*his error - my original says 'their'.Maria,
Thank you for the clarification below which is straightforward enough and totally innocuous. But the fact is that the formulation of your rules goes far beyond your clarifications. Indeed the additional rules you reference (About Think Humanism) have a distinctly non humanist quality about them. I have been associated with a number of organizations over the years and the only one, in my experience, that exceeds your organization's concern for following rules is the Canadian Navy.
But why do your statement of rules display a non humanistic quality? The short answer is that they break the golden rule -- a most important rule for governing human interactions. Indeed the rule seems to me to be implicit in the behaviour of all right-minded people and certainly in the behaviour of people who regard themselves as humanists. By this I mean that one follows the rule as a result of one's personal commitment to the morality implicit in the rule not because one feels constrained by others to follow the rule. It captures one's sense of a fundamental component of civilized human behaviour.
Upon reading over your referenced rules at http://www.thinkhumanism.com/phpBB3/vie ... f=27&t=416 one cannot help noticing the position of complete authority in which the "owners" of Think Humanism have placed themselves with respect to their fellow humanist. This authority is officially (with reference to the strict wording of your rules) open-ended by which I mean the owners have a very wide latitude in exercising this authority. For example, the beginning of the fifth paragraph runs "The administrators reserve the right to edit or remove from view any other posts or to ban from the forum any member who breaks forum rules if there* banning ...". The first disjunct essentially allows the administrators to remove or edit any other posts (other than those which break rules 1. to 9.) -- the unquoted qualification following "banning" qualifies the second disjunct. So this is wide latitude indeed. But more importantly for Think Humanism to act in this fashion is essentially to break the golden rule (Treat others as you would want to be treated.) For example, I do not think that I should have the authority to remove or block, without recourse ("The administrators’ decision on any matters relating to the Think Humanism forum is final."), what someone is saying to me on the same grounds as I do not think someone else should have the same authority with respect to me.
Other aspects of Think Humanism rules which break with the golden rule are such things as:
1) The demand for respect ("we [the board owners] expect some basic courtesies" for help we give).
2) "We (the board owners) will not be taken advantage of"
Such remarks strongly suggest that the larger community of humanist, to which the owners of Think Humanism are addressing themselves, including me if I were to sign up, are sufficiently ill behaved as to require such exhortations. The board members, in engaging in such behaviour by making such demands, are treating others in a manner in which, I am sure, they would not want to be treated. Again the golden rule is broken.
The reference within About Think Humanism to UK criminal and civil law is bizarre and faintly offensive. What is the point of such a reference? Do people govern their day-to-day lives with reference to such laws? Do you have a complete knowledge of such laws? I know I don't and I care less about them. My behaviour is determined largely by my humanistic stance not the laws of any state. For Think Humanism to invoke such a blanket requirement is for Think Humanism to attempt to take on more authority than it can sensibly wield with no practical benefit (except Think Humanism's desire to be associated with a perceived authority).
Indeed it strikes me that in formulating these rules Think Humanism is assuming that all potential participants in humanistic discussions are not humanist and require their behaviour to be strongly rule-governed with reference to Think Humanism's rules. At bottom the golden rule is again broken in a most fundamental respect.
The tone of the formulation of the rules by the board is entirely in line with the fact that "Think Humanism is privately-owned board, created and maintained entirely in the free time of the owners and at our own expense." This tone displays the prerogatives of ownership. But it sure does not display the tone of humanism. Indeed the owners, as owners, can apply whatever rules they like if they can get away with it. But they cannot do this and be humanists as I believe I have shown above. Being a humanist is a full time job and is especially important in determining how one conducts oneself in practical affairs like setting up a humanist web site. In this regard I believe Think Humanism has failed. And so I cannot sign the register. Not that this is particularly important. But my reasons for not signing, if sound, are very important. Because I had a little time on my hands I thought I would share them with you.
This was my response:
Thank you for your email. You certainly do have time on your hands. Unfortunately, I think your email was poorly reasoned and I have decided to reply at length.
Your arguments appear to be based on a number of erroneous assumptions. The first is that all or most of those who decide to register at the Think Humanism forum identify as humanists. This is far from being the case. As it states quite clearly, people of all world views are welcome to participate.
