Intolerant of Intolerance

A couple of days ago, I was on twitter all day promoting an article. It’s an important (unpaid) part of the job. And as I was doing that, I was reading all the tweets of the day. Of course, everyone was responding to the latest statement by our president. He knows how to whip them up good.

Anyway, bored with talking about my article, I threw out a one sentence tweet that was the equivalent of “I know you guys are all saying this, but, in my conversations with others, they are saying that. Shrug.” It was mild and boring, and I expected nobody to notice it.

Almost instantly, tons and tons of people starting yelling at me. Like tweet-screaming at me. If I wanted lots of traffic, I could get it by wading into the muck. But I don’t want it. It’s terrible for my career, so I instantly deleted the tweet. Even though everything that I said was absolutely correct. Who needs the hassle? I don’t have tenure. I can’t say whatever I like. Not even the truth.

Shutting down conversation really rubs me the wrong way, because I was trained to be a professor, a political science professor. I love swimming in the grey area, the middle zone, the contradictions. I love the challenging questions. If everybody says X, I have to say “let’s consider Y for a minute.” That’s how I was trained. There is no way that I would start a career in political science today.

A few months back, I got into something with an old blogging buddy who yelled at me for looking for a middle road on the topic du jour. He yelled at me and unfollowed me. Said that it was inappropriate to talk the way I did, because “it was a war!!!”

Everybody feels like they are in the middle of a war. People aren’t happy. Day-to-day people who never touch social media or pundit themselves on the op-ed pages of the big newspapers are whispering stuff to me over glasses of wine in the local pub. I can’t tell their stories. I would get demolished.

But the hate on the Internet is particularly intense. As I said, I got some pretty horrific comments on my HuffPost article about the flight attendant and Ian’s autism. Commenters said that I should have aborted my kid, beaten him, or drowned him. I should say that 90 percent of the comments were positive, but those evil ones stand out in my head more. I still haven’t recovered from that.

I find myself walking away from the usual sources of information and looking for something light and funny and simply not angry. I’m reading home decorating Instagram posts. Seriously. I watched a five minute video this morning from some designer who made a family room in some rich lady’s home more inviting.

We’re heading into an election. I’ve always talked about politics in this blog. But I’m not sure if that I should. I’m not sure that I want to. I may even delete this blog post in thirty minutes. We live in bad times.

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66 thoughts on “Intolerant of Intolerance

  1. I hear what you are saying. I am super liberal. But it occurred to me a couple months ago that most people I know in real life are not announcing their political thoughts on twitter. That made me realize that twitter is only the most extreme and the most desperate to express themselves and probably only 10% of the total population. And they are rarely the people with nuance. Honestly the few people I have actually met through the internet had serious personality flaws that kept me from being their friends in real life in any deep way. I check in a bit and then I shut it down and I try to confirm crazy stories with two sources that are not awful. I also started reading some never trump conservatives. I think its helpful to see their points, such as why some people are so upset about the NYTimes magazine section I thought was fantastic. I don’t agree, but its important to find out what people are saying. I’m hoping to make it through the election season not so much online. I’m privileged to be able to disassociate and I’m taking that privilege! I give journalists credit. Also thank god for instagram interior design bloggers and nutball influencers like Hannah Bronfman. If you are going to show me videos of your workouts and your kitchen redesigns, I will watch them!

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  2. Laura said, “A few months back, I got into something with an old blogging buddy who yelled at me for looking for a middle road on the topic du jour. He yelled at me and unfollowed me. Said that it was inappropriate to talk the way I did, because “it was a war!!!”

    Awful.

    And so self-aggrandizing–it’s not a war. War is war.

    “Day-to-day people who never touch social media or pundit themselves on the op-ed pages of the big newspapers are whispering stuff to me over glasses of wine in the local pub. I can’t tell their stories. I would get demolished.”

    This is so 1970s Soviet Russia, where people had public faces and private faces, and in private people expressed completely different sentiments. It was not a sustainable situation. At some point, reality wins.

    “Commenters said that I should have aborted my kid, beaten him, or drowned him.”

    Awful. You may wonder, who in this situation has the bigger social skill deficits?

    “I find myself walking away from the usual sources of information and looking for something light and funny and simply not angry.”

    And you’re a fairly political person.

