Re: [iucg] [governance] On "ad hominem" and "twisting words"

JFC Morfin <> Sat, 10 August 2013 16:43 UTC

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Subject: Re: [iucg] [governance] On "ad hominem" and "twisting words"
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Dear Founding Fathers,

I am afraid all this "twisting of the ad hominem words" is a self explanation of the IGC's decline, if there is such a decline (I feel there is a positive evolution: when people express themselves there can only be a democratic trend).

Sorry to be long, but the matter calls for it. I will put this on" rel="nofollow"> when it has been reviewed on the copied political, technical, architectural and architectonical CS lists.

My observation is that the debate is only becoming distant from reality ("the appearing passivity of my civil society colleagues. Our proactivity and capacity to resist seemed to have decline so much" as Daniel says - is that an "ad hominem" too?). This being both from the digisphere reality - the way one thinks in our numeric new world - and from its cyberspace reality, the way this world is to be/being physically built.

There is why, at some not too distant point, someone will have to explore and document the Communications Theory (how the philia works) as Shannon did for the information theory (how the data are exchanged). Dominants lost the information that the Internet was for us. We need to communicate the idea again.

This mail is a small contribution to the exploration of such a theory. It is only based on the 2.4 millenaries of experience in rhetoric, logic, and dialectic that we pour out in our e-mailing and "mail-combat sport". The need is to clarify, from IETF experience, some Latin terminology confusion resulting from the intrinsic fuzziness of the English language when compared with the clarity of the Greek, the rigor of the Latin, and the accuracy of the French languages.

What is our personal communications target?

Let us remember that our common, personal target when communicating is to inform, intercomprehend, and convince others. This usually means in our daily life to mutually express reasonable points through dialog. The target is truth or a correct decision. The method is dialectic.

On a mailing list, we are not engaged in a dialog (one side talking with the other) but rather in a multilogue, everyone to everyone process (the word “polylogue” technically applies to the parents-kids or non-peer to peer communication processes). The mode is no longer dialectic and the debate is no longer logic: we are in a polylectic mode and the debate becomes agoric, and hence political. This real-time multi-communication situation was, up to now, reserved to moderated debates of parliaments and chapters or to international diplomacy. It has become common to everyone and its rules have to scale (an attempt of “on-lining” the Robert’s Rules can be found at

The way an open debate works

This is a rhetoric arena where the target is no longer to be true but rather to be right in order to win more allies or democratic voters. In this arena, one is not "asked" for a response, one is  "opposed" arguments. (Unless you are like me, a voice preaching in Deserto or an unfortunate recruiter for practical help toward pragmatic actions J) .

To an argument you may either respond to the argument itself (“ad rem”) in discussing the "rem", or to the one who raised it (“ad hominem”) in order to defeat him/her on the ground of his/her own logic. The usual refutation by the opponent is "you are wrong" in the "ad rem” case and "you twisted my words" in the "ad hominem" case. With usual continuations, we know well to follow.

How not lose a lost debate?

When one knows that one has lost every other chance to win, the last trick is, according to “the Art of Being Right” of Schopenhauer, to switch from discussing ideas (the adversary’s arguments or logic) to the adversary’s personality (“ad personam”). In the "ad hominem" hypothesis, this is the equivalent to "bad faith" in the "ad rem" hypothesis. However, it may be made less visible and more insidious.

This is a good way to block a winning adversary, but this is also taking a “make-or-break” choice. The risk is that it may be identified for what it is: the response of someone who has no answer. Therefore, the target is to try to make the debate last long enough for Godwin’s law to apply to the adversary’s detriment.

A very usual proceeding against a person exposing what one would not like to discuss is to pretend that a fully technically justified “ad hominem” is actually an unacceptable “ad personam”. This is all the easier in English in that the confusion between the two phrases already belongs to the common language.

Correcting this societal communication bug

Let us get real: the trick above is an old long known one. It has been addressed by the political press in the parliamentary debates or international relations fields. Our problem today is just that this solution does not already scale. But that is comming! May be this is the reason why we claim in Deserto: dominants do not want to lose their word domainance.

