Who’s Rulin’ Who?
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With all the discussion lately about the rights and wrongs of online speech and conduct, I recently discovered a 2003 piece by Clay Shirky, appropriately titled “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” (someone posted it in reference to the ginormous Brockmann brouhaha). Shirky’s insightful analysis of online communities tracks what he (borrowing partly from psychologist W.R. Bion) sees as a consistent pattern of group development and dissolution: a group forms and solidifies around a common purpose and the establishment of external enemies around which the group rallies. However, over time, the very thing that initially formed and grew the group starts to work against it, especially if the group does not have a constitution that establishes a shared set of rules:
So these are human patterns that have shown up on the Internet, not because of the software, but because it’s being used by humans. Bion has identified this possibility of groups sandbagging their sophisticated goals with these basic urges. And what he finally came to, in analyzing this tension, is that group structure is necessary. Robert’s Rules of Order are necessary. Constitutions are necessary. Norms, rituals, laws, the whole list of ways that we say, out of the universe of possible behaviors, we’re going to draw a relatively small circle around the acceptable ones.
He said the group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members.
Constitutions are especially important in free speech environments, Shirky argues, because groups inevitably tend to revolt against themselves (isn’t this an ingrained political truth by now, too?), and the more freedom people have, the more potential chaos and rebellion.
I am not certain I agree with Shirky’s insistence on formal community constitutions, but I do think he’s right that groups can easily dissolve on the very foundations that built them, especially if they do not have something important or compelling enough to redirect the more destructive patterns of group behavior. I hadn’t thought a lot past this point until last week’s excellent discussion on internet anonymity, and more particularly after Jessica’s thoughtful question about the difference between Will Shetterly’s “outing” of a fellow blogger and the Maryland court’s ruling to protect online anonymity:
But isn’t this exactly what the justices did in the decision Jane discussed? Extend anonymity to online individuals on the same basis it is protected for physically embodied individuals?
I knew instinctively that the answer was “no,” that the Maryland court and Will Shetterly’s positions were not identical. But it took a while for me to discern that while both were focused on rules and on rule-making (and breaking), Shetterly’s argument was essentially ethical and the court’s was, obviously, legal.
And the difference is as important, even though it’s hard to distinguish law and ethics sometimes, because we tend to compress them so often in our discussions of online speech and conduct. Take the Shetterly incident, for example. When Will Shetterly got angry at a fellow blogger, he posted her full legal name online as part of his response to her, even though she blogged and participated online under a pseudonym. He later defended himself by pointing out that her legal name was already attached to her online LiveJournal account, and therefore he wasn’t “outing” her as people charged, ultimately writing a post on Internet anonymity in which he argued that
In the world Behind The Keyboard, nicknames are connected to faces or voices or mailing addresses-they’re ultimately legally verifiable, though you may need detectives if someone you only know by a nickname shafts you.
But in Life Online? A pseudonym is just a pseudonym, not a nickname. Log out of gmail, make a new account, and you’re a new person, walking free from all the shit you’ve made.
The post seems to turn on this whole notion of having a name that is “legally verifiable” as a way to be accountable online and in real life for what you say and do. Which, besides providing a convenient rationale for Shetterly’s own actions, also tries to tie the notion of anonymous speech online to legal responsibility.
In some cases – defamation, for example – that tie is explicit. Although even then, an accusation of defamation does not prove defamation, which was the whole point of the Maryland decision Jane discussed; in that case, the court held that someone could not force an online outlet to release someone’s “legally verifiable” identity based on an accusation of defamation. Legally speaking, people are entitled to a certain protection of anonymity, ironically, for the same reason Shetterly ultimately changed his mind and tried to wipe clean all references he made to the opposing blogger’s legal identity: he was publicly shamed into doing it by the online community. In and of itself, public shaming is not unlawful; however, there are things that flow from the loss of anonymity that can be, like harassment, stalking, defamation, etc.
And at some point speech can be chilled in an environment that does not appear to welcome diverse opinions. DA gets charged with this sometimes, and I can certainly see how some of these conversations would seem intimidating and not particularly diverse to people whose views do not mesh with whatever majority emerges at any particular point. There are times I wish there was more dissent in our threads, that we could have more extended debate, with people on different sides of an issue arguing strongly and passionately – and fairly — for their different positions. The problem is that no one can be guaranteed that her view won’t be challenged, and not everyone likes to argue as much as I, uh, as some of us do.
In any case, most of the issues we have with online speech and conduct are not legal in nature but rather ethical – that is, they are not covered by legal principles but rather by codes of conduct that emerge from and are tacitly or explicitly agreed upon by the members of any identifiable community. Here’s the thing about the law: it’s a narrow, artificial, and sometimes bizarre paradigm. There are many wrongs and hurts people endure every day that have absolutely no legal remedy. Just because someone is an a-hole toward you does not make them legally liable for your offense, even though every one of your friends, family, and casual acquaintance and commenters think they’re out of line.
And based on Shirky’s argument, I would argue that we should not underestimate the importance or urgency of paying more conscious attention to shared ethical codes. Because as things stand now, when people get pissed, they sometimes invoke some type of legally-inflected threat or language, which can easily have the effect of inflaming or chilling conversation. And the vast majority of the time, there is no legal issue at stake, and the ethical issues get quickly reduced to mutual charges of what basically boils down to ‘you’re a poopy head and you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Ideally, we rely on people, especially grown-ups, to regulate and moderate their own behavior, a basic notion of some ubiquitous social contract informing expectations for online behavior. So even if Will Shetterly did not do a legal wrong in publicly posting information that is publicly available, as one of his commenters explained,
. . . you were angry enough so that you would have deliberately revealed her private information if it had actually been private in the first place. Which is, from their viewpoint, basically the same thing. It’s the principle that matters. Not the petty details. Heh.
In other words, it’s not the fact that the information was already public that matters; it’s the fact that Shetterly was mad enough not to care, because his intention was to call this person out and take away something he thought she did not deserve: her relative anonymity, as fragile as it may have been. That Shetterly wants to invoke pseudo-legal language to “explain” his reasons behind what he did does not make that language applicable. In fact, if you think about his argument that it’s easier to find out people’s legal identity in real life, it’s completely belied by the ease with which he got a hold of and published the identity of the blogger whom he opposed.
More generally, though, what I find most objectionable about Shetterly’s actions is that because he has decided not to claim a certain right (the right to speak anonymously), he decided it was okay to deny that right to someone else. In the same way he had a right to make the choice for himself, so should the other blogger. If Shetterly did not like the other blogger’s choice, he does not have to interact with and/or read her. But to take away a right he also had strikes me as Shetterly exercising his own rights twice simply because he could, or because he didn’t think through the implications of his actions, or because he was pissed.
I think what Shetterly did was ill-considered, and I think it’s an important ethical issue because it does not just impact the individuals involved; it sets a community standard and identifies a boundary across which certain speech and behavior are not okay for the ongoing welfare of the community. Some communities will thrive on wider boundaries, some on more narrow ones. Some communities will prefer a broad tolerance for speech but a narrower approval of behavior. It will depend on the purpose, make-up, and structure of the community, and on the contexts in which various speech and behavior occur.
Two fundamental questions are what ethical rules should apply, and how should they be applied? This is the problem with ethics: compared to how people perceive the law, ethics can seem soft and slippery. I would argue that in this sense they’re not much different from the law, but that’s an unnecessary tangent. More importantly, I would argue that it’s the softness, the difficulty in discerning and applying ethical rules, that makes them so valuable. Because they require thoughtful generation and application. They require reflection, comparison, context, conversation. They require community participation. In fact, I would argue that it’s not the rules, per se, that are of utmost importance; rather, I would argue that it’s the process of working toward the rules that counts, because it’s that process that engages the community as a community. And that, consequently, the rules will always likely be a work in progress, as long as the process of the work is taking place.
Another key, in my opinion, is to recognize that many of our recognized communities will have members that also belong simultaneously to other communities. And further, that people who are members of the same community may have different roles in that community. I believe that much confusion and conflict emerges from the elision of differences inherent to distinct roles. For example, authors and readers occupy different roles. Authors profit economically from their writing, and the name under which they write is identified with and connected to that economic profit. Consequently, they may have a narrower margin for speaking out under that name. Readers, by contrast, may have more freedom in speaking out, but they also do not gain an economic benefit from doing so. The roles are different. Which means that the standards of conduct are going to be somewhat different.
That does not necessarily mean, as some believe, that readers are/should be held to a lower standard of conduct; it simply means that they are/should be held to a different standard, but one, hopefully, that is at the same level of ethical conduct, taking account of the different roles. The trick, of course, is identifying these different roles and expectations and applying appropriate standards of conduct.
The issue gets a little more complicated, I believe, when it comes to strongly connected or overlapping communities like readers and bloggers, where many readers are themselves bloggers. The more overlap you have, the more confusing it can get, because it becomes more difficult to distinguish the elements that go into determining different standards of conduct. Should the blogger be held to a higher standard than the reader, and if so, what and why? And what about when authors are speaking out as readers? If they do so under their author name, does that automatically connect their words to the economic consequences of their work?
If you’ve been following the larger RaceFail ’09 controversy, you know that it’s been going on since January. I do not believe that the conversation will ever resolve, in part because there are too many individuals with valid, competing interests who have a stake in the debate. But is that such a bad thing? We are, perhaps, too hungry for resolution and unreasonably intolerant of the natural flux of dynamic organic systems. In an ideal world, there might be a perfect balance of priorities and expectations, but in the “real life” of the Internet, a fixed community is a comments closed, defunct community.
Still, if you could construct your ideal community online, what would it look like? Would there be explicit rules and what would its foundation be? Free speech or not? What’s the most important rule you would want to see implemented and why?
My ideal internet community would be one in which everyone felt comfortable posting his/her opinions, but did not interpret the right to free speech as a license to belittle or humiliate others. I’ve seen so many interesting discussions go downhill when this sort of thing starts up.
I defend everyone’s right to speak their mind. But the whole “But I was just being honest!” line of defense is trotted out to justify the most appalling behaviour.
I’d like to see a community where people realize that that one opinion doesn’t necessarily negate another–so don't take it personally if people think differently. (cause hey, it’s not all about you)
The first example that comes to mind is the great paperback vs. e-book debate. Is all the arguing and name calling really necessary? Stating a preference doesn’t mean you are saying the other one is evil. It’s a preference. Nothing more.
I know incidents like this keep me from commenting. There are many way to de-fur a feline and it would be great if people remembered that.
In my ideal Internet Community the minute someone typed “If you can’t say something nice…” Their Internet connection would be instantly timed out for a week with the words YOU FAIL!!! displayed whenever they tried to login.
Teddy, if you can’t say something ni–
Y’know, you could’ve interviewed me about this.
When I â€œoutedâ€ Coffeeandink, I knew she was already out in Google. As noted here, Googling any two of her first name, last name, or livejournal name brought up the third within four hits.
I then learned why she has been â€œoutâ€ on Google so prominently: From 2006 until recently, she identified herself by first and last name in public posts on her LiveJournal when talking about conventions she would be at; in 2007, she used her middle name also. Accidentally strengthening Coffeeandink's Google ranking, K. Tempest Bradford linked her legal name to her LJ on several web pages in 2007. Making the link between her name and LJ even stronger, Coffeeandink had been using her distinctive first name on her LJ.
Because she's recently changed her old LJ posts to hide her name, I then deleted the links to them, and I changed the references to her name to â€œMâ€.
As for what the commenter said, let me make this clear: I would never have done that. I charged Coffeeandink with hypocrisy because she was already so very prominently public. There are many ways to be private on LiveJournal if you honestly want to be private. She did not use them.
IMHO, there will never be a “perfect” set of guidelines for the internet world to follow. Each site, be it a yahoo group, message board, blog, whatever, serves a different purpose, and the rules for each should be tailored to meet the needs of the community participating.
Sites such as DA, KNB, and SB are by nature, controversial. And that is as it should be, since the topics are so varied. What is considered “flaming”, on say a reader discussion loop, is nothing more than “pillowtalk” on the sites noted.
This is not to say I condone when some individuals step over that line and start hurling insults and what not at each other. To me that indicates that the individual has lost the ability to communicate effectively and is now resorting to school yard antics to “win”.
And as to using a psuedonym, yep, I own up to that, and for many of the reasons already mentioned. I have my real life persona, my author persona, my persona used here and elsewhere, and another that I use as a moderator on a reader/author book discussion loop.
It’s a fact of life that stalkers do exist, hence why I hide my real life identity as much as possible. And it is also a fact of life that if you speak using your author name, it may damage your sales…or even swing a discussion to your side simply because you have a fan base. (Think Nora Roberts. People will often gush over her words, or flat out tell her she has no business voicing her opinion because she is successful.)
Which is why I have my third persona at the reading loop. I don’t want to distract my purpose there, which is to keep the group on topic and not steal any thunder from another author.
But, no matter what name I go by, I don’t say anything I wouldn’t say if I was using my real life name. I am all these people, and this is my “voice”. And based on that, I believe that my anonymity should be respected, as I respect the community members and the owners I interact with.
I guess you can gather that I find Shetterly’s actions abhorrent. LOL
@will shetterly: If you really felt that strongly about the righteousness of your actions, why make the efforts to so rigorously scrub the site of the outing. In other words, if it was the right thing to do at the time – point out coffelinkwhomever’s hypocrisy, why is it not the right thing now?
I enjoy discussion/debate/argument -‘ in fact, my family and friends will tell you that I have been known to argue for a position I don’t hold simply for the heck of it.
In my ideal Internet Community, no one would confuse vituperative ad hominem attacks with rational argument. No one would think “But I feel that way” is an argument anyone else should feel obliged to take seriously. No one would attack straw men. Etc. And no one would use anonymity as a cloak for viciousness.
But I would put up with all of that rather than have nothing but boring cheerleading sessions.
Oh god, you summoned him.
Jane, I scrubbed my site because Coffeeandink has scrubbed hers. Outing her now that she’s removed her public self-outings of the last three years would be wrong. I believe you can’t out those who are out, but “out” doesn’t have to be permanent. She’s making an effort to separate her legal and LJ identities on Google now. It’s right to respect that.
My perfect internet community wouldn’t use words like vituperative that I have to go search the definition of at google!
LOL I’m kidding, I like smart people!!!
I just looked at the comment quoted above, because I was wondering why I hadn’t addressed it at the time. The answer? Your quote has changed serialbabbler’s meaning. She wrote, “…they'll figure that you were angry enough…” She wasn’t saying I was that angry. She was saying people on the other side would say I was that angry. And she was right.
Perhaps people would indeed consider you angered because of your actions. Had you simply cross-referenced to find the identity of the poster to satisfy your own curiosity, so be it. However you took it took the next level…posting your findings.
That sounds a tad “angry” to me, no matter whether serialbabbler’s quote was taken out of context. I didn’t need to read that to form the opinion on my own.
My perfect internet community would be made up of rational and logical people, who understand that people can disagree on issues and still be friends and not insist that those who disagree are evil or stupid. People who speak respectfully to each other and laugh together. People who don’t need the conversations to always be about them. People who understand that the internet is not real life; it’s just a discussion, it’s not the end of the world.
