Guest post: Empathy cannot fix a cry bully

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on More emp and und.

There was an essay on Forbes the other day about gatekeeping in fandoms, which I actually think is kind of relevant.

…the accusations of gatekeeping are being used to leverage access to effectively run each fandom and acquire power as a result.

I think there is a lot of truth in the complaints fans of various properties have about “wokeness” invading their spaces. A lot of the time, the issue keeping people out of specific hobbies isn’t that the hobbyists are saying “This isn’t for you” – it’s that the hobby just isn’t the “excluded” person’s bag.

Which is fine. You’re not being excluded if the thing isn’t to your taste, to a large extent you decide what those tastes are. A piece of bad media isn’t an exclusive club, its a failed one.

Now, if we look at womanhood as a fandom – it sort of fits the pattern of dictatorial types demanding to be included in it, only to then start kicking the people who were already there out of it.

“White feminism”, “Terfs” and the focus on an “intersectionalist” feminism that represents everyone except those women convicted of having privilege, which seems to be all of them.

I’ve long been an advocate for the idea that social progress benefits everyone, not just the group that gets progressed. That said, in order to be able to function, a social justice movement has to be about its core issue – so feminism may benefit men in various ways, but it cannot be about men’s rights.

The drive for a peculiar inclusivity in which there are large parts of the movement you won’t march with because they’re not “intersectionalist” enough, sounds like the old princess bride meme. “You keep using that word…”

So we get to “More empathy and understanding” – I can see what Streeting is trying to do. I really can. He’s doing the both sides thing, in order to try and avoid antagonizing one side, to bring people to the table.

The trouble is – one side’s been flipping tables for a few years now, has been actively working to exclude voices from the other side, has sent death and rape threats to the other side, has tried to ruin the other side’s careers and in some cases succeeded in doing precisely that.

And it isn’t simply a matter of TRAs doing this – but a broader movement of social justice nitpickers.

In December, Lindsay Ellis quit YouTube due to the harassment she’d been receiving from about March, when she was declared a villain for saying a movie looked a lot like Avatar the Last Airbender. The creators of the movie credited Avatar as one of their inspirations, but somehow Lindsay saying it was similar, was racist against Asian people. It wasn’t even a particularly well regarded movie.

Ellis is not on team TERF, but the harassment was bad enough to just destroy her. Her career as a critic started at Channel Awesome, a clusterfuck of sexual harassment, at least one pedophile, egotistical wankery and general unpleasantness, and it was the social justice crowd that did her in.

How can one have understanding and empathy with sociopaths? With people who behave in ways that are utterly monstrous, while loudly proclaiming that they’re advocating for victims?

A few years ago, I would have decried this as respectability politics, but I’ve since come around on that. There is a degree of respectability that is a necessity for conversation to even be possible.

And the problem is not a “both sides” issue. Kathleen Stock isn’t trying to get book shops to stop stocking her opponents’ books.

One side’s “empathy and understanding” is being exploited by a side that shows no intention of showing either trait, that has a long history of exploiting “empathy and understanding” to get away with being vile tin-pot dictators.

And yes, I get the argument that “Freedom of speech only applies to government” – and I utterly disagree. I think civil rights can be violated by individuals and organizations that are not the government. This is why I’m a liberal, and not a libertarian.

The harassment campaigns we’ve seen over the past few years are vigilantism, which is the alt med of government. Much like the medical establishment, we know that government has a lot of problems – it is a corrupt, inefficient mess that quite frequently goes badly wrong.

This is why we regulate the government. The solution proposed by vigilantes is the same solution proposed by alt med, to turn to a parallel system that has none of the safeguards we put in place to do the same job, in the blind belief that this will not result in the same problems only worse.

The restrictions we place on government are things we’ve more or less agreed that we shouldn’t do – trying to get around those restrictions by proclaiming it isn’t government, doesn’t get around why we put those restrictions on the government in the first place.

Saying it is not government doing these things does not mean it is fine to have people arbitrarily dishing out punishments for what they consider wrongthink.

The solution here isn’t “empathy and understanding” on both sides, it is an enforcement of basic standards. Standards which should be aside from ideology. “Don’t harass people”, “don’t try and get people fired”, “don’t send death threats” etc…

These are basics.

Doing all of that stuff “for a good cause” doesn’t excuse any of it. If you stalk someone in the name of social justice, do you know what that makes you? A stalker.

The social contract by which discussion is made possible has been systematically violated at every turn, and it is not going to be fixed until we recognize who exactly has been violating it. I was recently introduced to the term “‘cry bully” – and empathy cannot fix a cry bully. Empathy is the cry bully’s weapon of choice.

We tend to think of apathy as a bad thing – but in this case, it really is necessary to apply it, because of the abuses of empathy that are rife in this debate. We need to stop acting like the would-be dictators’ sob stories are worth listening to, and start looking at what is actually being done.

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