Suicide, stigma and social media

A US sports analyst chartered his decision to commit suicide.

He didn’t have any of the usual reasons people commit suicide: ill-health, losing autonomy, etc; it was made rationally (as rationally as is possible in such circumstances), on his 60th birthday, and done to prevent any chance of deterioration.

After reading about, I recognised how it touched on a number of themes relating to social media, the way we document our lives, the way some have documented their deaths and what this could mean for reducing suicide and its stigma.

I examined it more in the Guardian.

(Comments are closed on it, unfortunately.)

 

 

‘Cybersexism’ by Laurie Penny: a review and essay

I wrote a review for Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism at Big Think.

In it, Penny, a well-known and much loved (and of course hated) British writer on politics, feminism and many other topics, outlines the current model of sexism online. Using her own and other women’s experiences, she outlines why it occurs, the ground from which such terrible treatment springs, sexism in general and what sorts of responses we can muster. Her insight, as always, is invaluable and potent.

I used this opportunity to give a perspective as someone who is not the target of sexism; I outline why I care (because we need to do that nowadays?), why others should and related matters.

I am a long-time fan of her work and it’s fantastic to read her in long-form.

A beautiful game you should buy

I wrote a little essay on the indie title Gone Home. I’m not sure I conveyed just how much this game meant to me; it cements that games, like books, comics, film, is a medium not a genre. It can be as meaningful or -less as we want.

Many games have this effect (the Mass Effect franchise remains one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a person). I think for people like me, who grew up in the 90’s as one of those weird kids who liked ghosts and wanted all those supernatural things to be true, this game will strike a chord.

I still read Stephen King and I still want to write books – that’s about all I’ve carried through from the 90’s. But Gone Home still made me nostalgic.

In which I yell at kids to get off my lawn (apparently)

I started writing some lighter pieces for a South African women’s site. In my latest, I list some things I think we need to stop saying – in cyber- and meatspace – such as “That’s just your opinion”, “Just saying”, etc, and why.

I’ve already thought of more, such as discussions of the weather and hating plotholes in narrative fiction. I want to develop this latter one into a longer post though.

Any others I’ve left out or that you disagree with?

Many think I’m grumpy for this list, which is strange: I think I justified my reasons. It’s not me being irritated with humans, etc. – that factor is irrelevant (even if true).

(I should inform you that the site is notorious for awful comments, ranking alongside YouTube in terms of toxicity levels. Luckily, it requires magical Facebook powers to comment so I’m unable to.)

“Please don’t call me that” is not the same as PC or censorship

Imagine you’re at a nice social event: drinks are passed around, you’re amidst friends and new, amicable strangers. Your friend introduces you to one of her friends. Imagine, like me, you have a very uncommon name for those here. You introduce yourself.

I can replay this scenario, because it’s happened to me 3,456 times.

“Sorry?”

“Tauriq”

A blank stare. “Ah, well it’s nice to meet you.” (Worse when it’s on the phone because you receive nothing but silence.)

“So Toreek…”

“-It’s Tauriq, actually… No stress on either syllable. Tar as in road. Rick as in short of Richard. Rhymes with ‘stick’.”

Now, most people get it here or eventually come to pronounce it properly, after they’re surrounded by those that can (I have smart friends who, when realising their friends are not getting the pronunciation, say my full name instead of pronouns and say it loudly). This is typical.

However, imagine someone said: “No, I prefer to say Toreek. It’s easier for me.”

[Read more…]

Punishment and criminal HIV infection

A recent case in SA raised some questions for me about justice and stigma, and how – in some cases, like HIV – the two can’t be easily separated. That they relate at all was surprising enough.

In my latest at Big Think, I try to outline some dimensions some might be overlooking in their need to see “justice done”.

It’s interesting to note how often people clamour for justice, for something to be done, when a situation arises and yet, how the demand for justice is its own downfall. Or rather unmitigated hysteria. For example, we know that criminalising sex work and drugs – at the very least marijuana – has little basis in reason, but plenty of basis in popularity. As Plato hinted at, laws in democracies are made to be popular not right.

