Monday, October 31, 2005

Blogging and Lying: A Guilty Response

[UPDATE, 1 November 2005: Eric Russell has written a thoughtful review of the actual content of the Banner, as opposed to its real-world morality play aspects.]

Until now I haven’t engaged the thread Blogging and Lying at Times and Seasons, regarding the Banner of Heaven episode. Now that fearless leaders Steve and Brian (and fearless fellow-soldiers Naomi and David) have, I too shall venture forth—well, sort of, from the safe distance of my own blog. (With some trepidation: When I read Shannon’s comment about Brian and Steve's undergraduate romantic escapades, I laughed and shook my head, thinking, “These are the guys I followed willy-nilly into this fiasco?! I should have known!” Surely the first lesson to be learned here is, ‘Think twice, listen to the hair raising up on the back of your neck, when a couple of Benson scholars come to you with a proposition.’ Nevertheless once again I follow them into the breach.)

I am guilty of being involved in something that, in its deceptive execution, turned out to be mean and hurtful to many participants. I regret this. I am also sorry that Times and Seasons and the Archipelago page were used even tangentially, and regret causing the dismay of the unsuspecting proprietors of these sites at their consequent unintentional and faultless association with the affair. (The knowledgeable proprietors have presumably already been flogged by their own.) I don’t know that I’ll ever create any more online fiction, but if I do I will clearly label it as such. I ask for forgiveness from those hurt and offended.

In human terms it’s surely too soon for me, as a guilty participant, to try to draw—much less prescribe—larger lessons from this; but the Bloggernacle moves faster than natural human processing speeds, so I will anyway. I am going to name some names to give examples of where I would like to express appreciation for what they have done over the last few days; having a faulty human memory I will surely leave some out, for which I apologize in advance. I would be happy to update this post with other examples once I am reminded of them.

I am grateful to those such as Rosalynde Welch, Jonathan Green (also here), and John Welch—and even, in his brilliant geekiness, Nate Oman, the instigator of that sprawling brawl of a thread—who deployed their intellectual gifts in an effort to create some meaning out of it all. This impulse—an effort “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”—is the noble core of the best artistic/prophetic endeavors.

Since the motifs of participatory self-revelation and transgression/contrition/redemption have become fashionable in these analyses, I’ll throw my two cents in. Think back on Rosalynde’s guest post Smile at the Camera at the Banner just before the unraveling, which in hindsight was a prescient warning shot across the bow: beware, artists, what your compositions say about you; beware, viewers, what your (soon to be manifested) reactions say about you; be aware, one and all, of the deceptions of self and others you are engaging in your every action and reaction. (My comment to her post, under my real name, that “the creator(s) may not even know the meaning of what they’ve wrought,” is surely a candidate for Understatement of the Year.)

What have we learned about ourselves? I have discovered something unflattering about my appalling willingness to be thoughtless, inconsiderate, even mean in the service of fun and pride. Through their public comments in various places, I have learned something about the aggrieved direct participants—people like Kurt, Sue, annegb, Laura (and here), a random John, Eric, Jordan, Jeffrey (also here and here), and others—namely, after varying degrees of shock and hurt, great nobility of soul, manifested in a healing capacity for forgiveness, a steadying sense of proportion, and even the simple happiness of appreciative, bemused retrospective humor. Thank you for your goodness in the face of my lack of it.

And now, while Adam has a point, I shall now nevertheless fail to heed it. (Adam, feel free at this point to add a double meaning to “A Guilty Response” in the title of this post.) I am less sanguine about something else in human nature that has been manifest. Bryce commented that with regard to the transgression/contrition/redemption story, “some would say we’re particularly bad at it.” I think the examples above show that on an individual level, many directly affected are in fact quite good at an important part of this story—forgiveness. And those not so directly affected? Concern, on the part of non-participants, for the impact on direct participants is understandable—and, to a point, laudable. However, it also seems that, for some reason I don’t understand (surely there’s a profound evolutionary explanation in our small-group-hunter/gatherer roots ;-> ), our taste for the pound of flesh seems redoubled when the debt is not even owed us personally. Whatever the primal source of this tendency of the natural man, I wonder if the civilizing and restraining influence of our legal system has something to teach us here, with regard to the concept of having the ‘legal standing’ to demand and administer justice.

