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privilege-checking and call-out culture
December 2, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Ariel Meadow Stallings (creator of Offbeat Mama and Offbeat Bride) on liberal bullying: "...what's the biggest challenge we deal with every day? The challenge that has my editors second-guessing every post and quaking in fear, just waiting for the awfulness to begin? It's attacks from our fellow progressives... Increasingly, I've started recognizing this kind of behavior for what it is: privilege-checking as a form of internet sport. It's a kind of trolling, with all the politics I agree with, but motivations and execution that turns my stomach. It's well-intended (SO well-intended), but when the motivations seem to be less about opening dialogue about the issues, and more about performance, righteousness, and intolerance for those who don't agree with you… well, I'm not on-board."
It's challenging for me because the values motivating these complaints are completely in-line with both my personal politics as well as my professional passion for catering to niche markets and semi-marginalized cultures.

...This is where this kind of conversation begins to feel more like liberal bullying, where the only correct response is agreeing and acquiescing. Any other response is seen as ignorant at best, hateful at worst.

My priorities with online discourse are dialogue and respect. In my little corner of the online world, I keep my focus on constructive critique and articulate, compassionate communication. Shouting down people who disagree with you (even if I agree with your argument!) simply doesn't feel productive or helpful. If I had a dollar for every time we have to delete a blog comment that I personally agreed with because it was stated as an attack… I could get rid of those in-image ads...
(This post was republished in the Guardian.*)

Stallings has written about this before -
*This website can't be everything to everyone
*Walking on egg-shells: the challenges of serving many communities

Pyromaniac Harlot - The Unicorn Ally:
So, here are the contradictions as I see them. As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on. This is what I consider The Unicorn Ally phenomenon. The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression. The latter relies on a process I think of as Oppression Top Trumps..."
Boldly Go - "Liberal Bullying" Nonsense (and also You Don’t Need Oreos, You’re The Baker’s Son)
Every time I bother to mention to someone that something they’ve said is problematic, believe me, I’d LOVE to have a discussion about it. But unfortunately, the other people have to be interested in a discussion. This enforcement of “discussion” and “respect” is something that almost always comes up when people tell me that it’s my responsibility to educate them. I have no idea when I engage someone in a discussion about social issues if they will listen to me at all. And if you’re someone that DOES engage people very frequently, you learn pretty damn quick that 90% of the people you engage in discussions with you about this are not interested in learning or addressing their privilege in any way, shape, or form. But no, I must always be the one to educate someone politely and kindly. I must slap on my smile and become a tour guide through the Museum of Bigotry. And if I can’t say anything nice, I should never say anything at all.

The problem with that? If people went by that rule I would literally know nothing about white privilege. Nothing. The only reason I know anything about it is because someone got pissed off because of something I said... as a white person who refused to recognise my own privilege, I was not interested in any discussion that didn’t make me a good guy or part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. I was not interested in any interpretation of life that would in any way paint me as any type of racist, unintentional or otherwise. So being nice about calling me out would not work. Because I had been called out before in very nice ways for saying very racist things by my friends...

The thing that pisses me off about this is that we’re willing to acknowledge the good intentions of allies and people who fuck up, but the marginalised person or someone getting angry about something doesn’t really get the same support or acknowledgement. Yes, I have witnessed cases where I’ve felt that someone was being angry and sarcastic at someone who didn’t mean any harm. But that angry and sarcastic person is also a person. You want compassion for people who fuck up but people who get angry and have a bad reaction to something are supposed to smile and take it. And if they don’t they’re not being true to their ULTIMATE GOAL, gaise. Just like you can’t expect yourself to never fuck up, you also can’t expect everyone to be nice all of the time. The nature of privilege and marginaliations, of microaggressions and oppression is that it causes a lot [of] emotions. A lot of anger. A lot of hatred. A lot of shit that’s not so easy to cope with and deal with 100% of the time. So how about for once we extend a bit of compassion towards people?
*Fatihah Iman - What we expect from allies, and the view from both sides of that fence
*Consider the Tea Cosy - Callout culture, tone trolling and being the Perfect Ally
*Automatic Writing - Liberals, bullies, unicorns, etc.
*The Thrifty Philosopher - Checking your privilege
*Jacques Rousseau - On Liberal Bullying: "It would be a mistake to interpret Stallings as providing you with an excuse to dismiss criticisms based on secondary factors like privilege." (Links to So who owns oppression, really?: "Some people are blind to realities other than their own. The rich might not understand the concerns of the poor; race or gender might epistemically blind some people. But ignoring what people say because of their alleged ‘privilege’ can also be a disingenuous and lazy rhetorical tactic.")

*ohioatheist - When trolling is necessary
*Adventures in Ethics & Science - The Point of Calling Out Bad Behavior
*Persephone Magazine - “Lighten Up” and other Dismissals People Use
*Purple Tinker - Troll Nation: The Cult and Culture of Chill
*Slavoj Žižek - Why Tolerance Is Not a Virtue (you can skip the video to about 2:00)
*This Side of Sunday - Žižek, Tolerance & the 'Decaffeinated Other'

*Jezebel - Internet Social Justice Mob Goes Batshit on Well-Meaning Sex-Ed Activist (elsewhere - Masterpost: Why Laci Green Sucks)
*Haifischgeweint - Enormous trouble over a microcosm of hatred
*Will Shetterly - Social Mob Justice: The Outing of Zathlazip
*Sady Doyle - Why the uproar over Naomi Wolf's vagina?: "Feminist history is full of examples, big and small, of women making valuable contributions, then being deemed entirely unworthy after being wrong about a particular issue... To be blunt: This is just not how grown-ups think. And the increasingly Manichean slant of some contemporary feminists, in which one is either a perfect feminist who has never been wrong or a traitor who must be disgraced and expelled from the ranks, risks teaching us all to think less like like grown-ups."

*Persephone Magazine - The Limits of Social Justice Blogging: "The thing is, everyone’s got their baggage, and some people more so than others. I’ve written before on the importance of confessing the things that privilege us in the social justice blogosphere, and I stand by that. But I’d like to take a little time to talk about what we mean when we say justice and oppressed and how much more productive we can be as writers and activists when we stop eating away at every ally for having said a dumb thing in their time."

*Tiger Beatdown - Come one, come all! Feminist and Social Justice blogging as performance and bloodshed: "I would like to believe that amidst all of these cries for performances of grief, amidst the intra community abuses and the dilution of the bigger pictures in the name of a constant requirement to outperform each other as a form of entertainment, we can do better. We need to be the change we demand in others. We cannot claim to be against these injustices while, at the same time, we either unknowingly perpetuate them or remain silent while others do so. Change, after all, can only start from within, and, without a deep examination of how our own actions are part of this, there will not be any significant shift. "

*Persephone Magazine - Call Out Culture and Calling Out
*That Blog About That Queer Kid - I am an oppressive fuck and so are you
*Ineffable She - Shit “Progressives” Don’t Want to Hear: A Journal of Unpopular Opinions #1 - Own Yr Shit
*Too Many Feelings - Why I Almost Never Reblog Social Justice Stuff I Otherwise Like (and also on "tone policing")

Offbeat Mama (which is now Offbeat Families) previously on MeFi: tuck your children in and beatbox them to sleep & I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful
Offbeat Bride previously: how to make your own D&D chocolate dice mold
posted by flex (180 comments total) 311 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy shit.

Slow, astonished applause building to a rapturous crescendo.

I haven't read any of the links yet but this is a hilariously apropos post for mefi, and the big ol' greasy t-bone of links below the fold is amazing.

So much props, flex.
posted by kavasa at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2012 [28 favorites]


Thank you for reminding me that Ariel Meadow Stallings is great. She's encapsulated all the weird emotions I've had about social justice blogging as of late that I've never really been able to articulate to myself, except to rely on the phrase "perfect is the enemy of the very good" over and over.
posted by chrominance at 9:15 AM on December 2, 2012


I found the first link incoherent. But then again, I love social justice social media, and have seen it do a lot of good.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:20 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Argh, the whole "Offbeat" thing...I should not have read the comments on the honeymoon post they linked to. OMG SO EXHAUSTED BY MY DIY I didn't have the energy for ethics, lol! I deserved it!! ugh ugh ugh
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awesome post.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, for reasons that are probably obvious. It's a tightrope to walk as a moderator in a heterogenous community with a tremendous range in education and opinions on social justice topics. I'll be reading this all afternoon.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Complaining about complaints about white privilege.. Is that also not an expression of white privilege? Pardon me, my head is about to explode. Everyone involved belongs on White People Problems with Charles Barkley.
posted by drpynchon at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; potentially button-pushing subject, thoughtful comments make for better threads.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Heh. This post is kind of a donut hole, in that it's the privelege argument without being a derail from another subject. So... Good?
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do think that the whole "just like fundies!!!" thing is, on its face, quite a lot of bullshit. Sorry that people criticize you, but that's not actually like having your rights threatened or limited by your own government, it's not like being harassed for trying to get a medical procedure, it's not like being forced to pray in order to access public services...

Death threats are another thing, but just death threats alone is not enough to start comparing yourself (as a money-making blog) to the victims of religious fundamentalism, and the first link is not even about death threats.

I mean her writers are "quaking in fear"? Really? Because people disagree with you without opening a "dialogue" or argue about semantics with you?

She goes on to say that these critiques come in almost daily. Later, she says that they reach over a million viewers a month. A MILLION.

So let me get this straight: liberal bullying is having almost 30 complaints from 1,000,000 viewers. It makes them "[quake] in fear".

Maybe I am misreading this or she is painfully unclear but it sounds quite unlike actual bullying and more like "when you have a massive online presence, people say things you don't like and then you delete them".
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:43 AM on December 2, 2012 [54 favorites]


Without some orthodoxy there is no cohesion.

On the left the set of rules we follow contain notable contradictions like the ones listed above, and in our overriding belief in fairness via rationality we are constantly tripping over them.

On the right the set of rules are even more contradictory but their belief in fairness via grace (God's or the Invisible Hand's) relieves them of the need to worry about it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:45 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "You Don't Need Oreos, You're The Baker's Son" post is great reading.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dear Flex,

I just finished reading two books that provide a history and overview of how and where all this SJ privilege checking nonsense began (Unlearning Liberty and The Victim's Revolution -- both are outstanding, the former by a member of FIRE), so your linkapalooza could not have come at a better time.

As a former liberal, I am constantly dismayed, annoyed, and frustrated by the more-oppressed-than-thou or more-socially-just-than-thou attitudes that appear to constitute so-called progressive dialogue. This is not what we were, this should not be who we are.

Thank you so, so much for these links. I look forward to reading all of them. Well done.
posted by gsh at 9:48 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've only read the first article, but I don't think she's saying that progressives are as bad as right-wingers. Think of it like two cartons of left-over Chinese food: One is 1 day old and perfectly fine to eat, the other has been in the fridge a month and is covered with orange fuzz. Well, in a few days there might be a bit of of grunk showing up on the first one. In no way is it as bad as the month-old stuff, but it's not wrong to say "Hey, this is starting to look like the gross one."
posted by benito.strauss at 9:52 AM on December 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Author of the original piece, here. flex, thanks for the linking... although I'll admit I'm a bit exhausted by the six weeks of contentious discussion that have come from my original Offbeat Empire post, and I may not have much energy left to engage on discussion here.

I want to make one thing super clear: I agree completely with almost all the criticisms that have been raised about my piece -- I remain deeply conflicted about this issue, and have on a certain level agreed with all the concerns that have been raised both here on metafilter and elsewhere.

Ultimately my goal was to invite a discussion about the topic and explain my perspectives as a publisher. I totally respect that other websites would have different policies and philosophies for dealing with privilege checking, and that's awesome.
posted by arielmeadow at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2012 [54 favorites]


Without some orthodoxy there is no cohesion.

The writer has progressives confused with liberals, and vice versa, but as far as Metafilter goes on these topics, she is generally correct about the mechanics of these sorts of threads. It wont likely change anything, but it is a good post, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:55 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on.

This. So much energy is spent parsing terminology, including redefining words with non-intuitive meaning that will inevitably confuse readers. (EG
"patriarchy" does not mean rule by men, but most people use it that way. "the male gaze" does not mean men lewdly staring, it's from an impenetrable 1975 essay of psychoanalytic film theory, but it's used to mean men staring 85%+ of the time.)

So you either derail on the mistaken uses of these words, or talk past each other and spin your wheels. It's a cancer.
posted by msalt at 9:57 AM on December 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Maybe I am misreading this or she is painfully unclear but it sounds quite unlike actual bullying and more like "when you have a massive online presence, people say things you don't like and then you delete them".

I think there's a phenomenon where the entire reaction to a piece of writing centers around whether or not the correct terms, phrases, and/or opinions were displayed, and the actual intent or message of the piece is utterly ignored. I don't know if I'd call it bullying - I think "bullying" is used far too widely these days, and its meaning has been diluted - but I think it's both a thing that happens and a thing that usually has more downsides than upsides.

For example, I have been reading Elizabeth Bear's livejournal from the beginning. (She documented the process of going from aspiring to published author in detail - it's fascinating.) Just the other day, I hit the post that kicked off Racefail '09. I had followed some of that imbroglio when it happened from a different angle - I had only the faintest idea of who ebear was at the time - and a lot of people behaved really badly, and a lot of people said thoughtful things, and it was a huge mess. But coming at that post after reading six years' worth of Bear's posts, I was surprised by how much the characterization of her involvement differed from her actual involvement. Sure, there were things she could have phrased better and she made at least one mistake from a community-management angle, but depicting her as a vicious white imperialist - which very much happened - is so far out of proportion that I think the process by which the conversation got there is worth analyzing in the hopes that it can be short-circuited in the future.

Part of it is definitely the asymmetric nature of the internet - both in time (people respond out of sync in time with each other) and in numbers (there are many more readers than writers, by definition.) That causes problems in conversations here on Metafilter for sure - the pile-on phenomenon is a problem for a bunch of reasons, and it's not totally a solvable one with the tools we have. Part of it is more complicated and has to do with how this slice of culture prioritizes things, I think, and that discussion is definitely worth having.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:58 AM on December 2, 2012 [22 favorites]


When I was a fair bit younger, I used to do quite a lot of calling out. It was before the internet, so it tended to be in print -- in professional journals and such like. But I was often hugely rude, insulting and deliberately hurtful.

There was nothing I liked better than when the subjects of my call out would try and engage with me. That just gave me the opportunity to try and score more points. What I really hated, was when they didn't bother responding or acknowledging me at all.

As I grew older, I came to recognize that those call outs were born of a sense of powerlessness -- the people I was calling out where people who had status and prestige in my field, who were defining the ideological hegemony that I wanted to tear apart.

Eventually, the tables turned somewhat, and from time to time, I've also been the subject of call outs from younger, angrier and much more powerless people, but because I'm now a smug, self-satisfied old fuck, I just tend to ignore them.

I've got better things to do with my time than providing a source of entertainment for the peanut gallery, thanks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:58 AM on December 2, 2012 [29 favorites]


That first article is full of truth. The attitude she’s writing about is what causes the collapse of all movements; the loudest, pushiest people in a party end up speaking for the party because they drive everyone else off. It’s not about the ideals, it’s about their ego. Then average people look at them as loudmouth assholes, because they are, and write off the whole party and their ideas. Then the assholes move on to something else.

It’s the Tea Party right now, but it was liberals before. That’s how we got the Conservative ascent of the last few decades.

I was going to say "Thankfully this doesn’t happen on MF" but then I decided to skip the sarcasm.
posted by bongo_x at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


I've only read the first article, but I don't think she's saying that progressives are as bad as right-wingers.

(I'll apologize in advance for talking about her like she isn't here!)

