Thoughts on Internet Debate

When I came across this quote a few days ago, I liked it. As a blogger, it’s worth remembering when the battle of ideas gets heated.

“If I were to demand that everyone live up to my moral standards, I would be a lonely, cranky and judgmental person. And I’d be less effective. People respond better when you invite them to take a stand on behalf of what they love, than when you insist they conform to your beliefs.” – John Robbins┬╣

The importance of that sentiment makes more sense to me, based on an entry I never wrote precisely because I didn’t think I could be polite. The subject of that never written entry would’ve been this quote from Cathy Seipp:

“If you know a circumcised man who would like to experience some of the sensitivity nature intended for him, I would be happy to send you some Your-Skin Cones,” writes a guy who apparently sells these things, and for some reason assumes I would be eager to help him spread the pro-foreskin oh-what-a-feeling agenda. Less amusing, though, is when these nutcases add, as they often do, that male circumcision is the equivalent of female genital mutilation, an idiotic and misogynist argument if there ever was one.

This comment made me angrier than almost every other comment I’ve read or heard regarding circumcision, for reasons I’ve indirectly explained many times. Arguments that distinguish male and female genital cutting into “good” and “bad” categories, respectively, are flawed to begin with. But labeling any attempt to compare the two as misogynistic ignores the issue as if it’s already settled, with two ad hominem attacks for kicks. We’re talking about genital modification, not whether you should give your kid Crest or Tom’s of Maine.

Time has cooled my anger. Still, I never posted that, even when the opportunity arose. I didn’t think I could be dispassionate enough. And I only post it today in the context of the quote from John Robbins. My non-response to Ms. Seipp’s claim was a time when I exercised good judgment. I don’t say that to congratulate myself because I’ve failed at this more times than not. But my rare success struck me as important now because Cathy Seipp died Wednesday after a long battle with lung cancer.

I’m not going to get sentimental about her death. I didn’t know her. To my fallible memory, I don’t recall posting any comments on her blog. I’m certain we never had an exchange of ideas on any topic through her blog. Her death is sad, but it doesn’t hit me personally. Nor do I think it’s uncouth to challenge the opinions of those who have died, although the timing would be rude, if that’s what I was after here.

However, reading the news of her death made an impression on me. No matter how offensive or frustrating I found her views, there was still a human being there. That’s vital. I want to be treated with respect, even when someone disagrees with my views. That’s how I want to interact with others, regardless of whether it’s extended to me. Behaving with a touch of humanity is crucial because my opinion is in the minority. I want to end infant circumcision. Countering the all-too-common opinion that it’s “really nothing”, as Ms. Seipp also once said, is part of that process. But treating people who believe that with respect is the right thing to do. I don’t succeed as often as I’d like, of course, so news like this reminds me that kindness matters.

┬╣ “Reader Letters – 2006 Veggie Awards”, VegNews, April 2007: 21.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Internet Debate”

  1. “I want to be treated with respect, even when someone disagrees with my views.”
    Respect is a two-way street.
    If respect is shown to me, I’ll respond in kind.
    But if someone calls me a “nutcase”, the only thing they’ll get from me is the verbal equivalent of the bird.
    Only punching bags don’t punch back.

  2. “Behaving with a touch of humanity is crucial because my opinion is in the minority.”
    In the US, maybe, but in all other Western nations, your opinion is very much in the majority. Don’t ever forget this, Tony, and don’t let others forget it either.

  3. Respect is ideally a two-way street. It’s not always, but I can only control my side of the equation. When confronted with “nutcase” or “misogynist”, sparring back on those points won’t do anything other than provide a short-term high. I’d rather stay focused on what is important. I may or may not be able to debate the dismissive, insulting person, but on the Internet, every word is forever. I don’t want a parent trying to decide what to do to stumble on me engaging in the same name-calling. It hurts what I’m trying to accomplish.
    For example, this exchange. I wouldn’t write my original post the same way now, but it didn’t warrant the response. As my eventual response stated, there is always the chance that extra facts exist. These would never justify routine infant circumcision, but we have to argue well.
    Every time I’ve lost it in print, and I’ve never really lost it, I’ve regretted. I’m angry. That will never change. But my anger about what was done to me can’t be dumped on everyone else.

  4. Reading your exchange with that woman reminded me of an old saying, Tony. Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe not:

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It just wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

    You need to stop wasting your time arguing with idiots and scumbags. Instead, seek out people who want to know the truth and are willing to listen to you.
    If someone calls you an “asshole”, blow them off immediately (whether you return the abuse or not) and keep moving right along. Never try to engage in a dialogue with people who insult you….it’s utterly useless and it makes you look like a masochist to boot.

  5. “But my anger about what was done to me can’t be dumped on everyone else.”
    Is that your interpretation of what I said? If it is, it’s wrong.
    Of course you shouldn’t dump your anger (as a matter of habit) on other people. Just don’t take any crap from them….that’s all.

  6. I applaud your reservation Tony. I am frequently amazed at how thoughtful people fly off the handle when discussing subjects they are passionate about.
    It would seem that Mrs. Forry’s email taught you the folly. The original post was not too bad. By opening with “asshole”, she lost a significant opportunity to get her point across. Instead of making you think or feeling like scum, it probably put up barriers of indignation. To borrow from John Hughes, “makes you look like an ass, is what he does, Ed.”
    On a side note: reading the previous exchange makes me wonder. “We don’t have to go through circumcision.” They usually do the procedure in the nursery down the hall. I wonder how many parents would become REALLY squeamish if it were performed right there in the room.

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