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From Echolalia to Coprolalia: Civility on Deaf Echo


Hello readers!  It has been a long time, hasn’t it?

Three cheers to administrators Bobby, Adam, and Chris for rising like the phoenix from the ashes of DeafDC to give us Deaf Echo.  I’m humbled to be invited to blog along, and grateful for another chance to engage in deaf community discourse.

Another chance?

Yes, another chance.

You see, I have high hopes (because I am an optimist by nature). This time I hope for lively, but civil discourse.

Can it be done?

Again – I have high hopes. But it all depends on you, dear readers.

I’ve been blogging for years now. Once thing has led to another and I’ve become  involved with a few social media projects and networks. At first, I did this as a hobby – something like a busman’s holiday.

After a year or so, I started to think about this from the viewpoint of my professional training, aka my day job.

I’ve been working for years in the field of applied ethics. Some of the issues that come up during discussions – in blogging, in moderating a social network, in moderating comments, and administering a website or network – were quite familiar to me as an applied ethicist.  Call them old fashions dressed up in new fabric.

Like most philosophers, I have a high tolerance for adversarial discourse. Philosophy is all about putting your cherished arguments in the public eye and letting people (usually other philosophers) take potshots at your ideas.

When this is done well (and there is quite a bit of interesting scholarship on just what this means) it can reap rewards in the form of a carefully vetted and a better polished final product. It can move understanding forward and tease out confusion.  It can focus on subtle points that make a big difference.

When it is done poorly, it looks like the mess that appeared on numerous websites during the protest over Jane Fernandes’ appointment as president of Gallaudet University. There were uncritical repetitions of falsehoods (I’ll call these e-echolalia), and potty-mouthed comments (let’s call these e-coprolalia). Buried in this morass were some well-reasoned, carefully considered arguments from both sides.  Reasonable people can disagree, yes?

Now – I want this to be duly noted. I am not advocating for censorship of ideas. I am not advocating for silencing discourse. I am advocating for civility coupled with reasonable attempts to avoid libel and other nasty forms of mudslinging. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in a wholehearted attempt to apply the Principle of Charity.

Deaf Echo admins are aware of this and have instituted policies that make this clear to commentators.

You do know, dear readers, that cyberlaw has taken some interesting turns lately?

But that is law. And law and civility do not always march in lockstep, qué no?

So what about civility?

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a family member about posting on Facebook.  I pointed out that for some of us, Facebook is a way to stay in touch with colleagues, friends, and family members. (And I also pointed out that you can use settings to control who sees what you post, but that is another issue).  Yet there is something about Web 2.0 social media that seems to remove the mental filter of civility from our brains.

Where you might never shout at your dyed-in-the-wool devout pro-life Aunt Mabel about her beliefs over a family meal, it becomes easier to do this while typing on a keyboard.

Things can get ugly in no time at all.

What you once tolerated as a quirk of dear Aunt Mabel has now become a focal point of contention in your family. Your relationship has been harmed – not by the difference in your beliefs but by the manner in which you exploited those differences.

The problem is not about disagreement, but about how that disagreement is conducted.

  • Labeling others as stupid and misinformed and mendacious is not the way to gain understanding.
  • Building a cocoon of media input that simply reinforces your beliefs does not allow you to walk a mile in another man’s moccasins.
  • Relying on the e-echolalia and e-coprolalia that characterizes so much of the blogosphere doesn’t help the deaf community – our community.

Deaf Echo is a valiant experiment to create a community of civility discourse about the deaf world.

Its success depends on you, dear readers.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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