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A reminder for commenters in difficult threads

We’ve just had a difficult comment thread revive itself both on the original post of mine and in the Thunderdome, and a commenter central to both threads said something that I thought deserved pointing up.

Note: I don’t do so to make that commenter feel bad: for the purpose of this thread, I’d like to keep personality off the table as much as possible. My intent here is more to note and discuss a common dynamic rather than spawn a new subthread on that specific topic. That central commenter said:

I think my reputation at Pharyngula was completely shot early on in [that] thread. That is one of the reasons I kept going—I was pretty sure that if I didn’t clarify that I’m not all that bad, right then, it would always be too late.

Once we take this out of the context of the argument in which it happened, I think we can all identify with the feeling expressed. Sadly, it’s almost never a helpful impulse.

Reading that passage reminded me that it’s been some time since I’ve seen one of the essays I found most helpful in my own ability to hear criticism. It’s aimed at discussions of racism, but change a few nouns and a few adjectives and it can be applied to almost any argument among people with differing levels of privilege.

It’s by the blogger/cartoonist Ampersand, and it’s entitled How Not To Be A Doofus When Accused Of Racism (A Guide For White People). Many of you will have seen it already (perhaps under a different title), and for others it will be 101-level stuff. But every so often when a useful essay is buried under eight years of Internet it’s a good idea to dust it off and remind people it’s there.

Of special relevance for me are these two points:

Breathe. Stay calm. Stay civil. Don’t burn bridges. If someone has just said “I think that sounds a bit racist,” don’t mistake it for them saying “you’re Klu Klux Klan racist scum” (which is a mistake an amazing number of white people make). For the first ten or twenty seconds any response you make will probably come from your defensiveness, not from your brain, so probably you shouldn’t say whatever first comes to your mind.

and

Don’t make it about you. Usually the thing to do is apologize for what you said and move on. Especially if you’re in a meeting or something, resist your desire to turn the meeting into a seminar on How Against Racism You Are. The subject of the conversation is probably not “your many close Black friends, and your sincere longstanding and deep abhorrence of racism.”

Like I said, even for those of us for which this is old hat, a reminder from time to time can’t hurt.

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    this is good advice, especially for personal interaction in meatspace. On the internet… it applies about half the time.

    the rest of the time, whoever accused you of being a racist/sexist/whatever is typically invested, for whatever reason, on keeping that conclusion intact, regardless of the type of reaction, or lack thereof, one exhibits.

    unfortunately, it IS often the case that an accuser IS making it all about “you”.

    it’s not just the case that the accused should be wary of overreaction, but that the accusers should fucking well be more careful about who and what they are accusing people of.

  2. Marshall says

    The article is great on what not to do (after all, that is the title!), but it doesn’t really say what TO do in that case. I sort of feel like it’s addressing the issue of–ok, you said something that might be construed as a bit racist. Just suck it up, don’t make a deal out of it, don’t try to defend yourself, and move on.

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist? Being called a racist is a fairly personal attack and it can be pretty damaging if not resolved. Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    I agree completely with the not-overreacting piece of advice. But I’m wondering how might one proceed to repair damage to ones’ personal image. Obviously, the best way is to not say something overtly racist in the first place, but I can imagine being landed accidentally in such a situation at some point.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    We have to get over this artificial distinction between “mere bigoted act” and HARD CORE SIMON PURE THROUGH AND THROUGH ONTOLOGICALLY BIGOTED SCUM BAG WHO IS IRREDEEMABLE.

    We all say sexist things. Why the fucking hell do people start screeching that “you called me A sexist?” What do they think that category of being is? What is the monster they claim they’ve been called?

    Ichthyic—are you playing into this?

  4. Anthony K says

    We have to get over this artificial distinction between “mere bigoted act” and HARD CORE SIMON PURE THROUGH AND THROUGH ONTOLOGICALLY BIGOTED SCUM BAG WHO IS IRREDEEMABLE.

    It’s much like the distinction between criminals and law-abiding folk used in gun debates.

  5. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    No, I don’t think the accuser is usually “making it all about you.” Sometimes, yes. But not usually.

    What I do see is the person who is told that what they said is racist/sexist immediately going berserk and *hearing* themselves called an irredeemable shit bag. Somehow we’ve bought into the idea that there is such a thing as:

    1. A Platonic Bigot

    and

    2. If you say I made a bigoted remark you are calling me a Platonic Bigot.

    How is it that in this cultural conversation there seems to be no space in peoples’ minds for the fact that yes, ordinary, well-meaning people sometimes say bigoted things? Why is it all or nothing? I don’t get the tantrums thrown over this. There’s some deep, gnawing fear of admitting that you’re saying and thinking things that hurt people and that if you admit that you’re HITLER.

    This has got to stop.

  6. says

    This is so true. “You are making an argument which is the same as the argument made by group. Perhaps you should rethink your advocacy argument,” is about as oblique as I’ve managed to get it and still get told I’m calling them a racist. Ugh.

  7. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    What I want to do is get to the crux of what “calling me a racist means.” What is A Racist, and how is that different from a person who said a racist thing? I can’t even say that I’m definitely not calling someone A Racist because I don’t know what that is. I suspect a lot of the “aggrieved” don’t know, either. But it’s clearly an emotional bogeyman.

    This needs serious unpacking.

  8. Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun) says

    There’s all sorts of good things that can be said about shutting up and listening for a while.

    I should know. In one of my first forays into the Pharyngula comment field, I was screeching on about MGM in a thread about FGM. Needless to say my “contribution” was not appreciated. At the time I didn’t fully understand why, but thankfully I choose to shut up and listen for a while.

    I also think there is a mirror of some sorts to this. The last couple of years have been stressful for many. Certain topics makes people’s stress-levels rise, and the trigger-finger itches against a trigger that’s been (rightfully) pulled so many times a lot of the resistance is gone. In these situations, there is some things I’ve been telling myself a lot these days:

    Don’t make it about them, make it about what’s said. And be sure to point out the easy way out. Obvious exemptions are obvious of course – but don’t pin people further along the clueless-to-asshole-continiuum than the facts warrant.

    I’m in no way good at this, but the benefits are dawning on me and I’m striving to improve. For example, not all people who say sexist shit are consciously misogynist. In fact, most are only negligent and brought up in a sexist society. It’s hard to see all the shit when you’ve grown up in the sewers. If we, in our ire to correct them makes it about them – they in turn have a harder time not making it about themselves.

    I’m not saying people should get a cookie for not meaning it while they hurt people with their cluelessness. I’m just saying the cluelessness shouldn’t be essentialised and generalised at the drop of a hat.

    It’s late, and I’m kinda rambling. And I wonder if Josh sort of has made the same point just a bit shorter without the pontification. My vanity prevents me from deleting the text and forces me to hit submit still though. Feel free to ignore me (or just shout at me) if I’m rambling too much or are far too obscure (I usually are when writing this length, but no time to distil atm).

  9. Anthony K says

    it’s not just the case that the accused should be wary of overreaction, but that the accusers should fucking well be more careful about who and what they are accusing people of.

    I’ve been accused of a lot of things. I’ve almost done jail time for one of those things. I didn’t do it. It was someone else. My accuser was wrong.

    Yet, at 17, with the threat of a serious criminal record ahead of me (the kind they keep on the books, even after you’re an adult, just in case), I never once thought it was the victim’s fault. I never once thought he was in the wrong in trying to get justice. I never once thought he should have been more careful about who he was accusing and of what. He did his best. Yes, I was a victim of incompetence and injustice by my local police force. But he was still a victim. The crime was not uncommitted.

  10. Ogvorbis says

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist?

    Me? I’d ask for an explanation. I would say, “I think there is something here that I do not know. Could you please explain how what I said/wrote was racist? I know that I don’t know everything, so could you help me?”

    May not work, but, for me, it would be honest.

    I say, and do, racist (and sexist, and bigoted, and . . .) frequently. I have become more aware of my embedded -isms but don’t always realize that I have just put my foot in it big time. I don’t think I am a racist but I certainly do make racist statements. Not as frequently as I used too, but it still happens.

  11. Johnny Vector says

    I think everybody should run over to Crommunist’s place and just read everything he has written about racism/sexism. He says what Josh was saying above in very clear and convincing ways. Not that Josh wasn’t clear, I just have a bit of a man-crush on Ian because of his writing.

  12. says

    I’m disheartened that it took precisely one comment for this to turn into a discussion about false accusations.

    ONE FUCKING COMMENT.

    We can do better here.

    I’ve been accused of saying things I thought were racist, and sexist, and transphobic, and etc. Most of those charges stung. Many seemed unfair at the time, and a few still do.

    But none of those “accusations” were as damaging to me as the ills with which I had been charged had, over time, been to the person bringing me up short.

