Why Progressives Should Stop Using Violent Rhetoric

(Content note: hate and threats, including violently misogynist hatred and threats of rape and death.)

Progressives condemn the hateful vitriol aimed at feminist women.

Why do we aim it at people we don’t like?

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As you probably know, Texas pastor and conservative activist Rick Scarborough recently commented on the right-wing Christian fight against same-sex marriage, saying, “We are not going to bow, we are not going to bend, and if necessary, we will burn.”

Many progressives responded as if Scarborough had threatened to set himself on fire. And many of those progressives responded to this supposed suicide threat with glee. They said things like, “I’ll give him the matches,” and, “Can I bring the marshmallows?” When the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality came down, they called for Scarborough to make good on his supposed promise, and mocked him for not doing it. (This isn’t just one or two people, either — it’s been all over my Facebook feed.)

I have a couple of problems with this. One, as Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) has pointed out repeatedly on Facebook, is that Scarborough’s statement was not, in fact, a threat to set himself on fire. It was an absurd statement of a willingness to fight marriage equality to the death — but it wasn’t a threat to kill himself by burning. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about my other problem with this progressive response.

My problem is that I see it as a threat.

Here’s the thing. I’m a feminist writer on the Internet — which means I get a whole lot of people publicly saying that I should experience brutal violence or die in some horrible way, and expressing pleasure at the thought of it happening. And when they do, I see it as a threat. Most of my readers see it that way, too. When people publicly tell me “I HOPE YOU GET RAPED,” or that “someone should tattoo a giant cock across your face,” or that “I think I’m going to become a far right wing, woman raping clergyman,” or that I should “GO CHOKE ON A DICK AND DIE,” or that I should “just die already,” or when they tell me to “Go fuck yourself with a knife,” or when they tell me “Kill yourself” — most of my readers recognize it as a threat. When other women are targeted with hateful messages saying, “You should be killed very slowly,” “Will somebody please rape Rebecca Watson,” “This bitch needs to be punched in the throat,” or “Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself Kill yourself…”– most of my readers recognize it as a threat.

My readers understand that a threat doesn’t have to be explicit to be real. They understand that very few people are foolish enough to come out and say, “I want to do violent things to you and I’m making a plan to do them” (although sometimes they are). They understand that veiled threats are real threats; that saying, “Nice place you’ve got, it’d be a shame if something happened to it,” is a real threat. And they understand that even if there’s no serious plan to do physical harm, the intent is still to threaten and terrorize, to make the Internet a toxic and frightening place where women are afraid to speak. Most of my readers are feminists and social justice activists — and most of them respond to this public outpouring of hateful, violent ideation with rage and horror.

And I think at least some of the people who are horrified at the threats against me, and against other women, are the same people publicly crowing over the notion of Scarborough burning to death.

I’m not okay with that. To put it mildly.

burning match
Why is it okay for progressives to tell Scarborough that since he (supposedly) promised to kill himself, he should now follow through on that promise? Why is it okay to tell him that they’d give him the matches, and bring marshmallows to toast while he burned? Why is it horrifying for anti-feminists to tell me that I should kill myself, that I should stick a knife in my cunt, that I should choke on a dick and die — but it’s okay for progressives to tell Scarborough that he should kill himself, that they’d watch with pleasure while he did it, that they’d give him the tools to do it?

What’s the difference?

Yes, there are differences. Anti-feminists have been engaging in a sustained, systematic, organized, years-long campaign of harassment and threats against feminist women. As far as I know, there hasn’t been anything like that from the left — and that’s an important difference. (If I’m mistaken about this, by the way, please let me know — with citations.) And of course, there are different power dynamics: there’s the difference between “punching up” and “punching down.” When LGBT people direct gleeful rage at the religious right, and in particular at the religious right’s opposition to marriage equality and other LGBT rights — that’s punching up. When anti-feminist men direct gleeful rage at feminist women — that’s punching down. I’ll accept a whole lot more anger and vitriol when it’s punching up. I’m not tone-trolling or civility policing: I am totally on board with people being uncivil as hell when they’re punching up.

But I draw the line at threats of violence.

I draw the line at telling people how great it would be if they suffered excruciating pain. I draw the line at telling people how great it would be if they died. I draw the line at telling people to kill themselves.

I’m not immune to the pleasures of scathingly violent vitriol. I’m queer, and I’ve had more than one revenge fantasy about hateful homophobes like Scarborough. I get why people say this stuff. I’ve done it myself. And I regret it. I think it was wrong; I don’t do it anymore; and I’m asking other people who do it to reconsider.

Now, I’m sure plenty of people will say that these comments about Scarborough are obviously not serious. Of course they don’t sincerely want Scarborough to set himself on fire and burn to death; of course they wouldn’t watch gleefully if it happened; of course they wouldn’t give him the matches. Of course it’s not a threat. It’s just a joke, just morbid humor, the venting of years of anger in a burst of over-the-top hyperbole.

You know what? That’s exactly what many of the anti-feminists say. They say they’re just kidding. They say that their public wishes for feminists to be brutally raped and murdered, their public wishes for feminists to kill themselves, are just jokes — hyperbolic, satirical, over-the-top vitriol, obviously not meant to be taken seriously. They say these comments aren’t meant to be threats — and that it’s ridiculous for women to treat them as threats.

A-Womans-Room-Online-08
And most of my readers would call this bullshit. They would point out that there is no way to tell the difference between a “joking” threat and a serious threat. They would point out that when people persist in telling these “jokes,” even in the face of women overwhelmingly saying how vile and traumatic they are for us, this callousness itself is sexist and misogynistic. They would point out that even the “joking” threats perpetuate sexist and misogynist attitudes, and normalize them, and desensitize people to them. They would point out that even the “joking” threats contribute to a culture of misogyny — a culture where victims of rape and other violence are blamed for it, where the desire to rape is treated as understandable, where the seriousness of rape is trivialized, where the desire to punish rapists is decreased. They point to extensive research backing up this conclusion.

If progressives are going to condemn this culture of brutal threats, we need to not perpetuate it. We need to not say, “Geez, of course I didn’t mean it when I said you should kill yourself painfully and gruesomely, lighten up already.” If we’re going to speak against unintended ugliness by saying that “intention is not magic,” we need to not act as if our own behavior is covered by a magical cloak of non-evil intentions.

We have a culture where being a public figure — any public figure, not just a controversial one — means a serious risk of being targeted with a firehose of hatred, harassment, and graphic threats of violence and death. We have a culture where more recognition for your work, more visibility, more acclaim, means getting hit with a bigger firehose. And this is keeping some very smart, talented people out of the public arena. This is a problem for everybody. It’s especially a problem for women, for people of color, for LGBT people, for other folks on the marginalized end of power dynamics. It’s especially a problem when the firehose of hatred is just one of many tools keeping oppressed people down. But it’s a problem for everybody — and we need to take it seriously.