But when justice becomes synonymous with revenge, with knee-jerk moralistic action – rather than thought-out, evidence-based approaches that will help everyone in the society, that will reduce suffering – then we’re no longer talking about justice. We’re talking about mob mentality.

I’m reminded of a powerful scene in The West Wing where – no spoilers – a character’s child is harmed in some way by bad people. The character trolls another in saying they should revise whether capital punishment should be nation-wide and mandatory (for certain crimes). The second character points out that what the other man will do as a father, versus what he should do as a servant of the people, are in conflict; the law is there to be the voice of the latter, for the benefit of all, not a tool to benefit the heightened emotions of a grief-stricken father. What use is law when its wielded by the loudest, the strongest, the most grief-stricken?

This is one of the reasons I consider capital punishment to be immoral – to some degree – since it has no retraction possibility; it’s always closing the door on backtracking our possible mistakes. This doesn’t mean I think capital punishment is the worst punishment – I think, along with John Stuart Mill, that (life) imprisonment can be “a living tomb”, especially as we know reports out of places like Guantanamo, as the incredible Molly Crabapple showed.

Anyway, justice as always is complicated and we mustn’t let our desire for it overshadow its actual purpose in being effective.

I wrote a letter to Straight Male Gamer

And it allowed me to convey what I keep trying to say in other ways.

This isn’t solely about games but the dismissal of those who are not what John Scalzi calls “the lowest difficulty setting” in life: the straight (white) dude.

The frustration can turn turn to apathy and giving up. I don’t want to do that, which is why I often try alternate ways of conveying my arguments.

There’s nothing we can’t poison

Hate and ugly criticism. If we try harder, as a species, we can eventually convey it to everyone thanks to tools like the Internet.

It’s not enough to threaten non-violent or non-hurtful women who campaign for bank-notes depictions; it’s not enough to threaten complete strangers with death, hate, pain for changing stats in imaginary weapons on a video game. Disproportional reactions, anchored by animosity, can target anyone.

For example, how about a woman kidnapped and sexually assaulted for a decade, whose recent discovery was greeted by universal joy. Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus, and Michelle Knight were kept as rape prisoners for years by an Ohio man. [Read more…]

Woman speaks out, woman gets threats – this is my response

Caroline Criado-Perez has been having quite a week.

After a three-month campaign, that began after I saw a news story about historical women being wiped off banknotes, the Bank of England finally capitulated. Mark Carney announced that not only would Jane Austen be the face of the new tenner, but that a review process would be instituted to ensure that banknotes reflected the diversity of society.

I was overwhelmed. We had taken on a huge institution, a bastion of white male power and privilege, and we had won. I looked forward to future banknotes featuring Mary Seacole and Rosalind Franklin. I looked forward to these notes very publicly: on TV; on radio; and in the papers.

Predictably, humans will find a way to ruin anything. This includes undermining the campaign and, for some goddamn reason, sending Caroline threats. [Read more…]

Outrage, social media and knee-jerk responses

I have a new post up at the Guardian that you can go and fight with.

Additionally:

I quite like this piece by Laura Hudson at Wired on when the bullied becomes the bullies in the age of social media.

I think it’s a difficult discussion and, though I like the article, I’m not sure how far I agree. Probably about *sucks thumb* 90%.

As should be obvious from my Guardian piece, I am worried about the kinds of reactions we have; the sort of horrible name-calling, derision, threats, and pile-ons that can occur – even for a good cause.

After all, we don’t have licence to, for example, threaten homophobes with death. (I wouldn’t want to associate with anyone that did that, which would undermine the cause itself.)

To think we’re immune in our responses because we’re on the moral side is a dangerous precedent, I think. Just because we’re morally right in our position doesn’t make automatically morally right in whatever way we respond.