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Invictus2017

Dealing with the Hostile Reader

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I spent a lot of time during the 90's on Usenet discussing philosophy. One of the things that really annoyed me was what I call the "hostile reader". They were like cockroaches in the philosophy discussion groups, always there and always ready to pollute the discussion.

I encountered one such person on this site and, after his nature because clear to me, I put his username in my ignore list. (I also announced that I had done so, but it appears that he missed that.) But one day I checked the site without logging in, and I saw how he had responded to a couple of my posts. Ordinarily, I would have put his posts out of my mind, but they provided such a good example of hostile reading that I was unable to. After waiting several days (to avoid unnecessary emotionalism on my part) and after some thought, this post resulted.

The context was that DonAthos and I were having a discussion that was going nowhere. Over the years, I've learned that if a proper debate results in seemingly irreconcilable positions, the cause is probably not the bullheaded stupidity of one's opponent, it is likely that there is at least one proposition that has not been debated, a proposition relied on by both debaters, which they have different views on. In order for the debate to progress, it is necessary to identify that proposition. So, I decided that I'd get a little Socratic and try a few questions to see if we might spot our real point(s) of disagreement.

My first question was, in relation to a situation I had described, "Do you think that it would be legitimate for you to use violence then?" DonAthos' reply was to ask, "what do you mean when you say that the use of violence is 'legitimate'"? He wasn't sure which of the many meanings of the term I had intended, so he asked me.

Our hostile reader, by contrast, asserted that, "'Legitimate' is a stolen concept." Of course, "legitimate" is not inherently a stolen concept; what he meant was that I had employed the fallacy of the stolen concept. He based this on the assumption that I had intended the meaning of "legitimate" that is associated with law.

I replied to DonAthos, "I meant 'legitimate' in the sense of 'morally proper'". The hostile reader then insisted that, "'Legitimate' hierarchically comes after moral knowledge." and that I was "conflating the moral with the legal." So, instead of accepting that I had used "legitimate" in the sense I had specified (see Merriam-Webster's "conforming to recognized principles"), the hostile reader insisted that his definition was the one I had used.

DonAthos displayed the virtue of benevolence: He assumed that I had something sensible to say, and wanted to know what it was. What the hostile reader displayed was irrationality. He put words into my mouth (or, well, meaning into my words), for reasons that had nothing to do with advancing the discussion.

A hostile reader is different from a flamer, and is a lower form of life. The flamer is at least honest about his intent -- he wishes ill to that which he flames. But the hostile reader is fundamentally dishonest. He uses the seeming of rational argument, but his goal is personal gratification by means of provocation. He isn't looking to understand or to be understood; he wants to control.

In the current example, this is fairly obvious: The hostile reader tried to control the language of the discussion, by insisting that "legitimate" could only mean what he said it meant. No self-respecting debater would tolerate that sort of control, and many will respond by arguing against the hostile reader's position. This is what that person wanted. Had I fallen for it, I'd have become embroiled in never-ending arguments, which would have gratified the hostile reader, but wouldn't likely have done anyone else any good.

In my view, the correct response to the hostile reader is to remove him from the forum he disrupts. Failing that, ostracism works well. Like any troll, if he can't get the emotional gratification he seeks, he'll go elsewhere to get it. Arguing with him is a pointless waste of time, because he will only argue on his terms, and his terms are not intended to foster understanding.

Those who want to engage the hostile reader must do so with a firm statement of reality. Had I been so inclined, I might have said, "You may not dictate how I use the language, you may not impute to me meanings I am not using, and you will not provoke me into a fight. If you wish to contribute to this discussion, you will make an effort to understand what other people are saying and you will respond to their actual meanings, not what you want them to mean." Repeat, mutatis mutandis, and probably ad nauseam. This is unlikely to generate a change in the hostile reader's behavior, but it may render him impotent.

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6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

One of the things that really annoyed me was what I call the "hostile reader". They were like cockroaches in the philosophy discussion groups, always there and always ready to pollute the discussion.

You repeatedly accuse Rand of errors and omissions that she never made. I'd say that's an example of hostile reading.

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

I encountered one such person on this site and, after his nature because clear to me, I put his username in my ignore list.

Going to a public forum and ignoring the opposition seems like another example of hostile reading. At least I treat you like an actual human being who takes the time to post in this community.

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Our hostile reader, by contrast, asserted that, "'Legitimate' is a stolen concept." Of course, "legitimate" is not inherently a stolen concept; what he meant was that I had employed the fallacy of the stolen concept.

You're upset now because I accused you of employing a fallacy?

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

He based this on the assumption that I had intended the meaning of "legitimate" that is associated with law.

Nope. I understood your intended meaning. That's precisely why I was arguing against your word choice. Am I not allowed to challenge your use of concepts now?

