Guest post: Violently Ideating
Guest post by Anonymous
I have an angle on people throwing around threats of violence, and directing menacing fantasies at people online; an angle on the way people excuse, enable, and dismiss such violent ideations; an angle on the virtue-signalling, and other pathological responses you get in communities addressing these issues.
To begin with, for the sake of context, I’m going to have to get a few things out in the open, although my default state with regards to autobiographical writing is basically this; I don’t like it.
The fuzzy, cuddly, intended-as-supportive bromides that some people issue in response to the kinds of detail I’m about to give don’t really do it for me either. I’ll probably read the comments, without participating in discussion. Please don’t take this as an opportunity to tell me how sorry you are.
I won’t be disclosing my name any time soon. A few people reading this may be able to tell who I am and I’d appreciate if they didn’t identify me. The possibility of anything even remotely close to a Dr Phil experience is just too cloying to embrace, and this is hardly the kind of writing I’d like to be known for anyway.
Needless to say, with violence mentioned in the title, people may find the following unsettling. Now, I’ll try to be brief with the personal stuff.
Violent autobiography in brief
When I was a child of about five-to-six years old, my mother would threaten to kill herself, before driving off, leaving a crying pre-school brother in my care. This particular behavior returned around a decade later, with my mother then threatening another, younger, pre-school brother with auto-vehicular murder-suicide. For a brief few years in the interim, my mother became physically violent, on a number of occasions going as far as biting my next-youngest brother, all up until the point we grew large enough to protect ourselves. At that point, after the loss of physical violence as an option, the gas-lighting began, wherein we’d be told we were the ones victimizing her.
I did what I could to protect my brothers, but I wasn’t perfect, the system was largely unavailable, and willfully or not, our community was blind regarding this kind of thing. Or at least, that’s what I believed, and going by other people’s experiences, I was probably right.
While a minor, I was punched in the face by my father. Oddly enough, even after accounting for Masculine Bullshit, I still can’t see this as a particularly great transgression. Perhaps this is because I’m confident my then-warm-but-largely-absent-and-entirely-parentally-incompetent father actually loved me, or maybe it’s just because it’s lower on my list of things to give a shit about.
In the same year as the final punch to the face, a young fellow attempted to cut my throat with a hunting knife, thankfully failing. We both survived, but I did what I had to do to prevent him from cutting me. This was not pleasant. I can still recall the physical sensation of my injuring the guy, and could relate it graphically if I chose. I’ll spare you the experience. Being drug related, Young Fellow pretended, upon reaching hospital, to have fallen down the stairs outside his home, thereby sparing me an awkward conversation with parents and police I didn’t trust. This, incidentally, wasn’t the first attempt on my life I had to deal with.
Also in the same year, I was tortured to see if I could keep secrets. Think hot glass, punching, and so forth. The year after, an acquaintance from the same circle of violent folk murdered one of my father’s pot-smoking buddies, and put another into hospital with severe brain damage owing to shrapnel wounds. Further down the track, another guy from the same crowd, one who started out soft, even likable if pathetic, went bad, abused small animals, and eventually wound up murdered, a screwdriver to the neck being the method of his offing.
The guy who I fell in with this company to help in the first place (on account of my being asked by his parents), is currently serving his nth prison sentence for violent crime. He’s a diagnosed psychopath. He once tried gouging out my eyes when I was fourteen. I’m a little less naive about psychopaths these days.
This is probably enough information for people to get a feel for the necessary details of where I’m coming from, loosely speaking. There’s more, but really, it’d be gratuitous.
Urges and fallacies
This urge some people have, to compete with or dismiss other people’s suffering, is something I think I can sympathize with, even if ultimately it’s an urge worthy of resistance and rejection. Even in the best of possible worlds, we have only so much stage time, with enough suffering to report as to be able to use all the limelight several times over. As frustrating as this is, we don’t even live in the best of possible worlds; people can be altogether too selfish at times. Narcissists, opportunists and even full blown predators reside within the many of the very structures purposed for dealing with all this suffering.
I’ve caught myself on a few occasions before I’ve actually become dismissive, when people have talked about being creeped out by skeezy guys. Most of us, in atheist-skeptic-humanist-whatever circles over the past few years, have seen more than a few instances of online death and rape threats, and abuse hurled at feminists, being dismissed out of hand by people often in relative positions of power.
Sure, being creeped on in an elevator at 4am, or told by a Twitter misogynist that he’s going to rape you, isn’t the same as having a hot, incandescent lamp globe drawn briefly over your junk – but why compare such things in the first place? What is the purpose of a given comparison?
There are two concepts some people need to better familiarize themselves with in these debates. The first is the fallacy of relative privation, and the other is opportunity cost.
The fallacy of relative privation is where because something worse exists, it is argued or assumed that a given concern automatically isn’t worthy of consideration.
“Computer broken down before its warranty? So what! Think of The Starving Kids in Africa!”
“Stubbed your toe? What about conflict diamonds you whining piss-baby?”
Something’s always worse somewhere in the world, so you ought not complain about what’s right in front of you.
The fallacy falls on its face though, because it assumes right out of the box that addressing the “lesser” concern necessarily detracts from addressing the “greater”. It’s a line of reasoning that doesn’t entertain the possibility that two concerns may not be in competition for resources, or that the effect of addressing the “lesser” may actually help address the “greater”, even when the causes for both concerns are similar or even possibly the very same thing.