    Do people realize how their personalizing of politics drives normal, reasonable, happy people away (even people on their own side)? We complain about how uninformed the general public is about the stuff they vote on–but if it’s a choice between being fat, dumb and happy versus being a neurotic, ragey, hateful freak who goes around destroying their relationships with the people in their lives–fat, dumb and happy looks really good.

    “We’re heading into an election. I’ve always talked about politics in this blog. But I’m not sure if that I should.”

    Talk about policy as opposed to personalities.

    That’s the weird thing–everything is super political, while at the same time, actual policy is increasingly neglected.

    Don’t judge me, but I caught a bit of Kevin Williamson talking to Glenn Beck on the radio yesterday, talking about Williamson’s book. Williamson was making the interesting point that a lot of what we think of as “political” conflict on twitter/the internet isn’t actually political at all, but is an attempt by people whose lives are disconnected and empty to achieve connection and meaning via joining in twitter hate swarms. Throw in foreign bad actors (like the Russian government or the Chinese government) who may be interested in provoking these hate swarms for their own purposes, and it’s a really bad scene.

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  3. A friend posted Yeat’s “The Second Coming” to my FB feed today. I’m not really familiar with the poem and thus did not really get what she’s saying, but, commenters seem to be interpreting as “the center cannot hold” and references to the American Civil War.

    I’m not sure what it means to say “I don’t have tenure” in making a choice to limit what you say. I saw the tweet you refer to, thought it potentially unwise being potentially more familiar with the difficulty of conversation around the conflict, but would not have predicted the twitter storm you report. How could you behave differently if you had tenure? The only thing that would guarantee would be a salary. One could still loose professional standing, friends, student, . . . .

    I think there are topics around which there is no center — Elie Wiesel’s Nobel speech: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” But I think it is also important to question myself on when I should apply the rule, to try to make choices non-ideological when I can in any way see a way.

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    1. bj said, “I think there are topics around which there is no center — Elie Wiesel’s Nobel speech: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” But I think it is also important to question myself on when I should apply the rule, to try to make choices non-ideological when I can in any way see a way.”

      And it’s worth asking–am I being a bad person?

      Would a good person try to get a nobody fired, organize protests of a business on flimsy evidence, harass minor children, repeat damaging stories about a stranger without making an adequate investigation or share a video that purportedly shows bad behavior–without bothering to watch the video and see if it shows the bad behavior described?

      All of those activities are every bit as bad as inappropriate silence.

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      1. There’s an argument to be made that we as a people need to relearn the virtue of minding our own business and allowing people to compartmentalize a bit.

        I don’t need to approve of the politics of the guy who mows my lawn. If he does a good job and is civil and friendly and isn’t an axe murderer, I don’t care who he votes for or where or if he goes to church.

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      2. Would a good person try to get a nobody fired, organize protests of a business on flimsy evidence, harass minor children, repeat damaging stories about a stranger without making an adequate investigation or share a video that purportedly shows bad behavior–without bothering to watch the video and see if it shows the bad behavior described?

        No to all but the first. I think it is essential that jobs involving public trust be kept as clear as possible from people who are openly racist. That is literally a matter of life and death.

        Obviously, I’m all for organizing protests on good evidence.

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      3. Well you grouped a lot of things together there, from harassing minor children to getting a nobody fired. I do not have a problem getting a “nobody” fired, say, for shouting “send her back” at a rally.

        On the other hand, I would never engage in swatting (i.e. 911 calls designed to harass an individual, some of which have resulted in death). A prominent anti-racism activist in our city has moved out of her home with her minor children because she is the target of a harassment campaign in which the police have been called to her house (when she was traveling and her minor son was at home).

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      4. You are free to not consider the politics of the guy who mows your lawn just as I am free to consider it if I choose. Honestly, I’m not willing to invest energy in uncovering the politics of the people who mow my lawn, but if I saw him in a Proud Boys rally, I would fire him. And if someone else saw him there I would want to know.

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      5. bj said, “Well you grouped a lot of things together there, from harassing minor children to getting a nobody fired. I do not have a problem getting a “nobody” fired, say, for shouting “send her back” at a rally.”

        Why would you try to get somebody fired that you knew next to nothing about? For one thing, it might not even be the right person, as in this case involving a bearded University of Arkansas professor who was mistakenly IDed as a bearded Charlottesville marcher and then subjected to harassment.

        https://www.cbsnews.com/news/internet-shaming-when-mob-justice-goes-virtual/

        Also, how do you feel about the Hollywood blacklist of the 1940s and 1950s? Good idea or bad idea?

