A Tennessee Yankee

09.25.2012, 11:24 PM

I grew up in Memphis, and traveled north of Tennessee for the first time at 17 years old. When I was 39, I came to New York to attend grad school. My studies only lasted a year, but I stayed and have made my home here in the NY metro area for the last 14 years. I never thought I would live in the Northeast. I picture New York City as it’s often viewed in popular culture: dirty, rude, and in-your-face.

I’m still a Southerner in many ways, and am partial to Southern etiquette. For example, to show disdain, I have heard myself spoon out the classic Southern mix of formal politeness delivered with a whiff of insincerity (“I can’t believe it’s been so long since we spoke; we have to get together again soon”). But I’m in New York now. I’ve been jostled in streets and had people break in line in front of me for years. I’ve repeatedly insulted offenders in my Southern fashion, rarely with either recognition or effect.

I had to learn how to be simply a straightforward jerk when I needed to get a point across. In the process, I also learned how basic social conventions that were planted in me as a youngster were not universal, but absorbed and assumed shared.

So what is quite civil to a New Yorker can be quite offensive to a Memphian. At some level there’s no adjudicating that. People who want to communicate with each other in a small forum simply have to devise rules of behavior that everyone understands and agrees to obey, as a condition of participation.

Offensiveness is hard to judge and frankly not against the rules anyway. Disrespect, contemptuousness, maliciousness: that’s a little clearer.

It’s easier to disrespect an object than a person. It’s easier (and less likely to get called on) labeling a group selfish/evil /disordered/predatory than to address that insult to an individual directly.

In the zeal to slam-dunk and generalize an argument, a description like “this action can be selfish” easily begets “groups who support this action are selfish” which can then beget “everyone who’s a member of that group is selfish” which can finally beget “everyone in that group prides themselves on this selfishness.”

The ease of gliding from one of these steps to the next shows how smoothly demonization can occur. Perceived group homogeneity transforms individual observations into universal personal characteristics. “The truth about (tall people) is that they don’t care about…” or “(dark-haired people) always say x, but they’re really pursuing y”. Insert your favorite demon here.

I want to interrupt that process where I can. I want to expect fellow bloggers and commenters to listen to what I say rather than put me in a group and speak impersonally to that group. That expectation is only realistic if I demonstrate that I will do the same.

If someone tells me that they feel pain from not knowing one of their biological parents and so fear the result of the same for my kids, or they’re against gay marriage because they sense impermanence in gay relationships and are worried about its effect on their straight friends with children, I aspire to treat their words and the feelings behind them as coming from a whole, complete person with a life of experiences. I don’t want to react as if I’ve simply been blasted with a fusillade of threatening beliefs.

In return, when I speak of my life as a father, as one of a committed pair of Dads, as a recipient of egg donation and surrogacy, I expect to be treated without slurs on my character, either directly or through linked articles which deliver the message of demonization from outside the blog.

I won’t continue a discussion where mutual respect is absent, because I do not fight that way. I leave pitched battle to cruder cultural warriors on both sides, ones who are willing and sometimes eager to hitch themselves a ride up on the rage escalator.

As Barry noted, any choice about acceptable behavior on a blog serves to keep out people who we might otherwise want to read. Promoting civility will reduce clicks on the site, as there is probably a competitive advantage to providing a forum for flame wars to people sitting far away from them.

I hope there’s a middle ground here —  staying New York real, along with a little Memphis why-don’t-you-sit-down-for-a-bit-and-tell-me-about-it, too.


30 Responses to “A Tennessee Yankee”

  1. Karen says:

    Ralph,
    Your children and husband are obviously very blessed to be a part of each others lives. Absolutely no one could or should give any of you any reason to feel otherwise. That be extremely uncivil and cruel and just plain wrong. Linking to a outside articles that could be construed that way without endorsing it however I don’t think is uncivil or cruel or wrong. This is a forum to discuss and debate the different POV’s that are out there no matter how wrong, uncivil and cruel we think they are. The links I’ve posted in the past address the importance of mothers/fathers in one form or another…the rest of the content of other peoples POV is just that, the rest of the content. I’m more on your side than you probably realize but then again, I am very much on the side of procreation/responsibility/mothers/fathers as well.

