May. 4th, 2010

kiriamaya: (Default)
I'm a little late to this conversation, but I'm going to go in a slightly different direction with this post, maybe.

First, I'd like to point you to an excellent post by [personal profile] meloukhia on this subject. A quote:
Bullies use the tools and the language of social justice to do their work. They literally weaponise the very tools we have fought so very hard to create and work with. And they rely on this to maintain the culture of silence.

Because when someone uses the right keyphrase, anyone who speaks up and says “you are being an asshole” is clearly Not A Good Ally. If someone claims that something is a social justice issue, people who care, passionately, about social justice will remain silent because they think somewhere deep inside that maybe the person has a point. Because they don’t want to seem like they are using a tone argument.
Like [personal profile] meloukhia, I'm kind of afraid to give concrete examples. Of course, I hardly need to; I'm sure you can think of examples on your own.

And some of my own words and actions may be among them. Although I have been a victim of this bullying, I must admit that I myself have, at times, been a bully. I myself have, at times, abused the tools of social justice to attack other people or silence them. I'm confessing this publicly because I want this bullying problem to end, and I want to be part of the solution.

And so, here's my contribution: a look at not just how this happens, but why people do this. At least, why I did it.

Engaging with people -- actually discussing the topic with them, actually refuting their arguments and strengthening one's own -- takes a lot of effort. Sometimes, quite understandably, this is effort that folks are not able or willing to undertake, and I'm not saying that anyone should have to engage when they can't or don't want to. But, quite often, folks feel that disengaging is tantamount to losing, and so we get the "someone is wrong on the Internet" phenomenon.

The easy compromise, therefore, is just to intimidate people into shutting up. And that's bullying.

In social justice communities, this intimidation usually takes the form of guilt-tripping. It involves painting the victim as a Bad Person who is imposing their Badness on the innocent, pure Good Person doing the bullying. This tactic is effective because, more often than not, the victim will be one who cares about social justice issues and wants to help, so when they're told that they're actually harming the cause, they will naturally want to back off.

And like [personal profile] meloukhia said, one of the ways in which this is done is by pulling out the typical keyphrases of online anti-oppression. You know the ones: Tone argument. Intent doesn't matter. It's not my job to educate you. Derailing. Check your privilege at the door. And so on. All of these were conceived as crucial boundaries for anti-oppression discourse and practice -- and they still are -- but now they tend to be invoked even when barely relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) just to paint the victim as Bad. And it's tough for the victim to argue against that, because then the bully can just go, "So are you saying you shouldn't check your privilege? What a douchebag!"

And others, who see what's really going on, are afraid to speak up -- because, if they do, that will make them Bad as well. And so it continues.

And like I said, it's easy to do this. For example, when somebody tells you that they disagree with your interpretation of XYZ because there are variables you haven't considered, it's easier to just yell at them for not accepting your certainty than face the possibility that maybe, just maybe, your interpretation isn't so certain after all.

It's not easy to consider the possibility that we might be wrong, especially about something as important as social justice. It's not easy to admit that we don't know everything about the beliefs we defend. It's not easy to say, "I'll have to research this more," or even, "I don't have the spoons for this right now." Because the fear is that people will interpret this as a loss, an admission of defeat, and that the cause will be harmed as a result.

For me, getting over that fear has entailed realizing three things:

1. People who are going to give up on social justice that easily probably didn't care much about it in the first place.
2. Bullying itself harms the cause!
3. My understanding is strengthened when challenged, not weakened.

So, yeah. If people engage us in good faith, I see no reason why we shouldn't respond in kind (when we respond at all, of course). People who have been bullied all their lives should know better than to turn around and do it to others. Alas, we don't. This needs to change.


ETA: If you're interested in reading more on the subject, this post is way better than mine, and looks at the issue from a different angle. :)

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November 2012

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