kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 pretentious with style)
[personal profile] kaigou
First, for the sake of easier typing, OP can mean either "original poster" or "originating position".

A discussion is when two or more people are talking about a specific topic. Let's call this discussion, "A", and the voices involved in it are therefore "Group A". A different discussion is going on at the same time. That would be discussion B, and its members are Group B, and so on. Some people are in A and B, some only in A, some only in B.

If you reply, directly to Group A, and as a participant in Group A, and state your own position as agree or disagree, (cf my earlier post about this), that's a Yes or No.

If you say: "yes, but..." or "no, and also..." (explicit or implicit), you're digressing. You're presenting, in some way, a position that creates Discussion Drift: you're moving away from the substance of the OP and expanding it, narrowing it, carrying it to its logical conclusion, or making it all about you. Any of these (and more) can be Drift. Depending on Group A's general attitude (and whether your digression is also a derailment), your comment might be welcomed, tabled, ignored, or outright ridiculed.

If you go off elsewhere and open this tangential-to-A topic within a different post, journal, or community (and so on), you are now the OP of Group C, discussing the "but/and-also" section of your original reply as a distinct OP. You set out your position, and Group C merrily debates (which may or may not include cross-repliers from Groups A or B).

The explanation I saw of derailment -- which at the time seemed eminently practical and easily applicable as a rule-of-thumb -- was that it doesn't necessarily mean the reply is wrong per se, only that it's inappropriate in context. If we replace 'derailment' (a loaded term for many) with the more neutral 'digression', then the statement works for a variety of OPs. It basically amounts to: "it's okay to say Maybe, but it's not okay to say it in this context."

Which is great, but that does rather beg the question: what, exactly, is meant by 'context'?

All along, I've been under the impression, and this seems widespread, that 'context' is defined as (roughly) the scope of a community, the scope of a single post, or some other easily identifiable perimeter. Readers join Group A -- the post, the journal, the community -- to read and/or reply to the OP; they feel relatively comfortable doing so, in part because they know all discussion stops at the door.

If there are ten things that get people the most pissed, an antagonistic following-to-personal has got to be in the top five. Someone in Group A doesn't take well to what X said, and doesn't just reply within Group A's boundaries but goes to X's journal and continues the reply there ... that's often grounds for some pretty strong offense taken. Unless X said, "feel free to reply here or elsewhere," there is no invitation to follow the person home and yell at them from the sidewalk.

Short version: what starts at Group A's clubhouse, stays at Group A's clubhouse.

Let's say Group B is busy discussing the same topic as Group A, but with a narrower focus, say, how the issue relates to holidays in Uzbekistan. If you barge into Group A and insist that a Group B point applies, you'll probably get ridiculed right back out again. You've crossed the boundary of Group B's topic and carried it into Group A's topic, and it is not the same discussion. Such a reply is derailing, or just plain irrelevant, yet members of both groups can and will float between the two as their interest and energy allows. What matters here is that there are boundaries to each discussion, and these boundaries determine when the exact same statement is a digression or even a derailment -- and when it's valid and welcome input.

This seems pretty commonsensical, and that's why I find it particularly annoying to then read the assertion that all discussion, anywhere on the internet, on Topic A, is by default within the boundaries of the Group A discussion. Personal journal, public community, whatever; if it's posted on the net, it's fair game for the rest of Group A to consider it part of the ongoing discussion. In fact, that particular OP really did conclude that if one wants to talk about Topic A but doesn't want to get lumped in with Group A, then one should just get the hell off the internet.

Yes. You read that right.

Maybe it's just me, but I find the irony hiding in there to be absolutely beyond belief, especially if this is not a solo opinion (which I can't tell, but given the intensity of some pronouncements that even personal-journal posts can constitute derailment of someone else's discussion, I'm guessing this is more widespread than I realized). If someone digresses, they're derailing and should stop; but if someone takes their response and begins a new (digressive) discussion, it's... derailment and should be stopped. So basically, if anyone contradicts or diverges from some random discussion's topic, the person is out of line, no exceptions, just talk about this and don't digress, or it's derail-shaming for you, buster.

If you're going to complain that someone's digression is meant to silence, shut down, divert, or otherwise muffle your voice, you don't get to turn around and insist everyone else shut up. It doesn't freaking work that way. You don't get the cake and the eating of it at the same time.

