Intransitive Gratitude: Feeling Thankful in a Godless World

I first published this on Thanksgiving 2011, and have decided to make it a Thanksgiving tradition.

thank youIf you don’t believe in God, what does gratitude mean?

I don’t mean specific gratitude towards specific people for specific benevolent acts. I mean that more broad, general, sweeping sense of gratitude: gratitude for things like good health, having food to eat, having friends and family, the mere fact of being alive at all.

I started thinking about this when I was watching the “Thanks for Skepticon” video that the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas put together, where they asked participants at Skepticon 4 to say what they were thankful for. Most of the folks in the video — myself included — took the question at face value, and spoke of our intense gratitude: for science and medicine, for friends and family, for jobs in an unstable economy, for trees, for the very fact that we exist at all.

But some participants — specifically PZ Myers and American Atheists president David Silverman — questioned the entire assumption behind the project. Silverman simply reframed the question: instead of saying what he was thankful for, he spoke about who he was thankful to. And Myers took on the entire enterprise directly. He said that asking people to be thankful for something was an attempt to “anthropomorphize the universe.” He said there were lots of things he liked — being alive, his wife, his kids, squid — but he wasn’t going to express gratitude to the universe, since the universe wasn’t capable of expressing any gratitude back.

Hm. Interesting point.

So this video — and the subsequent discussion of it on my blog — got me thinking: If you don’t believe in God, does it even make sense to say that you’re grateful for stuff? Not to specific people who did specific nice things — that kind of gratitude makes sense, obviously — but just general gratitude for the good things in our lives? Does the emotion of gratitude have to have a specific object, a conscious actor who made choices that affected our lives in positive ways? Or can we feel grateful without an object?

Is there such a thing as intransitive gratitude? [Read more…]

The Looming Unfinished Task

(Content note: some discussion of depression, although it’s very much not the main focus. Also overdue library books.)

So for the most part, I’m a pretty responsible person. I take promises and commitments seriously, and I mostly keep up with them. But there’s this thing I sometimes do that throws a giant monkey wrench into my ability to do the things that I’ve promised to do, even things I actually want to do. I’m wondering if other people do this thing, too. (Actually — no, I’m not wondering, I am 98% positive that this is a common human phenomenon, but I’ll feel better when I see other people say, “Great Caesar’s Ghost, I do that too!”) And I want to hear from other people about your strategies for dealing with it.

It’s the Looming Unfinished Task.

check-list 200With some things on my To Do list, if I put them off, they start accumulating this load of guilt. The fact that it’s late and I’ve put it off makes me feel bad about it. Then the fact that I feel guilty and bad about it makes the task seem both more unpleasant and more daunting. And because it’s now seeming more unpleasant and more daunting, I put it off for longer… and the longer I put it off, the more guilty I feel about it… and the more guilty I feel about it, the more unpleasant and daunting it feels… so I put it off for longer… until eventually, the unanswered email is looming in my consciousness as both The Most Unpleasant And Upsetting Thing Anyone Could Ever Do, and a prime example of Why I Am An Irresponsible And Generally Terrible Person Who Lets Everyone Down.

I don’t just do this with work, by the way. I do it in personal relationships, with unanswered letters or emails from family or friends. I have actually let relationships drift away because of this: I’ve felt so guilty about the unanswered email from three weeks or six months or two years ago, I not only couldn’t bear to reply to the damn email — I couldn’t bear to contact the person about anything else. I was convinced that if I dropped them a note saying, “Hey, we haven’t been in touch for a while, how are you doing?”, they would reply with, “HOW HAVE I BEEN DOING?!?!? I’ve been stewing about that unanswered email, that’s how I’ve been doing! Every time I think about you, I think of what a terrible person you are!” It’s absurd and irrational. After all, I don’t react that way when people don’t reply to me: I assume they’re busy and overwhelmed, and I just write them again. But somehow I’m convinced, not that my colleagues and friends and family are WAY more harshly judgmental than I am, but that my own misdeeds are somehow much worse than theirs. The terrible judgment I’m imagining from them seems entirely proportionate.