    Yes, there are internetizens who make accusations in bad faith. It doesn’t change your responsibility as a person of privilege. If someone makes an accusation that you’re homophobic, and you know for DAMN sure that they’re doing so to sabotage your reputation, the way out is to say “Wow. You’ve given me something to think about. Thank you, and I’m sorry if my words hurt you. It wasn’t my intention.”

    Even if they are completely full of shit. Because you aren’t talking to them: you’re talking to people of good faith who have similar concerns, and showing them that someone takes those concerns seriously.

    Digging in your heels, by contrast, makes us think there’s something to your accuser’s point.

  13. Anthony K says

    Is there still room in the queue, Anthony K?

    Let me just uncircle some of these wagons in the way, first.

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist? Being called a racist is a fairly personal attack and it can be pretty damaging if not resolved. Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    Funny story. At about the same time (high school was awesome), a dumbass went around telling everyone at my school I’d called him a “N***** Lover”, and I spent several months being jumped by people at dances, social events, whenever I was alone or otherwise numerically disadvantaged.

    Yet, at 17, after learning how to protect my nose with my chin while being held down by two people and simultaneously getting punched in the back of the head by another, I never once thought calling out racism was wrong, etc. etc.

    This shit ain’t theoretical. I’ve fucking been there, man.

  14. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    You know what else is funny (and for that read: farcical and insulting)? The constant claims that an accusation of racism or rape apologia or homphobia is this INCREDIBLY DAMAGING THING THAT CAN RUIN LIVES AND YOU BETTER BE V. CAREFUL WITH IT.

    Really? Really? How odd it is, then, that rape victims are almost never believed. How odd it is that in many circles the very first fucking response is not “Oh, how unfortunate,” but vehement and caustic denials that X said anything racist or homophobic.

    There doesn’t, actually, appear to be very many reputation-ruining negative consequences at all. Because people reflexively hate the person making the accusation and drub them publicly.

    Seriously. What the hell?

  15. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Yes, there are internetizens who make accusations in bad faith. It doesn’t change your responsibility as a person of privilege.

    But, that’s the nature of privilege, isn’t it. Those who have it, and who either don’t or won’t examine it, aren’t interested in dialog, they’re interested in sermonizing to an (obviously!) rapt audience. Because everything they say is right and true, and therefore they couldn’t possibly be racist/sexist/etc.

    And then, when called such, or when someone tells them what they say implies such, enter the heel-digging in obstinacy. They can’t be wrong! And you can’t be right!

    Also, they lack Bigot Radar. Not being targets of such, they don’t have to worry about it, don’t have to think about it, and even if they do, its largely academic (as we consistently see in any repro rights thread). And, because they don’t understand the dogwhistles, backhanded insults etc of bigotry, they don’t understand why marginalized peoples react they way they do. But, they’re sure it must be wrong, because they don’t agree.

    This is where the false accusations game starts. Since Privileged Person A doesn’t understand the hints and clues of bigotry, and since they’re usually convinced ahead of time that women, LGBTQI, or racial minorities (or whatever group) are all just whining, lying professional victims (because THEY never saw X,Y,Z happen!), calling them a bigot, or telling what they say is bigotted MUST be a false accusation.

    Maybe we should hit harder upon the fact that bigotry is all around us, ingrained in our culture and there fore EVERYONE grows up bigotted.

  16. says

    Chris, thanks for raising this subject. I’m as dismayed as you at the turn the comments have taken, because this is an important subject and derailleurs have the potential to fuck it up for people who need to hear it.

    Another really good source that I came across, talking specifically about racism and how to talk about it without giving offense and the inevitable doubling-down spiral, is this TEDx talk by Jay Smooth on YouTube.

    In respect of call-out culture on the Internet, I’ve seen a tendency to bridge-burning that happens when someone who should be an ally (and has been, on other subjects) fucks up in a major way which to the other party, is irredeemable, and it crosses the line irreversibly. From henceforth, the person is anathema and nothing they can do can reverse it. The current Deep Rifts in the atheist/skeptic community look very much like that, and the irritation of it is that on many topics some of the people engaging in the divisiveness agree, but on critical topics there can be no agreement, and the only recourse is shunning. (I’m excluding people who are known harassers and abusers from that.) Ozy Frantz has a good series of posts about the excesses of call-out culture on hir blog (first installment here).

    In respect of the particular poster who isn’t named in the OP: I’ve hugely respected their writings on other topics. But it doesn’t absolve them one iota of being monstrously wrong, totally insensitive, horribly misguided, and downright stupid in the way that they prosecuted the thread by prioritising their own intellectual masturbations over the hurt and experiences of the others responding to them. They would have been much better licking their wounds and going away entirely, but instead chose to redouble, retriple (and so on) the hurt by continuing on to exponentially higher powers of wrongness. Again to provide solutions rather than just complaining: over on the A+ forums, commenter fiainros provided this really helpful list of dot points of things to do and not to do, On How To Deal With Being Called Out.

  17. Nepenthe says

    Whoever accused you of being a racist/sexist/whatever is typically invested, for whatever reason, on keeping that conclusion intact, regardless of the type of reaction, or lack thereof, one exhibits.

    unfortunately, it IS often the case that an accuser IS making it all about “you”.

    Nah. IME, for those types it’s not about “you” at all. It’s about them and their sooper-speshul Social Justice Warrior status. You’re merely an object by which they can display their superiority in opposing bigotry against otherkin and similarly oppressed trans-species individuals.

    In which case, Chris’ advice still holds because the more defensive you get, the more special they get to be. Calling out is a game you only win by not playing and if someone throws you on the field your goal should be to get the hell off asap.

  18. cyberCMDR says

    The fact that I say stupid shit occasionally is a given. I think it may be a high IQ, low EQ thing, and for much of my life I’ve followed the “Better to be silent and have people think you’re a fool, then open your mouth and remove all doubt” policy. Usually when I do mess up I figure it out afterwards, wince inwardly and try to move on.

    What I like about Pharyngula is that I do get called on it immediately. If I get stubborn and defend myself there are lots of “volunteers” who will push me until I truly “get it”. I’ve learned far more on what to say, or not say, or how to frame an intelligent response here than I have from decades of being quiet. What enables this process is the ability to comment under a ‘nym, a pseudo self that buffers me from the emotional (and professional) cost of debating such things in meat space. I’ve said it before, this site is an excellent training ground on how to be a decent and capable human being.

    This discussion is one more point in my EQ basket.

  19. says

    An aspect of this that I find myself emphasizing most in this type discussion is that you can be technically correct and still really deeply and profoundly wrong. The question is this: what do you value more? Do you value winning this argument on this point in the context more? Or do you value the people around you, and the very real harm that they are telling you that you can be doing if you continue to push your point. If you’re making an abstract argument about people’s real-life trauma and throwing your conclusions in their face, and you continue in the face of doing harm, you’re either malicious or so lacking in empathy that malice would actually be less bad. I think we can talk people out of malice, I’m not sure how you correct someone who doesn’t recognize the basic humanity of other people when they’ve got an academic point they’ve just GOT TO MAKE, RIGHT NOW!

  20. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I see two types who have problems with the concept of “admit wrong, apologize, and shut up”.
    .

    The first is those who think society is post “name your bigotry”, and everybody is well over being sensitive to real, but subtle bigotry. But we aren’t there yet with sexism, racism, and a bunch of other ‘isms. I see this a lot in the local paper’s “talk of the county” posters. Prima facie evidence bigotry isn’t dead folks. They are always surprised when they are called out as bigots they are.
    .
    The second is those who think they can talk about any subject, especially one they should avoid if they truly thought about for five seconds, if they do so “clinically and dispassionately”, no matter how much passion it may engage in others. These get surprised that their analytical approach isn’t appreciated and their analysis gets called for what it is. “But, but, but, I’m just being thorough in my discussion. ” Clueless wonders who should shut up and listen.

  21. carlie says

    Someone just here in the last couple of days said something that has stuck with me: being sexist or racist or ableist is the default in our society: it is the null hypothesis. We are simply all too steeped in it to be otherwise. Being NOT racist or sexist etc. takes a lot of effort and unlearning of everything that soaks in just through living in our society. So nobody should feel incredibly offended at being told they’ve said something racist/sexist; they should realize they’ve just fallen into the patterns they were raised with and this is a pointer at something for them to work harder on.

  22. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    It’s about them and their sooper-speshul Social Justice Warrior status.

    Would you elaborate? or, rather, define the term?

  23. John Morales says

    Improbable Joe:

    If you’re making an abstract argument about people’s real-life trauma and throwing your conclusions in their face, and you continue in the face of doing harm, you’re either malicious or so lacking in empathy that malice would actually be less bad.

    What? Leaving aside your false dichotomy, are you seriously claiming indifference is worse than malice?

  24. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    oh, yeah.

    xpost:

    SC’s comment at #5 of the Manly Meal thread just made me realize, with quite a jolt, why Vegans irritate me so much. Its because they’re fucking right. At least about the “unimaginable suffering” that befalls that which ends up on my plate.