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

So, instead of accepting that I had used "legitimate" in the sense I had specified (see Merriam-Webster's "conforming to recognized principles"), the hostile reader insisted that his definition was the one I had used.

I don't think "conforming to recognized principles" means "morally proper." Even so, I never insisted that you were using my definition. I'm claiming that you were not using my definition, which I believe to be the valid one in that social-political context. Why would I argue that point if we agreed on the definition?

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

The hostile reader tried to control the language of the discussion, by insisting that "legitimate" could only mean what he said it meant. No self-respecting debater would tolerate that sort of control, and many will respond by arguing against the hostile reader's position. This is what that person wanted.

I'm happy to take on other people's meanings for the sake of discussion. I've done it frequently on other threads. But your meaning was too problematic for that context.

You're rather fond of playing the victim of false assumptions, yet you are quick to assume my private motivation for posting here, as if it were anything other than engaging in intellectual discussions and improving my knowledge of these topics. Apparently I come here to bully people into linguistic submission, like some government censor. If you don't like my use of words, just say so, like any normal person.

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Like any troll, if he can't get the emotional gratification he seeks, he'll go elsewhere to get it.

So basically a "troll" is like any other human being with emotional needs.

Am I a "troll" because I seek emotional gratification or because I enjoy controlling other people's use of words?

6 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Arguing with him is a pointless waste of time, because he will only argue on his terms, and his terms are not intended to foster understanding.

So I should sacrifice my terms to your terms, is that it? And by "understanding," do you mean "accepting your use of language"? Because Objectivists are kind of known for challenging the common uses of particular words.

Edited by MisterSwig

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22 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

I encountered one such person on this site and, after his nature because clear to me, I put his username in my ignore list.

I've never seen a more inept attempt at ignoring someone in my life.

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1 hour ago, Nicky said:

I've never seen a more inept attempt at ignoring someone in my life.

It's inept because I don't think ignoring me is really his goal. He clearly wants to stop me from replying to his posts. That's the objective here. Hence this call to remove me from the forum.

On 12/31/2017 at 10:06 AM, Invictus2017 said:

In my view, the correct response to the hostile reader is to remove him from the forum he disrupts.

And this call to ostracize me.

On 12/31/2017 at 10:06 AM, Invictus2017 said:

Failing that, ostracism works well.

And what is my crime?

On 12/31/2017 at 10:06 AM, Invictus2017 said:

What the hostile reader displayed was irrationality. He put words into my mouth (or, well, meaning into my words), for reasons that had nothing to do with advancing the discussion.

1. I'm irrational.

2. I put meaning into his words which he did not mean.

3. I had no intention of advancing the discussion.

Even if that were all true, which it's not, how is that cause for banishment or ostracism? This philosophy discussion board entertains all sorts of irrational arguments, straw man attacks, and counter-productive ramblings. That's actually one thing I like about it, because I can come here to hone my ability to recognize such things.

Also, while I'm here, I don't enjoy seeing people falsely denigrate my philosophical heroes, and I'll exert a little effort to correct the record, even though that's not my primary purpose here. My main goal is to present my theories and consider the replies. In return I offer comments on other people's posts. I hope that is evident from my general activity.

For anyone who thinks Invictus has a valid point, I'd ask you to take a hard look at his causes for calling for my banishment. How easily could they be applied to you? What if he thinks your argument is irrational? What if you believe he's using concepts incorrectly or employing a fallacy?  What if he thinks your post doesn't advance the conversation? Is he then going to ignore you while indirectly calling for your banishment?

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Don't worry about it, MisterSwig.

I, for one, don't think Invictus' accusations have any merit.

Fuck, everyone is guilty of misreading someone else's posts at some point or another (such tiny incidents hardly amount to wanton irrationality). Welcome to the internet, Invictus. Grow a thick skin or gtfo.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

Welcome to the internet, Invictus. Grow a thick skin or gtfo.

Odds are good that I've been on the Internet longer than you've been alive.

As for gtfo....are you here to discuss or to flame?

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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I did not give Invictus permission to quote me uncited. If I'm not allowed to respond to his attack, I ask that my quotes be removed from his post. Thanks.

I think it'd make more sense to respond to the idea, than make it all about you. If the example is wrong, show it, or if you made a mistake, acknowledge it. Doesn't need to be a battle.

I think it just all amounts to misreading. It happens, and at times you can read a person's tone as hostile. Perhaps Invictus, too, was a hostile reader of MisterSwig. It's a thing to be aware of. Thick skin as SK suggested doesn't solve it.

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10 hours ago, Eiuol said:
13 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I did not give Invictus permission to quote me uncited. If I'm not allowed to respond to his attack, I ask that my quotes be removed from his post. Thanks.

I think it'd make more sense to respond to the idea, than make it all about you. If the example is wrong, show it, or if you made a mistake, acknowledge it. Doesn't need to be a battle.