    I also don’t feel comfortable being ‘NY real’ because I wasn’t raised in a social environment to speak in a way that would ever *offend* but living now in NY now (like you), trying to be ‘NY real’ in order to give a voice to the disenfranchised, I have to go against my upbringing/nature and do exactly that. I’d rather just shut up honestly, it would be much easier but some of this really really really needs to be said. And so very few of us are willing to say it (as Alana is). It’s a catch 22 as I’m sure you can relate to at some level.

  2. David Lapp says:

    I want to expect fellow bloggers and commenters to listen to what I say rather than put me in a group and speak impersonally to that group. That expectation is only realistic if I demonstrate that I will do the same.

    Hear, hear. I want to do the same.

  3. Ralph Lewis says:

    Thanks, Karen and Alana……Karen, regarding links, I don’t think a link completely absolves the link-er of responsibility for delivering its content. Obviously, there’s no black/white here, but I think there’s a limit to what’s okay to link to. (Obviously, we could come up with absurd examples on that score.) How different is that limit from what we decide is “civil discourse” here on FS? I don’t know, but I do think it’s worth considering.

  4. Karen says:

    Well, you COULD link to a site that agrees that identity disclosure at 18 is the only “right” way to go about “donor conception”. Or that mothers and fathers are relative and arbitrary or you might think that that age or “identity disclose” must be legally enforced at the “legal” age of adulthood…(or you might be on the fence about it) but because you might link to a site that states these opinions, would not automatically make me think that you are being uncivil by linking to it. It’s all worth considering because WELL that is the reality of what we are up against. I’d like to think you are a sensitive caring father of ‘donor’ conceived persons, who thinks your children’s mother(s?) matter.

  5. Ralph Lewis says:

    I wasn’t speaking of links whose issue was the particular POV they espoused, but the vitriol with which they expressed them. It’s hard for me to think of a POV on 3PR that, in itself, is somehow uncivil to express. It’s very easy for me to think of ways that a POV (in either of our courts) can be expressed cruelly/maliciously. And that’s what I was directing this all at.

  6. admin says:

    Ted,

    That last comment was uncivil and has been taken down. You’ve made several comments about your concerns of disparate levels of scrutiny by the moderators. I would ask that you cut us some slack as we wade through the many comments that came in over night. We are people too, with lives and families that distract us from constantly monitering this blog, and if comments (or entire threads) are in violation of our policy we will try to get to them as promptly as possible. In the meanwhile we ask that everyone else model civility in spite of how we perceive others to be writing. Thank you for your cooperation.

  7. Karen says:

    I’m not getting what you are saying I’m afraid Ralph. Here’s an example of a post/comment that would *offend* me but I would NEVER assume that a person who might post highly offensive link, this was being *uncivil*. I’d actually really want this posted/commented on (and I would NOT attack the person who posted it – but I would attack the content of the link) because it addresses important issues related to *all of this*. I can’t wish this away, it’s a reality of the debate that I absolutely HATE. But it NEEDS to be addressed.

    “The need for seed: The law depriving sperm donors of their right to anonymity is a daft one”

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/issues/1-september-2012/the-need-for-seed-the-law-depriving-sperm-donors-of-their-right-to-anonymity-is-a-daft-one

    “They felt ‘incomplete’, they said to the applause of therapists of varying hues,. Slews of them confided in panting press; the pain of me-me-me, not knowing who I-I-I really am. Every ill that had ever befallen them was ascribed to their ‘need’ to know who sired them – and as surely as dawn becomes day, that ‘need’ became a ‘right’.

    Personally, I’d have slapped the lot of them for their ingratitude. No thanks for the doctors who had made their very existence possible? No thought for their mothers, so keen for that existence that they willingly carried a stranger’s child? No sympathy for their father, cuckolded by a syringe but big enough to love them regardless?”