Of course there’s a place in our culture for scathing, over-the-top vitriol. I am a big advocate of the expression of rage — especially when it’s oppressed people raging at their oppressors. And of course there’s a place in our culture for morbid humor. I love morbid humor. But there’s a line between morbid, scathing, vitriolic humor — and the public expression of bloodlust. That may be a difficult line to draw, and it’s worth having a discussion of how and where to draw it. But the line needs to be drawn. And wherever the line gets drawn, saying, “I hope you kill yourself by setting yourself on fire and horribly burning to death, I’ll watch with pleasure and even help you do it,” is clearly on the wrong side.

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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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Why Progressives Should Stop Using Violent Rhetoric

53 thoughts on “Why Progressives Should Stop Using Violent Rhetoric

  1. 1

    Good post. Another good argument is that these right-wing bigots whom we criticize are desperate to claim martyrvictim status for themselves. Tweeting threats at them just makes it easier for them to do so, which in turn makes it easier to justify their own hatred to themselves, and reduces the chances of them or their followers ever questioning their own beliefs from negligible to zero.

  2. 4

    I’m really not sure I agree here. I think it’s a lot more like responding to someone saying “I’ll do this thing, I will, and then you’ll feel bad!” that you know they won’t do. It’s refusing to be held hostage to the empty threats of abusers, or manipulated by their claims of being terribly injured by our existence. There’s a pretty huge difference to me between “I’ll hurt you” and “I’ll make you feel bad for hurting me, even though you haven’t in any way!”.

  3. 5

    If someone were to express their intention to hurt themselves, I don’t think I’d be comfortable making any assumption that they’re joking or just looking for attention. That’s a good way to end up with a dead body on your conscience. Not capitulating to the petulant demand of abusers doesn’t necessitate in any way encouraging them to “just do it.”

  4. 6

    Thanks for writing this. I am strongly opposed to violence (which is why I chose the name Pax Ahimsa, literally translating to “peace” and “do no harm”), but have been hesitant to call out this sort of thing for fear of being accused of tone policing. I do agree that there need to be limits, even when “punching up”.

  5. AMM
    8

    Well, I do wish people like that ill.

    I wish that their friends would bluntly tell them they’re being an ass when they say stuff like that.

    I wish that the people around them would groan and roll their eyes when they see them, and, if they don’t reform, stop inviting them to their parties.

    And if they still insist on being an ass, I wish that the people in their town would tell them, whenever they encounter them, in no uncertain terms that they are alone in their “opinion.”

  6. 9

    Your post made me think about this issue, but I think HappiestSadist put their finger on it: telling a blowhard to put up or shut up is not in itself a threat or harassment.

    Having said that, though, you have a point that many comments went beyond just deflating a blowhard (in particular since his statement was veiled and not an explicit commitment to set himself on fire).

  7. 10

    I think the brilliance of this post is that, the harder you push back against it, the closer you come to conceding to its truth. In the end, its hard not to notice that to oppose this perspective is to merely replace the word “rape” with the word “violence” in all of Richard Dawkins tweets and call that your position.

    When you exist in world all colored in ivory, cornsilk, and cream — sometimes it hard to take a step back and realize, “wow, I never realized how much I hate the color white.” The same problem kind of applies to violence too.

  8. 12

    @3

    If the main difference between the opposition and yourself is being in the right, is that necessarily a bad thing? To be fair, that kind of vitriol, anger, and hate is about vengeance and harming other people. It’s not very constructive. Even so, if you’re in the right you still have the moral high ground.

  9. 13

    If the main difference between the opposition and yourself is being in the right, is that necessarily a bad thing?

    Everybody always thinks they’re in the right. Practically everybody is wrong about that at some point or another.

    I think it’s important to remember that there’s a big difference between being angry and wishing harm on somebody. It’s perfectly possible to be furiously angry, even furiously angry at a particular individual, and to express that anger, all without actively wishing them harm.

    In addition to the points Greta has made here, there’s another point which I think is worth considering: I don’t think engaging in fantasies of violent retribution is good for you. I’m not saying I don’t do it – I certainly do – but I’m not happy with it and I’m trying to stop. It’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and I think it desensitises you to violence.

    If we want to dismantle the culture of violence and domination, surely the best place to start is in our own minds?

  10. 14

    Is the #KillAllMen hashtag on the edge or is it not specific enough to be a real threat?

    I don’t like it. IMO it’s a little more borderline, since it’s not aimed at a specific person — but I don’t like it.

  11. 15

    I’m really not sure I agree here. I think it’s a lot more like responding to someone saying “I’ll do this thing, I will, and then you’ll feel bad!” that you know they won’t do. It’s refusing to be held hostage to the empty threats of abusers, or manipulated by their claims of being terribly injured by our existence. There’s a pretty huge difference to me between “I’ll hurt you” and “I’ll make you feel bad for hurting me, even though you haven’t in any way!”.

    There’s a difference I think between encouraging, and saying that you effectively know they’re full of shit, and calling out their posturing.

    HappiestSadist @ #4 &#7: First of all, once again: Scarborough did not say, “I’ll do this thing.” He did not make a suicide threat: he did not say “I will set myself on fire.” He said he was willing to die for his cause. It’s a ridiculous and hateful cause — but saying you’re willing to die for a cause is not the same as threatening to kill yourself.

    Second, and more to the point: Even if he had threatened to set himself on fire? Even if you see a willingness to be martyred as a threat to do self-harm? It is possible to say, “I will not be held hostage to your threats,” without saying, “It would be a good thing if you killed yourself painfully and horribly, I wish you would do it, I would watch happily while you did it, I would even give you the tools to do it.”

    Yes, there’s a difference between encouraging someone to make good on their threat, and saying you know they’re full of shit. And plenty of progressives have been doing the first.

    But I also think non-violence is not a great plan for all.

    If someone is advocating non-violence as a political act, that is a serious, last-resort business. It should not be wrapped up in “kidding/ not kidding/ kidding” hate jokes, where the joker expresses a desire for violence without wanting to be held accountable for it.