And that brings me to my fantasy finale to the Times and Seasons edition of the playing-out of this episode. A thread opened by Nate with insight derived from arcane points of law deserves to be transcended by, what else, another post by Nate with insight derived from arcane points of law. It would be a post I am not equipped to write, but I can suggest a title: Standing and Stone-throwing.


I'm trying hard not to comment directly on the events at BoH, but since my name is mentioned here, I'll simply point out that when I said "We Mormons hardly have a lock on the transgression/contrition/redemption story. In fact, some would say we’re particularly bad at it," I was not making reference to any of the participants in the current matter. The "some" was an imagined outsider looking at the Church and its relationship to disaffected or apostate members.

I think most of the bloggernacle (including myself) is ready to move on. Preferably with you, Steve, Brian G, Naomi, DKL, and Allison included. 

Comment by Bryce I | 10/31/2005 11:48:00 AM  

Thanks, Bryce. I didn't make it clear but I understood it in the sense you describe here. I appreciate very much not being excommunicated! 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 11:54:00 AM  

Technical note to anyone trying to comment: Because of comment spam, I have implemented the word verification requirement. After you submit your comment a new page will come up where you must scroll down and type in the word appearing in distorted form, and then hit the submit button. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 11:58:00 AM  

Don't be too contrite Christian. In hindsight the Aaron experiment was actually pretty exciting and I'm actually quite embarrassed that I ddin't figure out that Aaron was fake before the final hours. The guy was fairly well educated in quite a few areas of philsophy and yet I'm supposed to believe that he actually believed the stuff he posted? I guess this belief fed primarily on the idea that it's hard to believe that anybody would actually take the time to fake that sort of thing. This actually provides an interesting perspective on the "Joseph couldn't have written the BoM because nobody would really do that." Christian Cardell would.

Thanks for the good times. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 10/31/2005 01:02:00 PM  

Hey Christian, on some browsers a lot of your special characters don't come through right. Either you didn't set your encoding tag correctly in the HTML or something else. The best thing to do is to pass it though a extended character -> HTML filter.  

Comment by clark | 10/31/2005 01:27:00 PM  

Jeffrey,  glad you enjoyed it. (It may not be completely over, stay tuned!) If he turned out to be "educated in philosophy" then I failed. As I said in my explanation , while I did try to make "good" arguments I tried to base them all on scriptures or non-exotic LDS sources like the Ensign, Miracle of Forgiveness, Truman Madsen tapes, … I wanted him to have a good mind and knowledge of the scriptures but little "outside" education, and see how far he afield he could get while still constraining him to "legitimate" arguments based on these sources and his own creativity. For example in the unfinished philosophical argument about ex nihilo he based himself on a commenter for the term "ex nihilo" and the Ensign for the (mostly wrong) idea that it came from the Greeks. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 02:14:00 PM  

Clark,  thanks for the tip. I hadn't noticed that, because it looks fine to me (obviously). I'll look into using that--or, everyone can start using Firefox on a Mac with OS X. ;-> 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 02:18:00 PM  

It wasn't just his acquaintance of some philosophical ideas that seemed unusual. It was the form in which his arguments were occassionally presented. In the first few posts you did very "well" at portraying him as you intended, but toward the end, some philosphy started to shine through. I remember that at a certain point I actually said to myself "Aaron seems far more informed than I gave him credit for. How in the world can he possibly believe what he does!" I was actually very curious to know how such a seemingly educated person could actually foster such an anti-intellectual attitude.

Here are some examples:

"Am I denying repentence. Of course not, it is one of the first principles... But in fact President Kimball went further than I was willing to say here. I didn’t want to stir up controversy."