    /xpost

  25. rowanvt says

    Nepenthe…

    You’re merely an object by which they can display their superiority in opposing bigotry against otherkin and similarly oppressed trans-species individuals.

    As someone who still identifies psychologically as otherkin………. >_>

    (however, no, otherkin are not at all oppressed and I laugh at the fluff-bunnies who claim they are)

  26. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    are you seriously claiming indifference is worse than malice?

    let me wax vague hypothetic for a second:

    if you’re starving, for example, what’s worse? The person who keeps food from you (malice), or the person who could feed you but can’t be arsed to care (indifference)?

    The result is the same. You starve.

  27. jacquez says

    “What? Leaving aside your false dichotomy, are you seriously claiming indifference is worse than malice?”

    In my personal experience, yes. It may not universally be so, but the psychological reactions I have to malice & indifference are quite different.

    Someone abuses me maliciously: I think “what a jackass”.
    Someone is so indifferent to my abuse that they don’t even notice it: I think “what, don’t I MATTER? I DAMN WELL EXIST. AAAAAHHHHHHHHH IT IS LIKE YOU DO NOT EVEN SEE ME.”

    Feeling abused by a jerk (who at least knows I exist) and feeling like someone don’t know I exist so thoroughly that they can ignore my pain? Not even a contest, really.

  28. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Illuminata, if the result is the same, then it’s not worse, is it?

    jacquez, I don’t dispute that it is so for you, but for me, I find it worse when someone is actively being malicious towards me than when someone is being indifferent towards me.

  29. says

    For the first ten or twenty seconds any response you make will probably come from your defensiveness, not from your brain, so probably you shouldn’t say whatever first comes to your mind.

    I remember when the feminist blog I occasionally write for first started wrestling with ableism in language. Nothing I had written was really ever addressed; the conversation I reacted to was other people talking about what language we should avoid and how we should talk instead and the conversation happened mainly in the backchannel (a private blog for the authors) of the blog. I wasn’t being personally accused of being ableist. But I remember that I was defensive and resistant to the idea not for seconds but for days, maybe weeks or months. I think I wrote and deleted several posts about how oversensitive people were being.

    I guess my point is sometimes it takes longer than that first blush of reaction to realize you have suddenly become the privileged one and to check that privilege. Eventually, I came to accept the point being made by those who were calling us on ours, and to work to change the parts of my language and assumptions that came from ableism. It made my speech and writing richer, less lazy, and more aware. I still slip and refer to things being “crazy” occasionally, but I’m still working on it.

  30. chrislawson says

    Illuminati@34:

    There is a difference. Take your hypothetical for a moment and tweak it: who is worse, the person who is indifferent to your starvation and walks on by, or the person who wants you to starve and actively supports your starvation and possibly even puts up roadblocks to anyone trying to feed you?

  31. mythbri says

    @Nepenthe

    Looking at the definition you provided for Social Justice Warrior, I’m not sure it has anything to do with the specific thread that Chris isn’t mentioning, or most of the conversations about social justice that happen here at Pharyngula.

    I could definitely see the term applied elsewhere in the Interwebs, though.

  32. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Illuminata, if the result is the same, then it’s not worse, is it?

    I would say that’s up to the individual. I see Jacquez’s point and yours. Personally, i’m right in the middle. I think malice or indifference can be equally wrong.

    Like:

    who is worse, the person who is indifferent to your starvation and walks on by, or the person who wants you to starve and actively supports your starvation and possibly even puts up roadblocks to anyone trying to feed you?

    The second person (malice) is active. The first person (indifference) is passive. Either you are causing harm directly or causing harm indirectly . Either way, you’re still causing harm.

    To go back to our old friend bigotry by way of example: Silence is complicity. This is the point of Surly Amy’s series at Skepchick in which male movement leaders speak out against the deranged misogyny in the A/S movement. Because, not speaking out means the sexists/racists/etc think you agree with them. And, likely, so does the target of their hate. You didn’t do anything, but you didn’t do anything. That can be equally wrong.

  33. ck says

    I think a lot of this can be described with Molly Ivins’ First Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, you should stop digging!

    Very little good ever comes from getting defensive. Sometimes it’s best to just take your lumps, because the other option usually involves proving to people that you’re actually an even worse person than they initially suspected.

  34. gakxz1 says

    It’s all or nothing thinking, sort of like “either I’m a perfect, racially sensitive human being, without ever having queried a single erroneous thought, or I’m a racist social degenerate”. With those odds, it’s sort of understandable that someone might see even a potential accusation as a personal attack. I’d agree that the best thing to do would be to give the conversation a fortnight.
    .
    Happened to me once. I posted a poem to a forum on my (fearful and slightly disgusted) feelings towards a homeless woman I often saw take the same bus (it was a bit ironic, but nevermind). A few comments in, a poster yelled at me that she had been homeless for a number of years, accusations and curses flying. Her comment was removed, presumably for the cursing. My instinctive reaction was to send her a message saying it was not my intent to insult homeless people (which it wasn’t, I think), and that I had no problem with her comment or her posting again. She did, and that was the end of it (no follow up angry comments, etc). All that being said, I personally hope my mediocre poem has long been excised from the interwebs.

  35. mildlymagnificent says

    You didn’t do anything, but you didn’t do anything. That can be equally wrong.

    Which is where concepts like “There’s no such thing as a bystander” come up in bullying. It’s not enough to not be *the* bully. Once you know that there’s a bully and a victim, you no longer have a choice. Silence will be taken by the bully as certain acquiescence and likely support. And by the victim as passive complicity or possibly fear. Even if they understand the fear, they know that the ‘bystander’ had more freedom than they did to do something, however limited that freedom might be.

    And for the persistent explainers and defenders of untenable positions, there’s one (in)famous dictum from the mouth of Dr Phil. “Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?” He’s talking about his usual fodder of family or neighbour disputes here, but it often applies in online discussion. The “happy” option here is really just
    to maintain your previous relationships and to keep your opportunities for further discussion open. If that also gives you a chance to rethink the positions you’ve been making other people unhappy with – bonus!

  36. says

    Me, I am starting to think that indifference is worse than malice.

    It is the mass of indifferent people who allow those with malice in their hearts to harass and harm their targets and get away with it. It is the mass of indifferent people who ensure that there will be no consequences for sexists and racists and bigots of every stripe.

    I don’t expect anything but hate from those hateful people who are bigots without apology,

    I do expect better from people who claim to be decent human beings.

  37. says

    Sally:

    For me, the problem with indifference is that you can’t really argue with it. At least hate involves an emotional investment, and you can get traction with that. Indifference? If someone shrugs their shoulders at me, how do I argue that? If you give the best argument for a positive outcome for me, they’ll likely STILL shrug their shoulders and say “not my business, as long as I don’t have to be involved.” They’ll allow you to be happy, as long as there’s no effort on their part, and allow you to suffer as long as it is equally convenient.

    Or, to put it a more extreme way: I’d much rather argue with an asshole than a sociopath. Assholes can change their minds, I’m not sure that sociopaths can.

  38. says

    John:

    but for me, I find it worse when someone is actively being malicious towards me than when someone is being indifferent towards me.

    Not me. I find indifference to be the worse of these two evils. A person acting out of malice at least has a motive which can be understood and there’s always the possibility of working things out so there is no more malice. There’s emotion involved in malice.

    When it comes to indifference, if a person is truly indifferent, this means they have had many opportunities to do the right thing in any given situation. To do the kind thing in any given situation. They’ve had many opportunities to effect change, to make a difference and did nothing. There’s no emotion there, there’s no there there.

  39. says

    Two observations.

    1.
    @3

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist? Being called a racist is a fairly personal attack and it can be pretty damaging if not resolved. Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    When a person is called out for sexism, racism or other bigoted -ism (even if phrased as “you are being -ist” rather than “what you’re saying is -ist”), it doesn’t require a defence. It requires consideration and an apology. If, after contemplation and re-reading what people are saying in the conversation, you still don’t get it, ask a question in a sincere attempt to understand*. If you’re still unconvinced, let it go. Because you know what really makes people (& not just secretly) think of you as “that -ist”? Someone who doubles down. Someone who finds it necessary to put their self-image as a non–ist above caring about not actually doing or saying something -ist. If you say something sexist, that’s no big deal. We all do. If you fight for the sexist thing you say, you’re a bigoted asshole.

    *Don’t JAQ off because that’s just another way of doubling down, and everyone can see through it.

    2. I think indifference does often hurt more, especially when it’s coming from someone who is supposed to be an ally. Enemies are just enemies, more easily othered. Indifference is a form of betrayal.You explain how much this or that hurts and they don’t care? Or they’re so wrapped up in being right, that they’re blind to your pain, even when you’re crying out? That gets under your skin and stays there.