  12. 16

    I think HappiestSadist put their finger on it: telling a blowhard to put up or shut up is not in itself a threat or harassment.

    peteschult @ #9: When “telling a blowhard to put up or shut up” involves “telling a blowhard that they should kill themselves painfully and horribly, simply because they said they’d do that (or because a hostile misreading of what they said sort of semi-implies that they said they’d do that)” — then yes, it is a harassing threat. It’s possible to point out that a threat is empty and manipulative, without calling on them to carry it out, and telling them you’d be glad if they did. If someone threatens to kill themselves (which, again, Scarborough did not do), telling them to “put up or shut up” is, at best, grossly callous and sadistic. As Michael Brew said above @ #5: If someone threatened to kill themselves, and you told them to put up or shut up, and they followed through — do you want it on your conscience that you contributed to that, even in a small way?

    Let me put it this way. A number of feminist harassment targets have talked publicly about being depressed and even suicidal. Do you think it’s okay to tell them to “put up or shut up”?

  13. 17

    If the main difference between the opposition and yourself is being in the right, is that necessarily a bad thing? To be fair, that kind of vitriol, anger, and hate is about vengeance and harming other people. It’s not very constructive. Even so, if you’re in the right you still have the moral high ground.

    Knight in Sour Armor @ #12: The whole point of this post is that having the right opinion about political and ethical issues is not a free pass to do whatever we want.

    In fact, the very idea that “being right about ethical issues” means “a free pass to do whatever we want” is deeply contorted. And it’s a contorted form of ethics that, over the centuries and millennia, has been shown again and again to be dangerous and toxic. Many of the greatest horrors in human history were committed by people who thought that they were fighting for what was right — and that the rightness of their cause gave them carte blanche.

    The whole point of this post is that the minute we start saying, “Yes, we want other people to suffer horribly and die in an unspeakably painful way, we will encourage them to do it, we will enjoy watching it, we will even give them the tools to do it” — we have lost the moral high ground.

    The whole point of this post is that we support LGBT rights and same-sex marriage because we want to increase happiness and reduce suffering — not because we want to win a contest. The “moral high ground” is not “We’re right — so you should suffer, and we’ll enjoy it.”

  14. 18

    But I think in cases like this, the difference between “people who are being harassed and threatened and actively harmed by actions people are taking toward them and saying they’re suicidal” and “people who have not in any way been harmed and are trying to claim other people existing at all is harming them”. I think the latter shouldn’t even have their claims dignified.

    I think you do have a point that the “I’ll give you the tools” comments were over the line, but in as much as the “having it on one’s conscience” thing, it’s a very very hollow threat, and “but then it’ll be on you, how will you feel?” is giving a clearly manipulative and hollow threat weight it doesn’t deserve.

  15. 19

    Content note: suicide, suicide threats

    I think the latter shouldn’t even have their claims dignified.

    HappiestSadist # #18: We’re not talking about the claims. We’re not talking about whether Scarborough is right or wrong on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Of course he’s wrong: he’s horribly, cruelly, harmfully wrong. That is not the point. The point is that Scarborough being horribly wrong does not justify telling him, “It would be awesome if you killed yourself in a painful and terrible way, you promised to do it and I’m going to call on you to make good on that promise, I’ll enjoy watching you suffer and die, I’ll give you the tools to do it.”

    giving a clearly manipulative and hollow threat weight

    First, and once again: He did not make a suicide threat. There is an important difference between saying “I am going to kill myself” and saying “I am willing to die for my cause.” And that difference remains, regardless of how vile the cause is. Plenty of wonderful progressive leaders (MLK leaps to mind) have said they were willing to die for their cause. It does not constitute a manipulative suicide threat.

    Second, even if he had made a suicide threat: If someone says, “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t do what you want” — yes, of course, that’s manipulative. And if I reply “No, I’m not going to do that,” and they kill themselves — no, of course, that’s not on my conscience. But that’s not what we’re talking about. If someone says, “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t do what you want” — and I reply, “Go ahead, I hope you do, that would be awesome, I’ll watch gleefully while you do it, I’ll give you the tools to do it, I hope it’s really painful, and you’re a coward and a liar if you don’t follow through” — that’s not just resisting their manipulation. That’s egging them on. And if they do kill themselves, then yes, that is at least partly on my conscience.

    Think about people who commit suicide, or threaten suicide, by jumping off a high building. Think about people on the ground screaming, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Regardless of what you think of the jumper — what do you think of them?

  16. 20

    I think that the clear sarcasm of the responses kind of make a difference, though? And no, he didn’t make a suicide threat, he just said something that is equally unlikely.

    This isn’t egging on a jumper, this is telling a petulant child who’s “gonna go eat some worms and then you’ll be sorry” that the ketchup’s in the fridge.

  17. 21

    But, all that said, while I disagree that the two are even remotely comparable, I will keep in mind that some people, whose opinions do matter a lot to me, feel differently than I do, and keep that in mind for the future. I’m not exactly needing to make marshmallow jokes to survive? So, thank you.

  18. 22

    Content note: suicide, suicide threats

    I think that the clear sarcasm of the responses kind of make a difference, though?

    HappiestSadist @ #20: I will quote myself from the piece:

    “Now, I’m sure plenty of people will say that these comments about Scarborough are obviously not serious. Of course they don’t sincerely want Scarborough to set himself on fire and burn to death; of course they wouldn’t watch gleefully if it happened; of course they wouldn’t give him the matches. Of course it’s not a threat. It’s just a joke, just morbid humor, the venting of years of anger in a burst of over-the-top hyperbole.

    “You know what? That’s exactly what many of the anti-feminists say. They say they’re just kidding. They say that their public wishes for feminists to be brutally raped and murdered, their public wishes for feminists to kill themselves, are just jokes — hyperbolic, satirical, over-the-top vitriol, obviously not meant to be taken seriously. They say these comments aren’t meant to be threats — and that it’s ridiculous for women to treat them as threats.

    And most of my readers would call this bullshit.”

    And no, he didn’t make a suicide threat, he just said something that is equally unlikely.

    Then please stop talking about this as if he had made a suicide threat.

    This isn’t egging on a jumper, this is telling a petulant child who’s “gonna go eat some worms and then you’ll be sorry” that the ketchup’s in the fridge.

    Again: Please stop talking about this as if he had made a suicide threat. The petulant child is not saying they’re going to eat worms. The petulant child is not even saying, “I’m going to set myself on fire.” Although, if the petulant child does say that, are you going to reply with, “The matches are in the kitchen drawer”? Are you going to reply, “The matches are in the kitchen drawer, go ahead and kill yourself, I’ll have fun watching, and if you don’t do it you’re a coward and a liar”?

    But once again: The petulant child is not saying they’re going to eat worms, or even that they’re going to set themselves on fire. The petulant child is saying that something is really important to them, and they’re willing to fight for it — and if that fight involves eating worms, or burning to death, they’re still willing to do it.

