Another problem with mail lists vs private mail (was Re: Was

Michael M. Butler (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 12:28:23 -0800

It's a truism that email squeezes out nuance. It may be a false truism; Americans today may just be so non-culturally-homogeneous, confused, poorly schooled or unpracticed that our rudimentary skills are no match for the medium. How many people can breathe genuine life into a cold reading of Shakespeare? With that acknowleged...

As an external observer of the human condition, permit me to observe that

>> > Eliezer seems to be projecting thoughts and beliefs into what I said.
>> > I don't know -- that's a soft question of human psychology, and I don't
>> > know Eliezer well enough to make an educated guess.

...closely resembles use of several rhetorical tricks. Among them: appeal to the unseen crowd, assumption of the mantle of objectivity, metacommenting, and metacomment inflation. I see this happen a lot, and am guilty of same. It looks like playing to the crowd, and it may well be, regardless of what's said, claimed or thought by the exponent.

I'm not defending or attacking anyone, I'm just remarking on "posturing" tendencies that can lead to problems in public forums (s/b "fora", but people tend to misread that as "flora" :) ).

For an interesting discussion of the tendency for public discourse to stray in these ways, see the "kindle Cole" entries in Robert K. Merton's _On The Shoulders of Giants_. He goes into some scholarly detail re the Hooke-Newton debates and their own private vs. published communications. It seems this sort of thing predates email lists by several hundred years.


>> No, you don't.
>> After publishing 350K about how to build minds in general, and 100K
>> about how to build mine in particular, I know far better than to trust
>> my mind. But I do trust myself to accurately evaluate claims that my
>> mind functions in a particular way; or that someone else knows the
>> emotional contents of my mind, and resultant functioning, better than I do.
>> Your claim follows a known pattern of generic conversational tactics
>> which have yet to produce useful self-analytic content, so I am not
>> granting it serious consideration. This does involve an assumption
>> about the cognitive etiology of the claim; which, under The Rules, I am
>> permitted to publicly mention *only* because defense against this class
>> of conversational tactics may require response on the same level.
>You seem to be taking great umbrage to the fact that I feel you are
>misunderstanding what I said in my earlier posts. Rest assured that that
>happens to everyone at some time or another.
>You should have noticed that I made no "claim" as to how your mind works,
>only a hypothesis of projection (and not even a hypothesis as to what was
>being projected) based on my perceptions of your mangling of my posts.
>Note the "seems to be" and "I do not know Eliezer" formulations -- I chose
>those words very carefully to express tentativeness, though you
>acknowledged them only for rhetorical purposes. I could easily have said
>something Freudian like "Eliezer is projecting his deep-seated belief of
>_x_ into my posts," but I did not (I still don't even have an idea of what
>I would put in place of _x_, were I to make such a statement). You may
>have published so many bytes on how minds work that you can make
>assumptions about the cognitive etiology of my posts, but this is something
>I did not do, and disavowed the ability to do, despite your assertion to
>the contrary.
>All I was trying to get across is that you were setting up strawmen that
>you attributed to me in order to make your points. I agree with most of
>your points, particularly the ones that are still being discussed in this
>topic (and on which, from my perspective, you are still setting up
>strawmen), but for some reason you can't see that.
>Maybe that reason is my fault, maybe it's yours. However, I see no value
>in publicly continuing a discussion about whether you understood my posts,
>as it is unrelated to the purposes of the list. You may post whatever you
>like in response, and you may rest assured you can have the last word, no
>matter how distorted I may feel your comments to be (that should satisfy
>your unreferenced "Rules," if I may hazard an assumption as to how they
>might work). I hardly see any value in continuing such a discussion
>privately, but I could be wrong and you are welcome to email me if you feel
>there might be some value.