I was watching a show on the Crime channel the other night about serial killing couples and how often one or both of them might never have killed, or might never have gone as far as they did, had they not had a partner; that even without necessarily meaning to they egged each other on. I do think internet communities can become that way; I know I’ve been guilty of it myself, much as I try not to get caught up and to think before posting (this is why I appreciate the edit feature, heh). When everyone seems to be having so much fun and really getting into something it’s hard to step back, and we’re all only human. None of us are perfect.
Anon76, I was angry, and I wish I’d waited a day or two to write more calmly. There’s more background to this than has usually been mentioned. It began over a wiki where one side was fully documenting the participation of their opponents while hiding connections between Coffeeandink’s LJ and legal identities that the other side thought were pertinent. Given how prominently those identities had been connected in Google, that seemed like hypocrisy to me. But I’ve accepted it was only ignorance.
You’re kidding, right? Seriously, I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing. Not because I don’t believe that individually a site can’t make and even enforce rules or that a community can’t, but that first the process has to be set into the proper order and usually in most “community sites” online, it isn’t.
What we’re really talking about is the phenomenon of communities springing up as the result of being on the Internet in the first place. And that’s a differernt animal entirely from communities existing before getting online. With the one, i.e. being a community in the first place or being an individual who has a reason to have a site, there is a motivating force behind why there is a site in existence, so the rules would already exist as part of the package. Usually, though, most spontaneous communities online have to scramble to figure out who and why they are who and why they are. The entire process is backwards. And those that don’t figure it out, don’t last.
Do you know why AAR is so successful? Because one person took responsibility for absolute and total control of defining who and why that site was going to be. I don’t care how much it’s called a community – and it is a community – that community was defined initially by one person’s ideals and vision. It is now in the hands of a group of individuals. It is not a democracy, however. The odd thing is, I can respect that because as I’m saying it makes sense. It’s a logical way to achieve an objective.
Do not be deceived, most fansites that are truly successful “communities” are controlled by a single individual or an extremely small group of individuals who make the rules and enforce them. Why? Because otherwise it would be anarchy. From the start.
So, back to the question of what the ideal community online would be? Whatever was best for that community at that particular moment in time. So, the most important rule? Adaptability. Life means change. You don’t change, you’re dead. Which is actually where free speech comes in. Shut off free speech and leaders how no way of knowing where and when change is needed, particularly if all they ever hear are the ones who agree with them.
Yeah, Will, I get what you are saying.
Sadly, your actions made you the “boogie man” in this instance, no matter what prompted the actions.
And that is the fine line all authors walk. I sometimes wonder how the same people who will agonize over sentences in a book for days, will sometimes throw out that same regard when online and interacting. LOL.
@will shetterly: So was the hypocrisy the pseudonym itself? I’m confused about that. And did it, like, disappear when she scrubbed her LJ and you scrubbed your posts?
Isn’t that special.
The arrogance boggles the mind.
I have no idea who these two people are. But it strikes me that people like shetterley are the very type who make anonymity necessary in webville.
@will shetterly: But I provided a link to the entire comment and elipses to mark the edit, and honestly, I don’t know how the comment changed meaning with my edit. Even if I had included the “they’ll think” part it would not have changed the ‘what they’ll think’ part (which I was basically adopting as part of my argument), whether you (or the commenter) buy the argument or not. And perhaps because I’m an outsider and not personally acquainted with either of you, I read the comment as a mite more ambiguous than you seem to have (i.e. “principle” v. “petty details”).
Just musing aloud, here —
A group — a community — is like a critter. Alive and ambulatory and making noise, eating and pooping, with evolving needs and interests. But if a critter is gonna stand, it needs bones. Those bones are ‘rules’ of conduct, and expectations of common courtesy.
Without those bones, it turns into “Lord of the Flies”.
Then again, the internet is a relatively new environment. New life forms are popping up. Some survive and evolve, adapting to the evolutions of this environment, while others die off. As usual, survival is of the ‘fittest’, not necessarily of the ‘best’.
And the more of it I observe, the more it reminds me of high school.
No it doesn’t strike me as arrogant. Person X listed their name on their blog themselves. They linked the two identities themself, but claimed they didn’t understand by doing so the result would show up on google. The person claims that she didn’t understand this, but once it was pointed out she started cleaning up her own blog. So instead of staying hypocritical-I can link myself to my blog but no one else should to oops I didn’t know and now will clean up things.
(Kind of if someone on another blog said you know that Jane at dearauthor is a lawyer and that is why she talks about the legal aspects of things and then Jane replied OH NOES my cover is blown HOW DARE you tell people I am a lawyer-that would be hypocritical)
I’ve got to go write my daily allotment now, and I’ve vowed to keep my participation in this topic at my blog henceforth, so this’ll be my last comment here:
Anon @18, the mistake I made when I first started being public online was thinking people would separate the artist and the individual. I don’t want to be “Will Shetterly, Author” online. I want to be someone who offers ideas, makes mistakes, refines the ideas, makes jokes, accidentally gives offense, apologizes, makes new mistakes, etc. I would now advise anyone who wants to be published to create a persona in order to be that bumbling individual when they wish. That’s why I’m supporting Coffeeandink’s attempt to get herself back in the closet–her public posts using her writing name were a mistake if she wants Coffeeandink to be free from her more permanent, legal self.
Janet @19, it’s hard to discuss this without outing her. Basically, the connection between her legal and LJ identities still seems significant to me in the original discussion–if, say, a boy scout used a handle like Notaboyscout to talk about a scouting issue, and someone made a wiki about the discussion, it would seem pertinent to me to mention in the wiki that Notaboyscout was a boy scout, especially if Google revealed in a couple of hits that Notaboyscout had been very out about being a boy scout.
LindaR @20, that’s why you should make some effort to be private if you want people to think you want to be private. In Coffeeandink’s case, a good friend of hers didn’t even realize that, and had therefore been outing her since 2007. (Tempest did delete the links recently when she realized what she had done.)
janet @21, I think your quotation suggests serialbabbler believes I was angry enough to out someone under any circumstances, and that’s not what she said. But it’s no biggie, honest.
Just curious . . .
Aren’t feelings about books/products sometimes all we have?
Besides, those “feelings” are the basis, in point of fact, the very foundations for many of these communities, inside and outside the romance “community” online. They are the very reason for their existence in the first place. We wouldn’t have found each other if we didn’t have strong feelings about the books we love/hate so much. Take away those feelings and there are pretty much no communities online. So, how does not taking those “feeling” arguments seriously work exactly, particularly on sites such as this where readers/fans emotional reactions are what keep them coming back to take part in discussion in the first place?
See what I mean about knowing what the community is about before one can figure out what’s ideal for it?
When I started reading this OP earlier this morning I kept thinking that something was different. Certainly not wrong — just different. The voice, the cadence of the sentences, the way the piece is laid out. Then I got to the reference about Jane and scrolled up to see WTF. Not one of my best blonde moments but it did lead me to think how excellent it is to have a site with so many well thought out opinions that compliment each other without the authors being clones of one another. Just sayin’ thanks for that.
Like LindaR mentioned above, I have no idea who these people are and the synopsis of the incident that I read was just another example of posters out of control of their keyboards — complete with Greek Chorus. Mr shetterly and his nemesis/opponent/adversary could have walked away from the discussion at any time without losing face. It has nothing to do with giving up one’s position and everything to do with knowing that some battles aren’t obligatory.
And geeze, an interview already? Seriously? To what end?
Some sites are successful some of the time for some of the people. I think it’s probably important to remember that online communities aren’t places you can actually live a life.
@Teddy… always tempting people to the dark side. If you can’t s
Just curious… Is there a breakdown somewhere of the “ginormous Brockmann brouhaha?”
I am bypassing the coffeeandink and will shetterly brouhaha altogether – I have no knowlege of the thing so cannot comment with any intelligence, so will not.
As to the question about my “ideal internet community” – does/can such a thing exist? It would be lovely if it did – but since trolls abound in internetland, it is doubtful. But as another poster pointed out – the best/easiest sites are manned by a single person, or a very small group of persons who share the same ideals about how a community should be run.
Much like in my household. I am a single parent with four children. I am the dictator in our house. I make the decisions and I enforce them. Sure we can discuss and negotiate things, but in the end the final decision is mine. It has to be that way – someone has to be in charge and as the sole adult, I elected me to do it. Any other option would not work for us.
Someone has to maintain the ideals of the community and be willing to be the bad guy – to stand up and say, I don’t appreciate your negative input or cattiness or whatever; someone has to be the voice of reason. I think a lot of leeway has to be given in that the written word is more difficult to interput since it is devoid of facial expressions and tonal inflections – all “winks” and “smilies” aside. (Which regarding winks and smilies is one of my biggest internet pet-peeves – I can say something really mean spirited and nasty, but you are not to take it as such because I added the smilie there at the end, so that you would know I was joking ;)… ugh.)
I guess what I am trying to say is that I appreciate the smaller, more intimate sites, where “friendships” develop and good, rousing debates are to be found. Where intelligent dialogue is the name of the game and someone is there to be the voice of reason. Kind of like this one.
For what it’s worth, he’s talking about compartmentalization and we all do it in our personal lives to some extent. Parent, child, sibling, worker, supervisor, consumer, and the list goes on. Take it too far inappropriately and it can become a serious problem in real life.
Thing is, on the Internet, it’s a perfectly normal situation to have as many identities as one wants to have, each for whatever function one needs them. It only becomes a problem if one allows them to overlap at the wrong time or is using one of them illegally.
Or if someone sticks their nose in someone else’s business where it shouldn’t be stuck for reasons of their own.
I’ve always found it strange that authors, the very people that create characters for a living, seem to be the slowers critters on the planet to grasp the use of this fantastic tool for their own benefit. Generally speaking, I mean. How weird is that?
I don’t know the details of this incident, so I will speak here in general philosophical terms. Groups need rules, or laws, which govern interaction and create a framework of some kind of uniform order. Laws are imperfectly crafted and subject to interpretation, which is why courts overrule each other and the legislative bodies that craft the laws are always changing them. (And why moderators on some forums remove things others allow.) Without laws imposing order, you have chaos – or anarchy. With too many laws, you have dictatorship. Somewhere in between you should have democracy – or in our case a representative republic. Most internet communities function as ‘benevolent dictatorships’ to one degree or another.
Ethics have very little to do with laws. Laws cannot make me an ethical person. One need look no further than the business community for a demonstration of the difference between laws and ethics. Whether or not a certain activity is legal might be subject to interpretation by the courts and dependent on how well a law is crafted. That certain acts are unethical is usually easier to determine, but even that is dependent on an individual’s morality. Many contemptible things are legal and many perfectly normal things are illegal – at least in certain jurisdictions. Ethics is governed by our personal moral beliefs, a code of honor – and that is most assuredly not common ground as it’s driven by social, religious and cultural values. The larger and more diverse the community, the more diverse the values.
Social dynamics are fluid and a gang mentality is as much a part of online communities as it is in real life. Perhaps more so. The difference is, if you stand in city hall at a town meeting berating me and yell my name, the world does not hear it. You use the internet as your bully pulpit, you do make me the target of the world. Think about the difference in those consequences. The scale is extreme. Is it illegal? Unethical? Immoral? Or a kind of petty revenge for a perceived insult?
Only Mr Shatterly knows the real reason why he did what he did. Regardless, he choose to do it very publicly on a stage open to the world. It certainly was risky on many levels. Should the person he ‘outed’ suffer repercussions, there is the risk of civil if not criminal LEGAL repercussions. But the real risk and the real damage was what he did to himself and his reputation with his behavior. Mr Shatterly choose to go out on the internet as a person with a name and a reputation. His CHOICE. The person he outed had that choice taken out of their hands. Legal issues and ethics aside, it was just plain stupid!
Heat of the moment sees all of us do astonishingly stupid and embarrassing things we later regret. Thankfully, most of us reserve such behavior for a smaller audience than the entire internet community.
The most important rule of engagement, it seems to me, is to think twice before going off half-cocked, or as John Scalzi puts it, “please give consideration to your comments before you hit send; if it's not something you would say to someone directly in front of you, you probably shouldn't post it.” Even then, there’s a lot of thread-management to keep a discussion on track.
I agree that
but the trouble lies in finding an ethical medium that will cook up a torte of intelligence rather than a poisonous brew of derail fail.
For people who comment on a blog, I would suggest no ad hominem attacks,
starving any trolls that appear, avoiding inflammatory language, and eschewing sockpuppetry.
As for the legal issues in Internet communication, here’s a link to an article about women who sued their cyber-harassers. It’s got a good observation about the perverse effect of anonymity:
LOL While I was so carefully crafting my thoughts, Mr Shetterly weighed in personally on the issue.
I hope authors have learned the lesson that seems to bring down so many people – the job cannot be separated from the person in public. I believe Victoria Laurie and several other authors have learned that lesson of late. The internet is a perilous place.
I definitely think that each community will be run differently according to its purpose, values, and membership, but in terms of AAR, I guess it depends on what you mean by “successful.” Because I’m pretty sure there are folks who feel that AAR has not succeeded in certain ways, in part because of Lori’s particular vision and the way she exercised her authority and power over the site.
Nope, not kidding. The reality of how communities exist online — whether they are intentionally created or coincidentally/hapharzardly evolve — does not, IMO, preclude the exercise of envisioning an existing community based on particular principles. Because in this context it’s the principles I’m interested in getting out on the table, the different aspects of community dynamics that people find preferable, worthy of intentionally cultivating, problematic, whatever.
I’m not convinced that a community must have a small, focused leadership (a benign monarchy or oligarchy) to succeed, but if people (as members) are not comfortable with the flux of democratic structures, they likely will be drawn to communities where there is a strong, directed, narrow leadership. And some communities need to function that way, while others don’t.
Just in terms of the RaceFail discussion, it’s an interesting ambiguity around the “fail” part of the term. Is it the concept of race that fails, the predominance of one point of view that fails, or the debate itself? IMO it would be a failure to see that debate resolve, because that would IMO require the marginalization of perfectly valid positions and experiences. Although we seem to have difficulty entertaining the idea that more than one side may be right, it seems to me that the race debate is exactly the place where such a thing can and does and needs to happen and be accepted, because there are just so many participants who have competing valid perspectives and experiences. I personally think that one of the greatest potentials of the online environment is that it allows us to see this, and hopefully to accept it more readily as intrinsic to any diverse, dynamic community, online or in RL.
In this case, I mean long-running by successful. Because I certainly haven’t agreed with everything Laurie at AAR has done with the site over the years. In fact, I’ve been quite vocal in disagreeing. I’ve also been just as willing to stop going there, too, because of the very things that I disagreed with.
Yes, she exercised her authority and power, but that also kept the site going when not exercising it would’ve meant that it would’ve probably folded in the first few years. Or at any given time since. That’s sometimes what it takes. And she could do that because she owned the site. In fact, she had to do it.
Ah, but if one is “envisioning” a community, then one is already starting out with a goal in mind. There is nothing haphazard about that.
