Friday, November 28, 2014

Another Post About Blogging and Civility

My thanks to those who have privately checked in with me regarding recent conversations happening here and, about me, elsewhere.

I've been blogging long enough to know that some people on the Internet seem to forget that they are interacting with actual people, albeit through Internet.  Perhaps it's the medium that eases people's tendency to frame others as caricatures. Narratives can be important to maintain, after all.

Indeed, that's why I created this "self-portrait," many years ago, to give folks a cartoon version of me to direct their projections and ire:


Anyway, I am fine.

I have often been on the receiving end of poor behavior by anti-gay and anti-feminist folks, and even at times, by pro-gay, feminist, and "feminist" folks.  Engaging is not usually a fun endeavor, but I try to participate in good faith, giving people the benefit of the doubt that they're doing more than showing up here with a single-minded, fingers-in-the-ears vendetta. Up to a point.

I have said before and I'll repeat that it's my experience that a blogger and commenting participants can quickly become containers for others to displace their anger, accusations, threats, hobby horses, and hurt. Moderate too much, and people question your motives, start whinging about free speech.  Moderate not enough, and people write novellas on your blog that get amplified to a readership you've built and which are potentially defamatory.

One mis-step, one thing you've said (or not said) that's misunderstood or misrepresented, and Bam! You are a Very Bad Person. A bigot, racist, a sexist, a misandrist, a misogynist, a transphobe, an abuser, a religion-phobe, a cat-hater,  or what-have-you, despite any other long-standing track record you've built up. All of the good things that you are become instantly erased by the bad. (Free tip of the day for not pissing people off while blogging: Don't Blog!)

I have blogged here, at other feminist sites, at LGBT sites, and even at a conservative site.  What is consistently reinforced in me from all of these experiences is that people of all political stripes can be unfair jerks but also decent and kind, even as popular political narratives in the US are extremely binary ("liberals are this, conservatives are that"; "feminist are this; MRAs are that"; "Christians are this; atheists are that").  Political opponents or those with whom we have disagreements on Internet are continually painted as 100% pure evil, with little to no concession that people can hold nuanced positions and that we are all imperfect.

This observation isn't new or super startling, I know.

What does seem to deserve some lengthier conversation is the not uncommon co-opting of social justice, anti-violence, feminist, persecution, and victim buzzwords and lingo in questionable circumstances. Many people are simply far more attuned to slights against themselves than they are attuned to their capacity to harm.

Thus, when people see themselves as victims, which they can do at even the smallest of slights or perceived slights, it seems really hard for them to also seem themselves as capable of inflicting harm and abuse on others. I have seen this pattern time and time again, and I'm not just referring to the group/discussion that spurred this post.

When I guest blogged at a conservative site, a couple of the regular conservative bloggers often said things that were horribly anti-gay. When civilly asked to explain their thoughts further, or when respectfully critiqued, they sometimes claimed they were being "abused" and "harassed" by gay commenters.  Practically every other day, groups like the National Organization for Marriage frame legitimate, peaceful opposition as harassment inflicted upon Christians by "radical homosexual activists."  Liberals, feminists, and progressives, too, can mis-appropriate the language of abuse and victimization when they're being aggressive or when it's not warranted.

It is a tough dynamic to deal with.  We are sometimes told to believe those claiming abuse and that it's up to the abused, rather than outsiders, to determine whether abuse occurred.

In the case of anti-gay Christians, an entire culture of conservative Christianity is on their side along with powerful institutions, convincing them that they are under attack.  So, even when gently confronted, they often over-react: Stop persecuting us!  When confronted with actual aggression, they generalize the aggression to the entire group "gay people."

It also seems that something is at work that makes people, particularly people who see themselves as victims, incapable of or unwilling to accurately gauge the level of harm that they are capable of inflicting on others.

So, back to the conservative blog I used to participate in -- When I asked one of the anti-gay bloggers to consider that her words were hurtful to gay people, she genuinely seemed to feel so powerless in society that she said something to the effect of, "What does anyone care what little old me thinks, anyway?"

Anecdotally, that comment stuck with me as an indicator of how when some people feel small, they seem to think their harmful actions don't have real consequences to others: I don't feel powerful, so what I do or say doesn't really matter. They dish out rude, aggressive behavior that they would find unacceptable  - possibly atrocious - if directed at themselves. This mindset seems true even if, say, powerful institutions are on their side, or if their blog is a group blog of, say, 50 or more people obsessively picking apart every action of one blogger that they vow to take down.

Anyway, I note all of this while acknowledging that I am not perfect, myself. I have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. It is easy, lazy, and oftentimes inaccurate to think of our political opponents as monsters with whom we have little in common - and I have done that myself, particularly with anti-LGBT folks, because I have genuinely, legitimately thought they were monstrous.

In this shared tendency, many people of all political persuasions have more in common with one another than we'd ever care to admit.

The Civility Series
Civility and Understanding
Trolls, Online Civility, and Political Agendas

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