  8. Matthew Kaal says:

    Ralph and Karen,

    On links, I think it is important that bloggers be able to post links to other stories – its how we join the broader conversations happening in our society…but I think the link poster has a responsibility to voice a disclaimer about a link if there is reason to think it might be found offensive to some of our readers here.

    I can imagine something along the lines of “While I don’t agree with person A about a, b, and c – I thought his/her comment on d was worth considering and that is why I am linking to it.”

    This shows that you understand and are sensitive to other’s feelings on our blog, while also being able to resource information from different corners of the internet. Is that a fair compromise position for us link-happy bloggers?

  9. Karen says:

    Matthew, I’m not evolved enough yet to be able express a firm opinion on any of this. I’m learning and taking it all in as I go. That’s why I’m participating. I apologize that I cannot meet these expectations (have a firm stance one way or the other) but I do think to a degree it is unreasonable to expect it. That’s why we are all here I hope to learn and share not to take a firm unwavering stance. There is no room to grow that way. I never mean offense by it.

  10. diane m says:

    Excellent blog on the trap of demonizing. I read this as being not about links really.

    It seems to me the issue is the difference between saying “I’m concerned about exploitation of surrogates and here is an example of the problem,” and “gay men do this and are predators.” Or even “I am against surrogacy and I am afraid that allowing gay marriage will increase it” versus seeing gay men as the enemy.

    Aside from the civility policy, lumping people together is unfair and inaccurate and it keeps people from hearing your points.

  11. Matthew Kaal says:

    Karen,

    I know you don’t, you’re passionate. I also don’t think that we need to have hard and fast rules on things like linking – I do think that we all need to personally dedicate to making an effort to engage others with sensitivity and to consider how our words and actions are perceived, and that can apply to something as simple as posting a link. (Btw, your preface to the link in your latest comment did this well I thought).

    Because FS.org readers disagree on many different issues, we are never going to please everyone (that is not the goal) – but we can have challenging conversations which help us learn and grow and engage each other as real people, not faceless entities on the internet. That was the point I was trying to get at.

  12. Ralph Lewis says:

    Matthew,

    I think giving the reader a heads-up when a link may be unexpectedly different from the post in its severity or harshness is a great idea. As a reader, that gives me a choice, and I’m not likely to unexpectedly run into a buzzsaw (i.e., gays as potential pedophiles or the like). It opens up the world, and is still polite (a combo I appreciate).

  13. Ted says:

    Dear Admin: perhaps I expect too much from moderators enforcing a civility standard, but I would think that the absolute easiest way to model civility is through the choice of bloggers or at least instructions to bloggers.

    In our discussion earlier, the emphasis was entirely on the commenters. Perhaps the assumption was that the bloggers themselves would naturally be civil and conform to the site’s civility policy.

    However, it is patently clear that that is not the case.

    I would think at the very least that your bloggers should be informed that it is uncivil to say that Jews, Christians, gays, straights, Blacks, Argentinians, or whoever are just like predators or johns or murderers or Nazis or whatever.

    I suggest that someone do a search of the blogs posted by Alana S. and see how many times she has made patently uncivil, indeed deeply insulting comments. Do her posts represent the standard of civility that your civil discourse project wants to promote?

  14. Karen says:

    Matthew my dear, I’m trying. Hard. Really I am. I also try to get my personality across in these exchanges and as a result I don’t come across as robotic or phony (lock jawed) ‘quasi-Intelligentsia’. Believe me when I say I KNOW many of the ‘real’ kind – cool to hang out with but cool not to be one at the same time. Glad you liked my preface to the link in my latest comment :) :) Hope the point wasn’t lost.

  15. Myca says:

    I suggest that someone do a search of the blogs posted by Alana S. and see how many times she has made patently uncivil, indeed deeply insulting comments. Do her posts represent the standard of civility that your civil discourse project wants to promote?

    Yes. This. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not a winning strategy in either parenting or blog moderation. Ted is not the only person who has noticed this. I am not the only person who has noticed this. If it’s acceptable to conflate LGBT folks with sexual predators, then civility has no meaning.