The second is that all humanists abide by the Golden Rule all the time and that we all interpret it exactly as you do. (I know what the Golden Rule is, by the way. I wrote an explanation of it for the website. http://www.thinkhumanism.com/the-golden-rule.html). I know as a result of my very extensive experience of living and working with other humanists that, while we all strive to live by the Golden Rule, sometimes we fail. Sometimes, especially when debating something we feel passionate about, we lose our cool and antagonise other people in a way that we certainly wouldn’t want reciprocated. We are only human, after all.
Your third assumption is that the rules of the forum were created in a vacuum and were in place the day the forum was launched. In fact, when the forum was launched there were no rules at all. Each rule has been added as a direct consequence of how one or other participant in the forum behaved and every one of them has proven necessary to ensure that the forum remains a generally civil and friendly place that intelligent, thinking people want to come to. There is no “assumption” on my part that “all potential participants will require their behaviour to be strongly rule-governed”. The assumption is that a tiny minority will or they will upset a much larger number of users. This assumption is based on many years’ experience of moderating internet boards and three years experience running my own.
If a participant continually behaves in such a way as to (a) unhelpfully disrupt conversations and (b) gratuitously upset other users, it tends to result in valued users leaving the forum. I don’t want those users to leave the forum and as a humanist I judge each situation on its merits according to standards of reason and humanity. Thus, I introduced rules and made participation in the forum conditional upon them. The result is a forum with a civil and friendly ethos and which requires minimal moderation to keep it that way.
I note your comment that the rules “have a distinctly non humanist quality about them”. I also note your lack of suggestion as to how I might otherwise ensure the forum stays the way that the majority of users want it to be, given that the forum exists in the real world rather than in some humanist utopia of your imagination and its users are real people, with normal human failings..
And, fourthly, you call Think Humanism an’ organisation’. I’m not sure if this is another assumption on your part but in any event it is wrong. Think Humanism is just a website. Your analogy with the Canadian Navy or any other organisation is inappropriate because it’s not comparing like with like. If any large organisation runs an online discussion forum, I’ll wager that the list of rules governing participation is a lot longer than the list I devised for my forum. Indeed, if you’d care to browse the list of rules of any comparable internet forum, you will find this to be true of most of them and those that have fewer rules are – in stark contrast to Think Humanism – rowdy and distinctly unhumanist places where sensitive souls fear to tread. That, it seems is the inevitable consequence of boards where few rules are applied and I’ve no reason to think my own forum wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t set clear boundaries and exclude those who don’t accept them.
Moving on to the Golden Rule. The Think Humanism rules do not break the Golden Rule and your suggestion that they do, does not stand to reason.
You offer as an example the fact that you don’t think you should have the authority to “remove or block without recourse” what someone is saying to you and on the same grounds that you don’t think someone else should have the same authority over you.
The word ‘should’ is irrelevant here. The fact of the matter is that, as the owners of the forum, we do have complete authority over those who accept our invitation to participate in the forum and there is no other recourse for them. As the one who pays the bill, I have the same authority over those who use my forum as I have over those people I invite to my home. When I post on other forums (or visit other homes) I accept that the owners have authority over me while I am on their property. I follow their house rules, whatever they are, knowing that if I don’t like them I am at liberty to leave. In other words, I treat other people and their property as I expect them to treat me and mine. I try to live by the Golden Rule at all times. Unfortunately, not everyone does the same.
I agree with you that if “board members, in engaging in such behaviour by making such demands, are treating others in a manner in which, I am sure, they would not want to be treated”, then those board members are breaking the Golden Rule. But again, I note your lack of suggestion as to what I might do about board members breaking the Golden Rule, particularly when other board members are being upset about the posters who are being provocative or abusive.
Pointing out that, in return for our hospitality we expect some basic courtesies – the “demand for respect” – does not break the Golden Rule; rather it is reminding users of it. To put it simply, as we are being nice to you, we expect you to be nice to us.
This particular exhortation was added after one user antagonised other users and myself by behaving with a lack of basic courtesy. So whether it suggests that the “larger community of humanist” or just the odd discourteous individual humanist behaves this way is neither here nor there. By setting out clearly the conditions users must fulfil if they wish to use my forum for their group, everyone knows where they stand and upset is avoided. I expect exactly the same from anyone who is providing a service to me.
I do not need a “complete knowledge of such laws” to know that I am legally responsible for what appears on my website, regardless of who posts it there. I also know that website owners sometimes get prosecuted or sued over what appears on their websites. I’m tempted to ask why you would find my desire to protect myself from litigation or prosecution “bizarre and faintly offensive” but, given that you needed to ask what the point of the reference to law, it is evident you didn’t get the point and the bizarre and faintly offensive comments following your query would seem to confirm it. I find this more than a little surprising, as nobody else appears to have had a problem.