  40. Cyranothe2nd says

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist? Being called a racist is a fairly personal attack and it can be pretty damaging if not resolved. Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    No.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

    Racism, sexist etc is something that WE ALL live with. Its inculcated in our culture. To “act racist” is something that most of us do from time to time. It isn’t a personal indictment to say, “Hey, what you just said was racist.” Its a consciousness raiser. It requires nothing more than an, “Oh snap, sorry.”

    FFS, why are we making this thread all about the poor victims of accusations, again???

  41. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Though I may have said otherwise in the past, indifference is better than malice. If an indifferent person does something hurtful, it’s still hurtful, but they will move on and do something else pretty soon. At worst their self-interest will lead them to justify their prior actions until they’re no longer being criticized, and then they move on. Malice is its own reward — a self-reinforcing motivation.

    And yes, you can talk people into experiencing more empathy. It’s routinely done in experimental settings.

  42. says

    John:

    Cyranothe2nd, because it’s the topic.

    Actually, it isn’t. I refer you to Chris’s post @ 14. The topic is supposed to be how to react and respond to a criticism, such as “saying it’s a guy thing is sexist”.

  43. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I usually prefer not to pretend to sound unsure when I’m not unsure.

    The comment beginning this discussion was unequivocal:

    If you’re making an abstract argument about people’s real-life trauma and throwing your conclusions in their face, and you continue in the face of doing harm, you’re either malicious or so lacking in empathy that malice would actually be less bad.

    Yet I see no one complaining that it’s only his opinion and he shouldn’t state it so categorically.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If everyone else was saying “in my opinion”, then I might politely pretend to be unsure.

  44. John Morales says

    [meta]

    ॐ, it was a second-order issue for me, but I did note that it’s a false dichotomy.

    (For example, it could be that the person making such an argument considers the good it will ultimately* do outweighs the harm it proximately* does and is therefore neither malicious nor lacking in empathy)

    * Yeah, I’m making an allusion.

  45. vaiyt says

    what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist?

    False accusations of racism are way down there with false accusations of rape in my priorities.

  46. says

    On the contrary, however–what if you’re accused of making a racist statement that isn’t really racist?

    Like?
    You know, maybe you’re just fucking unawareof a racial stereotype (or a sexist one, for that matter, right, Mr. Shermer?).
    The person who is at the receiving end of this is surely much more aware of it.
    For example, I learned on Pharyngula about the racial stereotype of watermelons. As a European I never heard of it. So there would have been a possibility of me joking about watermelons with an African-American, not thinking anything about it. It’s fucking irrelevant that I would have been 100% ignorant of the racial stereotype. I would have reinforced it nonetheless.

    Being called a racist is a fairly personal attack and it can be pretty damaging if not resolved.

    Again, being accused of having said a racist thing isn’t the same as being accused of being a racist.

    Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    Here’s an idea: “Say, sorry, my mistake, I wasn’t aware of the stereotype”.
    You can even say “Sorry that I offended you, it wasn’t my intention”
    Because even though intent isn’t magic, most people are quite willing to accept that it was an accident and will move on.
    If I say “hey, you stepped on my foot”, I’m not accusing you of assault. Say “sorry, my fault, I didn’t want to hurt you” and we’re done. Start getting defensive about me accusing you of assault and me putting my toes under your foot or that it couldn’t have hurt anyway and we have a problem.

  47. randay says

    One of the problems here is that it seems you can’t directly follow a specific comment, so you have to be more general. If you are called a racist, most often it is by someone who wants to avoid the substance of the argument or discussion. I don’t care. I point out that even if I were, that has nothing to do with the argument. It is a basic error of debating. I don’t give them any slack and just point the inanity of what they said and get on with my point. That is not to say that there aren’t real racists out there. I had a dialog with a nutcase who went on and on about the “genocide” against the “White race”.

    I pointed out the absurdity, not to convince him, but others who may be reading. The most often I have seen accusations of racism is when anyone dares to criticize Israel. They can expect to be accused of anti-semitism in the seconds that follow. The ADL considers it so and I consider them to be hardcore racists. If they are Jews, they will be called self-hating Jews. Once again, if it is me, I just ignore the accusation and continue with facts to back me up.

    In another debating error, someone will have a long preface saying you have to admit such and such, or if you don’t you are a racist or something else derogatory. That happens before the real discussion begins. So they try to impose their standards as the base of everything that follows. I point out that I don’t accept it and that it is entirely irrelevant. Also, I may say that suppose you are right and I am a dirty whatever, that even if I am such a bad person, that doesn’t make my argument wrong, so if you have something intelligent to say, say it.

  48. Ogvorbis says

    If you are called a racist, most often it is by someone who wants to avoid the substance of the argument or discussion.

    Really?

  49. David Marjanović says

    A person acting out of malice at least has a motive which can be understood and there’s always the possibility of working things out so there is no more malice. There’s emotion involved in malice.

    However, if you manage to get away, someone indifferent won’t care; someone malicious enough, on the other hand, will come after you.

    And in my limited experience, indifference tends to come from a lack of knowledge or from not having thought things through (or the combination of both). That is curable – I think that’s what makes comment 51 possible. Sociopaths, who understand your plight full well and still don’t care, aren’t common – probably less so than haters who understand your plight full well and believe it serves you right.

  50. David Marjanović says

    I point out that even if I were, that has nothing to do with the argument.

    Eh, that depends on the argument.

  51. Ogvorbis says

    Sorry. There was supposed to be another paragraph or so on my #60:

    Really?

    I spent junior high and high school in western Maryland. And area with significant Klan activity. There were kids who wore KKK shirts to school. There were no black students at that school. I absorbed significant amounts of racism from the culture of that area. I do, on occasion, come off with a racist (or sexist, bigoted, ableist, ageist, anti-GLBT, etc.) phrase, or idea, or word. When I am called on it (which doesn’t happen every time), I take a look at what I have written and, 99 times out of 100, there it is, a big fat racist (or etc) turd right in the middle of whatever it is I was trying to say. Does that mean I’m a racist? No, but it does mean that sometimes I come off sounding like a racist. And those who call me out are doing it because I have written something racist, not because they want to ignore everything else I have written. When I rephrase (with an apology), the substance of my comment is still there.

  52. jackiepaper says

    There is so much awesome in this thread. I have written and rewritten several replies, but all I think I should really post is: Thank you.

  53. Nepenthe says

    @39 mythbri

    No, you’re right. I don’t think there are any full-on SJWs here. I was responding to Ichthyic, who was talking about “the Internet”, not “Pharyngula specifically”.

    @ randay

    Well, the “criticism of Israel is antisemitic” call-out isn’t considered valid here, so you don’t have to follow the rules in the OP. You can argue that it’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel and don’t have to apologize. Other places it has, so there the only acceptable response is to apologize and never criticize Israel again, lest you double down on your Jew-hating.

    It’s all very complicated.

  54. dianne says

    Imagine you’re in a meeting, you say something that people don’t quite understand but could be construed in a racist light, and you leave with people secretly thinking of you as “that racist guy/girl.”

    That could be bad. It would be much better if the relevant person or people had confronted you and said, “That statement sounds racist to me, can we talk about the implications?” and then everyone participated in a discussion about the issue and, hopefully, everyone came away feeling like they understood each others’ viewpoints better and decreased the amount of misunderstanding and racism in the world. But how are they going to be able to do that if people (especially, but not exclusively, white people) go ballistic when confronted with the possibility that they might have made a racist statement?

  55. strange gods before me ॐ says

    The ADL considers it so and I consider them to be hardcore racists.

    Granted the ADL does have a problem with claiming some legitimate criticisms of Israel to be anti-Semitism.

    But they are not “hardcore racists.” That’s absurd, randay. If you set aside some false positives, they are about as good a source on antiracism as the SPLC is.

    Well, the “criticism of Israel is antisemitic” call-out isn’t considered valid here, so you don’t have to follow the rules in the OP. You can argue that it’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel and don’t have to apologize. Other places it has, so there the only acceptable response is to apologize and never criticize Israel again, lest you double down on your Jew-hating. It’s all very complicated.

    This is absolutely useless rhetoric, presenting the issue as though there were no facts to be discussed, and no reason to try to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism. Your cynicism may have poisoned you, Nepenthe, but that’s not a reason to try to inflict it upon others.

  56. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    If you are called a racist, most often it is by someone who wants to avoid the substance of the argument or discussion. I don’t care. I point out that even if I were, that has nothing to do with the argument. . . . I don’t give them any slack and just point the inanity of what they said and get on with my point.

    What you’re saying is, you don’t listen to people, you lecture at people. Fly that privilege flag high!

    Plus, what Ogvorbis said @ 63.

  57. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I have to say, Randay, your ability to avoid racism in every thought, word and action is amazing given the prevalence of racism in our world. I mean, every other human being I have known has at least to some extent absorbed the prevalent stereotypes of their society–be they color prejudice in the US or anti-semitism in Europe. It could be something as simple as wondering about the ethnicity of a driver doing 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, or maybe feeling a little nervous when driving in a certain part of town. It’s amazing that you never feel this.