See, that’s the mistake people invariably make. They think because a community springs up online and is suddenly this huge “thing” that it wasn’t someone’s brainchild. It’s been my observation that’s rarely if ever true. When someone truly starts out with a goal in mind, with rules in mind, with principles in mind, then they maintain control. That goal can initially be fairly nebulous but it’s still a goal.
And by they, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about one individual, a small group of people, a business or a large corporation. With any of those, one can still create an organization of ideals around which to frame the group and work towards some united goals. Whether or not those goals are ever reached – well, that’s where adaptability comes in. And to some extent, democracy, but someone ultimately has to be responsible in some way.
I’ve only seen true chaos comes from those “communities” that evolve from spur-of-the-moment instances where absolutely no one has any idea what they’re doing there or why. Principles, whether they’re for debating or conduct, don’t get one anywhere if there isn’t a reason to be together in the first place.
I’ve read your explanatory posts, and I think where I get stuck is in the divide between the principle of “owning” your words that you assert, your “justice is personal” stance, and your argument that you deleted the references to M out of “kindness.” Because I’m left with nothing coherent to hold on to in your actions as precedent.
If, for example, the principle of being accountable is that important, then why wipe the references? Especially if the connection had already been made publicly to the extent you claim it was? Wouldn’t that be enough to sustain a hold-steady position on your part, even if others disagreed with you? As you’ve said numerous times, you don’t have a problem pissing people off, and if you have a principle to which you’re committed, the pissing people off part can become an incidental byproduct of virtuous action.
But if it’s simply a matter of justice being personal, and of you choosing initially to administer some personal justice to someone you felt was getting to attack you with impunity behind a “shield” you were not allowed to share, then isn’t the principle in question vengeance rather than accountability? So why the whole argument about the principle of accountability?
And if the erasure was an act of kindness, kindness for what purpose? What happens to either of the previous principles? And how does such kindness relate to the anger you admit feeling when you made the original post linking the person explicitly to her legal identity? If someone told me they were doing something to me out of “kindness,” after they had done something angry and supposedly based on an ethical principle of accountability, I’d feel patronized and condescended to, I think. And I likely wouldn’t believe it, either, especially after the very assertive statement about how important it is for people to own their statements under their legal names.
While I completely understand feeling like you need to defend or explain what yourself, and while I admire the honesty in admitting the anger behind your actions, as a mere follower of the discussion, I’m left with no guiding principle from what happened, because, ironically, there’s no cogent narrative in all that explanatory history. It feels a bit like, ‘here’s one explanation, and if you don’t like that one, here’s another.’ I’m NOT saying that’s what you intend or are consciously doing, just that it reads that way to me, further muddying an already muddy action. If you stuck to your guns and kept the info up, or took it down and said, ‘hey, I screwed up; it happens,’ I could measure your position relative to opposing views, even if I disagreed with what you did and why. Instead, I disagree with what you did and I don’t feel that I’ve been given the opportunity to be persuaded that it was the right thing under the circumstances because the aftermath has not offered me a consistent principle by which to observe or understand or formulate for the purpose of following any standard of conduct within the community your actions and words impact.
All that is not intended to be a personal assessment, only an articulation of the way that whole situation seemed to be divested of the ethical principle you initially championed without providing an equally compelling substitute. Which may itself say something important about the community in which the situation occurred. But in terms of setting a standard of conduct, which your initial position offered, I don’t think it succeeded.
@BevBB: How important do you think the membership of the AAR community is to the site’s longevity, and do you credit Laurie’s vision with that, too?
Given what you say here, I’m even more confused by your reaction to my question about envisioning the ideal online community, lol.
@MB: Someone may have a better answer, but since Brockmann shut down and erased her board again, I got most of my updates from this massive and sometimes tedious AAR thread. Sadly, some scolding near the end seems to have put a few folks on the defensive, but I’m sure others would argue that it’s high time things cooled anyway, lol.
One thing that may be hard to adapt to for some authors is the big difference between being in complete control of one’s fictional world and in almost no control of the online world. Online, others will not automatically submit to the author’s wisdom and intelligence, lol. When I construct a post or a comment, I’m always trying to anticipate objections and opposing views, because I simply assume people will disagree with me. But I would not do that if I was composing a story, because it’s a different process. Not that authors can’t and don’t make the transition, but I think wen an author blogs under her author name and yet wants to blog about topics unrelated to the creative process, it can get dicey because of the way different people will connect to (or not) the authorial persona relative to the content of the ‘outside the book’ writing.
@BevBB – Of course we all have feelings and opinions -‘ and pretty strong ones at that. And of course we are entitled to those feelings and opinions. But unless you can say something more about your opinion than “that’s the way I feel,” why should anyone think your opinion is worth taking seriously?
For example, one of the good things about the reviews on this site is that the reviewers all explain why they like or dislike the book. A reader can look at the review and decide if she is likely to have a similar reaction.
If, on the other hand, a reviewer were to write, “I just love this book to pieces. I can’t explain why, but that’s the way I feel,” I would feel entitled to ignore the reviewer’s opinion. The reviewer is entitled to have the opinion, but no one is automatically entitled to have an opinion taken seriously.
Robin – I love your posts. In this case, I think I disagree – at least to some extent – with an assumption that seems to underlie the post and that is the assumption that there is a group or community. Or at least one that shares enough common ground to even consider formulating any sort of rules. (Although I do see that you acknowledged the existence of overlap between groups and the diversity of interests of different individuals).
If I’m honest, I don’t identify myself, as a blogger, as being part of any group. I do see myself as sharing certain interests with certain people who also blog/comment/read/write. But the variety of interests and the ways in which I interact with those people are not uniform. Not to mention the fact that the pool of people potentially involved can theoretically change minute to minute. Fundamentally, I see blogging as an individual pursuit and I’m not crazy about the idea of that being regulated by The Council of Whoever. In fact, the day that happens is probably the day I stop blogging.
The process of setting up of a framework of rules – or even beginning a fruitful discussion of one – would necessarily involve a degree of leadership by particular individuals. The thought of that offends me, if I’m honest. The idea of some bunch of people setting themselves up as regulators of my little corner of the internet chills me. One of the joys of blogging – for me – is the lack of hierarchies – at least hierarchies that I am obliged to acknowledge. Shirky talks about it being human nature for groups to turn on themselves. I’m afraid it’s also human nature for individuals within groups to set themselves up as rulemakers. I know which of those two evils bothers me more.
The looseness of the ‘grouping’ that bloggers/readers/authors share can be frustrating when discussing sharp issues but it has an attraction for me in the highly regulated and rule-driven world in which I operate day to day.
Equally, and on the other hand, the thought of an endless rambling discussion about ethics that doesn’t really get anywhere because (inevitably) consensus cannot be reached and most people recognise that no one person is entitled to impose their will on everyone else – well, that just fills with me dismay.
And all of that is without mentioning the logical conclusion of any rule-making process. Enforcement. What is the remedy for rule-breaking? Elimination from the group? The online equivalent of a public flogging? Insofar as these remedies are even feasible (new identities can be assumed/ accusations vigorously and emotively defended) they are already used to some extent without the need for rules to actually be in place.
That is not to say that dialogue about ethical issues is worthless. It’s absolutely worth it. Around discrete issues, with all commenters welcome and every comment treated as having equal weight.
What type of community is AAR?
Answer that by looking at the real picture, not the advertised one, and you’ll answer your own question quite well. Invariably, every person one asks will give a completely different answer because they go there for completely different things. That tells me something important. Laurie came very, very close to her vision for the site, agree with it or not.
I’m not sure why because nothing in what I just said that in any way changes what I said earlier about there being no ideal online community. Every single one of them is different depending on why they’re created and by whom. To me, there is no way of answering your question.
I think the question springs out of the fact that our online lives and our meatspace lives are meshing further than they ever have before. When I first adopted my internet handle, it was perfectly normal and acceptable for people to go gallivanting around the internets with names like “PrincessSparkleponyOfLothlorien” and “Elvenqueen520.” Now you have to put that email on your resume and use it where people will actually see your face. For years, people have been able to run wild and naked and free…only now the Bosses and the Customers are able to flip on the lights and reveal that the mirrors were one-way all along…and it’s all been caught on camera. I kind of feel for the youth of today–if I’d been let loose on the internets when I was 13 (and I would have–I even tried to dial up to a 300-baud bbs at that age and my mother flipped out), my life would have probably seen much more of itself living down my past embarrassments (like 300-page self-inserts involving 80’s hair bands ::shudder::).
Internet communities have more trouble than meatspace communities, though, because the nature of their bonds is more permeable. In a realtime community, like a town, members are bound by physical location, to some extent a similar worldview (ie, we all know to wear coats in winter because it snows), and possibly a similar range of economic strata. In an interest-based community, members are all bound by a similar interest–we all love Star Wars, or Pokemon, or Lost or whatever…but that doesn’t necessarily carry with it any sort of set of worldview assumptions, economic experience commonalities, or codes of conduct.
In a town, we all know to drive on the same side of the road, and which stoplights not to speed through, and when we have to leave in order to beat the school buses home. We have experienced similar events and behaviors that carry with them an unspoken moral thread, which can be as loosely identified as “moral behavior is what is best for the most of the community.” No one digs on the side of the main drag, because that’s where the water lines for everybody are buried. In an internet-based community, there isn’t the same sense of, well, common sense. It’s all electrons and communication. And communication can only happen when both speaker and listener have the same set of agreed-upon symbols to represent concepts and ideas. In town, we know not to pick at the sensitive parts of our neighbors because we know those sensitive parts. And our neighbors, and their reactions to them. We know what they find unacceptable. In the internet-based community, we pick unwittingly and have to clean up after the fact. We don’t have those years–and the unrelated aspects of our lives–touching each other.
The internet communities I’ve been a part of that are the most successful have one of two traits. They are either close-knit and very clear on a somewhat-restrictive set of rules regarding conduct (and this included conduct in other areas of the internet and real life, too–if you took your snit to livejournal, you could be called on it in-community. In exchange, you received a secure place where you knew your sensitive stuff wouldn’t get out)…or they are loose and diffuse enough to not require daily participation by everyone, but whose topics of interaction are very delimited.
The former can seem restrictive, but acts more like a realtime community, where your off-topic business is part of your on-topic existence, but at the same time, it creates a somewhat more secure environment–not appropriate at all to a fandom, but more appropriate to a societal learning environment, and entered into by explicit consent of all members. The latter works less as a social or societal community and more as a technical one–open-source help forums are like that.
My ideal community would have to depend on the purpose of that community. However, my right to anonymity–or maybe I should say, a right to compartmentalization–should remain intact on a level similar to that which I can expect from a real-life community.
Janet @35, since I entered this discussion, I suppose it’s fair to answer a few questions. If you look at that flurry of posts, the dates are significant. Here’s the history of my motives:
1. At the beginning, like Tempest, I thought Coffeeandink was “out.”
2. I got email from Coffeeandink asking me to remove her last name. I believe in privacy, so I did so grudgingly–you may disagree, but I believe kindness can be grudging. Removing her name was not out of niceness; to me, nice cannot be grudging. At the time, I noted that she was as thoroughly out as anyone can be on Google, but I still removed her name.
3. A few days later, I learned of the wiki affair. And Kathryn and I were being attacked by C&I’s friends for outing her because C&I had neglected to mention that our independent initial outings were made innocently, that we’d made the same mistake Tempest had made.
4. I then made my “outing” post because I was mad at the attacks by her friends and mad at her claim that she was private when Google showed she was not. There were any number of elements of fail in what I did–not the least was that I did not stress at the time how thoroughly “out” C&I already was. A big question remains for me: Can you “out” someone who is already out when Googled? The answer seemed so obvious that I didn’t raise the question.
5. Confronted with the evidence that C&I had outed herself with Tempest’s help, they began unouting her, removing the links that Tempest had made, changing C&I’s profile name, changing the references in C&I’s public posts to initials rather than her first and last name, etc. To me, that said she was sincere about wanting to be private. So I deleted my use of those names.
Do you mean “Clay Shirky”? I’m pretty sure you do (although I’m sure “Carl Shirky,” whoever he may be, is a fine human being as well).
@Julia Sullivan: YES! Thank you! I can’t believe it took forty-some comments for someone to point out my typo, lol. I am such a crappy proofreader of my own work!
Or there are as many answers as people (with many points of both convergence and divergence), which would be my position.
@Tumperkin: I struggled between “standards of conduct” and “rules” when I was writing this piece, because I tend to flinch at the word “rule” from a deeply anti-authoritarian orientation.
If the rule thing, the authority thing, is what charges your disagreement, then I would say, okay, put the idea of rules or leadership aside. Without that, do you still feel that you are not part of some community, whether it be as narrow as blogging about books or as broad as Romance reader or online participant? If your disagreement begins there, then, yes, we are in fundamentally different places philosophically.
Because I think that regardless of how loose the bonds among those of us participating across these literary (and more specifically Romance) venues online, we are still part of or constitutive of a community (at least as a number of inter-related and overlapping communities). And I further think that there are many de facto standards or rules (I’m not sure if there’s a functional difference, frankly) that shape and propel groups of people in every context, whether or not we consciously address them. And I’m all for consciously addressing them, because IMO the patterns of group behavior Shirky and Bion (among others) discuss, the default standards of conduct aren’t always that great. Because even in the midst of anarchy, what we often think of as the absence of rules may rather be the overabundance of rules made and asserted by individuals simultaneously asserting absolute authority. In other words, I’m not sure we’re ever without rules, even as independent contractors to this online experience.
Yeah, and for me, the answer isn’t so obvious. Nor does it only depend on whether one knows that the other person is out while “outing” them.
To some degree, we’re all pursuable, all “outable,” despite the facade of anonymity in the online environment (and while I haven’t responded yet to Hortense Powdermaker’s comment, I would point out that harassment is illegal and one of the situations in which the shield of anonymity is not sustainable), and as such, probably all have public links somewhere to our legal identities. In this case, the trail may have been more or less vividly imprinted through Google. But I would argue that the existence of the trail may be secondary to the motive behind the outing and to the impact it was intended to have. And I’m not going to shift off my point here to speculate further on that in your case.
Generally speaking, though, if someone wants to humiliate or mock another by forging that link more publicly; if they want to make it impossible for a potential employer to search Google without coming across that link prominently; if they want to ruin someone’s career or life; if they want to encourage or are perpetrating stalking; if they just don’t like that the other person wants to claim the right of anonymity — all of these are motives that IMO would make the existence of a public link between someone’s online pseudonym and their legal identity secondary, and the charge of “outing” someone plausible.
It seems unlikely that we can achieve the online Utopia Janet invites us to define, not least because the RaceFail ’09 debacle suggests that dystopias are the default setting for Internet interaction, but there are obvious hot button topics like race, sex and religion which could be excluded from discourse.
It would be pretty dull, though…
I think Will has mentioned he was angry although I have not noticed anyone classifying the motivations, intent or actions of the supposed “victim”. I find that interesting.
I do have to agree with Will that you cannot “out” someone when you are simply stating the obvious facts and I am sorry but WHO THE HELL is stupid enough to think people will never Google their name especially if they are obviously being confrontational and in my mind giving people damn good reason.
Creating anonymity to me means you made some effort or some actual attempt to be anonymous and seek to ensure it. If Google can be used to simply uncover your actual identity anytime, by anyone, for any reason then I would say you failed to make that effort.