In conclusion, your comments are ill-conceived. What you are arguing, in effect, is that we should not exercise the authority that we have as the website owners in order to ensure that our vision for our website is fulfilled; rather, we should put our time, money and effort into creating a forum and then let whoever joins it behave exactly as they like. Sponsored anarchy, perhaps.
I would be interested to know what the participants of my forum think about your comments. Do you mind if I post your email on the forum with your name removed?
And below is the response from John I've just received. I skimmed through quickly and haven't decided yet whether I'll respond. Unlikely to have time tomorrow anyway. (It came without any paragraph spacing and I stuck in some as I was racing through it but sorry if I missed any.)
As to the time I have on my hands it is comparatively little contrary to what you say in the second sentence of your reply. You are assuming that it took a comparatively long time to write my email I suppose. But it did not.
As to your third sentence of your reply I think that you really regard it as fortunate that my email was poorly reasoned and that is why you decided to reply at length. Of course whether or not it was poorly reasoned remains to be seen.
With regard to your second paragraph, you are right about what you state was my assumption and which you label as erroneous. I assumed that Think Humanism is primarily for humanist or people disposed towards the humanist perspective the world over. The reason I assumed this is because of the opening statement on the "Welcome to Think Humanism" page which goes as: "Think Humanism is an independent humanist forum for people interested in humanism, secularism and free thought." If you meet someone who displays interest in humanism, secularism and free thought you may well think, "Here is a humanist." and you would probably be right. On these grounds, which I think are quite reasonable, Think Humanism is not open to "people of all worldviews". For example fascist or members of the white supremacist group The Western Guard would not be welcome. Furthermore, I would regard it as logically incoherent to suggest that Think Humanism is open to fascist and members of The Western Guard as long as they are interested in humanism, secularism, free thought and I am assuming you would not make such a suggestion. In the light of the foregoing you might consider editing your Welcome-to-Think-Humanism page by dropping the third full paragraph.
As to your third paragraph I did not make the patently false assumption that humanists abide by the Golden Rule all the time. Many do not for many reasons. But humanists would always subscribe to the Golden Rule and admit error if they were to break the Golden Rule. No rule, golden or otherwise will guarantee compliance. So we must grant that we cannot expect to guarantee a particular form of human behaviour simply by making rules. (Incidentally, when I briefly gave a formulation to the Golden Rule in my email I was not suggesting that you did not know the Golden Rule (a false assumption on your part, perhaps made because you are oversensitive to being slighted), I was merely explicitly displaying a reference point for my remarks.)
As to your fourth paragraph and my alleged third assumption, you are wrong again. Why would I assume that your rules were made in a vacuum? How the rules came to be are somewhat irrelevant to the merit of the rules and that is one reason why I did not need to make such an assumption. As to the necessity of your rules, well that is another matter. In the paragraph above I pointed out that any rule can be broken and that no rule or rules will necessitate good behaviour. However rules do help to clarify what is or is not permitted. And if you say that your experience requires the rules so be it.
But is it really the case that after you made certain rules that harmony prevailed on the web site? At this point I am trying to say something in connection with your admonition in paragraph 6 (my lack of suggestion). Do you really need any other rule other than the Golden Rule? I am inclined to think not. I can imagine (and by so doing I do not think I am operating in some "humanist utopia") administering a site only with the Golden Rule and invoking such a rule in all disputes and making the resolutions, according to the Golden Rule, public to the rest of the members. In fact I would encourage other members to participate in the resolution. In this manner one would be furthering the humanist perspective by displaying the interpretation of the Golden Rule in actual contexts where people in the "real world" (to use your expression) could come to see what the Golden Rule means in day-to-day disputation. By approaching the matter of rules in this manner by only utilizing the Golden Rule, one does not preempt a given interpretation of the Golden Rule by making sub rules. The question that may be correctly asked in connection with any given sub rule is "Is the universal application of this sub rule always in accordance with the Golden Rule?" By demanding universal compliance to a sub rule one is assuming the answer is yes. Making such and assumption, it seems to me, is not in the spirit of humanism. One needs to present some justification that this is indeed the case and in so doing one furthers the appreciation of the Golden Rule. Just keep the Golden Rule and employ its application as a way of furthering the humanist perspective.