        “Honestly, I’m not willing to invest energy in uncovering the politics of the people who mow my lawn, but if I saw him in a Proud Boys rally, I would fire him. And if someone else saw him there I would want to know.”

        1. Barring identifying tattoos, how could you be 100% sure it was the same person?
        2. So you wouldn’t fire a rank and file registered Republican?

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      6. Running a gulag where millions are killed is much worse than deporting a citizen. (It was considered a humanitarian victory when the Soviets deported Solzhenitsyn rather than sending him to the gulag.) So, by the logic some advocate, an employer has a right, even a duty, to fire anyone who supports the gulag, by attendance at a rally, or joining the Party, or writing for Party publications, and the McCarthy-era blacklist was just and right. At the very least, such people should be fired from government jobs, like teaching school.

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      7. The correct answer, and the reason why the blacklist was wrong, is as follows. The maintenance of liberal democracy requires not just that the government refrain from censorship or punishing the expression of beliefs, but that ordinary citizens tolerate a wide diversity of opinions and the public expression of same. Hopefully such expression will generally be civil, but it isn’t always. There are various means for aggregating our collective beliefs, such as demonstrations, elections, and litigation. But outside the protests and elections and lawsuits, we should work together at our jobs, buy and sell from each other, send our children to school together, etc. Dividing society into two hostile camps who refuse to engage in civil intercourse will cause liberal democracy to collapse.

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    2. I think there are topics around which there is no center.

      Yes. I am all for compromise as a general principle, but compromise as a general principle only works if everyone in the compromise is starting from somewhere in the center, and the compromise is grounded in the acceptance and practice of the human dignity and civil rights of the compromisers. Asking me (or anyone else) to compromise with an individual, a party, or a movement that is actively working towards undermining my (or their) humanity, rights, and/or livelihood is ridiculous on the face of it.

      And that’s not hyperbole. There is a considerable amount of extremism and backlash out there in practice, not just mouthing off on the internet. And that’s where who gets to determine what is “ideological” and what is practical, everyday life becomes an important precursor to the conversation. The Right frames same-sex marriage (or just living openly as LGBT) as “ideological”, but for gay and lesbian folk it isn’t—it’s practical, everyday life. Framing something, especially something that cuts to the heart of everyday existence as “ideological” makes it easier for those on the extremes to marginalize their political enemies. Too many casual observers won’t care, or will look the other way, or see the argument as abstract (and thus unimportant).

      So yeah, as a lifelong midwesterner, the MYOB argument holds massive appeal to me–it’s been an important part of my culture since Day One. But when I look around at the current landscape, I’m not seeing a whole lot of reciprocity in that regard. I’m seeing right-wingers and especially right-wing religious fanatics pressing for turning back the clock in bizarre ways that I wouldn’t have predicted twenty years ago. Their push for “religious freedom” exemptions for civil rights would re-introduce fully-legal second class citizenship not just for LGBT persons, but religious minorities (*cough*, that’s me), the non-religious, and women. (yes, women. It’s something I pay attention to as one of the one percent of women in my field. Under a “religious freedom” exemption, all a contractor would have to do to avoid hiring women would be to cite some religious parable, and voila! I’m out of a job. But I’m not out of seeing my tax dollars continue to funnel thataway. Funding discrimination is not on my agenda.)

      This didn’t start with the internet, and if you’ve only noticed it since social media became A Thing you haven’t been paying attention. This is the fruit of abolishing the Fairness Doctrine, and “deregulating” (aka, corporate monopolizing) the airwaves. This kind of thing shot out of the gate with “shock jocks” and the conversion of the AM dial (and part of the FM) to right-wing talk radio (including fundamentalist religious stations). That was a big part of the Commons that walked out the door, right there. So now, in the aftermath of deindustrialization and its further destruction of communities and their institutions…what’s left? Oh yeah—the need to scapegoat.

      Extremism thrives when people are up against the wall. People are more willing to “live and let live” when they have a reasonable assurance that they’re going to be okay. The Social Contract (of which that MYOB ethos is an important part) isn’t something that functions piecemeal. You either have the whole thing, or you don’t—and bad things step in to replace it.

