Honestly without Anonymity

Can there be truth when there are consequences?

IMHO boggle honest truth
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This began as part of the previous post but got long enough that I thought it worth breaking out. There was some suggestion in the comments threads yesterday that Steven and I shade our opinions here out of fear of pushback from our employers. A look through our archives, which go back more than seventeen years, would demonstrate otherwise.

Steven has been at Troy since we both arrived there in the summer of 1998. He’s been tenured for nearly the entire time he’s been blogging, made full professor a decade ago, and was selected as Dean three years ago. I haven’t noted any changes in tone from him, although, as we’ve both acknowledged, our views on various issues have steadily evolved.

I’ve been at Marine Corps University for almost seven years now. I’ve been taking a turn as department head since July and was just promoted to full professor. But, aside from writing a lot less for a variety of reasons, I don’t think readers will detect any changes in style or tone at any of those milestones.

Indeed, I’ve written countless tweets, blog posts, and externally-published articles criticizing President Obama, President Trump, various Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of the Navy, and Commandants of the Marine Corps since starting at MCU. I’ve mostly done so respectfully—although less so on Twitter than in the more formal platforms—but that’s long been my style.

Does the fact that I’m writing under my own name and have been from the beginning make me more reticent? Sure. But that’s not so much a concern over my employability as with my reputation. And also because I understand that I’m writing in a public forum.

Blogging, especially in its early days, was a communal medium and I expected that, if I was criticizing another’s commentary, they might well read it. That was soon amplified after I met many of my fellow bloggers and even some media personalities and politicians, reminding me that they’re actual human beings. The combination of these factors led me to be especially charitable in interpreting other’s words—Am I honestly representing what they’re trying to communicate, rather than taking the worst possible interpretation in order to score cheap debating points?— which I believe serves me and the readers well.

OTB has always been something of an oddity in that regard.

It began as a solo blog by yours truly, a conservative Republican who had moved to the DC exurbs of Northern Virginia from Alabama a few months earlier. While I quickly built an audience, OTB was rare among Republican-leaning, Iraq War-supporting blogs of its day in that, literally from Day 1, I was excoriating the likes of Ann Coulter and other conservative bloggers who were demonizing war opponents as anti-American yahoos who were “objectively on the other side.”

While there are doubtless exceptions, partly because of temperament, partly because of training, my writing style here has almost always been analytical rather than polemical. And, while I’ve long since realized that I’m probably not actually changing many minds, my intent and style have always been aimed at explaining and persuading.

As I expanded OTB into a group blog, I tried to preserve that voice. While Steven, Doug, and others who have had front-page privileges here have disagreed on various issues, I’ve tried to replicate that style and tone. As the brand solidified, I became even more adamant in that regard. Given Doug’s long absence and time constraints on the part of Steven and myself, we’d love to expand the stable. But we really want to keep the tone the same, which means we’re looking for people with similar credentials, training, and temperament.

For a variety of reasons, mostly a combination of Steven and I growing increasingly alienated from the GOP and an increasingly dogmatic left-of-center commentariat, we became the only site I know of where the readers are mostly of a different political persuasion than the writers.

Presumably, the reason so many Democratic partisans started reading OTB in the first place was for the same reason I was reading Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall, and others in the old days: to get well-reasoned, non-vitriolic commentary “from the other side.”

We’re less “on the other side” these days but it’s likely rather frustrating that we haven’t gone full Balloon Juice and come to agree that Republicans are all evil racist cult worshipers.

FILED UNDER: OTB History
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We’re less “on the other side” these days but it’s likely rather frustrating that we haven’t gone full Balloon Juice and come to agree that Republicans are all evil racist cult worshipers.

    Not for this BJ regular, it’s part of my attraction to this place.

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  2. Bob@Youngstown says:

    While I may occasionally disagree with the conclusions of the front page contributors, their analysis and (most of) the commentary is what attracted me to OTB. Thanks and keep it up.

    BTW a reminder to donate is in order!

