Posting about this matter of convergent versus divergent thinking is actually what got me kicked from the BB BBS. I think it ties intimately into some of the quite immediate concerns people have about discussing social issues on semi-open forums like this. Many discuss concerns of “off-topic” posts and “derailing topics” as if they were the same thing, but I see them as indicative of that very split between convergent versus divergent thinking.
People seem to forget or disregard that the analogy of derailment is that of a train. It travels upon tracks to a fixed destination, and any deviance from that is a catastrophic failure. With regards to a discussion, this implies that the discussion is not really open-ended, but rather that participation is encouraged to the extent that it furthers the same goal as one’s own. By contrast, a post which is off-topic is one that doesn’t come from the original post at all. Rather than a different conversational destination, it doesn’t belong because it represents a different point-of-origin. It isn’t the railroad’s fault that they got on the wrong train.
For example, if a topic is about “Ways to Help the Homeless”, and you vehemently disagree that my ideas are helpful, then you are welcome to say so and discuss why. Or even ignore my remarks in favor of those which you think will be more productive, considering your values and goals, your methods and ideologies. But that doesn’t mean that I am to blame for wasting your time or tainting your eyeballs with bad ideas. That framing would suggest an intolerance to questioning anything fundamental about the issue, and a degree of coercion for participants to discuss it a certain way. It doesn’t cease to relate to the topic at hand, simply because you personally choose to not pursue that relationship. On the other hand, a post of “How about them Yankees?” or “My PC is broken” might well be off-topic, if it doesn’t relate to homelessness in someway.
An area of inconsistency is that of reminding people of intersectionality. Even though this is not strictly on-topic, it can serve to remind people that the topic has larger social contexts which can inform the conversation. But the extent to which doing so is appreciated depends upon to what extent they consider that to be a pressing social issue in itself. So a reminder that “they would not have survived if they were black” gets high-fived, but “this solution is bigoted against non-humans” gets flagged, apparently because many consider racism more relevant than specism. But both reminders essentially point outside of the immediate topic.
I see successful discussion of social issues to be that which fosters fundamental diversity, rather than a token gesture towards a singular unified identity. More different kinds of people interacting, and yielding more varied conceptual framings, more varied strategies, more diverse expressions of ideas. That converging upon a single framing or solution, and alienating/excluding those who aren’t on board with it is both a symptom cultural polarization, and exacerbates that polarizing trend, resulting in a climate of animosity and blame. There seems to be little point to engaging with people if the ultimate goal is affirming what one felt or thought already, and not having one’s assumptions challenged.
But to get there, we need protocols where people feel safe to agree to disagree.