The photo she used to illustrate the story is a social justice meme where the "social justice" person "Hates Fundies/Acts Just Like One". She notes in the comments that she chose it specifically to illustrate her point. She says the motivations of these "bullies" are the same as those of the Westboro Baptist Church (and then says the values motivating them are the same as her own and that it's well-intended, but it's also performance art, but...it's not coherent). Then she reiterates that the motivations are similar to the Westboro people and that the people who are doing this are assholes just like the Westboro people.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are all sorts of places where you can have discussions with liberals without this sort of thing happening much. Then there are places/people where/with whom every discussion as an opportunity to play a kind of chess in which to make a good move is to make an ad hominem suggesting that the other person is not as politically correct and morally pure as you yourself are.

It's moral fanaticism, and of a particularly counterproductive kind. I'm mostly a liberal myself, and I can take about ten seconds of that stuff before I become disgusted...and it's the kind of thing that makes some people conservatives for life. Early in David Brock's The Right Wing Noise Machine he traces his early, disastrous conservatism to Berkeley, and his youthful disgust at the leftist puritanism and fanaticism he encountered there. As he says, roughly, you can only be the subject of shrieking tirades about what a horrible person you are for not being consumed by the plight of [insert niche cause here] before you are, despite your best efforts, driven toward other parts of the political spectrum.

I grew up around very conservative folk, and they were my paradigm of political irrationality for most of my life...but when I finally did encounter the kind of lefties under discussion, in grad school, I actually found them just as irrational, mean-spirited and holier-than-thou...and somehow even more off-putting.

Seems inaccurate/hyperbolic to call it "bullying," though.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:03 AM on December 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've coined the term Chomskyhole to describe this process of getting into minute detailed arguments over the exact precise terminology to use. More specifically, when trying to self-censor (I hesitate to use that word) before making a statement... The hole is in one's own brain, not necessarily the dialog in a forum where people debate.

Yes, I know Chomsky was more about Grammer but I figured, hey, he's a famous linguist and also an "anarchist" (as he calls himself, not that I would agree with that), and as such opposed to oppression. I don't know how into "PC" speech he is, or not.

I try my best to catch myself. But I do agree that at a certain point it gets silly. I believe that you do your best to catch yourself on things when you can. You try to not to use *-ist words. You try to listen. Try to inform when you can.

I think the focus so much on specific WORDS as opposed to the actual relations involved is where people go wrong... If you start to get people thinking about privilege in general and their role in it, and how language affects thought, and maybe they can learn some things now and then, that's how it should be.

I do think people get a bit too uptight and ready to attack instead of engage in dialog regarding the issue. If someone is on your side or at least appears willing to learn and engage in dialog, instead of jumping down their throat, present your case clearly and effectively, and then fucking drop it. Let the privileged person have the last word if that shuts them up. Plant the seed. If they really are ready to think about it, that little seed will slowly grow. They might think something is stupid at first, but then realize that hey - yeah that is "ableist" to say "duh" or something of that nature.

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the best way to evolve socially. When someone says they are trying their best, believe them.

It's the ones who are demanding that they're oppressed even though they reek of privilege that we have to worry about. The ones who utterly refuse to see where they're going wrong. It's not that they can't be reached, but they take a lot more work and dialog to deal with.

Honestly - most people I know are willing to cut you slack if you show that you're working on it and trying to make an effort and not automatically try to defend yourself. Just say "I'm not sure what I think about it, but am willing to think about it and try to understand".

That doesn't mean that there aren't bullies. There are in pretty much any fora. And it's a shame that it can come to that. The ones who won't accept your honest admittance to privilege and that you are working on it as best you can, the ones who try to bludgeon you with it and demand that you understand and get it right that instance, when all your defenses are up, because hey, you've just been attacked and of COURSE you're just gonna listen and not have defenses up.

I sound like it's so easy or that I know how to debate and argue, but I am absolutely horrible at taking the tactic I promote. I am a bully in arguments in general. I tend to get my hackles up. So I don't know the answer. Emotions run high on issues like this, and sometimes that's quite right to be the case. In others there are times we need to have thoughtful, intelligent discussion of the cases at hand.
posted by symbioid at 10:04 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


From the equal rights blog: "I don’t consider that I need allies."

I am a very practical, literal-minded person. To get anything done in a public policy/legislative/legal/discourse/etc. realm on any social justice issue, a sub-group needs allies. To some extent, part of the package of working on social justice means working with allies, warts/stupidity and all.

At the same time, the critiques of allies are well-founded.

Good discussion.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seems inaccurate/hyperbolic to call it "bullying," though.

I was absolutely aiming for hyperbole as a way to draw attention to the issue. Based on how widely the post was linked and discussed, I'd say it was effective. (Perhaps even too effective.)
posted by arielmeadow at 10:09 AM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Man, that Boldly Go guy wants to be Larry Kramer so bad his teeth hurt.

Every time I bother to mention to someone that something they’ve said is problematic, believe me, I’d LOVE to have a discussion about it.

Except that no, you don't want to have a discussion about it. You want to yell about it, and have the person you're yelling at whimper "You are so right! I am so sorry!" This is what's so frustrating about much of the terminology bullying; it's not an invitation to a discussion, it's a demand that the other person shut up and do as you say. Telling someone what words they can use is a way of exercising power over them. Sometimes words really should be removed from the discourse, but dictating discourse is always an attempt to dominate. It should be used very carefully, not because privileged people must be treated with kid gloves, but because people tend to react badly to being given orders.

I mean her writers are "quaking in fear"? Really? Because people disagree with you without opening a "dialogue" or argue about semantics with you?

Young rope-rider: Believe me, if you've ever moderated a progressive space, you get a *lot* of death threats from self-identified progressives. And unlike the righty death threats, they're often written with sufficiently accurate grammer and spelling that you think the writer might actually be able to do it.

Excellent post, flex---good round up of people's diverse reactions.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:11 AM on December 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Is anyone thinking about why people get this way? I know my adrenaline goes up a little when I think about talking with someone who's really conservative. This, even though I try very hard to be and appear open to genuine dialogue.

I think it goes back to bad experiences when I was younger, living in a small town where these attitudes were in the majority, and also to my expectations of how such discussions might go, based on plays and pretty intense short stories I read in school. I'm afraid, angry, frustrated in anticipation before I even start. I manage to get over it sometimes, and I may even have less of a problem with this than most of my acquaintances -- I'm not an argumentative person -- but what I observe seems to match this emotional experience.

Sometimes I think the "turn the other cheek" facet of Christianity (neglected to be sure) might be central to people having been able to work together enough to build what civilization and democracies we have to date. That willingness to take risks might be what allows people to start conversations that might have unexpectedly productive ends. I think it's really hard to foster if people don't meet and work with each other in less political situations -- knowing someone helps you be less reactive to their words. It's so easy to be offended if you can't trust people to at least like you a little.
posted by amtho at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Young rope-rider: Believe me, if you've ever moderated a progressive space, you get a *lot* of death threats from self-identified progressives.

Ariel, maybe you can clarify, I don't want to make assumptions either way, but do you get death threats on a regular basis? And is my estimate that you get less than 30 of these "complaints" a month accurate?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2012


It's well-intended (SO well-intended), but when the motivations seem to be less about opening dialogue about the issues, and more about performance, righteousness, and intolerance for those who don't agree with you…

It is never well-intentioned when someone tries to straighten someone out by reading their mind and assuming their intentions. This is because the psychology of projection is usually in play, and the accuser is assuming the same level of guilt with others as they happen to feel themselves. This creates political damage when someone tries to cop an attitude with others in order to convince themselves they are reformed now.

I've watched liberalism die once before due to Limbaugh/Colter conservatives who are bitterly angry at society for personal hangups. Liberalism became a dirty word for a long time, deftly associated with sensitive whining and political correctness by its enemies, credited with zero substance. Amazingly, most liberals usually agreed to the zero substance part, despite the massive and unqualified success of the past two generations with it. Instead, they called themselves fiscally conservative, because they were confused between the old liberal economic position of using public support to fill in the cracks, and the new boom town exuberance of supply-side military spending from the neo-cons with their hidden agenda. Then everything fell apart, rather suddenly, when the incompetent borrow and spend fantasy of wars and tax cuts and deregulation started to fail the economy.

So what should liberals do? Make a point of NOT ruining the brand by trying to convince your conservative "opponent" of anything, because all they have to do is refuse out of ignorance to make a liberal look like an idiot. Rather, a liberal must try to convince any and all third parties who are observing in such encounters that liberals are the ones with common sense.
posted by Brian B. at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Regarding the death threats topic, see the above-linked Jezebel piece. For some reason, Tumblr, and trans-issue tumblrs, are especially heavy with this.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:21 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


symbioid: Re: "I think the focus so much on specific WORDS as opposed to the actual relations involved is where people go wrong"

I agree, it's frustrating to have to define _everything_. If people spend enough time together physically in the same space (e.g., weekly church-goers), they can potentially develop relationships based on experience, personality, gestures, etc.

Now, though, we have so many people now communicating primarily through words alone that it's incredibly difficult to build enough relationships that are solid enough to yield understanding or easy forgiveness.

I'm typing this very carefully in hopes that you won't interpret it as criticism, but I worry that it might seem critical anyway. If you could hear my voice, you'd know how I'm feeling as I type.
posted by amtho at 10:21 AM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ariel, maybe you can clarify, I don't want to make assumptions either way, but do you get death threats on a regular basis? And is my estimate that you get less than 30 of these "complaints" a month accurate?

We have received threats, yes. And I'd say less than 30 complaints a month, yes.

An important piece of context here for those who are unfamiliar with my sites: my publications are fluff. We're talking weddings, home decor, and parenting. I am not a heavy-hitting publisher. The fact that my editors receive this level of vitriol in response to a post about, say, a lesbian wedding, means that I cannot even fathom the threats made toward political, activist, or social justice publishers.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:22 AM on December 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


Ideologues expelling the insufficiently orthodox from their inner circles, film at 11.

Orthodoxy is an evil anywhere on the political spectrum, and people seem surprised that there are people "even among liberals" who are assholes about their particular hobby horse?
posted by chimaera at 10:23 AM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:24 AM on December 2, 2012


It's hard to see how the combination of identity politics and rigid enforcement of ideological orthodoxy can ever be the basis for a movement that wields any kind of actual political power. At least when the right goes on its own internal heretic hunts, it has a single point of view it's trying to enforce; when everybody is arguing from their own little micro-constituency, you end up with the eternal circular firing squad that the social justice left is.

Of course, if you valorize victimhood and powerlessness enough, and build your self-conception around them, then the possibility of actually wielding political power becomes very emotionally and ideologically troubling. Sometimes I think the reason that leftists put all their energy into fighting each other instead is as an unconscious way of resolving that contradiction.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


So - umm, reading that Jezebel article about Laci Green, I wonder how many of the death threats are anon-style trolls...

I mean, at least two of the "bullies" clearly used sexist words themselves. "white fairy vagina" (wtf?) and "transphobic cunt" (really?) That sure as fuck doesn't sound like language of an "ally"... Meh.
posted by symbioid at 10:30 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also regarding Tumblr (and with apologies for multiposting), see these three excellent comments from Frowner.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's challenging for me because the values motivating these complaints are completely in-line with both my personal politics as well as my professional passion for catering to niche markets and semi-marginalized cultures.

Oh, yes. I have inadvertently gotten into many arguments with genuinely like-minded people over the tone of the discourse rather than the substance. Tone does matter.
posted by fatehunter at 10:41 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, flex.
posted by nangar at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2012


An important piece of context here for those who are unfamiliar with my sites: my publications are fluff. We're talking weddings, home decor, and parenting. I am not a heavy-hitting publisher. The fact that my editors receive this level of vitriol in response to a post about, say, a lesbian wedding, means that I cannot even fathom the threats made toward political, activist, or social justice publishers.

A lot of your marketing is based around the fact that you're not fluff, but the alternative to fluff: thoughtful, respectful of marginalized communities, considerate of different dynamics, etc. You go out of your way to mention your support for various social justice causes as a defense against some of the criticisms leveled at this piece and other pieces. I say this not to nitpick your comment, but because I think that it's important to acknowledge that when you're using your anti-oppression/liberal/alt cred as a marketing tool and making money off of it, and that makes it quite reasonable for people to criticize the writing on your site on that basis.

As it is, this is as though someone is marketing their shoes as vegan (for example) and then finding that people criticize their shoemakers for wearing leather aprons. Is it nitipicky? Reasonable people can disagree about that. Should they refrain from death threats and abusiveness? Most people would say yes. But responding to criticisms of the leather aprons by saying "oh, we just make shoes" like you're not sure where the vegan thing is coming from is not really sensible.

It's a shame that the hyperbole you used to try to get attention for this article is being taken very seriously by a lot of people, many of whom are happy to have a piece of evidence that says "oh look, even liberals think the PC police go too far" to use to shut down reasonable complaints about hateful language.

Anyway, I don't want to make this just about this specific article, and with this comment I think I've said all I need to say, so I'm going to step out of this thread for now.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think one thing that tends to happen is that individual corners of the internet tend to develop highly specialized analysis and vocabulary - often very good analysis and vocabulary, I consider that I've learned a lot from the much-demonized 'SJ' side of tumblr - but because of the echo chamber effect of the internet, people tend to forget both how long it took them to evolve their analysis and that they're a fairly small group. It feels like The Absolute Social Consensus that we all type "trans*" instead of "trans" to indicate that we respect non-binary genders, for example, and that someone who does not do this must be doing so consciously. Or alternatively, that someone who does not do so can't possibly have their own experiences and reasons. And therefore, out come the "fuck you die of cancer you hateful piece of shit" posts. Which, as I've said elsewhere here, I personally find incredibly painful, scary and anxiety-inducing to read as they recall a lot of crappy experiences when I was little.

I add that many of the people I know in this milieu are pretty young, and while they often have lots and lots of important experiences that I do not have - and about which experiences I absolutely defer to them - many of them don't have much experience with the way intellectual trends work in radical spaces, and the way that language concerns tend to play out. As a person who is One Million In Activist Years, I feel like I've seen some of these social dynamics before, and not much good has come of them. Especially since, in one of the places that I frequent, the people who banded together to establish one intellectual norm/kind of critique are now starting to turn on each other using the same kind of rhetoric and the same assumptions of bad faith, meanness, selfish enjoyment of privilege, etc. I find it pretty depressing that even these kids, who I admire a lot in most ways, are not able to defeat this same problem that I've seen plague activist groups over my entire, like, 22 years of activism.

I guess that's where I'd say I differ from a lot of the critics of SJ tumblr - I am not gleeful to see this problem persist, nor do I feel that it undercuts the other radical projects in the same milieu.

As I've also said elsewhere on mefi, I think a problem is that most folks write primarily about how they are marginalized and how they are wronged, not how they commit wrongs. And I don't count the periodic "we are all oppressors!" posts - those tend to be either "we are all utterly sinful terrible people who should always be very, very humble" or "we are all kind of oppressive, so let's all be nice!" posts. Just, like, it would be nice to be able to write honestly about working through our various social positions, experiences, wrongs we have done, daily life, etc without needing to do this Uriah Heep routine for fear that everyone will assume that we are endorsing oppression.
posted by Frowner at 10:44 AM on December 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


The fact that Will Shetterly is being listed as a credible source in this post really undercuts its legitimacy. He has a history of harassment, mostly against Women of color as the link shows.
posted by ShawnStruck at 10:46 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]



Also regarding Tumblr (and with apologies for multiposting), see these three excellent comments from Frowner.


Thanks, er, oops, er...those comments said pretty much everything I said in the comment I actually made in this thread...except for being a little more negative about tumblr than I am feeling this morning.

It is worth noting that Ira Grey, linked in the OP, actually is pretty much off the internet since he sexually assaulted his girlfriend. It's a pretty unpleasant story - not just some kind of sexual boorishness or just an internet rumor - that I'd rather not link to but that you can readily google.