There are all sorts of tricks one can use. Proxy servers for IP or hard to trace email accounts, VPNs through corporate sites etc etc etc. The simple use of Google shows me that the “victim” in this case deserves more questioning about her claims because I am finding through what Will has revealed ringing rather false.
I was surprised to see romance making its way into the RaceFail imbroglio, albeit in a somewhat strange manner:
‘It’s not just a question of Neil Gaiman going to China or Naomi Novik going on a research safari to South Africa; even Harlequin romance writers can afford to go on a cruise and write about a Latin lover.’
It did seem to me that this was a less than realistic appraisal of the economics of writing Harlequin romances…
Though, now I come to think of it, I am departing on Sunday for a 3 week cruise from Capetown, up the coast of West Africa to England, so if there are any budding writers on Dear Author who need cruise background, and can’t afford it, I can provide some free via Dear Author if they do not object….
Sounds like a prime Agatha Christie setup there Stevie.
Almost; we’re steered clear of Egypt, we are postmodern, with irony, Lots of irony.
But my offer stands good, provided that DA is ok with that…
I think that we have (at least) two separate issues outside of the privacy thing — which in this case is as clear as mud, anyway.
One of them is that public figures (like Will — who BTW writes a dang fine novel — whenever I am going through my book boxes and run into Witchblood, I have to stop and read it again) have to be more careful than others. Because more import is put on their word (deservedly so or not). If it had been John Smith who outted Coffeeandink, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. It certainly wouldn’t have made the news over here at Dear Author. It’s the reason I try really really hard not to criticize anyone else’s book in public. Does my viewpoint matter any more than John Smith’s? Absolutely not — and probably rather less than the Jan(y)nes because I don’t read for review but for pleasure. But that’s not how it would be interpreted.
The second issue is the tendency for Internet communities to periodically explode like a volcano and spew pressurized lava until there’s nothing left but an empty crater. I have some belly dancer friends who call this BDD (Belly Dancer Drama) and have just learned to lay low.
Ultimately, the real answer is that you can only control those things in your power to control. Which means what you do/say. If you are the blog/website owner, you have the power to pull it and to control what people post. You can’t control other people and what they do . . . well I suppose, on the Internet if you were an Evil Computer Genius you could probably . . . . hmm. There might be a book in there . . . .
(Stage Directions) Patty clears throat and tries to get back onto the subject.
Adults will cool off, apologize for what they feel they’ve done wrong. They will accept as graciously as possible other adult’s apologies, forgive the ones who should have offered apologies, and go back to business as usual. The offended will go somewhere else until they are offended again. Even if one person controls the community or there are bylaws– it doesn’t mean people won’t explode. It just changes the dynamics of the explosion.
This is what I’d have ‘banned’, in a perfect web community. That and anything related to trolls. Having a minority opinion doesn’t make a commenter a shit stirrer or troll, and yet, the above quote hits the nail on the head. Often all it takes is one voice singing counter point to the harmony and suddenly a thread or conversation becomes nothing more than a pile-on, gang up, beat the virtual shit out of dissenters. The mean girl, fan girl, rabid crazy ass hat, whatever it’s called phenomena. That I’d ban. Oh, and all those dumb ass junk mail like spam posts. Gah, I hate those.
Basically, it has nothing to do with staying nice or saying nothing and everything to do with if you wouldn’t say it in person, face to face, you probably shouldn’t open the yap and ‘say’ it on the net. If more people did that, maybe the firestorms would be less frequent.
Then again, it might also not be as ‘fun’ to rubberneck, and then site traffic might fall, and then the rules would probably get chucked in many cases in order to ‘drum up more business’ as it were. So truthfully, I figure the nastiness and lack of respect is just something one has to deal with from time to time if one wades in and shares an opinion that isn’t in the favorable majority. Or if one gets involved in a highly emotional topic, ie embryonic stem cells. Too many passionate positions on either side for a conversation like that NOT to devolve into chaos.
Great, well-written DA article, again. I’m all admiration. And I too love a good argument and will willingly play devil’s advocate for the sake of a good argument.
Thank you for the admission that the DA site can sometimes get out of hand (can’t remember your exact words). The whole tone of the site is so civil and well-bred and educated, and then….you drill down a thread or two and there’s all the mud. I really felt for the poster a few weeks ago (Barbara somebody) who said, after being attacked and made fun of by taking issue with a point in a review: “I simply can’t stand to come to this site anymore.” There are a lot of posters on this site (not me, of course!) who regularly regress to high school.
I totally sympathized with those of you who’ve talked so bravely and brazenly of the Internet being a free community and flinching away from rules and departing any website that would dare to start dictating…but, it sounds a lot like me as a teenager. I’m old and cynical now. I started a book club 8 years ago, and now it’s falling apart because no one wanted any rules and we were going to be so free and easy….and now people come to meetings without having read the book, or don’t want to take their turn as hostess, or insist on nominating books so totally outside the taste and/or time-commitment boundaries we have….we did sort of implode last week, but are all women of a certain age who’ve decided it’s important enough to put everything back together. So now we ARE deciding on some pretty firm guidelines.
I agree with whoever said that people/communities turn in on themselves, they let their baser natures prompt them to behave badly, and yes, we writerly types love to one-up each other, so the entries get more and more smart-ass and funny, but somehow off-topic, and I chuckle…..until I could scream.
Don’t think there’s any way you can stop that, can you, DA? Suppose not.
There seem to be as many communities (in number and in types) online as there are IRL, and they serve a range of functions, so I’d have to agree with Bev that I couldn’t define an “ideal” community. I think that the best non-owner-driven communities develop a system of self-enforcing norms, and the best owner-driven ones have a clear and consistent set of norms and rules. In the former case, they can be very polite or very, um, free-flowing (compare the old alt.tv.Buffy to, say, the Knitlist). In the latter, the clearer the owner is, the more likely they are to run well. I agree that AAR was very successful on its own terms under LLB, and it clearly excluded and included members based on those terms. It definitely wasn’t all things to all people, and I doubt that’s going to change under the new management, since their preferences over the substance of the site appears to be similar. But it’s freer flowing today than it used to be, for better and worse.
I tend to participate more in forums that reflect my interests *and* my temperament, whereas I lurk more on those that reflect my interests but not my temperament. But I value both of them.
As for RaceFail09, I haven’t read all the hundreds of threads. I admit that once I saw some authors whose work I like behaving in ways that I found unpleasant, I stopped reading because I didn’t want to know (yeah, I’m cowardly). But I think I got enough of the gist. Mrs. Giggles’ post resonated with me, probably because I’m much closer to her generation than to many of the LJ participants, and as someone who has both personally experienced and published research on racism as it has historically been defined, it took me a while to make sense of the way the term is being used in this debate. I don’t think it’s wrong, but it’s very much a version that focuses on informal institutional racism rather than the structural and in-your-face type that used to dominate the discourse.
Without wading too far into that debate, I’ll just observe that I think it is growing increasingly difficult for authors of majority populations to cherry-pick or practice drive-by tourism of minority group culture in their novels. The internet greatly widens both the audience and the ability of that audience to register their opinions. I’ve tended to give authors the benefit of the doubt and stay out of discussions of novels that focus on cultures about which I either have more or a different type of knowledge and experience. But I can certainly understand why many others don’t, and I don’t think calling these people less intelligent, or overly politically correct, is either accurate or productive.
For the record, the question is not whether it was possible to Google C&I’s pseudonym and real name together. The question is, when you Googled C&I ‘s real name, was the pseudonym high in the Google results — in short, if you were looking her up under her work name, was the alias immediately displayed. Before Kathryn Cramer and Will Shetterly conjoined the two names in public, it was not.
There is a difference between “accessible if you’re willing to invest a lot of work” and “on the first page of Google.” For instance, the posting to which Shetterly referred with panel names looked like:
I’m on the following panels.
Panel 1: Name A, Name B, Name C, Name D
Panel 2: Name E, Name F, Name B, Name G
Panel 3: Name H, Name B, Name I,Name J.
A human can look at this and recognize that Name B must be the poster. A machine can’t.
The issue at hand is, what happened when you looked up C&I’s real name, not “was it possible to find C&I’s real name and pseudonym on the same page.”
For the record, Jonquil is wrong about C&I’s link status before we “outed” her. Here’s what I wrote several days before that happened: “I just googled M (coffeeandink)s first and last name. The second hit connects her to her LiveJournal. Then I googled what she has publically there, â€œcoffeeandink [m’s first name].â€ The third and fourth hits brought up her last name. Now I'm totally baffled by her request. Oh, well. We all have our quirks.”
The reason for this has not changed: C&I began outing herself on her LJ in 2006 and continued until recently. Since she has disguised her name there now, this example of the sort of thing she was doing should not compromise her:
By using her name freely on her site, Google’s algorithm’s learned to connect the name with the site. That’s just how internet search is supposed to work. I hadn’t thought this would be hard to understand: If you want to protect your identity on the web, you should protect your identity on the web.
Note that the date of the posting Mr. Shetterly links to, February 26th, is after the outing occurred. Googling on that date proves nothing.
Jonquil if only “two” people can game a well known search site like Google as you accuse them of being able to then I know some companies that will pay them through the nose for that unique and highly desirable ability.
In other words I myself would try out that interesting theory before actually repeating it in public or anyone with knowledge of how Google works.
Here’s the timeline that I know: because the internets love to be documented as recursively as possible, updated. My “outing” was on March 2.
Now, it is possible that Jonquil is referring to Kathryn’s accidental outing on the wiki, but I believe that was quickly corrected.
What was not corrected until much more recently were C&I’s three years of “self-outing” and Tempest Bradford’s “outing” on two Fantasy Roundtable interview pages. Where else C&I may have been “outed”, I don’t know, but given how casual they were about connecting C&I’s name and LJ, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other sites. I do know that Tempest and C&I and other people often linked to the Fantasy Roundtable pages, thereby strengthening the connection of C&I’s name and LJ for Google.
Sorry to drag everyone into this. People are welcome to interpret motives as they please, but verifiable information should be held to a higher standard.
If she wanted to be anonymous most people would just NOT login or just use “anonymous” in their comments or postings. If this is the type of accusations of foul play and BIG BAD MEANYisms you have been getting from these non-technical idiots who I so wish would remain on Myspace where they belong then you have my sympathy.
All I can say is WOW! People sure are emotional on this. I like to think myself fair and willing to change my mind given information. I admire Mr Shetterly for staying calm and trying to explain a timeline. And in all fairness, I can see his point of view. I can even see that ‘outing’ someone puts their comments in a better perspective for readers. I might well be in the minority at this point, but I think he’s taken more than his fair share of flack on this – and whether he even deserved it is now an open question in mind.
Now, can I serve anyone a nice cold drink?
According to Will’s latest tirade, we are all members of a cult, anyway. Why Will is still here engaging with the “cult”, only he knows…
I’m in a cult? Really? Man, who knew? Is there a secret handshake? A password? A coded knock? Do we get uniforms? Damn. So many questions. I’ve never been in a cult before. I need a restorative cupcake.
You don’t serve Kool-Aid, right? Because I’m bringing a taster if you do.
No he has an interesting post about the “anti-racists” -the whole you are either with us or against us. You are either worthy or totally evil and need to be banned and shunned. The premise that every non POC is racist, no matter their beliefs or actions. Kind of like being born with original sin. He has a big problem with the basic premise. And no, don’t ever drink the kool-aid.
Where I really started to pay attention about the difference between being an “anti-racist” vs. being against racism was when a blogger posted that J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts is racist because she describes an Asian character’s eyes as exotic. Yup, never mind that she has Eve’s Commander and the Chief of Police as POC, nor that she has diversity in her novels, but because she uses the word exotic she is a obviously racist. Yeah right. Makes a whole lotta sense to me.
This is a very important point. And now I’m going to say something that could very easily be taken as contradicting what I’ve said earlier about not being able to define the ideal community. It’s not though. It’s more, I think, about the one major mistake that many make in an effort to allow “freedom of expression” or whatever they care to call it to their members.
Strong moderation can never be unestimated. By strong, I don’t mean dictatorial or intrusive but I do mean the type that provides security. What’s the distinction there, you ask?
Most of the times I’ve left forums of any type, temporarily or permanently, it’s been because the owners/moderators exercised no control over flamewars erupting within their midsts. While it’s true that flamewars happen all the time on the Internet, it’s not true that they have to in turn take over the forum.
Because if that can happen, no one is in control . . . and that’s where members/vistors feeling safe – or not – comes in. If they can’t come to a site and carry on a conversation without being interrupted or completely sidetracked in many cases, they will definitely learn where they feel safe. And, yes, I do mean safe. I’ve watched the ebb and flow of visitors to too many sites for too long and listened to their reasonings to not recognize it as exactly that.
Which is where the concept of open vs. closed communities plays such a part in this discussion. Closed or more limited membership communities are safer, more secure places, particular for beginners on the web. The more open the community, the more likely it is that major flamewars are going to happen on a regular basis.
And you learn where it’s safe and where it’s not. What your tolerance level is and what it isn’t. So, no, there’s no ideal. As Sunita says it just depends upon what the individual is interested in and is willing to tolerate matched against what each site allows to happen.
I’ve seen much repetition of the idea that two bloggers could not possibly influence Google’s search results. What each of these commenters fails to take into account is that coffeeandink’s name is a very uncommon one, and that both Ms. Cramer and Mr. Shetterly have relatively popular blogs; given both facts, it is quite conceivable that their efforts to link coffeeandink’s LJ with her real name would have the alleged impact.
I’m guessing you are taking issue with “racism = prejudice + power” and the corollary that people of color can not be racist due to the lack of institutional power. POC can be prejudiced.
I don’t think institutional racism is informal at all. And I’m not grasping how looking at institutional power dynamics takes away from a structural analysis of racism. this may be a case of confused terms.
I think racism = prejudice + power is really useful for avoiding arguments like “what about reverse racism!!” and looking at aversive racism. The problem with focusing only on “in your face” racism, is that it makes something racist only if it is incredibly over the top. It ignores micro aggressions, coded language used to discriminate, etc. etc. If someone won’t grant loans to certain groups of people that all happen to all be black, but he never uses a racial epithet (those people just happen to not be the kind of people who take care of their homes), aren’t the actions still racist?
Racism = prejudice + power has been in use for quite a while particularly in activist and progressive communities. Heck, Tim Wise even uses it. While I don’t think it is necessarily an intuitive definition, I don’t think it’s one that is super obscure.
On a side note, the idea that people wouldn’t say racist things to someone’s face is woefully untrue. It is true that people are less likely to say overt things. The aversive racist comments really get ramped up.
Michelle: No he has an interesting post about the â€œanti-racistsâ€ -the whole you are either with us or against us. You are either worthy or totally evil and need to be banned and shunned. The premise that every non POC is racist, no matter their beliefs or actions. Kind of like being born with original sin. He has a big problem with the basic premise.
Sounds like Will is writing fiction about recent events, but forgetting to explain that this is all a made-up story with no relation to the actual people involved. (Speaking as a non-PoC…) If he has a big problem with the basic premise of his story, he really, really needs to abandon the story he’s making up and go off and write something else.
