I write about controversial topics. My primary focus is the relationship between Catholicism and homosexuality, but because of my background in law and Catholic Studies, I’ll sometimes delve into issues related to immigration, abortion, and other areas of tension in America today. Because I’ve done this publicly, I’ve had to work very hard to resist the pull towards unproductive social media arguments. This became especially important as I started receiving Twitter reactions to my 2019 essay on Catholicism and homoerotic desire. I haven’t always succeeded, but I’ve started putting together some guidelines that help me to stay sane on Twitter. The following are some of my general guidelines for engagement, drawn largely from those reactions:
1. I avoid interacting with depersonalized profiles.
2. If the other party is refusing to have a productive conversation, it’s often best to just end it. Strangers are not entitled to an argument.
Along similar lines:
3. I try to report tweets and block profiles that engage in a way that is abusive, racist, violent, etc.
For me, the line usually comes when people start using profanity, suggest that physical harm should come to another person, or mass-tag profiles known for attacking others. Twitter will review reports and evaluate based on their rules. Not everything I have reported has been found in violation, so I be sure to block in addition to reporting. As I said earlier, no one is entitled to an argument from or engagement with me on Twitter. I also consider reporting and blocking part of my civic duty. Healthy public discourse will always involve some level of moderation. Certainly we can argue about the sort of moderation, but I consider the above to be a fair floor for encouraging productive dialogue.
4. If someone is not truly engaging with me in their responses, I find it sometimes most appropriate to just repeat myself. (As in, I literally copy, paste, and repost what I’ve just said.) For some people, the automated message is the most appropriate message.
5. I try to avoid sarcasm and irony. And I often don’t feel the need to respond to sarcasm.
I’m bad at this sometimes. But irony and satire can be quite toxic. For more on how these are opposed to charity and gratitude, I highly recommend this lecture by David O’Connor:
6. I avoid taking too seriously people who only engage as critics.
None of the above is meant to crowd out particular viewpoints. Disagreement and contrasting perspectives are helpful for building out one’s own point of view. But it’s often important to dismiss modes of discourse that are not actually discourse. Healthy dialogue requires mutual good faith and goodwill. If these are lacking, then we lose dialogue and are instead engaging in what MacIntyre has diagnosed as the emotivist emotings of modernity. I’m trying to do less of that these days.
What are your guidelines for engagement? Any recommendations? I’m always open to expanding my list!
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.