The thing is, though — there have actually been a handful of people in my life who did judge me this way. [Read more…]

It Isn’t Like That/Happy Tenth Anniversary, Ingrid

walking down the aisleIngrid and I were married ten years ago today, on November 12, 2005. Of course, we were also married in February of 2004, and in June of 2008… It’s one of the things about being a same-sex married couple in the early 21st century: because of the changing laws about same-sex marriage, a lot of us had a lot of weddings. But the one on November 12, 2005 is the one we tend to think of as our “real” wedding. It didn’t have any legal standing whatsoever — it was technically a “commitment ceremony,” our friend Rebecca officiated, and at the end, she said, “By the power vested in me by Ingrid and Greta…” But it was the one where we wrote our own vows; the one with the big party with our families and friends; the one with the dresses and the flowers and the dancing and the cake; the one with the invitations and programs and bouquets designed by our friends; the one with the music played by our friends; the one with the parents making toasts, the siblings and best friends making speeches and singing songs. It’s the one that wasn’t snatched in haste at City Hall, wondering if and when it was going to be taken away from us, squeezing ourselves into a window that we knew could be closing again any day. November 12, 2005 is the wedding we made for ourselves.

I still do, sweetie. Happy anniversary.

I wrote this piece before the wedding, and we put it into our wedding program. I’m reprinting it here today.

It Isn’t Like That
by Greta Christina

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

She is not the sun and the moon and the stars, and she is definitely not my sole reason for living. I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night for many reasons, of which her existence is only one. She is not all I can think about; I spend time thinking about work, and friends, and what to have for dinner, without too terribly much trouble. I don’t feel the earth move or the sky fall, although I do feel a bit like I’ve been conked on the head by a giant vaudeville rubber mallet. I can talk to other people when she’s around, and I can keep my hands off her if I have to. I don’t feel that every minute spent without her is wasted, and there is at least some sunshine when she’s gone. I do not believe we were destined to meet, or that my life would be empty, or hollow, or even incomplete, without her. And her eyes, while large and lovely and the color of the ocean on a dark day, are, in fact, nothing like the sun, except in that they are big and round and bright. It isn’t like that.

It’s just that I grin and giggle and blush when I think of her, and sulk when she’s far away. It’s just that I feel a cold terrified rage at the thought that anyone, myself included, might hurt her. It’s just that I feel brave when I’m with her; not brave enough to slay dragons, but brave enough to feel what I feel and say what’s on my mind, which for me is plenty brave. It’s just that she knows what I mean, and I know what she means; not always, not as if we were soul-sisters or psychically linked, but enough, and much more than enough. It’s just that so many of the things that are good about her are things that are good about myself, things I would be happy to have grow stronger from being in her presence. It’s just that there isn’t anyone else, not even gorgeous movie stars, that I’d rather have in my bed. It’s just that a part of me that is hard and cool and distant, a part I rely on but don’t much care for, turns into oatmeal when I think about her. It’s just that I feel that my life is not entirely in my own hands, and, rather uncharacteristically, am not feeling that this is a problem. It’s just that she’s smart and funny and thoughtful and cheerful and playful and good and sexy and beautiful, and it feels like a miracle — not a huge miracle, just a small one — that she seems to see me the same way.

I like it this way better. Much.

What I Would Have Thought Would Be an Obvious Observation About Social Media

women on computer by #WOCinTech Chat 200Not everyone uses social media the same way.

I would have thought this was obvious. But it seems not to be. So here comes the measured rant.

There’s this pattern I’ve been seeing for a while. I keep seeing people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to other people’s behavior on social media. I don’t mean “things people say on social media”: I mean their behavior. Who are they friends with? Who are they not friends with? Who did they un-friend or un-follow or block? What posts did they like or share or re-Tweet? What posts did they not like or share or re-Tweet? A lot of people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to this social media behavior — and then tie it in with a micro-analysis of the thoughts and feelings and intentions that supposedly lie behind it. People make assumptions about shifting alliances, secretly-held opinions, behind-the-scenes machinations — based entirely on this friending and unfriending, this blocking and un-blocking, these likes and dislikes. I’ve started calling it “reading the Facebook tea leaves.”

So I’m going to say this again:

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

guy-with-laptopSome people use social media more for their personal lives, to stay connected with friends and family. Some people use it more professionally, to promote their work or do research or maintain professional connections. Some people have a couple hundred friends, or fewer, mostly or entirely their actual friends. Some people have hundreds or thousands of “friends”: their actual friends, plus colleagues, neighbors, friends of friends of friends, people they met at a party or a conference that one time, people they friended because they made a funny comment on someone else’s page, pretty much anyone who sends a friend request.

Some people “like” pretty much everything they see on their feed. Some people “like” only things they feel strong agreement or affinity with. Some people “like” posts to express agreement or support. Some people “like” posts to keep track of the thread, so they’ll get notifications when new comments appear. Some people share or re-Tweet only when they agree with something. Some people share or re-Tweet to increase the visibility of ugly opinions they think people are ignoring or denying.

