What you can expect from a rational ranter

With a new blog comes a new set of standards for accuracy, corrections and how the community will operate. Here's Mitch Ratcliffe's rules of the road for Rational rants, a blog about technology, the business of technology and their relationship to people and society at large.

I've never started a new publication, column or blog without setting down some rules for myself about how to deal with errors, omissions and reader feedback that corrects an existing text. Here's what you can expect of me in the coming months and, with fingers crossed hopefully, years:

  • This blog holds my opinions on issues technical and social; I'll offer proof of what I believe are conclusive statements about those issues.
  • I welcome criticism and will reply to reasonable arguments.
  • I'll admit when I am wrong.
  • I'll try to live by this standard: Agreeing with me doesn't make you right and disagreeing with me doesn't necesssarily make you wrong.
  • I'll change the original text when necessary, indicating changes with parenthetical notes and attributions to those who correct mistakes. In a very real sense I invite you to be my editors and co-authors—through debate and discussion.
  • I'll disclose my conflicts (I freely admit I have a lot of them) in postings and on a regular basis on my disclosure page
  • Abusive comments get what they dish out. I reserve the right to mock as well as reason with folks who argue via ad hominem rather than making constructive and reasoned comments.

This last item, about the right to mock abusive commenters, is important to understanding that, in addition to informing, this blog is also a form of entertainment—for you and for me. A good blog can be many different things and I happen to think it is a virtue to be controversial and amusing while discussing matters that really are very serious. If life is a party, it shouldn't be glum or serious, because that's a party no one will want to return to. Yet, I really do want to get to some serious truths.

Yes, I used the word "truth." John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, wrote: "Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth." The way to reach some semblance of truth is to test ideas in the crucible of critical discussion, to talk constructively, even when being extremely critical of some idea, so that we don't dismiss one another's ideas but actually consider them. Abusive commenters and critics, for example, generally are trying to wipe out opposing ideas rather than engage them. Mill went on: "...even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises. Even progress, which ought to superadd, for the most part only substitutes, one partial and incomplete truth for another: improvement consisting chiefly in this, that the new fragment of truth is more wanted [emphasis added], more adapted to the needs of the time, than that which it displaces."

That bit about "more wanted" is important. Much if not most technology debate consists in attempts to substitute one view with another. This is because almost all technology debate is a form of marketing, where one product, service or standard is competing with another. Just because one idea is currently more attractive to a large and vocal majority doesn't make it better or right.

When we're talking about life and technology, we should recognize that most of the world, including our technology, is a grey area when it comes to "truth." Technologies fit together in a lot of different ways to make lots of different realities, few of those combinations are the absolute best and most truthful for all the people all the time.

The Internet Protocol is an example of an almost, if not completely, universal best  and most complete implementation for all, everywhere. It may be the only contemporary example of such an implementation, since even our text encoding standards still differ all over the world. The permutations of HTML,  XML and, even, blog APIs, illustrate how "truthiness" (thank you, Colbert Report) contends constantly for our endorsement of one way over others, but truthiness is just an approximation of how serviceable realities satisfy our need for connections and information.

Rational rants is a forum for everyone participating in the long debate about what our society stands for,  what it values and how it will help improve the world. Welcome. Join in and tell your friends. Add it to your blogroll now and help build the community. I'll give it my all, that's my promise to you.


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