I'm not interested in having the same discussions every day for the rest of my life

It’s generally accepted that there are two kinds of topics on Boing Boing. The easy ones, and the hard ones. The hard ones are what you’d expect – the classic list of stuff you avoid discussing at thanksgiving dinner.

But I wonder, 8 years into the BBS experiment, how we’re feeling about the “classic” difficult topics, which come up again and again: religion, politics, gun control, sexism, police, bicycles vs cars… ?

We build discussion software, and the purpose of discussion software is, well, to discuss things. To learn things. To have a more nuanced and informed opinion over time, or maybe even change your mind. But what do you say when every possible argument has been had, when every conceivable angle and nuance of the discussion has been hashed and rehashed a thousand times, in a thousand different topics?

I’m thinking about this because I read a meta post on another 20 year old (!) forum which struck a chord:

These days, when I go scan the open discussions they are all the same as 20 years ago. “Why religion is stupid”. “Why guns are bad.”; “Why taxation is the same as slavery”. “Why cops shouldn’t shoot black people”.

Maybe it was always like that and my memory is rose-tinted but, either way, I’m not interested in having the same discussions every day for the rest of my life. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s true all the same.

On the rare occasion when someone does start a new and interesting thread, it gets hijacked off to one of the standard topic destinations before it even leaves the runway. It’s like some posters are playing a game of “I can hijack that thread to ‘why it’s ok for police to shoot black people’ in 5!”. This one is someone’s fault. I often wonder if they know who they are.

I hope flagging for off-topic is working; that requires moderators (and a community) who are paying attention.

For any particular topic (Guns, Gods, Gays, Property Rights, Immigration, etc, etc, etc), there are 3 or 4 people who seemingly don’t feel at home unless they repeat the same arguments they have been repeating for 20 years. Your arguments were interesting the first 12 or 13 times I heard them but now, maybe you could let someone else have their say before shutting them down? Maybe you could just say “I refer you to my Argument No 7” and shut up for a little while and see what the new folks have to say.

“I have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Many of the big picture tools for managing discussion require a human touch, because your most avid users can sometimes be your most problematic. That’s why we’re experimenting with slow mode, but one of the takeaways from that topic is that it should possibly be imposed on specific users rather than the entire topic.

Perhaps consider it as a challenge – how do we host interesting, unique discussions that avoid repeating all the same arguments about hot button issues over and over again?

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These discussions have been happening in one form and forum or another for 200 years here. Religion? Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists might have been more eloquent than some modern screeds, but the point is largely the same. Guns, taxes, race? Little has changed.

Maybe that just makes it more depressing.

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Some topics of debate never get old, and tiring or not, the debate itself has real-world consequences.

I wouldn’t want to have the same debate with the same person over and over, but the BBS always brings new people into the mix, and new brains means new recombinations of information that might just throw you off guard enough that you have to really think about something. That’s what it’s all about.

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Just spitballing on ideas here.

What about banned tags? Posters can define pools of verboten thread jack topics which you will wade into at your peril.

The punishment should also be low. I.e. some sort of thread timeout and nuking of posts.

It is heavy handed but:

Sometimes moderation needs a heavy hand for the desired outcome.

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although many of the fine-grained details of the arguments change over time, the underlying topics of discussion do not change, is this surprising or even disappointing? i say it is not because philosophy is still discussing and debating many of the same issues it was 2500 years ago. are there still passionate philosophical discussions of the nature of reality? yes, yes there are. are there still difficult and abstruse debates about the existence or non-existence of free will and causality? again, yes. modes and styles of philosophical arguments shift and alter over centuries but the underlying themes go on.

if these discussions can continue for thousands of years why is it such a bad thing to find that the stuff of discussion here and in other places online should go on for decades without abate? i think it would be more disturbing, more of a sign of our vapidity and insipidity, of our arrogance if we thought we had rendered these discussions obsolete by leaving them behind and declaring them closed.

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When I want new conversations I tend to be the change I wish to see in the world. By that I mean I go to new places to find new people in new contexts.

Sitting passively in a 20 yo forum and resenting familiarity is a bit like sitting on the same bench in the same bar for a decade and wondering how it is you’re still single imo. They don’t come to you, you have to go find them for yourself and be a new person in their space.

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With all due respect, we’re having to discuss the basic human rights of some people here, because for some of us, our basic human rights are still up for question by enough of the population that it’s under threat. The arguments for our basic humanity has not changed, just as the reasons for not granting it (it make some white men feel upset).

The rights of women, people of color, LGBQT+, immigrants, etc, might be annoying to hear about to people they do not directly impact, but FFS, we’re people too. It’s upsetting that I or anyone else here have to constantly SAY that over and over again. Sorry if you’d rather have a more “fun” discussion… don’t you think I would like that, too, but it’s kind of hard to do that when there are people who see you as less than human.