I shouldn't even have to say this, y'know, but if someone's going to toss around accusations of derailment and end up shutting down others' discussions, then maybe it's not so obvious anymore.

To be perfectly clear where I stand: there isn't a single goddamn conversation occurring on the net, anywhere, at this point in time that gets to claim it's the primary, original, main, central, essential, premier, definitive, authoritative, we-invented-it goddamn discussion. Not a single freaking one. Every single bleeding topic being discussed anywhere on the web right now is to one shade or another tint just another retread on a discussion last year, the year before, the year before that, on some forum or blog or AOL freaking home page with blinking cursors and a stupid set of burning torches. Go back even further, and someone somewhere had the discussion on a BBS where everyone was on 900-baud modems and now it's just a distant memory except for a few geeks who had the time and madness to print it all out and stick it in three-ring binders.

You cannot claim the authority to determine that someone else's tangent is stomping all over your discussion on the grounds that since your group 'started' the discussion that it's somehow in 'control' or has the right to limit the range of that discussion.

You are not the beginning. You're the continuation, even if you were unaware or just stubbornly refusing to admit that someone else, somewhere on the net, way before you, already raised the issue and debated it round and round with whomever was within the discussion's boundary.

Yes, there will always be someone on the internets who is OMG WRONG, but you were, too, in the past, and you will be again, if not about this then something else, and it's just all part of the millions and millions of discussions going on in small to big circles. Someone else tolerated you making mistakes and having your own discussion off in the corner. Now it's your turn to have the graciousness to let someone else do the same.

Their tangent is not necessarily an offense against your discussion. Their mistakes are not necessarily your responsibility to correct. Their discussion does not require your permission.

This is not rocket science. This is the way things have been going on since the very first geek typed the very first hello world entry into the very first BBS. Threads have run parallel, heating up and cooling down and coming around again, and no one thought twice about saying, "look, we're talking about the grass on this side of the fence, so if you want to talk about the grass on the other side, get over to that other thread and stop bothering us over here."

Even within the world of journals, there have been pretty clear boundaries. There are the flames that shoot up and burn out entire communities, but individual members may come back to their personal journals and begin concurrent, sometimes tangential, sometimes reactive, discussions amongst their own circle/list. Their personal journal constitutes a separate discussion, albeit one linked loosely by group membership and/or topic.

And then we get Linkspam.

Now, thanks to the power of a bunch of folks running around trying to track a discussion, the boundaries aren't just being crossed, they're being annihilated. A linkspam "you've been linked" notification is a kind of cousin to the experience of being followed home, and I've been seeing people (myself included) not entirely certain whether to be flattered or a little bit worried -- because those digests of collected links are slowly but surely erasing the boundaries.

Posting publicly isn't always a matter of wanting everyone and their brother to not just read but to respond (and with vigor, in some cases) -- sometimes it's a matter of pride, to do one's best to make one's position part of public record, to have the door open just in case someone wants to come along and discuss. But expecting a civil discussion amongst twenty or thirty friends and friends-of-friends is a little different from having two hundred complete strangers show up and yell at you for being an idiot. Or whatever other verbal crime they think you've committed -- because no matter what position you take, on any topic, someone out there is going to see it as wrong, and of those who do, some of them will see your wrong-headed opinion + the visibility of linkspam = open invitation to a cage match.

I was actually researching something else entirely when I came across someone's dissertation on the dialectic of argumentation. Since I'm always up for absorbing more random information, I read the paper; mid-pondering, I noticed several folks on my circle/list discussing this issue of what, exactly, constitutes 'derailment'.

Yet a number of posts were either getting into the meta of derailment, or were meta'ing the meta by discussing previous posts that the OP had decided probably qualified as derailment... posts made on the person's own journal, and yet it was being counted as a counter-post or digression or even intentional damage to some external, larger, discussion elsewhere.

Boy, I said to myself, with every post anywhere on a topic being linked back as though it were an additional voice in the existing discussion of A, how long before someone's off-to-the-side post gets labeled as derailment? How long before the issue of boundaries is so thoroughly ignored that all posts can be, and will be, measured and found wanting/derailing against some nebulous (to the passerby) standard of the 'actual' thesis and antithesis of a topical discussion?

