This is about specifics and about generalities and about all points in between. Really, it's about the life cycle of an open mind. I've lived on the internet for enough years to know better but I always hope. I hope that whatever community I wind my way into, on whatever topic, will resist the quiet whispers of the Civility Police. You would think, as a person that moderated boards for AOL before that was a badge of shame, that I'd know better.
Here's how it goes.
Someone (or a group) decides the problem with their current habitat is an excess of moderating. They decide to form a new group where open conversations are the rule, not the exception. Big girl (and boy) pants are handed out. The community grows because people enjoy open conversation. Fervent disagreement educates as much as it link baits. Eventually, the community faces a crossroads. Are they chicken, or are they fish?
Always, the question comes couched as the question of civility. It's the tone argument. The strong voices, the ones that build the community, attract conversation, and distinguish it from the bland, are undervalued. There are important people not being heard. Fearful people. Quiet people. People who send emails and whisper in ears and quake in the self satisfied boots of the pious. It doesn't have to be a book community. I've seen it play out in places as absurd as travel communities. On the face of it, it seems so reasonable. Rather than institute an ignore feature or tell people to man up, the choice is made to change. To become more like the place they fondly remember as great, before the moderation drove away the strong voices and the self policers.
The thing is, I've never been interested in people who hold civility up as a goal. The poison they drip is far more vile to me than the frontal assault of a true believer. When asked "You don't want to make people uncomfortable, do you?" I say yes. Yes I do. I want the gays to marry, the people of color to party at the beach, the country club to celebrate Purim, the headscarf to be worn at the school play. Yes. I want people to be uncomfortable. I do. When you are uncomfortable you are forced to examine if you are right.
Then the argument is made that passionate debate is still welcome. Just not with that voice, not in that tone, why are you taking it personally? Yes, these people may be directing their words at you but... and but.. and but. Wait your turn. Raise your hand. Think about the other person but don't expect them to think about you because you, you're loud. You make people uncomfortable. You want them to defend their words instead of bask in them. Often those who are most vehement in their tone arguments are the most hateful, the least inclusive, the quickest to uphold the status quo and wave away the dissent. Class issues? Race issues? Pish and tosh. Pish and tosh, we say! How you speak becomes more important than the content of your speech. More important than the content of your character.
Civility goes hand in hand with solidarity. Trust in us! Support this feminism and that feminism will follow! Believe in the past instead of the present! Every book is a good book for someone! Toxic messages are in the eye of the beholder! If that fails, then it is generally pointed out that the ball is owned by the rule maker, and the rule maker makes the game. Which is why I run a series of blogs instead of communities. I believe that communities belong to those who populate them, not those who begin them. A lack of civility is not abuse. People no longer sharing your taste is not disdain.
Some of you have been in communities with me for ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years. You know that nothing I say here is inconsistent with any position I previously held. Some of you don't know me at all, and that's fine. Choosing to honor the whispering horsemen of the nicepocalypse isn't a crime. Having the right to take an action is not the same as being right in your actions. Communities rise and fall, they struggle on or enjoy rebirth. Somewhere there is someone thinking about building a new one. It may be six weeks, it may be six months, but one thing I know about the internet is a new home is always under construction. My choice forever is to go with the loud girls, the proud girls, the girls we say we want but almost never support.