Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I Declare...

[Later in the day after I had written this blog post, the Board of Declaration was purged (for a second time) of all Board posts related to the debate on Iraq and pacifism. Two of the contributors to that debate had new posts up within the day, the most recent accuser of "anti-American" sentiment among them. He attempted to defend himself by saying that to call the other contributor "anti-American" was less an insult and more a statement based on evidence. The words which follow are my response, also posted on the Board of Declaration, to that whole situation.]

I have been a member of the [seminary] community for nearly 9 years now. Over that time, I’ve seen many heated arguments on the Board of Declaration. When I discuss the matter of the Board with my friends, I often hear something along the lines of “Oh, I don’t read that any more. All they do is argue, and nothing ever changes.” Usually, I have attempted to respond to such statements by agreeing that the arguments often get out of hand, but that the goal of increased communication, even on contentious issues, makes having a resource such as the Board of Declaration a valuable addition to seminary life.

I am starting to reconsider that position. Although the Board of Declaration has several clearly stated rules intended to foster a community of open discussion, these rules are frequently ignored. Usually, when someone crosses the line enough to gain the attention of the Office of Student Services, the action taken is simply to remove the offending posts (and, frequently, all posts related to that discussion). The same participants then just put up new posts, often breaking the same rules, except that this time they accuse the seminary of censorship for daring to enforce the rules of the Board. Rules that contributors implicitly agree to by the act of posting in the first place. This further contributes to the air of negativity that has permeated the Board for far too long.

Lately, activity on the Board has been limited to just a small handful of participants, and the arguments being circulated are really nothing new. Perhaps this explains the recent degeneration into ad hominem argumentation (attempting to convince readers that a particular person’s arguments are invalid by invoking some negative sentiment about that person). I wish to explicitly note that whether or not the negative statements are true has no bearing on whether or not the argument is ad hominem. It is a logical fallacy, and it is explicitly forbidden on this Board. Contributors who cannot adhere to this rule, especially after multiple warnings, should be permanently banned from posting.

But perhaps this is a moot point. I’ve seen this cycle repeat many times over the years, and I am forced to admit that the debates posted here seldom meet the intended standard of constructive exchange of ideas. If meeting this standard is not possible, then I must reluctantly suggest that the Board of Declaration itself be taken down, and that this space be given over to some more productive purpose.

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