Re: virus: Why swim upstream? (was: Re: Not Homophobic)

Eric Boyd (
Fri, 11 Jun 1999 13:32:34 -0400


Tim Rhodes <> writes: <<
At the end of the day, isn't it really the petty arguments, the verbal sparring, the rare chance to slam-dunk some stupid ignorant yokel, that keeps bringing us back for more? Shouldn't we all just admit that?

Tim: thanks for getting me back on track. I bought a new game a few days ago, and haven't done anything on the EoE for a while.

I've been thinking about the issues you raised here, in depth, for nearly a month now. I had orginally hoped that a core group of regulars on a list could maintain a positive atmosphere -- could "control" the list sufficiently that flamewars and the other negative dynamics I have identified could be avoided. But recent events here on Virus have now convinced me that that's a pipe dream -- not only does it over estimate our abilities (we're not perfect and will sometimes lead discussions into those areas as well), but it also underestimates the influence that one poster can have -- not to mention a small new group.

So how do we avoid such negative dynamics? I don't know. My only real idea is The Conscious Approach -- which you describe below. It requires a certain focus on *how* you argue and *how* you're saying things, not to mention *why* you're saying them, and like you said, that focus tends to dampen your own input and motivation. It is a nasty catch 22.

One of the things I'm really good at is arguing. (Which will come as no surprise to many of you, I'm sure.) I have a flare for it and I often just enjoy a good argument for its own sake, regardless of the outcome one way or the other. But lately I'm becoming more and more aware of how I argue, my learned responses that keep popping-up again and again out of habit, and how these shape the conversations I'm a part of. And, frankly, I don't like it one bit.

I wonder: is it possible that changing our "learned responces" (which I see as finding and eradicating our entrenched theories regarding email) is just the first step to a new level -- an entirely new paradigm of conscious interaction? What would communication be like /without/ heuristics and other automatic responces?

It's a struggle. I spend more time rewriting than writing lately. I've deleted more of my posts than I've sent and I still can't seem to pull it off. I watch helplessly as the few conversations I do engage in here degrade into petty infighting before my very eyes. And that's the real problem, not that it's happening--it probably always has been--but now, sadly, I can see it when it happens. I know when I'm just fanning the flames; when any response I can make will be misunderstood anyway. And it is _so very_ frustrating to watch a conversation head down that path and knowing that I either helped send it there or was simply unable to stop its eventual downward slide.

Tim: I hear you loud and clear. What's that slogan? "The Medium *is* the Message". The dynamics control the conversation...

I have changed in the same way, Tim -- I see it now too. But I'm not content to let it stay that way.

You lapse into cynicism and apathy:

And maybe that's just the way it's always been. So I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised if, at the end of my day, it's really those petty arguments and the verbal sparring and that rare chance to slam-dunk some ignorant moron for his cherished, but oh-so-foolhardy, ideas that keeps bringing me back here for more and more of the same.

You ask "Why swim upstream?" I'll tell you why: to change potential into actuality.

In a message to Dave Hall, I said:

"Email allows us to combine the exact, systematic and reasoned nature of *writing* (think philosophy books) with the rapid stimulus and variety of the "beerhall", to use your term. This combination could be *explosive* -- and if we can harness that explosion, it may usher in a "new age" of knowledge creation, accelerating our growth of knowledge even beyond the dreams of the Extropians."

Just as a side note, I think the "explosion" of email is already here -- we're just not harnessing it, and so the explosion is hurting rather than helping us.

I've since thought even more about the medium of email, especially in reference to my growing evolutationary epistemology. Email, you see, gets massive inputs of "variation" from lots of sources:

(1) Quick responces
(2) Lots of participants
(3) Participants from vastly different backgrounds (the internet is

Email also has an excellent "selection" component, becuase of it's written nature. This is the area that causes all of the problems, of course -- I think what we are witnessing on the list is half caused by the fact that email has such a strong "selection" component (in term of ability to criticize and "interrupt") that all us poor users are overwelmed -- the selection takes over and "weeds out" everything!

The other half of the problem, of course, is memetic in nature -- like you said, negative posts tend to motivate us to write further negative posts, and so conversations quickly degenerate, as the first sign of negativness puts one on the slippery road to a flame-war.

So why swim upstream? Because there's gold in them there hills! All we gotta do is go get it!