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      1. I feel threatened when most Christians start talking about religious freedom and I am one. I do not trust the modal Christian in this country to have a balanced conception of that freedom. I don’t even trust them to have a balanced conception of Christianity given that Trump is retweeting blasphemy and they are backing him.

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  4. “That’s the weird thing–everything is super political, while at the same time, actual policy is increasingly neglected.”

    You know, this is really not the case among the Democrats. There is a lot of talk of policy.

    And, I will note that one of the things for which there is no center for me is a president who instigates his supporters to chant “send her back” about American citizens. To accept a center would be to accept a second class American citizenship for me and my family (and for all the others like us, including those who were here from this countries foundation).

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    1. Of course, the president’s statement and the crowd’s response was awful. Not sure how more to say about that. But there is a HUGE middle ground with lots of intricacies and policy nuances around the issue of immigration. How can we deal with refugees humanly? What is the definition of a political refugee? Should there be entirely open boarders? And so on. I would love to read commentary that looked at the subject with all those complexities. Not getting it.

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      1. Laura said, “Of course, the president’s statement and the crowd’s response was awful. Not sure how more to say about that. But there is a HUGE middle ground with lots of intricacies and policy nuances around the issue of immigration. How can we deal with refugees humanly? What is the definition of a political refugee? Should there be entirely open boarders? And so on. I would love to read commentary that looked at the subject with all those complexities. Not getting it.”

        Ah, so it was about immigration.

        Yeah, I can’t say that there’s been a lot of policy wonkery on the national stage regarding immigration lately. Au contraire!

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  5. bj said, “You know, this is really not the case among the Democrats. There is a lot of talk of policy.”

    You must be on a different internet than I am.

    Also, when Laura was getting the “this is war” talk from an old friend and getting unfollowed, that was clearly not about policy details.

    “And, I will note that one of the things for which there is no center for me is a president who instigates his supporters to chant “send her back” about American citizens. To accept a center would be to accept a second class American citizenship for me and my family (and for all the others like us, including those who were here from this countries foundation).”

    And that is completely fair.

    But, given that this site is not exactly a hotbed of Trump support, I’m not sure who you’re talking to.

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  6. These sorts of questions are so hard to talk about non-specifically. That is, there are topics where it makes sense to talk about compromise: what, precisely, should be the procedures we should use to evaluate the validity of claims to refugee status. There are also topics where it doesn’t make sense to talk about compromise: should we be keeping people, including children but the horror of it isn’t limited to children, in cages and depriving them of basic hygiene and medical care. Those could both be identified as ‘immigration’, but saying that ‘immigration’ is a subject where we should be listening to all sides of the issues and not taking disagreement personally doesn’t mean that the second specific topic — do we keep people who have done nothing wrong beyond seeking asylum in cages? — is one where there’s any obligation for decent people to pretend that it’s acceptable to confine children without toothbrushes or soap.

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  7. Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West is a very good jumping off point for thinking about this stuff. It’s about the recipe for a diverse, prosperous and peaceful society.

    The “diverse” bit is important. When a lot of contemporary political folk are enjoying pipe dreams about their ideal future, it’s an ideal world from which their political opponents have somehow magically disappeared…

    Whereas, the presence of large numbers of political opponents is a central fact of living in a diverse democratic society.

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  8. I try to be nice about things, but I think that anybody with my demographic characteristics who says they don’t support Trump but doesn’t support Democratic candidates is just somebody lying to themselves and trying to blame other people for when they vote for Trump.

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    1. But there are a lot of Democratic candidates, aren’t there? There are a range of opinions on the left. In the last debate, the candidates disagreed on how to handle immigration, schools, and whatever. There just isn’t one position.

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      1. Sure. But beyond the sort of irreducible minimum of hostile people on any issue (that is, on the internet there’s always going to be someone being a jerk), I’m not seeing extreme hostility about policy differences between the Democrats. The sorts of policy disagreements that reasonable people can differ about, I’m seeing reasonable discussion of, not frothing hostility.

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      2. Susan Sarandon said something negative about Sanders recently, not sure what and not curious enough to find out. And people went after her. She posted on twitter the comments. It was very hateful. They called her a c*nt.

