Over the last several months, I have been following a number of articles and threads regarding basic civility (or perhaps I should say lack thereof) as regards blogging. The Mena Trott, Ben Metcalfe dust-up at Les Blogs last December is a prime example. Ad hominem attacks seem to be de rigueur, these days. Any and all petty grievances get aired without the slightest thought to consequence, indeed; without any thought at all. The rhetoric, in general, has recently ratcheted up to alarming proportions. Threats of actual violence are becoming more common, usually by those ill-equipped to compete with an increasingly informed public. I have also noted a propensity toward racial and sexual bias. These posters seem to target the easily identifiable – with women the primary target.
Opened up a new line of thought, have I? Don’t worry – I can back this statement up – if you will please allow a slight digression. A good friend of mine who teaches High School has noted with alarm, considerable social changes over the last five years. Real, physical violence toward both students and teachers has reached epidemic proportions – especially targeting females. It bothers her to no end that the girls in her classes not only accept the abuse, but actually seem to crave and encourage it; as if sporting bruises and a black eye were some right of passage. Indeed, she has watched in horror as girls as young as 14 preen and almost strut with pride after being debased as whores, or cuffed into submission by a boyfriend no older than they, but very obviously posing as the dominant partner.
Stay with me here, please – I really am not moving off the center argument. It’s just that I have noticed (based upon either cultural references or more direct statements) that most of the posted attacks (from a multiplicity of sites) seem to be coming from younger males (20 – 26). Now calm down – this is not an indictment of the male gender – merely observations that I find rather significant, and am interested in exploring further. Time in harness as a human being has lent me some modicum of wisdom (I hope!). This particular theme is one I have hashed and re-hashed with many friends in an attempt to understand the implications. Historically speaking, this attitude is not new – conservative male-dominated (read patriarchal) cultures tend to dismiss women in general as irrelevant. (Note the early drafts of the Iraqi constitution, coupled with our own newly minted Supreme Court). As regards blogging however, this dismissal of cogent discussion in favor of chaotic and random attack, reeks of the kind of `owner/slave’ mentality my teacher friend deplores, and has found herself powerless to counteract.
I won’t take time here to diverge into what I see as cultural triggers – though frankly, I could write a book on the subject (which I am!), focusing in on pop-cultural influences as regards gender and sexuality (modern more than historical; there is just too much ground to cover!). As a matter of fact, my husband and friends are probably tired to death of hearing my ballistic response over whatever Madison Avenue’s latest commercial atrocity is the current craze. Let’s just say that blogs in general just seem to be lacking basic civility, or at least going down that road. And I have to say that those of you who, in decrying this trend, end up backing off as a result of it; can’t help but add to the cumulative effect with your absence. So – what the hell can we do? Throw up our hands in disgust and turn the whole damn shooting match over to the trolls and the baiters? I don’t like that scenario; it smacks of resignation, and allows someone whose entire raison d’etre reeks of disruption the satisfaction of having won. So here are some of my suggestions on how to handle the situation.
Being relatively new to the blogasphere (I’ve only been blogging about 5 months in all); I do realize that my relative `virgin’ status may relegate my observations to the back of the bus file in some peoples minds; and that this subject may also be old hat to some; but were it possible, I would like to see those issuing actual threats tracked down and prosecuted. Note I said `were it possible’. As it isn’t at this time (at least within my rather limited knowledge of what technology would be needed to achieve such a result), the ancient act of shunning seems to be the best bet. Ignore any commentary antithetical to the general discussion. No matter how provocative the rhetoric, don’t answer! To answer base accusations is to lend them credence. All one person has to do is respond, and it immediately grants legitimacy to the attacker and their inflammatory statements. You see – if you begin to explain why something is, or is not – you have already lost the debate. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?” See? A person is doomed from the start. “How often do you beat your dog?” Think about it – there is just no safe way to answer that question. Yes, I know – there are times when your bile level threatens to overflow and swamp your keyboard. Been there. Get up, and walk away. Delete the comment, go visit another site, pet your cat. Anything other than grant your tormentor the satisfaction he desires – the ruination of your day.
Intentionally provocative statements are designed to hit, and hit hard. Those who participate in this brand of hate-mongering are able to carve out a bully pulpit by the sheer dint of such button-laden rhetoric. These attacks are, in my opinion, driven by fear. Not the kind of fear generally attributed to the human condition (fight, flight, etc.). No – this fear comes from a lack of certitude. When someone needs to shout down or crush the opposition, it usually means that somewhere, deep inside, they are mortally afraid of what their opponent is saying. Perhaps, just perhaps, their truth may not stand alone in its righteousness. If, (as I am beginning to suspect after years of basic human observation), this is indeed the truth of the matter (especially as regards attitudes toward and about women) – no amount of tsk, tsking, or finger pointing will do a damn bit of good. Perhaps the person participating in the attack culture is doing so in an attempt to convince himself of his own potency (the `too much testosterone in the room’ syndrome). If that’s the case, nothing anyone can say or do will affect his opinion in any way. So don’t waste your time!
As for the violent threats part – that, as they say, is another ball of wax. Let us consider the very real possibility of some mental imbalance being present. And that, in my opinion, is what makes all of this truly frightening. Brutal words often lead to vicious action – as has been proved time and time again throughout recorded history. Violence may indeed be the last resort of the feeble-minded, but it is always the first choice for any who believe in their own sanctified invincibility (reference George Bush). That – and it deflects the white-hot spotlight off of their own fears, focusing it in a different direction – usually whomever they have fixated upon. Confront the crazy, and you are opened up to all kinds of really scary things. So don’t put yourself in the crosshairs. Just let the comments lie, or better yet, delete them and continue the thread on subject. Now, I do realize that employing all the above still may not work. Stalking runs rampant across the internet, and I’ve noticed it ruining many a site or discussion thread – sometimes forcing the blogger to move or shut down. And it’s not just the porn purveyors or troll hijackers that jump in and take control. It’s all too easy to track someone, even considering the (necessary) alias’s we use. I’ve heard of more than one blogger having their URL compromised by hackers as well.
So – obviously there’s no easy solution. I go back to ostracism. Ignore the fuckers where feasible. None of us want our ability to air our thoughts compromised, so a credible policing of the internet seems unfeasible at this time. We’re on our own, folks. Let’s just try and do the best we can.