Some people unfriend or block because the blockee expresses opinions they find deeply objectionable or upsetting. Some people unfriend or block because the blockee keeps posting things they find upsetting, regardless of whether they agree (e.g., “Yes, I agree about animal cruelty, but I don’t need to keep seeing gruesome graphic pictures of it in my feed”). Some people unfriend or block because the blockee posts extensively about things they’re just not interested in: politics, religion, atheism, folk dancing, kids, gossip and news about people the blocker doesn’t know, pictures of food. Some people unfriend because they’re trying to keep their Facebook feed manageable, and are culling it down to people they know well. Some people unfriend because they’re stepping away from a profession or hobby or political movement. Some people continue to follow or be “friends” with people they have serious problems with, because they want to keep an eye on what they’re saying, or because they want to tag them when they criticize them. Some people friend or unfriend, follow or un-follow, block or un-block, like or don’t like, because they hit the wrong damn key and didn’t notice.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

woman on computer by #WOCinTech ChatSo it’s a really, REALLY bad idea to make assumptions about people’s thoughts and feelings and intentions, their shifting alliances and secretly-held opinions and behind-the-scenes machinations, based solely on what they like or don’t like on social media, who they are and aren’t “friends” with, who they do and don’t “follow.”

Plus, there’s often an inconsistency to this micro-analysis. I’ve seen people passionately defend the right to block or unfriend or unfollow anyone you want, for any reason — and then turn around and get outraged because someone has blocked them, or has blocked other people they think shouldn’t have been blocked. It’s like that joke about “I am confident, you are cocky, they are arrogant”: “I am curating my Internet experience; you are creating an echo chamber; they are fascist censors who are stifling free speech.”

Again, I’m not talking about the things people actually say on social media. The words that come out of people’s mouths and fingers are, I think, a pretty reasonable guide to at least some of their thoughts and feelings and intentions. But when it comes to the other ways people use social media — liking and friending and following and blocking and the rest of it — can we please quit using it to decipher hidden meanings? Can we please quit trying to read the tea leaves? They’re a crappy news source, about as reliable as the National Enquirer. And trying to read them just adds more misinformation, more paranoia, more general noise, to an Internet that seriously doesn’t need any more.

(Images 1 and 3 by #WOCinTech Chat‘s page of free stock photos of women of color in tech.)

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta 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.

The Problem of Nuance in a Wonderful and Terrible World

Content note: passing reference to sexual assault of minors. This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

slashed circle sign“Fundamentalist believers want everything to be simple. They want their moral choices to be straightforward: they want a clear rulebook that outlines their choices, written for them by a perfect god. They want the world divided up into clearly labeled categories, with good people in one box and evil people in another. It’s so childish. The world isn’t like that. And the world shouldn’t be like that. It would be horrible. Why would they even want that?”

Lots of atheists I know say stuff like this. I say it myself. And then I have one of those days, when I’m hit with a barrage of difficult, complicated choices with no clear answer, and by the end of the day I’m exhausted with decision fatigue and couldn’t even tell you what kind of ice cream I wanted. I have one of those days, when someone I thought I knew well does something that’s not just appalling but completely out of character, unlike anything I’ve ever seen them do, and the ground starts to crack under my feet as I wonder how many of my other friends are hiding crucial parts of their faces and their characters and their lives. I have one of those days, when the sun is shining and our backyard is beautiful and tranquil, and people on the other side of the globe are kidnapping schoolgirls and selling them into sex slavery, and I don’t know how to live in the world with it being so astonishingly wonderful and at the same time so deeply terrible. I have one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. Or the world has one of those days, or weeks, or months, or years. And I suddenly get a lot more sympathy for the desire for an either/or world.

I don’t agree with it, of course. I’ll get to that in a minute. I don’t think it’s an accurate view of the world, and ultimately I don’t think it’s a desirable one. I’m just saying that I get why some people yearn for it.

Nuance is hard. [Read more…]

Starting with the Assumption that I’m Wrong

So I’ve been trying this thing. If I’m contemplating a change in my thinking or my life—especially for ethical reasons—I shift my perspective for a bit, and start with the assumption that I’m wrong.

I don’t mean this in a “proof by contradiction” sort of way, like in logic or math, where you assume that the thing you’re trying to prove is wrong so you can come to a paradox and thus find out that it’s really right. I mean it in a more practical way. I mean actually living and thinking, temporarily, as if my old ideas are wrong and the new ones I’m considering are right. I mean living with the new ideas for a little while, to see if my thinking gets clearer. And I mean experimenting to find out: If I were wrong, if I had to change—what would my life look like?

