Tuesday, March 08, 2005

You Gotta Know When to Fold 'Em

First of all, my apologies to my legions of fans :) who might have been wondering where I've been for the past week. For various reasons, my energy has been on the low side lately, and consequently there hasn't been much left over to devote to blogging. I hope to be somewhat more active this week.

Anyhow....

Unfortunately, I had to unsubscribe to one of my email lists that I had been a part of for the past couple of years (insofar as "lurking" constitutes participation). There were several factors affecting my decision to throw in the towel, not the least of which was that the list just wasn't as helpful as I had imagined or hoped it would be. The topic was broad enough that people could have truly benefitted from others' experience, but often it degenerated into narrow niches that were interesting or provided helpful resources only to those who were in similar situations (and to tell the truth, Google would have been just as much a help in those cases). I got tired of deleting the seemingly endless off-topic postings and the requests for help for situations that were simply too narrow in focus to be applicable to the big picture. (Ironically, the forum owner would on occasion remind participants to avoid wasting bandwidth by top-posting, primarily on the grounds that many people have to "pay out of their own pocket to download the messages from this list" - funny, what about all that bandwidth being wasted on off-topic postings? "Just hit the delete key" isn't a real solution, since the messages would still have to be downloaded in the first place.) So I decided that it just wasn't a helpful resource for my particular situation, and I figured that I'd be better off cultivating my own resources.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was the general tenor of the list. Although it seemed at times to be fairly congenial, the true nature came forth whenever someone (usually a newbie) dared to question the commonly-accepted wisdom of the list. Any opinion deviating from the unstated assumptions of the list's philosophy was roundly swarmed by the veterans of the list. Perhaps it was some sort of psychological group-think tactic subconsciously employed by the list's members; I don't know. But it generally produced one of two effects: 1) Either the deviant would be cowed into submission/lurking, or 2) after a protracted engagement (which had the natural side effect of both positions retreating deeper into their trenches), the deviant would unsubscribe in defeat.

I myself made the unhappy choice once to voice an unpopular opinion on the list. Mind you, I had been laboring under the evidently false impression that a discussion list would actually be open-minded enough to discuss issues at least somewhat germane to the list's stated purpose of being. But my opinion was heretical enough to bring on the group-think swarm, and instead of discussion, there ensued all the typical comments of those who dearly hold to their own opinions yet are unable to back them up with reasoned discourse, and can't tolerate anyone who could possibly be so stupid as to think differently - ad hominem attacks, fallacious reasoning, etc. So I retreated to lurker status, hoping that I could nonetheless still glean useful information from the list. Time has proven that last desire to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Most recently, I saw this same group dynamic in effect yet again. An individual joined the list, posted some unpopular comments, and was promptly swarmed by the list veterans. (Maybe the newbie was indeed a troll; I don't know. But if that had been the case, the proper, effective treatment would have been not to feed the troll.) After a juvenile exchange between the newbie and the veterans, the newbie resigned - mission accomplished, I'm sure, as far as the list veterans were concerned. The postings subsequent to the newbie's unsubscription reflected the triumphant exultation and self-congratulatory back-slapping of the list's regulars, including the following childish riposte: "Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead."

That was it for me. I just couldn't justify continuing membership on a list of junior-high kids masquerading as adults, so I finally bid farewell to that list. It's a shame, too, because the list has great potential, although the practical outworkings of the list fell far short.

The irony of the whole situation is that the vast majority of members on that list would pride themselves in being cosmopolitan and open-minded about a wide variety of issues. But true to liberal form, open-mindedness and tolerance are esoteric ideologies that are easily parroted but rarely practiced in real life. Tolerance was never extended to those who dared to think differently and question the group consensus, and as such was an utter sham.

So, I'm glad I've put that behind me. One less list to clutter up my mailbox.

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