    I mean, after all, humans are social animals, and the increase in social cohesion of the group through the exclusion “the other” is well documented. You even see it in dogs–there is an increase in grooming behavior (demonstrating greater bonding) after the pack chases a strange dog away.

    Even the most liberal minded individuals I know only manage to control bigotry, sexism… by working ceaselessly to identify such absorbed tendencies and then consciously countering them. Your ability to do so without even thinking about it is truly unbelievable.

  58. The Mellow Monkey says

    Considering that there’s racism between different minorities in the US (NDNs against Blacks and Puerto Ricans against Mexicans are two I’ve encountered a number of times out there in the real world, but this is going to differ based on your country and demographics), it’s rather silly for anyone to think they’re immune from bigotry.

    We all have the toxic sludge of society coursing through our veins. We all need to be aware and watch and understand that it might pop up, no matter how enlightened we fancy ourselves and no matter what privileges we lack.

  59. Nepenthe says

    This is absolutely useless rhetoric, presenting the issue as though there were no facts to be discussed, and no reason to try to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism.

    Of course there are facts to be discussed. There are always facts to be discussed. But that’s not what the standard advice says. It says no discussion, submit, apologize, move on and submission shall set you free.

    I hardly see how it’s useless to point out that this isn’t necessary in every environment. This community isn’t special, that we have standards that are more restrictive than some communities and less restrictive than others and we haven’t arrived at those standards via perfectly reasoned debate, but by the same social jostling that every other community of bald apes has done it through.

    Suppose we follow the advice in the op when a certain member of the dungeon calls us antisemitic for suggesting that, say, Israelis in the US have more political clout than Palestinians. In this community, saying, my god, you’re right, I’d never thought about it that way, I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again will look stupid and probably get you mocked roundly. In others, it might be the very least you could do to assure everyone that you’re not stockpiling swastika gear in your basement.

  60. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Suppose we follow the advice in the op when a certain member of the dungeon calls us antisemitic for suggesting that, say, Israelis in the US have more political clout than Palestinians.

    Let’s suppose that. And let’s do it by considering the actual advice.

    1) Breathe. Stay calm. Stay civil. Don’t burn bridges. If someone has just said “I think that sounds a bit racist,” don’t mistake it for them saying “you’re Klu Klux Klan racist scum” (which is a mistake an amazing number of white people make). For the first ten or twenty seconds any response you make will probably come from your defensiveness, not from your brain, so probably you shouldn’t say whatever first comes to your mind.

    This is easy enough. Understand what’s being said. Nowhere does it say don’t argue the point.

    2) Take the criticism seriously – do not dismiss it without thinking about it. Especially if the criticism comes from a person of color – people of color in our society tend by necessity to be more aware of racism than most Whites are, and pick up on things most Whites overlook. (On the other hand, don’t put the people of color in the room in the position of being your advocate or judge.)

    Again, understand what’s being said. Consider the facts carefully, and evaluate the possibility that the critic is right; maybe they aren’t, but take the possibility seriously before responding. Nowhere does it say don’t argue the point.

    3) Don’t make it about you. Usually the thing to do is apologize for what you said and move on. Especially if you’re in a meeting or something, resist your desire to turn the meeting into a seminar on How Against Racism You Are. The subject of the conversation is probably not “your many close Black friends, and your sincere longstanding and deep abhorrence of racism.” Think of it as if someone points out that you need to wipe your nose because you’ve got a big glob of snot hanging out. The thing to do is say “oh, excuse me,” wipe your nose, and move on. Insisting that everyone pat you on the back and reassure you that they realize you don’t always have snot hanging from your nose, before the conversation can be allowed to move forward, is not productive.

    Emphasis mine. That is usually the thing to do, in most situations a person will find themselves in. Unless one hangs out in trolling-hobbyist communities, most critiques encountered will be sincere and plausible.

    But again, nowhere does it say don’t argue the point. So, taking the above advice, one can argue that saying Israelis have more political clout than Palestinians is not necessarily anti-Semitic (it would be helpful to note how variants of this idea can be expressed in anti-Semitic ways). At the same time, taking the above advice, stick to arguing the point. Don’t show off how many Jewish friends you have. Don’t turn the whole discussion into a personal defense and show of how opposed to anti-Semitism you are. Don’t seek everyone’s validation. Just argue the point.

    4) Let Occasional Unfair Accusations Roll Off Your Back. Sometimes, even after you’ve given it serious thought, you’ll come to the conclusion that a criticism was unfair. Great! Now please let it go. Don’t insist that everyone agree with you. Don’t enlist the people of color in the room to certify you as Officially Non-Racist. Don’t bring it up again and again, weeks or months after everyone else has forgotten about the original discussion. In other words, see point #3.

    Nowhere does it say don’t argue the point. This one is arguably ambiguous, but “let it go” seems to be clarified by the next three sentences. I think it allows for the possibility of making one’s case and arguing points which are raised, but without insisting that everyone affirm they agree with you and you’re not anti-Semitic. A discussion can be had about whether the statement is anti-Semitic, but some people still might come away thinking that it is and you are too; this is sometimes an inevitable outcome because the world is not ideal.

    Shorter Ampersand: Don’t make it a whacking huge deal if you say something racist, or something others perceive as racist. Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be.

    This is a summary which does appear to contradict point 3. I think this is a failure of the writing — summaries can capture nuance better than this — but if the summary contradicts the nuance earlier explained, it makes sense to interpret the more thoroughly articulated nuance as the meaning of the piece.

    +++++
    We have no good reason to think that randay isn’t making anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel.

    If he’d posted only his middle paragraph, we might try to read him charitably, even though his statement about the ADL is misleading (they do not consider all criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitism; they attempt to distinguish criticism of Israel from being anti-Israel, and they attempt to distinguish being anti-Israel from also being anti-Semitic; they often get it wrong, but they do try).

    But it is not the case that “if you are called a racist, most often it is by someone who wants to avoid the substance of the argument or discussion.” Given randay’s false claim there, I have little confidence that he would recognize any but the most blatant of anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel.

  61. Nepenthe says

    Unless one hangs out in trolling-hobbyist communities, most critiques encountered will be sincere and plausible.

    Bull. Sincere, yes. Plausible, not necessarily. One’s discussion partners may sincerely believe that pointing out the flaws in homeopathy privileges hegemonic Western scientific thinking, but it’s not fucking plausible. Skeptics and atheists get plenty of sincere critique for doing terrible things like being ourselves, even outside of trolling-hobbyist communities.

    And regardless of whether the critique is sincere and plausible, how it’s dealt with is still dependent mostly on the social space it’s made in. One’s discussion partner may be offended that one celebrates the torture and slaughter of sentient beings, but in most places that gets a shrug off and even more bacon celebration.

    This is a summary which does appear to contradict point 3. I think this is a failure of the writing — summaries can capture nuance better than this — but if the summary contradicts the nuance earlier explained, it makes sense to interpret the more thoroughly articulated nuance as the meaning of the piece.

    Regardless of the true meaning of the Amp piece, “Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be.” is generally the last word on calling out and I’ve rarely seen that interpreted with nuance. (Unless the prevailing mores of the community have already accepted the term being “called out”.)

    Have a post by a more important person than me discussing this. The quote that makes my point better than I can:

    And I suspect one of the reasons it is taboo to speak of what happened is because “call out culture” is perceived as being “owned” by the oppressed, in the sense that the people initiating these call outs will, of course, do so because “they are being oppressed” by the “problematic” statements. That, right there, obturates any possible discussion: who would deny that a person who is oppressed has the right to react to their oppression in an expeditious manner? Who will point at an oppressed person and say “you have no right to react to your oppression”? A “call out” is like the Godwin Law of Social Justice blogging, once it is initiated, there is no further discussion, engagement can only come in the form of some deep self flagellation and profuse apologies.

  62. strange gods before me ॐ says

    So,

    Of course there are facts to be discussed. There are always facts to be discussed. But that’s not what the standard advice says. It says no discussion, submit, apologize, move on and submission shall set you free.

    I don’t believe that is what the “standard advice” says. The advice from the OP, whatever its faults (and ambiguity is a fault in parts of the writing, though I think it’s easily resolved in reading), does not say “no discussion”.

    I hardly see how it’s useless to point out that this isn’t necessary in every environment.

    What’s useless is to just advise someone to act one way here and act another way elsewhere, because that does send the message that the substance isn’t important. If it is important to try to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism, then it is not sufficient to tell someone to act one way here and act another way elsewhere. And if you think that’s a problem with the OP, if you think it promotes cynical behavior, then argue that point instead of just telling other people to act cynically.

    and we haven’t arrived at those standards via perfectly reasoned debate, but by the same social jostling that every other community of bald apes has done it through.

    But these things aren’t mutually exclusive; it’s not as though there aren’t reasoned discussions happening here. You trivialize the substance of those discussions, both here and where other mores prevail, by suggesting that it’s adequate to just act one way here and act another way elsewhere.

