Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Once Into the Fray

That's how I see it, squaring off against The Enemy. There are two species of humans at war with each other: one side has, as I frame it, hearts and minds intact. They care about people and issues outside of themselves, because they understand things like community and ROI.

The other side has, as I frame it, withered, blackened little hearts and calcified brains. Their passions go no further than satisfying their own desires, and so everyone else is assessed either as a tool to attain those desires or an obstacle to those desires. They have two qualities spinning around each other in a tight orbit: ignorance and fear. These feed on each other and fuel all their other motivations. They hate [blacks/women/Muslims/gays/liberals/disabled/etc.] because they don't understand them, and they're unwilling to learn more about them. Not from the authoritative source, anyway: they're very willing to learn from other hate-mongers who are not black, female, Muslim, gay, etc., about what these groups must be like.

So there are people who care about benefiting everyone, and there are people who love money and guns and hate education, and I see these two sides at war. There are people who secure Freedom of Speech, for example, because it's best to permit everyone to express their views and move our culture forward; and there are people who use Freedom of Speech to oppress others and, eventually, kill Freedom of Speech.

I could go on, but what I wanted to talk about was a confrontation I chose yesterday. Of course there are always going to be bigots online who use anonymity and distance as tacit permission to express their ugliness and preach their hatred. Most reasonable people's reaction is to ignore or block them, since few people are anxious to get into a fight with rabid, spittle-flecked racists or misogynists, no more than they'd like to thrust their arms up to the elbows into a vat of warm human feces.

But I'm troubled by this neutrality, the mentality that "it's not my job to educate others", that it's just too unpleasant. So many social philosophers have echoed that someone who witnesses a crime and does nothing is nearly as bad as the perpetrator. Hannah Arendt said that politics is how we behave in public: ranting against minorities, protesting against bigots, and being unwilling to get involved are all political choices and actions. (Of course, now she's being criticized by invalids who are unable to get out into the public forum yet still have strong opinions.) With this in mind, I choose to speak up and let bigots know their views are unacceptable.

It's just that I'm terrible at confrontation. I grew up being bullied, so a loud, aggressive, unreasonable person is a trigger for me. I try to be open to new and better information, and I work at developing myself as a well-rounded and caring individual, but I cannot relate to people who do not share these values. I don't know how to talk to them, and I don't know how to express my views in any way that would be meaningful to them. Yet I'm assured by a couple friends that repeat confrontation is the only way to learn and grow, that it gets easier, so I attempted to engage with a couple bigots on Twitter. More to teach myself how this works, than anything else—oh-ho-ho, I had no illusions I was about to change anyone's mind this evening.

How it starts is where it gets confusing. (Canadian) Conservative MP Jason Kenney derisively commented he needed an "English-to-English translation" to understand Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan's speech. I was completely unaware of this event, in part because I'm not Canadian and generally don't hear about Canadian news outside of rampant Native American women slayings and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

I wasn't aware of this event, but in my feed somehow I caught wind of an exchange... I'm having difficulty tracing this back, I was following a conversation about the Jian Ghomeshi trial, in which this CBC broadcaster had sexually harassed and assaulted several coworkers. In particular, a former writer for VICE (Canada) commented on the misogynist environment there, in critiquing how their coverage trivialized the victims' concerns. In response, VICE's parliamentary news correspondent thought this was an appropriate joke to make: "VICE doesn't care about women, but only because VICE is very gay."
No one will lose their job over this, I assure you. But I was following this thread, when I caught some incendiary comment by yet another person I'd never heard of before, Holly Nicholas, apparently a "commentator" for an arch-conservative website paradoxically called The Rebel. I imagine this is where my Canadian friends would roll their eyes and tell me not to bother, but all of this is new to me.

Holly denied Kenney was racist, especially after all he'd done for "vulnerable people" (one assumes she means the Syrian refugees?), and another reader called her out for "sub-par goaltending"... which I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I infer he was implying Holly turned a blind eye to some racist behavior while claiming to be cognizant of the political environment. Like Kenney's "English-to-English" comment was not racist, after all he'd done for "vulnerable people" (despite refugee intake dropped under his administration and he supported another racist politician, former PM Stephen Harper).

Holly then accused this other user of race baiting, and that's when someone else spoke up. He's not a public figure like Holly or Justin Ling, so I won't link to him or call him by name: I'll refer to him as SomeNobody. SomeNobody proclaimed, "As a libertarian I find white privilege people to be racist. They are reinforcing differences in people. I view all people equally".

This is an irrational, unreasonable statement. There are several irrational, unreasonable statements in these two lines, but try explaining that to a bigot.

Holly agreed and insisted she had no time for "people like this", despite bothering to respond to that person, and added: "It's divisional trash talk and puts us that much further apart."

I'm resolved not to insult or belittle people who suffer genuine psychological distress by calling this "fucking insane", so I have to reiterate that such a statement is irrational and unreasonable.

To both of them I said, quite sincerely, "I hope someday, sooner rather than later, you both learn compassion." I think that was fair: I didn't call them anything negative. It's true, my wish that they learn compassion could be understood to mean they did not currently have compassion, but up to this point their statements suggested they refused to acknowledge white privilege and denied the hardship that people of skin colors other than their own had heretofore suffered. Doing my due diligence, I went to look at each of their bios: Holly describes herself as a "nerd" and is into studying rocks; SomeNobody hides his name and face and posts a steady stream of purposely offensive, incendiary bullshit.

