LDS-interest blogspace is divided into a bunch of different communities. The completely out-of-the-church end has its secular (atheist/agnostic) wing and its Christian wing, then there’s the Borderland/NOM crowd, then there’s the Feminists and the mommies (who are sometimes the same people, and sometimes not), then there’s the core of the Bloggernacle, and on the super-conservative end there’s “Nothing Wavering”.I’m very curious about the boundaries and boundary-maintenance amongst the various groups. To what degree are groups expressly trying to exclude voices they disagree with, and to what degree is it simply a question of people naturally preferring like-minded friends, without expressly shutting others out? To what degree is boundary maintenance helpful (i.e. “good fences make good neighbors”), and to what degree does boundary maintenance create unnecessary rifts with potential friends and allies?Your name has come up as someone who has argued that some sort of faithful-critical demarcation is necessary and unavoidable. I’d be interested in hearing more of your ideas on the subject. Or, if you don’t plan to attend Sunstone yourself, can you suggest any of your fellow bloggers on M* who might be willing to attend Sunstone?
Yes, this is an interesting subject and one I have a lot of strong opinions on. So your sources are correct about me. And I am very flattered that you are inviting me to participate in your panel.
However, I hope you can appreciate that I am not sure I’d be all that comfortable at a place like Sunstone. Especially given my contrarian views on boundary maintenance. For one thing, I’m afraid my views take the subject in an entirely different direction then you are trying to take it and would likely be disruptive to your intent.
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, let me explain my (often less then popular) views on this subject.
First of all, you think Nothing Wavering is the “super conservative end” of the Mormon blogs. This alone means you’ve bought into a certain view of how the communities are split up that I believe to be inaccurate. My feeling is that ‘conservative and liberal’ aren’t always meaningful ways to describe the communities as they currently exist. My views is that all of the communities are actually broken up by which of three rough groups that community has created a ‘safe zone’ for – believing, ‘questioning’ (sometimes non-believing, but that is considered a bad word), or ex/anti Mormons.
For example, you can easily find people that would rightly be called ‘conservative’ on what you called ‘the core bloggernacle.’ In fact there are quite a few highly conservative people on the ‘core bloggernacle.’ But the one trait I perceive they will always have in common is a willingness to make a “safe zone” for “questioning members.” And I believe the desire to make such a safe zone is often very well intended. But I think it also often comes at the expense of some believing members. (Though these communties may not be aware they are losing such people since they show up a few times and then disappear aftering finding hostility towards their more “conservative” views.)
I believe the reverse is true of Nothing Wavering. There are many ‘questioners’ that participate on the Nothing Wavering community, but they always share one thing in common — willingness (at least while on Nothing Wavering) to create a safe zone for all believing members. But both of these communities can be very hard on anti or post Mormons unless they [the antis] are willing to severely temper themselves and enforce the safe zone that is in place. Meanwhile, the anti/ex community has created a safe zone for anti/exs, etc.
In short, I don’t actually believe that the ‘conservative vs. liberal’ labels you are trying to attach are correct, per se. Yes, if you have a safe zone for “questioning members” you’ll tend to be somewhat less conservative. And, yes, if you decide your safe zone is believing members (as with Nothing Wavering) you’ll be somewhat more conservative. And, yes, to someone that is a post Mormon, Nothing Wavering will probably get (in my view falsely) labeled as “Super Ultra Conservative.” But the real common denominator to me is “who are we making this blog safe for.” Not what “where does this blog land on the conservative or liberal spectrum.” (I actually don’t believe that “liberal” and “conservative” are effective labels for a religious context. But to explain why would require making this email even longer than it already is.)
The means of creating the boundaries of all these communities seems to be entirely invisible to the members of those communities and most of them are (in my opinion anyhow) in open denial of how they are actively maintaining their boundaries. (I’d argue ‘except for Nothing Wavering’ where there is an increasing acceptance of visible boundaries over invisible ones. Though honestly I don’t think we’re there yet either and often use the very same invisible boundary techniques I’m about to describe.)
