How Many Fires Should the Arsonists be Allowed to Set?

So there’s this thing a lot of decent people (and isn’t it remarkable how they’re almost always men?) have been doing. It happens in public with people like Lee Moore and Michael Nugent playing at being peace brokers; it happens in private, with friends and respected colleagues comparing the harassers and the harassees to the USSR and America. Sit down at a table, they say. Air grievances, they say. Come to an agreement, they say. Give and take is what’s needed here, they say.

They never do get that there are some situations that can’t be resolved by dialogue, some people with whom negotiation is impossible. I’m reminded of Methos trying to talk sense into MacLeod, speaking of a person whose only goal was death and destruction: “Kronos didn’t torch those villages for a few coins, he torched them to watch them burn.” What can you offer to someone whose only desire is to cause damage (and be lauded by the upper eschelons while doing it)? Nothing except capitulation. So what, we hand Kronos a torch and say, “Go to it”?

Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.
Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.

I’ve been struggling to find the proper analogy to describe how bloody stupid this is, but it clicked in place today, and perhaps it might help a few of the peace brokers understand what their pushing for peace looks like to those of us who have had their houses set on fire:

[Peace Broker]: you’re asking us to negotiate with arsonists. If there are arsonists in your community who won’t stop setting fires, you don’t ask the anti-arson parts of the community to negotiate how many fires the arsonists can set, and how much damage the anti-arsonists are expected to tolerate. You stop the arsonists, period. Please don’t play silly buggers by equating “both sides” to superpowers with equal accountability and concern for survival. That’s an incorrect and harmful analogy. It does nothing to solve the problem.

The Digital Cuttlefish, with whom I shared this analogy (and who understood this long ago), wrote it up in an easy-to-understand poem. Perhaps the peace brokers could sing a few bars if the written words aren’t penetrating. All together, now: “Why Can’t You Just Meet Me Halfway?”

If you wish to ask me that – why can’t I let the harassers meet me halfway, hash out our differences over a beer or in some grand diplomatic scheme, let me just ask you this: why won’t you let arsonists burn down your house? Not the whole thing? Well, why not just part of it? The bedroom? The living room? Kitchen? Well, how about a bathroom? Oh, and don’t forget, there will be other arsonists coming who will want to burn your house down as well, so make sure you have some kindling and other rooms ready to welcome them. And they will never ever stop, not until you’ve moved to a different state to get away from them, and never once show up to hang out with your friends or family in your old neighborhood again. Even then, they might track you down and light a match just for old times’ sake. You know, just to show you how vulnerable to arson you are, and why you might want to rebuild with asbestos. But surely, Mr. Peace Broker, you can accept that. After all, aside from the whole arson disagreement, your interests are perfectly aligned!

Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.
Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.

Also, after you’ve negotiated your “peace” with the arsonists, the murderers would like a few words. Well, a few limbs, but it’s all the same when it’s all in good fun, right? How can there be peace among us if you aren’t willing to part with at least a foot or two?

Those with a fetish for dialogue need to consider what dialogue actually does, and consider the fact that dialogue in this case was tried and failed. You can’t negotiate with arsonists. Nor should you have to.

So, future peace broker, consider the analogy above. Ponder the fact that not all disagreements are like tensions between countries. Realize that not everything can be resolved by just talking it over. And take the following to heart:

[Peace Broker] can’t compel us to “come to the table” with bullies. He can’t, without their help, tell us there is anything to be gained by talking to people whose idea of disagreement is to:

There is nothing he can do to convince us that this time, as opposed to the other times these folks didn’t want to hear what we had to say on our own blogs, things will be better because it happens in his space.

Instead of handing the arsonists more matches, could you perhaps consider stopping them from setting fires instead? Just a thought.

Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr
Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr
How Many Fires Should the Arsonists be Allowed to Set?

17 thoughts on “How Many Fires Should the Arsonists be Allowed to Set?

  1. 3

    Excellent, Dana. Thank you so much!

    Especially considering the exponential escalation of fire-setting over the last week or so. It’s been Ah-PALLING!

  2. 6

    But…but…but, madame, why don’t you just grow a less flammable skin? Or find a gender presentation and a new blog topic that doesn’t spark the outrage of firebugs so intently?


  3. 7

    Just reading those reactions to Jen McC’s decision to quite blogging makes me see red again. The absolute lack of simple human empathy in those tweets is enough to convince me these are not people who can be be reasoned with.

  4. 9

    I think Ophelia put it nicely last week when writing the “feminist dogma” argument.
    She was discussing the main issue with people arguing that feminists won’t apply critical thinking on gender equality. Of course, what this argument really means is “why won’t you consider that women may be inherently inferior/submissive to men? A true skeptic would totally apply the scientific method on this question.” They never mean the opposite, because *everyone knows men are not inferior to women, amirite?”

    But any discussion, dialogue or debate needs axiomatic foundations. As a woman, considering my subhumanity on a discussion with a man is ridiculous and self-defeating (I happen to think “inferior” and “superior” is meaningless in this context anyway). I think the same apply with the harassers/harassed “dialogue”. The message is “why won’t you hear harassers out on why harassing you is the sensible thing to do? They want to discuss the unimportance of women in atheism. Then they can say a few blanket statements, “free speech, gender blind, colourblind, equality, just for the lulz.” We’ll all come home and nothing will be changed, but then if feminists don’t stop writing about women’s issues, they will be the ones breaking the peace. Amen.”

    Sorry for the rant, but ugh. I really feel like Michael Nugent doesn’t understand how much it’s not a “2 side” debate here. This patronizing false equality is harmful. Might as well start “teaching the controversy” of creationism and evolution in universities now. You know, show both sides of the argument.

  5. 10

    In Australia we have the arsonists lighting bush fires that have killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of houses over the years.

    In South Australia they tried something new: On every day when there is a chance of a bushfire getting out of control, the police call on every known arsonist and remind them that they are being closely watched. In some cases a police car will be parked in front of the arsonist’s house – and if he or she leaves, the police follow.

    Liberals complain about restricting people’s rights, but fatalities due to arson have fallen to zero.

  6. 12

    Thanks, Dana, very well said. Some of us are rightly sick of the futility of attempting to be reasonable with the patently unreasonable, and the false equivalence that the acceptable middle ground between them is to be found halfway. Burn half my house down? Sure that looks like a compromise, but the house is rendered uninhabitable just the same as if the arsonist got their wish of burning all of it to the ground.

  7. rq

    Your post and the Cuttlefish poem/song go well together.
    They’re both fantastic, and, since they explain the situation so well, can now be used as explanatory materials for people who just don’t get it.
    ♥ to you and the Cuttlefish!

  8. 14

    Excellent post! It also reminds me of Max Frisch’s play The Fire-Raisers, a parable on the rise of Nazism. The protagonist, Biedermann (everyman or “worthy man”) knows that there are arsonists going around, insinuating themselves into people’s homes, then setting fire to them. He is convinced he can never be fooled, yet when two suspicious characters turn up, allows them in, and even when his attic is filled with drums of petrol, refuses to believe his eyes, and when this is demanded of him, gives them matches as a sign of trust. They burn his house down.

  9. 15

    Well if you didn’t want people burning it down, why do you live in a house? You know how that makes some people get.

    (Hoping this is not one of times my sarcasm fails to come through…)

  10. 17

    By the way, Dana, I’ve been meaning to mention that I think you’re striking an excellent balance between serious posts like this one and the fun sciency geological-botanical-biological ones. I look forward to reading you every day.

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