We all have a tendency to start with the assumption that we’re right. It’s just how our human brains work. We start with the assumption that we’re right, that we’re smart, that we’re good—and we work backwards from there. We come up with rationalizations for why the things we do, and the things we want to do, are right, smart, and good. (In fact, unusually intelligent people can be unusually good at this.) And when we’re challenged on our rightness and smartness and goodness, we get defensive. No matter how skeptical we are, no matter how conscious we are of cognitive biases—including this one—we still do this. It doesn’t make us bad people; in fact, there are very good reasons for why our brains work this way (among other things, if we constantly questioned every decision large or small, we’d become frozen, unable to do anything). This is just part of the unconscious background machinery of our minds.

But when it comes to important questions that I really want to look at clearly, rationalization can be a real problem. I’ve been looking at ways to hijack it. And it’s helped to start with the assumption that I’m wrong, to temporarily live as if I’m wrong and need to change.

Let me give you two examples.


Humanist Cover Sept Oct 2015Thus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Starting with the Assumption that I’m Wrong. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta 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.

Revised, Updated, Somewhat More Optimistic Thoughts on Depression and Solitude

Being an introvert does not mean being a hermit.

woman alone in window seatA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about depression and solitude, in which I talked about a particularly troubling and annoying conundrum of being an introvert with depression. That condundrum: I like lots of alone time, and I like being a person who likes lots of alone time — but when I’m in a more depressed state, or a state that’s more vulnerable to depression, too alone time is bad for me, and I need to make sure I have a fair amount of social time every day. A lot of people responded strongly to this piece: I seem to not be the only one dealing with this. And among the many people who commented, saying some version of “OMLOG yes I totally get this,” my friend David Byars shared the piece on Facebook with this comment (quoted here with his permission):

I came to a similar conclusion at the end of June, which is why I reactivated all my social network accounts. I need to have the option of communicating with people, I need to know how friends and family are doing. And I need to know when to give myself a break from both society and solitude. And, as an introvert, the need to take breaks from solitude seems disconcerting.

Emphasis mine. “I need to know when to give myself a break from both society and solitude.” Reading this was like a lightbulb going on over my head.

Being an introvert does not mean being a hermit.

I’m finding this “depressed introvert who needs social time” thing a whole lot easier to deal with if I look at introversion, not as a clearly-defined either/or category, but as a spectrum. (This view also has the advantage of being accurate.) Being an introvert does not mean not wanting human company at all. Being an introvert means being closer to “introvert” on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Liking lots of alone time doesn’t mean wanting to be alone every minute of every day forever. It means… well, it means liking lots of alone time. It means liking more alone time, and being comfortable with more alone time, than most people.

Therefore, needing the company of other people somewhat more than usual right now doesn’t mean I’m not an introvert anymore. It just means that the place on the introvert/extrovert spectrum where I’m currently comfortable is a little further from the “introvert” end than usual.

Or, to be more accurate: It means the range of “how much alone time is good and pleasurable for me” is a lot narrower than usual.

feet on balance beamI’ve written before about a depression analogy I’ve found useful — the analogy of seeing mental health as a balance beam, suspended over a pit. When my mental health is more robust, the balance beam is wider — more like a catwalk, or a bridge, or a platform. When my mental health is more fragile, the balance beam is narrower — more like a tightrope, or a… well, a balance beam. When my mental health is more robust, I don’t have to be as careful with my self-care. I can watch more TV, eat more sweets, get less sleep, have more time to myself. I have more wiggle room. When my mental health is more fragile, on the other hand, my self-care routines need to be a lot more rigorous. I have to be more watchful about my mental and emotional condition, more self-conscious about exactly how I’m doing and what exactly I need right at that moment. The healthy range for a whole lot of things — too much food versus not enough, too much sleep versus not enough, too much work versus not enough — is narrower, and I have to calibrate it more carefully. I don’t have nearly as much of a cushion.

What does this mean for my introversion, and for time alone versus time with other people? Well, it doesn’t mean that the amount of alone time I’d like to have has decreased. It means that the amount of alone time that’s safe for me to have has decreased. Even more accurately: It means that the “alone time/ social time” balance that works for me and is safe for me is a lot narrower. When I’m feeling pretty healthy and pretty robust, I can handle fairly long stretches of being alone, and I can handle fairly long stretches of time around other people, without being propelled into a depressive state. When my mental health is more fragile, when the balance beam is narrower, I have to be more cautious, both about alone time and about social time. Too much isolation can depress me; too much social time can exhaust me, which can also depress me. To some extent that’s always true — but when my mental health is more fragile, that balance beam is narrower.