    —Myca

  16. Karen says:

    “As a reader, that gives me a choice, and I’m not likely to unexpectedly run into a buzzsaw”

    I wish I could wish many parts of this ‘debate’ away as well, but shielding me (any of us) from the realities of the ‘debate’ makes my say (the defense) weaker. In other words, think of these challenge’s as empowering in your ability to deflect in respect, love and honor, that’s the way I look at it regarding challenges related to “donor”/”surrogacy” related issues.

    Truth and love will always win every time. Challenge me.

  17. Jeffrey says:

    This underscores something that I mentioned in another post about moderating. The administrator did, in fact, chide Alana for a comment she made and s/he deleted the comment. But because Alana has blogging power, she was able to delete the administrator’s comments and post her own apology. While it’s admirable to apologize, it undermines the administrator’s role because it prevents other community members to know that s/he is moderating even bloggers.

  18. Matthew Kaal says:

    Ted,

    If I’m not mistaken, you are a newcomer to the blog (welcome!). Just so you are aware, Bloggers on this site have the ability to post directly to the blog without having to clear content with an editor or moderator beforehand. As such – each blogger is responsible for modeling civility and raising the standards of the blog.

    We are a diverse group of people, we are all human, Alana included, and sometimes we get passionate and use language that is over-the-top, and at time insensitive to the point of being uncivil. When that happens we are normally called out by commenters and fellow bloggers (as happened in this instance), and if necessary the blog editors take action to curb incivility. This doesn’t always happen instantaneously, we are spread out across the country afterall and if a post like this goes up at night, it may not be seen for a while…but I want you to hear that I, as a blogger on this site, hear your concerns and will do my part to see that they are addressed because you are making a fair point.

    And to reiterate, the conversations we are trying to have about civility absolutely need to begin with the bloggers.

  19. Karen says:

    I have to defend Alana’s attempt to engage and reject that her voice and POV should be shamed and silenced (because *some* find it offensive). I think THAT in fact is shameful on it’s own accord…Family Scholars blog is bigger than this isn’t it? She brings up a VERY legitimate point, given it’s not true for all, so engage and challenge don’t silence – refuse to engage (via PC politics – god forbid it offends – and god knows We have ALL been offended – me included)…move beyond it and just engage people! Silencing does nothing but that. LOVE!

  20. Jeffrey says:

    Oy. Enough with describing things as PC, which is actually a tactic to silence people and not engage. Alana is using shame and hyperbole to make a point by calling gay men and infertile women rapists. Fine, Elizabeth is right that this is is just social commentary. But Alana opens herself up to criticism in both her rhetoric and tactics. I appreciate the desire to mother hen here, but she’s a grown woman who knows what she’s doing. Stop trying to silence critics by tossing around tired arguments about being PC

  21. Alana S. says:

    Pregnancy and egg retrieval are life threatening. Women’s health is at stake every time her eggs and womb are accessed for sex or procreation. Anyone who attempts to access a woman’s body for sex or procreation through use of force or monetary incentive in such a blatant utilitarian fashion, is in fact acting as a predator and threatening her well-being.

    Because sex historically was the only way to exploit a woman for procreative purposes, it has historically only been men that acted in predatory fashions towards women.
    But now thanks to IVF, infertile women and gay men are now acting in predatory ways as well.

    No one is a predator because they are a man or because they are infertile or because they are gay.
    They become predators when they seek to exploit women for their eggs and womb using coercive tactics in a utilitarian fashion.

  22. Ralph Lewis says:

    Anyone who attempts to access a woman’s body for sex or procreation through use of force or monetary incentive in such a blatant utilitarian fashion, is in fact acting as a predator and threatening her well-being.

    I appreciate the inclusion of *force* in your sentence. Besides being predators, we’re like r a p i s t s too. What is next?

    Pregnancy and egg donation carry risk. Who are you to say that women shouldn’t be allowed to assume that risk of their own free will, whether it be within the confines of marriage or not, whether it be for a fee or not? Who are you to dictate to every potential egg donor or surrogate that they are already a victim? Because you proclaim it to be predatory?

