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After I spent several hours modding yesterday's post and dealt with no small number of private messages pontificating the quality of my character, intelligence, and education, something really nice happened. One of those things that kind of sort of makes it all worth it.
Someone told me they really appreciated how reasonable people were on my page.
Well...people aren't really "reasonable" on my page. Some are. They're awesome. Some are not. And I go through and erase their comments. What looks at first like a reasonable comment section is actually a couple of hours of moderating, cleaning out comments that break our commenting policy in some way, and banning the people who crossed the line egregiously.
But still it was nice to hear....
First a personal story (a bit long):
I used to debate social issues. Hard. I loved a good debate. I thought open and free debate was how we were going to "GET SOMEWHERE."
My spaces were more about civility and respect and free exchange of ideas and I was very proud of not being too coupled with either "side" but an impartial arbiter of "both sides" as problematic in their own ways. I remained above it all. Of course I cared about equality, but arguments had to be good (thus bad arguments had to be picked apart) and civil, respectful conversations were vital.
Here's what I noticed though. While I would find arguments that survived the crucible of debate and let them change my world view, most people around me returned to their "home position" at the end of each encounter. Instead of "oh yes, okay we've cleared up that gender inequality IS a thing" it would be like "But can you PROVE we need feminism?" all over again.
And I would think "Jesus I just saw you get into this until you had absolutely had to capitulate this point like AN HOUR AGO." Or "how come every single time you get to the exact same point about this issue you suddenly have pressing business and disappear like a ninja with a smoke pellet only to return the next thread with your 'healthy skepticism' completely replenished like a stamina bar in a fighting game."
I would see the fallacy patrol try to call out fallacies like whack-a-mole but ignore their own. They would use metonymy left and right but then invoke semantics as "crucial critical thinking" when NotALLMen was on the line. I would see anyone who had something to say held to an impossible standard of tu quoque. I would see fallacies of relative privation. And people didn't say "Oh yes, my bad. Poor critical thinking on my part," when called on it. They just got angrier. Like they were the only ones allowed to point out (often incorrectly) a fallacy.
I would see people become the nuance brigade, but their nuance only worked one way. It only got to apply to the poor maligned misunderstood status quo and its defenders. The nuance of how that status quo was hurting people who weren't cishet white men was cheerfully ignored (usually in favor of another "reset to square one" debate). The nuance of invisible cultural forces was scoffed at.
And it was always that you had to convince them. Fucking ALWAYS. Calmly. Gently. (EVER so gently.) With whatever level of intellectual rigor they felt like applying. They never had to convince you that inequality WASN'T a thing. (Think about that for just a second.) No matter how many times you proved something, it would be a claim that required evidence (again) the next time round. Because they never saw the irony of getting to define what could and couldn't be asserted without evidence and then demanding people convince them of the truth of their own oppression.
And that didn't happen once or twice or with that one guy. It was pervasive. Constant. Ubiquitous. Not the slow change of percolating ideas that maybe isn't as fast as a thread of angry people would like it to be in the heat of the moment, but literally NO CHANGE week after week, month after month. Just debate. Debate for the sake of debating. The same debate over and over. Endlessly rehashing the same tired arguments like this time they are a refreshing take that no one has ever encountered.
And everyone HAD to debate them. HAD TO. No one was allowed to say, "Look I don't feel like having this conversation again," or they were "unable to prove your point." And you couldn't ask them to leave you alone or find a space in which certain assumptions about inequality were considered non-debatable or you were "stifling their free speech." And if you asked them to step out of any thread that piqued their interest to do some intellectual due diligence and catch up to the level of the conversation or Google a basic concept themselves or to just to posit questions in better faith, you were kicking to the curb a poor, pupil of humanity whose only desire was to learn.
And it wasn't actually "most people" doing this well-known song and dance. It was most people WHO WERE DEBATING FOR THE STATUS QUO. The "I prefer humanism over feminism" or "do we KNOW that was racism, tho?" crowds. It was the people who thought rage at bathroom bills wasn't ANY different than transphobia itself or who are willing to give open, naked bigotry a pass because of some pretzel twisted nuance that might might might might make it anything else. It was the people who valued their objectivity over taking a moral stance. The status quo defenders. They were the ones that seemed to "reset" every damned time they approached a topic and treated everything as debatable and the debate itself as an entitlement.
People weren't debating to get to truth. They weren't asking questions out of sincere curiosity. They certainly didn't want a clearer understanding or increased empathy of what other humans were going through and how they experienced the world.
They were debating to win
They were debating because it was a fun intellectual diversion that didn't affect them. The most generous thing to be said is that maybe they were debating to show off their spectacular brains. But over time in broad patterns, really, they were debating to grind the debate itself and the willpower of anyone challenging the status quo into powder. It's the intellectual equivalent of running out the clock (since you're already in the lead). So that these conversations would be silenced and the world could go back to how it was–unfair in a way they swore up and down they cared deeply about, but with no specific injustice they were willing to actually challenge or even believe was real.