    And once again, and I don’t know how I can say this any more clearly: What Scarborough said is not the point. Whether Scarborough is being manipulative is not the point. Whether Scarborough is sincerely willing to burn in his fight against same-sex marriage is not the point. The point is that when responding to hatefulness and bigotry and manipulation, there are lines we should not cross. Saying over and over again “But he’s such a horrible person!” is not an argument for why it’s okay to respond to that horribleness with a gleeful public cry for his painful death.

  19. 23

    But, all that said, while I disagree that the two are even remotely comparable, I will keep in mind that some people, whose opinions do matter a lot to me, feel differently than I do, and keep that in mind for the future. I’m not exactly needing to make marshmallow jokes to survive? So, thank you.

    HappiestSadist, @ #21: Just so you know: Didn’t see that you’d posted that before I posted #22.

  20. 25

    ‘I am a big advocate of the expression of rage — especially when it’s oppressed people raging at their oppressors.’

    The problem with that is that just about every oppressor is convinced that that is what they are doing. The Christian right really does believe that they are being oppressed. It is a required component for their ‘end times’ fantasies.

    The Klan and the Nazis ALWAYS depicted themselves as the downtrodden; driven, driven I tell you, to unleash their crushing power upon…. It really is that crazy. After the Second World War. One of the intelligence officers debriefing German POWs remarked that he could always tell the really serious Nazi killers, not by their bravado, but by their whining.

  21. 26

    Saying over and over again “But he’s such a horrible person!” is not an argument for why it’s okay to respond to that horribleness with a gleeful public cry for his painful death.

    Ok.

    I’m having a hard time thinking of reasons why his metaphorical fires are bad. He said he would rather metaphorically burn rather than stop making a career of hurting people who have done nothing to him or anyone. He didn’t say he was depressed and suicidal. This wasn’t a cry for help, it was a threat.

    I know he didn’t mean burn literally. Which is exactly why I would have handed him a goddamn book of matches if I’d been there when he said it.

  22. 27

    This wasn’t a cry for help, it was a threat.

    I know he didn’t mean burn literally. Which is exactly why I would have handed him a goddamn book of matches if I’d been there when he said it.

    leni @ #26: First — and for what seems like the dozenth time — it was neither a cry for help, nor a threat. It was a statement of a willingness to fight for the death for his cause.

    Second — and also for what seems like the dozenth time — it doesn’t matter what Scarborough said, or what he really meant by it. It doesn’t matter whether he meant his words literally or metaphorically; it doesn’t matter whether his words were a cry for help, a manipulative threat, a statement of a willingness to die for a cause, the channeling of the spirit of Xenu. It doesn’t matter how terrible Scarborough is. It is still not okay to tell someone, “It would be awesome if you killed yourself in a painful and terrible way, you promised to do it and I’m going to call on you to make good on that promise, I’ll enjoy watching you suffer and die, I’ll give you the tools to do it.”

    I spent over 1700 words making a very specific case for why this is not okay. I made a very specific case pointing out that when people say things like this to me, I perceive it as a threat of violence, and most of my readers perceive it as a threat of violence — and making threats of violence crosses a line.

    You have not in any way engaged with that case. If you have an actual response to the case I made, please make it. If all you’re going to say is more versions of “Scarborough is a terrible person, and here are all the specific ways he’s terrible, and therefore it’s okay to publicly call for his painful death”: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

  23. 28

    This post highlights why I love reading this blog, and why I really have a hard time even bearing social media. The violent rhetoric really gets to me, and I personally find it really distressing to find friends and family expressing any type of violence. Maybe it’s wrong of me but I’d prefer not to know that a certain person is a bigot and is against same-sex marriage, or “hates” Obama. (I mean, you “hate” him? REALLY?) But to read my supposed allies expressing the same thing… It makes me despair for humanity.

    I love reading your thoughts and process because it helps me deal with these issues in a more rational and reasoned way, instead of just burying my head in the sand which really does no good towards affecting change. It’s just so great to read things like this laid out in a way I can grasp and hopefully transmit to others. So thanks… it’s made a big difference in my life. I read this post out loud to the partner and then we had a nice discussion about your points. Fantastic.

  24. 29

    I have been in the position of being able to hurt, both physically and mentally, someone who had hurt me. I got great satisfaction in telling them what I could do and then saying “But I’m not going to do this because I’m a better person than you.”

    We’re supposed to be better people than the Scarboroughs. Let’s show this by not going down to their level.

  25. 30

    If you have an actual response to the case I made, please make it. If all you’re going to say is more versions of “Scarborough is a terrible person, and here are all the specific ways he’s terrible, and therefore it’s okay to publicly call for his painful death”: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

    Well, that isn’t actually what I said. It’s not about him being a terrible person, it’s about him fanning the flames of violence and then wishing to die in it. It’s about why people responded to what he said the way they did.

    Second — and also for what seems like the dozenth time — it doesn’t matter what Scarborough said, or what he really meant by it. It doesn’t matter whether he meant his words literally or metaphorically; it doesn’t matter whether his words were a cry for help, a manipulative threat, a statement of a willingness to die for a cause, the channeling of the spirit of Xenu. I First, I disagree with you that it doesn’t matter what he said and second, I disagree with you that it’s not a threat.

    I guess, my point was that I think it does matter. I get that you don’t. And I understand why and respect it, but I don’t agree. I don’t expect you to change your mind, but here’s why:

    The response he got didn’t happen in a vacuum. It didn’t happen because he was saying he was unhappy with the decision and wanted to continue fighting for his cause. It happened because he is suddenly talking about people dying in fires while he’s out there, as Ed calls it, on the fever swamp circuit stirring up righteous fury. Fury that sometimes results in actual fires and actual death. And he did this in a totally glib bullshit way, with zero regard for the fact that he is stoking fires other people are far more likely to be hurt by than him, whether he means to or not.

    So when people say things like “better you first then, here are some metaphorical matches you lying sack of shitballs”, I just don’t feel the need to lose sleep over it.

    The context here matters, and is the very reason why the backlash happened. His audience, our culture, the fact that he’s totally full of shit and basically just had his bluff called. There’s a lot here you don’t think matters that I do.

  26. 31

    Well, that isn’t actually what I said. It’s not about him being a terrible person, it’s about him fanning the flames of violence and then wishing to die in it. It’s about why people responded to what he said the way they did.

    Again, he did not wish to die. He expressed a willingness to die for his cause.