You take exception, in your seventh paragraph, to my use of the word "organization" -- suggesting that web site is not an instance of an organization it is "just a web site". What I meant by organization is any entity with an implicit or explicit structure to which I address myself. With this meaning in mind I still say that the only organization in my experience that exceeds Think Humanism's concern for following rules is the Canadian Navy. In saying this I am not saying anything about the number of rules Think Humanism has (which you wrongly claim I am saying) but rather with its concern for following rules.
In your eighth, ninth and tenth paragraph you essentially indicate that as the owner of Think Humanism you are the court of finally appeal. Now I refer to this position in the final paragraph of my original email where I speak of the prerogatives of ownership. There I indicate you can do whatever you want as the owner of Think Humanism. You interpret this in part as meaning that you have "complete authority over those who accept the invitation to participate" in Think Humanism. It is here that I have my biggest disagreement with you. What distinguishes humanism from other worldviews is that it only accepts the Golden Rule supplemented perhaps by other principles as having complete authority not things like God or Marie, for example. There is a lot more that could be said about Humanism but whatever is said will not, I believe, contradict my point regarding ultimate authority.
In your eleventh and twelfth paragraph you talk about the section of your About Think Humanism where you indicate that you "expect basic courtesies" and you "will not be taken advantage of". The style of this formulation suggests – the style is as an exhortation, rather than another, less offensive, mode of expression -- that the potential forum participant will be inclined to be discourteous or take advantage. This is not a very charitable outlook. And your justification for inserting this is that in the past one person displayed discourteousness. I regard this as an insufficient justification for making the remarks you have made. Certainly we all run into people who lie, cheat, break promises, fail to meet their commitments and so on. But how I approach people in general is not based upon this small minority. How I treat people in general is based upon principles of value, most significantly that of the Golden Rule. In saying this I am not advocating a "humanist utopia". I am advocating that we conduct ourselves according to valid general principles like the Golden Rule and not allow it to be coerced by the exception cases we run into. To allow this is to stop living as a humanist.
In your thirteenth paragraph you go on about the law and liability on your site and proceed to falsely interpret my original remarks in my email as disagreeing with your right to protect yourself against legal action. I say nothing about your right to protect yourself from legal action. This is at least the third time in your email that you have incorrectly interpreted what I have said and on this occasion it allows you to take a self-righteous position regarding your right to protect yourself. All your talk about your protection against the law is irrelevant to the issue at hand because it is based on a false assumption on your part. On the other hand if you think making the blanket declaration you do in order to protect yourself against legal action then fair enough. I do think you need to go as far as you do to gain the result you seek. I agree that you do not need to know the details of the law to protect yourself by making such a declaration if such a declaration actually works. But for me signing up to the site responsibly it does seem to me that I would need to know the details of what the law says. Your rule 9 in About Think Humanism not only covers libellous or defamatory post but any breach of UK criminal or civil law whatsoever. I say this is mildly offensive because as a humanist I recognize that things done in the name of the law in countries like the UK and Canada are offensive to me. Just look at the legal action of the police against UK citizens in 2009 at the G20 meetings and the similar behaviour of Canadian police at the G20 meetings in 2010. As a humanist I do not blindly take my moral stand with reference to the laws of any state.
In your final paragraph you are suggesting that I am recommending "sponsored anarchism" but you give no reference to where I say such a thing. There are times in your email where you just sound plain annoyed why someone would even question your sign-up page. This seems out of character with a humanist approach to matters and certainly out of character with your community of "sensitive souls" as you describe your membership, which I assume includes you.
Finally, in the opening of your remarks you say that my original email was "poorly reasoned" and that is why you chose to respond. But the overall thrust of your reply is to continually point out where I made false assumptions (mistakenly as far as I am concerned -- see above). What you do not seem to appreciate is that quite generally false assumptions do not affect the quality of one's reasoning. I can, for example, validly make the following argument: All men are honest. Maria is a man. Therefore Maria is honest. This argument is correctly, that is validly reasoned, even though the premises are false. It shows that one can reason correctly from ignorance that is false statements. And it is our ability to do so which enables us to make some headway at reducing our ignorance. There are many other points that one could raise about your response to my email but I am running out of time.
You may publish my original email on condition that you include the entire string unedited, that is, your response and my response to your response. And please do not make my email anonymous by leaving my name out -- all names should be left in. In making this request I believe you are implementing the suggestion that I make in my para 7 above.