I find it hard to separate out people's real and understandable anger about their own or others' oppression and the symptoms of the internet like deindividuation. One reason I don't like tumblr very much is that I've realized that it's become completely normal to me that people respond equally to both evil and ignorance with "fuck you, die you [sexual obscenity]". It may very well be a symptom of my sheltered privilege since honestly no one has used that kind of language to me since I was bullied in school - unlike many working class women of color or other oppressed people who have to put up with violent and racist language all the time - but it gets me down anyway.
posted by Frowner at 10:56 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, yes. I have inadvertently gotten into many arguments with genuinely like-minded people over the tone of the discourse rather than the substance. Tone does matter.

Tone definitely matters, but everyone agrees how much it matters or when. Reconciling that difference is exactly what this post is about.

In my observations, it's usually about the individual (or small group) needing or wanting to have their specific concerns addressed, above all other priorities in a particular situation. Sometimes that's possible, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes individuals can understand that, other times not. It's a learning process.

What makes it touchy is that their concerns are often valid, which makes it hard to say "Yes, this is important, but not right now," especially to people who have heard that most of their lives.

A blanket answer that'll work for every situation probably doesn't exist. Each has to be handled on its on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I mean, at least two of the "bullies" clearly used sexist words themselves. "white fairy vagina" (wtf?) and "transphobic cunt" (really?) That sure as fuck doesn't sound like language of an "ally"... Meh.

I think that commenter with the death threat probably was a troll, but more based on the overall structure of the comment than the specific language. The things you quote are pretty standard albeit serious insults that get used on tumblr - they're not troll language.

I am always torn because I think the logic is this: people who are marginalized suffer incredible physical, cultural and language violence all the time, so it's only fair that marginalized people use the most aggressive language they can muster back at their oppressors. Living as a white middle class person you benefit from the system that perpetually exhausts, traumatizes and insults working class people of color, for example, so you think that violent language is Oh So Terrible And So Painful because you are too ignorant, sheltered and selfish to have experience with the real violence of the world.

I actually find that really persuasive and plausible.

At the same time, reading all that language is very hard for me and triggers a lot of bad memories and anxiety.
posted by Frowner at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It occurs to me - Livejournal basically being opposite-Reddit, are there portions of Livejournal that are little islands of reddit "values"* the same as there are little islands of livejournally stuff** on Reddit? They could be the Yong and Yang of the internets!

* creeper men's rights bullshit.
** eternal circles of privlege shaming, counter shaming and shaming for not shaming enough.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think one of the true hallmarks of the progressive is pragmatism. I see certain goals as being beneficial to society and there is no proper path to get where we want to go. Civilization is the major accomplishment of the past 60 centuries. We didn't get here without compromise and sacrifice. We have had setbacks along the way but everything I have learned in my life says the universe has a direction. Life is a refutation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I think of human diversity and our evolution the fact we are animals still has some meaning, not everything is nurture. I don't expect everyone will always be on the same page nor should we be, conflict has had its place in the history of civilization. Memes evolve thus human consciousness. Social justice is a code word for egalitarians. To me that means universal health care, universal education, guaranteed income, the absence of familial multi-generational accumulations of wealth. Much easier to write then to affect. One other quality needed for the would be progressive: patience.
posted by pdxpogo at 11:09 AM on December 2, 2012


Reddit has SRS. I dunno about LJ - considering 90% of it is Russian these days. :(

My comrades at /r/communism do work on SJ issues when people use *ist language, but it's not our core issue (of course). But it is one thing we work towards in the process. I like it, because it's not dogmatic, we call it out when we see it, and we don't harp on it. Give someone time to correct it, make note of it, and move on. If they refuse to understand why it's a problem, it might be a ban. Whatevs. They can then go whine on a /r/socialism about how they're oppressed by those evil stalinists over on /r/communism...
posted by symbioid at 11:14 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


** eternal circles of privlege shaming, counter shaming and shaming for not shaming enough.

Good sir, you don't know how far the rabbit hole goes down. Plenty of "die cis scum" to go around.
posted by zabuni at 11:15 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Unicorn Ally post is fantastic. One bit that jumped out at me, and explains a bunch of this phenomenon:
The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression
a) seems to be plausibly a big part of the dynamic - where you get stuck in this place where the only think you feel you can safely say about a topic is what is or is not the right way to discuss the topic. Hmm. I'll have to think about that a bit more.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:19 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'll second that You Don't Need Oreos, You're the Baker's Son is a fantastic piece, and an especially interesting contrast to the Unicorn Ally piece:
This is parallel to a situation that I see happening all of the time, and I was reminded of it by an article called “The Unicorn Ally” about why allies need less hostility and more cookies from oppressed people, and I disagree. Allies are not entitled to cookies and I really hope people consider this before giving cookies to companies like Oreo. Why aren’t they? The number one reason being: You already get them. In abundance.

I’ll first address the cookies I get as an ally. Though I’m not fully white and have lost indigenous heritage due to racism and white supremacy, I am, for all intents and purposes, white by society’s standards. As a white person, I have privilege that I no longer deny. But accepting that I have privilege does not rid me of it. In fact, accepting I have privilege and being a white person who speaks out against racism means that I take on a privilege that very few people of colour get – I’m actually listened to. As an ally for people of colour, I occupy a precarious position. Yes, I am there to help. Yes, I am on the side of anyone who fights against white supremacy. But it is that same white supremacy that means that when I speak, my voice has more weight with other whites than people of colour. I consistently see this in both my lived experiences and in real life, reflected in the media. Being a white ally means that I can say the exact same thing about racism that people of colour have said for decades and I get far more credit for it.
Fatihah Iman's piece about what she, personally, would like to see from her allies is also super great. I especially appreciated the food for thought about how to be supportive of people who are less privileged than you on certain axes, even if you yourself are marginalized along other axes.

Also: I've only read like 8 articles in this post so far and I am already overflowing with feels. Guh.
posted by Phire at 11:28 AM on December 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Reddit has SRS. I dunno about LJ - considering 90% of it is Russian these days. :(

One thing I never quite understood about SRS was whether it was just some SA vs Reddit shitfight just trying to make Reddit look bad or whether they had actually drunk the SJ Kool-Aid and were fully into the whole thing.
posted by Talez at 12:24 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice multiple-front issues post here.

The issue presented with the Offbeat sites is different from the rest (except for the concerns of MeFi mods)--that's a case of a commercial website with progressive leanings that's starting to have issues where it's becoming the left-wing equivalent of all those "mainstream" sites where we're constantly reminded to NEVER READ THE COMMENTS EVER EVER. Just letting you know--I never read the comments on any of the Offbeat sites, because they have no value. It's not the only site where I never read the comments. Actually, the only comments I read these days are on MeFi and the SBNation blogs and a few other places that are essentially forums with articles attached where the point is the community and the comments. Most of these other sites are like newspapers for alternative subcultures; why do they even have comments these days? It's just going to get ruined by a different set of site ruiners. Gawker Media stopped their comments problems by largely hiding the comments from everyone except for people who are totally invested in seeing the comments. On sites like MeFi where the content is the comments...that's a bit harder to do.
posted by Electric Elf at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2012


Further down the list, I think people who are dismissing Will Shetterly's piece without reading it need to read Sady Doyle's piece.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:43 PM on December 2, 2012


Tone definitely matters, but not everyone agrees how much it matters or when. Reconciling that difference is exactly what this post is about.

Yes, and it's a step I think the progressives need to take. My concern is that reconciling attitudes toward tone may be even harder than reconciling values. Much of the issue with tone has little to do with right or wrong and a lot to do with personal preference. I'll admit that there are certain kinds of tones that consistently appeal to/antagonize me, regardless of the actual arguments; I've also been told by others that my communication style bothers them. It's really difficult to settle this kind of not-argument when neither side thinks the other is wrong, per se. A lot of times people just walk away knowing they don't like each other, even if they agree on issues.

It occurs to me - Livejournal basically being opposite-Reddit, are there portions of Livejournal that are little islands of reddit "values"* the same as there are little islands of livejournally stuff** on Reddit? They could be the Yong and Yang of the internets!

The ONTD people on LJ have a certain style/air that might come off tonally Reddit-ish, which might explain my negative reaction to the community. Still, I'd much rather deal with ONTD (or Gawker, etc.) than Reddit (or Vice, etc.), because ONTD is part of LJ and the people do tend to hold values closer to my own.

The Ying and Yang of the internets are the 'Entertainment Gossip" and the "Miscellaneous Talk" sub-forums on Tianya. It's not balanced though - the Gossip Women pwn the MiscTalk Men in every dustup ever.
posted by fatehunter at 12:46 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should they refrain from death threats and abusiveness? Most people would say yes.

FFS, did you really need to hedge this? How about a simple "Yes," or even "of course."
posted by msalt at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm as annoyed by meticulous policing as anyone else. Notice I said "annoyed," not "constantly triggered to re-live a lifetime of pain and trauma." I can deal with annoyed.
posted by DJ Broken Record at 12:48 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not familiar with Racefail '09, but here is Railface '12.
posted by biffa at 12:56 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


FFS, did you really need to hedge this? How about a simple "Yes," or even "of course."

No, I didn't "need" to, but it's not really the point of my post and I wanted to avoid an animal rights derail by acknowledging there are multiple points of view about the relative level of atrocity involved in the meat/leather industries and the various tactics that are acceptable to counter those atrocities (if one does see them that way).

If acknowledging that there are multiple points of view about this particular subject bothers you a lot...good luck with that then, I guess.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:07 PM on December 2, 2012


allies need less hostility and more cookies from oppressed people

There is a difference between "cookies" and "basic human decency."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:12 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that Will Shetterly is being listed as a credible source in this post really undercuts its legitimacy

Oh Shitterly, Christ yes, one of the worst offenders of Being Socialist on the Internet, the sort of plonker who interrupts a discussion about racism or sexism to patronisingly explain how these are just tools in the class war and really you shouldn't care so much about it but worry about class and who gets really, really upset when his privileged position is pointed out. All mouth and no trousers, but brave enough to try and bully women of colour on the internet, though he is so laughably bad at it that this largely fails.

Now personally I do think class is often neglected, at least in the Marxist sense, and that if you look at racism and sexism and bigotry and the like in a more abstract sense, it is quite clear that these are deliberately encouraged as a tool of the ruling classes to keep the workers divided, but how does that help the poor woman at the end of a make me a sammich rant?
posted by MartinWisse at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read/skimmed a good number of articles here, and thought over the whole privelege thing while doing work, this FPP addresses the function of privelege checking in a fairly good way overall. It's at most a start, but a good one.

To me, privelege checking is more or less an attempt to have people identify what they take for granted. Having people realize that they take much for granted is nothing historically new, but I suppose it is for that reason, AND that trying to get people to do that has become old, AND people have almost built an immunity to it, that we have this new approach, amongst new cultural memes i.e. #firstWorldProblems.

Well intended? Sure. OTOH: when its basically stopping very intelligent people from solving problems in a constructive and relatively socially responsible manner, we got a problem. You need brains, and the issues of feminism, the LGBTQ et al. community, even sustainability, become at risk of being unaddressed and not fully tackled if almost all the smartest people are shoved to the sidelines.

We don't need to necessarily approach these problems as engineers, statisticians, programmers, et al. do in their fields with their problems, but we could take someone's argument, not implement such a blanket dismissal, and instead do some quick Googling/Binging/Yahooing for arguments in support or against their argument, recognize the situation for what it is, and say, let's try this or this instead, recognizing there are a lot of stalemates. Those should not stop us from holding the stalemate or breaking it for the progressive line.

In other words, we have X, want Y, lets try Z on X. Swap out Zs until something works a bit, and continue building, and I'll be damned if we disregarded some Zs for being priveleged. Rocks are priveleged for being rocks, only slightly weathered away at by wind and water, and remaining functional unless something earth shattering acts upon them. We can disregard Zs if they have a high probability of backfiring in a possibly fatal way.

Thanks for reading through this slight rant, otherwise in praise of the FPP.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Further down the list, I think people who are dismissing Will Shetterly's piece without reading it need to read Sady Doyle's piece.

Yeah, his bit was an interesting take on the WisCon Troll Incident. Past failures on his part don't negate his point about mob justice being heavy on the mob and light on the justice.

All mouth and no trousers, but brave enough to try and bully women of colour on the internet, though he is so laughably bad at it that this largely fails.

Well, yes, but Doyle's point (which she is making about Wolf) is that someone can be very wrong about some things and very right about others.
posted by Justinian at 1:23 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person who got a strong whiff of Stockholm Syndrome from the Unicorn Ally article? It seems to me the gist is:

"I've found that trying to work to improve the lot of people's lives who have been the victims of (various forms of) oppression subjects me to unattainable standards, whereby should I fall short of $oppressed_person's expectations for dedication to their cause and deep, thorough critical understanding of precisely their own Accepted Vocabulary, that I am then accused of not merely being inadequate as an ally, but aiding and abetting the very oppression I am seeking to diminish. And that's pretty extreme and I won't treat anyone else as badly as I'm being treated, but $oppressed_person has every right to abuse me because I guess I'm really not good enough even though I try and I try."
posted by chimaera at 1:24 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am not familiar with Racefail '09

It was the amazing discovery that actually, science fiction fandom might not quite be the happy open and warm kingdom of acceptance it likes to think it is, with quite a lot of ingrained, systemic racism and sexism coming to the fore through months of online flamewars, mostly on LJ.

If you want to know more, Torgue Control has a good summing up of why it was important, while if you want to dive into the deep endRyda Wong had a daily link list during the worst of it.

Racefail may actually be a good example of what the original posts here are about, as people who liked to think about themselves as enlightened and progressive and not racist were confronted with the fact that maybe they weren't quite as much so as they wanted to believe, while a few other people got really nasty against offenders, both real and imaginary one. It was a big old mess, but in the end it was quite cathartic and good for fandom as all that stuff that had been festering for too long underground got out in the open.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think one element of all of this -- which is mentioned briefly in some of the links, and in the comments to this post -- is that of "performance".

Because all of this -- and I do mean all of this -- SJ privilege checking stuff has come out of the academic world, it's crucial to understand how the notion of "performance" is central to the theories which drive the debates. Queer Theory, Cultural Studies, Post-Modernism, some of the more extreme Marxist Feminist theories, all derive a large portion of their work from the notion of their ideas being performative: which is to say, more or less, using hyperbole to make a larger -- if abstract and incomprehensible -- point.

The problem becomes, I sense, that for the SJ Kidz on Tumblr who are picking up this language, this tone, second-, third-, or fourth-hand, the hyperbolic aspect of the tone is completely lost, the intent wholly absent. They don't get that it's intended to be, at least partially, an act.

Of course, I don't condone forcing anyone to sit down and read Foucault, but man: a little context about all this might serve to calm the forces of hysteria.
posted by gsh at 1:29 PM on December 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


in the end it was quite cathartic and good for fandom

Not exactly, in my circles we had quite a few people who joined the pile-on crowd, leading their (in some cases, now former) friends to lock everything tighter than a drum on LJ or stop posting there entirely, dropping all online fandom activity and going to Facebook. Then of course we all now have each other on mutual ignore there due to the SHARE SHARE SHARE sort of thing that sonascope was mentioning in the FB post a few days ago.
posted by Electric Elf at 1:32 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was the amazing discovery that actually, science fiction fandom might not quite be the happy open and warm kingdom of acceptance it likes to think it is, with quite a lot of ingrained, systemic racism and sexism coming to the fore through months of online flamewars, mostly on LJ.

Or a weird pile on instigated by a bunch of pricks, the target of which was totally undeserving of such an assault.
posted by Artw at 1:34 PM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, yes, but Doyle's point (which she is making about Wolf) is that someone can be very wrong about some things and very right about others.