    It didn’t happen because he was saying he was unhappy with the decision and wanted to continue fighting for his cause. It happened because he is suddenly talking about people dying in fires while he’s out there, as Ed calls it, on the fever swamp circuit stirring up righteous fury. Fury that sometimes results in actual fires and actual death. And he did this in a totally glib bullshit way, with zero regard for the fact that he is stoking fires other people are far more likely to be hurt by than him, whether he means to or not.

    When people are advocating for actual fires and actual death, we can criticize them vehemently and oppose them at every turn. Which progressives like us do all the time, for good reason. The point is that we should not stoop to the level of the MRAs and Gamergaters and dogpile on him with gleeful threats of violence.

    All you have done is return to talking about how much of a douchebag he is, and the point is that IT DOES NOT MATTER how much of a douche you think he is. Threats of violence are not warranted. Period.

  27. 32

    Here’s how I see the situation. I don’t abhor violence. I think it’s sometimes necessary. What I abhor is the initiation of force or fraud. If you do that, you are in the wrong. If you hide behind somebody who does that, you are in the wrong. If you profit from association with someone who does that, you are in the wrong. Makes no difference if you are acting for someone else, or if someone else is acting for you.

    Then there’s another layer to consider, when it’s a situation of “he said a nasty; she said a nasty”. Who is in a position of power, where a spoken/written nasty carries a coercive or threatening element that doesn’t exude from the words or actions of the powerless? Who has a record of using force and violence to get their way? Who tends to be dishonest in seeking their goals? Who sees life as zero-sum? Who sees rights as one-sided, or as rights for them, but as privileges or suggestions for others? Who has a history of acting on such beliefs, or of allying themselves with people who act in those ways? Whose “gang” has a history of bombing and shooting abortion doctors and threatening and harassing family planning clinics and workers?

    Who still thinks slavery was/is a good thing, women are chattel and ought to keep their damn mouths shut, or get a good fist or boot to show ’em their place, and who believes in a big bearded guy in the sky who says it’s not merely right, but commendable to kill anybody who has sex differently than you do, or anybody who threatens your power and whom you can accuse (not prove, just accuse) of witchcraft, etc., etc., etc. ? Who wants to entrench such oppression in law, while viewing attempts to widen the protection of the law as aggression?

    Now, not all of the right-wing religulous partake at the extremes of that kind of mindset, but so many just hide behind those who outspokenly do so. I liken them to all the so-called “moderate” muslims I don’t see on TV and in print and on the web vehemently denouncing the jihadists and fundamentalists (who have a view of muslim fundamentalism that’s hard to differentiate from the views of christian fundamentalism).

    So, all of that to say that I’m less incensed that people would express glee at the painful demise of “the other by choice and action”, than I am that they willfully misrepresent what the other said, in order to express such glee. If you haven’t got enough ammunition from the actual statements of “the other” to justify your nasty speech, then your resort to misrepresentation makes you as bad as the people (or “people”) you revile.

    (Note: everybody has in-groups and out-groups. The difference, when it comes time to take up arms – whether literally or figuratively – is whether the “other” is other by reason of something they can’t help (like skin color, sexual orientation, ability to wiggle their ears..), or by reason of choices they have made and actions they have taken (like slavery, like child abuse, like attempting to get iron-age religulous beliefs entrenched in law, or like inculcating the innocent with a desire and goal to bring about the end of the world to appease a made-up, cranky guy in the sky… and see “child abuse” above… It is inherently right to abhor the Nazis and the Stalinists and the Duvaliers and Al Capone and so many more because it is their choices and actions that are abhorrent. It is never right to abhor differences that are not directly harmful to you. So about the only non-standard sexuality that should rightly be considered abhorrent is that which occurs without consent. The only physical characteristics that should be rightly abhorred are… well… can’t think of any. Can you? Justify, please.)

  28. 33

    The point is that we should not stoop to the level of the MRAs and Gamergaters and dogpile on him with gleeful threats of violence.

    Saying “go ahead, asshole” is emphatically not the same thing as suggesting someone should die because you don’t like what they say,

    All you have done is return to talking about how much of a douchebag he is, and the point is that IT DOES NOT MATTER how much of a douche you think he is. Threats of violence are not warranted. Period.

    I didn’t talk about what a db he is. I talked about what he said and why that context matters. I didn’t threaten any violence and I didn’t condone anyone else’s threats. And I never said any response was ok.

  29. 34

    Saying “go ahead, asshole” is emphatically not the same thing as suggesting someone should die because you don’t like what they say,

    leni @ #33: ?????

    Those are exactly, literally, the same thing. I am baffled by how one could parse “Go ahead and set yourself on fire, asshole” as anything other than suggesting that they should die. It is literally saying that they should die. It is literally telling them to kill themselves.

    I didn’t threaten any violence and I didn’t condone anyone else’s threats.

    My point is that statements like “I wish you would die painfully, it would be great if you died painfully, if you died painfully I would watch cheerfully, I would give you the tools to kill yourself painfully, you’re a coward and a liar if you don’t follow through on this promise to kill yourself painfully that I think you made” (he didn’t promise to kill himself, but people were responding as if he did) are threats. Progressives said all these things to Scarborough. When people say these things to me, I read them as threats. Most of my readers read them as threats. If you want to make a case that these aren’t really threats, go ahead and make it (although I’ll warn you that I take this issue very freaking personally). If you want to make a case that these statements are threats when they’re made to me but they somehow aren’t when they’re made to Scarborough, go ahead and make it. But you haven’t made either of those cases. If you agree that these statements are threats when they’re made to me, and that they’re threats when they’re made to Scarborough — then yes, you’re condoning people’s threats.

    And I never said any response was ok.

    You said, “I would have handed him a goddamn book of matches if I’d been there when he said it.” You said, “So when people say things like “better you first then, here are some metaphorical matches you lying sack of shitballs”, I just don’t feel the need to lose sleep over it.” Both of those are statements that you think certain responses are okay.

    …he is suddenly talking about people dying in fires while he’s out there, as Ed calls it, on the fever swamp circuit stirring up righteous fury. Fury that sometimes results in actual fires and actual death. And he did this in a totally glib bullshit way, with zero regard for the fact that he is stoking fires other people are far more likely to be hurt by than him, whether he means to or not.

    leni @ #30: I don’t disagree with any of that. What he is doing is vile, and is fanning the flames of hatred and violence. And if it’s wrong for him to do that, it’s wrong for us to do that. “He started it” is not a sustainable defense.

    the fact that he’s totally full of shit and basically just had his bluff called.

