I spend much of my time writing or posting content on the internet that is intended to educate and inform, and to encourage discussion. These discussions often manifest themselves in the form of comment-threads with a large number of participants. (Sadly, most of the more interesting and productive discussions occur on my Facebook page, and so aren’t visible on my WordPress sites. I wish there were a way to replicate comments between the two!)
Every so often (especially in response to my posts on more controversial topics), I will get a hoard of what I mentally label as “Whacko Conspiracy Theorists” making a rash of comments that have little to do with what is being said, and everything to do with how they feel about what they feel the topic should be: often hijacking what had (or could have) been a productive discussion.
Such comments are a quandary for me: Yes, I want to encourage discussion. But it is clear that many of these “Whacko Conspiracy Theorists” have no interest whatsoever in learning anything, or in developing a common ground of understanding (and a possible basis for united action on the topic at hand).
So, how does one identify those who are really “Whacko” as opposed to those who merely hold views different from my own? It is all too easy to label any who disagree with you as “Whacko” and move on – which is what many do on both sides of the fence. But, this is not productive. Responding to others’ nutty comments with your own favorite flavor of nuttiness does not help the situation: it does not encourage dialog, and does not do anything to develop a common understanding. What’s more, when you dig under the covers, you often find significant areas of agreement in terms of identifying what the basic problem is. The disagreement usually comes with ones’ preferred solution. We cannot hear what those areas of agreement are if we stay focused only on our disagreements.