What you can't do
Rules (that are conditions of participation) are simple and short:
No irrelevant material. Profanity, advertisements, or other spam will get you instantly banned. Personal attacks will be deleted and you will receive a warning, or the attack portion may be greyed, if they seem subtle and perhaps not intentional; if they seem mean or gratuitous you will be banned. Contributions only marginally on the subject of an article or a subheading will be deleted. Or perhaps moved if an editor finds a place where they are appropriate. The only time it is relevant to attack the character or qualifications of a person rather than the merits of an issue is when the person is the issue: for example he is a candidate for public office. But even then, don't use a personal attack to change the subject from a discussion of an issue that isn't going well for you.
That's about all that you can't do.
Definition: "Personal Attacks" are any cluster of words which (1) add little or no understanding of the arguments or facts of the subject of a dispute, and (2) focus attention on alleged flaws of the person talking to you, and (3) insinuate that those flaws justify ignoring the evidence being presented to you because the person talking to you is unworthy of your attention or because his credibility is so low that nothing he says can be taken seriously.
Personal attacks take attention away from any discussion of evidence. They redirect attention from whether a position is correct to whether the person is good. This wastes the time of readers interested in whether the position is correct. However, for those readers interested more in a good cat fight than in truth, the personal attack may be left, greyed, to help them more easily find it.
Sometimes words are pure personal attack. Usually they are mixed with normal reasoning and are resorted to only when the argument seems to be going badly.
The Donald Trump presidential campaign of 2015-2016 illustrates the danger of taking too absolute a stand against personal attacks. Trump is the master of personal attacks, and his following has shown that personal attacks are "incredible", as Trump would say, at holding voters' interest. And especially the interest of media, who gave him several times more attention than the "boring" candidates who stick to issues. Nevertheless, fully aware of that danger, this media has for its purpose a forum free of personal attack, to test whether wisdom can once again be made as interesting as war.
Can wisdom become, once again, as interesting as war?
If you are the subject of a personal attack (if you are debating someone who jumps from the issue to a list of your sins) you are authorized to grey out the offending personal attack and to post, near it, the following notice:
Alert: portions of this response have been greyed out because they are "personal attacks" which waste time for readers focused on facts and arguments. See Rules. For explanation, see Tips#No "personal attacks". For a Biblical perspective, see Scripture about "no personal attacks – attack nonsense"
<span style="color:#BFBFBF">This is the code to put in front of a personal attack. Text after it will turn grey. Where the text should return to black, insert </span> unless it is at a paragraph's end, which cancels the "grey" command already.
To copy the "Alert" from here to where there is a personal attack, click to "edit" this page and copy the paragraph that begins <blockquote><span style="color:#0000FF">and ends with </span></blockquote>
(Only do it if you are very sure the matter is a true "personal attack". False accusations create another obstacle to reasoning that must be dealt with.)
Exceptions: When Personal Attacks are Helpful
The phrase "personal attack" is used to describe a weapon against clear reasoning, in which someone losing an argument, or tiring of the mental exertion necessary to win it, abandons the subject to insult his opponent who is making it. As if the imperfection alleged in his opponent leaves his opponent too inferior to merit being listened to.
The phrase is not meant to be a literal rule that one must never criticize any person. Sometimes the person is the subject. When the subject is the fitness of a political candidate, criticism of that person can't be avoided in his evaluation. When an argument turns on some fact witnessed by your opponent, his credibility as a witness becomes part of the argument. The weapon against reason we call "personal attacks" is still just as destructive, but labeling the weapon "personal attacks" is confusing when it means something more specific than criticism of a person. We need to clarify what we mean in that case.
Here is a classical definition of "personal attacks", describing the error we want to avoid?
- "A personal attack is committed when a person substitutes abusive remarks for evidence when attacking another person's claim or claims. This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because the attack is directed at the person making the claim and not the claim itself. The truth value of a claim is independent of the person making the claim. After all, no matter how repugnant an individual might be, he or she can still make true claims.
- "Not all ad Hominems are fallacious. In some cases, an individual's characteristics can have a bearing on the question of the veracity of her claims. For example, if someone is shown to be a pathological liar, then what he says can be considered to be unreliable. However, such attacks are weak, since even pathological liars might speak the truth on occasion.
- "In general, it is best to focus one's attention on the content of the claim and not on who made the claim. It is the content that determines the truth of the claim and not the characteristics of the person making the claim." Nizkor.org
Wikipedia has a long article about personal attacks which warns us not to be simplistic:
- "Note that it is not a personal attack to question an editor at their talk page about their possible conflict of interest on a specific article or topic....Accusations about personal behavior that lack evidence. Serious accusations require serious evidence....Insulting or disparaging an editor is a personal attack regardless of the manner in which it is done....Attacks that are particularly offensive or disruptive (such as physical threats, legal threats, or blatantly racist or sexist insults) should not be ignored."
Conclusions: Even when evaluating a person, there ought to be evidence; accusations ought never be brought without evidence. Therefore, if an argument is being made involving evidence against a person, any abandonment of that process to hit the person with some other unsupported insult is the heart of what we mean by a "personal attack". Ironically it is not that error, so long as the evidence is assembled carefully, even though the latter is an even more effective "attack" on the "person".
"Insult" captures the heart of the error we mean to avoid. A carefully reasoned, well supported, reasonably stated criticism is the kind of analysis a loving parent could make, and in fact that is made often in the Bible about Bible heroes. That is not an "insult". An "insult" is a criticism lacking support, or that exaggerates what support it has, so that it is stated unfairly, if not completely unrelated to any fact or to any productive measure of persons.