A white South African and a Malaysian-born Chinese both separately made the point to me that the only people who get bent out of shape over the truism “Everybody is racist” …are white people.
I have helped on occasion in discovering the owners of sockpuppet accounts and other anonymous tricks used in these type of wanks before. May I point out we seem to be defending anonymity here and yet forgetting other well known instances where people were found to be abusing their anonymity
The fact Will in no way had to use anything like IP tracing or site logs in order to discover Ms. Cramer’s identity but simply used Google by his own statement seems plain to me this was not someone looking for anonymity but someone looking to divert attention as they sought to distance themselves from whatever behavior they did not want associated to their professional name.
It’s all good, Will erased his own references to her. But I don’t buy the whole “victim” thing because in my opinion she really was only seeking to remain “anonymous” when it suited her but she made sure all her friends knew about it. That is not anonymity in my book.
@Shalsaran From my own experience, I know that it is absolutely true that only one blogger, even an unpopular one, can affect google rankings. (and do it intentionally)
@Teddypig The point is why put someone’s business name to their words at all if not for the purpose of using it to suppress speech? Conversely, if it is the righteous position, as you suggest, then why not stand up for the principle?
For example (using a couple different types of ism, not to try and derail the topic, but to exemplify using something in this post)
RE: #65 – One would think that an individual who’s group has actually gotten thier own version of this argument would not be throwing out “But if you walk around in tight clothes, you deserve what you get.”
Robin – it’s not easy to summarise my thoughts on this in one short para – and that’s all I’m allowing myself tonight – but I suppose I could sum up my thoughts thus: is it proportionate? In my view, no. The ‘group’, such as it is, isn’t defined enough, the chances of consensus extremely limited (I’d say non-existant), the feared infractions – on balance – not significant enough, and anyway, it would not be possible to effectively enforce rules. I’m not averse to debating specific ethical issues but I think the sort of debate you have in mind – whilst interesting – would ultimately be unproductive.
Shalsaran, in point of fact, I have noted that coffeeandink’s first name is unusual. That’s why her decision to use it in her profile for her LJ for three years was not wise if she wished to be pseudonymous. Her recent switch to a nickname is part of the reason I now believe she simply didn’t understand how Google works.
Also, if you check, Coffeeandink’s LJ is more popular: Technorati currently gives me an authority of 21, Kathryn 56, and C&I 147. No way Kathryn or I could’ve “outed” C&I as thoroughly in this brief amount of time as C&I has since 2006.
Sparkymonster, “prejudice plus power” also describes oppressing people of lower classes, an issue that antiracists are so reluctant to engage that they make it a square on the “racist bingo card.”
I’m not taking issue with the way the term is used in the sense of thinking it is an illegitimate use, I just think that using a single term to cover a multitude of attitudes and behaviors is a bad idea because it becomes more difficult to specify which type of behavior you are talking about. I do find it useful to limit the term racism to your definition (prejudice + power), but word meanings change and maybe that’s what’s happening to racism as a term today.
And you’re right, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in my terminology. By “informal institutional racism” I meant behavior that is sufficiently regularized and transcendent of any given individual action to have a detrimental effect. You can have informal or formalized institutional behavior and effects. In this case the behavior does not appear to be guided by formal rules that specify certain types of behavior toward POCs, but rather is the result of informal practices that lead to institutional exclusion. But that’s my take as an outsider and without having studied it closely.
I committed the error I’m complaining about by using the term “racism.” For my purposes, two better terms would be bigotry or prejudice, since they are agnostic on whether there is a power dynamic. Given how loaded the term racist is, I’d want more evidence on how PoC are excluded in SFF. I have a pretty good sense of how it works in romance, and I do believe that AA romance novel writers are constrained by non-PoC’s perceptions of race issues in romance to the point where institutional racism exists, of both the formal and informal varieties. I simply don’t know as much about SFF, although I read it, because I don’t spend much time in the community.
I would rephrase this to say that “everyone is prejudiced about someone or something.” I don’t think that every person on this planet thinks that everyone of the (fill in your favorite) race is inferior. But most people have at least some stereotypes (some positive and some negative) which assign people a whole basket of characteristics according to their race, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexual orientation.
I didn’t specifically address the comment to you because I was not, in fact, addressing anything you wrote. Perhaps you were confused by the fact that commenters on your blog are in part responsible for the propagation of the misconception in question. In addition, I’m not sure what relevance coffeeandink’s understanding or lack thereof of “how Google works” has to my comment. No matter how you slice it, it remains true that two bloggers can most certainly influence the results Google’s algorithm returns for an uncommon phrase. You can continue blaming coffeeandink for ever putting her real name on her blog all you like, but the fact remains that your actions and those of Ms. Cramer were, in my opinion, both bizarre and beyond the pale.
As a reminder, here are the two examples I provided in comments on your blog:
Maybe I might react like Will did if someone was going after me on here or on my blog. If someone pissed me off and I saw a easy way (Thank You Google) to make a point I might just do the same thing.
Will may just feel bad about the whole deal now after the fact but I think he has a right to get angry too and I personally don’t know how much of a ragging this woman gave him. I don’t care really…
As far as I am concerned. Even if Will just wildly guessed who she was, Even if he heard it through the grape vine, Even if her BFF gave her identity away over cocktails, it was still HER behavior, HER actions, and HER words using that name that made the whole thing an issue for HER.
With my security background here at the bank and from the Navy. I know better than to trust how anonymous you think you are online. Keep some thought about what you are doing.
In my book all this wank from using Google… THAT is a karmic punch line.
Teddy, take a look at google-analytics.com.
And if you use firefox with ABP, check for google-analytics scripts on the various blogs and forums you visit.
Thus far, we have kept Will’s motivations out of this, and it’s really just as well. “Because he can” isn’t really relevant.
No, I have seen the kids questioning Will’s motives. I have also seen him sit here and answer questions about what he did and why.
I am just pointing out that stating a fact found on Google is not forbidden or wrong.
Sounds to me like Missy Anonymous feels very different about her actions and that is why poof they are gone. I would not be using her side of the argument as an example of doing things right.
I see that the cauldron continues to bubble, so I will just note that I am washing, and ironing, and doing some more washing so I can iron it, and have high hopes that I may be able to stuff it all in the suitcases ready for the flight and cruise.
Not very inspiring, I know, but I hope it may be of some use to a POC who can’t afford a cruise but wants some input on what its like so she can write about it…..
There are non-POC who can’t afford cruises either. Couldn’t you just say, “a writer”?
As a point of fact, coffeeandink’s actions are not “gone” by any stretch of the imagination. In stark contrast to many of her interlocutors on RaceFail09, she has not deleted a single one of her posts on the topic; her posts and comments are all publicly accessible except where one of her interlocutors has deleted the record.
To your point, my own concern is that Ms. Cramer and Mr. Shetterly both continued their efforts to link coffeeandink’s name to her LJ after she had made her feelings on the topic perfectly clear. Whether or not it’s wrong to repost a fact discoverable through Google (incidentally, an argument that I think is indefensible in the general case) is rather irrelevant to me. Nothing Mr. Shetterly has said since reverting the edit on FSFwiki which removed the link between coffeeandink’s name and LJ has convinced me that his actions were anything but malicious, and that fact does matter to me.
Now you made me go read further. So they all knew each other having worked at the same company at one time. They all were at least acquainted.
Will’s main point as he explained he had seen the LJ/wiki and real names linked already and even found them in Google as he expected having already known this person earlier. Obviously since they knew each other but were also confronting each other in Racefail this becomes even further convoluted because there you go upping the chance real names will be used and secrets will be revealed.
In the end though Will says he was pissed and he honestly did not know the LJ/wiki name was even being used in a supposedly anonymous way. He then goes and rips them out at her request.
But that still is not how Google works is it?
You can’t take back what is there in in cache despite how many places you go pulling names.
So he attributes the way Google, and the Internet for that matter, functions for his mistake and you attribute the way it functions as a continued attack and malicious.
I will accept the mistake before I go personalizing a standard function.
I still say if you want to be “anonymous” then you should remain “anonymous” everywhere even with “friends” or Google will see you and for the site admin’s benefit you should use anonymous for your name when you post or comment so I know your intent. Even in a Witness Protection Program you should probably not expect to wear a wig and hangout in the same city and not expect people to catch on.
Shalsaran, I wish folks would stop with the factual errors, ’cause I really don’t mind different takes on the reasons for the things that did happen.
1. I never deleted my main blog. I deleted its LiveJournal copy. Yes, that deleted comments there, but my posts are still where they always were. Keeping the LJ copy was a pain when the discussion went wild.
2. When C&I asked me to remove the name I had used in ignorance, I did. I only “outed” her intentionally on March 3, when she sicced people on Katharine and me without mentioning that what we had done was in ignorance. Yes, doing what you’re accused of is incredibly stupid. Nonetheless, at that time, on Google, she could not possibly have been more out than she was.
3. Yes, what I did was malicious, but that does not mean it was immoral: I did not reveal anything that she had not been revealing in public posts on her LJ for three years.
Teddypig, I never worked for Tor; they published me. I had met Coffeeandink very briefly and remembered her by her distinctive first name. When I was writing my response to her “Will Shetterly – do not engage”, I couldn’t remember her last name, so I googled her first name and the name of her LJ. Her last name came up within four hits. (It might have been two or three. All I remember is that every combination of the two pieces of information one might have about her legal and LJ identities would provide the third within four hits.)
P.S. Teddypig, it’s true that other people in this brouhaha worked at Tor. That’s why I thought Coffeeandink’s legal identity should be in the wiki.
Will, are you saying that you, and not Kathryn, placed C&E’s legal name in the wiki entry in the first place?
The wiki records show that Kathryn did that. Did she do it after you showed her the linkup?
Now you made me go read further…
And it never hurts to do a little research into whatever it is you’re pontificating about, does it?
First, I’m a bit mystified at your persistent misreading of my comments. I didn’t accuse you personally of deleting anything substantive. Instead, I said that coffeeandink’s interlocutors deleted their own posts which necessarily removed some of her replies to them; because she did not delete anything she wrote from her own journal, that means “her posts and comments are all publicly accessible except where one of her interlocutors has deleted the record.” Of course, I can understand why you might be a bit sensitive on this topic; coffeeandink’s post to which you responded with your first post that linked her name and LJ pointed out that you deleted the records of the conversations which she was recounting.
Second, exactly why coffeeandink’s employment at Tor should be a matter of public record is still unclear to many participants in these discussions. As I have pointed out at least once, her comments on tnh‘s post on RaceFail09 (freezepage) were quite reasonable. There is nothing in her commentary on RaceFail09 that suggests her brief 1996 employment there influenced her in any way.
Third, I’m not sure why you would believe coffeeandink had any duty to, in her post which you characterize as “siccing people on Katharine [sic] and [you],” acknowledge that you were unaware of her desire to remain pseudonymous when you decided to include her full name in a post to which her name added virtually nothing.
Finally, although it’s worth noting that you intentionally linked coffeeandink’s name to her LJ at least twice after she made her preference on that point clear (once in this post and once on FSFwiki), the quantity doesn’t really matter. The fact that you ever did so is and has been my point since the beginning. It’s good to finally see you admit that your actions were malicious, however.
Stella, Kathryn and I acted independently. My participation with the wiki has been here all this time.
Shalsaran, I deleted some of that information because C&I asked me to. Some of it was lost when I moved my LJ to WordPress. I’m not denying that keeping track of the record since 2007 is tricky. I’m simply saying that had C&I asked me where to find some posts, I could’ve told her. Or she could’ve googled them to find the new location, but she doesn’t have much familiarity with how google works.
Why she wanted to hide her connection to Tor is her affair, not mine. I continue to think it’s pertinent.
As for malice, there’s enough to go around. Her “Will Shetterly–do not engage” has its share. Her attacks on the people she used to work with are far from malice-free.
And, no, that does not excuse me for answering in kind.
Will: As for malice, there's enough to go around. Her Will Shetterly-do not engage” has its share.
No. Having interacted with you now, her post warning people not to engage with you online strikes me as being a fair warning – which I wish I had taken. You’re malicious, untrustworthy, and you lie. You’re racist, sexist, and just plain annoying. I wish I had taken her advice, and it should certainly be more widely known: “He may be fine off-line–he was, in fact, very kind to me the one time I met him at a con–but online he makes ad hominem attacks, false accusations, straw-man arguments, weird personal assumptions about people who disagree with him, shifts ground when cornered, does not respond to logic, and sounds like a total racist. Logic will not penetrate. He is in his own world. Do not join him there.” You have more than proved her point.
Kathryn Cramer‘s set of odd assumptions about online interaction – that no one is trustworthy who doesn’t use their full, legal name, that she is bygod entitled to out the full, legal name of someone in disagreement with her, and that she can use cease-and-desist letters to make people discussing her public actions using her full, legal name take down all reference to her – are sufficiently bizarre that I would prefer not to engage with her, in future, either.
That you describe writing about what she did and linking to the posts in which she did it as “siccing” just is another example of your own habit of ad-hom attacks on the Internet.
Jesurgislac, a final attempt here to keep the record straight: her “do not engage” post was malicious, but it was not “siccing.” The “siccing” came in her March 2 post.
I think Dear Author has indulged us long enough in this thread, so I’ll go now. If my timeline here is wrong, please provide the evidence in the comments there, and I’ll correct it.
Best to all!
No, I still think of it as just yet another stupid Live Journal wank fest brought to us by the Live Journal brats. Now go play.
Thanks for clarifying what you meant.
Well, there are a variety of ways that POC are excluded in SFF. I’m coming down with a cold, so I’m losing my ability to have a complicated discussion but let me give you a bunch of links by various POC about their experiences of being excluded from SFF. I should also say that these posts are both about SFF fiction and various forms of fandom (communities of people who are interested in SFF). I’m giving a link to the post, and a snippet of the text.
http://ofcolour.blogspot.com/ [ongoing blog carnival]
“This experiment is about changing the fact that we are not being seen. It’s about creating a touchstone for links to other thoughts and other people who are people of color involved in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
“Y’know, as a consumer of Popular media and Science Fiction/Fantasy, I’ve been feeling miserable these past several months. Here, let’s me count the ways that I, as a Person of Color, have been made to feel invisible:”
“When I was around thirteen years old, I tried to write a fantasy novel. It was going to be an epic adventure with a cross-dressing princess on the run, a snarky hero, and dragons. I got stuck when I had to figure out what they would do after they left the city. Logically, there would be a tavern. But there were no taverns in India.”
How dare you suggest I should stop talking about racism while I’m getting pigs in my mailbox ?…So, no, racism isn’t abstract to me. It is, however, one of my deal-breakers, so sf/f, sorry to be dramatic and categoric and leaving, but here’s where we part ways. I would have liked to stick around for a bit longer, but I’m tired and there’s still a long way to go before we’re getting anywhere. Thanks to all who have spoken up and thanks for all the fish, sf/f authors I have loved books from.
he hostility that I have seen in watching these debates-‘not even participating except very gingerly and glancingly, because thanks to sleep-deprivation I haven’t felt able to deal-‘means that I look at SFF fandom now as a thing that has actively caused me pain, not just a source of joy and comraderie.