I am becoming architectonical again: the fuzzy, agoric development (everything is fuzzy from words, meanings, measurements, utterances, concepts and notions, metaphors, analogies, sorites and chreodes, etc.) and application to semantic facilitation are a necessity for the Intersem (semantic internet) intercomprehension of our mutual visions of reality (feeding our mirror neurons)

How far away ?

NSA and Edward have just made a big effort toward the public awareness of this self-evidence.  We need our individual X-Keyscore to filter the world's daily spam (information being used to kill information, like in a brainwashing) and deliver clean metadata to our personal PRISM, so our intellition-apps may dig into our reality filtered show to discover the syllodata, the "links between the lines". Doug Engelbart brought us hyperlinks, we now need hypermeaning smartlinks digged by our own logics, not merchandized as semantic web constructs.

It will actually help us a lot when our mails will be “AI-nnotated” by our personal “Auxillary Intelligence” mail agent  with “AR” (ad rem), “AH” (ad hominem), or “AP” (ad personam) mentions and indications like the ones that you can already read, as I said, in the political press about parliamentary debates or international relations : “the author lobbies for this or that position, is actually influenced by the previous mail or decision of Mr./Ms. So-and-so, is an employee of this Group, a member of that Ministry or a Trustee of these NGOs, his/her national interests on the matter are … etc. plus a link to his/her [bio-meta-banking] BMB data”.

How far are we from this? I used "world spam" for the information clutter. Because we all use for years now bayesian probabilities to filter spam based on the text content. What we are discussing is filtering and annotating based on the meaning. X-Keyscore is just a prototype.

Daniel's dogs or JEDI's ?

At 17:10 10/08/2013, Daniel Pimienta wrote:
Imagine a long road heading to a big tower of dollars, not so far away in the perspective. Imagine a caravan named ICANN. Imagine a bunch of dogs marked IGF which are barking between them and around the caravan. Imagine the caravan does not care at all and keep passing towards the big money...
We can also use the image with US government in the caravan and PRISM at the end of the road.

This is metaphore is good and exact. However, I still prefer this "ad personam":

At 16:00 01/12/2009, Andrew Sullivan wrote:
Nobody is trying to make domain name labels into language (well, maybe Jefsey's disciples are, but leave that aside), but we have to be realistic and understand that

This "that" (the "Jefsey's disciples" in this odd sentence of the Chair of the DNS WG), proudly kept the name as "JEDIs" and eventually won the day for linguistic diversity, made subsidiarity an digital architectonic principle (RFC 5895 for IDNA2008) and got the IUCG@IETF mailing list created. No need to bark, just disregard those who do not care about us. Let not forget that they need us.

Nobody governs the internet, except those who want it.


At 16:24 10/08/2013, David Allen wrote:
There is a saying from the Christian Bible, in its Old Testament:
"Don't worry about the mote in my eye, until you have dealt with the timber in yours."

[direction of the original reversed and then rendered in current argot, but with some King James version vocabulary ...]
First of all:  I too am aghast at the relative decline / demise, of the IGC list.  What a waste, and a great shame.

I lend my voice, most pointedly, to see a turnaround.

To imagine that the problem is with one person (the mote), is to ignore massively the the timber also there.
Oh my goodness.

To be clear:  Just what is 'ad hominem'?  In my too-extended, if personal and individual, travels and travails with 'discussion spaces':  Ad hominem is entirely straightforward, not requiring detailed enumeration.

Ad hominem - the prohibition against it - can be put most simply:  _Never_ discuss the persons discussing; never inject those persons into the argumentation.  Always, and only, discuss ideas, their logic, and supporting or dissenting evidence.

Ad hominem is the introduction of talk _about the people talking_.  That is proscribed.  Period.  ... and your mileage may vary.

(Yes, sometimes it is necessary to talk about bad behavior.  Indeed, as we are doing here.  That is a 'reserved case.'  Then space is set aside specifically for the purpose.  Ideas are not the subject, rather the behavior being questioned is the subject.)