In a sense, the fallacy of relative privation can be seen as a misapplication of the concept of opportunity cost – the other concept I want more people to appreciate.
Opportunity costs occur when resources are restricted in such a way as to not be able to be spent on an entire array of options. For example, if you have ten dollars and you walk into a shop where there are only two items, A and B, each costing ten dollars, then the opportunity cost of purchasing A, is not being able to purchase B, and vice versa.
Constraints on resources in real world ethical quandaries however, are rarely as clear-cut as this, and often there’s just plain guesswork involved. Moreover, resources can be bottle-necked, and spending can attract diminishing returns. If increased resource allocation to a given concern won’t improve outcomes, then no matter how serious the concern you have resources that can be either accumulated or re-allocated. Spending on a relief effort that is maxed-out or bottle-necked only accrues opportunity cost at the expense of other causes.
At other times, concerns that your values tell you to address are practically beyond your limits – when you simply cannot allocate resources to a given cause. There’s no opportunity cost if there’s no opportunity.
My point here, is that rebukes against domestic Western social justice concerns on the basis of alleged lack of perspective, aren’t always well-founded, or rational, at best being innocent mistakes, but too often being motivated by malice. Even when such dismissive rubbish is motivated by real, personal suffering, it’s still wrong. A degree of restraint in this respect may not always be possible, but should be aspired to, even by people who have been wronged, if they hope to cooperate ethically and effectively in social justice projects. This can be hard if you’ve suffered, I know.
It’s when this goes wrong, though, and people are motivated by urges to enable and indulge the abusiveness of some people, even when these people happen to be oppressed, that I really get shirty.
Menace and character
I’ve noticed over the years, a number of instances of Ophelia and company ending up on the receiving end of menacing fantasies. In 2008, Marxist pseud Louis Proyect ideated wildly about what would happen to the folks at Butterflies and Wheels once the revolution came, rhetorically praying that “God protect the souls of those who fed at the trough of the big corporations and the intelligence agencies since an aroused people will have properly earned the right to extract justice.” If you were wondering what puts Ophelia in the frame for such retributive justice, it’s the pro-science position of Butterflies and Wheels, Proyect being credulous towards the prospect of it attracting “…funding from Huntington and other such animal torturers”.
You won’t see Proyect, or anyone else perhaps male enough, getting too much in the way of obstacles in far left circles for such violent ideating in the name of the revolution.
Repeated menacing ideations from misogynists in the years following ElevatorGate, not that infrequently depicting violence against their targets, have done little to attract censure by atheist organizations, celebrities and public intellectuals, even when such celebrities and public intellectuals are under no illusions about the textbook arguments concerning free speech, incitement and intimidation. There have been notable exceptions, and there has even been mainstream media attention, but on the whole, institutional comprehension and will on the matter seems rather piss-weak.
The noise of the more recent “clusterfuck” of 2015, wherein amongst other abuse, hyperbole describing the pegging of dead ferrets and an injunction to “fuck off so hard that you unbirth your own grandparents…” was posted in a semi-notorious Facebook post re-dedicated to “Lady Benson”, saw pretty much zero objection to such behavior from people who’d previously positioned themselves in opposition to online abuse, who were also in social proximity to the event. Indeed, it was argued, despite the already – and still at the time of writing - public nature of the post, that Ophelia’s drawing attention to this was the true act of harassment, and with-it wannabe leftists swallowed this hook, line and sinker.
We’ve seen the resurgence of the fallacy of relative privation; forget your concerns, cis-women, you’re arguing with people more oppressed than you. It’s Dear Muslima all over again, albeit without the prior appearance of solidarity in response. That Ophelia may have unintentionally mis-gendered someone, and failed to be rude to Cathy Brennan, whatever you make of these transgressions, isn’t mitigating because that’s not how relative privation works. Correcting a mis-gendering, if need be, isn’t contingent on permitting menace against the person doing the mis-gendering; there’s no opportunity cost involved between allowing correction and barring vengeance.
People aren’t permitting this menacing because of some ethical up-shot, they’re simply permitting it because they’re permissive. Either these people don’t care, never cared, or they’re just incompetent.
It’s this apathy that bugs me the most. I thought it was clear we needed space within atheism-Humanism-etc that was inclusive of people who’ve had to put up with a past of shitty, even traumatic treatment.
I don’t expect people to like Ophelia, I don’t expect trans-women to automatically agree with gender skepticism, and I certainly don’t expect them to like being mis-gendered. What I do have a hard time swallowing, though, is the notion that trans people, as well as anyone else in need of a welcoming space, are going to feel safe and/or welcome in a community capable of enabling abusive ideating about ferret fucking and retroactive unbirthing. (And don’t get me started on the ageism or the feeble levels of opposition amongst this lot to the “cotton ceiling” ideations – Jesus McFuck that shit’s a whole other story).
Sure, some people are going to feel right at home amidst this SlymePit-esque culture. I’m not discounting that. But folks with broken pasts or histories of oppression, having healthy experiences in this climate? Please.
With the benefit of decades to do so, I’ve more or less recovered from incidents such as having my scrotum singed by homicidal drug dealers, but Christ, I can’t bear to be around this other crap. I don’t know if this means I’m a bit frail, or if this community is just that sick.