Bertrand Russell's advice to internet commenters

Sure, it's not really what he had in mind. But I'm rather struck by the fact that pretty much every flame war ever could be avoided if we only listened to him. Shorter version: Recognize that you could be wrong, be tolerant of people who say things you hate and kind to people with whom you disagree, and, for god's sake, don't feed the trolls*.

*He didn't actually say that last bit, but it's just assumed at this point, right?

Video Link

Via Joe Dwyer


      1. …except one. Why aren’t “Replies” posted (nested) under the poster one is replying to? This works on other sites that utilize Disqus – doesn’t seem that way here.

        1. No idea, but the lack of readily visible threading here always bugged me. At least the “reply to” bits actually point to specific messages rather than just the user… which was annoying when trying to track a conversation when there are anons in the comments.

          1. But only on THIS forum – on others, even on iPad, the reply comments nest under perfectly.

  1. Yeah, every flame war on the Internet could be averted if people were sensible. That reminds me of that Tupac song where he wishes for a place thugs could hang out where there would be no violence.

  2. I have little doubt that if you sequestered two people involved in a very uncivil argument both would claim to have followed Mr. Russell’s advice, and both would claim the other had not.

    And, in many cases, arguments stem not from ignoring the facts, but over a disagreement over what is indeed a true fact, and what is not.

    1. This is why we have moderators (supposedly). I’m a firm believer that during an argument a third disinterested party should be present to keep the tone civil and the discussion on topic, and the “yeah, but you’re the one”s to a minimum.  Wait, hey, that’s couples therapy!

      1. Ah, but this idea of “moderation” isn’t ever completely true. There is no such thing as a “disinterested third party” on a “community” or really any other website. Not to discount the work these people do, but the simple fact is that these moderators have an active interest in both their’s and the website’s interest. Objectivity, in any medium, is a bit of a strawman. Some sites interests are explicit, but a good many of them aren’t.

    2. What you’re describing isn’t really an argument so much as a fight. In such a case it would help to have a 3rd party standing guard at the door, to throw in two copies of Plato’s The Phaedrus and advise the combatants that they can only leave the room when, together, they can guide a first-time reader of the play in discovering its meaning. (And, once they’re able to leave the room, give them a copy of the Allegory of the Cave; with a bit of luck it will quench any rage they feel toward the door guard ;-)

  3. He looks like he lived his whole life in the 19th century, but famously protested against nuclear weapons, and only died a couple of months before Apollo 13 blew up on the way to the moon – even though he was 32 before the Wright Brothers made their first flight.

  4. …and Usenet never happened, and I got a surprising amount of time from my twenties back.

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

  5. I love Bertrand Russell. The man positively exudes decency and nobility, without a hint of arrogance or cynicism.

    By the way, you’re all wrong and you should all just be quiet and do what I say do. It’s your fault things are the way they are (whatever that means).


  6. Thanks for this, Maggie.  Russell is one of my heroes, both as a mathematician and as an anti-war activist.

    I was hoping the one intellectual thing he wanted to say was, “There does not exists the set of all sets.  Suppose such a thing did exists, and consider the subset of it which contains all sets that do not contain themselves.  Does this set contain itself?  If it does, then it does not.  And if it does not, then it does.”

    1. I love a good Set Contradiction!

      Also, “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”

  7. Even better advice for the US Congress. Gawd, I wish they had followed this the past month… year… decade.

  8. +1 for BR, all the way!  That guy was a tack.  Been my intellectual hero since college days.  I’d love to have a first edition signed copy of Principia Mathematica. If one even exists.

  9. Be the moderator you seek to find in others. I’ve been known to have heated discussions about many topics, but I always try to argue the point, and not the person.

  10. Never actually saw video of him before. He really reminds me of William Hartnell, but less tetchy.

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