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On Flame Wars:
Their Causes and Remedies in Transformational News Groups
  by Copernicus
©1999 Copernicus -- all rights reserved 
A slip is not a fall.
-- Abraham Lincoln

Flame is one of the four elements of nature. It is apparent everywhere, in forms ranging from as innocuous as the backyard barbecue to as destructive as lava. While not as prevalent as the other elements, it attracts a curious source of fascination to the human mind. While the lower animals fear flame and run from it, humans are drawn to it much like moths. This fascination with flame has left mankind frequently burned. It has also led to creations of even more destructive forms of flame -- like bombs and guns.

The concepts of online "flaming" and "flame wars" take much the same path. What starts out as a tiny ember is poked and prodded by those around into a burning bonfire that scalds even those who try to avoid the fire. It is simply a fact of Internet life, as free posting allows for any yahoo with an AOL account to post how he truly feels about Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, etc. The smarter folk realize that open news groups and mailing lists will always give rise to controversial material and ignore it.

The Transformational milieu is different from the rest of the Internet world when it comes to flaming. It is more closed to the general populace, and generally only those with a vested interest in transformation will enter one of these forums. Thus, the idiot yahoo population is usually kept to a bare minimum, and trollers are fairly rare.

At the same time, unfortunately, transformational groups are more vulnerable to flame wars of the most biting and bitter type. Transformation leaves out no one on basis of sex, race, religion, or any other distinguishing factor. All are welcome and all take advantage of the transformation communities out there. At the same time, many transformationalists are very unordinary people, with deeply held opinions that differ from the cultural mainstream. The end result of this diversity are the clashes of culture and opinion that will inevitably occur.

I. What is a Transformationalist group?

Transformation in its most basic terms is the alteration of one form to another. This definition is vague and many major transformational groups have sprung up in celebration of their particular ideal. The one that is probably most familiar to the readers of TSAT is animal transformation, which has managed to establish a hold on the actual title of transformationalists. The huge furry, or anthropomorphic, population frequently overlaps with TF'ers, and many other animal appreciation groups exist around it. The flip side are those who contain themselves mainly to the alteration of the human body. The major group here is the transgender community. Smaller groups include age regression, Asian alteration, nose alteration, and so on and so forth. Finally, on the outskirts lies the breast expansion community, well-organized and devoted. These diverse groups all lie under the rubric of transformation.

II. What sort of conflicts occur within these groups?

The flame wars and their peculiar causes in transformationalism are easily separated into several categories. The first is the relatively rare and benign righteous troller attack. The second are the cross-category flame wars. Thirdly comes the true bane of transformation groups -- morality flame wars. Finally comes the more routine but no less annoying degenerating thread.

Much of the problems in the transformation community come from this deep diversity in transformation. Fortunately, they do have one thing in common -- a love of transformation. Thus, when the rare troller comes along attacking the morality of transformation in general, said troller has little luck in starting a flame war. While transformationalists may have no trouble disliking individual aspects of the genre, for example a furry fan disliking transgenderism, the concept of physical transmutation is the Holy Grail. When the means and not the end product that is transformation is attacked, the masses have no trouble banding together against the common foe.

The main problem that truly arises from trollers is a semi-flame by itself -- how to deal with such trollers. Many transformationalists are defensive of transformation, feeling the weight of society's frown. When an open attack occurs, they go into blistering replies. Others, largely dismissive of trollers and feeling no threat, feel the correct method is to give the troller no satisfaction in provoking a reaction. The opposing viewpoints clash, and a minor flame war will erupt. Overall, however, this problem is slight.

Since the transformationalist community is united against these outsiders, there is no real rent and no need of repair. Those who get satisfaction in replying can craft their eloquence with delight. Those who smugly stay silent can rest at ease. If the troller repeats his attacks, then the appropriate authority of the mailing list can oust him, and on news groups the troller is easily ignored.

More extreme and troublesome is the occasional internecine warfare found between transformational groups. Some of the news groups or mailing lists are home to more than one of these groups, and a flame war is inevitable when one group claims dominance or is accused of deviance. Notable incidents in the past were the (animal) transformationalists vs the transgenderists on the TSA-list. This was resolved more or less amicably as transgenderists found an alternate mailing list for more specific expression. The Breast Expansion archive had an ugly outburst in the Continuous Stories archive. Several furry authors were attacked in a nasty manner, and other groups such as the bloating boys lovers didn't help their cause by attacking in a vastly immature manner that disgraced the entire group.

