Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* A Plea for Understanding--Beyond False Dilemmas on the Net, by Charles Ess

The Prospect for a Middle Ground

Free speech is a fundamental value in a democratic society, as theorists from Locke through Habermas make clear. The negative impacts of some forms of speech--from adversarial style through snuff pornography and pedophilia--are equally real, and cannot be ignored. In the face of the conflict between free speech and a censorship intended to prevent the harms of some free speech: is there a middle ground?

I propose there is--namely, a middle ground of speech that is self-regulated, precisely as a means towards the shared and self-chosen goal of equality and democratic community. That is:

If we take seriously the claims that CMC is justified because

  • it democratizes communication, and
  • it may facilitate the emergence of gender equality;

And if we accept

  • Habermas's understanding of democracy as pluralist/communitarian--a democracy which emerges from the praxis of the rules of reason in particular and communicative reason in general;
  • Habermas's requirements for
    • consensus as emerging from discourse in which all who are affected are free to speak, and
    • solidarity as empathic perspective-taking with the Other, so as to acknowledge the impacts of communications on the Other;

And if we acknowledge
  • a largely male agonistic discourse style drives out a largely female positive politeness style (so Susan Herring), and
  • other largely male behaviors--from posting pornography through virtual/real rapes--likewise drive out many women (Carol Adams);

THEN (largely) males will seek to moderate their CMC discourse so as not to engage in those communicative behaviors which work to exclude (at least some number of) women from a (Habermasian/pluralist/communitarian) democratic discourse community.

What is this form of --moderate communication?

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