Respecting Dave Winer

The original notion of an International bloggers’ conference in Nashville came from the fact that previous “BloggerCon” conferences had all been held in traditionally liberal, blue state locations. Why not a red state, the organizers thought? Many of the blogosphere’s “stars” are hard core liberals. Would they come? If not, why should conservatives be left out of the discussions and sessions?

This is what made Dave Winer’s “A Respectful Disagreement” session so, well, memorable. In a room full of many conservative bloggers, Winer opened the session by announcing his anti-abortion, pro-choice stance. “Dave is Dave,” they say, so this was not to be unexpected. Sparks flew. People were offended, not about Dave’s positions but by his personality. His forceful, “I demand to be respected” delivery, especially in the face of snickers and side comments, was too much for some. The most offended person in the room, it seemed, was Dave Winer. Finally, he took off his microphone and sat down. He later wrote:

The bottom line — we got lost in the disrespect. I’m sure we disagreed, but I’m not sure what the disagreement was. We learned that some people demand all the attention. Until we get them to sit down, we’re going to keep fighting each other in the US. To me this is the biggest shame, it’s so incredibly sad. We have the potential for greatness, and it’s going to waste.
I sat through the session without saying a word, because I wanted to see what happened. I knew going in that this would be lively, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of discontent (not disrespect) that surfaced.

Respect doesn’t begin with you; it begins with me. It’s foolish to go into a discussion expecting to be respected, because the respect (or disrespect) I receive isn’t in my control — it’s in the control of the rest of the folks in the conversation. The best I can do is show respect myself. If I’m disrespected while showing respect, well, there’s not much I can do about that.

Dave Winer can be a real ass, and I’m not the first person to have said that. Self-absorption is what I saw from him in that session. He wasn’t so much interested in hearing what others said, because he was constantly interrupting speakers to defend his point-of-view. Was this deliberate baiting for the sake of the session? Only Dave knows that for sure. When he stated as a matter of fact that the economy is in deep trouble, the conservative writers in the crowd chuckled, and this infuriated him. He said that the room was free to disagree with him, but not free to laugh at him. However, by his parental admonitions and rebukes to people in attendance, he was — on a very discernable level — laughing at everybody else.

Dave is a dynamic and intelligent fellow, and I like him a lot. He helped me get this blog going, and the truth is that his role in the creation of blogging deserves respect, regardless of what anybody thinks of his personality or political positions. There would’ve been no BlogNashville without Dave Winer, and that’s the truth.

The blogosphere is a place where disagreement is not only allowed but encouraged, and while all of us old hippies may long for the utopian day when we all “just get along,” I’m not so sure that’s really necessary. I don’t just want to know your position; I want to know your argument for that position, and sometimes that can get a bit passionate. I think Dave was trying to show us, however, that in that passion, we need to be respectful. Otherwise, the conversation will get burned away in all the heat.


  1. I agree with your observations. I was one who spoke in that session, probably because I didn’t know many of the other bloggers going in, nor had I ever met Dave. I think that he was doing too much “do as I say, not as I do” talking.

    There are ways to approach debate or discussion that make it focus on arguments, not on the arguers, and I thought it was too bad that Dave didn’t try out some of them.

  2. I would bet that Dave would tell you that ‘moderating’ a conference is not one of his strengths…and in a small group discussion afterward, he as much admitted that he would have liked for the discussion to have taken a different, more productive, direction (even if contentious).

    With a title like ‘respectful disagreement’, we would all have benefitted from a moderator-expert in the field of interpersonal communications. Did anyone really expect a group whose platform is primarily ‘text-based’ to somehow magically perform well when thrust into a room to talk, face-to-face, about disagreement?

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