed at fellow Labour Left supporters can do this?

It can be helpful to consider what part you want to play in a multilogue. Are you coming up with new ideas? are you helping someone else to put their ideas into practice? are you offering a constructive critique, that can also help them refine their idea or the plan to implement it? Critiquing an idea without first considering how it could work can short circuit creativity.

Evidence and expertise

For some reason, as information can be spread faster and further than ever before via the internet, the issue of ‘fact’ has come increasingly under attack, along with the authority of ‘expert’.  At one level we can understand why people might come to dispute what others claim as facts to support their own self-interest (“He would say that, wouldn’t he.”). And experts are not always right, indeed not even always honest.

However. Not having expertise, or worse, of being free from knowledge – or of not allowing facts to get in the way of your argument – is nothing to be proud of. To collectively develop our ideas, we can and should discuss what counts as authority. We do not have to accept any expertise, including science, absolutely. But we have to make a stand for trying to understand what is really going on, and respecting those who are attempting in good faith to get at fact.

For example, everyone concerned about human-caused climate change has surely been driven at some point to despair not just about the situation, but about opposition that actively disregards the majority of scientists and scientific studies, that cherry-picks facts and makes up evidence. What’s strange is that such opposition goes out of its way to try to use science to argue against scientific consensus: it doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions to dispute such authority. 

What we ask is that everyone in CC is open to considering evidence. If we make a statement that we believe is based on fact, how do we respond when someone challenges our facts with other evidence? In particular, we ask that everyone does not continue to repeat a ‘fact’ challenged by someone else without a considered response. To do so is not to listen or share; it is not to be open to development. Of course, to dogmatically and repeatedly challenge someone else’s evidence is simply the same problem.

Recent example (summarised):

Newt Gingrich: Violent crime is going up in this country [the USA].

Interviewer: No, the evidence is that violent crime has been decreasing for the last 15 years.

NG: That’s not true in Chicago.

Interviewer: That doesn’t change the evidence overall.

NG: Liberal commentators often make up facts.

Interviewer: This evidence comes from the FBI. Would you call them liberal?

NG: People just feel violent crime is going up.

See John Oliver Last Week Tonight 24 August 2016 on the Republican National Conference when it’s up again – currently this particular episode has been taken down for some reason.

People's fears are not irrelevant in issues of violent crime. But this is not what Newt is saying.

We cannot deny emotion. Feeling strongly about something is not a weakness: it’s often the driving force to change the world for the better. 

However, Campfire Convention encourages some precision in language, even when we feel strongly. Being Moslem is not the same thing as being a terrorist, for example. Not all Tories are fascists or paedophiles or even Old Etonians. These aren’t matters of opinion, however much you dislike Tories. Without being dogmatic, we should encourage the use of facts, as far as that is possible. We can’t change the world without facing what is actually there.

It’s almost guaranteed that just about everyone on CC has some view that perhaps does not entirely correspond to scientific consensus or accepted wisdom. In any coalition of well-intentioned people, there will be moments when we have to agree to disagree. Open and constructive engagement is not really about trying to ‘win’ people to your point of view., but work out what we can agree on enough to act.

Means and ends

The ends do not justify the means. Behaviour that is unacceptable – violence, abuse, exploitation, intolerance, and deliberate dishonesty – is no way to create a world that is safe, open, compassionate, honest and egalitarian.

Hate speech and trolling

Here’s the proposed rules of engagement.

1.       Attack the argument, not the person. It’s lazy to insult someone over their views instead of countering their argument with reason and evidence.

2.       Open speech does not require that we put up with abuse.

3.       Any language that insults someone for on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality – well, why would you do this? It’s particularly pointless and irritating if it’s attacking a woman for being unwomanly, a man for being womanly, attacking anyone challenging existing power structures for ‘reverse’ racism or ‘reverse’ snobbery.

4.       Bullying – even when this does not involve threats of violence, aggressive language, or attacking the person rather than the argument (and of course often it does) – can make someone feel not only bad but shut down. It is only too easy to stray into ganging up on someone. Even if you are right and they are wrong… do we want to live in a society where who shouts loudest, who’s in the biggest gang, determines what’s discussed?

5.       CC will take down anything that actually threatens anyone’s safety, and any menace of violence.

In general, CC opposes any creed that is based on “believing any other group of people is less human than you are”. Let us reflect that in how we talk with each other. 

REW, 4 August 2016.

Postscript: it has also been proposed that, if any discussion on line gets too painful for one or more participant, we will have a rotating group who volunteer to talk to individuals off line. For the moment, Ralph Pettingill and I are happy to talk by phone or even face to face to anyone who gets upset or finds a debate overwhelming. Not everyone is equally experienced in multilogues - some of us have been through face to face and previous on-line group dynamics, and recognise how things can get out of hand and what can be done; others of us may be less used to this.  CC is about developing community, and that also includes developing community working skills.



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