Congratulations, SF/F. If I had ever wanted to be an author, an editor, or in any way take part in the larger SF/F community, that desire would be dead by now. You know what would be ‘nice’? If more white people found the silence of so many PoC in SF/F more uncomfortable than hearing their criticism.
That’s not all. Racefail ’09 has now been completely re-imaged and repackaged by these people as a “flame war”, wherein they repeatedly claim there were very few (supposed!) PoC involved and it was all about white people, grudge-wank and pseudonymity. This is what they wanted, after all, to derail and hijack a dialogue, an online discussion about race and the problematic attitudes and issues there are in race representation and even in a dialogue about such issues
I know that many white fans consider fandom as their “safe” space or at least, they think it *should* be their safe space. The subtext of that in regards to race and white privilege is that fandom is supposed to be a safe place for people not be challenged about their white privilege. For me, a safe space in regards to race is that no one gets to call me racist epithets or treat me or people who look like me with less respect, as accessories or dehumanise me because of my race. Those two models are incompatible and I’m not sure how to reconcile them or whether they can be at all.
But what I’ve lately come to realize is that the absence of writers, editors, and characters of color in this genre is not benign neglect. It is a purposeful and very malignant thing. This is hostile, unsafe territory for me, and a disturbingly large number of people think that’s just hunky dory. There are people in this genre who are perfectly happy with the way it’s been, and who do not want it to change. Those people have fought hard in this debate to maintain the status quo. And they have lately proven that they’re willing to use more than words in the fight.
What SF book fandom is telling me-‘a woman, a person of color, and a long-time fan of SF books and a con-goer-‘what you are telling me is that you don’t care. That these are, in fact, your community norms, that you are all right with people who have more power in your community (by virtue of profession, race, and gender) using that power to harm other, less powerful, members of your community. That you are fine with the erasure of women, of people of color, of those without the same professional privileges you enjoy, and that you are willing to stand by silently and let people be hurt.
[a side by side comparison of a post and response]
And many of those posts have more links to follow.
We get it. You hate livejournal and think everyone who uses it are brats. Perhaps you could move on to a new topic of discussion or read some of the posts I linked above and explain how those reflect a “stupid wank fest”. Or not.
There are some interesting discussions about how livejournal communities are percieved in the rest of the blogosphere, and why bloggers like teddy dismiss them as “stupid brats.”
But that’s probably a topic for another day.
Because from just my own experience and from actual documentation you can look up from Fandomwank or numerous other places every major multi-page tit for tat He said She said I said They said wankfest has either begun or ended up there.
It’s like it attracts the Internet tempest in a huge teacup of nothing.
well, especially from fandomwank– because most fan communities are on lj. Otherwise blogger or wordpress would be carrying the bad rep…The he-said she-said that you decry is superficial, imo. I think it’s the hyperlinked nature of the conversations that bothers people.
I’m sure that the linear comment style on blogger or wp do slow down the wank. LJ is a more anarchistic environment– uncomfortable to anyone with the least shred of control issues!
I have to say that in this case– the tit-for-tattage is all on one side. And that side is composed of people who really should be keeping tighter control of their blogs– not on lj in the first place.
So it’s ok for LJ to be an anarchistic environment and yet you go on to accuse everyone else of not taking tighter control of their blogs?
Thanks very much for these links. I went and educated myself some more through LJ and other posts, but not enough. It’s a bit overwhelming, so I appreciate the guidance.
I should also make clear that I’m not disputing that there could be and likely *is* discrimination in SFF, just that I don’t have the same confidence in how it works that I do for romance. I’ve been a lurker/participant in romance sites and blogs for nearly a decade, and I’ve seen enough of the arguments and done enough of my own noodling around (nothing systematic enough to be called research!) to make me feel I have a sense of the issues and the different sides of the debates.
One of the differences I see is that in romance, the discriminations are institutionalized in NY publishing rules, e.g., the default is white (or white-equivalent in the case of sheikhs, etc.) M/F with fairly vanilla sex and everything else is “different” and needs to be flagged. Epublishers and smaller print publishers provide a venue for other voices, but then those outlets can get tagged as *only* producing that type of book, so they get categorized as niche. With the SFF debate, publishers and fandom seem to be mixed up together in the discussion. Obviously they’re both relevant, but the ramifications of each and the type of institutional conditions they create for participants are different and IMO need to be separated, just as individual behavior and institutional outcomes should not be conflated if we are going to understand the issues clearly.
Sorry, I missed my own point!
The people who are making a poor showing on lj are the ones who don’t know how to take the anarchy of lj into account. They are discomfited by the way lj discourse runs out of their control. They would be better served, if they wish to blog under their public name and control people’s viewpoint of that name, by the control that WP or blogger offer.
Does that make better sense?
Actually, an lj-er can control conversation on their own blog– it’s even more fine-tunable than it is on wp, IIR. But lj communities tend to exert social pressure for less controls rather than stricter, and lj is very much a community-oriented environment.
Well, I think we are close to saying the same thing in some respects about Live Journal.
You call it anarchy.
I find the typical LJ Wankfest an overwhelming mass of commentary and diverting side accusations and constant name calling that I find distracting and of absolutely no value. AND THAT IS JUST FROM THE DOCUMENTS PEOPLE LEAVE EXPLAINING THEM. They are full of bluster and yet go nowhere and in the end have no real narrative.
Live Journal Wankfests are really just another type of mindless entertainment in my opinion. They don’t solve anything in the real world, they don’t really change people’s attitudes even and they really are at best examples of a giant waste of bandwidth.
From what I have seen. Your mileage may very.
From DA: We have edited this comment to remove a reference to someone because we perceive that reference as an attempt to “out” someone, and DA will not support that here.
@Hortense Powdermaker: Since so many comments have gone by, I am going to provide the link again to the article you referenced on the AutoAdmit debacle of a few years ago. For me, the article does a great job of discussing the difficult balance between free speech, legal protection of anonymity, and harassment/defamation.
In response to your point about the double-edge of anonymity, I would point to the part of the article that talks about how the women’s lawyers are treading very carefully around section 230(c) because of the safe harbor for websites and ISP’s and the like it provides for third party content. Those protections have been extremely important in a series of lawsuits that attempt to reach the deeper pockets of ISP’s rather than the shallower ones of individuals who make defamatory statements.
In the case of AutoAdmit, I think the board administrators were wrong, wrong, wrong in allowing all that to continue. I doubt there are a lot of people who support broader rights under the First Amendment than I do, but at the point where individuals are being harassed like those women, it’s time to step in, IMO. Or have rules that clearly forbid degradating others in particular ways. The irony of that board admin now suing the women for interfering with *his* career is truly rich, IMO.
Unproductive how? Or why?
As I said earlier, I think rules are always in play, whether they are explicitly defined or implicitly understood, and I’m one of those ‘let’s expose this to the light’ kind of people, lol.
One thing I see happening a lot is this black/white polarization that happens online, where it becomes very difficult to carve out a position that is characterized by ambivalence or ambiguity. For example, take the Shetterly example. There is no legal wrong in what he did, and even if it is an ethical breach (which itself is the subject of debate), there may be no action that one could or even *should* take in response to that wrong. Because not every harm provides for a corresponding remedy, and that, IMO, is not well-tolerated, even though I think it’s part of the cost we bear to have a relatively open and free-flowing, free-speaking community.
But by the same token, the lack of a remedy does not, IMO, mean it’s unproductive to talk about what the ethical boundaries are. For example, I don’t really care about timelines and the workings of Google, except, perhaps, as evidentiary support for what is in my mind a more primary question of whether and under what circumstances it’s a good idea to draw explicit connections to people’s legal identities or other things in online venues where they are not overtly identifying themselves that way. IMO that’s a worthwhile discussion if for no other reason than to provide an opportunity for people to test their own beliefs against other arguments. To formulate in a more informed way their own sense of what’s okay and what’s not in any given context.
There may be no consistent, pervasive, or firm conclusion within any small or large community, but IMO these questions do affect the way people (well, not necessarily everyone) express themselves online and likewise regard the expression of others. I’m constantly entertaining new perspectives on the basis of points people raise I had not yet considered, and while it can make for some dithering when it comes to deciding what to say (or not), it’s been really helpful for me.
All this exemplifies one of the reasons I think the evolution of the race debate is a good thing — we’re moving away from the two-race paradigm and becoming more savvy about recognizing the unbelievable complexity around racial hierarchies and prejudices.
At the same time, there is definite fatigue around the word “racism,” which makes it a bit difficult to move out of an ‘us v. them’ paradigm of argument in which one side must be right and one must be wrong. And I think if we charted these two things (the nuancing and the fatigue), we’d find all sorts of connections between them, all sorts of ideological overlaps and mutual-influence.
I haven’t read the entirety of the conversation, yet, so I won’t weigh in now on its particularities, but I hope it goes down in Internet history as more than LJ wank.
There are non-POC who can't afford cruises either. Couldn't you just say, â€œa writerâ€? Just sayin'. </blockquote
I was responding to a claim by a specific person that people of colour would be excluded from writing a Harlequin Cruise romance because they couldn’t afford the cruise.
I felt then, as I feel now, that the economics of romance novels don’t provide a good reason for a romance writer to take a cruise for research; it would wipe their profits.
But having been pulled up by you, I certainly am not confining my offer to POC: if anyone would like information on a 21 day cruise starting in Capetown then I would be very happy to provide it.
Admittedly you could just acess all the websites and follow the webcam, but I can give context…
Janet, what would be a better term for the problematic perceptions a person of color endures because of her color?
because I have to say that, no matter how nicely it’s worded, any nice white liberal who has their problematic usages pointed out says OMIGODURCALLINMERACISTIMNOTRACIST!
I’ve been that white liberal. And I am very sensitive to nuance– even the poc I was talking to mentioned that. But all my nuance went right out the window for a couple of months, while I figured myself out.
We can see in the early days of racefail that polite wordings zoomed right past many folk’s ears. Until the words became blunt and impossible to misinterpret, at which point the screams of pain and outrage began about how mean the antiracists are…
I’m not sure there is one. Unfortunately, though, as your comment illustrates, the defensiveness that emerges when racism is discussed can generate another level of antagonism that some will characterize as racist in and of itself and others will see as inhibiting constructive discussion and change. It may just be part of the problematic reality of confronting, understanding, and changing patterns of discrimination, disempowerment, and disenfranchisement based on race. And I think it can overshadow the complex interactions among race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, and other categories of identity that are leveraged selectively to capriciously and circumstantially exclude or include, but that’s probably a subsidiary discussion.
Well… If there isn’t a substitute, we can’t really offer advice about not using what we have.
And the defensiveness? We either get over it, or not. Some of us can grab ahold of that single word and chew on it like a dog with a bone, to the exclusion of anything else… but that would be what we were going to do no matter what.
Sure there are substitutes: bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, ethno-centrism, for a start. Racism has a specific historical and intellectual meaning that appears to have been lost in this debate. If people are not going to use the word precisely, or if they are going to change the meaning to a much more amorphous and comprehensive one, then there there’s going to be a period of people talking past each other and becoming offended until the new consensus is reached about when the word is appropriate to use. I still don’t understand why people jump to the thermonuclear option when other, less loaded language is available, but maybe it’s a generational thing.
In fact, here were the first words that addressed “racism”, from willow;
And E.bear’s friends said “SHESNOTARACISTOMG!”
I agree with you on both counts. I often gravitate toward “discrimination,” in part because it has a legal definition and remedy, and also because it incorporates issues of power that are so central to the construction and enforcement of racial hierarchies. And my own academic training most definitely prescribes my understanding of racism in ways that does not always align with the way it’s used in these kinds of discussions.
However, I think there’s often going to be a split between what we can talk about in terms of racism, discrimination, etc. and how people personally experience things. And when I read Stella’s comment, I focused on this: “the problematic perceptions a person of color endures because of her color,” and more specifically on the pov of that phrasing — namely of the person experiencing the effects of those “problematic perceptions.” This is a trap that I’ve fallen into many, many times — namely trying to align a discussion about race with someone’s personal experience of racism, which they may register as “racism” even if it doesn’t conform to the historical, socio-political definitions and etiology with which we are familiar, even if both perspectives are valid.
I don’t really know how to work around that split. We see all the time a degeneration of discussion when the person who experiences what they perceive to be racism (and I’m NOT saying it isn’t) perceives that others are saying, no, you are not a victim of racism, which translates as a compound negation. And yet the other dimensions of the discussion — what is and isn’t racism, whether there is a personal authenticity aspect of writing certain characters, the relationship between identity, experience, and perspective, the question of whether racism is possible without white people, etc. — are also important and deserving of discussion by many differently identified people, poc and not.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I think a lot of that ‘talking past’ dynamic and the code red defensiveness (on all sides) comes from this tension between acknowledging the validity of personal experience and facilitating critical discussion of the terms themselves and how they can/should/are applied.
My suggestion (which I admit took me some time to figure out for myself; it’s incredibly easy to see other people failing in this!) is to acknowledge the validity of personal experience first.
Seriously, if you really think their personal experiences are not valid, you’ve got a whole, huge, other issue than merely the terms by which they’ve described it.
I completely agree that people’s personal experiences should be treated as valid and worthy of respect. But what people seem to be disagreeing about here is whether the characterization of one person’s behavior by another should be respected and accepted as well. It’s one thing to say “I was hurt by words and actions which appeared to me to be prejudiced.” It’s another thing to say “you exhibited prejudice in your behavior toward me.” The first is uncontestable, because it’s a person’s description of their response. The second is the person’s judgment about another’s motivations. If we have a hundred observers who agree with that judgment and zero who disagree, then we’ll probably accept the judgment. But what if it’s 50/50 or 60/40? Then there’s no consensus, and if the original actor is challenging the judgment, it becomes even murkier.
The problem to me with accepting descriptions of personal experience as anything more than individual examples that illustrate an issue is that personal experience is not just about social identity, it’s about the intersection of social, collective identity issues with the individual psychological makeup of the individual. If you expose a dozen people to the same behavior, controlling for social identity, you’re going to get a variety of responses because not everyone is affected in the same way even if they share a social identity. Some people then advocate censoring everything that even one person finds offensive or hurtful, but that seems to me both impractical and inconsistent.
In other words, sunita, someone with a broken toebone must describe their pain in a nice, non-judgemental way that doesn’t hurt the feelings of the person who stepped on it… or else she gets to take on the responsibility for having broken her own foot.
whoops! clicked the button too soon!
What we have seen in this convo, moreover, is something very much like this;
And it’s simply astounding how narrow the range of responses has been– one thing to remember is that one part of the social identity is about the same for everyone in this convo, that of science- and popular- fiction readers and writers.
An awful lot of people, of a rainbow of color have spoken up to say; “Yes, that’s how I feel too.” An awful lot of pink people have spoken up to say; “Yes, that makes sense to me.”
And a double handful of people have said “!SOCKPUPPETREVERSERACISTCULTSHUTUP!”
