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These days, one has to be careful where one steps at Daily Kos. There are steaming piles all over the place. Many Kossacks are regularly engaged in creating this excrement, albeit not maliciously. And for those who would like to avoid such odiousness, trying to tiptoe through the turds is becoming more and more difficult.

Yes, this is another meta diary. It's about keeping one's metatarsals out of the shitpiles at DK.

More below the squiggly thing.

Most all Kossacks know by now about Fishgrease's GBCW diary. There was almost universal dismay at the news. I shared that unhappiness. Fishgrease has been (I refuse to use the past tense) a remarkable voice at Daily Kos. He has been a favorite here since the BP disaster when he took the Great Orange Satan by storm with his "fucking booming" diaries.

But during the spill, Fishgrease was more than an expert on booming. At all times he was reality-based, adding insight and information as he learned more about the crisis. He wasn't afraid to admit when he was in error. He pointed us to good information. And he did it with fucking style--rollicking, rough-and-tumble, damn-the-torpedoes style. And he made it charming and endearing because it was genuine. Stylistically, Fishgrease is not into subtle and we loved him for it. He never sought the limelight, but he never flinched when it shown on him, either. Fishgrease is Fishgrease, and as far as he is concerned, you can fucking take him or leave him.

After the BP crisis, Fishgrease went back to being an ordinary Kossack. He was now, however, a recognizable and admired regular Kossack. He had a reputation that instantly made most all of us sympathetic towards him.

Well, this week, he stepped in one of those steaming piles. In a diary by a relatively new and little-known Kossack named mikeb302000, he stepped right into the Second Amendment cow patty. Before anyone gets up in arms (pun intended), let me say that he might just as easily have stepped in an I/P pile, an Obama apologists/bashers pile, a nuclear/no nukes pile, a purists/pragmatists pile, or a theist/atheist pile.

I am not here to start another steaming pile, but here's how I saw what happened:

Looking at his brief history, mikeb302000 is really focused on gun control. I haven't read all his diaries, but the titles indicate that this is his issue. He is obviously committed to his cause.

We also have a group here known as RKBA (Right to Keep and Bear Arms), which strongly advocates that the Second Amendment is just as sacred as the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. Many highly-respected Kossacks belong to the group. They, too, are committed to their cause.

Now I am not a particularly Cranky User when it comes to the new DK4. Sure it's still got some technical glitches, and the orange crew is working on those. But the format has improved IMHO. I love the Community Spotlight, which expanded and enhanced the old Dairy Rescue list, always one of my favorite parts of Daily Kos. And I appreciate the "stream" feature. It's like having my own rec list based on my personal tastes in issues, diarists, and interests. I also like the groups. I belong to several myself, but I am very active in only one (Top Comments) and somewhat active in another (Readers and Book Lovers).

Groups are a great way to connect to others with similar interests. Groups exist for ethnic concerns, political issues, hobbies, professions, and other pastimes. What a great way to connect! But groups have their downsides. "Friendships" develop. Cliques emerge. Echo chambers form. And, inevitably, an "I've got your back" mentality is articulated, especially on political issues. It is natural that people with similar priorities gravitate to diaries that are about those concerns. This process does not always involve groups, but many times it does.

So when several people of similar mindset arrive in a diary, an innocent bystander, like Fishgrease, may make a comment and find himself assailed with rebuttals, all passionately expressing an almost identical view. The effect on the bystander is not unlike being surrounded by a pack of wolves.

The "wolves," on the other hand, are not, in fact, wolves at all. They are Kossacks like you and me, and this is an issue they care about. For many, it's their most important issue. They come to DK because they can express themselves, find support, and look to change minds. So, naturally, they respond to comments in diaries about that issue. But because they have been there before and are familiar with their fellow commenters (both allies and opponents), they hear "dog whistles" an occasional commenter doesn't hear. So an innocent Kossack writes a comment about a subject that he is only passingly familiar with and interested in, and it sets off sirens among the "insiders." Because these very focused groups bring the baggage of previous fights with them, they are sensitive to certain arguments and respond, often vociferously and in groups, to the comment. I think this happens naturally, without malice. I do not hold much stock in the conspiracy theorists who think these shared-issue folks are messaging, tweeting, and Facebooking one another to come pile on some poor schmuck in a minor diary.

The unfortunate Kossack who is set upon, however, simply feels attacked. When one perceives that one is being attacked, one can choose fight or flight. With a guy like Fishgrease, it's roll-up-your-sleeves time. (A different Kossack might simply disengage and move on.) So the set-upon Kossack lashes out. Next thing you know, given the nature of the internet, things escalate:

Image from Penny Arcade

Soon, HR's are flying, "troll" is being tossed about, and the result, to me, resembles not so much a pie fight as a shit fit. Feelings are hurt, often permanently, escalating the chances for additional conflicts down the road. Next thing you know, deep divisions develop where everyone is shouting, no one is listening, and casual passers-by are being maimed.