Gee, not long, it seems.

Anyway, thing is, the sole reason the later post had a line drawn from it to some other discussion was entirely because of Linkspam doing the pointing. Up until it and its kin became a popular read for keeping track of daily news, in my experience there might be a Group A aware of Group B, and Group A might snark about what they see as Group B's idiocy (or vice versa), but in general the no-following-home rule usually applied. Doing otherwise was a surefire step into a flamewar, when people got righteously offended at being followed home by antagonistic voices from the concurrent-topic's group.

Given Linkspam's semi-random yet zealous collection of as many posts as possible with even the most tenuous of connection to a topic (including posts with absolutely no homegrown content that consisted solely of uncommented links to other posts already listed on Linkspam!) -- and the way it's compounded that by then plonking a value judgment on side-discussions as being offenses against some 'main' discussion -- I think the conversation about derailment is, well, a derailment of the real issue.

Because the real issue is the context: the real issue is determining where boundaries lie, identifying which discussions are linked willfully by the OP and which have only a meagre connection to an existing, ongoing discussion. If a personal-journal post begins with, "this is a response to X's post or Y community, and I consider this part of that discussion," then that's a pretty clear self-inclusion. If a post is made within the community currently having the debate, and the post is on a topic covered by that debate, then its actual location (as a post made within the community's journal) makes it most definitely within the discussion's formal boundaries.

But if someone prefaces or implies that this is a tangent, for crying out loud, or a digression, or "that other discussion made me think of this other semi-related or maybe-barely-related topic" (or even just omits the clarity of the previous paragraph's example) ... then there's a good chance, I'd say, that this is not the same discussion any more.

And even if it is, I still think the OP has the right to know his/her own mind a bit better than readers (seeing how language is such a fuzzy thing anyway), and to know whether or not s/he wants the post to be included in Group A's discussion, knowing that this carries the risk of Group A coming over to stand on the sidewalk and yell at the OP for taking that position. If the OP isn't up to that, or has that gut uneasiness (a sign, IME, that the OP senses unconsciously that the post's certainty or uncertainty may 'read' as being the opposite which can acerbate any antagonistic reaction), then the OP has the right to declare the post a tangent, a split from the main discussion that will go where it goes but should not be considered as damaging or deflecting or undoing someone else's hard work of debate.

We are pretty complex creatures, after all. We're perfectly capable of juggling several discussions at once. Hell, we can juggle lots and lots of them. For long enough we've been on forums and BBSs and elists and journals and whatever-else in which we might be participating in thirty threads or more in any given week.

Sadly, it's not just Linkspam, but the other linking digests, as well: Metafandom being as much of a contributor (if not more), and Fandomnews a distant third, and probably a few others. (Dunno; I only know of those thanks to them linking to me, natch.) Although Linkspam is the only one that editorializes with warnings, they all group various (possibly separate, possibly meant-to-be-linked) discussions together under a topical heading, thus reinforcing the impression that these are all entries in an ongoing, collective, discussion.

But the fact that someone's come along now and declared as policy that "all posts even marginally related to A" are one big happy family does not suddenly render us unable to comprehend the notion of concurrent discussions that each cover a different aspect of the same overall topic, or even concurrent discussions on wildly divergent topics, or even concurrent discussions where the resolutions are in apparent contradiction to each other.

It's okay, Linkspam. Thanks for your concern, but our brains will not explode if a post is labeled "tangential" or "concurrent". And maybe it might make a few over-eager folks from Group A think twice before traipsing en masse across someone's personal journal -- let alone have the temerity to shout down the OP with derail-shaming.

Because I retain the right to be an idiot on some things and yet also protect my corner of the internet from uninvited flamewars. Your statements (idiotic or not) do not give me the right to digress your discussion from your salient points; I'd say we're all agreed on that. But my idiocy does not justify you standing inside my space and flaming me. I may be wrong, but that does not make you right.

On one level, I do understand the importance of refusing to let someone else's conversation drown out your debate or silence your discussion. Protecting one's space, and one's right to discuss, is absolutely crucial to any group, of any kind or stripe. But if you're going to demand the courtesy of others listening, and expect them to behave and not disrupt or intrude, then you must also do the same for other discussions.