This sounds like somebody who is rather acustomed to having rather abstract arguments.

"Feminist theory, queer theory. Socialism and communism. Degrading arts and media. Atheist philosophy. All under the banner of secular humanism, instead of the banner of heaven. Under the banner of secular humanism the creature is worshipped more than the creator as the apostle Paul warned."

The casual way in which Aaron tossed these examples into his post made it seem that he actually knew what these things were, and the differences which exist between them. While one might be able to pick these names out of an ensign, I don't think that even Aaron would use them without at least understanding what they are, and this would require a rather liberal education.

"Anyone else I missed who claimed God actually needs worldly learning. What do you make of the point I made in my post."

It takes a certain amount of disipline to actually sift through the issue to pick and choose ones battles.

"You came up with some good quotes on lawyers. But they do not satisfy my initial challenge of words from Joseph and Brigham or the scriptures. Can you find anything outside of talks to the law school. For they sound a little bit like in youth conference when everyone is told they’re the special spirits reserved for the last days. They told this to my parents and they’ll be telling it to my children. So there is a tendency to ham it up a bit to motivate one’s audience that tends to be wayward."

This displays a certain degree of critical listening to various church authorities. This would be an acquired skill which somebody like Aaron wouldn't be so thrilled about applying to actual church leaders.

"Buddy yes I’d enjoy a good game of hoops. Enjoy taking you to the rack time after time that is."

This was another funny "Aaronism." Just some more of the Aaronic Priestcraft.

It should also be pointed out that Aaron was just far too witty. He always had a seemingly calm and somewhat sarcastic response to all objections. Thus he seemed to be a bit more educated, liberal and witty than he was letting on. With this in mind consider:

"Not a lot but I learned that Newton did away with Aristotle. And Einstein did away with Euclid. And also in American Heritage we learned that Plato’s Republic would destryo families. And is completely opposed to the democracy established by the Lord through the wise men the Lord raised up for that purpose."

This is where I really started to wonder. What sort of construction manager remembers what his professors taught him concerning Euclid, Aristotle and Plato? To remember things this well, he would have to be a superstar student. This again points to more education, liberality and wit.

Combine this with the fact that he seems to have every Ensign article which even borders on "intellectual" memorized and I really should have been more suspicious than I was.


Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 10/31/2005 03:30:00 PM  

Christian, I've not commented on the BoH hullabaloo publicly anywhere, but yours is perhaps the first good post I've read on it, so I will say something here. Thanks for an intelligent and thoughtful response to what happened. Yours and Bryce's point about the pound of flesh being redoubled when we are not the injured parties is an important one, and I fear one that most of us will ignore.  

Comment by Jim F | 10/31/2005 03:50:00 PM  

Jeffrey:  This is where I really started to wonder. What sort of construction manager remembers what his professors taught him concerning Euclid, Aristotle and Plato? To remember things this well, he would have to be a superstar student. This again points to more education, liberality and wit. 

Well, I'm technically a chocolate engineer now. What on earth is a guy who makes chocoalate in a vat doing remembering anything about Derrida and Heidegger? (grin

Comment by Clark | 10/31/2005 04:32:00 PM  

"Yours and Bryce's point about the pound of flesh being redoubled when we are not the injured parties is an important one, and I fear one that most of us will ignore."

Of course, this assumes that one knows who all of the injured parties are. There's still quite a bit of back story and hurt out there that isn't known to everyone and some injured parties that no one suspects, but at this point the majority opinion of the bloggernacle is that to note how damaging this whole affair was is to over-punish those involved. After all, it's been a full 72 hours . . . ancient history!

By the way, this has nothing to do specifically with your post, Christian, I'm just responding to Jim's sentiment.


Comment by Julie in Austin | 10/31/2005 05:02:00 PM  

Jeffrey,  thanks for those great examples. Aside from making your point well, I admit it's fun for me to read Aaron again.