    I’ve said it before, and if I have to say it again I’m going to get even more cranky: It is possible to point out the absurdity of this bluff, without gruesomely calling on him to carry it out, saying that you would take pleasure in watching him carry it out, saying that you would provide the tools for him to carry it out, and calling him a coward and a liar if he doesn’t carry it out.

    tl;dr: If you can’t make a case for why making these kinds of statements to Scarborough is substantially ethically different than making these kinds of statements to me — and “He’s a terrible person” and “He started it” do not constitute a substantial ethical difference — you’re basically saying that it’s okay to make these kinds of statement to me.

  30. 35

    I don’t abhor violence. I think it’s sometimes necessary. What I abhor is the initiation of force or fraud.

    Kevin McLauchlan @ #32: To some degree, I reluctantly agree. I’m not an absolute pacifist: I think violence is sometimes necessary. I agree that initiating violence is unacceptable (I suppose I could imagine a case where that wasn’t true, but it would be pretty contorted).

    But relevantly to this situation, and as I said above: If someone is advocating non-violence as a political act, that is a serious, last-resort business. It should not be wrapped up in “kidding/ not kidding/ kidding” hate jokes, where the joker expresses a desire for violence without wanting to be held accountable for it.

    Who is in a position of power, where a spoken/written nasty carries a coercive or threatening element that doesn’t exude from the words or actions of the powerless?

    Yes. I acknowledged that in the piece, when I said “of course, there are different power dynamics: there’s the difference between ‘punching up’ and ‘punching down.’… I’ll accept a whole lot more anger and vitriol when it’s punching up. I’m not tone-trolling or civility policing: I am totally on board with people being uncivil as hell when they’re punching up.” And as I also said in the piece, just after that: I draw the line at threats of violence.

  31. 36

    #4 Happiest
    I’m really not sure I agree here. I think it’s a lot more like responding to someone saying “I’ll do this thing, I will, and then you’ll feel bad!” that you know they won’t do. It’s refusing to be held hostage to the empty threats of abusers, or manipulated by their claims of being terribly injured by our existence.

    That’s pretty easy to do without joining in with the hyperbolic rhetoric yourself, and thus without feeding the typical religious martyr complex.

    ___

    #8 AMM
    I wish that their friends would bluntly tell them they’re being an ass when they say stuff like that.

    I wish that the people around them would groan and roll their eyes when they see them, and, if they don’t reform, stop inviting them to their parties.

    And if they still insist on being an ass, I wish that the people in their town would tell them, whenever they encounter them, in no uncertain terms that they are alone in their “opinion.”

    All decent suggestions, and note that none of them involve anything along the lines of “I’ll help kill you.”

    ___

    In addition to those points, I think there are plenty more reasons of a tactical nature to refrain from that sort of response.
    – Whether it is a threat of suicide or a statement of utmost determination, there is a high chance it is bluster. If the person is bullshiting, you have no reason to play along; if the person is genuine, remote as that may be, then they clearly aren’t going to back down in the face of your sarcasm / put downs / almighty intellect / etc.

    – We know plenty of religious people love their martyr complex, responding in kind will only exacerbate it.

    – “But they are going to do the martyr complex thing no matter how I respond” is not a reason to do so; let them make that claim and you can point out how baseless their fears are. Joining in denies you that argument.

    – Responding to their hyperbole in kind means you can no longer criticise said hyperbole without being a hypocrite. Thus, responding in kind hands them a counter argument for free.

  32. 37

    Oh and I forgot to mention, “but they started it!” is sort of adorable in a 6 year old, but quite sad in an adult. It’s a childish justification, plain and simple.

  33. 38

    #37 Holms

    Try restraining yourself from saying “… but they started it!”, after a home invasion, where the bad guys let you see their faces, and you do the only self-responsibly human thing, and prevail.

    Yes, I know that home invasions and muggings are not part of most people’s experience. However, the weak points of reasoning often reveal themselves when discussing extreme examples.

    When it’s a matter of dead or maimed bodies, you can bet that much of the police and prosecutorial questioning will revolve around “who started it.” Better have your ducks in a row.

    Alternatively, if there don’t appear to have been any witnesses, you might consider just getting rid of any evidence and going on with your life without telling anyone. Then you don’t need to “but they started it!”


    #36 On the matter of “I’ll help kill you”, I agree that that’s generally not a good thing to be saying. But again, the extremes are telling:

    I think that “I’ll help kill you”… and dance on your mass grave, etc. is the most reasonable response to anybody radicalizing young muslims, as well as to the radicalized young muslims whose dearest wish is to murder as many infidels and apostates as possible. The same response is entirely appropriate to anyone who advocates taking action to advance the date of the “christian” apocalypse.

    In response to people who advocate, and work toward, the oppression and subjugation, and denial of equal rights to people who are not offering them force or fraud, I’m not persuaded that our words need to be all that polite. But neither do we need to stoop to their level…. er… unless they’re winning…. 🙂


    “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

  34. 39

    When people say these things to me, I read them as threats. Most of my readers read them as threats.

    As do I. I’ve also never seen you invoke imaginary fires for you or other people to burn in, which is why when you get that vicious response it actually is threatening. It is wildly disproportionate and has nothing to do with what you actually say. You and he might both say things people don’t like, but that is as far as the comparison goes. (And it’s always true of everyone. )

    You said, “I would have handed him a goddamn book of matches if I’d been there when he said it.” You said, “So when people say things like “better you first then, here are some metaphorical matches you lying sack of shitballs”, I just don’t feel the need to lose sleep over it.” Both of those are statements that you think certain responses are okay.

    Well, I’ve already said I think certain responses are ok in certain circumstances. I’ve also said I don’t think those same responses are ok in any context. They are not ok when we disagree with people. They are not ok as stock responses. They are not ok when you don’t like someone. I get that.

    What I don’t accept is that fake threatening to burn yourself and arguably others so that you may continue hurting other people for no reason is irrelevant.

    I’ve said it before, and if I have to say it again I’m going to get even more cranky: It is possible to point out the absurdity of this bluff, without gruesomely calling on him to carry it out, saying that you would take pleasure in watching him carry it out, saying that you would provide the tools for him to carry it out, and calling him a coward and a liar if he doesn’t carry it out.

    Well, you aren’t the only cranky person in town so it’s a good thing you didn’t threaten a cage match fight to the death with fire or I might have pretended to agree to it 🙂

    I’m going to agree to disagree here. I know what you mean and I do understand that you think people should behave better no matter what. And like I said before, I respect that.

    I think you are mostly right. I just really do not agree with the part of this that requires me to think what he says and what you say are context-free, consequence-free, equal. Just, no. I know you don’t think it matters, but I do.

  35. 40

    Forgot this:

    I am baffled by how one could parse “Go ahead and set yourself on fire, asshole” as anything other than suggesting that they should die. It is literally saying that they should die. It is literally telling them to kill themselves.

