Code of Conduct

On CSGnet, Malou has voiced a need for standards of humane conversation. Since CSGnet is going away, and that post will not be archived, I am copying it here with my reply. Malou, I hope this is OK with you.

Here is Malou’s post, followed by my reply.

/Bruce Nevin

On Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 2:57 PM Malou Laureys wrote:

Dear all,

I’m pretty new to this PCT community. I’m grateful I discovered PCT and believe it can contribute so much to science, a better life, better relationships and a better world, if used appropriately.

I expected a PCT forum to be a place that stimulates science and its applications, where one can exchange ideas, ask or give advise, inspire each other, … in a psychological safe environment.

To me a constructive and creative environment goes hand in hand with hounoring some core values like respect, constructive communication, tolerance for other ideas, ability to disagree without being disagreeable, focus on common interests, supporting each other, letting go of blaming/shaming/judging/attacking/threatening the other if you don’t get what you want, self-awareness (of defence mechanisms), tolerance for mistakes etc… no matter what the differences in ideas are.

I wonder if we could all agree on some core principles for all communication within the PCT community? Feel free to change or add any of the above principles I mentioned. 😀

Let’s not put our brains in fight/flight/freeze modus wit negative communication, but make use of this pool of incredible intelligent people to help bring PCT to the world, in the best possible way each of us can.



1 Like

[This 2020-11-26 edit is to place my reply to Malou’s 2020-10-06 CSGnet post after it as a reply rather than before it where it appeared to be the initial post. Slowly, we learn. :slight_smile: More discussion on this topic would be welcome. In so many places the blustery motto is “if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.” Doesn’t PCT call that in question? If you must be recognized as an expert before you can feel psychologically safe here, that’s a pretty harsh limit on getting more people learning, developing, and promoting PCT.]

In times of conflict, good process is your friend. I have been concerned to identify and establish processes for promoting humane discussion and for dealing in a humane way with conflicts.

Malou’s immediate concern derives from the discussion in Discourse Resources of what to do about trolling. At that location, we have identified several ways to manage an incorrigible person, including:

  • Administrators can corral their posts in an appropriate category (e.g. Dogmatic PCT).
  • Individuals can ignore or mute their posts (requires that you reach trust level 2).
  • Administrators can remove them.

Malou, welcome, and thank you. You are not the first to sound this note, or to see the need to do so. Several contributors to the problem have been identified over the years, and some have been or are being addressed.

Email is notoriously susceptible to abusive communication, well evidenced since its first beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s. (I began using email in 1982.) Nonverbal perceptions including gesture, facial expression, and posture are an important part of perceiving what the other intends, and provide feedback as to the effect of what one says. Social media might better be called semi-social or quasi-social. Different kinds of checks are built into a more formal discussion forum. You will find discussion of this in the DIscourse Resources subcategory. We have been preparing a move from the csgnet listserv since our 2017 annual meeting, and will soon complete that move.

When Bill Powers and others first proposed moving from a privately shared list of email addresses to a publicly accessible email forum, I cautioned that he could be devoting a large part of his time responding to people who were not seriously engaged, and some people whose personality needs were foremost. Bill’s extraordinary generosity was sometimes sorely taxed over the ensuing two-plus decades, right up to his death in 2013. His patience stands in our memory and in the archival record as an example to us all.

You mention a number of things to be desired. Three of them I take as headings under which the others may be grouped: respect, constructive communication, and self-awareness.

Under respect I think you would place tolerance for other ideas and “tolerance for mistakes etc… no matter what the differences in ideas are”.

Tolerance for other ideas does not permit "PCT is no more than " or “Prof. X talks about purpose, so he’s doing PCT.”
Tolerance for mistakes does not mean that we accept misinterpretations or misstatements of the principles and methodology of control theory.

Respect for the person holding these views includes respect for what we are about here, and saying “Respectfully sir or madam, to include yourself in this forum you must learn something new that you did not know before.”

Tolerance and respect includes the recognition that PCT is a science in its early stages of development. By that measure, my knowledge and understanding is incomplete and so is yours. Nevertheless, we are confident that future developments will be consistent with the principles of control theory.

This is why it’s not just a matter of being nice to one another. There is something of great value here. We defend it, and we are right to do so. Tolerance for mistakes is conditional upon the person being willing to learn. The learning requires committed effort over time.

Under constructive communication you would have us disagree without being disagreeable and without blaming/shaming/judging/attacking/threatening the other if we don’t get what we want. Opinionated language attacks the messenger (“Only a fool would say that blah blah”). Argument from authority is a logical fallacy, at best a failure to express the matter at hand in one’s own terms from first principles, and more commonly a failure to comprehend the principles of control theory for oneself. Too often, disagreement has hinged on terminological niceties, on the assumption that if you use a word that has broader meanings outside of PCT you therefore must intend a meaning that is incorrect. Rather than assume that, it would be better to inquire, here’s what your words might mean, is that what you intend?

The best test of comprehension is paraphrase in one’s own words. Merely parroting the authorized phrase book shows little, and too easily devolves to jargon that conflicts with our shared intention of communicating and promoting PCT.

More specifically, you would have us focus on common interests and support each other. Our common interest here is control theory, understanding living things as control systems, and understanding behavior not as countable events (“behaviors”) but as means to attain internally specified ends which we can infer. To be included in discussion here one must participate in understanding control theory, applying it in our particular areas of interest and competence, and promoting understanding and acceptance of it. However, support for one another should and I think must include support in the difficulties we each face reorganizing our prior instruction and knowledge in our specialties and communicating and promoting PCT to others in our respective fields. These are not trivial matters. I urge you to read the book in which is collected the correspondence between Bill Powers and Phil Runkel.

I am imagining that you bring notions of defence mechanisms from your experience as a therapist and trainer. Teaching in those fields is not grounded in the principles of control, but rather (in my experience, at least), they typically depend for an orienting framework upon behaviorist or cognitive psychological notions of human functioning which are not self-consistent or even internally coherent and which have been empirically shown to be untenable. “Defense”, of course, is resistance to disturbances to controlled variables. So the self-awareness you call for must reach not only to the variables that are being disturbed but also to the other control loops by which we set reference values for those variables. By understanding those less obvious purposes we might understand how we come to control a variable as a demand which must be defended rather than as a preference for which current deviation is tolerable for the sake of the discussion or the learning.