You cannot simultaneously demand to be heard and also tell others to shut up.

Well, okay, you can, but then you're just a self-entitled hypocrite.

Date: 12 Feb 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
annotated_em: Cho Hakkai (Saiyuki artbook) looking pensive. (thinking too much)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
Yes. This.

This is what's made me so very uncomfortable in all the discussions of derailing and "if you didn't want it linked it shouldn't be public" -- because this has changed the rules of discussion. Move the goalposts, as it were. We've been puttering along with one sort of general consensus of where the boundaries are, and then all of a sudden that consensus has begun to shift, and the folks who haven't been paying attention are left saying, "Wait what?" about it.

Yes, it's a public web, hypertextual and interlaced, and yes, of course users who post public content should be aware that anyone can access it, but that doesn't mean we haven't evolved these general sorts of implicit understandings about that public content and how to read its context. And I wish people would allow for those older understandings of how this all works when making their judgments about what posts are 'derailing'.

Date: 12 Feb 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
annotated_em: a branch of a Japanese maple, with bright red leaves (Default)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
Yeah, it sure seems like this is the way the norms are heading. Which, okay, fine, but it sure makes me glad that my own journal is access-locked. It's not that I don't invite feedback and responses on my thoughts, or that I'm not interested in threshing out difficult concepts and/or having my own privilege checked, but I am not willing to let the entire internet do this for me.

Date: 13 Feb 2010 06:53 am (UTC)
dharma_slut: They call me Mister CottonTail (Default)
From: [personal profile] dharma_slut
Oh I don't know about that-- the last linkspam post was what-- ten, twelve days ago, so they have slowed down. And there were NO warnings or labels on the links. Which is a start-- I would like them to remove the labels they have placed on previous links-- not strike thgrough them, which is still editorialising, but remove the editorials entirely.

Date: 13 Feb 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
dharma_slut: Delicate pink cherry bloosms say; "I am a fragile fucking flower" (speshul)
From: [personal profile] dharma_slut

Date: 12 Feb 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
ajnabi: cartoonic photomanip of my face (with some body) against a colourful patterned background (Default)
From: [personal profile] ajnabi
The way I understand derailing so far is that the problem with derailing is the privilege to derail. Derailing comes up most often as a problem in discussions of oppression, I think? I mean, when it's a serious issue. I understood it best when I was linked to this website. The problem is that derailing often functions as a way for privileged people to get very defensive about their privilege, justify it, ignore it, deny it, etc. I think your discussion of the grass takes away from that point! Because usually, if it's a discussion about grass (especially in the way you were talking about it), it doesn't matter. But talking about, for example, racism, becomes a much more serious issue. I think you can't really use an abstract example like grass to talk about the problems of derailing... it reduces the seriousness and history of the actual issues that are being discussed when derailment becomes a problem.

Date: 12 Feb 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
I think I might need to hug you now. Because this is what I've been trying to formulate, impeded by the haze of red that comes over my eyes whenever I think about the particular instance that applied to me not long ago. Derailment, eh? Assuming that someone's home-space post is part of your discussion, your perspective, and refusing to engage with what they're actually saying. Reasonable description? Yeah.

I think the comment I actually boggled over the most was the one about how I should have been more careful phrasing myself when writing a post for metafandom. I just kind of sat there and stared for a while, because my god, when did metafandom or any other link collection project become an audience? Or should that be, a publisher? Cause normally, you know, you have to submit something to a publisher (or any other audience) before you can be said to have written it for them.

Of course, the day I saw someone saying that using the word "derailment" when discussing privileged responses to queer issues was, essentially, derailing the discussion or racism, that was the day that I stopped reading any of those discussions because it was clearly getting taken over by the crazy people.

The fascism, and I use the term advisedly and with linguistic precision, of this attempt to merge the whole internet into one discussion, and control which one that is, is just stunning.

I'm tempted, rather than telling the link journals to bugger off in my public posts, to start with some kind of boilerplate to the effect that "this is not your discussion unless I specifically say otherwise, act like it is and you'll get shut down". Because damned if I'll lock everything, but I'm not putting up with that kind of nonsense again.


kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗

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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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