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      3. Of course. I’ll vote any one of them who makes it to the NJ Primary and the pollsters tell me (as best as they can) who will beat Trump. If any disagreement in our ranks weaponizes white nationalism… sigh… then I will keep my political thoughts offline, and I’ll post nothing but vacation and kid pictures here. But that’s so sad, isn’t it?

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      4. Sarandon is a Bernie supporter. I think what you’re talking about is an incident where she referred to the fact that Warren used to be a Republican. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that people on the internet aren’t terrible generally, but people abusing Sarandon over that weren’t taking a policy disagreement too far, Sarandon wasn’t talking about policy.

        It’s terrible that people on the internet use abusive language, but anonymous people use abusive language in all directions on any dispute. I don’t think it means much unless it comes from identifiable, meaningful people.

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      5. Ah, thanks.

        Whether she was talking about policy or politics, what she said wasn’t worthy of the response. And, yes, both sides are using that kind of language. I never meant to imply that this was solely a problem with the left. The right does it, too. Everybody is doing it. It’s really awful. I can’t take it. I’m thinking about unfollowing everyone that talks about politics on twitter and just following people who discuss my pet topics and/or are happy. I don’t follow nasty people, but someone how their stuff still ends up in my feed. I probably could use twitter’s settings better to filter out the negativity.

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      6. I’m voting for Warren, but I’m personally fond of Bernie — he reminds me of all my social studies teachers and a lot of my friends’ dads. Shouty guys from Brooklyn are my people. Their policy positions are close enough that I figure one will drop out in favor of the other before the primaries get to NY, and I’ll vote for whoever’s left standing.

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      7. Personally, I also used to be a Republican. I haven’t changed my mind on any policy goals, only the past twenty years have made it obvious that market solutions don’t work for those goals, and what used to be moderate Republican positions are now firmly in the middle of Democratic party’s spectrum of ideas, and that when Democrats said that the Republicans were racist, current evidence shows they were more right than wrong.

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      8. Calling someone a “c*nt” is always taking things too far, no matter what they said. (And I’m pretty sure Sarandon didn’t lead off the conversation by calling Warren a c*nt.)

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  9. I’m not joking about being worried about talking about politics publicly. I love chatting with you regulars about things and love when we disagree, but I’m terrified that someone is going to post this discussion on twitter.

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      1. I might hide political discussions on this blog to the comment section of link-fest blog posts. I don’t think anybody but the regulars read the comments there.

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      2. I mostly worry about my son pissing off the staff at my mom’s nursing home. He’s naturally combative and sitting around a nursing home doesn’t help his patience.

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      1. The personal harassment possibility is really very worrisome — there are a lot of nutcases out there with guns.

        But I’m surprised about the editors: like, don’t you mostly write for the Atlantic? They don’t seem particularly tightly party-line on most issues.

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      2. The twitter harassment is nuts, especially of women. And, from what I see, it seems that there is no middle ground for women to navigate; the harassment you received in talking about something that in my mind is pretty apolitical (treat those with disabilities with respect) is a case in point. You can’t not speak up about that, but, if you get a wide audience, apparently 10% of people will say things to you that are beyond the pale of human interaction.

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  10. ugh. I’m sorry. That doesn’t sound fun.

    I got into something similar a few weeks ago regarding the women’s national soccer team lawsuit. I know a bit of the details between how the USMNT and USWNT are paid and have read the court documents. It’s super complex and there’s no easy solution. I was criticizing US soccer’s public response, which was completely tone-deaf. All of a sudden, I was getting replies and DMs from a whole bunch of male white nationalists with 6 followers on Twitter who really think women should not say a word about anything, never mind play a sport.

    And your HuffPost article was so good. I hope that as time passes, you slowly forget the complete assholes who posted the horrid stuff and only remember the good comments and all he people who thanked you for writing about it. (But I completely understand how the horrid scary stuff sticks out!!)

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  11. Twitter lends itself to shouting. The ground rules encourage it. I read once that humans click on emotion. So, the more upsetting a tweet is, the more attention it will get. I suspect that the people who really like Twitter love being constantly upset. They may be nice people on the outside, but lose the calibration to the real world.

    And then there are the not nice people on Twitter, and online, who want to insult, threaten and upset other people.

    It’s a curious form of discourse, though, the modern style of some people to think that refusing to tolerate other opinions means they win in some manner. Unfollowing, etc. are not persuasive. A revolution always eats its children.

