some points of clarification

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Mon May 21 17:05:17 UTC 2007

There are some things that now seem to be taken for granted in all
this that aren't actually so. It might be worth setting the record

First, Dr. Flanigan didn't demand that Dr. Aman be removed from the
list, even indirectly. She asked whether his post was "evidence that
we might want to consider moderating this list." The main function of
a list moderator is to screen postings and on occasion to reject a
post or ask for it to be revised. Banning people from the list is
something that moderators do but rarely. I read her post as a
suggestion that we might want a moderating influence on the tone of
discourse. It was Dr. Aman who raised the idea of his being removed
from the list, and, while so doing, took the opportunity to indulge
in misogynistic ad hominems against Dr. Flanigan.

And I did not say that Dr. Aman had a personality disorder. In my
post (which I had rather hoped could be my only on the subject), I
first gave a link to some background information on Dr. Aman and
suggested that his style of discourse need not be taken personally. I
then went on to general comments on rudeness in scholarly discourse
and on email lists. These comments were based on my experience and
were meant as general observations that _might_ be applicable in this
context. Since many people delete emails after reading them, I'll
reproduce them here:

I fail to see the utility of rudeness in scholarly discourse, but it
might make useful material for a study in pragmatics. Much discourse,
of course, isn't really about what it's "about" so much as it's about
some manoeuvring or needs on the part of the speaker.

But in my experience with email lists, people who like to flame
others aren't worth keeping in the long run. Civilized discourse is
more effective, and -- contrary to what many flamers like to say --
more honest. Lists that become spittoons for people with personality
disorders lose their habitability.

Clearly I was too concise in my expression; I should have added a
sentence something like "I don't know whether this applies to the
case at hand, and certainly not all people who like to flame have
personality disorders, but my experience is that if a person shows a
track record of unapologetic abuse, they are best treated as a
detriment." Or, in fact, I could have left off the last sentence --
which was merely a statement from personal experience -- and the
tenor of my position would have remained clear. But there was nothing
in what I said that contained any direct characterization of Dr. Aman.

Compare that, incidentally, with the characterizations that Dr. Aman
has made of various people on this list:

humorless feminista
post-menopausal [irrelevantly]

Dr. Aman has maintained that these kinds of ad hominem terms are no
different from the criticism one reads in scholarly material such as
book reviews. I can't say I agree, and actually I'm surprised that
someone of Dr. Aman's experience would conflate the critical but
cordial discourse of scholarly material with the the pragmatically
and formally rather different register of bald-on-record rudeness.

While I must say that Dr. Aman's invective has for me the kind of
amusing properties I might find in being cussed out by a
twelve-year-old, I remain unconvinced of its value in our discourse,
and it does seem to have offended many people quite unnecessarily.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

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