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Rules of Engagement?

          The rules of engagement on Net discussion lists seem to vary rather
  widely from one to the next.  What are the rules on this one, if any?
          I've been called some unpleasant names in a couple of recent posts
  and have, so far, refrained from responding in kind.  For me, this is
  seriously out of character. As I've mentioned before, I'm a battle-scarred
  veteran of the Washington political wars and quite at home in this kind of
  verbal hand-to-hand combat.  Next year, 1998, will mark my 40th year as an
  antitrust professional--15 years with the FTC, 10 of them as an aide to a
  chairman and 2 commissioners, primarily writing antitrust decisions. An
  editor in the field now for over 2 decades, I've read thousands of such
  opinions. As I think I've also mentioned before, I compose at the keyboard
  at the same speed I type, up to 100 mpw on a reasonably good day.  
          In other words, if the rules of engagement here are no-holds-barred,
  sling all the mud you want, meet reasoned propositions with schoolyard
  name-calling, personal insults, attacks on your opponent's intelligence,
  education, character, mental health, and the like, I won't exactly be at a
  disadvantage.  I have to modestly admit that, when push comes to shove, I'm
  no slouch in this kind of slash-and-burn debate.  So far, I've been thrown
  off several lists--ideologues on both the right and the left seem to be
  similarly incensed by my advocacy of effective competition in all capitalist
  markets--for, in effect, 'unnecessary [verbal] roughness.'  
          Join a half-dozen or so lists and you quickly learn the root cause
  of name- calling, namely, ideology.  Who complains about the poster who
  agrees with them?  Anyone who posts as much as I do--for me it's both easy
  and fun and productive (my posts ultimately go into my printed journal)--can
  expect critics. I rarely respond, since many of them have nothing to say
  that requires a response.  
          There's amazing vigor on both extremes of the ideological spectrum,
  say the 5% or so of the U.S. population on the far right (laissez-faire) and
  the equivalent 5% at the other end, the far left (socialists/collectivists).
  Unless you agree with them, you have a serious PERSONAL defect--which of
  course accounts for the name calling.  Every ad hominem attack I've
  experienced online has come from someone who, it ultimately turned out,
  abhors my blunt advocacy of Adam Smith's prescription for tough, 20-firm
  price/quality competition in worldwide capitalist markets.  I've not always
  been especially tolerant in my responses. 
          So why am I being so mannerly now?  I'm experimenting.  As an
  empiricist, I see the key question as, does it work?  Do verbal brawls--no
  matter how much fun they may be for some of us--advance the values and
  policies that I happen to think are important for the world's 200 countries?
  Or is more progress made by keeping the egos in check, hearing out the
  follies of the other side, and responding civilly, even graciously, to them
  ("Will the Learned Gentleman yield for a moment...)?  If there is such a
  thing as a 'model' Net discussion list, what would its rules of engagement be? 
          I think what I'd really like to see is a list where there were, in
  effect, at least a couple of responsible members who would promptly and
  firmly reply to the first incidence of name-calling, carefully and
  specifically defending the victim and taking to task the user of the
  offensive language.  'John has used words that are offensive and uncalled
  for.' These remonstrances should be sharp enough--and specific enough--that
  the VICTIM HIMSELF FEELS NO NEED TO RESPOND.  He has been vindicated by the
  group and therefore has no urge to defend himself by replying in kind.  A
  potential brawl has been nipped in the bud.  (The criminal law serves a
  similar function:  When the sheriff and the prosecutor do their jobs, the
  victim and his friends have no need to seek private vengeance.  Justice has
  been done and the matter is ended.)  
          Fuel has been added to the fire, though, when list members jump in
  and say, 'Now boys, tut, tut,' piously blaming the victim as well as his
  attacker.  This typically happens on a list, of course, as a result of fear,
  a reluctance to criticize a bully who has shown his willingness to verbally
  abuse any who oppose his views. Confronting bullies is not for the faint of
  heart--which of course explains why it rarely occurs on discussion lists.
  Rather, list members typically advise the victim, onlist or privately, to
  'ignore' the insults, no matter how scurrilous.  Absorb it, 'take' it.
  Heroic souls do indeed sometime manage to turn the other cheek--accept the
  blows and abuse without counter blows (passive resistance,etc)--but human
  nature isn't really programmed that way.  Self-defence trumps self-sacrifice
  for most of us.
          No one in this group seems disposed to challenge the two members
  who've engaged here in the lowest form of name-calling against me.  The next
  time it happens, then, will be pay-back time: they won't like the reply
  they'll get from me.  And any member who has kept quiet during the
  name-calling against me--but presumes to tut-tut me when I lower the boom on
  the guy who attacked me--won't care for my answer to him either.  
           Charles Mueller, Editor