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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

But It's Just WORDS.

Today's post will be a crosspost to Social Justice Bard.

My banhammer arm is getting quite the workout today over on Writing About Writing's Facebook page. Apparently I'm a target for having the temerity to tell the fine folks who follow me there to let me know if they see anything particularly awful going on. Because today is a day of particularly awful behavior from a certain slimy corner of the troll incubation chambers. (Full grown trolls are much more sophisticated.) These particular troll babies call themselves, apparently with either prescient self awareness or an attempt at irony that they don't realize is a double scoop, the Shitlords.

The Shitlords have, of course, attempted to elevate their churlish campaign of bullying abuse into something noble and cast themselves as the victims of unfair persecution. Because running around spewing hate speech is something that everyone should have to tolerate from them all the time...in every space.  Also because that's what bullies have done since time immemorial to avoid facing the fact that they are getting off from hurting those over whom they have power.
"Here are people on a page about writing, trying to tell a writer (among a group of other writers) that words have no real power."
In this case though, they chose a particularly ill conceived rallying cry: that words can't cause any real harm.

Honestly this is the basis of their entire philosophy and their actions are some kind of reactionary swing against the liberal and "SJW" (which they still seem to think is an insult) spaces for violating their free speech and kicking them out. "How fragile you must be that my mere WORDS can cause you harm!" they say.

I mean sure they've got this whole other facet of their rallying cry about doing it for "freeze peach!" and fighting censorship and shit, but honestly it is so facile that it's not even worth mentioning. If you can't tell the difference between being banned from a Facebook page and government agents silencing you, you don't belong in the big kid pool in the first place.

But really is their other argument any less jejune? They seem to have latched on to the idea that if the sound waves themselves aren't ripping flesh from bone like some X-man's mutant power, that a word has absolutely no power to do anything but offend someone and that offense is just an emotion that people need to get over. Here are people on a page about writing, trying to tell a writer (among a group of other writers) that words have no real power.

Because here's the problem: most shitlords have demonstrated pretty spectacularly that they actually don't intellectually grasp the difference between "offense" and "harm." Dead baby jokes are offensive. Telling them at a wake for an infant causes harm. The idea that no "mere" words can cause anyone harm is spectacularly ignorant of how words work.

As I banned one after another for transmisogyny, racism, sexism, and generally mocking people's ability to handle their bullying (in that textbook way that bullies, when called on being bullies claim they were just playing around and the other person is just too sensitive), I noticed something. Of course I was only looking at user icons, so I don't know for sure what these people looked like, but I noticed that they were ALL young, white men. And I'm talking about banning about forty to fifty people at the time of this writing who were ALL young white men.  (Well except for the Bill Cosby icon whose user sent me a rape fantasy–but I have my reasons for thinking that one might have been a young white man too.) And given how many seemed to have nothing to say other than the fact that there are only two genders, I suspect that they are all CISHET white men as well.

Of course this doesn't surprise me.

I'm sure the Shitlord movement isn't exclusively white or exclusively male or exclusively any demographic but it trends like that (probably upwards of about 90+%) for the same reason Gamergate did or the wankers who were harassing people about Shirtstorm did. Because those who are marginalized tend to understand how words actually work and how slurs strip them of their humanity and make more egregious life-altering discrimination more socially acceptable. They know that there is a direct Rube Goldberg-like chain between dehumanizing slurs and sentiments and the discrimination or even violence that becomes daily events in the lives of those with less social power. Those who understand how this works often even have the empathy to extend this understanding to those slurs that don't target them directly. Not that there's never been a bigot among the marginalized, but at least they seem to have given up on the idea that a word can never really be harmful.

The reason young white men think that words can't harm people is because there are far fewer words that can harm them. No words we have harken them back to generations of racial violence or erase their identity or question their body autonomy. And in an act of narcissistic indifference to the words of others, they assume that their experience as young white men is universal, and anyone who tells them otherwise must be lying. They can't tell the difference between a word that offends them and a word that contributes to their institutional and systematic harm because they have only ever experienced the former, and the intellectual rigor with which to grasp the latter would take at least a few hours and an open mind. So they go right on demonstrating that they don't even actually comprehend what a trigger is or how a slur harms people and mocking anyone who does. If words had no power, the world would have no emotional abuse.

But they go right on suggesting that words have no power.

Ironically these will be the same young white men who go gooey in their hearts and hope to throw knives and karate chop evil oppressors when they see a comic book hero talk about the power of words to start revolutions and unlock perspectives, but let's not be too hard on them. Those fight scenes were awesome.
Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation,
words will always retain their power.
Words offer the means to meaning,
and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.
Uh.....
Except slurs.
Those words have no power, and people are wrong to ever ask you to stop using them.
And um.......er.....
Fuck it. Imma just throw a knife at your face.


Words shape people's world views. They form the basis of prejudice good and bad. They are so intractably connected to how we think that as humans we literally cannot grasp concepts if we don't first have the vocabulary to do so. They are the building blocks of the stories we use to explain literally everything we see and experience. They let us evolve beyond other primates. They shape our loves and hates and root into reactions so knee-jerk that those reactions occur in our brains before our conscious mind has fully registered what it's even perceiving. They form the internal story we keep to describe who is good and who is bad–who is persecuted, and who is oppressive. Words are so fundamental to human experience and perceptions that those few truly without them are the subjects of study.

If we thought for even a moment that slurs had no ability to do harm, we would look around a world and see no correlation between the number of slurs and the social hierarchy or between the prevalence of particular slurs and the violence enacted upon the targets of those slurs. The opposite is true.

The opposite is ALWAYS true. 

There's a goddamn fucking reason that FREE speech was such a revolutionary concept. And those rights are still enshrined even if every damned corner of the internet hasn't provided space and a podium for every last repugnant thought. If speech had no power, people wouldn't be crawling over themselves to defend their rights to use it. But they know it has power and have, with resplendent sophistry conflated their every loss of venue with censorship.  But if the words you are saying are so revolting that the best thing that can be said about them is that they are not technically illegal, and they are doing harm to the other guests, don't be surprised if many whose hospitality you are enjoying show you the door. 

Every genocide, every war, every apartheid, every codified discrimination, every civil rights movement, every marvel of human engineering, every thing we have done as unified front of people...in all the world....in all of history....began with words.

To say that words, any words, are "just words" is to display only the most breathtaking ignorance about human's relationship to language. 

Now if you'll excuse me. I gotta go ban some people.

4 comments:

  1. Isn't someone insisting that what they did couldn't possibly have harmed you... Isn't that gaslighting? Forcibly trying to dictate someone else's experience?

    I am glad you are banning these people. Thank you.

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  2. I can kind of see the point that 'mere words' cannot cause harm, in the same way that a loaded rifle in a cupboard cannot cause harm, both are tools. But if one elects to use these tools in a method to cause harm, i.e. aims rifle and squeezes trigger, or directs deliberately hurtful words at another, maybe telling a child they are worthless or expounding the absurd theory that a person's worth is defined by their skin colour or ethnicity, then harm is caused. No amount of protestations of outrage from the offenders changes this fact.

    ReplyDelete