  63. Nepenthe says

    It sure is important to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism, but that line sure as hell isn’t going to be sorted out during a call out. Call outs are primarily about enforcing community standards, not truth-seeking, and “when in Rome” is pretty damn good advice when approaching a new community where you’re unsure of the standards.

    I don’t see how its cynical to be realistic about differing community norms. I may think that Shakesville has a ridiculously restrictive norm of speech, but if I want to post there I follow their norms. And that goes for less restrictive environments as well. I don’t have to make bacon jokes myself, but I accept that that’s a thing here. That is adequate.

  64. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Bull. Sincere, yes. Plausible, not necessarily. One’s discussion partners may sincerely believe that pointing out the flaws in homeopathy privileges hegemonic Western scientific thinking, but it’s not fucking plausible. Skeptics and atheists get plenty of sincere critique for doing terrible things like being ourselves, even outside of trolling-hobbyist communities.

    Then suggest better advice, instead of just telling people to act cynically.

    And regardless of whether the critique is sincere and plausible, how it’s dealt with is still dependent mostly on the social space it’s made in. One’s discussion partner may be offended that one celebrates the torture and slaughter of sentient beings, but in most places that gets a shrug off and even more bacon celebration.

    So what? I don’t disagree. But this is a description of the world, an is-type statement. You aren’t ethically justified in turning it into ought-type advice and using it to tell people to therefore behave cynically.

    Regardless of the true meaning of the Amp piece, “Apologize, move on, and consider the criticism seriously so that you can improve your thinking, if need be.” is generally the last word on calling out and I’ve rarely seen that interpreted with nuance.

    If we were to grant this for the sake of argument, then it’s a problem to be addressed; it is not an argument for promoting duplicitous behavior.

    Have a post by a more important person than me discussing this. The quote that makes my point better than I can:

    And your link refers to jargon, the call-out culture mentioned by Xanthë above: “Callout culture essentially means that when you do something oppressive, everyone is allowed to yell at you as much as they like and whatever they like, even if you apologize.”

    But I don’t think that’s automatically okay, and in any case it isn’t what is being advocated here by Chris.

  65. says

    Gilliell
    The only case I can think of of someone saying something at a meeting that was incorrectly taken as racist was a city council member a few years ago (I forget what city, and also don’t care) using the word ‘niggardly.’ The etymology of that word is entirely innocent, and the word itself predates the problematic near homonym by a wide margin. Nevertheless, since there is ambiguity in the current cultural milieu regarding what may have been said (especially since people don’t always enunciate perfectly), it’s probably best to use ‘stingy’ or ‘miserly’ instead, especially if someone has complained (which someone did).

    SGBM>

    We have no good reason to think that randay isn’t making anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel.
    Israel is, however, a special case in terms of this discussion, because there are, in fact, both some seriously anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel, and also a significant population of internet commenters who will invariably call out any and all criticism of Israel anti-Semitic (IME, most of them appear to be right-wing non-Jews, but I don’t have any statistics to back this up).

  66. strange gods before me ॐ says

    It sure is important to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism, but that line sure as hell isn’t going to be sorted out during a call out.

    So what? If you’re right then that’s a problem, but again, that doesn’t mean that the advice given here is saying not to argue the actual point of contention. It appears you are conflating your criticisms of something somewhere with the advice being given here and now. Try to make them relate. Since the advice in the OP does not say not to argue the actual substance, do you think it ought to say that?

    Call outs are primarily about enforcing community standards, not truth-seeking

    Now that’s a very broad claim, which is false, unless you’re using “call outs” only as jargon for “people get to be as hurtful as they want to be”, in which case the claim is just tautological because that’s how you’re defining terms.

    and “when in Rome” is pretty damn good advice when approaching a new community where you’re unsure of the standards.

    It is not sufficient advice — though you have been acting like it is.

    What’s useless is to just advise someone to act one way here and act another way elsewhere, because that does send the message that the substance isn’t important. If it is important to try to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism, then it is not sufficient to tell someone to act one way here and act another way elsewhere. And if you think that’s a problem with the OP, if you think it promotes cynical behavior, then argue that point instead of just telling other people to act cynically.

    I don’t see how its cynical to be realistic about differing community norms.

    The cynical bit is in giving only that advice, and leaving it at that.

    Again, notice, the person you were talking to shows no indication of understanding racism. You ignored all that to fixate on one part of the quote. It’s probably not a good idea to ignore when someone is showing no indication of understanding racism yet complaining about other people pointing out racism. It’s cynical to ignore all that and just tell them to act one way here and another way elsewhere.

    And that goes for less restrictive environments as well. I don’t have to make bacon jokes myself, but I accept that that’s a thing here.

    You don’t have to accept it. It comes down to what you have the energy for. I usually don’t have the energy for that one, and I’m not pressuring you to pick up my slack; all I’m saying is it’s not an ethical requirement that you must accept it.

  67. strange gods before me ॐ says

    strange gods, I’m interested in how you would apply the advice linked by Xanthë to the criticism-of-Israel-is-antisemitic case.

    I would discard that advice, because #13 is an absolute, categorical statement. (Maybe other reasons; but that’s what I saw on a quick scan.) I don’t defend everything that is said about how to deal with being called out. I am interested in the OP; I think it is reasonable and that’s why I’m defending it.

  68. says

    And even in the case that you’re completely innocent – completely innocent phrases placed next to other completely innocent phrases can and will look and sound racist. You don’t argue that it can’t be a amanita phalloides because they’re not native here: You just don’t eat it until you’re sure. Which involves the person who perceives the racism (or toxic mushroom) in the pile, not just yourself.

    We’re not in a vacuum, and should respect others’ experience of language. At times we need to negotiate new language – crazy and insane are good points, for instance, as we still need a good five-letter word for erratic and irrational that aren’t as specific. Maybe we’ll solve the underlying problem instead. Who knows, but it won’t involve any one person alone.

    So apologize and move on.

  69. strange gods before me ॐ says

    At times we need to negotiate new language – crazy and insane are good points, for instance, as we still need a good five-letter word for erratic and irrational that aren’t as specific.

    What?

  70. The Mellow Monkey says

    At times we need to negotiate new language – crazy and insane are good points, for instance, as we still need a good five-letter word for erratic and irrational that aren’t as specific.

    “That’s an irrational position.” “Xe is behaving erratically.” “I can’t follow your thought process here.” “They have taken an extreme political stance.”

    Why are five to six letters preferable to any of this?

  71. says

    It’s an example of language that is seen by a minority as inflammatory that needs to be replaced if much traction is going to be found to eliminate it from modern discourse? Why focus on the examples, exactly? It’s not the topic.

  72. strange gods before me ॐ says

    that needs to be replaced if much traction is going to be found to eliminate it from modern discourse

    That’s a dubious claim, implying that newer terms must have a 1-to-1 correspondence (else “replaced” is not the right word) to older terms. While it may strike you as intuitive, I doubt you’ll find much evidence in support of it.

  73. Nepenthe says

    strange gods, which definition of cynicism does my advice meet, exactly. I’m a bit unclear on that point.

    If you’re right then that’s a problem, but again, that doesn’t mean that the advice given here is saying not to argue the actual point of contention.

    I think you can only come to that conclusion through an overly optimistic view of the OP (Amp’s post). Given the summary I don’t think he considers arguing back acceptable.

    Also see the endlessly cited stepped-on-foot example. You don’t get to say “no, I have not stepped on your foot”. The foot stepping is a given.

    Now that’s a very broad claim, which is false,

    What is a call-out? A call out is a statement “that language/idea is not acceptable, apologize and don’t do it again”. It is not “it is possible that that statement is problematic, let’s discuss this further”. The former is social policing, the latter is truth-seeking. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    We are clearly talking at cross-purposes though. You appear to be talking about ethics. I am talking about how to be part of a community, in which case it really doesn’t matter what one thinks, as long as one is able to shut up about it if it’s socially unacceptable. As I’m sure you’re aware, these things are often in conflict.

    Query: if Xanthë’s advice is also bad, and was given first, why is my advice so much more offensive?

  74. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I think you can only come to that conclusion through an overly optimistic view of the OP (Amp’s post). Given the summary I don’t think he considers arguing back acceptable.

    It doesn’t matter what he thinks, it matters what he says. And he does not say not to argue the actual point of contention. I am interested in what the words in fact say. I do not give a fig what he thinks but didn’t say.

    Also see the endlessly cited stepped-on-foot example. You don’t get to say “no, I have not stepped on your foot”. The foot stepping is a given.

    Bizarre. Of course you do get to say that, and the foot-stepping is not a given. No foot-stepping is mentioned here; the apropos advice here would be to “Take the criticism seriously – do not dismiss it without thinking about it.”

    What is a call-out? A call out is a statement “that language/idea is not acceptable, apologize and don’t do it again”.