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    I would only participate in a forum not related to my profession or my hobbies if I could remain anonymous. It is not so much fear of backlash but because in my professional life I’m an executive and have taken on the responsibility of being a representative of the companies I’ve been associated with. I only work at companies that have cultures of responsibility and honesty and so have no problem expressing a non-anonymous opinion about, say, another company or an employee doing something professionally unethical, as it helps to explain my own company’s values. In fact, I’d be fine with doing that under my company affiliation, albeit I would be very circumspect if it was a competitor, for legal reasons. But if I offended a bunch of our customers because of something I said outside my professional arena, resulting in a major customer dropping us, that reduction in demand would mean some of our staff would likely be let go. I can risk my job, but it would be unethical to risk someone else’s.

    As teachers and scholars, I think part of James’ and Steven’s charter is to engage in dialogue and debate, exploring ideas, and so acting anonymously would undermine that. Nonetheless, there is a certain amount of risk they are taking and I admire them for that. And while I accept that they are not holding back on their views because of their professional affiliation, I wouldn’t be surprised that it influences how they express their opinions. In both their cases they have a professional responsibility to set an example of calm, rational exploration and debate to their charges. Walking into a roomful of students grinning because their professor called someone on the other side of Twitter war a skeevy goat humper would definitely undermine that.

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  4. Joe says:

    I came to OTB to hear rational conservative thought on the topics of the day. The fact that the commentariat has skewed left of center is what it is. I suppose I am part of that. When reading the OPs, I frequently skim over the quoted articles which I am usually familiar with just to read the Steven’s, James’ etc.’s comments, which I don’t always agree with, but always appreciate. I similarly skim those comments that are all hair-on-fire to look for some thoughts or information I am unlikely to come across elsewhere.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And to repeat myself from that thread yesterday:

    I have considered that there are times where he is trying to be diplomatic, but I respect James enough to assume he is saying exactly what he means, because otherwise, why say it at all? If a subject is too touchy to discuss honestly, maybe one shouldn’t bring it up to begin with?

    You are who I have always thought you were, James, or at least I like to think so. If I give you pushback it is from a position of the truth as I see it, and I expect the same from you.

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  6. Roger says:

    I lurk a lot more than I comment, but this post raises issues I’ve been thinking about since Professor Joyner was blasted over his first post about the Arbery killing so I’ll pitch in my two cents. I started coming to this blog because I wanted to hear what smart, sensible conservatives had to say. I knew what the right-wing crazies said—when you’re a sixty-year-old white guy who grew up in southwest Missouri, like I am, your Facebook friends will tell you all you need to know about that. And I knew what the liberals had to say—after all, I are one. I came here to get the perspective of the non-crazy right, to have my views challenged by smart, sane people who see things differently than I do.

    During the Trump years the blog has not served that role very well for me because, being both smart and principled, our hosts saw Trump for what he was and said what they saw. They shared so many of my views about Trump and the degradation of the Republican party that it became easy to forget that underneath the broad agreement on those issues were world views and opinions that remained very different. Dr. Joyner’s post on the Arbery killing reminded me of those differences. I think his take on that situation was as wrong as wrong can be, but I appreciated hearing it. The last thing I want is for this place to go “full Balloon Juice.”

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  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    While there are doubtless exceptions, partly because of temperament, partly because of training, my writing style here has almost always been analytical rather than polemical. And, while I’ve long since realized that I’m probably not actually changing many minds, my intent and style have always been aimed at explaining and persuading.

    —————-

    Presumably, the reason so many Democratic partisans started reading OTB in the first place was for the same reason I was reading Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall, and others in the old days: to get well-reasoned, non-vitriolic commentary “from the other side.”

    On a couple of occasions, I have mentioned that I began coming here, because I was interested in well argued opinion/analysis that didn’t agree with my position on a given issue. That the hosts have come over to “our side,” is more of a reflection of the current WH occupant and the state of the Republican party. I expect that when Tiny passes from the scene, we will see a return to some respectful disagreement.

    I do wish that among the regulars who comment, there would be a few who could argue a differing political philosophy from the regular commentators. Unfortunately we are stuck with trolls, cranks and talking point repeaters.