This sucks. It kind of sucks no matter what. But it was sucking more when I was feeling like my precious precious alone time was being robbed, like I’d finally come to some understanding and acceptance of my introversion only to have it snatched away. It is sucking less now that I’m realizing this isn’t really true. I still get to have alone time. I still get to be someone who likes alone time, and is comfortable with it. I just need to give myself breaks, not only from society, but from solitude. That’s always been true; that hasn’t changed. It’s just a little more true now than usual.

I can live with that.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta 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.

Some Thoughts on Depression and Solitude

So I’m having this conundrum.

woman alone in window seatOn the one hand: I love solitude. And I mean LOVE it. Long stretches of time to myself have always been a luxurious pleasure for me. Before I was with Ingrid, there were years where I spent Christmas Day alone every year — and it was one of the most delightful parts of the holiday season, an oasis of quiet solitude and self-indulgence in the middle of a social whirl. When Ingrid and I first got together and were contemplating whether to move in together, one of the issues we looked at was how I would get my much-needed time and space alone. (In fact, we didn’t move in together for seven years — not entirely for this reason, but partly.) And one of the biggest benefits of quitting my day job and becoming a full-time freelance writer was that it gave me long stretches of solitude.

In fact, I don’t just love time alone. I need it. I’m an introvert, and a big part of what that means is that I’m replenished and rejuvenated by time alone, and exhausted by time with others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy time with others — I do, very much. It’s just that I hit a wall with it. I enjoy it for a couple/few hours (more or fewer hours depending on the people and the situation), and then I get tired and need to go away and be alone for a while. (I believe the term for this is “social introvert.”) Solitude isn’t just a pleasure: it’s a necessity.

On the other hand:

Ever since this current stretch of depression, I’ve been paying attention to when I’m depressed and when I’m not. I’m paying attention to what gives me depressive symptoms, and what alleviates them, and what actually bolsters my mental health and makes me feel positively robust.

And I’m finding that when I have many days in a row where I spend many hours alone in the house without interacting with anyone but Ingrid and the cats, I tend to get depressed. When I get out of the house every day, and interact every day at least briefly with human beings who aren’t Ingrid, my mental health improves. This isn’t the entire picture, of course — my mental health also improves when I take my meds, go to therapy, get exercise, meditate — but it’s a big part of it.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve recently started a new mental health self-care routine. Instead of just generically promising myself that I’ll leave the house once a day to do some unspecified thing, I now have a specific routine. Every weekday, unless I have some particular other thing scheduled, I get to a cafe by 1:00 pm, and work on my laptop there. And I’ve found, just in the week that I’ve been doing this, with no other substantial change in my life, that my mental health has significantly improved. I’ve been having a rough patch with depression in the last few months — not terrible, but not great, and very stubborn — and just in this past week, I’ve become more alert, more energetic, more hopeful and optimistic, more engaged with the world. Heck, I’ve been positively bouncy at times — and I haven’t been bouncy in months.

Dammit to fucking hell. [Read more…]

What Are Your Favorite Physical Sensations?

hand printOn Facebook the other day, someone posted the question, “What are your favorite physical sensations?” I liked the game, swiped it for my own Facebook page, and thought I’d post it here as well. Reading other people’s responses has been making me happy, and is reminding me of some of my own that I missed. Plus it feels all humanist and shit. The joys of the body in the here and now, and all that.

A few of my own answers that leap immediately to mind: Sinking into a just-hot-enough bath. Being in a bath and scrubbing my skin with scented salt-and-oil scrub I made myself. Stroking my own skin after a bath. The first sip of a cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it. Biting into a perfectly ripe nectarine. The feel of a light warm breeze on my skin (I don’t get that NEARLY enough, in San Francisco it’s usually chilly enough that when I’m outside I want long sleeves). Wrapping a soft soft blanket around me, and settling into another soft soft blanket behind me. Stroking a cat’s fur. Muscle soreness after a good workout (especially a weight workout). The scent of slow-roasting tomato sauce. The feel and scent of freshly-done laundry. The view of our backyard from our back room. Ingrid’s hair between my fingers. So many food things I can’t even say them all here, but a lot of it is first tastes: first taste of chocolate melting on my tongue, first taste of toasted cheese on good bread, first bite into a gooey pastry thing with some sort of cream, first taste of a ridiculously well-crafted cocktail made with bourbon. Walking: pretty much anywhere, but especially in my neighborhood and my city, and also especially in a strange city. The sight of good street art.

(I’m going to stay away from sexual ones, because I’ve become more private about that stuff lately.)

What are yours? (I’m going to ask people to stay away from sexual ones in this space, since sometimes that can be a little TMI with strangers.)

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta 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.

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?

fireAs 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. [Read more…]