    It doesn’t help that discussions are being nudged one way or another by all sorts of actors. Russia is in there, of course. It’s fun (dark humor’s my thing) to see how indignant anonymous commenters become at any comment criticizing Russia. Like, there they are, trapped in some dead end comment spam job in Russia, and yes, your manager might read the comments, so you have to show patriotism, even if it is dis-congruent to the sock puppet’s personality.

    [I’m also amused by the spam phone calls I’m getting in Chinese. I don’t understand Chinese, so it’s…restful, in some fashion, to know it’s nothing to worry about. I assume the calling subcontractors are stiffing their employers, that someone forgot to specify to use the list of Chinese-speaking phone numbers.]

    And how many followers are fake? The industrial world is buying fake followers and virtual game objects from developing countries. It makes the celebrities seem more popular, but it’s also a form of manipulation, to make someone seem influential.

    We love to talk about politics at home, but we don’t tend to talk about it in settings where people want quick, easy statements. No one wants to talk about the government’s budget. No one wants to list programs they’d cut to make the budget balance.

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    1. “No one wants to talk about the government’s budget. No one wants to list programs they’d cut to make the budget balance.”

      I would be very happy to make a list of the people whose taxes I would raise.

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      1. You know, we don’t get to raise specific people’s taxes (there’s some kind of rule against that), but I am perfectly willing to discuss higher tax rates. And I am one of the people whose rates would go up (and no, I am not going to volunteer to pay those higher taxes on my own, because that wouldn’t put us any closer to my policy goals).

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      2. “You know, we don’t get to raise specific people’s taxes”

        LOL, I know that. I was really backhandedly trying to point out that we often talk about what programs to cut instead of talking about raising taxes on gajillionaires.

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      3. Yes, I know you know. I think I was trying to point out that we are willing to talk real policy, and yes, I agree that framing the question as what we cut instead of the money we could raise is giving in before we’ve started the conversation.

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    2. I read once that humans click on emotion.

      I believe it. Sometimes, I read things that piss me right the fuck off, in order to get that shot of adrenaline to get me through the day. I tend to do that when I’m working long-term overtime jobs, especially on the night shift. That “emotional caffeine” really does keep me awake when, halfway through the week, I’m really suffering from lack of sleep. I can’t be the only person doing this.

      I think it’s also important to remember the role of powerlessness in rage. People get angry when they have a sense of power and agency. That devolves quickly into rage when they don’t. And frankly, the move to what pundits call the “service economy” (and what I call the “servants economy”) exacerbates that rage because service industry workers are required to quietly tolerate mistreatment and abuse all day long at the risk of being fired.

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  12. I have to say that I’m pretty upset that not only did horrible people advocate for the torture and death of my child, but that not a single person told the trolls that they were disgusting human beings for saying such things. The trolls were ignored. Now maybe that’s the right way to handle shit smears like that, but it also makes me feel that my kid isn’t considered worthy of a response, that protecting him wasn’t as important as protecting others. Talk about safe spaces and micro aggressions. This was a macro aggression and nobody gave a fuck.

    I’m leaving for a camping trip now. Pretty soon, I’ll have no cell phone reception. Which is a good thing. Hopefully, I’ll come back with a fresh perspective.

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    1. They were operating under the principle of “ignore the troll”? I think someone willing to call for such terrible things is displaying mental illness.

      Virtual space is different from real space. In real space, social, physical behaviors will restrain such behavior. In front of a keyboard, with an anonymous identity, people lose their inhibitions. Some people may have reported objectionable comments, which disappeared? That’s the most effective way to control such behavior, rather than feeding the trolls.

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    2. Yes, the silence of our friends wounds the deepest.

      I do not know what the right way to handle vile commenters on twitter is — I do believe they are looking for attention and outrage sometimes feeds and spreads the message and produces distractions. I think you recently commented along those lines with the outrage spirals that occur about Trump’s statements.). But silence leaves the victim alone. So I don’t know what the right thing to do is.

      A clear, calm statement of disgust?

      I also think that threats have to be taken seriously.

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    3. Gee, I definitely feel like ignoring hateful anonymous comments on comment pages is the right course, and that any response only gratifies the commenter. I didn’t read the comments on that particular article of Laura’s, but if I had, it would never have occurred to me to respond to those people. Do other people disagree with me?