I knew that with the Newton/Aristotle, Einstein/Euclid quote I was going to far. In my mind I justified it: he had taken physics because it was required to get into the College of Engineering, where the Construction Management major is; he would have had to take American Heritage at BYU, which conceivably could have mentioned Plato's Republic. But you're right, it was too much of a stretch, as were the others I was less aware of.

It's funny, even though I disagree with Aaron's positions (and was in fact satirizing them), it's almost scary how much I got into his character. I really wanted him to win the arguments! And this got the best of me, in terms of keeping him more real. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 05:46:00 PM  

But then again Clark  has a good point too. It's possible Aaron really was a really smart guy who just happened to have not a lot of advanced education (there was actually a reason related to the plot for this, that hadn't come out yet), and also very strong religious commitments. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 05:50:00 PM  

Jim F. , many thanks for stopping by. I was (and am) worried about not having a moral leg to stand on in writing this, so I appreciate your words.

Julie, you make a good point. This is why the injuries should not remain hidden. One of the biggest problems is that, absent feedback, we could not perceive over the six months this unfolded the damage that was building. Even at the end, in my confession/explanation post I specifically asked people to tell me how I injured them personally so I could better understand and learn what I had done. Unfortunately, seeing the real effects is sometimes the only way to learn what's right and wrong. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 10/31/2005 05:56:00 PM  

Ah, so you aren't going to join the apologetic posts at BOH ....


Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) | 10/31/2005 06:43:00 PM  


I agree we often seek retribution with greater vindictiveness for injuries that occurred to our kin than to ourselves. Perhaps this is a result of our years of psycho-evolution in small clans and tribes where the certainty of retribution formed the basis of brief, peaceful inter-clan relationships. Now that retribution is no longer a functional part of our legal structure (even executions are no longer public domain) this element of our psyche may not serve us as well it had.

Then again, maybe you’re not a fan of psycho-evolution

Comment by John Welch | 10/31/2005 10:21:00 PM  

John,  I am sympathetic to evolutionary psychology. In the post I mentioned it with a smile because I'm continually bringing up naturalistic (and often evolutionary) explanations for things, and I worry that across the bloggernacle as a whole and over time it comes across as a fixation or obsession of mine that's boring to hear over and over. I suppose it is.

I think the vengeance for injury to a kin/tribe member by an outsider may come into play, but I'm reminded now of something I've read about from time to time in Nature and Science: the tendency to punish freeloaders and those who violate cultural norms within  one's own community. I seem to recall one news story or article about an experiment in which administering punishment to unacquainted freeloaders was accompanied by activation of pleasure centers in the brain. This is obviously an adaptive capacity for a social species, but of course it can go awry (and particularly in modern civil society could be considered an evolutionary 'hangover.') It could be that absent the usual vices, some religious or strictly 'moral' people become almost addicted to this particular pleasure, developing reflexive habits of judgmentalism simply as a way to feel good enough to get through the day. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 10:37:00 AM  

John,  while I mentioned it in the post I also want to thank you personally for you insightful commentary at T&S on the Banner debacle. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 10:40:00 AM  

Julie, I do not  need to know who all of the injured parties were to agree that the most of the people demanding retribution are people who were not themselves injured.  

Comment by Jim F | 11/01/2005 01:52:00 PM  

Jim F., I'm open to this idea but you'll need to explain it to me because I don't understand it. If someone wants retribution, and you don't know if they are a injured party, then how can you know if most of the people seeking retribution are those who have been injured? 

Comment by Julie in Austin | 11/01/2005 09:43:00 PM  

Julie, thanks for responding  to my request that those who feel harmed tell me how my role in these events affected them. I'm troubled by the notion that you claim to speak for "the community," as you do in several of your points, but will address them anyway.