Perhaps, but I wouldn't trust Shetterly if he told me the sky was blue without looking out of the window and checking how this featured in his vendetta against coffeeandink (frex).
posted by MartinWisse at 1:35 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it not Metafilter's own Shetterly anymore?
posted by dng at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but flex probably didn't know that about Shetterly; it was just a link found (and who knows, probably found off the Sady Doyle post.) If you're not enwrapped within the everyday drama you're unsure of who the players are, what they stand for, or what the Word of the Day everyone is using or avoiding is.
posted by Electric Elf at 1:38 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or a weird pile on instigated by a bunch of pricks, the target of which was totally undeserving of such an assault.

No.

There really are systemic problems with sf fandom regarding sexism and racism, problems that consciously and unconsciously had been swept under the carpet over the years, and racefail was instrumental in bringing them up again.

It wasn't nice and quite a few people, including a few of my friends got hit as collatoral damage, but it was worth it in the end.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It wasn't nice and quite a few people, including a few of my friends got hit as collatoral damage, but it was worth it in the end.

Let's play the "Which Side of the Political Spectrum Did This Comment Come From" game!

If you guessed "Authoritarian" you're right correct.
posted by chimaera at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


No good came our of it whatsoever apart from a few subjects being a bit more toxic and a few people being a bit more smug.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the memorable things about "racefail" (or as I prefer "discoursefail") was the number of enthusiastic self-declared anti-racists who were calling the employers of people they didn't like. Remember when everyone agreed that calling employers was a terrible expression of privilege?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:59 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, Artw and MartinWisse, you're both right; it exposed some people in the community as having some serious issues with recognizing when bad stuff about racism and sexism etc. go on, but it also showed that some people in the community are really skilled at piling on, and the entire issue about the asymmetric nature of the Internet showed up in a major way; it's community management and MeFi and Gawker and Offbeat Whatever are commercial and can hire people to camp in their comments all day; Jo Amateur Phan usually can't and the pile-on people seemed to have expected someone to be tied into their Internet connection 24/7/365 so they could respond to their horribly -ist behavior at the drop of an email. Thus, the suppression of non-commercial content on LJ.
posted by Electric Elf at 2:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for SRS on Reddit, I was a very prominent member there for about six months, and I am an academic feminist. Many people in SRS are very serious about social justice, some people are just having fun. In other words, SRS is lots of different things, but the most important thing to remember about it is that it exists FOR its members and for its members only, not for Reddit as a whole. SRS's connection to SA is majorly overblown. The end.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


It feels like sometimes there is an eagerness in the social justice world to eat their own--you lose track about raising questions about sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc in the world, and instead focus on destroying members within your community because a detail of their argument indicated they were not Perfectly Aware. This is, in of itself, oppressive behavior, and you risk losing the people who want to dialogue in favor of people interested only in frothing at the mouth. See: the Tea Party persecution of moderates in the Republican Party.
posted by schroedinger at 2:22 PM on December 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


The fact that Will Shetterly is being listed as a credible source in this post really undercuts its legitimacy. He has a history of harassment, mostly against Women of color as the link shows.

I'm not meaning to pick on you, here, Shawnstruck, but surely this kind of comment is quite similar to the in-group/out-group, personality-driven calumny that a lot of this post is addressing? I kind of feel like reducing something so complex and broad to another sniping SFF Livejournal spat does it a grave disservice.

Agree with it or not, Shetterly's opinion is just a valid as an opinion as anyone else's, and I fail to see how a) past opinions of his render this one unworthy and b) why the presence of one opinion - amongst a myriad of opinions - would render the whole post a waste of time.

Racefail may actually be a good example of what the original posts here are about, as people who liked to think about themselves as enlightened and progressive and not racist were confronted with the fact that maybe they weren't quite as much so as they wanted to believe.

Ah, but I'm sure you were on the right side, weren't you Martin? You, of course, were genuinely enlightened and progressive rather than those racist morlocks getting high on hypocrisy and just pretending to be enlightened.

Please. This kind of divisive, tribal "destroy the village in order to save it" discourse has plagued the left since there was a left - the purity Olympics. Opportunities for dialogue and discourse are thrown to the wayside in pursuit of scapegoats. Changing someone's mind certainly doesn't give the same rush as denouncing them.

Fascinating OP Flex - though I've not read all the links yet. I think this is a definitely a "thing". It seems especially pronounced on the internet, but is in no way limited to it. It frustrates and saddens me. So much easier to write off your opposition, but it's like dividing cells, and you just keep getting smaller every time you corral another group outside.

I certainly have little sympathy for the arguments of certain former, right-wing, mefites, however I think there was a kernel of truth amongst their often wild accusations: this site - like many others - can be quite ruthless with outsider-opinion (and outsiders) when so inclined.
posted by smoke at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


The funniest assumption is the idea that what we say on the internet actually translates into political power. Or that social change happens through correcting others on how to think on a blog.

If we only insisted people said correct things, nobody would - or should - say anything.

I think part of the reason we got here is because most of our public spaces are balkanized; and the skills of disagreeing have diminished as the stakes seem to have increased.

Perhaps while much of the left spent its time time enforcing correct identity politics, they stopped organizing with the sometimes racist, often sexist and usually homophobic working class. We identified the structures of oppression, while the elites slowly dismantled our economic system.
posted by john wilkins at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't see why checking your privilege has to be a liberal thing. All too often, leftists should check their own privilege when criticizing the opposition.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:32 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agree with it or not, Shetterly's opinion is just a valid as an opinion as anyone else's, and I fail to see how a) past opinions of his render this one unworthy and b) why the presence of one opinion - amongst a myriad of opinions - would render the whole post a waste of time.

Yes, and my point was that it wasn't even an opinion piece so much as a roundup of a series of events that Will Shetterly himself wasn't even central to. Some unlovely perspectives certainly leaked through, but they were vastly less central than the actual topic of the piece. Which if you decline to read anything he says, you will not learn about.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:33 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The funniest assumption is the idea that what we say on the internet actually translates into political power.

I think I am misunderstanding you, john wilkins. Can you clarify what you mean by this? Because I really do think that what we say on the Internet translates into political power, and that these social justice communities have a very real impact on Internet culture.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2012


[If you really need to interrogate someone's beliefs on an unrelated subject, feel free to do it privately. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:49 PM on December 2, 2012


This is quite the timely post. I was just having a discussion about the fractious nature of progressives with a friend of mine last night.

Forgive me if this was covered elsewhere. There's lots to read. But a point I didn't see addressed is jus how destructive this policing can be to the actual oppressed folks themselves. This eggshell-walking, moral grandstanding kind of thing promotes timidness towards groups of people that are oppressed. It creates fear in well-meaning allies and forces them to approached the oppressed as a sort of outsider. Let's not dig into the somantics of whether they actually are or not. For the sake of argument I'll say as a blindperson I would be happy to have allies in my camp. But when progressives browbeat each other into neurotic quivering masses of cowardice, I get the sense that they become gunshy about approaching oppressed peoples. That excessive moral panic does a tremendous disservice to those of us among the oppressed that just want to be accepted unconditionally. You know what I want from allies? Stop worrying about offending me. I'll tell you if you do. I can't speak for other groups of people, but I think the major social screwups are pretty evident by now. You avoid those and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 2:51 PM on December 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


Agree with it or not, Shetterly's opinion is just a valid as an opinion as anyone else's, and I fail to see how a) past opinions of his render this one unworthy and b) why the presence of one opinion - amongst a myriad of opinions - would render the whole post a waste of time.

That's just naive. If somebody has shown himself to be consistenly argueing in bad faith and his opinion therefore becomes less valid than others.

Ah, but I'm sure you were on the right side, weren't you Martin? You, of course, were genuinely enlightened and progressive rather than those racist morlocks getting high on hypocrisy and just pretending to be enlightened.

Ehh. Not quite how I put it, but if you want to believe that, you're free to do so. For an example of what really went down, this link post by James Nicoll, starring MeFi's own John Scalzi, is a good example of what really went down, warts and all.

My own contributions are on my own blog, if you want to judge for yourself.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Over the past couple years, I've watched the rise of this new form of online performance art, where internet commenters make public sport of flagging potentially problematic language as insensitive, and gleefully flag authors as needing to check their privilege.

Whoa. That's a pretty intensively negative interpretation of the motivations of people raising privilege issues... "performance art"? "public sport"? "gleeful"?

So I've only read a few of the articles so far, but are there any of them anywhere in here where folks give actual examples of people acting in ways that are obviously "performance art"/more interested in coming off as self-righteous than making changes/etc? (There weren't any in the first article, where this quote came from.) Or any other examples that anyone else here who says "yes, this is right on, this happens all the time!" can point to?

Because my initial response is to be super-skeptical of people who are getting called out on privilege issues interpreting the motivations of those making the callouts as less-than-genuine. I feel like I've seen plenty of instances on Metafilter where people make claims like this and when I look at the post in question I can't find anything that looks at all to me like that... that the most "aggressive"/"grandstanding" comments still read to me like they come from genuine pain/anger/frustration/exhaustion, or at worst it's ambiguous, and it seems really uncharitable and problematic to assume that the person is doing it as a performance, more-progressive-than-thou thing.

So when people talk about this kind of thing, I don't know how to interpret it, and I wish they'd just give examples of what they're talking about. Because unless they do, I'm going to have to go with "I'm not sure what's really going on here, but it seems most likely to me that the person getting called out probably has a skewed perspective on the motivations and intentions of the people criticizing them." I just don't see how it's fair-- and in my experience, it doesn't seem likely to be accurate-- to just take their word for it. I'm open to believing there's some of this out there, but I need to see it for myself.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm open to believing there's some of this out there, but I need to see it for myself.

Do not use Metafilter as an example of how the internet talks about difficult subjects. Seriously. This is a closed system with central moderation and a cohesive culture - it does not map to open comments, livejournal/blog drama, tumblr, or anything else being discussed in the links.

Yeah, there is a lot of that going on, and I really recommend reading more of the links - the first article just sort of states the thesis, and all the rest of them provide examples and analysis both for and against it.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A comment from a member who prefers to remain anonymous:
I think there's a difference between different kinds of calling-out that not all these articles recognise.

On the one hand, there's this situation: somebody genuinely shows their ass, other people call them out on it, and sometimes there's an argument. The callers-out are probably regulars in places where this kind of thing happens a lot, and depending on the state of their patience, they may be more or less sharp in their language. (I know I've varied a lot in how rude or conciliatory I've been depending on how much I'm just up to here for one month.) Telling these people to hand out more cookies and mind their tone is usually counter-productive and often completely unfair.

On the other hand, there are some people who do make calling-out a hobby. This is problematic in itself, because there's a difference between rising to the occasion and getting a taste for the hunt, and because the act of calling-out shouldn't be done to amuse the caller. But there's a worse problem with it, which is that of the hobbyists, some of them are people with ... well, issues.

Now, we all have issues, but some people have more than others. The Internet, unlike physical spaces, is a place anyone with computer access can join, and even people who can't sustain any human relationships in the real world can hang around there comfortably, and often make friends. Which can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes it's even a healing thing. But sometimes, those issues aren't going away, and sometimes people aren't trying to heal themselves. Instead, they're looking for an outlet.

Some people like to engineer psychodramas to reenact certain situations that are important to them. There are parts that have to be cast. The bully who creates your victim status (and who is, if you're choosing the cast, not going to be somebody who would actually pursue and bully you, because that involves far too much risk to yourself). The Wrong person you can angelically educate and save (and who will garner great resentment if they won't conform to that role, even if what you're trying to 'teach' them is something reasonable people can disagree about). The parent, who guides and supports and sometimes corrects you (and who again can garner great resentment if they ever deviate from that role, and sometimes can find themselves changed from 'nurturing parent' to 'controlling parent' in the programme). The comforter or comforters, who truly see you for the pure soul you are: the people you play for, and who, if several people with this kind of issue get together, can form a circle to reenact the drama again and again.

None of this is actually about social justice. But social justice is an arena highly liable to attract such people, because education and the support of victims are very much part of its value system. Some people define themselves as victims for reasons that are less political than personal, and look for circumstances under which they can play out the drama that reconfirms that identity.

And while they can be mistaken for the former kind of caller-out - very often, because that's how it works in the first place - there's a big difference. Some social justice activists are emotionally unstable because some people just are in any group, but some of them are people who are all about the instability. Social justice, with its tendency to ever-widening circles of identified problems, actually lends itself to this in another way: I've seen people declare straight out that they're emotionally fragile people by nature and that it's therefore discriminating against them to ask them to deal with problems directly when the only way they feel 'safe' is to round up an angry mob - people who feel that it's persecuting them to require a basic level of maturity and constructive discourse. And if you're supposedly committed to supporting the vulnerable, and that commitment includes 'respecting people's experience' to the point where you can't say, 'Seriously, you're crossing the line into special snowflake here,' that's pretty much a checkmate move.

And once a culture of that is established, it can get really, really bad for the people who've been cast as the black hats. There's a reason I'm not using my usual handle for this.

I have the strong suspicion that a lot of the most exasperated comments are not from people getting all wounded about a social activist with a point saying something snappish, but from people who have, for one reason or another, found themselves with a lot of psychodramatists on their hands. And social justice is best served by recognising this as a side-effect that needs to be minimised rather than conflating it with people who are genuinely just pissed off.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [34 favorites]


Because I really do think that what we say on the Internet translates into political power

Perhaps, but if it was automatically true across the board then power is only preserved. And, if there's a way to gain power on the internet, then it can also be lost by doing it wrong.
posted by Brian B. at 3:05 PM on December 2, 2012


Aaargh.

And once again we're discussing racefail and it's once again not about the actual systemic racist attitudes in fandom, nor the positive outcomes of it (like Verbe Noire, or the continued attention to cultural appropriation in sf, or the various fan initiatives to make conventions and such more open to people of colour, or even that incredible list of people who self identified as Black and science fiction fan when somebody complained/argued there were so few Black sf fans, or...) but just about how nasty and horrible it all was.

And while it was frustrating and horrible to see people I knew personally and knew to be decent and good people get hurt and withdrawn from the debates shellshocked, there's also something in what Frowner said earlier:
I am always torn because I think the logic is this: people who are marginalized suffer incredible physical, cultural and language violence all the time, so it's only fair that marginalized people use the most aggressive language they can muster back at their oppressors. Living as a white middle class person you benefit from the system that perpetually exhausts, traumatizes and insults working class people of color, for example, so you think that violent language is Oh So Terrible And So Painful because you are too ignorant, sheltered and selfish to have experience with the real violence of the world.
As in, we should all try not to hurt good people unnecessarily in these sort of debates, but when it does happen, we should not try and redirect the discussion about that, about how this is hurtful to white blokes. At least not without recognising that the person of colour mad at you very likely has had to deal with much more of such shit in her life than you ever had to.

And with racefail, there were positive outcomes and from where I'm sitting, even though people I like got hurt in the process, I still think the positives outweight the negatives and we shouldn't refuse to recognise that.

Your milage may vary, if only because was all such an ungodly mess and nobody really has the complete picture of what happened.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


And once a culture of that is established, it can get really, really bad for the people who've been cast as the black hats. There's a reason I'm not using my usual handle for this.

I'm not trying to cherry pick and I definitely read your entire comment, but I had a question about this part. Are you saying that this site is an example of that culture? Or is it a handle you use elsewhere where the culture of that exists?
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2012


And once again we're discussing racefail and it's once again not about the actual systemic racist attitudes in fandom, nor the positive outcomes of it (like Verbe Noire, or the continued attention to cultural appropriation in sf, or the various fan initiatives to make conventions and such more open to people of colour, or even that incredible list of people who self identified as Black and science fiction fan when somebody complained/argued there were so few Black sf fans, or...) but just about how nasty and horrible it all was.

Well, no, we're using Racefail as an example of how people talk about social justice issues on the internet. We are not actually rehashing the issues Racefail raised.

Let me do that correctly:

*ahem*

[We are not actually rehashing the issues Racefail raised.]