He wanted to know what this had to do with compassion, and insisted he was "compassionate to a fault". I was naïve and took him at face value, but at this point it's clearer that he was being sarcastic.
ME: Insisting everyone's on a level playing field and depriving the oppressed of their context isn't compassionate.
SOMENOBODY: Highlighting racial differences is perpetuating the problem. You see other races as in need of help, you act superior.
HOLLY: it's bigotry in itself
SOMENOBODY: It is. But it's the way SJW's try to make themselves feel special. It's harmful for society.
This wasn't going well. I've put some effort into learning to see past the fallacy of "race" and acknowledging the privileges a white-centric society has granted me, and I fully recognize our society has been constructed and supported by the exploitation of slavery. That's just a demonstrable, well-substantiated fact.

SomeNobody, as a Libertarian, had decided that as of this moment, all people were equal regardless of present social context and the past was not to be considered. Because he didn't not acknowledge white privilege, he refused to examine himself for any biases or question his behavior. His inability to question himself would come up later, in fact.

Further, SomeNobody insisted I was only trying to make myself feel better by playing the Great White Savior. In this premise—I'm straining to make sense of this—he accused me of seeing POC (people of color) as helpless, that I saw it as my job to lift them from wretchedness exactly as they could not do for themselves, and that the only reason I was doing this was to feel better about myself.

I know that POC aren't helpless, but I acknowledge (as SomeNobody does not) that the societal chips are stacked against them, and I choose to support (not help) them for the sake of equity and to benefit society in general. At no point did SomeNobody ask me about my motives, but instead made bullshit up in his head and held me accountable for his fevered imaginings.

Holly, likewise, claimed my work for equity was bigotry. Merriam-Webster defines bigot thusly:
a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : a person who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
I hadn't said anything bad about any ethnic group—I hadn't even mentioned one. Holly denied Kenney's racist comment was racist. Somehow she saw my acknowledgment of present POC context and my own white privilege as being intolerant of the interests and concerns of others.

There has to be a logic to this. This must make sense in her mind somehow.

I asked SomeNobody whether he understood his statements were insulting, and I asked him to clarify what made him "compassionate to a fault", as he put it. He suggested that if my perspective of race relations was insulting, I should change my outlook; Holly liked that comment.

This was a telling moment. Because SomeNobody was uncomfortable with the truths of our society, he simply forced himself to believe something else. And like I indicated before, and will point out later, he does not look around for newer, better information. He makes stuff up entirely internally and refuses to critique what he comes up with. That was his advice to me, to make shit up, and Holly supported this.

I let him know he had mischaracterized my beliefs and motives, and I repeated my question about his compassionate nature. He replied, "You feel so superior as a white male that you have guilt so call it white privilege This is a reason why racism persists". I pointed out his assumption and repeated my question; he underscored I'm part of the problem of racism and my work was moving race relations backward; I asked him what work that was and how he could know, and he repeated that my work was moving things backward, and that I saw other races as needing my help. I suggested he was receiving erroneous information about me and should question his source. What he said to this was the crystallization of his mentality:

When I question myself I always give myself the same answer so it would be a futile exercise.
There we are. SomeNobody was making shit up in his head, he was not open to information outside of his skull, and he prided himself on his inability to critique himself. I congratulated him on his self-awareness of his limitation but insisted he was still making rash assumptions about me. That was when he tried to turn it around on me with his wounded comment: "Oh kind of like telling me I have no compassion?"

I had never explicitly stated he had no compassion; I did wish he would learn compassion. But at this point I had asked him three times to describe, as he liked, in what way he was compassionate. He sarcastically replied that he didn't kick puppies, then accused me of deflecting the main issue at hand.

Mind you, the very first thing he had ever said directly to me was that he was "compassionate to a fault". That was how he introduced himself to me, and though I asked him a few more times, he was never able to come up with anything better than that example of minimal, baseline decency.

Somewhere in this mess, Holly expressed her own concerns: she was afraid of being judged, and she wanted compassion for herself.

When I hoped that she would learn compassion, she remarked, "says the guy reading tweets and judging people." When SomeNobody insisted he was "compassionate to a fault", she assured him that I would "judge that from [my] Twitter account". I pointed out that the only information I had to assess were the words she considered, selected, and chose to share. "[W]hat were those?" she returned. "The ones you misconstrued without asking for context? Yeah, okay".

That's a common tactic among people who know they're wrong, especially conservatives. Something inside them is still fighting their conscious selves, telling them not to be so hateful, to not preclude learning, but they reflect that fight outside of themselves. Like most conservatives, Holly demands the right to express horrible things, but also to be exempt from disagreement or being thought poorly of. Conservatives want to be able to pronounce the n-word without being called racist; they want to say horrible things about women without being called misogynist. The only liberty or freedom of speech they're concerned with is their own. When someone calls them out on their awful behavior, they cry about "out-of-control PC agenda" and censorship, and they insist whatever they've said has been taken out of context... even when you quote them directly and quote the entire screed.

If you don't agree with their intolerance, you must have misunderstood something, and now you're holding your misunderstanding against them.

"[Y]ou seem really compassionate yourself, Christian. Accusing someone without the facts and all. Assuming things", she said. I hadn't accused her of anything in the entirety of this exchange.

Things tapered off. Holly lost interest early on, and eventually SomeNobody disingenuously conceded defeat and shut up. It seemed I'd preconceived a mountain which turned out to be a molehill. I was expecting links to poorly edited YouTube videos, links to supremacist screeds and paranoid conspiracy theory. Instead I got one woman who didn't want to be held accountable for anything she said, and one man who insisted he was compassionate but couldn't demonstrate it, both of whom believed my education in supporting equity and diversity was actually divisive racism and bigotry. I tried to ask a lot of questions, got sarcasm in response, and neither of my opponents betrayed the remotest interest in understanding me.

I don't feel I achieved anything useful, at the end of this. Possibly I learned that confrontation may not always be as bad as I've made it out to be.

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