Censorship != Politeness

Shelley Powers equates community norms with self-censorship. I think Shelley’s right in the extreme case, and wrong for the ordinary case.
Shelly writes: “I guess we’re accountable to each other, and that’s the most dangerous censorship of all — it’s the censorship of the commons.”
As I’ve said in comments to Joi Ito’s post on the topic, there’s a distinction between groupthink — when someone silences an unpopular opinion in the face of social norms — and basic politeness.
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to use a moderate tone when you’re critizing someone’s idea, when you’re speaking directly to that person in front of others. (Assuming the idea you’re critizicing is within the realm of civilized discourse).
Nothing useful is gained by hurting the person’s feelings, or embarrassing them in public.
Here’s what I said in my blog about Don Park’s proposed relationship UI. The post on my blog uses a rant tone to project the idea in a noisy blogosphere.
And here’s the more diplomatic version in the comments to Don Park’s blog. I had never really spoken to Don before this conversation. I certainly didn’t want to insult or alienate Don, though I disagree with his point.
Now that we’ve chatted a bit in comments here and there, I’d feel comfortable being a bit more blunt, though not yet rude.
In social life, there’s a range of ways to say true things, depending on social context. Except at the outer reaches of diplomatic obfuscation, politeness isn’t the same as lying or censorship. Being brutally blunt at all times just yields flamewars with no socially redeeming value.

One thought on “Censorship != Politeness”

  1. Well said. There are norms that should be respected, at least most of the time, and others that should never be respected.
    For example, in the Marriage debate, it used to be illegal in many states to marry interacial couples.

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