The last week or so has been somewhat illuminating. First, I stumbled upon Lavid Tidhar’s coverage of the Elizabeth Moon Islamaphobic rant (a.k.a. the Moon Fiasco, which sounds suspiciously like a silly children’s detective story); when I say I stumbled, I mean that with the utmost sincerity, as I had not been looking for it, nor had I known about the incident until said stumbling. Then K. Tempest Bradford talked briefly about scare quotes and, as a subtitle of sorts, the distracting nature of others attempting to label social activists as some derivation of “fail” (fail fandom, fail community, fail Nazi, and so on), specifically in relation to the Manifesto of No-Consequence that I linked to here.
And then it happened: I got called a bully by an anonymous individual in the comments located here. Why? Because apparently if you post something on your blog that offers a critical view of another viewpoint (or comment on another blog posting about an incident related to it, or both),
and then defend yourself in your comment thread against individuals who haven’t the courage to even say who they are, that makes you a bully. Oh, and it gets worse. If that something you’re pointing to happens to be a counter-boycott to a hardly-organized, but public cry for a boycott against an author who says something pretty much everyone agrees is deplorable, and you decide to take the counter-boycott-ers to task for what amounts to a hypocritical position (first briefly in a post, and then at length in the comments on your blog–the italics will become important at the end, hang in there), then that really makes you a bully. At least, that’s the logic I’m being presented with.
And, of course, it gets worse, because what the pronouncement of the “bully” title amounts to is a deflection of what clearly are legitimate critiques of a position that contradicts itself in the saying (even before the saying). Heaven forbid that one should actually address the hypocrisy or the contradictions inherent in one’s position. But let’s get specific.
When I linked to S. F. Murphy’s post several days ago, I made the argument that I considered his counter-boycott hypocritical, intellectually vacuous, and fallacious. Strong words? You bet. I also said that Murphy and I have agreed on things in the past (which isn’t a lie; I have). Murphy isn’t alone, though, and it would be fair to say that I understand his frustration (and others like him) with the reactions that have occurred in the past with regards to seemingly less problematic issues. But that’s not a logical basis for the counter-boycott.
Murphy certainly doesn’t agree with me, but what really acted as the catalyst for this post were the comments made by an anonymous individual who, similarly to Murphy, suggested I was a bully and, dissimilarly to Murphy, suggested that I was one of the individuals who “dog-piled” Moon’s blog, called for a boycott of her work, and tried to pressure the WisCon folks into revoking her Guest of Honor Status. Why? Frustration, on the one hand, and a general inability to see the fundamental contradiction that lies beneath the Manifesto of No-Consequence. It’s also a very clever attempt at confirmation bias (reality check: I didn’t post anything on Moon’s blog, I have only said that I won’t buy her work and that boycotts are reasonable and expected consequences for racist and ethnocentric behavior, and have no real opinion about WisCon except to say that it isn’t a convention I would likely go to anyway, so whether she is GoH or not is irrelevant to me personally–though I do have thoughts about it). But maybe this would be a good time to tear down a few fundamental flaws that seem to sit within the Manifesto of No-Consequence (within the terms presented to me by said anonymous commenter).
The Manifesto of No-Consequence makes the following argument:
I think what X did is deplorable, but I dislike the individuals who are reacting against her, and so I will continue to buy X’s stuff.
When I ordered a copy of _The Deed of Paksenarrion_ a few minutes ago, it was because the *priority* of voting against this vilification was greater to me than the *priority* of disagreeing with her, which I feel too. (from my comment thread)
So if I see a disproportionate response, e.g. a boycott or thousands of drive-by comments or an effort to have the woman’s con invitation revoked, there’s no contradiction in paying that down in my own slight way to lessen the personal consequences to someone who excites my sympathies for reasons outside of her politics. (from my comment thread)
Notice that each one suggests that the speaker disagrees with X (or Moon)(in fact, one comment contained the following line about Moon’s position: “[it’s] ignorant, condescending, disrespectful, and full of bad in-group/out-group thinking”). But what it also suggests is a justification for the unwillingness to act. These are ideas that negate themselves. They enunciate disagreement while also suggesting that said disagreement is not strictly relevant, nor important enough to be valued equal to or greater than a presumably annoying, perhaps rude, social practice.
But when one’s pronouncement of “disagreement at the level of deplorability” sits alongside a pronouncement of “support in counteraction to another group,” we’re presented an absolute contradiction. One cannot say “I disagree with your racist position” while also paying that individual for their words and have that first part mean anything whatsoever; so long as one claims to care about the dissolution of racism, these two positions are in contradiction. This is the same as saying that you do not support a company because it uses sweatshops, yet you continue to give money to that company. The justification might be “because I don’t like the protesters outside your door,” but the end result is still a negation of the “I don’t support sweatshops” position. This is what some people call “flapping your gums.”
And this is where I have problems with the Manifesto of No-Consequence. It presumes that the consequences so far lobbed at individuals who speak in racist, sexist, or ethnocentric terms, particularly in a community where their words might actually have influence, are too great. If all that was being lobbed at these individuals were ad hominem attacks and so forth, then I might agree, but a great quantity of the comments on Moon’s blog were attempts to explain where she was wrong (I’ve read the screen-capped comments). This is too much, say those who support the Manifesto of No-Consequence. One has gone too far if one comments in great numbers on a blog of a minor SF author, and one has really gone too far if one suggests that a boycott of that author’s works is in order. What does that leave those who consider themselves social activists on the net? Not much. These social activist “bullies” would have to resort to holding it in, except to say “I disagree,” and then scamper off into the night (or is “I disagree too much?).
But supporters of the Manifesto of No-Consequence would say that the problem is that it’s the Internet, and that’s not how social change was won (the Internet, of course, didn’t exist back then, but we’ll ignore that for now). To which I would say: if one claims to know anything about Civil Rights Movement, or the Women’s Rights Movement, or even the various movements that preceded it that dealt, in some way, with those two issues, then one would be hard pressed to argue the individuals of that time out of the “bully” category. Many of the great movers and shakers of those movements were also ones who did not pull punches. Yes, they were willing to reach across the aisle, but they were also people who knew that being critical of the world around them, and of the individuals in it, was necessary.
And then there were the boycotts: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Tallahassee Bus Boycott, Gandhi’s boycott of commercial salt, Chavez’s boycott to raise awareness for migrant workers, the various anti-Apartheid boycotts (South African Apartheid, to be clear), Coralnik’s attempts to boycott Nazi Germany, and many others. In many of these cases, people lost their jobs in addition to being ostracized by the community around them. I suppose we “bullies” should consider ourselves lucky that all we’re receiving are a few bitter words. Yet to enact a boycott in a post-Civil-Rights-Movement era is somehow unacceptable. Then again, the irony of a counter-boycott that specifically rails against the ethical implications of the anti-Moon boycott might have escaped a few people, particularly since Moon’s comments have a direct relation to the history of public discourse on race and ethnicity, against which boycotts have been organized (and, in some cases, have been effective in one way or another).
But when all is said and done, the accusation is there: if one stands up for social justice, against racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, and so forth, one is a bully. In my case, I find this particularly amusing, since my involvement in this incident has been largely isolated to this blog (though I have commented elsewhere)(this is where the your from earlier comes in). I also find it amusing because most of what I have said on this issue, until now, has been in the comments section of blog posts that only reference the issue at hand. This suggests something even more sinister: that if I am to be considered a “bully,” then it would only be fair to consider those who have repeatedly come to argue against my various “bullying” remarks as masochists. Accusing them of sadomasochism, however, might be going too far…
I could say more about this, but I’ll leave it at that for now.