Sunday, July 06, 2008

Low-grade personal bullying -- a question from voicemail

(Paraphrased from voicemail): Do you realize that people are constantly responding to your critique of gay marriage with personal attacks -- your critique isn't personal like that and they don't really know much about you I mean at least I don't think most of them do but they get really personal, on some of these sites it goes on and on like someone on AlterNet who was calling you a slut and things like that?

I used to be a slut, but then I was a whore for so long, and now I'm just tired.

But Kayti’s right -- I'll take critique any day, night, or even morning, but what is up with all these personal attacks? I'll definitely take any response over no response, or wait -- is that true? I guess what's true is that I'm kind of used to it by now, sometimes it's even kind of amusing, but why oh why the low-grade personal bullying -- what do you think?


nixwilliams said...

they don't get it, they don't want to get it, and they're scared. that's all i can think.

grantatee said...

sounds abusive to me- attacking the messenger, instead of listening to the message.

Sam J. Miller said...

As someone who has gotten some pretty nasty personal attacks to an article of mine on AlterNet, i think it really boils down to readers saying "i don't agree with this, and it challenges me, and i want to discredit it, so i am going to discredit the writer." It's the same as when people critique an article or whatever by fixing in on one minor point and using it to discredit the whole - it stems from a fundamental unwillingness to engage in dialogue or really address/pay attention to the points being raised, so instead the response comes from a place of bad faith...

with that said, i think that whenever you can provoke someone into acting an ass in that manner, it's a good thing, even if they respond by being hateful and vicious and it makes us sad/hurt/depressed. it shows you're shaking people up.

Michael Faris said...

I think it's the general cultural response to arguments we disagree with. Hannah Arendt's "The Banality of Evil" comes to mind — in which she argues that evil is actually banality: cliché and simplistic, uncritical thinking.

I think the cultural norm for reading something we disagree with is a hermeneutics of suspicion. We read texts through of the lens of "Because of this person's identity, why would they write this?" rather than, "What are the claims made here, why are the logical and well thought out, and why are they problematic?" So, we read something by a conservative Christian and knock it immediately because the writer must be "stupid," "bigotted," "ignorant," etc., instead of reading their argument and responding intellectually. And a conservative reads a liberal argument and dismisses it because the writer is liberal, not on the grounds of the argument.

Similarly, a liberal pro-gay-marriage reader might read your argument and, rather than read it for its claims and support, reads it as something written by someone who has a problem — they suspect you rather than your argument. If someone writes this, a reader might think, there must be something wrong with him: a slut, a whore, a nut, etc.

I had a similar (though more local) experience when I wrote a guest column in our college paper. I argued that a recent party themed "cowboys and indians" was racist, and that it's harmful for white gay men to be there, because it harms coalition building among communities.

Rather than confront my claims, most comments online were personal attacks against me. Like you, I found many of them just amusing — because these comments were not actually about me, but about the people who wrote them: What about my argument was so disturbing to you, what about you that couldn't handle the argument, made you resort to personal attacks instead of focusing on the claims in the column?

Joan Kelly said...

I find myself in a weird space about it lately. At first I felt like I was happy that CA law was *not forbidding* gay people to marry, but I still could not get it up for the idea that some specific privileges were now being shared with more people but not all people. I mean the more-but-not-all part made me feel underwhelmed by the gay marriage development.

Then I was like, well if I AM a joykiller, at least I'm in great company with the likes of MBS, Jess, and some other folks. I don't actually think any of us are joykillers about it, for the record. What that old worry was about for me was the idea that it's equivalent to wishing ill on people simply by virtue of not celebrating what they are going apeshit-with-ecstasy about, let alone critiquing what is being celebrated.

What you bring up here - the bullying and stuff - it is (feels to me anyway) as if those doing the personal bullying do in fact believe that they are *only doing exactly what you are doing*. As if they see any critique or out-loud rejection of some choice they would make for themselves as being a personal out-loud rejection of them as people.