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As for the same old arguments and tired bullshit I’m sick of putting up with, particularly the areas where I know it’s going to be a draining slog full of fatuous drivel and gaslighting… well that’s what the topic mute is for right?

Bless you for the topic mute @codinghorror . It’s brought me real peace sometimes.

Because realistically if one wants to have more in depth conversations about something then one has to shut out the noise, pursue a direction, and refuse to return to familiar ground unless that direction proves completely and utterly fruitless after much pursuit. And even then one should be profoundly changed by the process. That’s how learning works, isn’t it?

One of the easiest ways to cheaply and efficiently waste people’s lives and community resources, making sure nothing actually gets done there, is to pester them for education but never learn. And the flip side of that is that one of the easiest ways to waste one’s own precious life is to try to teach others who already aren’t listening when one could be learning for oneself instead.

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If people stopped saying “well, actually…” and mansplaining away why equal rights and universal healthcare and the like are such a bad idea in their opinion then perhaps we could get back to debating which Lego Star Wars kit is the best.

Until then, you’re going to gave to put up with me shouting awful things like Trans Rights Are Human Rights until the lesson has sunk in.

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Differences that arise from incompatible moral precepts can’t be reconciled.

If we share a moral basis, we can debate and define and look at evidence and come to a compromise or consensus- But if we agree on all the facts and definitions, and one of us says “and that is a bad thing” while the other says “and that is a good thing”, it’s a different story.

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I’m not interested in having cops keep shooting black people every day for the rest of my life. But so long as they are, ignoring it is not the answer. Having to repeat a conversation is the smallest consequence of that. Likewise with the gun discussion, people keep dying.

Meanwhile the other two examples…religion is stupid and taxation is theft…seem like they have changed, at least places like here. Sure, some people bring up the relevant points from time to time. But I think you would have a tough time showing them as more than a blip in the conversation here. Most people have in fact moved on to other discussions.

So honestly, I’m not sure I really see the problem, unless it’s that some people refuse to admit that certain things in society are bad. And if you know how to stop people from denying and victim blaming and being racist and so on, well, I all for it.

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I routinely get questions from newer members asking why we’re so strict about keeping topics narrowly-scoped. I usually respond with a combination of “new topics are cheap and easy” and "unthreaded discussions become untenable (just like in real-life-meatspace) if they meander everywhere if your goal was to discuss something specific, as it usually is here (whatever the OP was about).

In reality, that really has been obviously key to high-quality discussion here. Keep topics specific to what they were opened to discuss, and when discussions veer meta or become more broad, split them off so that folks that want to have those broader discussions can do so. Thank you to our leaders for taking the initiative to split those off when needed!

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Donald Duck GIF

We love our dear leaders!

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ronljmo

(If only they would share their weight loss secrets, though…)

Anyway, the bunting tossers on the BBS are doing an outstanding job. Much obliged.

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I was never one to wave flags and offer hymns of praise to dear leaders-- might have once tried to get in the spirit of things, but it’s not for me.

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Maybe the discussions just aren’t for you? For every topic you’ve seen rehashed a thousand times there’s somebody else exploring it for the first time ever or someone else willing to educate.

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Happy cake day!

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My friend frequently argues with trolls and fanatics on Facebook. He says that it’s not for their benefit or his, but for the bystanders who may be persuaded, or the people who need to see that someone is willing to go to bat for them.

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I really don’t think we are having the same discussions each time. It seems like we are, because the drift is so slow and those of us who frequent well moderated discussion forums tend to have seen the arguments for a long time, but I think there is a clear refinement on almost any hot button topic. For an obvious example take the nature of discussions around LGBT rights/representation/liberation. 8 years ago we were still pre-Obergefell in the US and Philadelphia was becoming the first east coast municipality to offer transition related care as part of their health package. The most thoughtful commentary and the worst trolls would fit in today. The real change is in the realm of moderately decent comments through kind of shitty. A lot of comments that would have been on the kind of shitty end are now beyond the pale But try to picture a moderately decent current conversation about something like access for minors to puberty blockers without parental consent back in '13 or '14. The baseline for new commenters of unknown quality has moved up substantially. But on any given day or week the change was so small as to be completely imperceptible.

But putting aside my bristling at the idea that the conversations are the same, I think the question is still useful. I think any otherwise healthy forum will naturally see growth and change on all of the hot topics. First, because there is a steady churn of new people. Second, the old hands learn over time, both the material in question, but also which topics represent their own hot stoves that they can’t reasonably engage with. You can keep both processes working through good moderation that recognizes when a conversation is spicy, but on topic, and when it needs to find its own corner, or be tossed out completely. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a single policy or tech that is going to change the need for diligent moderation. The goal is some type of community and just like our offline social structures require constant engagement and maintenance, so do our online structures.

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