    It is also literally saying you know they are full of shit, when you know it’s bullshit. You said yourself he didn’t mean it as a suicide threat.

    That other people know this should not baffle you.

  36. 41

    #38 Kevin
    Try restraining yourself from saying “… but they started it!”, after a home invasion, where the bad guys let you see their faces, and you do the only self-responsibly human thing, and prevail.

    The fact that there is a clear and immediate danger in a home invasion, and the fact that that danger is absent from a verbal altercation over the internet, is a fundamental change that makes your point irrelevant. Your scenario is not an extension of the current topic, it is a different topic altogether.

  37. 42

    What I don’t accept is that fake threatening to burn yourself and arguably others so that you may continue hurting other people for no reason is irrelevant.

    I just really do not agree with the part of this that requires me to think what he says and what you say are context-free, consequence-free, equal. Just, no. I know you don’t think it matters, but I do.

    leni @ #39: I did not say that; I do not think that; and I very clearly stated that I do not think that. I think that what Scarborough said, and the context in which he said it, are absolutely relevant to how we should respond — and I said so.

    What I said was that there was a line that we should not cross — and that it was a line that many progressives had crossed.

    Please do not put words in my mouth: please argue with what I actually am saying, or else stop arguing.

    It is also literally saying you know they are full of shit, when you know it’s bullshit. You said yourself he didn’t mean it as a suicide threat.

    leni @ #40: The things people say typically express more than one piece of content. I think it’s saying that you know they are full of shit, AND ALSO saying that you would gleefully watch them die in horrible pain. It is the second part that I object to. I think it’s entirely possible to say the first without saying the second. (You have literally done that yourself, in this part that I’ve just blockquoted. “I know you are full of shit.”)

    Yes, Scarborough used violent language in a violent context. And yes, that should absolutely affect how we respond. But you still haven’t mad a case for why his use of violent language in a violent context somehow makes it okay to respond with, “You should die painfully by burning, I’ll happily watch you burn, I’ll give you the tools to burn, I’ll call you a coward and a liar if you don’t set yourself on fire.” The only real argument you’ve made is (paraphrasing here), “It wasn’t meant that way, it was meant to point out that Scarborough’s threat was empty.” And as I said in the piece: Intention is not magic. When people point out that Scarborough’s threat was empty — and they do it in language that expresses glee and pleasure at painful death — it conveys both the intended message, and the (hopefully) unintended one. As I said in the piece: If we’re going to speak against unintended ugliness by saying that “intention is not magic,” we need to not act as if our own behavior is covered by a magical cloak of non-evil intentions.

  38. 43

    Try restraining yourself from saying “… but they started it!”, after a home invasion, where the bad guys let you see their faces, and you do the only self-responsibly human thing, and prevail.

    Kevin McLauchlan @ #38: Holms @ #41 said it well, but it’s important, so I’ll echo it:

    Yes, “who started it” is important in physical altercations. It’s important because self-defense is one of the few legitimate reasons for committing violence. If you or others are being physically attacked, and the only way to stop it is to harm the attackers, then that’s defensible. But that is most emphatically not the situation we’re talking about here. As Holms said: Your scenario is not an extension of the current topic, it is a different topic altogether.

  39. 44

    So then, you regarded my other comments, in that same post, about oppression and all that, as total non-sequiturs?

    See, in my befuddled mind, I was making the connections that:

    a) All laws are about the use of force and who gets to wield it, to get their way.
    That includes the laws and the exclusions from laws that you rightly regard as oppression and denial of your rights.

    b) Where you don’t have equal rights, and somebody is getting in the way of your achieving equal rights, they are invoking the use of force to continue oppression against you.

    c) Just as you say, when those people are uttering what can be construed as threats, you are dealing with somebody who is already demonstrably ok with using force against you, when you are not offering force toward them… merely discomfort at most.
    I mean, what is the point of uttering a threat, if not as a proxy or promisory note for violence. And if that threat of violence is not in retaliation for a previous act of violence or threat of violence, then it is the initiation of a threat of violence.

    So, now that I think of it, that is the argument against being as nasty in print as those “people” are. You want there to be no opportunity for them to claim that they were just responding in kind. Oh, look, ‘…but they started it’ has some relevance. And no actual homes have been invaded or rapes performed.
    Now, with that said, we do need to be very careful about what we call a threat.
    Perhaps some of what you called threats are actually incitements.

    Hmm. If more than one “person” utters incitements to harm, in a given venue or conversation, or if one utters and another agrees, or even ups the ante, could that be construed as … wait for it….. wait for it…. conspiracy?

    I think we’ve seen or heard of occasions where prosecutors go after perps for conspiracy to commit X, because a conspiracy conviction carries greater penalties (or perhaps a lesser burden of proof?) than does the actual commission of the crime (that would have been the topic of conspiracy).
    I hope a lawyer will chime in with an educated opinion. I don’t even play one on TV.

  40. 45

    Greta Christian – you make a good point and case here however I don’t entirely agree with it. I tend to agree with what leni (#39 & #40) has been saying when it comes to the context being extremely significant here.

    I am baffled by how one could parse “Go ahead and set yourself on fire, asshole” as anything other than suggesting that they should die. It is literally saying that they should die. It is literally telling them to kill themselves.

    Well, I would parse or grok it as it is metaphorically saying that that we don’t believe them, and are mocking their absurd extremism and claims. It is literally telling them to kill themselves. But since we expect and consider their death threat / claim of likely willingness to undergo violent martyrdom (which we all know won’t actually happen) it is metaphorically saying they are full of shit and we see through them and what they are doing and hate them for it and we know they aren’t serious.

    As with a parent threatening their kid – eg. “I’ll bloody well kill him for doing / not doing X!” it isn’t meant seriously and clearly so. Its a figure of speech like saying “heads will roll” when what is meant is that somebody will lose their job or asking “cat got your tongue”when there is no serious expectation or thought that the person in question has just been badly facially mauled by a felid.

    Violent metaphor, imagery and story-telling is something that seems inextricably part of human nature whether this is so innately or through cultural conditioning, it does seem to be the reality and very hard to change – which doesn’t of course mean we shouldn’t try but still. It is part of us and is hard to overcome and expect everyone else to overcome as well.

    I agree that intent is not magic but I also do think it is something that matters and can be very relevant and mean make quite a big difference. Again context.

    The disgusting horrific threats directed at you and other feminist women for speaking out for more equality, fairer and better and more reasonable treatment of other humans are , it seems very serious and real and terrible and wrong.