And marriage - holy christ it is one of the most defensiveness-producing choices I have ever encountered, not just with gay marriage rights folks.

I was at a party years back, and this woman I was friends with threw out to the few of us women sitting around, "me and [boyfriend] are thinking of getting married; are there any good reasons NOT to get married? I'm wondering about it..."

I said "well, one example among many I can think of is that it's still legal for men to rape their wives in many states in this country. Not just not-prosecuted or prosecuted-but-with-low/no-conviction-rates,
but legally approved of."

Before she could say anything (she did not actually get angry at me for saying that), the two other women in the group went ballistic on me. And we basically fought about it for the next hour. (I am stubborn and have a terrible temper when attacked and/or ganged up on.)

Something I am still trying to understand in myself is how do I fit into yay-marriage/boo-marriage when it comes to people I know and love up close and personal getting married? My boss just got married to her girlfriend. It was an unusual and pretty joyful event, at least from where I sat. Did not resemble any wedding ceremony or after party that I'd ever been to, except for the food, friends, and family parts.

And I don't know if my feelings about the corruptness of marriage make it wrong or weird for me to go to something like that and be happy for them? Not in the radicals-R-policing-me! sense of wondering about it, but just really not knowing how I feel about all of it.

I don't want to squelch their happiness, if that makes sense? I love them. I'm glad they each found someone really cool to love and be loved by. But either I believe that legal marriage rights really are an exclusionary and assimilationist exercise or I don't. If I do, what am I doing being happy at any given loved one's wedding? Argh.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Hi Mattilda.

Anyone can hit below the belt. And bullying and personal attacks is just that. That kind of bullying is just the lowest form of debate.

But when one speaks up, that's what one gets.

I know it probably hurts though. And they know it hurts too. Do your best to avoid reading those attacks.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yay -- thanks for all these great comments!

Nix, you are so so right that they don't want to get it. And they're scared...

Grant, abusive indeed!

And Sam, you're right that it's "a fundamental unwillingness to engage in dialogue or really address/pay attention to the points being raised," which is of course what people always say about anyone saying something challenging -- how ironic, right?

And yes, shaking people up -- always important!

Michael, responding to identity instead of to the ideas -- I love that! I mean I love the critique...

And yes yes yes, "these comments were not actually about me, but about the people who wrote them..."

And Joan, "As if they see any critique or out-loud rejection of some choice they would make for themselves as being a personal out-loud rejection of them as people." Great point!

And this is a great question, thank you for such vulnerability!: "either I believe that legal marriage rights really are an exclusionary and assimilationist exercise or I don't. If I do, what am I doing being happy at any given loved one's wedding? Argh."

And thanks, Carole, you're right that it's sometimes best not to read those attacks.

And thanks everyone for such thoughtful support and engagement!

Love --

Alex said...

People straight up just don't want to think sometimes. They see something they disagree with and they want to ignore it. If it's not a standard right-wing message, like "Gays shouldn't marry because God hates them," then they can't just lump it together with the hate and ignore it that way, so they find another way.

It makes me wonder if this is all worth it.

keidy said...

I was glad to see so many comments about this voicemail question.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

You're right, Alex, it's so true that people just don't want to think sometimes -- except maybe about Clinton versus Obama versus McCain versus a tablecloth, or something like that...

And it's important to think about whether it's worth it -- I think it is, just for the sparks that can ignite -- we need those sparks!

And Keidy, yay for comments!

Love --

riftgirl said...

As much as I hate to admit it, I totally cringe each time I post a new blog or upload a video - fearing retaliation or what not. (Although, I'd much rather be told I'm goin' to hell than I look fat... go figure.) But I try to keep in mind a comment I heard once about true works of art - that they prompt response, positive and negative.

So much better to hear something and no someone's listening, than not a peep at all. Right?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

riftgirl, sometimes I do that same thing about immediately worrying about what people will think, but then usually I realize oh good, that means I'm posting something risky -- that's the point, right?

True works of art, indeed!