I don't blame the RKBAers for what happened to Fishgrease. I don't think they ever intended to "attack" him. In fact, if you read the threads, it was Fishgrease, in his own inimitable style, who escalated the rhetoric. But it wasn't all Fishgrease's fault, either. He didn't understand the animosity some RKBAers already felt for mikeb302000, a familiar, albeit recent, opponent. A comment supportive of this diarist would draw fire, and it did. I do not think it was uncivil fire nor do I think anyone intended to gang up on anyone. But it felt that way to Fishgrease. Fishgrease being Fishgrease, he drew a line in the sand:

Keep harassing me and I promise either you will leave Daily Kos, or I will.

Leave me alone.

I mean it.

But it was already too late. And, again, Fishgrease being Fishgrease, i.e., a person of integrity, he left. No one has asked for my opinion, especially not Fishgrease, but I would hope that after calming down and reflecting, that he would realize that his comment was made in the heat of the moment. No one here would think less of Fishgrease if he said, as he did in his GBCW diary, that he lost his temper, and then went on to say, I am returning to DK, wiser for the experience. I think it was Emerson who said,

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

You don't have to be consistent with that promise, Fishgrease. Really. We understand.

And because of Fishgrease's popularity, the RKBAers got bashed pretty heavily, and mostly unfairly, in the GBCW diary. This is also natural. Passers-by know and love Fishgrease, and being mostly liberals, they are inclined to view gun rights with skepticism if not hostility. Few took the time to read it all and understand what really happened.

So all of this being said, my point is this. When entrenched groups form, dialogue ceases and shit piles up. If you're in one of those groups and you are engaging a familiar enemy, go ahead and have a shit fit. You can HR each other to your heart's content, drip sarcasm, and call names. I don't think it helps your cause, but go ahead if it makes you feel better. However, please remember there are people who are metaphorically passing by. They're not as invested as you are. They're just commenting in a diary. Try to treat them a little more gently. If you see that one of your allies has already given an adequate response, don't pile on. If your ally is engaged in a fight with the passerby, stay out of it, except perhaps to ask your friend to stay cool.

Step back for a second or two before you hit "post comment." Ask yourself if your comment is helpful to your cause, your reputation, and your Daily Kos. Consider things from the other person's viewpoint, not necessarily in terms of the issue, but in terms of the commenter's experience and passion in this area. Welcome the person's interest warmly. Disagree politely. Try to find common ground, even if what this person says is infuriatingly naive from your perspective. You may win a convert. If you attack, you engender fight or flight.

And if you're passing by, be aware and try to recognize when you have stepped in a pile. If you feel like you are being attacked by a pack, that's probably what has happened. Decide how you want to handle it. I would advise that you refrain from doing what I did the other day--dropping a smart ass comment in a shit fit. Guess what? I got shit flung back at me. But I've been here long enough to know where continuing that thread would lead so I disengaged at that point.

Folks, the shitpiles will continue to multiply until we figure out what's creating them and change our behavior. I came to Daily Kos because it was a site devoted to electing more and better Democrats and I am, and always have been, a Democrat. Perhaps that has changed and DK today just "is what it is." But like many Kossacks, I came for the politics and stayed for the community. Now, goddamn it, I care about this place.

Casual commenters: Try to be aware of what's going on, especially when commenting on issues that you are not regularly engaged in. Remember, if you feel you are being ganged up on, you probably stepped in a shitpile. My advice? Disengage.

Group members (or anyone regularly engaged on a "side" in a divisive issue): Treat the uninitiated with a little more care. They probably don't feel as strongly as you do and they probably don't get the nuances that are obvious to you. Be willing to disengage if things begin to get heated.

There's a lot of talk about the need for site moderators. Maybe it's so. In the meantime, let's try to be aware of the shitpiles and avoid both creating them and stepping in them. Disagree with comments and diaries? Of course! Express your views? What the hell would Daily Kos be without that? But please, be civil and be considerate.

OK, now you can all tell me to STFU.

5:20 PM PT: Thanks to all who read and rec'd and to those who read and didn't rec too.

I was pleased that until late in the comment thread that no one tried to create a shitpile.

When one commenter did do that, I was also pleased that those being attacked showed such restraint. It gives me great hope. Thanks for not dropping an HR here, as tempting as it might be.

My final word is about MY pet interest at Daily Kos. That's Top Comments. We have the very colorful and very erudite bronte17 as the TC diarist tonight. Please stop by. and please submit great comments. We need your help! TC is up every night at 10pm ET. Everyone is welcome.

Originally posted to Dragonation™ on Thu Jun 30, 2011 at 11:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Meta Groupies.

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