No, they have the right to describe their pain however they want, and if they want to blame the person who stepped on the toe, they absolutely have that right as well. But if they insist that the stepper did so intentionally and/or maliciously, they do not have the right to insist that everyone agree with that interpretation and expect that judgment call to have the same right to validation and respect that their feelings about the event (and their right to express those feelings) deserve.
My suggestion was that we deal with the pain first. This very often makes the question of motive a moot point.
Later, you know, when the foot is in its cast, we might be able to say “You know, I really don’t think I’m a racist, because to me, racists step on feet on purpose.”
The person we’ve been dealing with might be more willing to discuss nomenclature at that point– having seen some evidence of our good will. The thing is, though– timing means a lot. We don’t start this discussion until after the foot has been tended. And we might not want to start it five minutes later, while it’s still throbbing, huh?
It is important to note, however, that the proper care of the foot depends on the nature of the problem. The clinician needs to distinguish between a toe broken by someone standing on it and, say, a bone metastasis in hepatocellular carcinoma.
Confusing the two is dangerous for all concerned, not least because treatment for a non-existent cancer has significant harms…
Mr. Shetterly (#93),
What are you talking about? None of the content referenced in coffeeandink’s post (Will Shetterly: DO NOT ENGAGE) was deleted at her request. I’m seriously struggling to understand how you come to these bizarre interpretations of my comments. In addition, many of the discussions referenced by coffeeandink took place in comments on LJ which do not appear to be accessible from your blog currently, coffeeandink’s understanding or lack thereof of Google (again) notwithstanding.
It’s also worth pointing out that you seem to have strayed into intellectual dishonesty with your assertion that she “wanted to hide her connection to Tor.” She has consistently objected to having her name connected to her LJ. As far as I’m aware, however, she has never publicly objected to having her brief 1996 employment at Tor known. What she has said on the topic is that the fact that she worked with pnh, for example, is not relevant to RaceFail09, her commentary on the discussion, or even to her specific response to tnh‘s contribution to the discussion. Put another way, nothing she’s written on RaceFail09 so much as suggests that her time at Tor has influenced her comments on former business associates.
That’s a perfect example of the kind of denail of responsibility that I’m talking about;
“You stepped on my foot and broke my toe.”
“It’s not my fault, you have cancer.”
I think what Stevie is trying to say is that if the toe is already broken, accidentally bumping it is going to hurt. A lot. Even if the bump was small enough to not even be noticed by an unbroken toe, and purely an accident. Even if the bump was meant to be a caress.
I know that half of how I perceive what others say and do to me derives from where I’m hearing it from. That is, if I’ve just been called a fat blimp by a stranger and I’m pissed and hurt about it, then if my husband grabs my butt and jiggles it as might be his wont (this is purely hypothetical, BTW, heh) because it’s his favorite part of me, I might not be thinking, “Hey, he loves my ass.” I might be thinking, “Jeez, even he thinks I’m fat!” and be hurt and angry at him.
If the spot is already sore, other people who are aware of that should be extra careful not to add more hurt. But that doesn’t mean that the things they say and do that do hurt are intended to be hurtful. And if they’re trying to help deal with the wound and they’re doing so clumsily out of ignorance, or if they’re trying to play footsie unaware of the fact that the toe was already broken by events that had little or nothing to do with them personally, the response needs to be more “Ow ow ow! Jeez, my toe is broken so don’t touch it like that,” than “WTF are you, an asshole? Quit stomping on my foot! You’re just like all those other footstompers!”
Admittedly, if you’ve just had a bunch of people stomping on your broken toe on purpose, this may not be so easy to do, and I can understand that sometimes it’s impossible to temper your response. Likewise, if you try the first option and get a “Well, that shouldn’t have hurt, you just need a thicker skin.” But if I got the second reaction after an accidental toe-bump, or after trying to help I’d be on the defensive for sure.
And the problem with the broken toe is that you don’t only have to change the behavior of the toe-stompers. That isn’t going to solve the whole problem, because if the toe heals crooked, it may cause pain forever, even if the time comes when no one’s stomping on anyone’s toes, and all the foot-to-foot contact is meant to be pleasant. Which time may be a long way off, but not inconceivable.
kirsten saell – The problem with this analogy is that you are still addressing the communication before the hurt.
It is at this point that you are missing something in your analogy:
You have stepped on someone’s foot.
How badly you stepped on thier foot, or even whether you meant to step on thier foot does not (entirely) matter when:
They say “That Hurts!”
And you say “Well, you don’t have to yell!”
Because you are still standing on thier foot
You are saying that your emotional pain of being yelled at is more important than their physical pain.
It is entirely possible that you stepped merely brushed past a toe that has healed badly, because time and time again, that toe has been stepped on, stomped on, kicked, sometimes while the person stepping/kicking/stomping is denying that they are on anyone’s foot.
In that case, I can understand that you might be startled and hurt by the accusation that you stepped on someone’s foot, beliving that they are implying that you did it on purpose.
But when you say “Well, you don’t have to yell” instead of moving off/away from the foot, you reinforce what perception there might be on whether you did it on purpose.
Kirsten, yes! Thank you!
And I love the “playing footsie” addition, because that happens a lot as well; nice white liberals thinking they should call their buddies by the “n” word to demonstrate solidarity…
Heh, lane, I read kirsten’s post in something like the opposite way…
Nuance is a real problem.
Shalsaran, her name was deleted from the reply to that post at her request.
If she didn’t want her name connected to her LJ, why did she use her name on her LJ over and over again in public posts?
I agree that she would like people to think her history is irrelevant. I still think is is very relevant.
If you’d like to understand what happened in RaceFail 09, I filled in some blanks here.
My apologies if you meant your questions to be rhetorical.
@will shetterly: I read your blog post earlier today and couldn’t help but wonder why someone who claims to be so against hierarchies would position yourself on one end of such an IMO antagonistically us v. them opposition. Even if you see race as subservient to class, the one thing these oppressive “ist” structures have in common is an oppositional construct that elevates one group at the expense and degradation of another.
If you want to say that you are responding to that in your opponents, I would suggest a substantial difference between saying, ‘look, I believe that you’re doing the same thing to your opponents as you claim we’re doing to you’ and saying, ‘you stupid mo-fo’s have no f’ing clue, so watch while I make a mockery of you.’ IMO your blog post was more of the second than the first, and I say that as someone who is still working out my own reaction to everything and everyone involved.
The post, though, IMO highlights Stella Omega’s point about needing to prove one’s good will as a precursor to healing in these kinds of discussions, because of the wide range that a blast like yours likely has. It makes me feel that the rest of us, those who are not yet invested and engaged, already have to distinguish ourselves from so much bad will that who knows how long it will be until we feel comfortable to enter the discussion or meet other participants in a neutral space.
You again seem to be straying into intellectual dishonesty. Earlier, I referenced coffeeandink's post to which you responded in part with your first post that linked her name and LJ. The point of the reference is that was that you deleted the records of the conversations which she was recounting. This fact has absolutely nothing to do with your later decision to remove her name from posts in your blog at her request.
Also, you’ve now moved from an assertion that coffeeandink was “trying to hide her association with Tor” to ‘agreeing’ that “she would like people to think her history is irrelevant.” What’s missing? Any acknowledgment that your original assertion was at best a misrepresentation of the facts and at worst a blatant lie.
As to your question, however, the answer is that it simply does not matter. Whether or not your intentions were pure initially, you continued to link coffeeandink‘s name to her LJ after she made her feelings on the topic perfectly clear. Why would you do that? Fortunately, we’ve cleared that particular point up in this very comment thread: you acknowledged that your actions were malicious. I don’t think it would be unfair to describe them as retributive. For those of you keeping score at home, that would be the point of many of the responses to your actions, responses which you and a handful of others have spent so much time dismissing or mocking.
Allow me to close by noting that I find it unfortunate, albeit less than surprising, that you opted to screen my response to your latest post on RaceFail09. As I said at the end of that comment:
Robin, if there’s a neutral space, I can’t find it. To them, if you’re white, you accept their terms and become a white ally, or you’re the enemy. When Thandeka is dismissed as simply being “wrong,” where can you go?
Robin, you’re right about the tone of the piece. I tweaked it to make the style less like what it was based on.
Well, agreed on that. But I would assume anyone with an ounce of decency would have moved off the foot as soon as they realized they were causing pain. And I will say, even if I got the â€œWTF are you, an asshole? Quit stomping on my foot! You're just like all those other footstompers!â€ response immediately, I’d be more inclined to respond with a “Dude, I didn’t realize. It was an accident. Sorry.” than a “You don’t have to yell.” Because sometimes a yell is required to get the other guy’s foot off your sore toe.
But if the reaction to my apology was “WTF?!! How could you not know my toe was broken? Are you stupid, or just a toe-hater?” followed by several blog posts by several people citing the ignorant toe-stomping idiots who can’t be bothered to watch where they put their feet, well, I might feel a bit put upon. But I’d probably just ignore it at that point, rather than hurl myself off that particular cliff.
But that’s just me…
And I think you’ve trampled that metaphor into the ground, Kirsten.
And let’s not forget that we are talking about something other than stepping on toes, which is easier to cop to than acts or assumptions that might– just possibly– stem from unwitting prejudice.
“That was racially problematic” does engender screaming defensive reactions, damn near every time. We’ve been watching it happen, right before our eyes, with each new person. It does not seem to matter how kindly or how bluntly the complaint is phrased.
I guess that was one of the things that really surprised me about the whole thing, is the reluctance of people to accept that we all have racial (and other) prejudices, and they almost always do affect our actions in one way or another. It shouldn’t be so hard to cop to that, because having a prejudice, and perpetuating it, is not the same as hating anyone.
But yeah, when the same word is used for so many behaviors, from subconscious favoring of one color over another to burning crosses on lawns, I can see how emotions would run high.
Even when the behavior gets described by other words, the reaction usually is as if “racist” was spoken in the first place.
it shouldn’t be hard to cop to a prejudice– but it is.
Kirsten, if only it had been that simple. Do I have racist instincts in the dictionary sense of the word? Of course–humans have prejudices. Is anyone who rejects the antiracists’ framing of the debate and their non-dictionary definition of “racist” a “racist asshole” as was very quickly charged in the debate? Maybe, but it should be understandable why people weren’t in a hurry to cop to that.
The antiracist framing has great problems. I highly recommend Thandeka’s Why Anti-Racism Will Fail.
@will shetterly: The answer, of course, to what you can do in the face of being called wrong, depends on your intentions and goals. You can differentiate among the “less sane” and the more stupid or whatever terms you might employ. But one of the main weaknesses I find with that approach (completely outside its antagonistic tone) is that it tends to imply the stupidity of those reading via an unspoken assumption that we are not smart enough to pick up on the strengths and weaknesses of the argument on our own.
Quite honestly, I find it a distraction to be pummeled with pejorative barbs, even if they are not directed at me, the third-party reader. I don’t care if the other side started it first. If the point is to get me to see that side’s ideological and theoretical weaknesses, distracting me with some version of ‘nyah, nyah, nyah’ undermines that as much or more than anything the other side might say.
And while not the smartest person reading RaceFail, I consider myself somewhat intelligent and reasonably well-educated. I have my own background in these issues and a certain level of insight gleaned from intellectual and professional resources and experiences that I bring to the debate. When I come to the race-class debate, I think about the work of Theodore Allen, whose outstanding study, The Invention of the White Race: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, demonstrates that economic oppression gave rise to the invention of racial hierarchies. Score one for class. Then I think about the importance of Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution. Score two for class.
And then I move to the controversy over standardized tests and the fact that in the US, SAT and other test scores among most minority groups are significantly lower than test scores for whites, *regardless of income levels*. I think Claude Steele has a promising theory to explain some of this, but I don’t think his work on stereotype threat privileges economic levers over racial ones. Especially when you consider the groundbreaking work of someone like Gunnar Myrdal, whose American Dilemma posited an extremely compelling analysis of a split in the mind of the liberal white American between believing in abstract principles of racial justice and equality and petty prejudices, jealousies, and antagonisms toward poc (obviously these are only examples; there’s lots more here that I consider, of course, but the point is that I’m trying — in my slow way — to take my own measure of the discussion).
You can see the development of the complex interplay between race and class in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, especially in the distinction he makes between African and Native American peoples, animalizing African blacks and suggesting that miscegenation between Anglo-American whites and Native Americans would create a beautiful mixture. The emergence of scientific racism via people like the comte de Buffon, on whom Jefferson relies in his text, certainly plays a role here, as does the differential political status between African blacks and Native Americans during this time.
But regardless of how artificial the construction of race and racial hierarchies are, regardless of whether economic oppression may have given rise to them, IMO the relationship between race and class is currently too complex to unequivocally state that one is more important, more primary, more oppressive, in part because they are so mutually dependent at this point, especially when you factor the politics of immigration into the equation, the question of religious identification, and the ideological umbrella of national identity (e.g. labor unions have been the major force behind most of our pre-9/11 statutes limiting immigration). But that’s only my opinion. You have yours, others have theirs, and every voice has a chance to offer another perspective to the whole.
There’s already been so much damage on a personal level through Race Fail, and although I wasn’t involved in that discussion, I came away from a much smaller controversy in Romance not too long ago with a lot of bad feelings (and I didn’t even have a personal stake in it). Not hurt feelings, necessarily, but disappointment, disgust, and the sense — right or wrong — that some of the people in the conversation were/are not at all well-intentioned in any way shape or form. Although I didn’t engage most of these folks during (or after) the controversy, I have watched them say things that have appalled me to the point where I am now repelled on every level. And it’s taken a toll on me, not only in terms of where I visit online, but also in terms of my personal feelings about people I don’t know beyond a name and a string of sentences online. And that’s a shitty feeling, even if it seems justified to me. So I can only imagine the toll that RaceFail has and will continue to take on people on *all* sides of the issue. You and others may see that as a reason to lash out, but I’d argue there’s a stronger case to be made for a little restraint, at least of the meanness, if for no other reason than to rescue the important issues of the debate itself.
Robin, if you’re interested in all sides, you may want to do as much reading about class as you’ve done about race.
I don’t recognize your quote of “less sane”–did I use it somewhere? If so, I apologize. I usually think in terms of ignorance and innocence and education and experience.
I also see a lot of malice out on both sides–I toned down my post because there was no need to repeat the style of the post it was based on. Charity has been lost on both sides. It’s time to seek it now.
“I also see a lot of malice out on both sides-” Of course you do!
But I saw a LOT of malice on one side; vivid, undisguised, and provocative. And when people were provoked– screams of “reverse racism!” and “You people are supposed to be tolerant!” went up from Bear’s supporters.
Before that there was anger. Which is not the same as malice.
Thank you for the links, Sparkymonster. Some of these I've read previous to this, while others are new to me. More than ever these heartbreaking words remind me why I continue to speak out, and write, no matter the consequences. Thank you very much for this reminder.
See, this the kind of assumption to which I was objecting in my previous comment. I know I didn’t recite my academic pedigree or attach an annotated bibliography to my comment, but I had hoped that from the references I included on both the economic and racial side of the argument that it was obvious I was not a neophyte on these issues. So I’m not sure — outside of my unwillingness to accept the supremacy of your position — what makes you assume my reading has been lopsided.
