I haven’t seen a lot of George Waye recently on the blogotubes. Once upon a time, we fought shoulder and shoulder on the topic of rape with nascent MRAs before I even knew the term. I know him to be a principled, insightful and strong person, whose blogging time is limited these days by being a father-of-fiveish . Even the strongest people have skeletons in their closet, though, and George shook one free from his closet and set it to electronic paper to illustrate a point.
My girlfriend and I once broke up around the end of May in my Grade 13 year. The whole thing was rather anti-climactic as far as break-ups between us usually went; there was no yelling or fighting or schisms within our group of friends. It was really just her telling me that things were done, and me not really liking it but trying my best to be mature about the whole thing.
There was an end of school party planned by several of our friends- we were all going to camp out in tents and toast the end of another school year. My ex didn’t want me to go to the party. She made that pretty clear to must of our common friends, perhaps hoping that I would get the hint. At the time I thought it was pretty childish of her to try and prevent me from going to this party, after all these were our mutual friends and I knew and had good relationships with many of them. Why should I have to stay home while she has a good time? In her defence, this party was going to be overwhelmingly occupied by people who were closer to her than to me- and I knew this. In my mind though, these were my friends too, and I was not about to sacrifice my social life for the increased comfort of my ex girlfriend.
Just to make sure my bases were covered, I took special care to let as many people as possible know that I was going to be coming to the party. Most were very supportive of my coming, though some indicated some trepidation at the prospect of having to be put in the middle of things. Those who were closest to me were of course excited that I would be coming and considered my ex’s protestations to be petty and unfair. The friends who were closer to her tended to suggest that maybe my going was not necessarily wrong per se, but that it might significantly impact the enjoyment of everyone there and that I might want to avoid her as much as possible if I did decide to go.
This story drew a rant to the surface, if you’ll indulge me.
I’ve told a story about my own break-up with my first girlfriend, and reading this story sorta put a few facts about myself into sharp relief. When we broke up, I disengaged. When my mother essentially gaslighted my father and had him put on drugs he didn’t need, I disengaged. When my father started in on my sister for being gay, I disengaged. My standard tactic when encountering someone so hostile or damaging to my own well-being by virtue of being, for instance, dogmatic about certain things, refusing to engage honestly with ideas I might have that run counter to theirs, is to disengage. I try to give people a fair hearing, to engage with them once, but if there’s no indication of any possibility of give, or if there’s too much abuse wrapped up with the dialog, I disengage. I walk away. I might do it with balled fists, but I always walk away.
In some cases, people don’t like that. They follow you. They try to force you to engage, they demand your attention. They “troll”, as diminutive and inaccurate as that word is.
Sometimes I stay put and ignore them until they go away, but sometimes that’s still draining on my sanity. On the internet, you have precious few tools at your disposal to prevent people from doing that kind of chipping damage (damage that they can do to you over time with no repercussions to themselves). Many of those tools take the form of curating your own online experience: using scripts to “plonk” them, so that you don’t see those damaging and absurd and libellous (a.k.a “troll”) comments, for instance.
That’s often not enough, though. If you run a blog, or if you have a popular Facebook or Google+ account, others will be exposed to the harassment and will incur chipping damage themselves. The libel spreads and everyone who’s ever been “wronged” in any way by being told to stop, swarm and internalize this instance as another wrong against them and take up the banner. You can block people from sending you @-messages on Twitter, or block them from posting in your posts on Facebook or Google+, which might save your sanity and your community, but it’s a pyrrhic victory as new trolls and new sockpuppets spring up. And even maintaining a clean-ish community in your own space doesn’t even prevent them from spewing their libel elsewhere.
In George’s example, the people siding with his ex-girlfriend were incurring some chipping damage due only to George’s lack of empathy as a teenager. His actions were not “illegal”, even by the “rules” set forth by the social conventions and everyone’s agreed-upon standards for this party; but these actions were certainly wrong. Someone throwing George out of the party would have been within their rights to do so, even though nobody did. Because nobody did, his ex was made an emotional wreck and a number of her friends were alienated from George altogether. That’s a lot of damage done because nobody curated that experience. Sure, George might have felt really wronged about being curated out of that party, but he might still have some friends in the people he alienated by hurting his ex so transparently — it might have been for his own good, even at the expense of short-term pain. And sure, the perfect solution would have been for George to simply recognize where his presence would do others harm and stay clear, because he knew he’d gain nothing but spiteful revenge for all the damage he’s doing.
But when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have that sort of perspective, who doesn’t have that ability to recognize when their spiteful actions obfuscated by the rubric of being a mere assertion of their rights, or an attempt to paint one’s self as the rationalist just trying to engage in dialog — by following and harassing people that have repeatedly told them to please leave them alone — there are often not many good options. In the case of a certain persistent troll looking to “engage in dialog” with people he’s slurred repeatedly, to “engage in dialog” with people who he’s attacked over instituting a fucking harassment policy at conventions (gee, that really must have touched a nerve, telling people they’re not allowed to harass others)… there are zero good options. You pre-ban him for his other harassing actions of the people who will be speaking at this event, despite the fact that he’s never actually done anything illegal, and you’re “overreacting” because feminazi witch-hunting something-something. You wait for him to get there and harass people repeatedly, and you’ve let him do damage to people, per his goal. You enforce the “no harassing people” rule when someone tells him to back off and he doesn’t, and you’re right back in the nazi-stasi-feminazgul yadda yadda hyperbole soup. You let him flame out spectacularly, and you’re asking every participant to be calm and emotional in the face of a persistent threat to that calm and risk him finding some gotcha moment to report back to his haters — you don’t have to engage the haters to feed their hate, remember. They feed each other.
The only good answer is for this persistent troll to acknowledge that in these plans to show up at WiS, he’s only looking to hurt people, not to engage in that so-called dialog, and to simply back down. Civil discussion can be had about all these topics, but not in this context, not without cost, and not in the way that this troll wants those discussions to be had. And such discussion requires goodwill, which this persistent troll — being a persistent troll, and all — has already exhausted.
Many of us just want to disengage. But we can’t, with the threat following us from space to space. So the people who really just want to disengage, they resort instead to documenting the harassment, to documenting the persistence and the following from space to space. If it was as simple as saying “please stop”, and they did, perhaps we wouldn’t keep bringing these people up. Perhaps time would heal the wounds, goodwill would return, and productive dialog could actually resume. But we are the witches being hunted — not, as some have suggested, the other way around.
Anyway, yeah. Go read George’s post. And sorry for the rant.