    Regarding Balloon Juice, haven’t been there in years as I found for every well reason post, I needed to wade through a lot of left-wing hysterics. Occasionally, I stop at Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism, for the economic analysis, but I avoid the comments as they are a cesspool. Lately, I’ve stopped at Digby for a bit of traditional leftist take on news of the day that’s not someone hyperventilating.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Hal10000 argues very well from a conservative perspective.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    I thought of him, but couldn’t remember his handle. Plus he seems to comment infrequently. It is too bad that he seems be the only rational conservative commenting.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    I think what we’re all worried about as well (which probably is behind some of the more hair-on-fire commentary) is the gradually increasing pressure on civil servants to say what Trump and his entourage want to hear, or get fired. The Republican Party doesn’t seem to worry about keeping up with reality. Let’s not say anything about the possible link between global climate change and increasing floods in places like Miami etc. We’ll pretend that the statistics we had in the past can be used to predict the future and we won’t have to worry about increasing sea levels. Ditto for actions like not masking, taking hydro-whatever-quinine, and a passel of other examples.

    Basically, if you lie to yourself enough times, the chickens will come home to roost. The USSR discovered this the hard way when all those statistics indicating how Wonderful the USSR economy was turned out to be total crap. The Republican Party thinks it can B.S. its way through everything and is perfectly willing to do so, because it has little integrity left. At some point the U.S. version of the fake tractor statistics is going to land like a ten-ton anvil on them. It will probably result in the complete collapse of the U.S. economy with the connected aftereffects, but that’s the result when you lie to yourself and everyone around yourself. And another country, like China, will end up taking the U.S.’s place in the world. (A nice morbid question is whether China’s lying to itself will blow holes in its economy before the U.S.’s lying will do in the U.S. economy.)

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  11. Jax says:

    On the subject of “expanding the stable” of front pagers, I wish we could get HarvardLaw92 to write some for us, I don’t even care if he continues to use his pseudonym! I’ve always enjoyed hearing Doug’s opinion on legal matters, I thought it rounded out the “political” aspect of the blog nicely. I read Lawfare regularly, but….I will confess to finding it somewhat dry, and I enjoy the comments section here much more.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (A nice morbid question is whether China’s lying to itself will blow holes in its economy before the U.S.’s lying will do in the U.S. economy.)

    Ouchies!

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  13. steve says:

    I was also a conservative Republican. As a kid I passed out Barry Goldwater bumper stickers. Dad was a John Bircher. Was a Reagan true believer. Then conservatism and the GOP changed. So I wasn’t t a believer anymore, but like you a lot of my good friends and people I work with are conservatives. They are mostly really good people. They arent racist. That gets used way too much.

    I will say that I would happily give up my anonymity, I do think it brings out bad traits in people, including myself, but it would offend too many of the conservative with whom I work. Not worth it. They tried to get me fired, when I was one of the few docs in the area with the skills to care for critically ill children when I criticized Bush over the Iraq War, and I was the veteran and they were a bunch of chickenhawks. So I need to stay apolitical at work, I really do like what I do most of the time, and try to apologize or just stop posting for a while when the anonymity lets me go too far.

    Appreciate what you and Steve do.

    Steve

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  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I do wish that among the regulars who comment, there would be a few who could argue a differing political philosophy from the regular commentators. Unfortunately we are stuck with trolls, cranks and talking point repeaters.

    There are a few. We (and I include myself in this) need to do a better job of not automatically lumping them in with the sock puppets. I hope we haven’t driven them all away with knee-jerk abuse. And no, I’m not going to name any of them, because it would prompt a counterproductive flurry of dismissal.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT: It might be interesting if one of the OP’s kicked off a themed open thread. What are the benefits of capitalism? When and where is a conservative action plan better than a liberal one? I can think of a dozen that might spur some real debate. The key is something a bit more timeless and not simply triggered by the news of the day.

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  16. DrDaveT says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It might be interesting if one of the OP’s kicked off a themed open thread.

    I would love that.

    How about “What things are more important than liberty, such that we should be willing to give up some liberty to get them?”

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  17. @DrDaveT: Something to think about.

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  18. To add to James’ post: I will admit that there might be a few topics as related to higher education specifically that I might tread lightly on due to my current position, but I have not shied away from talking about politics as a general matter since I was an untenured assistant professor. I will admit, due to being Dean, that I am more visible than I used to be in certain quarters. I also know that my Google profile is high enough that trying to hide now is pointless.

    Keep in mind: I have been blogging for 17 years, plus I wrote dozens of newspaper columns, have academic publications and have, in general, been active on the internet in various ways since the late 1990s.