To imagine that the problem, of introducing discussion of those discussing, is the province of one person, of Parminder - to imagine that is utterly not supported by the record.  Found hereon, in the archives.  Massively, and most sadly.

Quite regularly, there is innuendo and outright slander.  Then.  Some / a few / one, find it necessary to respond to very many of the list posts - seemingly to virtually all the threads.  (Though probably that is an overstatement, borne of weariness, on seeing it ...)  The brew, of personal nastiness together with overflowing intervention on the airwaves, creates - predictably - a toxic discussion space.  Useful only to those spewing.  And damning the IGC name.  Not to mention the ability to get anything done.

A 'new day' is required, to see any prospect or future.  But '_all sides_' have to adopt that new day, with faithful adherence to the proscription against discussing the people discussing.  That is the only prospect for a resurrection.

To imagine that Parminder is somehow the root of this is risible.  (And disrespectful of the rest of us, who have eyes and can see.)

Only if all the folks responsible are noted and join a new day is there any prospect.  Even then, it would take some time for a new culture to be trusted.

To move from the proscribed, to the prescribed - to the positive, over the negative:  So, what is the main thrust of a quality, productive discussion space?  It is even-handedness, in a word.  A certain 'neutrality' with respect to judgment.  So that all sides, regardless of position, may be heard and taken account.

What is the point, in my text here?  Evenhandedness, in assessment of the facts, of the history.

Only if there is honest and complete description of the problem - and those who have been part of it - is there even the beginning of prospect for a better day.


On Aug 9, 2013, at 9:16 AM, Bertrand de La Chapelle wrote:


I have stopped posting on this list for a quite some time now for exactly the reasons that Avri has mentioned. And as one of the people who were at the origin of the creation of this very list and caucus to empower civil society, I am extremely saddened by the way it is currently evolving and indeed becoming irrelevant.

I nonetheless feel compelled to react to the most recent exchange. You wrote: "Ad hominem is when one says something like "you tend to twist people's words in order to score political points"".

I would like to differ. "You tend to twist people's words in order to score political points" is NOT an ad hominem attack (see Wikipedia) because it does not use your behavior to weaken a specific argument of yours. It is rather a judgement about your behavior, about whether you display (or not) the necessary fairness in representing somebody else's position.

To illustrate the point: An ad hominem attack, would be for instance: "This person is usually lying, hence, when they (really) say A, this must not be true". However, if someone says A and another person says: "this person said B and therefore this person is wrong and should be condemned", this IS twisting people's words.  In this case, you are basically saying: Anriette did not explicitly denounce something, therefore she supports it. This is putting words in somebody else's mouth. 

To be frank, I understand the tactic of discarding as an ad hominem attack a judgment about your behavior to avoid having to respond to it or ask yourself whether it is true. But it would be more credible if you did not yourself frequently attribute ulterior motives to other people's comments just because of their alleged political preferences, ties to certain types of actors (for instance business), geographical origin, lack of civil society purity, etc...

This behavior is harming the civility of discourse on this list and actually weakening its influence in the global debate.

I always respect your expressing positions, even when I disagree with them and engage in debates with you. But I resent your becoming one of the main sources of ad hominem attack on this list. There are moments when one must call a spade a spade. I wish the co-coordinators of this list had called your attitude to accountability earlier, for the sake of a sound debate.

This is below you. You have more to contribute. 

Respectfully still.


On Sun, Aug 4, 2013 at 8:37 AM, parminder <> wrote:
On Friday 02 August 2013 02:39 PM, Avri Doria wrote:
On 31 Jul 2013, at 09:33, parminder wrote:

ad hominem comment

(to misquote an old IETF adage - comments made wearing asbestos -
i tried to ignore this the first time hoping it would just go away and we could all get back to rational calm conversations)
an ad hominem attack would be an attack that: because someone is a bully, their views are illegitimate/irrelevant.
It does not include the content of calling a bully a bully.
I am not sure I have ever heard an ad hominem attack on this list.