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      1. That’s my take too. I rarely comment on any blogs or news pages, except for the very few small ones like this, but even on those I would never comment on a clearly horrifying or idiotic comment. I assume that any reasonable person would ignore it, and the less attention, the better.

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  13. Cranberry said,

    “They were operating under the principle of “ignore the troll”?”

    Quite likely.

    “I think someone willing to call for such terrible things is displaying mental illness.”

    Or is really, really young or starting to suffer the disinhibition that often comes with age.

    Here’s an old (but interesting!) article:

    https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/63/4/P219/581720

    “Older adults have a reduced capacity to take the perspective of another, and it has been suggested that disinhibition may be one mechanism contributing to this difficulty. To test this possibility, we had behavioral measures that were sensitive to inhibitory failure and to theory of mind (ToM) administered to younger and older adults. One of the measures of ToM directly manipulated inhibitory demands, involving either high or low levels of self-perspective inhibition. The results indicated that older adults were selectively impaired on the high-inhibition condition. Further, of the various aspects of cognitive functioning that we assessed, including memory, mental flexibility, and cognitive speed, only cognitive disinhibition mediated age-related differences in ToM. These results suggest that inhibitory control is an important mediator of ToM in late adulthood.”

    Which is (ironically!) not unrelated to the issues that Laura’s I was having on the plane.

    By the way, it must be increasingly difficult to get normal, sensible people to participate under their own names in articles, because it’s so easy to go viral and have your life messed up. I would personally think 10X before being interviewed or quoted for anything, given the possible downside and lack of upside.

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  14. This is a bit late, but here’s my take.

    I have three kids at home. A few years back, I had both a 12-year-old and a 2-year-old, then a 13-year-old and a 3-year-old, then a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old, etc, plus our low-maintenance middle kid. Kids that age have an enormous ability to generate drama and conflict. At some point, I had to really budget out how much time I was going to allot to internet drama and conflict, because when you have a 13-year-old and a 3-year-old at the same time, you need more drama like you need a hole in the head.

    Regarding national politics, I have been a normal conservative my whole life and am not, nor have I ever been, a Trump supporter (although I do not necessarily judge Trump voters). I’ve had a lot of political disappointments the past several years and I’ve had to revise some opinions. I think that our national politics are incredibly financially irresponsible, left and right, and that there’s really no solution, because people won’t believe how serious things are until it’s too late. And this is a problem that’s been cruising toward us as long as I’ve been aware of politics…I can do my best for my kids and my family, friends and community, but I can’t do anything for the country as a whole. Too many people want easy solutions to difficult problems, and they want to believe that the reason that they’re not getting a pony is that bad people are keeping them from getting a pony, and I can’t stop them from believing that.

    Here are some things that have helped me:

    –Keeping my sense of humor.
    –Managing my expectations.
    –Trying to see things as they are.
    –Trying to do justice and love mercy.
    –Having lots of contact with the real world.
    –Remembering what Tolkien said about how as a Catholic and a Christian, “I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

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  15. Some more thoughts:

    –Social media/twitter mobbing is very error-prone. We’re getting to the point where you could write a book just profiling all of the innocent nobodies who faced off-line harassment from social media mobs. Take for example the Chipotle manager who was videotaped asking for payment before service to a group of black men, went viral, lost her job…and then Chipotle had to walk it back after it turned out that the group was in fact a well-known dine-and-dash crew–which they could have learned had they spoken to their on-site employees.
    –Last year, Talia Lavin, a New Yorker fact checker posted photos accusing a wheelchair-bound disabled Afghanistan combat of having a Nazi tattoo (it was actually the symbol of his platoon).

    https://nypost.com/2018/06/26/new-yorker-staffer-resigns-after-falsely-accusing-ice-agent-of-having-nazi-tattoo/

