[quote=“jdsmith”]For me, consistency is the a key for good posting in the IP forum. Wishy washiness is an immediate casue for the sharks to bite.
Donning my anti-shark suit, allow me to offer a partial defense of wishy-washiness.
[color=black]Consistency at the expense of productive discussion[/color]
I agree with JD, that consistency is a commendable virtue. But it is also one that I believe is often overvalued when it comes at the expense of rational, intelligent discussion. Perhaps the problem I refer to is not even genuine consistency itself, but rather its ugly cousin, stubbornness.
One day not too long ago, in a particularly discouraged mood at intractibility and partisanship on the IP board that day, I actually did a few searches looking for the statements “I was wrong” “I admit that was incorrect” and the like. I had actually intended to start a thread congratulating the people who had wrote these statements within the past few months. But the results were so few and difficult to find, that I gave up. :s
Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of respect for many of the posters on that board (including ones that I tend agree with, and ones that I tend to disagree with) but my impression is that a devotion to consistency often leads people to doggedly pursue petty disputes into meaningless grudge matches that accomplish nothing. Far better, in my opinion, to admit when you’ve made a mistake, say “Okay, you’re right on point A. But I still feel that points B and C are valid, and here’s why…” Or when that is not possible, then agreeing to disagree on certain points (where the arguments both ways have already been fully presented) is another great option. Keeps the discussion more fresh and engaging.
Although I try to be as objective and open-minded as I can, I am certainly guilty of reacting in with defensiveness as well. [color=blue]Sometimes I actually catch myself hitting the reply button to give a knee-jerk counter argument to a post which I later realize I should have just read with an open mind and thought about a little longer – because the post had merit.[/color]
None of this is to say that we should be shy about expressing our points of view. And obviously much of the back-and-forth banter, aggressive disagreement, and friendly gamesmanship are all part of the fun. I just think it behooves us (myself included) to keep in mind that consistency does not require (and indeed is often antithetical to) offering stubborn knee-jerk responses or taking position X for no other reason than that Such-and-such poster just took position Y.
[color=black]Consistency at the expense of merit[/color]
The second guise in which I feel consistency can be unhelpful is the argument: “You [Person A] said behaviour X is bad? Well So-and-so [government/individual that Person A likes/often defends] also engages in behaviour X.”
The problem with this response is that the analysis often ends right there. There is no attempt to address the legitimacy of the point, there is only a illogical implication that by bringing up the misdeeds of a fellow offender, the behaviour of the original subject of the criticism is vindicated. This has two effects:
(1) It ignores the original source of the debate: whether behaviour X is praiseworthy/blameworthy/none-of-the-above.
(2) It sets the stage for a childish round of “Oh yeah well you did this! Oh yeah, well you did THIS!” that, in addition to preventing a reasonable discussion of the original behaviour (see point 1) also has the tendency to turn what may have originally been a pragmatic discussion into a mud-slinging match.
Surely we can all agree that if I had once overstayed my visa (I haven’t ), and I later go on forumosa and post that overstaying is a bad idea – that someone responding with “Oh yeah, well that’s pretty hypocritical, Hobbes, since you once overstayed your visa!” adds very little to the discussion about whether overstaying is advisable or not.
Again, the problem is not the observation that I’m a hypocrite – the problem is that this often passes as a decent response to my argument. [color=blue]In other words, this oft-repeated poor-excuse-for-an-argument ignores the fundamental fact that an argument can be hypocritical, and and also be right. [/color]
So “That’s hypocritical!” is a fine statement as far as it goes – but if consistency is held up as the highest virtue, and if hypocrisy is considered inconsistent, then many a fine discussion will be killed before it is even begun. And the result will be name-calling and insults rather than discussions of issues. The last thing we want is for someone to go on the boards and feel that they have to take the position “Mass murder is good” just because their country has been guilty of mass murder in the past (and most countries, I submit, have).
I have no reason to believe that JD disagrees with any of this – I just think that when consistency is lauded, the other side of the coin should be given a quick showing at the same time.