On Profanity and why we don't allow it
by, 10-04-2013 at 08:18 PM (1461 Views)
A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about the power of words. The topic got started because of a remark about profanity, but was not about profanity itself. However, in the comments session we got into a discussion about profanity. Due to the fact it was a discussion, I didn’t have the opportunity to properly formulate the response the topic deserved. Today I started writing a response, but after 2 pages I decided it would be an article in its own right.
So, about profanity and whether it has a place.
Fwiw, I do agree that profanity CAN have its place. Like any other thing, it is a means to an end. A tool.
Sometimes, profanity is meant to insult. I used to have a colleague who verbally abused his wife. She’d call on his cell phone, then he’d get worked up and raise his voice higher to the point of yelling, and usually ended the conversation with the tender words ‘stop calling me, leave me alone, you stupid bitch’. There is nothing uplifting or positive in those words. So profanity itself is not automatically a good thing and can never be allowed under a blanket rule.
This means that as soon as we decide that we don’t want a community where people can insult each other freely, we have to agree on where we draw the line between the teasing or thought provoking profanity between verbal equals, and insulting behavior. And that is very, very hard.
For example, the guy sitting across my desk and I, we are a bit like Stattler and Waldorf from the muppet show. Continually griping and grumping about things; Mainly our work and each other. Profanity is part of that. However, it only works because our personalities are compatible in that regard and the implicit and unspoken 'rules' of our interaction allow for profanity. And we are equals in verbal skills and wit. The colleague sitting next to me has been my colleague for 15 years and I brought him into this company after I left our old company first. We're an excellent team of systems engineers. But to him I don't talk like that because it would not work. The colleague diagonally opposite of me would take it personally and either ignite in righteous anger or report me to HR. Whether profanity is acceptable or not depends very much on the persons involved and mutual understanding.
Studies have shown that with textual communication, there is a 50% chance of misinterpreting the intent / emotions of a piece of text written by someone we don't know well. It's been a while since I saw the statistics for our site, but the vast majority of the users have less than 200 posts under their belt, in total. There's a sizable group of people with around 2000 posts, a half dozen people who are above 10000, and JimmyHAD who spends entirely too much time here, at 25000. This means that the vast majority of the people here are relative strangers to each other.
As a result, the possibility for communication misinterpretation is entirely too high. There's a handful of seniors among the mentors and staff, whom I know I could call gormless twit (for example) and they would understand and recognize the harmless friendly teasing that would be the intent behind those words. I know this because even though I've never seen them in real life or even know what they look like, we've communicated for years. We've gotten to know each other to the point where we can understand the meaning behind the written words. And thus I know what to say to convey a specific intent, and I also know who would and who would not appreciate such words.
However, if one perfect stranger would call another perfect stranger a gormless twit, 3 things can happen. The first is that through a stroke of luck, both people would be at the same wavelength and nothing would happen. Given the 50% chance of miscommunication, this would be the exception, not the norm. The second thing is more likely, and there would be a back and forth of insults and angered responses, causing bad blood between members and more work for mods. The third option is that a couple of people really like being rude to each other, and create an atmosphere where insults are traded back and forth, and the community slowly but surely transforms into a collection of verbally aggressive people who ‘say it as they find it’ and where the other people (who don’t like being abused) all drop off sooner or later. I’ve seen this happen and it is detrimental to the community as a whole because you lose a big chunk of people who really know the site topic very well, but who don’t like being abused.
There is an additional complication factor, and that is culture. When it comes to profanity, every culture has topics that are taboo. Conversational zones that you just don’t go into. When my colleague and I are burning each other, we instinctively know what goes and what not, because we’re born and raised in the same culture. SRP otoh is a very diverse group of people, and things that would not even raise eyebrows here in Belgium could be fighting words in the USA.
One of the most typical examples of this in movies, is a scene from the movie ‘rush hour’ with Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. They go into a pool hall where some dodgy stuff is happening. Chris knows the owner. He goes up to him, says ‘what’s up, my nigga’, they fistbump, and chris goes into the back of the place to talk with some guys running an illegal card game. Jackie sees this, but is completely unaware of American culture. He goes up to the same guy and says ‘what’s up, my nigga’. The guy yells ‘WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME!?’ and all hell breaks loose.
That’s what you get when cultures collide and what would not be a problem between people of a certain group (or culture) would be reason for a fight between other people (or cultures). Between different groups of people, there are just too much unknown and impossible to regulate ‘no-go’ areas where even well intended profanity leads to a disaster.
And this is why we want SRP to be a gentleman’s forum, devoid of profanity. Our ‘mission statement’, if you can call it that, is to foster a community for people who are straight razor enthusiasts. The decisions we make and the things we do are with the intent of providing the best possible place for people who share this passion.
While profanity between specific individuals can be harmless or challenging, in a large group of people from different cultures and who don’t know each other and who communicate via an inherently flawed medium, it would only end badly. Every so often, the community would explode in anger, people would split and leave, and all over things that are irrelevant to straight razors. This would go completely against what we are trying to achieve.
And that is why we don’t allow profanity here on SRP.