    I will say that I have never take any flack at work for the blogging.

    In regards to political evolution, I would prefer to be thought of an “independent” but the reality is I am currently a reliable D voter, and have been since ~2008 (and will be for the foreseeable future). So while at one point I was a lapsed Republican, I abandoned that self-image quite some time ago.

    I desperately wish we had multiparty democracy in the US.

    I am a committed democrat (small “d”) and am liberal in the classical sense. I am more sympathetic to the left than I used to be, although I think my temperament is conservative in the small-c sense.

    I am far less religious than I used to be.

    I am a good governance guy. I believe in the power of government and its necessity (this was true when I reliably voted Republican as well—but my definitions have changed).

    It is almost certainly the case that I am to James’ left, for whatever that is worth.

    My main goal is to understand and I want that understanding to guide my politics rather than the other way around.

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  19. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: I’m enough of a curmudgeon to immediately growl: “what is liberty?!”

    Too many times the slogans from the right AND the left are nothing more than words chosen to ginger up the mob and get them stampeding in a particular direction without thinking of where they’re going. “Liberty”, “Freedom”, “America”—or the tendency of far too many politicians and political grifters to plaster anything they send out with pictures of eagles and the U.S. flag.

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  20. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’m enough of a curmudgeon to immediately growl: “what is liberty?!”

    Liberty is being able to do what you want to do. Everyone who isn’t a psychopath agrees that there is a degree of liberty that is too much — namely, anarchy. At that point, the question of “how much liberty is the best amount?” becomes important.

    Furthermore, there is a time dimension here. The policies that will lead to the maximum amount of liberty for people in the future are not necessarily the policies that allow the maximum amount of liberty for people today. How should we balance benefits to future people against benefits to current people? These are difficult questions.

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  21. Jax says:

    @DrDaveT: They’re only going to become more difficult as our population grows and resources thin.

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  22. Kit says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Liberty is being able to do what you want to do.

    Not by my lights! I wouldn’t consider myself free all alone on a desert island, for example.

    For me, liberty would come down to having the ability to lead as full and as happy a life as possible, and that might entail not being permitted to act as I wanted. I believe that action and ignorance lead me away from freedom. I think that poverty and fear keep me from being free, even in ways I might not recognize.

    I also believe that there’s something in human nature that makes unfettered action toxic to the actor himself, at least over time. We are social animals and finding ways to live peacefully together is healthy for us.

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  23. RL Wright says:

    I too joined OTB to read thoughtful conservative comments, but I’ve stayed because I also need to read thoughtful moderate/liberal comments as well. Read the comments sections of any newspaper these days and see how few are those comments which add to the editorial or the general information being commented on.
    As to being accused of moderating the editorial voices of Steven and James, thank heavens they do! When I was little, my mother talked to me about inside voices and outside voices. I think that applies to written voices as well. The joy of writing rather than speaking is the opportunity to moderate your voice, your ideas, and your expression of them.

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  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Kit:

    I wouldn’t consider myself free all alone on a desert island, for example.

    As well you shouldn’t — you would be able to do very few of the things that (I presume) you want to do, were you stuck alone on a desert island. You might as well be in prison, in many ways.

    This is why I defined liberty positively, in terms of doing what you want to do, rather than the usual negative “absence of restraint” definition that libertarians tend toward. Absence of restraint isn’t the same thing as opportunity or ability.

    A fantasy novel series that I am very fond of features a polity whose definition of success is “the maximum practical freedom of choice for everyone into the future”. They recognize that such freedom involves not just avoiding getting conquered and enslaved, but also having a rich enough society that there are interesting things to choose to do, and enough equality that everyone has equal access to those choices. The result of this focus on liberty is a collectivist society. 🙂

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  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Kit:

    For me, liberty would come down to having the ability to lead as full and as happy a life as possible, and that might entail not being permitted to act as I wanted.

    One last point here — it is common in such discussions for people to get confused between “the thing I’m aiming for” and “the thing this particular word describes”, especially when it’s a word we’ve been indoctrinated to think of as a purely good thing. “Not being permitted to act as you want” is clearly the opposite of liberty — but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing, even at the individual level. We can’t have a sensible conversation about where liberty is a good thing and where it’s a bad thing if we keep redefining “liberty” to mean “the good thing”.