    I only personally know two surrogates. They are independent married women with kids who were proud of their choice to bear our children. They would laugh in your face at your assertion.

  23. Ralph Lewis says:

    To Maggie’s point —

    Do people who seek to buy eggs seek the good of the egg donor?

    I don’t think so.

    I think that’s a wild accusation. What makes you believe that? What kind of person do you think I am, think all of us recipient parents are?

  24. Neil says:

    Most people are asking for a civility policy that applies to both bloggers and commenters and that is applied fairly. I don’t think this is a question of political correctness. The objection to Alana’s post is not that is is not pc, but that she is allowed to post incendiary statements and analogies, but that incendiary comments are deleted. Karen and Alana seem to want some kind of exemption for Alana from the civility standard that is enforced against other people.

    As far as the statements about how vulnerable and exploited surrogates are, surely Ralph knows better than anyone else who has posted here.

  25. Neil says:

    I think Ralph would know far more about the “vulnerability” of donors and surrogates than anyone else. It stands to reason that one would want donors to be intelligent, educated, healthy, etc.–not the kind of person who could be easily exploited. The same would apply to surrogates.

    No one is attacking Alana because her posts are incendiary. Or at least only because of that. The problem is that she gets some kind of privilege to say outlandish things, but if a commenter uses the same kind of language or draws the same kind of analogies, their comments are deleted. A civility policy needs to be enforced with an even hand, and should apply to bloggers as well as commenters.

  26. StraightGrandmother says:

    I will add my voice to the dump on Alana voices. What particularly offends me is when David Blankenhorn will drop in on her topics and pat her on the head, of course Elizabeth Marquardt is a regular Alana S promoter. Her articles and comments are flagrantly uncivil. Just so everyone is aware Public Discourse is a Witherspoon Institute vehicle and the Witherspoon Institute funded Alana $10,000 in 2010, so no conflict of interest there (nor disclosure I noticed).

    I was floored when reading Alana’s comments one day how she longed to get to know the child that was produced with her egg, and the child would now be only 3 years old. I can think of no better example for anonymous sperm or egg donation than to read Alan’s desire to insert herself into that family.

    An egg is not a mother. A sperm is not a father. Alana S and all the other donors did not conceive a child. The actual act of conception was done by the two parents, whether gay or straight. What the anti Fertility Assistance crowd focuses on is the egg and the sperm. They do not talk about conception and who exactly conceived the child. It is the child’s parents who completed the “act of conception” and they did so with the help of a physician by joining the egg and the sperm together.

    I do not think it is exploitation AT ALL to hire a surrogate or to pay for eggs or sperm. Are we exploiting people who sell their blood? Some people donate blood with no remuneration, they do it through community blood drives, some people, primarily poor people regularly sell their blood because they need the money.

    It is a free country and it is not exploitation to pay a woman to carry your child. The woman may do it primarily for ultrisic motives (community blood drive) or she may be poor and want to do it for the money. I have no problem with either scenario as long as there is informed consent. These women are not being forced against their will, they are agreeing to it. The same thing for egg and sperm donation.

    I also find it insulting to refer to the parents as their “social mother” or “social father” that is demeaning to those parents. I would never think of the egg donor as the “mother” she is an egg donor, and is nothing more than that. Remember who conceived the child, it was the true parents, the ones who joined the egg and the sperm together in the act of conception.

  27. Karen says:

    Ralph,
    I thought “straightgrandmother’s” comment,”An egg is not a mother. A sperm is not a father.” was a perfect example of a comment I find personally offensive, that I wish I could wish away but the reality is that is part of endless debate. I’m not going to challenge “straightgrandmother” on this here in your blog post though. Many many comments have already been written challenging this mindset. No matter how many more times it will be, debunked as far as I see it, it still comes back. Oy!

  28. JeffreyRO5 says:

    I find it uncivil to point a person’s screen name in quotation marks, if the intent is to diminish that person or her viewpoint, by questioning whether the screen name is authentically factual.

  29. "Karen" says:

    “JeffreyR05″ are you referring to my reply to “straightgrandmother’s” post?

    “Karen”