We weren't "GETTING SOMEWHERE." It was more like phone calls with customer service. ("Have you tried calling it 'equalism' and claiming they're being irrational?") and every debate was a fresh new phone call with a new representative that goes right up to the top of the flow chart. ("Have you tried shaming them for being ridiculous?")
These debates weren't conversations, explorations, empathetic exchanges. They were problems to be solved. ("Oh you are using the Sicilian opener. Naturally you will expect me to defend with Capa Ferro.") They were obstacles to be overcome. Opponents to be defeated.
It's a very singular definition of "civility" or "respect" to demand it shape and mold the behavior that is acceptable within the scope of a debate, but to have absolutely zero intention of letting that debate actually affect you beyond its own borders. To treat these issues if they are NO MORE THAN an intellectual contest to be won.
I grew tired of debate for debate's sake because of this. I want to write (a not insignificant time sink). I want people on my page to feel safe and not feel like their humanity is the subject of an ever resetting intellectual exercise. If someone approaches in good faith, they give off "tells," even over text media, and I have a teacher's patience when someone cares to learn. But I'm tired of bad faith actors and the damage they do.
It's not that no one EVER learns or debating is always useless in every space. (I still end up in one from time to time.) Adversarial argumentation forms the backbone of our legal system and skepticism is crucial to science. All this stuff has its place. And in any given debate, the audience may be learning more than anyone involved. This is all good stuff. But it doesn't have to happen everywhere all the time. The main reason I stopped hosting these kinds of debates in my own space is because most of them AREN'T REALLY DEBATES.
What they are is scripts. Complicated dances where everyone knows the steps to counter their "opponent's" moves. That's why they reset. Because they have to or they don't work. "Now back to the beginning of the song–from the top." Because they are absolutely intended to counterpoint the debate rather than develop a more meaningful connection with another human or establish a more intellectually rigorous narrative, and whether intended or not, they maintain various forms of oppression and even strengthen them by attrition. The people debating so rarely allow for the possibility of real change.
I can think of few things less civil or respectful.
And that is why comments have been, are, and always will be moderated in my space. You or your comment might disappear if you can't follow the commenting guidelines. Sometimes a Bard will match wits all night long and into the morning light, but he knows to just pull out the fireball and rapier when a troll shows up.
And then there's this.
Because some days, especially after days like yesterday, I just go where the muse points me.
"Dudebros, SQuiDs, Sea Lions and JAQoffs, it is with deepest pride
And greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight
And now we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair
As Writing About Writing's Facebook page proudly presents
be my guest
Put my modding to the test
Tell me "fuck this social justice stuff"
And I will do the rest.
News du jour, hottest take
Trot out all your boilerplates
Try discussion, it's delicious
But "ta-ta" if you're pernicious
You are welcome to engage
But remember it's MY page
And the comments here won't be the wild west
Feel free to find a venue
That likes fights, and then you'll
Be their guest, oui THEIR guest
Not MY guest
Linguistic jokes every day
Quotations authors have to say
I'll prepare and serve with flair
The memes of writing every day.
I'm progressive; don't be scared
Your scroll wheel finger came prepared
But if you're hostile while complaining
I'll make sure you're not so draining
We post comics, Tumblr Pics
So my blog will get some clicks
But I won't not care for justice you can bet
Try not to show your ass
Or it's a one way pass
To NOT my guest
~If you're stressed
The unfollow button we suggest~
Or "ban" pressed, no protest, be my guest
Life is so irritating
For a white dude not bloviating
He's not whole without a soul to splain upon
Ah, those good old days of hegemony
Suddenly those good old days are gone
Too long we've been debating
Thinking outshouting was "checkmating"
Claiming FREEZE PEACH if any space told us to shush
Most "debates" were just silencing non cis white dudes
This comment policy's not hazy.
You got banned. Oh oops-a-daisy!
You're my guest. You're my guest.
But this is not debate contest.
Lose the sword cause fuck me Lord
I'll click on "ban" to be less stressed.
Yes I make a buck or three
But this page is still for me
Feel free to witness my soft-shoein'
But for assholes I'm "adieu"-ing
You think you're clever, but you're not
I hear your argument a LOT
After the hundredth or so time, I'm not impressed
I made your comment ghost!
So next time read the post?
Don't be a pest. Or I'll divest.
Of you–my guest
Be my guest, enjoy a jest
But don't punch down to the oppressed
Like a million people follow my page here
And they're the BEST.
But if my content doesn't please
I can't take time to appease
If your choler won't stop flowing
I will help you with your going
Post by post, pun by pun
Banning bigots til I'm done
I don't mind telling you I do it with some zest.
So if you want to rage
Please find another page
I'll ban if pressed
You may have guessed
I don't detest.
Please, be my guest.