It's a critical distinction - it's the distinction between Metafilter and Metatalk, really, except this thread is Metatalk for the rest of the internet rather than the blue.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you saying that this site is an example of that culture?

I'm not claiming to speak for anon, up there, but I think that totally happens here quite frequently - in spite of the best efforts of our mods. The more controversial anon askme's are a perfect example, and speaking personally I think I've definitely been guilty of it, myself.
posted by smoke at 3:20 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that's true, point taken.


What I was trying to say is that characterisations of the sort of discussion Racefail was as a cluserfsck or pileon and discussing it largely in terms of how it hurt certain people, similar to how the original post here sees callout culture ignores the original problems driving these discussions as well as anything positive that comes out of it.

It's all lolLivejournal again and I don't think focusing too much on that is healthy. It's sort of the meta version of the tone argument...
posted by MartinWisse at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's all lolLivejournal again and I don't think focusing too much on that is healthy. It's sort of the meta version of the tone argument...

Well, we may have to agree to disagree, but I think talking about how these discussions go, the dynamics in play, and the upsides and downsides to certain tactics without actually having a debate about a specific topic is the best way for people who engage in these discussions to raise the level of discourse. The best way to practice this sort of thing is to talk and think about it when you're not emotionally engaged, so that you develop habits and reflexes that work for you, not against you, when you are trying to do it in a heightened emotional state.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:33 PM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ehh. Not quite how I put it, but if you want to believe that, you're free to do so.

So you were one of the racists, then?

I'm not accusing you of being racist, or elitist - I don't think you're either, in actuality, at least not based on your presence here. But I am trying to illustrate how easily these dialogues (and that dialogue) descended into a "with us or against us" situation, where people started digging trenches, and lobbing bombs was quite logical, following that.

If a discourse gets framed as "you are racist, or you are not", and then further as "if you say or believe THING, you are racist [or sexist, or ableist, or whatever], case closed" it is really hard.

Because no one thinks they are racist [or whatever]. So what do those people who believe or say THING do? They are essentially being asked to join a club that wouldn't have them as a member. When identity gets rolled up into discussions like this, people are protective of their identities/egos, and it can promote a sense of persecution - on all sides - that makes rapprochement very challenging.
posted by smoke at 3:33 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some people like to engineer psychodramas to reenact certain situations that are important to them. There are parts that have to be cast. The bully who creates your victim status (and who is, if you're choosing the cast, not going to be somebody who would actually pursue and bully you, because that involves far too much risk to yourself). The Wrong person you can angelically educate and save (and who will garner great resentment if they won't conform to that role, even if what you're trying to 'teach' them is something reasonable people can disagree about). The parent, who guides and supports and sometimes corrects you (and who again can garner great resentment if they ever deviate from that role, and sometimes can find themselves changed from 'nurturing parent' to 'controlling parent' in the programme). The comforter or comforters, who truly see you for the pure soul you are: the people you play for, and who, if several people with this kind of issue get together, can form a circle to reenact the drama again and again.

See, in some ways I really like this, but I feel like it risks dismissing some people as wrong/sick/etc when IME many of us are re-enacting all kinds of psychodramas on the internet at least some of the time. There's a tumblr person I can think of - not naming names since they get enough shit - who is obviously not in such a good place mentally and whose call-outs reflect that (I add that I do not have my own tumblr and have not been called out by anyone) but at the same time they're really astute and insightful. They're both kinds of caller-outer at once, as are a lot of us, I think.

(I think I tend to re-enact certain aspects of my own anxiety and self-distrust on these here internets, especially when call-outs are involved.)

I think that is about social justice, because a lot of the time, when people are re-enacting psychodramas they're stuck in a cycle of pain and distress that originates in an injustice done to them. Certainly the tumblr person I reference above seems to have endured a lot of shit.

I think one thing that is helpful for many of us anxious psycho-dramatists is to try to be rock-solid in your sense of self, your right to exist and speak, your right to an existence free of suffering created by injustice. In that headspace, maybe we can react with compassion and a sort of emotional "reaching out" rather than with anxiety, fear, or a sense of existential threat when there are dramaz on the internets. I think for a lot of us - at least a lot of people like me! - we've experienced enough actual bullying, violence or other bad stuff that any challenge to our regular behavior (especially stuff we haven't thought about, stuff that is completely unintentional) feels like such a big threat to our sense of self, to our ability to exist, that we can't even hear it or engage with it in confidence and with compassion.
posted by Frowner at 3:35 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


A comment from a member who prefers to remain anonymous:

I am super confused about why this comment is anonymous.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:48 PM on December 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm not claiming to speak for anon, up there, but I think that totally happens here quite frequently - in spite of the best efforts of our mods. The more controversial anon askme's are a perfect example, and speaking personally I think I've definitely been guilty of it, myself.


You can't sustain human relationships in the real world?

I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be a smartass here and I see what you're saying. People definitely identify strongly with various players in anon questions and declare people at fault and flip out at them. I just don't think that's what the anon commenter was saying. I'm wondering whether they genuinely feel that metafilter's culture is one where people who claim to be "emotionally fragile" as a method of manipulating the community, and who don't have human relationships in real life, are allowed to run roughshod over everyone and effectively disallow any kind of criticism or disagreement of their commentary.

Unless that's not a good summary of what they were saying. It would certainly be helpful if they were able to easily clarify, but I guess it's too dangerous here (or elsewhere on the internet) for that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:48 PM on December 2, 2012


In that headspace, maybe we can react with compassion and a sort of emotional "reaching out" rather than with anxiety, fear, or a sense of existential threat when there are dramaz on the internets. I think for a lot of us - at least a lot of people like me! - we've experienced enough actual bullying, violence or other bad stuff that any challenge to our regular behavior (especially stuff we haven't thought about, stuff that is completely unintentional) feels like such a big threat to our sense of self, to our ability to exist, that we can't even hear it or engage with it in confidence and with compassion.

Oh, hey, when I re-read this I realize I wasn't clear: I think having a solid sense of self is useful in responding to call-outs (or in my own case managing anxiety about being in a call-out culture) not that what oppressed people need is a stronger "sense of self" so that they won't want to call people out.
posted by Frowner at 3:49 PM on December 2, 2012


Ohhhh right, young rope-rider. Ha, I thought you just meant if it's difficult for the "black hats" here as elsewhere. I certainly make no claims re: the more specific motives and personalities that drive some of that stigma. I personally don't think such complex motivations or backgrounds are necessary to engender the behaviour, but I'm certainly not as experienced in either forums generally, or that specific behaviour, as others commenting.
posted by smoke at 3:53 PM on December 2, 2012


Skylitdrawl, I may have a very specific (and perhaps contestable) understanding of how political change happens: when people are organized into groups that can put pressure on other institutions. The internet is primarily effective only insofar as it enables meeting, building institutions and raising money. The powerful know this, which is why they actively fund lobbyists and participate in political campaigns. The internet , IMHO, can still obscure who has real power. In this way, I'm a student of Arthur Bentley, Saul Alinsky and Ed Chambers rather than Foucault and Spivak.

I don't think we have figured out what the relationship is between political power and the interwebs. Obama raised money through it; but it hasn't meant that internet saavy liberals have gotten what they want from him. Certainly it's not where I gain any political power. Any political power I have happens because regularly participate in the life in the institutions that run my community. My local political officials know who I am and that I'll say something, cause them trouble, and I have people who I represent. I rarely call them racist or sexist or homophobic because I want them actually to do things like hire minority contractors, hire women and allow their gay staff to have health benefits with their partners. There's a time for conflict, but it's never personal and self-righteous.

Certainly complaining how racist, sexist, and transphobic people are on the interwebs might be spiritually satisfying. But organizing, for example, to change our prison industrial complex - where racism has an active, brutal life in our society - takes a different, long-term steady, institutional kind of challenge. That takes political analysis, numbers and all sorts of real practical alliances with people who might not share the same outlook. In those cases I'm going to make alliances with Republicans who want lower taxes and good government, and might disagree with me on immigration. I'll make alliances with libertarians who want to legalize marijuana, even though they're a bunch of misogynists. In another way, I don't care if a male friend is the right kind of feminist before I invite him to give money to my local Planned Parenthood.

I also can't stand the insinuation that the "oppressed" are somehow incapable of magnanimity in the interwebs. Certainly, we should celebrate there is a space where victims / the oppressed can be assholes; my suggestion is that it's equally infantilizing to give anyone a pass for being self-righteous and condescending.
posted by john wilkins at 4:11 PM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm just so worried about this.
posted by wintersweet at 4:16 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: What makes it touchy is that their concerns are often valid, which makes it hard to say "Yes, this is important, but not right now," especially to people who have heard that most of their lives.

This is a problem I've faced trying to argue in a somewhat different area than the ones referenced above, but one with similarities, I think, in the emotional charge involved.

It involves some friends (other men who are otherwise quite progressive) who have a huge blind spot/animus towards feminist concerns because of their own experiences with some particularly nasty women (the ex-wife of one of them almost killed him and still won custody of their kids; the other one's ex cleaned him out financially; neither guy even remotely deserved what happened to him, if anyone can ever be said to deserve that treatment) so that they fixate on men's rights issues, and have repeatedly annoyed me with "What about the menz?!" interjections on things I've posted about various negative experiences women have suffered at the hands of sexist men and institutions. I've tried repeatedly to point out that there's a larger context to consider, please get some perspective, and that it's just plain rude, and an example itself of male privilege, to butt into every feminist discussion with their concerns.

I think it's a tragedy that they have this animus; it seems so needless, as I feel that, actually, feminism can be their ally, and is not the cause of their suffering.

They seem convinced that no-one will listen to them if they don't butt in, that All Feminists believe that there is no legitimacy to any male claims of being treated unfairly (something I've termed The Straw Woman or The Straw Feminist in my responses to them.) I've pointed out that the not uncommon unfairness of family courts to fathers is itself the result of centuries of sexist, crudely general gender-essentialist assumptions about the roles and abilities of women: "All women are effortlessly good at child-raising" (but not much else) and its corollary, ""Men are not naturally good at child-raising" (but have tons of other roles for which they are suited) - I exaggerate only slightly - and that it's absurd to place the blame for this gender-essentialism at the doorstep of feminism.

But they seem convinced that there is an equivalency, both in severity and frequency, between harm done to women by men historically and currently, and harm done to men by women. I've critiqued that for its falseness and historical blindness, but that only produces more stubborn reiterations, and obfuscatory references to allegedly supporting statistics are usually involved (instances of males being raped were proposed as nearly equivalent in frequency to women being raped, despite the fact that nearly all of that was male-on-male, e.g., in prisons, and had nothing to do with women and everything to do with male assertions of power), among other things.

It seems clear to me that the emotional charge it has for them severely distorts their perceptions of feminism (and the fact that it's hardly monolithic) and what the proper context and proportion of their legitimate concerns might be, and prevents any pausing to consider what might be more appropriate ways to raise their complaints. (I don't pretend to know what those ways might be, but I'm sure that butting in is at best counter-productive, creating hostility towards their legitimate beefs where they might instead be able to find allies, due to the common gender-essentialist root causes of their suffering and that of many women.) It's especially important for us men to remember that, while we may sometimes also be victims, we are also "Schrödinger's Sexists" (to paraphrase Kate Harding's term, "Schrödinger's Rapist"), not so much in the sense that we're "guilty-until-proven-innocent" in some harsh feminist version of the Napoleonic Code (which is what it can seem like, emotionally), but simply in the sense that any one of us can be and often is the beneficiary of male privilege to which we're as blind as fish are to the water in which they swim, that we are, like it or not, members of an historically more powerful group, and this membership tends, if not critically examined, to inculcate and perpetuate sexism in our mindsets and actions.

One of my core areas of interest as a philosopher, and one that I hope to investigate more deeply for a master's thesis, is the role of emotion in ethics ("the affective basis of normativity" might be another way to put it) as well as, more generally, in cognition (e.g., Damasio's work.) It certainly seems central to the formation of the normative stances behind arguments like these.
posted by Philofacts at 5:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


Just want to add:

The thing about emotions is that so often they are a thing of the present, of immediate urgency: "This has to be addressed NOW!" I think that plays no small role in the combativeness and tendentiousness of these arguments.
posted by Philofacts at 5:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, we may have to agree to disagree, but I think talking about how these discussions go, the dynamics in play, and the upsides and downsides to certain tactics without actually having a debate about a specific topic is the best way for people who engage in these discussions to raise the level of discourse. The best way to practice this sort of thing is to talk and think about it when you're not emotionally engaged, so that you develop habits and reflexes that work for you, not against you, when you are trying to do it in a heightened emotional state.

The problem is when the discussion of the discourse becomes an excuse, as it does all over this thread, for people who are fundamentally opposed to that discourse to complain about it.

This is why you don't do your laundry in public.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


But who are you to decide why people are complaining about something?

Firstly, just because someone disagrees about something, it does not render all their points related to it, let alone other things, de facto invalid.

Secondly, I appreciate that in tense dialogues there can certainly be some bad actors and disingenuous equivocations, but dismissing expressed concerns as "tone arguments" or the like can do exactly the same thing, namely dismissing someone's concern about a discourse because you fundamentally oppose their viewpoint.

I think it's revealing: your comment essentially ascribes unknowable motivations to others, rather than dealing with the substance of their statements, and implicitly tries to divide the participants of the thread into two camps (those doing this bad thing, who are doing it because they believe something bad; and those that are not), when I think the 'boundaries', such as they are, are far more amorphous and fluid than that.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think framing the discussion like that is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
posted by smoke at 5:27 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Repeating for the nth time: this is a fantastic post. Thanks, flex. Lots to slowly digest and ponder.

Not surprisingly (but unfortunately), the question of process is often completely ignored; the process by which people go about discussing their opinions or engaging others who disagree with them is individual and haphazard, so that when conflict occurs there needs to be a long and protracted discussion just to understand the specific disagreements of the situation – a discussion which profits very few people on either side.

I think that good disagreements are those in which each party shows empathy for the others, and everybody involved wants to understand from the start who disagrees with what, and why. This is simpler when the disagreement is somewhat extreme, because the disagreement is far less abstract; I find it easier to talk to your average extremist conservative who thinks gays and commies are ruining it for all of us than to talk to a progressive whose positions are slightly different from mine, or with whom I have one disagreement that suggests both to me and to them that the other is somehow a "false" supporter of the cause.

The people I most enjoy to argue with have a marvelous talent for expressing curiosity in what my position is, while simultaneously being blunt and passionate about their conviction that their stance is the correct one. Sometimes it's argued that showing respect for those who you disagree with is somehow legitimatizing their views, but it's possible to respect the person – in the sense that you care about them understanding you well enough that they will agree with you and stop being so fucking wrong about things – while still having no respect for the conclusions they ultimately draw. And I don't think you can have a legitimate discussion of opinions in which you think one person doesn't have the right to voice their opinions. Ultimately they do, and if you pretend otherwise you risk convincing that person that your entire worldview is incorrect.

This soured me on radical queer politics for a number of years when I was younger. An innocuous comment I made in a discussion, aimed at a friend who I knew was better informed than I was, led to a fiery rant from somebody I didn't know, filled with condescension and outrage and absolute conviction that my simple presence in the conversation was an affront to his own rights as a gay man. I ended up walking away, not just from that debate, but from that friend; I saw her and the movement she was passionate about in a nasty light that stopped me from even casually talking with her from feeling weird.

Communication is really difficult; the more abstract it gets, the harder it is to understand. Which is why figuring out the process of discussion is so valuable: finding ways to break down abstract ideas into more concrete conversation, best of all concrete conversation that takes the other people involved in the discussion into consideration, is how you get away from your neat, meticulously-constructed worldview, and back into the messy world of people who not only think you might be wrong but additionally have no reason to assume they should respect what you have to say.

