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What discourse norms do you tend to follow? Why? Do you think everyone else should follow them, and why?
The biggest one is this: focus on what’s actually true, and what you actually have good reasons to believe. I think people should be held to much higher standards of honesty in public discourse than in private. Lies told in public discourse have negative spillover effects (in econ jargon, externalities) that private white lies don’t. Obviously, I think this is a general norm, not just what I personally try to do.
I don’t think honestly means you’re forbidden from keeping your mouth shut, as long as you’re not saying other things made misleading by the omission. “Technically true” doesn’t cut it, in my experience “technically true” statements are often indistinguishable from lies for anyone not privy to the secret rationalization the technical truth-teller is carrying around in their head. Conversely, you don’t always have to optimize for strict, literal accuracy if almost everybody in your audience knows what you mean.
Speaking of keeping your mouth shut, though, if you’re thinking of criticizing someone personally, it’s often worth erring on the side of keeping your case is very strong. That’s because, in such situations, you have to consider not just the effect of what you say on the discourse, but also on the individual you’re criticizing. That said, “never attack anyone personally” is a bad rule; it lets flagrant liars and pseudo-experts get away with polluting the discourse far too easily.
While I don’t think you need to always be nice, I think the rules I’ve outlined lead to mostly being nice. Among other things, the thing about making blanket generalizations about people who disagree with you (“Feminists are X, anti-feminists are Y”) is that they’re rarely true. Generalizations without quantifiers—words like “some” or “all” or “most”—are particularly dangerous, because it’s easy for the speaker to mean “some” but be interpreted as saying “all” or “almost all”. I usually interpret such claims to mean the claim applies in the typical case (saying “dogs have four legs” is fine, even though some dogs are missing legs), but even then, if a claim is likely to be controversial it’s a good idea to note significant exceptions.
What is the true reason, deep down, that you believe what you believe? What piece of evidence, test, or line of reasoning would convince you that you’re wrong about your ideology?
A lot of my feelings about the online social justice community were shaped when I got heavily involved in one particular corner of the social justice internets several years ago. This gave me a front row seat to, well—I just spent some time re-reading old blog posts as I was preparing to write this answer, and “toxic dynamics” feels like a gross understatement.
I saw people vilified for the most trivial intra-left disagreements. I saw people vilified and ostracized for questioning whether this was a good idea on a purely strategic perspective. One particular Internet Famous Person I knew during that period had a personal blacklist so long that she forgot I was on it, and offered to send me a free copy of her new book so I could blurb it, only to withdraw the offer when she realized her mistake.
A really obvious way someone could convince me to change my mind about the social justice movement is to convince me that my experiences with the particular corner of the social justice internets I was involved in was an anomaly. But as far as I can tell, it wasn’t. People who’ve had lots of experience with different corners of the social justice community report more or less the same things. Not everyone who identifies with “social justice” acts the way I’ve described, but loud self-identification with the label (in contexts where it’s clear people aren’t talking about Rawls or a branch of Catholic theology), or conspicuous use of associated jargon, seems to generally be a huge red flag.
When writing this, I had to stop myself to wonder if a political movement could exist at all with the kind of hair-trigger ostracism seen in the parts I’m most familiar with. Maybe most corners of the SJ world, even if they’re pretty bad, don’t take it quite that far? But actually, I don’t think my former corner was particularly extreme even on this point, and that fact is probably a major reason why People’s Front of Judea v. Judean People’s Front splits plague much of the left. On the other hand, if someone is sufficiently popular and well-liked, they’re much more likely to be forgiven for being “problematic”, even if at one point everyone seemed to think they were the Dark Lord of Kyriarchy.
I don’t know if I can. By the time Gamergate happened, I was actively avoiding paying any attention to social justice-related internet fights. My sense from reading what Ozy’s said about Gamergate gives me a pretty negative impression of both “sides”, but I haven’t looked into it myself. I tried when researching this submission, but gave up pretty quickly when I realized everything had happened in IRC chats and Twitter hashtags. From the excerpts of the IRC logs I’ve read, apparently some 4channers actually did plot to hack Zoe Quinn because they thought they’d turn up evidence of failures of “ethics in game journalism”—but I haven’t bothered to read the full logs.