    That’s an interesting loading of the concept.

    It’s not what I do; I don’t insist on an apology. The statement that X is bad so don’t do X most certainly is open to discussion and considered disagreement, though I do expect some indication that the other person is taking seriously the possibility that there is a problem with X.

    It is not “it is possible that that statement is problematic, let’s discuss this further”. The former is social policing, the latter is truth-seeking.

    Without loading in the demand for an apology, both are open to truth-seeking.

    Analogously, if I am arguing with a YEC and I say “the universe is about 14 billion years old, so you shouldn’t say it’s 10000,” this is just as open to truth-seeking as if I said “I think the universe is about 14 billion years old, let’s discuss this further.” Both can be argued with. The more confidently-stated version is just that; it isn’t impossible to criticize either version.

    You appear to be talking about ethics. I am talking about how to be part of a community,

    The latter is part of the former. What I am saying is you’ve been going about unethical ways of giving people advice on how to be part of a community:

    Query: if Xanthë’s advice is also bad, and was given first, why is my advice so much more offensive?

    Because you gave it in response to randay’s comment, a comment which gives us we have no good reason to think he is not making anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel, and some reason to think he may be making generally racist statements. At the risk of violating the Reset rule, because I don’t know how else to talk about this — his comment in this thread ought to have been a red flag signaling other problems.

    Xanthë didn’t ignore the substance of a specific problem and simply tell the person to act one way here and another elsewhere. You did, and that does send the message that the substance isn’t important. If it is important to try to understand when criticism of Israel crosses a line into anti-Semitism, then it is not sufficient to tell someone to act one way here and act another way elsewhere, but that is all you did.

  75. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I forgot to answer this:

    strange gods, which definition of cynicism does my advice meet, exactly. I’m a bit unclear on that point.

    What you’re saying strikes me as cynical because you’re saying nothing about trying to do what’s actually right, while trivializing the substance of the ethical discussions which did and do happen both here and where other mores prevail. Like trying to do what’s actually right doesn’t matter, and all that matters is avoiding criticism. I dunno, maybe cynical isn’t quite the right word for that, but that’s what comes to my mind.

    +++++
    And I’ll rephrase:

    Excepting trolling-hobbyist communities, most critiques are both sincere and plausible.

    You might get yourself involved in some idiosyncratic communities where criticism of homeopathy is regarded as imperialist, but that’s selection bias on your part; it’s not representative of the majority of critiques of racism. See https://www.google.com/search?tbm=nws&q=racist+statement for more typical examples.

  76. Nepenthe says

    OFFS, we’re having this discussion in the context of a wider cultural “calling-out” phenomenon. Parsing the specifics of what Amp did or did not say is not only boring, but also bizarrely specific. Similarly with the foot-stepping analogy, it may not appear in the OP, but it does appear in this comment thread and comes up every time we’re having a round of back-patting re: calling out.

    I’m also not talking about you. Note how none of my statements started with “when strange gods calls someone out”. Congratulations, your rhetoric is perfect and the way you call out is flawless. The standard call out demands an apology, usually implicitly.

    Both can be argued with. The more confidently-stated version is just that; it isn’t impossible to criticize either version.

    It is literally possible to argue. It is not socially acceptable to argue.

    What I am saying is you’ve been going about unethical ways of giving people advice on how to be part of a community

    Fine, I amend my advice. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do, regardless of how you feel about it, but make sure that you understand in your heart of hearts that there’s a right way to do things.”

  77. says

    Nepenthe, I’m interested to know, which specific piece of advice is bad? By which I mean, I linked to Jay Smooth, Ozy Frantz, and a post on A+ that was sourced from a tumblr; they were provided as resources which you might wish to take or leave, because I find some of them useful and applicable. I note SGBM took a quick squiz at the Tumblr list and found fault with #13 — I myself thought it was missing one big item that should have been at the head of the list, namely ‘0. Above all, don’t double down on the issue that you were called out on.’

    I could have also linked to the comment by Hershele Ostropoler on John Scalzi’s blog where he likened causing harm to others and illustrating the point that intent doesn’t matter, as stepping on people’s toes: no matter what the reason was, you need to get off the person’s toes. One observation I’d make following on from this, in light of numerous angry exchanges where I’ve noticed dynamics like this, is that while it is totally uncool to tone police the reaction of the oppressed person whose toe has been stepped on — they have a right to their righteous anger at being hurt — it doesn’t strongly justify retaliatory toe-stomping on the offender, or causing splash damage to others. Even if retaliatory toe-stomping goes against the privilege gradient in order to help dismantle it, it’s still far too often mistaken for just more oppressive behaviour and fortifying the oppression, rather than illustrating why that oppression is bad. However I don’t expect anyone to agree to that idea or expecting that anyone should be required to respect it. Like the rest of the resources, what works for you and what doesn’t, is your concern.

  78. says

    TL;DR in other words, sometimes there is no option but to retaliate in kind against oppression, but it needs to be done with care, or you run the possibility of being as oppressive as the person who oppressed you.

  79. strange gods before me ॐ says

    OFFS, we’re having this discussion in the context of a wider cultural “calling-out” phenomenon. Parsing the specifics of what Amp did or did not say is not only boring, but also bizarrely specific.

    It might be boring, but it’s not bizarre. It is in fact the OP. The advice given in the OP is a particular set of advice, which is not identical to other sets of advice. I think the advice in the OP is good, I’ve seen others I think are not so good. If you want to talk about other stuff, I can’t stop you, but you are the one who just said

    “I think you can only come to that conclusion through an overly optimistic view of the OP (Amp’s post). Given the summary I don’t think he considers arguing back acceptable. ”

    So don’t be surprised that I respond regarding the advice in the OP, which, again, is not identical to nor subject to exactly the same criticisms as all other advice on the topic.

    Similarly with the foot-stepping analogy, it may not appear in the OP, but it does appear in this comment thread

    Not from me. Take it up with Giliell if you want. I’m not defending that analogy at this time and I would not do so in all situations.

    Generally speaking, I am not the complaints department for all your objections to something someone said somewhere about social justice. I am objecting to the way you gave your cynical advice in response to randay’s comment, a comment which gives us we have no good reason to think he is not making anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel, and some reason to think he may be making generally racist statements, thus ignoring the red flags and likely problems signaled by such.

    I’m also not talking about you.

    Ah, but I know I’m not the only person who engages this way. But I’ve probably entertained your diversion too long anyway. Perhaps let’s grant that you’re generally encountering arguments that do not permit discussion; that’s unfortunate but it doesn’t justify ignoring someone’s substantive red flags while advising them just to go along to get along.

    Fine, I amend my advice. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do, regardless of how you feel about it, but make sure that you understand in your heart of hearts that there’s a right way to do things.”

    Right, cynicism as I said. So if he goes somewhere that anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel are not challenged, after you’ve done nothing to challenge him here, then he might just “do in Rome” there. But at least randay gave you a convenient segue to gripe about language policing, and that’s the important thing.

    You say cynical like it’s a bad thing.

    If I’m not misusing the word by applying it to “saying nothing about trying to do what’s actually right, while trivializing the substance of the ethical discussions which did and do happen both here and where other mores prevail, like trying to do what’s actually right doesn’t matter, and all that matters is avoiding criticism”, then yes that is a bad thing.

  80. says

    I see the toes entered the thread with Giliell’s comment at #57, but it had been on my mind to include it above at comment #20, however my comment was already getting long. So now the link to the original source of the analogy is there in comment #91.

  81. vaiyt says

    TL;DR in other words, sometimes there is no option but to retaliate in kind against oppression, but it needs to be done with care, or you run the possibility of being as oppressive as the person who oppressed you.

    Not so fast, bucko. Retaliating in kind means being oppressive back – I don’t think you’re going anywhere with that equivalency.

  82. Nepenthe says

    Xanthë, I was specifically talking about the Tumblr post reposted at A+.

    First, a few general points. It is assumed that the caller-out is being personally oppressed by the action being called out. It is assumed that the called-out is a member of the privileged class complementary to the class oppressed by the action. It is assumed that the action being called out is oppressive, as opposed to merely offensive or obnoxious. These are not necessarily true. I have witnessed white people here call out people of color for racism against their own race*. If I broke the rules and said “crazy”, I would be called out for ableist speech and this advice assumes I’m a member of the privileged mentally healthy, which is, frankly, a laughable thought. And there is calling out that is just silly; singlet-privilege is not a thing.

    Specifics, from my pov,

    Don’t demand a detailed explanation. You’re basically asking the person to justify their call out. It’s exhausting, many resources are available, and often this is just a way to try and derail, start an argument, or discredit the other person.

    Yes, it’s totally unfair to ask someone to justify their claims. Skeptics don’t do that!

    Don’t assume the person calling you out is just “looking to get offended”. Nobody enjoys calling other people out.

