Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Speakers Corner

When I was in graduate school, I shared a number of classes with a guy named Charles. While much of my bachelor's work was in the social sciences, Charles had done his undergraduate work in Theater Arts. This, naturally, led to a significant difference in perspectives. Through much of my first semester, I found myself asking Charles what he meant. For example, in one class, he talked about "tonalities." According to Charles, teachers tended to speak at one "tonality," while students spoke at another. After I asked him a few questions, it became clear that Charles meant that teachers were thinking on higher levels than their students. I had thought that he was discussing the pitch of our voices.

In another class, Charles started stripping as a demonstration of ways to break through a student's comfort zone.

One day, towards the end of the semester, I asked Charles a question about his interpretation of William Blake. He exploded, telling me that I had been attacking him all semester, victimizing him, etcetera, etcetera. I was taken aback. Charles, among others, had often asked me to clarify my positions. Rather than be offended or insulted, I was appreciative. It seemed to me that lively discourse had done a lot to hone my ideas, not to mention my ability to think critically. All the same, I had clearly upset Charles, so I apologized for any perceived insults and stopped asking him questions. Class discussion dropped off.

The following semester, I found myself in classes with students who were more comfortable with rigorous debate. We'd often argue loudly and endlessly about some point of interpretation or teaching technique. After class, we'd continue the battles over cheap beers at the local dive bar, with breaks for South Park, of course.

I was in heaven.

Yesterday's post, Saving It For Daddy, inspired a little bit of heated debate. I understand that, on some blogs, direct confrontation between posters is considered rude and inappropriate. To be honest, though, I appreciated the fact that some of you had differing opinions, and were able to discuss them in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I was pleased that I was able to create a space where you felt comfortable discussing your opinions with each other. While I don't think that we'll be able to reach agreement on this issue, I like the fact that we are able to put our respective positions on the table and explain them to each other.

I don't feel like reasoned discussion is getting a fair showing these days. Rather than cool-headed, thoughtful participants, the United States has "ultra-Christian, fundamentalist, racist, patriarchal, homophobic, super-conservative crypto-fascists" battling "ultra-liberal, god-hating, man-hating, homosexual-recruiting, flip-flopping communists." I don't see much space for the rest of us in the public discourse. However, I can't help feeling that there is still a lot more that connects us than divides us, and I believe that we have many of the same ideals for our world, although we intensely disagree on the best methods for realizing those goals.

Matt's blog has given me a clear glimpse into how discussion can degenerate into insults and abuse; like him, I reserve the right to employ extraordinary measures if I feel like things have gotten out of hand. However, conversations like the one in my comments section yesterday make me feel like my blog serves a real purpose, and make me very proud of the space that I have created. Most of all, they make me even more appreciative of the people who choose to read and comment on the things that I write.

I am now stepping off my soapbox. Thank you.

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  • Ha ha ha! Burn me at the stake for saying this, but your posts of yesterday and today and the comments that followed seem to me to be a complete manifestation of your point. Interestingly, there's a debate going on in the UK blogosphere about the lack of women bloggers. One reason cited was that they are less willing to enter into the vociferous and often ferocious debate that goes along with blogging. Over here, if you blog, you have to be prepared to be shot at and shot down in flames - often not very politely. I'm not saying either way is right or wrong, just different, but I am quite relieved that most of my commenters are from the US - my fellow countrymen would give me a much harder time!

    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At January 23, 2007 at 11:51 AM  

  • Sorry to go on, but just to illustrate my point, found this comment on a UK blog in response to another comment - neither by the author of the blog:

    "It seems to me, often, that the main function of the internet has been to convince thoughtless loudmouths that what they would previously have said in a saloon bar is now somehow worthy of being committed to prose."



    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At January 23, 2007 at 12:00 PM  

  • Puss-
    I've often found that women tend to seek connection in arguments, while men seem to focus on "winning." This means that men will hew to increasingly untenable positions, while women use the words and ideas of their opponent to modify and clarify their own arguments. It seems sad that some women willingly opt out of this discourse, as they can add so much to it.

    Regarding your other comment, I have two responses:

    1. That guy used the word "saloon"! English people are funny!

    2. Flashing back to parliamentary debate, not to mention my memories of mid-eighties Spitting Image episodes, I have to applaud your fellow Britons for their impressive ability to couch bitchy, scathing commentary in wonderfully articulate and eloquent prose.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 23, 2007 at 1:22 PM  

  • Hey Crankster...just clocked in and looking at all the debate. Kinda reminded me of back when I was in 2nd grade (I think) and taking Holy Communion for the first time. I had to wear a lacy white dress, white gloves and a white veil to walk down the aisle with a young suited boy where we were made "one" with the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though I was excited about the fanciful dress, I was secretly creeped out.

    On another note, I've heard several stories of girls determined to stay virgins who won't participate in vaginal sex but will provide blowjobs and anal. Always a loophole.

    I guess the thing that freaks me out most about this Purity Pledge is the added pressure for these poor girls who will most likely not only have sex before they are married, but will have to come to terms with breaking a promise to their father and all the unecessary guilt that will accompany their betrayal. Why would a parent do this to a child?

    And I think the debate makes it all the more interesting!

    By Blogger Lee, At January 23, 2007 at 7:15 PM  

  • Lee-
    I'm with you on the worries for these girls. My larger concern is with the fact that studies have shown that abstinence-only education consistently leads to increased pre-marital pregnancy rates. And, given the increased pressure on these young women, I can only imagine how they'd handle this situation.

    I'm sure that the parents want the best for their kids, but I feel like this method is based more on longing for the 1950's than on an understanding of the realities that children face today.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 23, 2007 at 11:35 PM  

  • I love a good discussion. Really I do. I find fewer of them these days. I can provoke even fewer of them myself.

    Here's the baton.

    By Blogger The CEO, At January 24, 2007 at 1:10 AM  

  • CEO-
    I think it might be a flash in the pan. For some reason, my Evil Old Ladies post only provoked profound agreement. Still, thanks for the pretty baton; I'll put it on the mantle.

    By Blogger Crankster, At January 24, 2007 at 8:25 AM  

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