Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0790. Sunday, 15 October 1995.
Date: Saturday, 14 Oct 95 11:28:58 UT
Subject: RE: Politeness vs. Political Correctness (Was "Spelling")
Hi everyone, again.
I'd like to second Michael Best's plea for informality in SHAKSPER's discussion
threads. When we originally conceived SHAKSPER, it was after attending my
first Shakespeare Association conference in Vancouver, at which I was intrigued
by several papers and panels, but energized and stimulated most by the informal
programme -- late-night discussions of textual theory over dinner with Steve
Urkowitz and others, chatter in the lobby about the session we'd just attended,
putting human faces to the many articles and books academic Shakespeareans must
constantly digest. In pitching the idea to the SAA Executive for their
endorsement, we emphasized that SHAKSPER could be a year-round continuation of
both formal and informal activities at the annual SAA conference, with a
fileserver for formal papers and discussion threads for notes, queries, and
The academic world has more than enough traditional forums for juried
publication of thoroughly-researched work -- but the online community which has
grown up around SHAKSPER can offer so much MORE. In particular, I hope, a
renewed sense of international fellowship and scholarly cooperation (something
the traditional channels unfortunately do NOT foster).
Michael is quite right to defend approximate spellings, vague references,
contractions, colloquialisms and friendly jests -- without these, ordinary
conversation becomes stilted and tedious. But I would go a little further, to
suggest that the great enemy of our fragile virtual community is not so much
formality as intolerance. By all means spell-check if it means fewer
misunderstandings. If an ambiguous word becomes central to your argument, by
all means "[sic]" it. But remember that there's a world of difference between
clarification and pedantry -- particularly the sort of pedantry that seeks to
impugn another's intelligence or the worthiness of their argument because of a
mere typo. Let's tolerate a typo in cyberspace as we would a stutter in the
classroom -- by generously, politely affording the typist the benefit of doubt.
I have no desire to fan the flames which have engulfed several threads in
recent weeks by taking sides, but Michael's "culture checker" brings up an
important issue for any online discussion group -- political correctness. Now,
please understand me, I firmly believe that political correctness is in many
ways an evil which threatens to stifle academic freedom and to eliminate
virtually all humour from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, we must always
bear in mind that an internet discussion group such as SHAKSPER may incorporate
participants from every imaginable human culture, and that unlike our hallway
chatter at the SAA, every word we share here is in print and very, very public.
In SHAKSPER's early days, it was feasible for me to correspond privately with
writers of potentially inflammatory postings and quite literally "moderate" our
discussions BEFORE things were said. (It may appall you to know that I even
experimented briefly with correcting everyone's spelling to prevent unnecessary
embarassment.) I'm no longer so sure that such editorial intervention is
necessary or desirable -- we are all adults (I think) and can fight our own
fights, after all -- and certainly would not wish any further chores on our
already overworked editor, Hardy Cook.
I would, however, urge that we all police ourselves to some extent, and
tolerate others even more. Those who indulge in ad hominem invective and petty
nit-picking lose my respect far more than those who make erroneous arguments or
express offensive opinions -- but both threaten the spirit of trust and
camaraderie which lies at SHAKSPER's heart.
(un-spell-checked, forgive me)