The Bible offers thorough guidance on how to reason respectfully with someone who disagrees. Productive communication includes love, patience, honesty, frankness, forgiveness. "Bereans" were a people called "noble" because rather than dismiss ideas just because they were radically different - what we today would call "politically unrealistic", they were willing to take a lot of time to investigate the claims.
Above was our most objective rule. The considerations that follow will not even be noticed unless they are unusually egregious, and even then will not be dealt with administratively without public discussion on the "talk" page paired with the article with the problem. These violations are usually unintentional, not being governed by clear, objective laws or court cases.
Plagiarism or copyrighted material - legally prohibited.. No plagiarism: if you quote somebody, use quote marks and say who you are quoting - don't take credit as if you were the first to think of it; and even if you give credit, don’t copy and past large portions of copyrighted material. (Using less than 5% of a copyrighted book or article should be safe; using more than 20% can get you in court, if you are not criticizing it. By this principle if you are criticizing every detail of it, you should be allowed to quote all that you criticize, although courts have not said so. Websites of candidates should be public domain. It should always be safe to summarize an article and give a link to it.)
Promotion of illegal activity. Many website managers assert their right to censor any promotion of anything illegal, even though our laws and courts don't criminalize "incitement to violence" unless violence is actually inspired by the speech within a very short time. It is possible that some post here might rise to a level of such gratuitous incitement that it should be banned here, subject to public discussion on the talk page, so that possibility is listed here, although the limits to such a possibility are explained below, under "what you CAN do".
No lying. No “Devil’s Advocates”. Don’t goad opponents in conversation by playing “Devil’s Advocate” by saying you believe what you don’t, making the errors in what they are saying a moving target for your opponents. A test of whether this is what you are doing is if you agree with a position at one point and dispute it in another, without clarifying the difference or admitting you have changed your mind.
What you CAN do
You may freely submit any sincerely held, rationally presented political view, or politically relevant religious view. Our format allows you to disagree with anyone. This can stay fun to the extent disagreement remains respectful. Of course, others may likewise disagree with you, so you may be challenged.
You don’t have to back anything up. That is, you won’t be banned for not backing up anything, or for disagreeing with everybody. However, if you contribute something so counterintuitive and lacking in backing that the question arises how you could possibly believe it yourself, and you ignore subsequent requests to better explain your idea, your contribution may be moved to a “Hit and run” or “abandoned” category.
Our purpose is to persuade people who used to disagree. We trust it is also your purpose to persuade, or at least to seem reasonably intelligent. So we offer several tips you might want to think about even though following them is not “required” for you to participate. These tips aim at common sense relationship skills that will make you more persuasive in any situation.
The Forum has a list of articles that have been started on this forum. Unlike newspaper and blog articles where you can add comments only beneath the articles, you can change these articles. You can correct mistakes, add information, and explain why you think an opinion is right or wrong.
If you want to talk about a different subject, start a separate article. Your subject must have some connection to some political issue.
Tips links to suggestions how to back up what you say in order to be persuasive, and to Scriptures that back up those suggestions.
At the end of the section containing your contribution, enter four "tildes". A tilde is that little squiggle (~) in the upper left corner of your keyboard. That will automatically list your real name, state, and political party, and the date of your contribution. (You have to register with your real name before you can post. "FAQ's", above, explain why this is important.)
You are allowed to be funny.
You are allowed to have fun. Humor used well can clarify an issue. Just keep it on the subject.
Promotion of illegal activity.
This wiki focuses on politically related issues. All political issues involve questions about what should be legal. Every position taken on what should be legal is literally a promotion of things that are not already legal. This makes a prohibition of "the promotion of illegal activity" technically meaningless if not ridiculous in any political forum.
This is complicated by conflicts that often occur between laws; such as between local and federal laws. Sometimes what is legal under one jurisdiction is outlawed in another. For example we now see elected officials going to jail for upholding the Constitution as they understand it, while arguing in court that it is the court orders which are unconstitutional.
This difficulty moves from the technical realm to the practical where there is serious, passionate disagreement about which policies are right and wrong. This is usually stirred by perceived conflicts between human laws and God's Laws. Ideas about what to do in that situation are all over the map. These disagreements can't be resolved without discussing not only what the law ought to be, but how we ought to respond until it is. In that situation it is uselessly simplistic to attempt to identify "promotion of illegal activity", since the central disagreement is over what is legal. When a law or court order conflicts with the Constitution, and/or with the Bible, which authority tells us which is legal? Is it then "promotion of illegal activity", to argue the other side?
How about when some judge takes a position that defies the Constitution, local and federal laws, all court precedent, and the Bible, but he still has the power to order the police to put you in jail? Are you allowed to present legal arguments for your innocence? Defending yourself either in court or in the court of public opinion would be "promotion of illegal activity" by the simplistic notion of "promotion of illegal activity" which the rules on several websites authorize administrators to arbitrarily censor. Martin Luther King Jr. continually "promoted illegal activity", these administrators would have said had they started their websites a couple of generations earlier.
However, there is a kind of "promotion of illegal activity" which we don't need in this forum. An example might be the book "Hit Man", published by Paladin, which tells how to murder somebody. Even after the book was followed carefully to commit a double murder, our courts took no criminal action against its publication, and a lawsuit over it was settled out of court in 2002. That is an example of gratuitous "promotion of illegal activity" unrelated to any "higher law" or to effect any change that anyone would want in our laws. Therefore it would be irrelevant to this forum not only because it is reprehensible, but because it is unrelated to any political purpose.
Islam is a knottier question. The Koran proudly promotes a way of life which is profoundly criminal by the standards of American law. And yet as an increasingly popular religion, who is ready to censor any favorable reference to it on the ground that it promotes illegal activity? Plainly, the appropriate response to Islam is going to be a lot of discussion - a lot of getting Americans on the "same page". This is not a challenge which is going to go away by censoring discussion of it.