    To give her credit, Lavin (who left her fact checking job after this episode), accepted correction fairly rapidly. However, some of the quotes from her show lack of awareness of the seriousness of what she did. ““I feel like I made a small mistake and it’s destroyed my life,” she said. “Lavin slammed ICE, saying, “I do not think it is acceptable for a federal agency to target a private citizen for a good faith, hastily rectified error.”” ““This has been painful and scary, and as I move into an uncertain and financially precarious future.” If only more people both in media and just on social media had more awareness that their “small mistakes” can wreck innocent people’s lives and make their lives financially precarious, too…It’s impossible to ever fully take back false allegations once it’s posted and starts getting retweeted.
    –We’re developing a media culture (not just social media) of shoot first, investigate later. It’s like all of the newspaper ethics and sourcing rules developed in the second half of the twentieth century never existed.
    –Needless to say, the people who are most vulnerable to social media mobbing are little people. They don’t have the kind of buffers against adversity that prominent, financially comfortable people have. Young people are also disproportionately vulnerable, both economically and emotionally. We all know (or ought to know) that teenagers often see every setback (even fairly minor social setbacks that an adult would shrug off) as being the end of the world, so they’re especially vulnerable to shaming and mobbing. Meanwhile (perhaps not coincidentally), we’re in the middle of a teen suicide epidemic. “The increase among older teen boys raised the overall suicide rate for Americans ages 15 to 24 to its highest level since 1960, said Harvard University’s Oren Miron, the lead author of the new research.” “For girls and young women, suicide rates have mostly followed a steady upward trajectory since 2000, roughly doubling between then and 2017.”

    https://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-suicide-rates-rising-teens-young-adults-20190618-story.html

    I’ll probably have more in a bit.

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  16. –One thing that is likely to lead to a lot of false positives is the current explosion of symbols that are supposedly white supremacist. For example, our beautiful, venerable and beloved Betsy Ross flag is now (as of 5 minutes ago) supposedly a white supremacist symbol…
    –There’s also been an explosion of narc culture. Yesterday, Bret Stephens of the NYT responded to an insulting (but virtually invisible) tweet calling him a bedbug by sending an intemperate email to the professor involved (ok!)…with a cc to the GW professor’s provost (TOTALLY NOT OK!).

    https://thehill.com/homenews/media/458952-new-york-times-columnist-bret-stephens-quits-twitter-after-being-called-a

    –We need new social norms for dealing with social media. People need to learn to stop “telling” on others if there’s no crime involved and no imminent harm. Didn’t we all learn this in 1st grade? I don’t know about you all, but I tell my kids not to narc on classmates for breaking rules unless somebody is in imminent danger, but that in that case, to tell immediately.
    –Don’t escalate stuff. Respond to words with words and don’t take it offline unless you are sure that it’s necessary to protect innocent people. (For example, if a health care provider were sharing private patient information online.)
    –I think that for a certain number of people, participating in online mobbing (and offline harassment) provides a sort of artificial sweetener version of community and community involvement. Real good deeds (which are time consuming, expensive and tiring) can be replaced with fake good deeds that don’t require leaving your house or talking to anybody.
    –These activities are a sort of solvent applied to relationships and community bonds, at a time when there’s an epidemic of loneliness and people are starting to notice that one of the connecting links between recent mass shooters is that they are isolated people on the margins of society.
    –I really want to ask people who think that social media mobbing and harassment is great–how does this get you from Point A to Point B? How does harassing minors, getting cashiers fired, and accusing a disabled vet of being a white supremacist contribute to the United States of America turning into some sort of high-trust Scandinavian Utopia? Hint: It doesn’t.
    –There’s a somewhat hackneyed Gandhi quote that says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” On the one hand, GAH, so New Age-y! On the other hand, I think it’s worth taking to heart. Begin with the end in mind. If you want to live in a peaceful, friendly society–be peaceful and friendly–even online!

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  17. I’m disappointed to have missed your tweet – any dealings I have with anyone in my red home state pretty much always involve someone saying “that”, different from the uniform “this” I read and hear in my coastal elite daily life. I do okay in real life reminding friends how differently the world looks from rural and sparsely populated places and pushing books like Educated and Hillbilly Elegy but online? I’ve been told (by friends, not the twitter hordes) that my family and childhood friends are obviously disgusting racists and no one needs to consider their perspectives, demographics will erase them soon enough.

    I see so many uncomfortable parallels – in the dehumanization and dismissiveness in the left towards the right as I used to see in white culture towards minorities. And so much of the left reminds me of my encounters with evangelical Christianity as a teenager – the us vs. them, the unceasing judgement and calling out. (I’m sure the right does it too, but I don’t read them!)

    It’s really discouraging.

    It’s also boring as hell to read anything that I suspect is signaling to the base. The most interesting reading these days is definitely the never-Trump Republicans.

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