    The mockery of Scarborough’s silly chest beating braggadocio effectively telling this hateful religious bigot that we do not believe him albeit in a literally (not metaphorically) cruel and callous way seems, maybe going a bit far but essentially on quite a different and far less serious level – starting with the fact that, as far as I know, all the comments have been jokingly made on atheist blogs rather than directly sent to him as hate mail.

    Having said all this, well, see my opening sentence here, you do make a good point / case and have made me think.

  41. 46

    Missing word fix please make that :

    But since we expect and consider their death threat / claim of likely willingness to undergo violent martyrdom (which we all know won’t actually happen) empty, it is metaphorically saying they are full of shit and we see through them and what they are doing and hate them for it and we know they aren’t serious.

  42. 47

    As with a parent threatening their kid – eg. “I’ll bloody well kill him for doing / not doing X!” it isn’t meant seriously and clearly so. Its a figure of speech like saying “heads will roll” when what is meant is that somebody will lose their job or asking “cat got your tongue”when there is no serious expectation or thought that the person in question has just been badly facially mauled by a felid.

    StevoR @ #45: I also don’t like it when parents tell kids, “I’ll kill you if you do that.” As for your other examples — “heads will roll” and “cat got your tongue” — those have entered the lexicon as widely-understood metaphors. And they’re generic — they can be aimed at anyone. That is not true for the words aimed at Scarborough. They were very specifically and personally aimed at him, responding to specific things he had said. As a recipient of threats, I can tell you that I get much more concerned when violent language is aimed personally at me, in response to specific things I’ve said. That’s one of the things that makes me consider it a threat.

    starting with the fact that, as far as I know, all the comments have been jokingly made on atheist blogs rather than directly sent to him as hate mail.

    The comments were not only made on atheist blogs. They were, as I said in the post, all over Facebook. They were also made as comments on news stories reporting on Scarborough’s statement. And I don’t know whether any of them were sent directly to Scarborough as hate mail. Given the quantity and level of public venom, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

    But even if they had only been made on atheist blogs: So what? I still regard the threats made in the SlymePit as threats, even if they’re only made in that forum. It’s still a public forum — it’s not private conversation.

  43. 48

    Kevin McLauchlan @ #44: I’m not talking about whether the language aimed at Scarborough was strategic, or whether it was legal. I’m talking about whether it was ethical.

  44. 49

    The things people say typically express more than one piece of content.

    Ok yes.

    I think it’s saying that you know they are full of shit, AND ALSO saying that you would gleefully watch them die in horrible pain. It is the second part that I object to.

    I think it’s your “and also” that is a problem. There is no gleeful deathwatch. There is also no one here who wants to see that.

  45. 50

    There is no gleeful deathwatch. There is also no one here who wants to see that.

    leni @ #49: If people don’t think that, they shouldn’t say it.

    I think that for the most part you’re right: most people gleefully cheering at the thought of Scarborough’s torturous death by fire don’t actually want that. I did, however, have a Facebook conversation with one person who said they wanted to see Scarborough burn. When I asked if she sincerely wanted that (thinking to get into a conversation about my problems with this kind of violent rhetoric), she said Yes. She did. She sincerely wanted to watch Scarborough burn to death.

    How are we supposed to tell who’s just being hyperbolic, and who’s expressing a sincere desire for violence? And of the people expressing a sincere desire for violence, how are we supposed to tell who’s just talking, and who might actually carry it out?

    There’s no way to tell. So as the recipient of this kind of language, what this means is that I have to be afraid of all these people.

    I cannot convey even a small part of how much this warps my life. When I go out to dinner or a show, I don’t talk about it on social media until after I’ve left. At conferences, I am extremely careful about who I’m willing to be alone with. The community I co-organize in San Francisco wants to incorporate as a non-profit, but we’re running into a stumbling block: to incorporate, you have to give a street address (a PO box won’t do), and since incorporation papers are public, I’m not willing to put my street address on them. Etc. Etc. Etc. And even with all these precautions, I have to live with the constant knowledge that none of it is perfect, and unless I put myself under house arrest, I’m vulnerable. Etc. Etc. Etc. I could talk with you about this for hours.

    I have no way of knowing if any of the people aiming intensely personal violent language at me are sincere. So I have to act as if all of them are.

    That’s what I mean here by “intention is not magic.” Even if the intention is not to express a sincere desire for Scarborough’s painful death, the effect is to create an atmosphere of fear. The widespread use of violent rhetoric creates a hall of mirrors, where the sincere threats are both amplified and harder to identify. And it normalizes violence. For the people who are sincere, it makes it easier to rationalize.

    Think of this as a conversation about sexist language. People using sexist language often don’t consciously mean to belittle and objectify women. But it still has that effect. And when this is pointed out, it’s absurdly irrelevant to reply, “I didn’t mean that, it’s ridiculous to think that I might have meant that — and because I didn’t mean it that way, it doesn’t have that effect.”

    I don’t know how many times I have to say, “Intention is not magic.” If your only argument is that the people expressing gleeful bloodlust don’t literally mean it, and you’re going to ignore the effect that the public expression of gleeful bloodlust has regardless of whether people mean it: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

  46. 51

    How are we supposed to tell who’s just being hyperbolic, and who’s expressing a sincere desire for violence?

    We don’t. Which is kind of exactly why his statements were relevant to the response he got.

    Think of this as a conversation about sexist language. People using sexist language often don’t consciously mean to belittle and objectify women.

    I am thinking of it that way, actually. I’m just not forgetting the part where people responded to what he actually said in keeping with his own horrible metaphor. If he had accidentally said he wanted to burn to keep me from voting, because that’ just a thing that people sometimes say, I still would have offered him the metaphorical matches. And no, I don’t really care what he intended.

    If your only argument is that the people expressing gleeful bloodlust don’t literally mean it: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

    That wasn’t my only point, but you’re welcome. Thank you for sharing also, I guess.

  47. 52

    leni @ #51: So you’re going to continue to deny that this kind of language creates a threatening atmosphere, in which the targets of it don’t know who means the language and who doesn’t — despite the fact that at least one person using this language has openly said that they meant it. You’re going to insist that Scarborough’s use of “burning” language someone makes it fair game to use threatening language against him — either because his “first use” somehow magically makes it obvious that the people escalating that language don’t really mean it (again, despite the fact that at least one person has said they do mean it), or because “he started it.”

    And you’re going to ignore the traumatic and damaging effect that this kind of language has on the targets of it.

    Get out. I am done with you. I have no patience with people who trivialize the threats against me. You’re being put into comment moderation. Any future comments from you will have to be approved before being posted — and any future comments from you on this topic that don’t include an apology and a retraction will be trashed.

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