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  26. Kit says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Not being permitted to act as you want” is clearly the opposite of liberty

    To be free to play the piano requires a piano, of course, but also the occasion and the skill. Lacking the skill, I’m not free to play it, at least not today, and certainly not without putting in the long work necessary towards mastery. I guess someone in my position might feel content to bang away at it, but that sounds more like being a slave to one’s passions (a good phrase worth pondering).

    I like this Aristotelean idea of happiness:

    The exercise of vital power along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope, being a harmony between character, deliberation, action and circumstance.

    I believe that there is a notion of rising to freedom, it is a condition to which we should aspire.

    I also like this from Thomas Jefferson:

    If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

    We might live free as animals, but it all becomes more difficult as humans.

    If ever Kathy manages to organize her OTB bash, it will be a pleasure to discuss these matters over a good meal!

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  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Kit: I was making a much simpler (and less interesting) point — namely, that “liberty” literally means “being able to do what you want”. That’s not a claim about what is good or what is preferable or what is appropriate — it’s just a definition, like saying “monarchy means rule by a king”. There’s nothing normative about it; no value judgments are involved.

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  28. smintheus says:

    Since we’re patting ourselves on the backs here: Is it too soon to retract and apologize for the arrant nonsense that both James and Steve recently posted regarding Biden and Tara Reade? It’s not just that her dishonesty has been proven again and again, or even that it was in plain sight already when that nonsense was published here. The most reprehensible things about those posts were the liberties with logic that they took even if one did suppose (wrongly) that Reade still had some small measure of credibility.

    No, the news media that refused to be dragged down into Reade’s muddy theatrics were not obviously at fault. No, they were not “lagging”. No, they had not egregiously put less effort into assessing her dubious and slippery claims than they had with regard to the two credible and coherent reports about Kavanaugh.

    No, a second phoney accusation from another person with a political axe to grind did not make the first accusation more serious. No, two different transparent lies would not have been reasonable grounds for demanding that anybody withdraw their nomination.

    No, the rules enacted under Obama/Biden did not ‘all but remov[e] due process rights of those accused of sexual misconduct’ on campuses. No, Biden’s opposition to DeVos’ terrible new rules was not ‘hypocrisy’. No, Biden does not ‘presume college-aged boys are guilty the moment they’re accused’. No, Biden did not ask us ‘to believe him when he tells us he’s innocent’ – he asked journalists to investigate the matter and in so doing he said they would determine that he’s telling the truth.

    Putting the most generous interpretation possible on politicians’ words except … when they’re named Biden? Except when they’re running against an out and out racist troll? Where do you get off making that claim about your practices, when you’ve just published such grotesquely unfair garbage about Biden and never even retracted it although many commenters and subsequent events made painfully clear how wrong it was?

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  29. @smintheus: I don’t think anything I wrote about the Reade allegations needs to be retracted.

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  30. smintheus says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed, if in another timeline Biden was a SCOTUS nominee, I think there is enough here that we would start asking for his name to be withdrawn.

    You see nothing wrong in calling for people to withdraw just because an unreliable witness has repeatedly made an implausible and unverified accusation?

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  31. @smintheus: If you can explain how that sentence is me calling for Biden to withdraw, I will gladly retract it.

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  32. Scott O says:

    @smintheus: You’re nuts. Go away. Please.

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  33. smintheus says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It was tantamount to calling for Biden to withdraw, and it was predicated upon nothing but the flimsiest accusation. A reasonable person would own up to being wrong about it.

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  34. @smintheus: Your reading skills need work. I am not sure what else there is to say.

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  35. smintheus says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: My reading is fine. Your passive aggressive excuses are the problem here. You were wrong about your putative scenario: Democrats would not be calling for a SCOTUS nominee to drop out based upon flimsy and evolving accusations. And you were wrong about your true target: Democrats should not have begun discussing whether Biden was irreparably damaged by those same flimsy accusations. One of the most basic measures of intellectual seriousness is the willingness to admit when one is wrong.

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  36. @smintheus:

    One of the most basic measures of intellectual seriousness is the willingness to admit when one is wrong.

    I am dead serious when I say this generated a real LOL.

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  37. smintheus says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Never change.

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