This "liberal bullying" subject frustrates me, not because I'm an especially bold progressive, but because I don't have the heart for political movements or causes, yet still believe they're vital, urgent: I want to understand these topics better, but I don't have the stamina to lose myself in the ever-swelling discussions surrounding them. I would like to be more of a participant, as much of a participant as I can find the energy to be; at the same time, I'm aware that my own worldview is wrongheaded and mistaken in a bunch of tiny and utterly important ways that I'd like to have corrected. I'd like to help bring the discussion to others, too; but that puts me in the difficult space mentioned in these articles. I can't speak about these topics without being wrong, and I know this, and I try not to be; yet sometimes the heat drawn to my wrongnesses is so combative that it exhausts me and I give up on trying to speak about it.

At this point, I know enough to realize that it should be my responsibility to educate myself, not others' responsibilities to educate me despite my resistance; but even that realization is pretty recent. I'm concerned about the masses and masses of people who would like to be right, who may even suspect that they are wrong, but who find it difficult to revise their stances because of the wiser people than they who harbor no sympathy for their ignorance. Ultimately, everybody would like to be right, though the farther and farther away from your worldview you get the more perverted their idea of "right" becomes compared to yours; finding ways to help people be as right as they wish they were is difficult, and a large part of the process involves reminding people to be humbler about their knowledge and ignorances.

When people lack that humility, you can't just tell them how stupid they are and claim there's no hope for them; ultimately their vote counts as much as yours. Obviously, sometimes you can't outright convince somebody that you're right in a single discussion, so trying to act as if you have to win every right outright and without question is pretty dumbheaded. Sometimes the best outcome you can reach is to give them something new to think about, while simultaneously convincing them that people like you who disagree with them are not crazy or selfish or narcissistic, but merely concerned people who feel there is some sort of hurt being inflicted on people for no good reason, and who are looking for ways to make the world a better place. Then they're left a bit humbler and open than they were before you met them.

The irony here that I just completely adore is that a lot of more conservative and fundamental and closed-minded groups, in America at least, have got that process down to an impressive level of detail. They have instructions for dealing with seven or eight layers of disagreement at a time, for not closing minds to future levels of argument, for pinpointing precisely which argument might reach a person at a given time. Most of those instructions fall short past a certain magnitude of disagreement, and I know a lot of progressives who like to make fun of the "conversion handbooks" (or whatever they're called) employed by various religions and Republican groups, but there's a reason those techniques were developed, and it's to avoid the kind of in-fighting and argumentation that happens at every single level of every single progressive issue I know of, no matter how well-reasoned or how seemingly insignificant. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but to the best of my knowledge the better-known progressive exceptions are people, rather than formalized systems of conversation, and thus their impact is greatly reduced.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:58 PM on December 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


...who find it difficult to revise their stances because of the wiser people than they who harbor no sympathy for their ignorance.

I'm not sure if you're being ironic to call them wiser, but I will call someone "with no sympathy for [others'] ignorance" a fool.
posted by chimaera at 6:05 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is anyone thinking about why people get this way? I know my adrenaline goes up a little when I think about talking with someone who's really conservative. This, even though I try very hard to be and appear open to genuine dialogue.

I'd love to read some papers on this, as I've wondered the same thing myself. In fact, it just happened to me a few hours ago at dinner with my family. My dad started with "...so what are you guys doing about vaccines?" and for the next, say, 20 minutes, just from a physical standpoint I was in a fight-or-flight kind of mode. I could taste adrenaline, and don't recall actually making direct eye contact with him during the following discussion.

This, despite the fact that I feel very comfortable, intellectually, discussing this topic.
posted by odinsdream at 6:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


(also fantastic post, thanks for being involved Ariel!)
posted by odinsdream at 6:15 PM on December 2, 2012


Funny, odinsdream, I get the same way around progressives. My grandfather's so conservative, when I watch Roger Ailes videos I think of him, but I enjoy the hell out of bickering with him, and this Thanksgiving when he and my uncles were asking me if I was gonna look for "handouts" now that Obama's in office, I was entirely amused by the process. On the other hand, when somebody starts talking about the evils of corporations or Fox News or religion, I immediately start kind of trembling with a fierce hope that they'll stop talking soon – even when I agree with them.

I, too, would be interested in knowing specifically what raises such conversational hackles.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:23 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I, too, would be interested in knowing specifically what raises such conversational hackles.

I totally get that, too, which is part of why I said above practicing this sort of thing when you're calm is super helpful. I never get that reaction when working - I did in my first job, but it went away pretty quickly. But when disagreeing with people personally on subjects I'm passionate about - even on the internet - I still get that adrenalin reaction. Fortunately, my conversational defaults generally leave me looking at least articulate, if not actually sensible.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:30 PM on December 2, 2012


EmilyClimbs

The whole mouth breather thing came off as more self-righteous than about making changes.
posted by laptolain at 6:47 PM on December 2, 2012


(My pleasure, odinsdream. It's been fascinating to watch the conversations unfold in the weeks since my post first published.)
posted by arielmeadow at 6:50 PM on December 2, 2012


Speaking as someone who is pretty privileged along many axes but is also transsexual and thus has mined the deep vein of fuck you present in society and hung out with a lot of other pit dwellers, part of the problem is that people who aren't us not only fail to speak our language but in many cases push for solutions that are actively harmful. The cycle of rage then gets another pedal when the message comes back that we should be grateful that people are speaking out for us -- which, y'know, we already are; we're not children and we're just trying to make sure that the right stuff gets said on our behalf because god knows we can't shout louder than a mouse even if we all line up together next to a megaphone -- and we shouldn't get angry or critical because we're being done a favour. There exists an environment in which the concerns of many minorities are constantly misrepresented and said minorities patronised and the rage that comes out of that is, in my opinion, not only understandable but so insignificant I'm automatically disappointed in any cis or white or straight or able-bodied person who expresses frustration and concern with the level of vitriol directed at them for having placed their foot in their mouth.

At the same time there are people who will jump on the slightest slight and while I agree with them that jokily referring to men as "penis possessors", for example, is cissexist I also don't think it's particularly important and not worth derailing an otherwise worthwhile conversation over, particularly if the conversation has nothing to do with trans issues in the first place. Although in this case the price of a quick apology and correction is so small I'm surprised anyone has an issue with paying it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:02 PM on December 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


This is why you don't do your laundry in public.
I'm not sure consensus reached through backrooms and star chambers is any better than even no consensus at all

while operation through e.g. secretive internet channels is probably efficient, it's also corrupt as hell
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:53 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny, odinsdream, I get the same way around progressives. My grandfather's so conservative, when I watch Roger Ailes videos I think of him, but I enjoy the hell out of bickering with him, and this Thanksgiving when he and my uncles were asking me if I was gonna look for "handouts" now that Obama's in office, I was entirely amused by the process. On the other hand, when somebody starts talking about the evils of corporations or Fox News or religion, I immediately start kind of trembling with a fierce hope that they'll stop talking soon – even when I agree with them.

I, too, would be interested in knowing specifically what raises such conversational hackles.


Could it be because you love your grandfather so much?

And experience such talk as an attack on him, and worse, an attack on your relationship with him in that it threatens to color him in your mind with the animosity toward corporations, Fox News, and religion you feel in general, but suppress toward him in order to be able to keep loving him?

If so, I think you're doing the right thing, because I took the other fork in the conversation a number of times, and in a life fairly bristling with regrettable choices, those may be the ones I regret most.
posted by jamjam at 7:56 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


There exists an environment in which the concerns of many minorities are constantly misrepresented and said minorities patronised and the rage that comes out of that is, in my opinion, not only understandable but so insignificant I'm automatically disappointed in any cis or white or straight or able-bodied person who expresses frustration and concern with the level of vitriol directed at them for having placed their foot in their mouth.

See, I hear this (as a queer and non-cis fat person on what I laughingly refer to as a gender journey) but...

There's this situation amongst friends of mine, see. Friend A is from a pretty tough background and is sometimes kind of overbearing in how he flirts with women, although honestly not scarily or obnoxiously so, and he has grown a lot in terms of being more feminist, working with women, etc. Friends B and C are from much more privileged class and race backgrounds but are marginalized as women and feel like Friend A is not good at listening to them. Friends B and C talk down to Friend A in a way that A finds very patronizing, especially since A does not have as much formal education as B and C, and have trotted out the "you're a misogynist" line, which has really been fucking with Friend A's head. Friend A feels like his background and the knowledge he brings to our projects are not respected, but also feels at a loss because he does not have the rhetorical background of Friends B and C and his own rhetoric, which is powerful, is the rhetoric of a very different political milieu. When I look at this whole interaction, I feel like B and C, who I think are actually great people, don't yet have the activism skills to balance the various issues in play in this interaction; I feel as though B and C are very certain that they are right and are certain that they are striking a blow for women everywhere, but I feel like the whole thing is just one giant clusterfuck in which A is treated as if he's both uninterested in change and incapable of understanding things.

I know all the As, Bs and Cs make that a long story, but you could put it like this: call-outs need to be just as intersectional as ideologies, and they usually aren't. I think that's one reason that the radfems are the finest of Bad Faith Callers Out, because they don't really believe in intersectionality.

I was once part of a calling-out/kicking out of a working class man of color. He had talked about past violent interactions with a partner when that partner had been in the grips of addiction, and he talked about her angrily, and several white middle class women in that project said that they did not "feel safe" around him. We took the wrong, wrong course in dealing with that guy, and I regret it immensely. It's hard to explain without going into about a novel's worth of details, but we were very convinced that we were right, that we understood everything that was going on. We were so convinced of this fact that we didn't bother to ask the guy what he was thinking, or bother to consider our own relative privilege. We had a problem that needed to be addressed, and we decided to cut right to the "This Is Unacceptable, We Will Shame You, Who Have Been Shamed So Often By White People Before" option.

On a personal level - and I say this as someone who has not been called out, although I've definitely made some political mistakes and been asked to apologize/make amends/change (which is not the same as a call-out, IMO) - call-out culture brings me back to childhood. It brings me back to a situation where I knew - absolutely knew - that I was in mortal danger of Making A Mistake, but I wasn't sure what that mistake would be because I did not have the knowledge or skills to understand a lot of stuff. So I was always on edge, waiting until I would inevitably fuck up and inevitably experience the Trouble that resulted. And then I had to get it right - I had to display the exact kind and degree of contrition and NO pushback, no explanations, no "but I thought", no "you are missing this information" or there would be more Trouble. I could not show that I was upset. I could not show that I was angry. I could not show that I had any feelings whatsoever about having Made A Mistake. I won't bore you with the details, but it really fucked with me.

Now, you can say "but Frowner, that's your problem, you just need to belt up and move past your childhood traumas", but the thing is, there are lots of people with childhood crap, lots of people with intersectional situations, all that stuff. One of the things I've actually worked a lot on is admitting that some bad stuff happened to me when I was young, that it really did hurt, that it really does count and that I'm not being a selfish lazy privileged whiner for being messed up by it. Part of that is, for me, believing that even if I make a political mistake I do not deserve to be called a useless piece of shit who should get cancer. I don't deserve that. I don't have to hang around in political situations where that's how the discourse works.
posted by Frowner at 8:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [49 favorites]


It is one thing to be challenged on one's blind spots. We all have them, and it's good to have them pointed out. It is another thing to enter into a discussion with people whom you feel in your heart are your allies and friends and find you are navigating a minefield.

We are out here in the sticks, in the projects, in the barrios, in the quietly-crumbling suburbs of the flyover states, and we haven't Read The Right Books and Attended The Right Lectures. But we've walked our girlfriends through a screaming mob to the abortion clinic. We've linked arms across the street from the Klan rally and laughed at those sad, frightened fucks. We've volunteered, written checks, donated time and effort. We're leftists because it's in our economic and personal interests to be so, not because we particularly give a good goddamn about queer theory or Marx's analysis of labor and capital.

I want everyone to have a roof and a meal. I want my country to stop policing the world. I want everyone to make sweet sweet love to everyone else, and I'm OK if I get splashed with a little semen.

Let's just get the fuck on with it, ignore the pointy bits, and do what we can.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:21 PM on December 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


I'm not sure consensus reached through backrooms and star chambers is any better than even no consensus at all

while operation through e.g. secretive internet channels is probably efficient, it's also corrupt as hell


It's really more that this post is airing the laundry than the original blog posts, most of which were written for an audience of the people involved in this discourse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:38 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's really more that this post is airing the laundry than the original blog posts, most of which were written for an audience of the people involved in this discourse.

This blog post is essentially about how certain types of dialogue end up alienating people within the social justice world. I think it is extremely important that the people unleashing death threats because they feel post on bridal footwear in a gay wedding address the needs of the multiracial trans polyamorous disabled overweight refugee from Somalia* understand that their vitriol alienates not just their ally, but completely drives away potential allies and gives fuel to the fire of people actively working against their cause. I have a number of friends who come from conservative, working-class background and have a lot of not-so-inclusive beliefs. They hold them not because they're assholes, but because they haven't received a social justice education, or whatever you want to call it, and are amenable to dialogue about the subjects. But for the most part I can't send them links to blog posts or articles I like from activist-focused websites because if you try to batter them over the head with the details of details of details of feminist queer theory they are going to think you're talking down to them, see you as another ivory tower asshole pushing esoteric beliefs on Good Old America, and push everything away. It's human nature.

People need to learn to recognize that change comes from talking with the external world, finding the diamonds in the rough to serve as bridges to their communities, not finding a perfect princess-cut and then berating it because you think they're not a high enough carat.


*who, of course, are not themselves multiracial, trans, polyamorous, disabled, overweight, or from Somalia
posted by schroedinger at 9:05 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why you don't do your laundry in public.

What's wrong with taking the effort of making 'yes we have problems but at least we are doing something about it -- what are you doing about yours?' arguments instead of conveniently pretending you have no issues and going for 'we are perfect, holier than thou'? It's harder, but what else?
posted by Anything at 9:27 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't have a problem with "here's some information about privilege and social justice." I do have a problem with "in this space which is not privilege and social justice-focused, here's people who are involved and engaged with privilege and social justice issues talking to each other about how talking to each other in certain ways can be counterproductive". It takes a complicated discourse and presents only one aspect of it, and while that's totally okay and productive in venues which are internal to that discourse, in external venues (such as Metafilter) it presents the more problematic parts of the thing as the thing itself, giving people who are not regularly involved in that discourse a false image of it.

Let me make a metaphor. Within the punk rock community, there is a running controversy over violent dancing at shows. A lot of people enjoy it and a lot of people find it alienating and find that it makes it hard for them to enjoy going to shows. If zines like Maximum Rocknroll or Cometbus publish articles on the topic, that's fine, because those are venues written for and by people involved in that discourse (punk rock) and their readers will not be given a false impression. If Time magazine publishes an article about the moshing controversy, that's fucked up, because Time's readership is almost entirely not part of that discourse and so the impression being conveyed is that punk rock is about violence.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:47 PM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the difference is that social justice isn't a niche interest. Everyone's affected by the discourse in that community, whether or not they actively participate in it (or are even aware that it exists). So discussions of process have wide-ranging impact.
posted by Superplin at 9:54 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disagree. While social justice is incredibly important and affects everybody, involvement in the discourse surrounding it at the level where one understands and is capable of having intelligible discussions about privilege is not common, at least in my experience.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:58 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


As for SRS on Reddit, I was a very prominent member there for about six months

Now I'm curious. Only six months? What made you leave?
posted by Talez at 10:04 PM on December 2, 2012


While social justice is incredibly important and affects everybody, involvement in the discourse surrounding it at the level where one understands and is capable of having intelligible discussions about privilege is not common, at least in my experience.

I agree with you on that much, but a) Metafilter actually has quite a few people who are actively involved in various aspects of the online social justice community, and many of them are posting in this thread and b) there's no central licensing body issuing certifications of Ability to Discuss Privilege Intelligibly, nor should there be. Talking about the way the community works and the ways the rules of discourse shake out in practice is actually a tremendously helpful way for newcomers to any online community to begin to find their footing.