The use of moderation is light in most of these communities (also ‘except for Nothing Wavering, due to the choice to use visible boundaries) and the primary means of boundary control is actually good old fashioned threat of social rejection and what some of us call “bloggernacling” (short for bloggernacle dog piling. i.e. if you say something that is culturally unacceptable there, you’ll get scores of angry and often personal responses and possibly even threats of banning assisting you in knowing where the boundaries are for that community.)
There are also a set of cultural rules that have evolved to maintain the boundaries. For example, in a “questioning safe zone”, there is a cultural rule that to refer to a person as practicing-but-not-believing is equivalent to calling them an enemy of the church and an apostate — therefore we should never use such a label for it is mean and unacceptable. The end result is increased safety for a questioning member who can choose or not choose to reveal their true beliefs while still being allowed to participate in all subjects. Whereas on Nothing Wavering it is often accepted that a person that practices but does not believe in the Church is actually part of what makes the Church up and is not necessarily an enemy to the Church at all, therefore this is not equivalent to calling them an enemy to the church or an apostate. This NW cultural rule indirectly creates increased safety for believing members because it’s more difficult for a questioning member to utilize their insider status as a means of launching attacks on beliefs while claiming they are a “believing Mormon” (however they personal define that) for the sake of increased cognitive dissonance.
Because this is how the boundaries are maintained, there is nothing ‘express’ about it at all. Those that are not welcomed there just disappear with time and the community forms around those that are left. I have argued that if you don’t do something like this, you won’t actually form into a community in the first place, so I am not arguing that this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I have come to respect the ‘efficiency’ of such boundary maintenance techniques and their ubiquitous existence in all sorts of online communities. So while I personally prefer visible boundaries, I accept that invisible boundaries are here to stay and probably have only mild moral ramifications in many cases.
Now to make my opinions even less popular, I also have an opinion on the purpose of using ‘invisible boundary maintenance.’ I believe it is, in part, to keep up the mythology that we are having an open discussion where anyone can participate freely — unlike the Mormon Church etc etc where only one side gets a voice. (I believe very strongly in what I call ‘symmetry’. Essentially the idea that we all have a lot more in common then we claim we do because we use similar techniques but disguise from ourselves that we’re doing the very same thing we complained about in ‘that other community.’ So it’s easy to complain “The Mormon Church shuts people out” while also shutting people out in your own community and just not being aware that you’re doing it too.)
Now I am actually very optimistic on all this. My feeling is that it’s actually possible to have your cake and eat it too here. I believe we can both form communities around various safe zones while ‘cross talking’ with each other. For example, I’d love to see M* and BCC or W&T or Sunstone all post about each others’ posts/articles and critique each other. But perhaps we’re not ready for this just yet. And I haven’t had the energy to do it myself as of yet. But I look forward to that happening some day.
Chanson, it’s very difficult for me to believe that Sunstone would be an ideal place to air my views publicly. The fact is that I believe Sunstone likely uses the very same methods of boundary maintenance as described above. And I don’t really want to go somewhere where I’m bound to simply offend everyone with my opinions right off the bat no matter how sincere I am about them. And frankly, I can’t imagine participating in a discussion about Mormon blog boundaries and keep such opinions above to myself since I believe there is substantial evidence that these are the ‘rules of the game’ so to speak and all else to be discussed will just be window dressing. (i.e. like trying to discuss how moderation plays a role when generally it plays only a very minor role.)
So I’m going to have to turn you down at this time. However, I’m very glad you thought of me. I’ve enjoyed talking with you online previously too. You seem like a very level headed person and friendly to talk to and I used to email with your brother back in the day (usually we’d argue, of course.). I hope you’ll feel comfortable talking with me even if I’m skittish about attending Sunstone and that you won’t take it personally. And I hope you won’t be offended by my views. They are just views. They hurt no one and everyone is free to disagree as they see fit given their own counter opinions and evidence.
But if you wanted to express my views of boundary maintenance at Sunstone on my behalf just for kicks and giggles and then let your panel shoot it down, I really wouldn’t mind. (Not being present, I can hardly be ‘socially rejected’ now can I?) I might even take this email and post it on M* one of these days and see if it generates any discussion while I’m in “my safe zone” so to speak. But this is up to you.