    Are you kidding? Calling out is totally enjoyable. I can call out someone on the internet and receive the support of my peers and make snarky comments. I can make someone change what they’re doing. I don’t have a fraction of that kind of power in real life. Granted, it’s possible that I’m the only person in the universe that feels like this… but I doubt it, especially considering the pile-ons that occur when a hapless outsider wanders in with foot in mouth.

    Genuinely apologize.

    I’m not going to apologize for something I don’t think was wrong. I will not apologize for oppressing people by using the word weak. I will not apologize for criticizing Israeli government policy in a more temperate way than my Israeli friends do. And no one else needs to either So, 13 definitely is not going to happen in all call outs, nor should it.

    *The person was being excruciatingly racist, as I recall, but it certainly changes all the advice about “recognize the power dynamics”.

  83. Nepenthe says

    So if he goes somewhere that anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel are not challenged, after you’ve done nothing to challenge him here, then he might just “do in Rome” there.

    Golly gee, I didn’t realize that failure to challenge what he might possibly do meant I had to accept responsibility for what he says in the future. What did you say to randay? Huh, nothing about the nuance of when criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

    But at least randay gave you a convenient segue to gripe about language policing, and that’s the important thing.

    Indeed, talking about language policing on a post about language policing. It was a real stretch.

    And yes, I’m fairly sure you’re misusing cynicism. And forgive me for not being super, super impressed by the ethical discussions which have led to this communities and other communities’ language mores. Hypocrisy strikes me strongly, probably because I’m a cynic.

  84. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Golly gee, I didn’t realize that failure to challenge what he might possibly do meant I had to accept responsibility for what he says in the future.

    Not just what he “might possibly do” but what he in fact did do, right here in this thread. All the shit he said about racism here was suspect. You ignored the problems with what he said in that post. Yes that should be opposed, and it should be opposed because it leads to more of the same in the future, if not worse.

    What did you say to randay? Huh, nothing about the nuance of when criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

    Objectively false claim. I did indeed make a distinction by linking to an instance of when it is not anti-Semitic, and I later emphasized that “his statement about the ADL is misleading (they do not consider all criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitism; they attempt to distinguish criticism of Israel from being anti-Israel, and they attempt to distinguish being anti-Israel from also being anti-Semitic; they often get it wrong, but they do try).”

    I could do more, and maybe I should. Maybe that is a legitimate criticism. But it fails as a tu quoque, because what I didn’t do was entirely fail to criticize him while telling him to just do whatever a community he finds himself in expects of him.

    Indeed, talking about language policing on a post about language policing. It was a real stretch.

    Hey, if all you wanted to do was gripe about language policing, you could have done it by freestyling. You didn’t need to riff on someone’s open apologia for racism.

    And yes, I’m fairly sure you’re misusing cynicism.

    It’s possible, but I can’t just take your word for it.

    And forgive me for not being super, super impressed by the ethical discussions which have led to this communities and other communities’ language mores.

    A blatant distortion of what I’ve said. I do not claim you should be super, super impressed. Perhaps there is still a lot to be desired. What I am saying is you should not pretend those discussions do not matter at all, yet this is what you’re effectively doing when you reduce it all to social jostling and advise people to just do whatever the community they find themselves in does.

    Hypocrisy

    Ah, a vague and unsubstantiated claim. Do not expect it to be taken seriously. I like you, you know, but you have deeply flawed notions of what constitutes hypocrisy. I assure you again that “I fucking well know my own beliefs, which I’ve held and articulated for years here.” It isn’t hypocrisy for me to believe X and not Y, while you believe that X should imply Y; it’s just a disagreement.

  85. says

    vaiyt, the history of resistance movements tells me a lot of oppressed people have had no qualms about fighting back by retaliating in kind. The thing about a privilege gradient is that such fighting back is usually punching up from a position of little power, and therefore doesn’t have the same oppressive quality of punching down. I wasn’t establishing an equivalency.

  86. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Someone is making an apologia for racism.

    Among a non exhaustive list of your options, you can:
    ignore it;
    make an overly cautious and inadequate criticism of it;
    make a reasonably adequate criticism of it;
    use it as a springboard for your own complaints about language policing.

    I chose the second option, you chose the worst. Don’t do that! You’re giving positive feedback to an apologia for racism.

  87. Nepenthe says

    Yes that should be opposed, and it should be opposed because it leads to more of the same in the future, if not worse.

    Yeah, I really dropped the ball there. Because of me, no one called out randay. Except the three people who posted before me and the four after. My failure to pile on probably gave him the impression that this community thinks his thinking is okay.

    Hey, if all you wanted to do was gripe about language policing, you could have done it by freestyling. You didn’t need to riff on someone’s open apologia for racism.

    Ah, but he gave such a nice springboard with the antisemitism issue. It’s the perfect example of a call out that one does not deal with in the shut up and repent manner.

    It’s possible, but I can’t just take your word for it.

    But you might be able to trust the sources that you have yourself cited.

    you should not pretend those discussions do not matter at all, this is what you’re effectively doing when you reduce it all to social jostling and advise people to just do whatever the community they find themselves in does.

    The ethical discussions are part of the social jostling; it’s not a dichotomy between “ethics” and “social norms”. So they matter, just not very much. Without ethical discussions, we would not have been able to make the moves from “‘fuck yourself with a rusty knife’ is not a reference to sexual violence” to “‘insert a porcupine into your anus’ is not a reference to sexual violence” to “violent rhetoric isn’t okay, but we’ll sort of overlook it from the regulars”. Without ethical discussions, we wouldn’t have been able to sort out precisely which recently-used medical terms for to people with intellectual disabilities are acceptable and which are not.

    I also advise people not to curse at their grandparents, if said grandparents are upset by that sort of thing, ethics be damned!

    I like you, you know,

    Well thank god. Someone from the internet likes me. My life is complete.

    I assure you again that “I fucking well know my own beliefs, which I’ve held and articulated for years here.”

    I assure you again that if I were talking about your beliefs and actions, I’d address them directly.

  88. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Yeah, I really dropped the ball there. Because of me, no one called out randay. Except the three people who posted before me and the four after. My failure to pile on probably gave him the impression that this community thinks his thinking is okay.

    Indeed, to a degree you probably did. You have signaled that someone here finds his racist apologia useful.

    But again, it’s not simply failure to criticize, it’s the fact that you gave him positive reinforcement. Ignoring him would not have been nearly as much of a problem, and I wouldn’t have taken issue with it.

    Ah, but he gave such a nice springboard with the antisemitism issue. It’s the perfect example of a call out that one does not deal with in the shut up and repent manner.

    1) So criticize his apologia for racism at the same time! You are not justified in simply riffing on his apologia for racism without criticizing it. What you did was wrong. It doesn’t become right because it was also convenient for you. You gave positive reinforcement to him for an apologia of racism — that is inherently wrong, and you could have avoided doing so.
    2) Your imagined “shut up and repent manner” is not being advocated here anyway.

    But you might be able to trust the sources that you have yourself cited.

    And what that and other sources indicate is that it is a broad-ranging term. Thanks for your help; I’ll take my chances.

    The ethical discussions are part of the social jostling; it’s not a dichotomy between “ethics” and “social norms”. So they matter, just not very much. Without ethical discussions, we would not have been able to make the moves from “‘fuck yourself with a rusty knife’ is not a reference to sexual violence” to “‘insert a porcupine into your anus’ is not a reference to sexual violence” to “violent rhetoric isn’t okay, but we’ll sort of overlook it from the regulars”.

    What you’re doing here is called negativity bias. By focusing on something that bothers you as though it was representative of all the discussions of ethics here, you’re ignoring other examples and presenting a biased picture (to the reader, and perhaps to yourself).

    You’ve been reading for a long time. You may remember that calling people “cunts” used to be rarely challenged here; then there were a series of long arguments about it, and then it changed. Now we have a better social norm, and if you watched, you’ll remember the arguments were indeed highly rational.

    I also advise people not to curse at their grandparents, if said grandparents are upset by that sort of thing, ethics be damned!

    This is a great example! Now, when you say this, do you understand that you are signaling that it’s not unethical to curse? You’re saying act a certain way among certain people, and you’re also signaling that it’s not actually wrong to act that way. Of course, I agree it’s not wrong to curse, so I have no objection to this. But the form is the same — by saying only to act a certain way among certain people, you signal that it isn’t wrong to act that way generally.

    Well thank god. Someone from the internet likes me. My life is complete.

    I’m sorry if I bothered you by saying that. What I am trying to communicate is that I know we have argued frequently lately, and I don’t want this to lead to animosity. I don’t want you to dislike me personally, but I worry.

    I assure you again that if I were talking about your beliefs and actions, I’d address them directly.

    And you are:

    Without ethical discussions, we wouldn’t have been able to sort out precisely which recently-used medical terms for to people with intellectual disabilities are acceptable and which are not.

    It’s an unambiguous reference to an argument we had. In which you accused me of hypocrisy. I’m not oblivious to this.