I think Metafilter is well-placed to be that sort of gateway for people, because we're not a social justice site, and those issues tend to be discussed with a little more (sometimes not enough more, sometimes maybe too much more) context and leeway for newcomers to the scene. Having those bridges is an important way for any community to avoid stagnation.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, Talez, in response to your wondering, SRS has some crossover with SA, but the whole "SRS is SA trying to make Reddit look bad" story that Redditors like to tell each other is a load of hooey. SRSers are generally sincere in our beliefs and sick of dealing with the day to day shitlordery of Reddit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:29 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


If Time magazine publishes an article about the moshing controversy, that's fucked up
who decides who's punk enough though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:39 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


who decides who's punk enough though

Maximum Rocknroll, sayeth Maximum Rocknroll.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:27 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of that is, for me, believing that even if I make a political mistake I do not deserve to be called a useless piece of shit who should get cancer. I don't deserve that. I don't have to hang around in political situations where that's how the discourse works.

When political capital is destroyed by agitprop, I often pay attention, because I know that Rove does too.
posted by Brian B. at 11:56 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want to agree strongly with the anonymous comment that restless_nomad posted. Some people have issues and this isn't something that social justice has to treat as a part of its process, except maybe by learning how to filter out people with issues. Like, I can usually tell when someone I'm interacting with is just being a fucking weirdo. I don't need to put that on "social justice." I don't know. I wouldn't put the Westboro Baptist Church on everyday conservatives that I meet either.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:16 AM on December 3, 2012


Well, we may have to agree to disagree, but I think talking about how these discussions go, the dynamics in play, and the upsides and downsides to certain tactics without actually having a debate about a specific topic is the best way for people who engage in these discussions to raise the level of discourse.

Oh, I quite agree with that; there's no need to rehash old discussions again. It's just that the meta discussion at the moment was framed negatively, as the focus was on everything that goes wrong in these discussions and not on what goes right.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:27 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


who decides who's punk enough though

I do. You are. Crush someone with your love.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:16 AM on December 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


who decides who's punk enough though

something something integrity honesty and that means not pretending like you're qualified to report on things you don't know anything about, at least not without a) going directly to all the people actually involved in the story, asking them for background clarification, and publishing a well-researched piece that leans on the perspectives of the participants, or b) writing in big block letters at the very top, "I DON'T KNOW JACK SHIT ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE BUT THE PEOPLE OVER ON THIS SIDE SEEM TO SMILE MORE AND BE LESS MEAN"

the problem being that journalists seem to be taught that "objectivity" is a supercilious voice rather than something to do with the actual content of their reportage
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with one of the first commenters on Shatterly's post that "this story still reads to me like someone who threw rocks at a beehive and was surprised when she got stung," more than the post itself. I think framing the WisCon Troll as a poor innocent victim of internet justice is just tremendously ingenuous. She went out of her way to be hateful and reaped the consequences. Disproportionate consequences? Probably. But I have a real issue with framing the story that it's unfair that there were consequences at all. And honestly, you don't even need to read his other work to suspect his perspective, as he goes on in the comments of that very post to argue that "pussy" isn't a gendered insult.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Follow-up to the previous anonymous comment:
I wasn't talking about Metafilter, or at least my own experience of it. While any site this size must have its share of unreasonable people, Metafilter's policies about derailing and its close moderation make it difficult for the psychodramas to get as toxic and prolonged as they get elsewhere. Though that said, it is a big site and I haven't read everything on it, so if other people feel it's happened to them, I'm not in a position to comment. But I wasn't talking about my experience of it.

The reason I wanted to be anonymous is that it's very possible that a site this large is read by some of the people who've cast me as a bad guy in psychodramas of their own elsewhere. Not, I should add, because I even said things that were racist or sexist, but because I disagreed with people on other, non-political subjects, like 'Is this a good book/movie/website?'. I'd state my opinion on apparently open topics, and found them attacking me using social-justice victim-speak, to the effect that they were victims, I wasn't (though I'm not a straight white man), and that it made them feel victimized when I disagreed with them. About pretty much anything. Because I had, it was implied, a social responsibility to defer to them constantly to make up for all the victimization elsewhere. (And if I felt I'd been the victim in other social dynamics that didn't personally affect them, they didn't want to hear it.)

Some people have serious control issues and will use the victim role to attack anybody they've tagged as more privileged than themselves every time that person makes them feel uncomfortable, even if the discomfort has nothing to do with social justice issues and quite a bit to do with 'I'm over-invested in this subject because I'm not a very functional person, and I've decided to treat that as an identity rather than a problem'. 'People with issues/problems shouldn't get put upon' can turn into 'I have issues/problems so I should never have to hear anything I don't like on any subject.' And if a person is well versed in social justice terminology, they can very often get bystanders feeling that the person they're going after is probably being insensitive if they try to defend themselves or their right to have a different opinion.

Things have gotten very poisonous for me in the past and I've had to make some drastic changes in my online life because of it. I'm just starting over, and the idea of one of those people getting after me again scares me.

And I'm sorry if I caused confusion on that point. I'm trying to keep the identifying markers as limited as possible, and I think I overdid it. I want to stress that I'm not saying 'All social justice types are like this.' Social justice communities can develop bad habits, but the worst problems I've seen come from people who aren't really about the social justice but about whatever gets them the maximum advantage and attention. Actual systemic injustices can play out in this system: women can be expected to nurture and be 'nice' in a way that wouldn't be demanded of men, for instance. So I'm not saying this is a social justice problem at its roots; it's more that there are people who are, to use social justice terminology, appropriating the language of social justice because they have a psychological need to feel like a victim defending themselves, and if that situation doesn't exist, they'll do their best to create a safe imitation of it. Safe for them, anyway.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


RN: a) Metafilter actually has quite a few people who are actively involved in various aspects of the online social justice community, and many of them are posting in this thread and b) there's no central licensing body issuing certifications of Ability to Discuss Privilege Intelligibly, nor should there be. Talking about the way the community works and the ways the rules of discourse shake out in practice is actually a tremendously helpful way for newcomers to any online community to begin to find their footing.

But Metafilter is not itself a SJ community. The problem I see is that people often try to import rules of discourse from other situations, when the topics here overlap (especially with feminism and transgender issues.) Calling out someone for violating rules from a different situation makes no sense, but I understand why people who've spent many hours hashing out those rules might feel "ur doing it rong."

I'm also skeptical that those rules help advance social justice in any way, for reasons Schroedinger and others have explained pretty well. But that's for people in those discussions to decide. As long as they don't import rules into other discussions.
posted by msalt at 10:00 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem I see is that people often try to import rules of discourse from other situations, when the topics here overlap (especially with feminism and transgender issues.)

Oh, totally. That's part of the perpetual tension on those subjects here, and why this post was so great for me personally - I am involved in social justice stuff offline but much less so online, and getting a wide range of discussion on how some of that shakes out elsewhere is useful perspective for me and hopefully will help me in my role as translator.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:03 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


...the people unleashing death threats because they feel post on bridal footwear in a gay wedding address the needs of the multiracial trans polyamorous disabled overweight refugee from Somalia* understand that their vitriol alienates not just their ally, but completely drives away potential allies and gives fuel to the fire of people actively working against their cause.

*who, of course, are not themselves multiracial, trans, polyamorous, disabled, overweight, or from Somalia


OMG it's like you're inside my inbox right now! Thank you for this.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:12 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


RN: my situation offline is, in part, that I work as a professional standup comedian. I'm NOT one of those "mock everybody and blaspheme always" comics; in fact I think I have a rare soapbox, one where a lot of drunk conservatives and in some cases outright racists will listen to what I say if I keep it funny and don't disrespect them. I think a lot about what implicit and explicit points I'm making.

I do think I know a little bit about getting the ear of people whose opinions we all really want to change, here. And I guaran-fucking-tee you that in MY context, calling out people you agree with 90% because there's a hint of callousness peeking out from their invisible backpack is a complete waste of time that guarantees everyone else in the world will dismiss you.

Sometimes I think that people who have suffered real, often horrible injustice take it out on "allies" because they're the only people willing to talk with them. That's tragically understandable. But it's really, really counterproductive.
posted by msalt at 10:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


I do think I know a little bit about getting the ear of people whose opinions we all really want to change, here. And I guaran-fucking-tee you that in MY context, calling out people you agree with 90% because there's a hint of callousness peeking out from their invisible backpack is a complete waste of time that guarantees everyone else in the world will dismiss you.

Exactly. You have to ask yourself: do you want to change the world or just your tiny corner of the Internet? And do you realize your tiny corner of the Internet is public, and when you attack your 90%-ally the people at 60, 70, 90% odds with you see you attacking a friend and use it as an example of how impossible and ridiculous and off-the-wall "those people" are?
posted by schroedinger at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Now I'm curious. Only six months? What made you leave?

I left because my personal safety and the safety of my family was being threatened by men's rights activists (not ones on Reddit, much much much extreme, crazier ones).
posted by SkylitDrawl at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I left because my personal safety and the safety of my family was being threatened by men's rights activists (not ones on Reddit, much much much extreme, crazier ones).

Holy shit. As far as crazy people go MRA people are fucking crazy. Testosterone, stupidity and the second amendment are not a healthy combination.
posted by Talez at 11:55 AM on December 3, 2012


But Metafilter is not itself a SJ community. The problem I see is that people often try to import rules of discourse from other situations, when the topics here overlap (especially with feminism and transgender issues.) Calling out someone for violating rules from a different situation makes no sense, but I understandable why people who've spent many hours hasing out those rules might feel "ur doing it rong."

After observing many threads on SJ I've come to the conclusions that calling someone out is usually a polite way of saying "you have no standing in this discussion" when someone comes to drive-by shit over the topic at hand.
posted by Talez at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


A lot of this commentary gets at something I've often felt during SJ discussions (primarily on Metafilter) but also elsewhere: demanding too much orthodoxy or perfection is winning a battle but losing the war. As others said, it may make one tiny corner of the internet slightly more to your liking but it drives away people who are likely to be mostly on your side, if imperfectly.

You have to ask yourself; do you want to be perfect or do you want to change minds?
posted by Justinian at 12:49 PM on December 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Let me make a metaphor. Within the punk rock community, there is a running controversy over violent dancing at shows. A lot of people enjoy it and a lot of people find it alienating and find that it makes it hard for them to enjoy going to shows. If zines like Maximum Rocknroll or Cometbus publish articles on the topic, that's fine, because those are venues written for and by people involved in that discourse (punk rock) and their readers will not be given a false impression. If Time magazine publishes an article about the moshing controversy, that's fucked up, because Time's readership is almost entirely not part of that discourse and so the impression being conveyed is that punk rock is about violence.

The difference is is that "social justice" is not a social club or subculture, and the more it becomes one the more irrelevant it becomes.

There are plenty of people who are interested or activist in social justice/anti-racism/feminism/what-have-you realms without being part of a particular circle of blogs and tumblrs, or are not interested in participating online in the first place, or read/have read these websites, but don't have an interest in participating, sometimes because of these "outsiders are not welcome in internal Party discussions" or "die cis scum" attitudes.

Social justice or whatever does not require academic language to discuss, and lack of knowledge of the popular jargon does not mean that people are ill-equipped to discuss it.

These websites are public, and I can guarantee you that they are read by people who do not totally buy into the rhetoric or culture of, say, SJ tumblrs, or are only occasional readers, so to act like this post is somehow airing private messages to the public is silly.

The assertion that because some people who are commenting here or reading these sites do not pass some threshold of appropriate background that you deem necessary, (especially if they disagree with your conclusions,) and therefore do not have the right to be privy to, let alone participate in, these discussions is absurd and incredibly presumptive, as if you have that kind of authority and right do to so in the first place.
posted by Snyder at 12:59 PM on December 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yeah, I've seen this too. I once had a black friend accused (on the Internet) of being racist (almost certainly by a white person) because they had the temerity to complain about the daily bus ride of aggressively mentally ill people in a neighborhood largely made up of African Americans.

This also happens with the "wrong" ethnic label, or any mention of gentrification. I mean, just *try* complaining about anything regarding San Francisco's Mission District. Crime is not culture.

I've been bitched at for not riding my bike to work and for not buying one of those battery operated cat feeders. During the Bush administration, I worked with people who spent ALL of their time attacking the local left-wing Democratic congress person for not being liberal enough. During the BUSH administration.

Without reading (all) of the articles, much of this seems to me to just be competitive. "I'm a better liberal than you." Our side, while more human in so many ways, is not without its annoyances.
posted by cnc at 1:02 PM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


talez: After observing many threads on SJ I've come to the conclusions that calling someone out is usually a polite way of saying "you have no standing in this discussion" when someone comes to drive-by shit over the topic at hand.

I can't speak to other forums (fora?) but I don't see this at all on Metafilter. Much more often I see someone earnestly dissenting, or even mostly agreeing, who has the crowd turn on them as soon as it perceives a bit of heresy.

And frankly, the attitude of "you have no standing in this discussion" is precisely the problem here. AFAIK, every paid member of Metafilter has standing to join a discussion. Drive by shittings are always unfortunate and best ignored, but that has nothing to do with "standing." And most of those are about rock bands anyway.
posted by msalt at 2:12 PM on December 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


We may want to consider that the meaning of social justice is relevant here, perhaps defined on a personal level by some as a coordinated internet action against a perceived wrong-doer, in order to make an example of them; aka, social justice.
posted by Brian B. at 5:13 AM on December 4, 2012


I think "bullying" is used far too widely these days, and its meaning has been diluted

Coming in way late in this discussion to ask people to please stop using Bullying to describe anything that happens to adults. Adults, by my definition of the word, cannot be bullied, though they can be abused and tortured and treated poorly and etc. Children deserve a special word that means: pushed around and dominated by a peer or adult in a situation where they, as a child, cannot respond. Thank you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:30 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hear you, and I've been there, but I'm not sure I agree. It's a phenomenon of social intimidation that is not at all rare in adults. What word would you use? Mob intimidation? Social ostracism?
posted by msalt at 11:30 AM on December 4, 2012


by my definition of the word

I think I have identified the problem!
posted by Justinian at 12:27 PM on December 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Children deserve a special word that means: pushed around and dominated by a peer or adult in a situation where they, as a child, cannot respond.

I agree that children should get a special word, but I have severe doubts about a plan to narrow the historic use of the word "bullying" to be that word.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:50 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We may want to consider that the meaning of social justice is relevant here, perhaps defined on a personal level by some as a coordinated internet action against a perceived wrong-doer, in order to make an example of them; aka, social justice.

But I think what a lot of people are saying here is that "yelling death threats at someone who agrees with you on 90% of the stuff under discussion" is a pretty wretched notion of social justice.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have been noticed.
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "Adults, by my definition of the word, cannot be bullied"

Unfortunately, adults, by my definition, can, so we're at an impasse.
posted by Bugbread at 3:31 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly you must both form opposing gangs of righteous Internet warriors.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


smoke: Because no one thinks they are racist [or whatever].
I'm racist. I'm also, despite being raised a feminist, identifying as a feminist, and being involved in social justice movements, sexist. I don't say I am either of these things as a way of saying I'm a bad person, but simply as a statement of fact: I judge people differently depending on sets of demographics which also conform to common prejudices, and often I find I agree with prejudicial thinking in insidious and difficult to identify ways.

For example, I judge myself as a "failed woman" because I am a slob. At some point I internalized that women are supposed to be clean, and the cleaners, and keep an attractive and non-stinky environment, while men are allowed to fail at houskeeping because it's unmasculine to be too clean/fastidious. This is a deep-set and insidious prejudice that I use to insult myself on a semi-regular basis and I've yet to be able to kick it's ass (despite intellectually knowing it is false, the emotional effect remains), thus I know I'm still sexist.