I think it just all amounts to misreading. It happens, and at times you can read a person's tone as hostile. Perhaps Invictus, too, was a hostile reader of MisterSwig. It's a thing to be aware of. Thick skin as SK suggested doesn't solve it.

I made the considered choice to not include an attribution so that the example of hostile reading might be addressed on its merits rather than through personalities. If MisterSwig wants his name to be attached to the example, I would be happy to edit the post (or to have a site administrator edit the post) to reflect his authorship of those quotes.

You're right that thick skin does not solve any problem here. This being an Objectivist forum, I would suggest, "Judge, and prepare to be judged" is a more appropriate response.

In that vein, let's note what MisterSwig did in response to his asserted desire for attribution -- he didn't ask for attribution, he asked to have my post eviscerated. That is not the action of someone who wants rational discussion, it is the act of someone who wants to curtail rational discussion. 
 

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2 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

In that vein, let's note what MisterSwig did in response to his asserted desire for attribution -- he didn't ask for attribution, he asked to have my post eviscerated. That is not the action of someone who wants rational discussion, it is the act of someone who wants to curtail rational discussion. 
 

At first I wrote substantial responses in which I acknowledged that you were referring to me, something you should have done from the beginning. Then a moderator removed my replies, leaving me with no recourse but to challenge your unjust use of my quotes. Meanwhile, admin reinstated my responses, so I now have nothing else to add on the matter, unless you continue to make false accusations of me.

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Everything exists within some context. These posts, too. Presumably we compose them and post them for some purpose -- to achieve some effect in the world. And so I wonder, what do the people behind these posts intend to achieve, here and now?

I'm gratified to have been raised as a positive example in the OP. I'm certain I don't always deserve praise, but I do honestly try my best to be a productive member of this community. I believe strongly in ideas, in truth, in reason -- and also in the potential value of debate, discussion, argument. I think that this community has the potential to foster such argument that leads the individuals who participate in it (and perhaps others, too) closer to truth, to right ideas, to a philosophy of reason.

But to do this -- if it is our end -- we must take care to structure the community to that end. We must treat the community as a machine, designed according to the function we intend it to serve, and we must tailor our own contributions accordingly.

"Judge, and prepare to be judged," yes. But the expression of such judgement (whether a particular judgement is expressed at all, and then its particular manner) is a separate question. If we mean to make this community the best it can be (according to the standard of fostering the sort of discussion that may lead individuals to truth), then we must give attention as well to how and when we express our judgements of one another, and we must continue to ask the question -- does this particular communication further the goals we've set for this community?

Personally, when I look at a thread like this, I see something of a mistake... or perhaps it is better seen as an opportunity for further reflection and improvement. Discussing the manner by which we communicate with one another is important. I don't mean to dissuade such discussions, at all, and I have started more than one thread myself in an attempt to raise them (as, for example, here and here). Yet they are fraught and potentially explosive, especially (as is only natural/fitting) when drawing upon the examples of experiences with others on this very board.

None of this is easy, and I don't mean to claim that I have it figured out. I still struggle with it, I'm still learning, and I make mistakes in this regard -- all the time. But I would like to try to aim us more towards trying to understand one another, than the kinds of insulting, shunning, blocking, banning, and so forth, that has characterized the still-young Objectivist community, and, imo, made it mostly impotent.

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36 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

But I would like to try to aim us more towards trying to understand one another, than the kinds of insulting, shunning, blocking, banning, and so forth, that has characterized the still-young Objectivist community, and, imo, made it mostly impotent.

There are anti-Objectivists in this community. Some very openly hostile to Rand. We will remain impotent as long as we morally tolerate them. I don't think it's necessary to ban them, but we should give them an earful when they violate the rules of the community.

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

At first I wrote substantial responses in which I acknowledged that you were referring to me, something you should have done from the beginning. Then a moderator removed my replies, leaving me with no recourse but to challenge your unjust use of my quotes. Meanwhile, admin reinstated my responses, so I now have nothing else to add on the matter, unless you continue to make false accusations of me.

Your replies were/are in no sense constructive or replies to the claims of what a hostile reader is. I think this is kind of the point here - one should not go into defensive mode for a negative evaluation of a person or even into attack mode. The thread isn't "I don't like MrSwig". It's not all about you.

1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Some very openly hostile to Rand.

Who? Critical of Rand and people who may say a position of Rand is uninformed on some things is not hostile. Actually hostile people aren't tolerated for long.

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3 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

It's not all about you.

Actually I am Invictus' one and only example of an alleged "hostile reader." So, yeah, I think this thread is all about me. And thus my perspective is singularly relevant to this topic. If you want to provide a different example, I'll gladly discuss that person.

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Thread closed for violating the forum's rule against personal attacks toward other forum members.

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