Then you are not quite right in your understanding of what is ad hominem. Literally, attack against man, it occurs when, in a discussion, someone attacks a person's character or personal traits, instead of, and with a view to undermine, her/ his argument.  You are making a specious distinction above that  does not hold. In middle of a discussion, personal attacks are almost always made - certainly in conditions like of this list, where people otherwise have little or no offline relationship and thus no particular reason for animosity - with a view to undermine that person's argument.
On the other hand there is indeed some difference between just an allegation and an ad hominem attack.
 Saying something like , to stick to present case of Anriette's email to me, 'you are twisting my words' is an allegation. (Allegations themselves could become quite serious, like you are deceiving, lying, cheating etc, whereby they may be tending towards ad hominem.)
, Ad hominem is when one says something like "you tend to twist people's words in order to score political points". That is attacking someone in terms of ones character and personal traits, and as in this case, obviously to distract from the argument made - which in this case what that Anriette seemed to see nothing wrong or new with the Indonesian document, which I said was problematic to me for a CS rep on the MAG to say, which is just my view. Nothing personal here.

For example a comment one might hear: X is a terrible bully, but sometimes, if you can get past the bullying, X makes a lot of sense.
Another comment one might hear: I think I agree with what X is saying, but X is such a bully I am afraid that if I put my agreement in the wrong way I will get beat up for it.
One could also say, I agree with a lot of what CX says, but X is just so mean.
(I have versions of all of these about certain unnamed IGC participants)
Those you accuse of ad hominem attacks against you, are among the greatest defenders off-list of some of the positions you represent.
Many of us disagree with you but would never dare say so on the list for fear of starting a flame war.
Many of the rest of us just try to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

BTW, it is ad hominen whether the attack on one's character is made directly or rather more subtly. Your above statements themselves tends towards such an ad hominem attack, and you have very often said such things about me. And I claim you say it to undermine my arguments rather than anything else. However, I would give you an opportunity to disprove my claim. And I hope you will take this challenge. Please point out the precise language in the current exchange over the last few days that you find problematic in my emails, that is something other than a critique of someone's views, that I have a right to make, and rather of the nature of a personal attack. Please just give even one example. You may even go back further to earlier emails, becuase from the above it appears you are a very good record keeping and retrieval methods. Ok, I promise, I will not argue with the example/ instance you provide, I wont even respond, I  just want it to out for everyone to see,  rather that your be subject to your insinuations.

Someone/everyone, please stop the venom.
It has rendered the IGC nearly irrelevant.

I have a different theory of what has rendered IGC irrelevant, which I am ready to enter a discussion about.

When the IGC is discussed, pretty much the main content is the outrageousness of a few individuals.

Certainly, I do often express strong feelings on some views - not people, never - that I feel strongly about. (And the fact is that there enough degree of difference in views on this list that at times one side and at other times the other  side will feel strongly about things.) But, never against any person as such, unlike what I am almost regularly subjected to. Again, I am open to be given an instance to prove my statement wrong. As for personal attacks on me, apart from Anriette's email, even your reference above of not responding to me with the fear of starting a flame war is such an attack, although a somewhat lighter one, given the normal standards.
(Another thing - yes, I have a structural critique of the role and positions of a good part of  civil society involved in IG space - often dominant in its expression - and its support for certain power structures, which I do often voice, which I understand may not go well with some people. But I always voice it in a collective structural manner and never directed at an individual, or even a set f them. This is the view I have - and I consider it very important in the current global circumstances -  and I cannot desist from offering when the occasion so demands.)

The words of a few serving to delegitimize the efforts of many.

Well, that, who are 'few' and who 'many' itself needs to examined.... That is always the million dollar democratic question!

please stop
Note to coordinators.  I would never quit IGC, but sometimes I beleive being kicked of the list would bring great relief.
I have heard others say similar things.
And now back to hunkering down hoping the storm will pass.

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"Le plus beau métier des hommes, c'est d'unir les hommes" Antoine de Saint Exupéry
("there is no greater mission for humans than uniting humans")
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