In a roundabout way, of course, this goes back to the issue of pseudonymity and anonymity online and the way our voices are or aren’t authorized. Did I need to reveal that I am a Ph.D. (English), J.D., or that my scholarship is focused on the intersections of class, culture, race, and religion in the construction of American national identity? Would that properly legitimate my comments? Or how about the fact that I subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education, am a regular reader of Inside Higher Ed, know precisely who Walter Benn Michaels is, am extremely educated about the origins and character of Critical Race Theory in both law and the Humanities (and am not at all in line with your characterization of it on your blog), and have spent quite a few years working on patterns of educational inequity, especially in economically disadvantaged school systems (and have some bones to pick with your presentation of the ‘poor schools’ issue, as well). Obviously, the more familiar we are with others online, the more we get to “know” the context of someone’s position and reach our own conclusions about how seriously to take what they say. But I honestly didn’t expect to be told I hadn’t read enough merely because I am inclined to recognize a mutually-reinforcing relationship between class and race.
I had kind of hoped to avoid all that, in part because I don’t think it authorizes anything, but also because IMO this whole discussion is about connecting through the recognition and discussion of particular issues, not the comparison of how much I’ve read v. how much you or someone else has read. IMO we’re (general “we”) far, far too caught up in a ‘who are you?’ kind of dynamic when it comes to online discussions. Not that background, professional experience, academic exposure, and the like don’t affect the way we present ourselves and our ideas; but all of that is still distilled down into what is essentially a disembodied, self-represented (and to some degree self-authorizing) voice.
Yes, in your original timeline. Obviously, it stuck with me much more than it did with you, which is probably a measure of what I tried to articulate above — namely that there’s a much larger audience reading these discussions than participating, and that readers can feel impacted in personal ways, even if they aren’t personally involved in the discussion. Thanks for the apology, though, and for changing the tone of your post.
Since charity, to me, connotes generosity to those less fortunate, I would replace that word with good will and heartily second your last two sentences.
Malice is such a big word, even though it’s used so often. It may be all the years of Latin I endured in high school and college, but mal always bears the weight of bad intentions to me (i.e. malevolence), making me reluctant to use it in this context. As Stella Omega said above, there’s a difference between outrage and malice, and I saw many instances of lashing out that seemed much more about outrage than malice (including the model from which you built your initial timeline post). The reason I reacted negatively to your initial, unchanged post was that it read to me more like mocking condescension than outraged retort.
I’m speaking generally here, but I think one of the things some of the anti-racists are frustrated by is the adoption of language that suggests victimhood merely for the purposes of bashing one’s opponents. And I think if everyone who’s posted in RaceFail thought about that difference and measured (outside the heat of the moment) their victimhood and damages rationally, the heat might be lower overall. Or it might be greater, if, for example, more folks could admit that they do feel attacked and they are taking things personally, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines conducting a body count. But one of the strange things about these conversations, IMO, is how things that should be taken personally often aren’t, while things that shouldn’t often are.
That’s a little bit of a digression, I know. But to go back to the “malice on both sides” thing, I’d just say that I don’t regard all apparent assaults as identical. That more often than not there are nuances within the voices (even the anonymous and pseudonymous ones) that distinguish them from each other in substantive ways. Not that we’ll all agree on whose anger is more or less “legitimate,” but I definitely think people are making those judgments, and that they factor into the conflict in ways that might not be quantifiable even as they register a visceral impact.
Oh, and FWIW, I think that religion may become the new color line and money line in the US during this century.
Ah, but you see, for Mr. Shetterly, the question of Who You Are and What You’ve Read is the means he uses to ignore your recognition and discussion of particular issues. He has repeatedly used the claim of Ivy-League Elites to discredit the arguments of people he disagrees with.
As for the outing, Coffeeandink’s analysis of both Mr. Shetterly and Teresa Nielsen Hayden was on its face so clearly damaging to their arguments, that the only possible response was to discredit her by asserting a pre-existing grudge. The way to do that was, of course, by informing everyone of her legal name (and her previous employment). That the identification of Coffeeandink also served as punishment for speaking out, and a not-very-subtle threat of similar treatment to anyone else who agreed with her (who might well have far more to fear from such exposure), well, that was just icing on a vindictive cake.
(I don’t know if it’s worth pointing out yet again that Coffeeandink had managed her pseud so that while she did have the occasional reference to her real first name on her LJ, she ran regular google searches, the point of which was to ensure that when a potential employer searched for her, her LJ didn’t come up on the first few pages. She wasn’t hiding her identity, she was managing it. This is hardly an unknown tactic in many circles.)
Robin/Janet, I wasn’t asking for your credentials. In general, I’m with Upton Sinclair on the purpose of institutions of higher learning in our society, which isn’t to knock degrees–it’s just to say that I’m more interested in what you think than what other people think of what you think.
Based on your examples, you focus on the role of class and race in “separate but equal” terms, as though racism and classism can be independent or entangled forms of oppression of equal significance. But that subordinates the importance of class. Classism is the structure of oppression, whether it’s used to oppress people by race, region, religion, or whatever measure a culture makes to decide who exploits and who’s exploited.
My first draft of my timeline was meant to be like A themed summary of RaceFail ’09 in large friendly letters for those who think race discussions are hard. That’s why the language didn’t stick with me. I think RaceFail ’09 and me comes much closer to being my natural voice.
I don’t know if Somerville’s timeline is malicious. When I think of malice, I think of coffeeandink’s page about me, and my “outing” of her–malice without action is merely ill will. I agree that there’s a touch of condescension in “charity.” I would love to see good will on all sides of this. But I would be content with more charity.
That said, your postscript’s intriguing. How do you think religion will become the new demarcation?
Cofax, ask Coffeeandink about any “pre-existing grudge.” I suspect you won’t get an answer. As for how she “managed her pseud,” see my RaceFail ’09 chronology. She managed it remarkably poorly. If she’d wanted to hide from Google, LJ has tools that would’ve let her keep her public self-outings away from search engines.
Jesus, Will, stop gnawing that dead, dry bone. Regardless of how c&e managed her privacy, you don’t have the right to manage it for her.
Stella, if I talk about myself in public, people have a right to repeat what I say. That’s how privacy works.
If Coffeeandink had wanted to be pseudonymous, she shouldn’t have outed herself over and over again in public posts since 2006. Hiding from Google is easy with LiveJournal. She never bothered until now, when people began pointing out why she was so very “out” in Google.
Thank you, cofax, for articulating this difference, because IMO it’s crucial. I actually think most of us are in the managing category, with little bits and pieces of our RL selves online but not necessarily every identifying detail. And when you contextualize the issue this way, I think you could argue for a good faith approach to publicly exploding this type of management for/against someone else.
Not that people won’t be challenged for stuff they say and do; not that people will be protected from criticism and from attention they may not want focused on them over various issues. And not, IMO, that there are no compelling reasons for circumventing someone else’s identity management (especially when that person is trying to exploit or harm or unfairly target another). But yeah, I’m just not sold on the idea that because someone’s name comes up on Google in reference to a pseud that it’s open season on the pseud.
Robin, what about when people post their legal identity several times a year on their LJ so they can easily be found at public conventions? How does that fall under managing pseudonymity? Remember, that’s the reason her name came up in Google. Is this like wearing a mask at a ball where everyone pretends they don’t recognize each other?
Yes, the various takes on pseudonymity have begun to fascinate me.
I saw your excerpt from Sinclair (and I’ll readily admit to being kind of confused by your position on higher ed, since you readily utilize some of its most mainstream publications/resources to support various posts on your blog), and it reminded me of how much has changed since Sinclair was writing that. The Vietnam era alone effected many changes in higher ed, as did the GI Bill, 9/11, the rise in corporate partnerships/funding of scientific research by university faculty, the rise of vo-tech institutions, etc.
University/college presidents have so much less power now than they did decades ago, for example, and in terms of defending academic freedom, it now often falls to the chancellor/president to defend academic freedom to those external to the campus (which makes sense when you think about the generation that produced the current presidents). I don’t know if you’ve read Bill Readings’s The University in Ruins, but given your interests, you might enjoy it if you haven’t already read it. Readings argues, among other things, that the original model for the Western university (the German model of the university as bearer of national culture) has given way to a model of the university as multi-national corporation, tracing some of the implications of that shift.
I have to give you points for continuing to surprise me with some of your inferences about me, Will, especially since I’m someone who’s not easily surprised in that way, lol.
First I need to leapfrog the “separate but equal” reference, because for me it has such a particularized context (not just from Plessy and the line of cases from like Lemon Grove to Brown, but also because of the whole historical and political and legal discourses of segregation) and so I don’t think it works the way you intend it to there. But beyond that, I’m not sure how to respond because I don’t know how, based on my short little demonstration, that you’ve arrived at your conclusions. And I’m also having a difficult time reconciling the critique with your own insistence that class can be differentiated enough from race to be declared primary and supreme as a level of oppression.
But I can perhaps clarify a bit by saying that all I was trying to accomplish above was to say that I was familiar with both race-based and class-based *elements* of oppression. On a superficial level I wanted to give “equal time” to both (to avoid the inference to which I responded in my earlier comment), but in no way was that massively simplified cataloging intended to serve as a summation of my theoretical approach to class and race. Which is why I included the fact that there were many more things I consider when reading all these comments people make and why I made the several comments I did about the complexity of the relationship between class and race. At the same time, though, if I followed up a statement like “class and race are very enmeshed” with an analysis that did not break the issue down into its constituent parts and analyze them independently as well as in toto (which is not the same thing as seeing them as independent in their effect/application/function/construction), no one would be able to follow what the hell I was saying, lol.
Also, the substance of your critique that an approach I don’t take “subordinates the importance of class,” doesn’t follow for me, especially given your insistence that “classism is the structure of oppression.” Those two things strike me as contradictory. As for the issue of class being subordinated to race, my argument is that such a conclusion is an oversimplification of the relationship between class and race, but *not* an assertion that they are of equal significance, in part because I think such an approach — somewhat ironically — diminishes the role of *both* class and race by flattening the analysis of each for the purpose of declaring a “winner,” so to speak, in the oppressive ideology sweepstakes.
Now I understand that your position is that class is predominant, and as I said earlier in my comments, I totally agree with you that classism is an extraordinarily powerful lever of oppression, and IMO one that we don’t talk about nearly enough within our society (I find the class implications of voting patterns particularly interesting and important). But beyond disagreeing with your conclusion, I just want to clarify also that my belief in a mutually reinforcing relationship between race and class does not mean I am according them equal significance — it merely means that I’m not measuring by those terms.
What I think is that religion is emerging as line of demarcation that will be as powerful as the color or class line, not necessarily that it will become “the” line (because that would necessitate the other two disappearing, which I don’t see happening anytime soon). There are just too many examples to enumerate here, but I’ll offer a couple.
First there is the example of Prop 8 in California, and the astonishing power of the LDS church in planning, lobbying, funding, and vote-getting. As well as the conflation of the legal status of marriage as a civil contract with the religious rituals that attach to the civil contract. Gay marriage is just one instance of a political issue that is so mired in religious controversy that fundamental constitutional rights are explicitly tied to religious morality at an IMO unprecedented level (i.e. can a state change its constitution to deny civil rights — fundamental rights, even, as measured by the national constitution — in part on the basis of religion?). IMO we’re going to see more and more of these issues erupting over various rights, from reproductive rights to due process to free speech, and we’re going to see many more Establishment Clause issues/cases, as well.
Speaking of free speech, that’s another area deeply influenced by religious issues, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you’ve been keeping up with Inside Higher Ed, you can see how this is currently playing out on college campuses, and the recent controversy around Charles Freeman. I know that many people see Middle East conflicts as far, far away, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is having a substantial impact here, as well, which, compounded with the post 9/11 dynamics around dissenting political speech, are starting to converge around questions of what constitutes hate speech (which is still constitutionally allowed) and whether certain types of speech should be declared unconstitutional (i.e. should First Amendment rights be further limited).
And then there’s the current crisis in the Republican party and the perception that the “core” of the party consists primarily of the Religious Right. The big questions around the meaning of “conservative values” and how they apply to legislating economic and moral issues (i.e. is it going to be the party of small government overall, or the party of small government in terms of the economy but large government in terms of legislating morality).
There are other examples, but instead of going further, I’ll recommend an interesting article on religion dispatches, a progressive blog that focuses on all sorts of religious issues worldwide.
Y’know, I think we’re just separated by a common language. For example, you say “both race-based and class-based *elements* of oppression.” But I say there has never been and never can be race-based oppression without class-based oppression. Racism is a moderating factor within class-based oppression, not an independent oppression. Without a class structure, there’s no “power” to add to prejudice to create whatever ism a society may suffer from.
Yes, things aren’t as they were in Sinclair’s day. The ways of oppression evolve. Just as the CIA’s tactics gave way to the NED, higher education changed, but its function didn’t: expensive private schools for the rich still train our nation’s rulers and shape their concept of justice, keeping it focused on race so the class structure can stay intact.
I do think the role of religion in class has always been interesting. I don’t see it becoming as great a division as you do, but that’s because I’m the class guy.
Gay marriage is simple for me (I’m for it), but complicated for society. In elections, I think the most important element is that rich people use their resources to impose their values on the poor–which kind of covers Freeman’s situation, too.
I like the religion article. I noticed the framing of democracy versus communism ages ago, but I hadn’t caught Jew versus Palestinian.
P.S. If the comment I just left sounds like I think we’re at odds, my apologies. It’s just a matter of what we stress. I do get and appreciate this:
…classism is an extraordinarily powerful lever of oppression, and IMO one that we don't talk about nearly enough within our society (I find the class implications of voting patterns particularly interesting and important). But beyond disagreeing with your conclusion, I just want to clarify also that my belief in a mutually reinforcing relationship between race and class does not mean I am according them equal significance -‘ it merely means that I'm not measuring by those terms.
My frustration with voting in the US is we all get to choose between two candidates that are acceptable to the rich.
@will shetterly: For me it comes down to where you place the burden of emphasis. If I had to prioritize elements of the “outing” process, it would go something like this:
1. What did the person “outed” do to warrant the “outing”?
2. What were the motives of the “outer” for doing the “outing”?
3. To what degree was the person “outed” not managing her pseudonymity in ways that kept her identity secret (or identities separate)?
For you it sounds like my number three is your number one, but I don’t want the primary burden on how well the person was managing her pseudonymity, because that IMO has a tendency to make the *reasons* for the outing less important, when I think they are critical. Like if someone outs another to harass them, to encourage others to target them personally, to make them feel uncomfortable speaking up (chill speech), and the like, is it really so important that one person was not completely hidden behind a pseud? I also think the relative power of the actors is relevant, but I don’t know exactly where to put it on my list (I tend to dislike lists for this reason, lol).
This doesn’t mean that the public status of the “outed” person isn’t an important issue, of course, and there may not be more than a few degrees of difference between one, two, and three as I order them. It’s just that I don’t want the “why” to be lost amongst the Googled ruins of “how.”
For the record: I number the elements in the same order you do.
I had a blog disaster, so my earlier account of what happened is lost, so far as I know. I’ve recounted what I know here:
writing about race: anti-racism and racefail 09
on pseudonymity and nuking my WordPress blog
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