I have been reading and commenting on blogs for over two years, and I have been writing and editing this blog for nearly that amount of time. During that period I have seen all sorts of interesting attitudes and behaviors. Some of them sadden me, some of them delight me, and some of them actually frighten me.
I’m not innocent of blogging crimes, I will admit at the outset. I have written things that I should not have. I have been too forceful, too unthoughtful, too unfeeling. I hope that other guilty parties who read this will admit the same thing.
Along the way, I have developed some rules for myself, which I follow more or less consistently. I think that they are good rules. Some of them have been suggested by other readers and writers. Some of them have roots in my college philosophy and rhetoric classes. Others are just plain courtesy. What do you think about these rules?
1. Stay on topic. Although you might have a different agenda than the blog owner, it is not polite to go way off on a tangent just to satisfy your need to be heard. Write about anything you want on your own blog, but show proper respect to other bloggers by sticking to the topics that they choose. If a person writes a blog about dogs, don’t keep posting comments about the superiority of cats. It’s childish and annoying.
2. Read carefully. I myself have made stupid comments because I misunderstood what I was commenting on. Sometimes it is my own dunderheadedness, and sometimes it is the awkwardness of the writing. Nevertheless, it is important to summon up all your reading skills and try to clearly and carefully understand what is being communicated. If somebody says that dogs are stupendous, don’t reply, “They are not stupid. They are quite intelligent.”
3. Have realistic expectations. Most blog posts are only a few hundred words long or shorter. They cannot discuss a topic comprehensively. They cannot reflect every nuance of the writer’s thoughts on a particular matter. They cannot be the definitive statement on any subject. They cannot answer every question. Take them as brief statements that make very limited points. Consider them discussion starters. If a person says that he likes dogs but doesn’t mention cats, don’t assume that he hates cats. And don’t assume that he wants to marry his dog or nominate the dog for president or transform himself into a dog–unless he actually says so himself.
4. Take the words at face value. If a person makes a statement about his beliefs, attitudes, or opinions on a blog, you pretty much have to accept that the person is sincere and accurate. You cannot prove otherwise, unless you can point out where the writer has been inconsistent. In that case, the writer might be able to reconcile the two statements and clarify his or her position. If you comment, “So you are really saying that dogs are the only thing that matter in life.” you are probably misrpresenting the writer’s actual viewpoint, and that’s neither fair nor kind.
5. Avoid the ad hominem fallacy. It looks like this: You would think that, since you are a Christian or Well, of course you think that, because you are a liberal. It’s not nice to pigeon-hole, stereotype, or generalize about people. It’s not actually a logical argument, either. That’s why it’s called a fallacy. Some Christians like cats, and some liberals like dogs. Other Christians prefer dogs, and other liberals prefer cats. Hardly anybody can be labelled precisely.
6. If possible, back your statements with evidence. I don’t always do that on my blog, because a lot of what I write about is simply general opinions that I hold based more on my core principles and my reasoning. I don’t always have time to look up sources, either. It’s a major weakness of my blog. When I’m really on the ball, I link to smarter people and to informative websites. Please, if you choose to challenge a fact statement, it is good to at least gnerally describe the basis for the challenge if you cannot give a reference to a legitimate source. If your challenge is not of the factual kind, try to use good deductive reasoning for your view. (And, no, “You’re just stupid,” is not good deductive reasoning.) “Dogs are bad pets because they smell bad when wet” is more like it.
7. Don’t get hysterical. It’s a bit over the top to write. “Oh, so you ONLY like dogs. You said so yourself. You probably want to send cat-owners to prison. No, you probably want to kill them. You’re a dog-lover, so of course you want to kill people. You’re just as bad as the Nazis.”
8. Be honest. People know what they themselves think and feel, and they know what they wrote. It’s pretty silly to lie and say that they think or feel the opposite of what they have stated. It’s pretty silly to claim that they wrote the exact opposite of what they actually wrote. Not only are they aware that you are lying, but anyone who reads the posts and the comments knows it, too. They won’t look down on the person that you are lying about; they will look down on you.
By the way, I like cats. I don’t really have a preference between dogs and cats.