My response will be piecemeal, numbered in separate comments according to your scheme. Also, due to time constraints, I will respond directly to your post, without the benefit of reading the comments there. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:05:00 PM  

(1) For me, the degree of verification called for by an anecdote used in a lesson depends on at least two important variables: (a) the degree that its intended effect depends on whether or not the events actually occurred, and (b) how far out of everyday common human experience the event is. So-called "faith-promoting stories" are typically high on both counts, and therefore ought to be subject to rather strict standards of verification. I happen to think that on average church members do poorly in performing such verification before including such stories in a lesson. Hence if the Banner episode causes people to think more carefully before passing such anecdotes along, I would judge it a positive effect, not a negative one. (Sorry to disagree with you, but this is my honest opinion—and at this point I'm sure you want nothing but honesty from me.)

Having said that, I think that to work from the assumption of a uniform level of reliability is an extremely ineffective way to approach any allegedly "realistic" medium, whether television, newspapers, blogs, or what-have-you. Obviously this applies to what you take away from the medium, but the flip-side also applies to your concern that others will somehow think you unethical or untrustworthy simply because of your use of a particular medium: the atrocious judgment of anyone who would paint you with such a broad brush is either easily corrected, or not worthy of your concern.

As a final narrow point, it is not clear to me that the Banner is even relevant to this question, because I can't think of any "faith-promoting stories" of the kind under discussion that were offered there. (A claim that this doesn't matter would be inconsistent with the logic of the previous two paragraphs.)

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:12:00 PM  

(2) Perhaps your personal experience can prove me wrong, but my guess is that virtually all such celebrity interviews are landed on the strength of personal real-world contacts, and that the reputation of blogging as a medium (or even the Bloggernacle as a community) has essentially nothing to do with it. Even the Banner, through real-world contacts, was able to land 13 questions responders that I expect will still appear.

Moreover, to expect that celebrities will be dissuaded because of the concerns you describe is to think so low of them as to expect them to commit the obvious broad-brush error I described in connection with point (1). I'm not sure such would be of interest anyway. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:15:00 PM  

(3) This point is of particular interest to me, because it so happens that the fictitious blogger Aaron B. Cox devoted an entire post to the subject: God's Forgiveness, God's Trust.  While for me Aaron was mostly satire, I do believe he starts from a valid premise in this post, namely, that forgiveness (which is required of us) is not the same thing as trust (which we give according to our discretion).

Each individual in this wide world will consider my past interactions with them, including my interactions with them in connection with the Banner, and decide the degree to which they wish to trust me. Julie, if you feel my actions towards you make me unworthy of your trust, it's something I'll have to live with. I do hope that if you choose to make such judgments, you do so with confidence that you have detailed knowledge of my specific actions before, during, and after this episode. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:20:00 PM  

(4) Julie, my fictitious character Aaron B. Cox in no way imposed on his readers (much less other blogs such as yours) in the false, extraordinarily needy matter you describe. It's not clear to me that any other characters did either. Hence to place blame on the Banner for hypothetical future nightmare scenarios like those you describe is completely unjust. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:22:00 PM  

(5) Julie, it has always been the case, and will remain so, that new blogs get little interest until people have extensive experience with their writing, usually through commenting on others' blogs. I don't see how the Banner changes this. Recalling that standing is based on injury to you personally, let's remember that barriers to entry are not a problem for you. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:27:00 PM  

(6) I disagree with the notion that through the blogging process you describe, "healing has occured that never could in real life." In fact, I think posting publicly, through purely electronic means, about personal, sensitive matters and soliciting comments about them may often be inappropriate, and perhaps do more harm than good. As in point (1), if people are led to think twice about this, it may be a net positive. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:30:00 PM  

(7) I have no idea what CX is, but I think sending money to people you know only through the internet is generally a bad idea. Yet again, if the effect is to make people think twice about it, I think that would actually be a net positive. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/01/2005 11:32:00 PM  

Nice response, Christian. I think it's pretty obvious by this time that the sky isn't falling--in spite of some people's best efforts. Now that the dust has settled, it's been great to sit back and watch the pretenses drop. Ironically, one important effect on the community has been that we know a lot more about exactly who everybody is--this is most certainly a good thing. 

Comment by DKL | 11/02/2005 11:13:00 AM  



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