Mowk wrote:Let us just have a discussion about what you believe is civil and why you believe it matters.
Let's. Here are my initial thoughts:
Civility on ILP, like civility elsewhere, is just the practice of certain manners, certain ways of posting politely. Civility's social roles are many, but one that's important is in keeping the peace to allow productive business to continue. For ILP, that means avoiding bickering matches in favor of substantive discussions of philosophy.
Before I go further I should say that, like manners elsewhere in society, while I would hope for civility, I don't think it should be enforced through moderation. People have every right to be rude, and the only cost should be the loss of respect from one's peers.
Manners keep discussions civil largely through 'costly signaling', that is, taking steps that make posting slightly more difficult in obvious ways, but also communicate that the cost is being taken to indicate that the speaker respects the person she's speaking to. So, for example, rather than just dismissively responding, "Rubbish", I might write at length to explain what's wrong with the post. This is costly: I'm spending time I might spend elsewhere, and it will be clear throughout that I could sum up what I'm saying with, "Rubbish". Taking the time to write that out at length is a way of indicating that your post is worth responding to at length, that I value you enough to not only comment on your post, but to explain my comment, to attempt to win you over to my point of view. Those indicia of respect will encourage reciprocation, in the form of a similarly explicit rejection of my points.
If you look at the Socratic dialogues, you will see a good deal of this costly signaling. Socrates proceeds with often laborious self-abasement at multiple stages throughout the dialogues, explaining his own ignorance, showering praise for intellect and rigor, and generally criticizing an idea with as much respect as that endeavor allows.
Similarly, civility demands avoiding insults, instead criticizing ideas and doing so in a way that indicates that respect for the speaker. This is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit of civility, as it is only costly in self-control.
The other side of how one addresses others is how one responds to incivility. This is important everywhere, but especially at a site like ILP where the ideas being criticized are often core to a person's identity and understanding of place in the world. Responding to incivility without incivility prevents a downward spiral of incivility. This takes having a bit of thick skin, presuming the good faith of others, and, while showing as much respect as possible, not taking a person's uncivil words so seriously that the only response is an emotional an uncivil outburst. It may mean legitimately doubting ones own positions, willing in the gaps in the criticism left when the incivility is ignored. Often, it just means walking away from a conversation that one has reason to believe will no longer be productive.
Take a step back from ILP to look at the role of manners elsewhere. One of the more elaborate sets of manners are in diplomatic protocols, where we find significant pomp and ceremony, a.k.a. costly signaling. The reason for this seems to be that there is no fundamental trust, so signaling must be particularly costly to convince each side that the other that they are intending to play by the rules and show each other respect. The more elaborate the rituals, the most costly it is for the participants.
Similarly here: participants are anonymous, they are internet strangers from all over the world, representing strongly held by widely diverging schools of thought, as well as cultural backgrounds. Civility here signals a willingness to engage in a discussion in good faith across those lines, and doing so means accepting some cost as a means to inspire trust.
And the purpose is the same: constructive dialogue, thoughtful and honest critique, productive-though-difficult conversations.
Civility as I described it is the ideal, in my mind. No one lives up to it, because it's extreme, it's costly, it's counter to instinct. But it scales linearly: a little civility, a little costly signaling, a little thickness of skin, actually confers a proportionate bit of the benefits of the ideal.