A large part of my becoming conversant in social justice was not about what I believed (as that has changed very little) but in what I percieved (as that has changed very much). As my perceptions have become more accurate, as I've seen how pervasive prejudices are and started unravelling the unconscious means by which they are communicated, I have grown to accept myself not as some superior exception to the world we live in, but rather as a flawed and self-aware part of the world we live in.

At that point, it becomes really easy for me to accept correction from people who know better than I due to their perspective and lived knowledge without feeling like I've somehow "failed" or become a "bad ally", and it's become easier for me to do what I believe is right without expecting someone to pull me aside and say, "You're awesome" (though I do love being told I'm awesome! I may even believe you!).

More and more I believe how we support others in gaining equality and achieving social justice is less about being factually right and more about building internal mechanisms by which we can identify and accept valid corrections without engaging in the self-destructive, self-insulting practices which cause people to defensively yell, "I'M NOT A BIGOT!" as if being called a bigot is worse than being one.

No one is perfect; everyone makes errors; accepting ones culpability is the only way I can see to actually correct a problem, instead of creating obfuscating language to pretend there is not a problem, or claim that pointing out the problem is itself bigotry.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


At that point, it becomes really easy for me to accept correction from people who know better than I due to their perspective and lived knowledge without feeling like I've somehow "failed" or become a "bad ally", and it's become easier for me to do what I believe is right without expecting someone to pull me aside and say, "You're awesome" (though I do love being told I'm awesome! I may even believe you!).

Yes, and not overreacting in either direction ("I'm a total piece of shit" or "I'm totally awesome!" - which, incidentally, I can say from personal experience, also is an occupational hazard of musicians to failure and success, let alone to criticism and praise), rather like the Buddhist or Stoic ways of cultivating indifference to externalities, maintaining equilibrium in the face of contingencies, not taking criticisms as threats and not needing praise ("the deed is its own reward"), also makes it a little less likely that others will overdo it in their judgments of you. You won't so easily trigger defensive reactions from them. The downward cascade of opposing, defensive emotional states is a large part of the problem in these disputes, much more than the nominal logical content of the arguments.

The right tone, based in a sense of shared culpability, as you indicate, goes a long way in keeping things appropriately civil.

I'm glad that you point out that one can acknowledge that, yes, I'm a ***-ist, etc., without it meaning the end of the world (but rather - I know it sounds trite - the beginning of making a better one.) I think we sometimes view such self-acknowledgements as existential threats - "How could I live with myself if I admitted that?!" shading into "How could I go on living?!" - with emotions being so binary, so Manichaean, for the most part, especially the strong ones associated with self-image. Hence denial seems safer, although of course it's not.

Acknowledging that one is a bigot is surely better than being one and not being aware of it, even if that's only the first step.

As humans, as animals, we have many other perceptual, conceptual, and cognitive flaws, some very deeply rooted in our evolution, as well as acquired cultural distortions galore (like the "women clean/men slobs" one you mention) and yet we do manage to overcome them a lot of the time; why should our bigotries be any different?

I suppose one could react to all this by saying "tl;dr - just be gentler to and more forgiving of each other", but exploring what that means in practice is important.
posted by Philofacts at 4:38 PM on December 4, 2012


We have been noticed.

By someone off the site! With a blog!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2012


But I think what a lot of people are saying here is that "yelling death threats at someone who agrees with you on 90% of the stuff under discussion" is a pretty wretched notion of social justice.

I would agree. I was suggesting that most liberals might be naive to think that it has anything to do with abstract or academic notions of social justice for those employing abusive tactics. If the personal is political, then the political is psychological.
posted by Brian B. at 6:38 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have been noticed.

Does that count as a favorite?
posted by msalt at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


At that point, it becomes really easy for me to accept correction from people who know better than I due to their perspective and lived knowledge without feeling like I've somehow "failed" or become a "bad ally", and it's become easier for me to do what I believe is right without expecting someone to pull me aside and say, "You're awesome" (though I do love being told I'm awesome! I may even believe you!).

But what if you think the correction is wrong? I mean, it's relatively easy for anyone (here) to say "Yeah, you have a point, I'll reconsider." But what if you've done the requisite soul-searching, and still think "I think you're misinterpreting what I said in a particularly uncharitable way"? This whole discourse of "Acknowledge your own assumptions and try to do better" leaves no room for people who really don't think they've done harm, even if some particularly sensitive Tumblr users think they have. That's why these conversations inevitably escalate: because there's no available language, or even conceptual framework, for de-escalation, no way to say "The hurt you feel was no caused by what I did."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:24 PM on December 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Responding to a metafilter comment on your own blog rather than on Metafilter is really weak sauce. One could almost say cowardly.
posted by Justinian at 10:42 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


But what if you think the correction is wrong? I mean, it's relatively easy for anyone (here) to say "Yeah, you have a point, I'll reconsider." But what if you've done the requisite soul-searching, and still think "I think you're misinterpreting what I said in a particularly uncharitable way"?

Yeah, good point, which is why being able to keep one's emotions from running away with one's judgment - the equilibrium of which I spoke - helps. One can be too willing to take the blame for something, out of an excessive desire to get along, and, on the other side, some people can be too sensitive, for sure, and others can be something worse: a person who manipulates your self-doubt (or at least self-questioning), as a delaying and distracting tactic, in order to get away with shit. (I've been the recipient of that treatment, soul-searching ad nauseam until I finally went, hey, wait a minute, that really is bullshit...!)

Sometimes it's fairly easy to see that someone's critique is over the line, off-base, whatever, and can be dismissed, politely, with due acknowledgement of the concern behind it, in addition to an incisive outlining of why their judgement is wrong, but other cases may not be so clear. A lot of the consciousness-raising around issues of privilege, for me and I'm sure for other men like me, has involved being told I was doing such-and-such, which at first glance seemed absurd, but which later I came to understand was actually quite accurate, by my own (philosophy degree developed, among other things) criteria of judgment.

Sometimes it takes a lot of reflection to sort out the critiquing wheat from the chaff. It's just not always immediately apparent. While you're taking the time to figure it out, the other person, who's getting your benefit of the doubt during that time, might just be that manipulative type, or just honestly wrong, and getting away with being wrong for the time it takes you to reflect on it, but that's the risk in giving the benefit of the doubt.

In the case of those (including myself at times in the past, I'm pretty sure, though not in the context of the SJ issues discussed here) who take offence mistakenly, or mischaracterize one's statements, whether deliberately or not (I often wonder about the "or not" when debating conservatives, straw men being a fave neocon tactic - are they being deliberately fallacious or are they just really sloppy thinkers?), we have to keep reminding ourselves that projection of personal issues/old emotional baggage might be involved in creating the misunderstanding.

Are we responsible for the baggage other people bring to discussions, especially when it causes misperceptions? Of course not, but separating out one's critique of the wrongness of their perception, on the one hand, from an acknowledgment of their emotions, on the other hand, showing a little generosity, in granting of the validity of their feelings behind their statements (even in cases where even their feelings might have had their origin in a delusion - again, who knows), is a diplomatic art that can go a long way to keeping a discussion from tanking.

Although I think motives are highly relevant, I prefer to question someone's motives, when they mischaracterize something I said, only when I'm really, really sure they did it consciously and maliciously. I've seen too many discussions where maliciousness was assumed way too early, without sufficient evidence to do so. That way lies a shouting match.
posted by Philofacts at 10:46 PM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: But what if you think the correction is wrong?

If I disagree, I usually go away and think about it, and do some reading up to see if I'm wrong. It isn't a race, after all; I would rather be correct than quick.

ThatFuzzyBastard: This whole discourse of "Acknowledge your own assumptions and try to do better" leaves no room for people who really don't think they've done harm, even if some particularly sensitive Tumblr users think they have. That's why these conversations inevitably escalate: because there's no available language, or even conceptual framework, for de-escalation, no way to say "The hurt you feel was no caused by what I did."

Well, it really depends on what you want to accomplish. Personally, one of my main goals in social justice work is to first of all not hurt the people I'm trying to help. If I see something escalating and the choice is between argue my point and continue upsetting someone else, I will often chose to stop arguing my point. If they are hurt, I apologize, even if I wouldn't be hurt by it, or even think their hurt is kind of silly. For example, I think it's very silly that I was accused of being a bully, but I made the choice to never engage with that person again as it was clear he experienced feeling bullying from my approach. I've had enough times where I've looked back on my conduct and been ashamed that I've valued my being right over someone else's pain that I've been trying to live with more integrity, even in my arguing.

We don't always see the harm we do; if we really do value the dignity and comfort of others, isn't it worth a little kindness?
posted by Deoridhe at 1:36 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Responding to a metafilter comment on your own blog rather than on Metafilter is really weak sauce. One could almost say cowardly.

I don't really want to get into it, and I'm certainly not defending anything, but I believe he was banned.
posted by smoke at 2:46 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


cnc: "Yeah, I've seen this too. I once had a black friend accused (on the Internet) of being racist (almost certainly by a white person) because they had the temerity to complain about the daily bus ride of aggressively mentally ill people in a neighborhood largely made up of African Americans.

This also happens with the "wrong" ethnic label, or any mention of gentrification. I mean, just *try* complaining about anything regarding San Francisco's Mission District. Crime is not culture.
"

Your friend was probably being classist, which is often confused with racism in America, because the two have been closely linked for a long time.

There are also quite a few self-loathing people out there who really do hate their own race, so while this accusation was tactless and probably off-base, it's also not entirely unfounded. Calling out this kind of behavior is something of a necessary evil, because the words of a self-loathing minority can lend a lot false credibility to actual racists (there are parallels here to the various ex-gay testimonials that have been used to perpetuate homophobia).

Another problem is that it's actually very difficult to avoid certain "dog whistle" phrases while talking about urban development or crime reduction (no matter what the intention might be). Yesterday, a few folks accused a Washington Post columnist of being racist (against white people) because of his opposition to gentrification and bike lanes. While his comments on gentrification were incredibly valid and astute, the bike lane comment was a bit of a red herring that was tangential to the entire column. Courtland Milloy might actually have a good reason for opposing bike lanes, but phrases like 'bike lanes,' 'public buses,' and 'dog parks' almost always have racial undertones when discussed in DC local politics.

Of course, this tactic has a long history.

This kind of divisive and racially-toned rhetoric has turned a number of stupidly trivial local issues into a political third-rail that nobody is brave enough to touch. It also doesn't help to have politicians like Marion Barry stoking the coals with their own brand of racism and classism, which ultimately undermines the rights of the people they claim to protect.

Then, there are also some irreconcilable cultural clashes that are neither racist nor classist. You can dislike rap music or Indian food without being a racist.
posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on December 5, 2012


Another problem is that it's actually very difficult to avoid certain "dog whistle" phrases while talking about urban development or crime reduction (no matter what the intention might be).

Only if certain phrases get regarded as dog whistles, and that's all in the listener. If your sensitivity and rhetorical framework makes it impossible to talk about urban development and crime reduction in a useful way, then your sensitivity and rhetorical framework are part of the problem.

Part of why the conservative movement got so powerful in the 80s was because many liberals refused to treat a discussion of crime as anything other than dog-whistled racism/classism. The result was that the most important duty of government (protecting citizens from unlicensed violence) was ceded entirely to people who simply laughed off such accusations. They were largely unapologetic racists and classists, but at least they were willing to talk about crime reduction as a goal in and of itself, rather than a byproduct of egalitarian wealth distribution. It's depressing to see the same mistake made over and over again.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: This whole discourse of "Acknowledge your own assumptions and try to do better" leaves no room for people who really don't think they've done harm, even if some particularly sensitive Tumblr users think they have. That's why these conversations inevitably escalate: because there's no available language, or even conceptual framework, for de-escalation, no way to say "The hurt you feel was no caused by what I did."

I addressed this a bit in my original linked post:
My editors respond with comments like, "I understand what you're saying, and share your concern — but I disagree that this usage is problematic." Alternately, sometimes we just say, "I agree that this usage is problematic, but I'm going to leave it."
As a publisher, I think it's really important to acknowledge the reader feedback, validate the concern that motivated them speaking up, and emphasize that we're fighting for the same team... while also making it clear that no: we're not going to make any changes to what's been said.

Because while I totally respect that some readers are globophobic, it doesn't mean that I feel it's necessary to put a trigger warning on these posts.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:38 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't really want to get into it, and I'm certainly not defending anything, but I believe he was banned.

We can confirm this. Please follow up with mods directly if you need more information on this and don't speculate (or insult people by proxy) in this thead, thanks.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on December 5, 2012


Only if certain phrases get regarded as dog whistles, and that's all in the listener. If your sensitivity and rhetorical framework makes it impossible to talk about urban development and crime reduction in a useful way, then your sensitivity and rhetorical framework are part of the problem.

I believe most words used about urban development being dog whistles is a feature, not a bug. As being openly racist became more and more unacceptable, people needed more and more ways to indicate the people around them were wrong and should be excluded needed to become less and less tied to explicit racial terms.

I will never forget going to a mall with some white friends. It was pretty upscale, clean, lots of stores, in a good part of town. I was walking with a friend and she said to me, all soft voiced, "Isn't this place a bit... ghetto?" I was really, really confused and looked around, trying to figure out what she meant; there are places where I lived which were run down and restricted areas (mostly inside DC) but this was suburban and upscale, so I replied, "Um, no... everything seems really nice, actually. Better than my home malls."

It took me a long while to figure out she meant that the mall had a lot of black people in it.

Me, I went to a school where I was used to being around people from every ethnicity and hearing people speak foreign languages was normal. It was eye opening to be around upper middle class white people who grew up in a white neighborhood. I was shocked at the number of dog whistles that meant nothing to me but all translated to "We can't be around black people, they're scary," up to an including, "They all keep LOOKING at us! They're racist against white people!"
posted by Deoridhe at 11:26 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the weird assumption that if people were speaking a foreign language, they must be talking about us. I mean... whut... is that... about? It completely baffled me that the assumption wasn't the far more reasonable (to me) assumption that they preferred speaking their first language when with other people who spoke it.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really want to get into it, and I'm certainly not defending anything, but I believe he was banned.

Huh, I didn't know that. In that case, yeah, I retract my comment. He didn't have a choice of where to respond.
posted by Justinian at 12:17 PM on December 6, 2012


I wonder how much of this phenomena is fueled by...age?

Meaning: everyone does tend to be a bit more zealous and to see things more black-and-white when they're younger - then, as they get older and go through a whole parade of experiences that don't quite fit neatly into the things the way they've thought about them, they tend to allow for more shades of gray, and tend to...chill out some. People may still have their individual hobbyhorses or berserk buttons, but they're a little better about knowing when to Take A Stand and when to shrug and say "....eh, bad word choice but I don't think they meant it that way and understand what they were really trying to say so whatevs".

If you consider that, and then you consider the specific age demographics of Internet users....it doesn't completely explain everything, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were a contributing factor.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not to mention the age of people who take women's studies courses.
posted by msalt at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2012


everyone does tend to be a bit more zealous and to see things more black-and-white when they're younger

Not just more zealous and b/w. Young people, especially people in college, are super-excited about proving that everyone else is old-fashioned, dumbheads, and soaked in the evil of their culture, with bonus points for doing so as loudly as possible so their favorite prof will notice. A tremendous amount of online arguing is sublimated yelling at Dad.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:28 AM on December 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think that may be overly cynical.

That is an age when possibilities blossom. High school has been left behind and they are now adults playing in an adult world. That time the sophomore class rallied to get the cafeteria hours changed is now a childish cause but useful model for enacting change in a world that desperately needs it.

It is about this time that they discover that most other people are old-fashioned, dumbheads, and soaked in the evil of their culture. And while some do get obsessed with that fact, their motives are more about a pressing need to change the world than a need to tear down other people.

My $0.02 .
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2012


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