When one group is attacked by charges of deviance, it is almost inevitable that a flame war will erupt. The person who began the outburst will usually have several supporters, and has no intention of going anywhere until the argument is won. Similarly, those attacked have no desire to see the forum taken over by proponents of the other group and attack in kind. It is a hopeless situation, the transformationalist form of ethnic warfare. The only hope for mediation is for cooler heads on both sides to take action to silence their more hot-headed and bigoted brethren. This type of internecine warfare is rare due to the pragmatic realization that one form of transformation is just as strange, or valid if you prefer, as the next.

More common and thankfully more controllable are charges of dominance. This is when one group feels unfairly marginalized through the frequent postings of one side or just a lack of support on their own. Since the obvious solution is for the complaining group to either be more talkative or to go off on their own, these aren't hard to defuse. If someone complains that the news group or mailing list isn't receptive to their concerns, then that person needs to either talk up and make friends or ship out. These simple misconception flame wars usually require nothing more than some patient explanation.

The most common and frequently most passionate arguments are over the myriad issues of morality and religion that crop up on what can be a daily basis. In groups containing such disparate positions as gay, atheistic lucid dreamers and Catholic, moralistic realists, some disputes are going to crop up. Arguments between those who feel that reincarnation is a crock and those who are investing for their next life. Arguments between those who feel their souls are hermaphroditic and those who look down and see a single set of equipment. Protestant vs Catholic, male vs female, so on and eternally so forth. Mediation is ineffective and those flaming back and forth feel a frequent urge to make it public.

Why all this violent warfare? Evidence would seem to suggest that it has to do with the nature of transformationalists themselves. Someone wishing to transform has a perfection of form and spirit in mind. In some cases this can't be fulfilled, adding to the irritation of the person. In most cases, however, the perfection is spiritual and mental as well. When any message denigrating that opinion of perfection is expressed, the person can be expected to take violent disagreement.

This isn't to suggest that all TF'ers snap at anybody who doesn't subscribe to their point of view. Quite the opposite; most are open-minded as a result of their association with the disparate opinions of those around them. The reason for the high incidence of these flame wars on the lists is because while perfection of form is the heart of the matter, it is also the touchiest. Usually no problem occurs when a person simply expresses their opinion of what they would like to be. The transformational lists are full of decent people, for the most part, and bigotry is the exception rather than the rule. When another conception of perfection is attacked, the battle is surely joined. Transformationists being so incredibly diverse, political correctness and tact, not common human traits, are absolutely called for.

One relative advantage of the diversity in transformationalism is that rarely will more than a small group of people be offended by an opinion. The challenge is therefore to move the discussion off the mailing list or news group and into private e-mail. Flame wars are only problems for those who don't engage, so this solution is preferable. If the flame war is of more epic proportions, the same rules for dealing with inter-transformational warfare apply.

The last category, degenerate threads, is a catch all for everything else that quickens the heart beat. These are usually off-topic complaints by the newbies and yahoos that every list and forum will catch sooner or later. The mistake in dealing with these inevitable violators of etiquette is a public message complaining about whatever seemingly idiotic thing they've done. Private e-mail is the correct method, but for whatever reason a public lashing is what some people enjoy most. These arguments are about formatting questions, inopportune comments on some artistic work, the usual computer platform wars, nit-picking a thread to death, posting a series of one sentence messages, blatantly violating the established rules of a story universe, and so forth.

Such is the Internet. These reprobates should be dealt with in private e-mail, as they are usually not quite bright enough to understand a reprimand the first time it is sent. Think of them as the bugs in a usually well-oiled machine. Those who post regularly their somehow idiotic opinions and such should be dealt with by a forum authority. Sometimes, things just can't be perfect.

III. Summation

Great things have been, are being, and will be discussed, drawn, and written about in transformational forums. Sometimes that's forgotten when tensions are running high. Periods of harsh flame attacks can cause many to forget the past good times and concentrate only on the bad blood flowing in rivers. Especially now, when transformational groups get larger and larger from influxes of newbies, many of whom are lax on such things as etiquette and spelling.

More flame wars will erupt as a result of this growth. They can, however, be managed. Those with a predilection for flaming should be dealt with harshly by those managing the forums. Those who disregard standards of etiquette should not run free with loads of pointless, badly formatted, insulting messages. With a firm hand on this assault on good etiquette, the overwhelming amounts of good that flow from these forums can be preserved. In addition, those who stand by while flame wars rage have no right to sit and complain about what they are supposedly above. The only way to stop flaming is to stop those who flame, and deleting messages will do none of that. Private mediation and disapproval from the masses on these forums is the only way to end arguments. As relevant as these arguments may be to those waging them, it's all noise to the rest of the forum. The calmer elements of water, air, and earth must deal with the fire. A transformational forum should have no trouble becoming all three.


Newbies -- individuals inexperienced regarding the etiquette of the Internet.
Trollers -- people who post controversial messages in hopes of inciting flame wars.
Yahoos -- idiots.

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