Can calls for civility be a barrier to civil discourse? September 6, 2013 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Several MetaFilter posts recently have involved marginalized people critiquing the actions of more privileged allies or beloved internet institutions, resulting in contentious comment threads. A pattern emerged in these, most clearly in the most passionately-argued of these, on the retitling of a Wikipedia page from “Chelsea Manning” back to “Bradley Manning.” That pattern involves complaints that comments made by more marginalized individuals are shrill, harsh, and/or overemotional. While I embrace MetaFilter's guidelines that discourse be civil, I think it is possible that tone arguments sometimes function as a sort of ad hominem derailing practice out on the blue. Is this something we should be discouraging?

Let me focus on the thread about Chelsea Manning to elucidate. In previous MeTas on the topic of respect for trans* people, it’s been made clear that, while some people would like to have MeFi be a safe space, the MeTa consensus is that a lower bar will be enforced—one of civil discourse. (With respect to trans* people, this means that commenters are expected to use the name and pronoun another states they wished used when referring to them.)

The Manning thread involved a substantive debate about whether Wikipedia’s editorial process should be viewed primarily through the lens of unacceptable transphobia, or primarily as a messy but innocuous rule-bound procedure. But there were also a substantial number of comments positing that a central issue was that trans* supporters were shrilly spreading undeserved accusations of transphobia that would only alienate their allies.

Posters complaining of a problem with others' tone said they were advocating for civil discourse, and that uncivil sniping at one’s allies dooms the left (something also raised in the recent Macklemore and Scazi threads linked above). Those making the trans* critique argued that they were simply explaining why the situation pains and angers them, and that this is not the same thing as sniping at people.

I am very much in favor of constructive, engaged, civil conversations—that's why I'm a MeFite. And maintaining the civility of our discourse is a responsibility of all of us posting comments. But I do not think that tone arguments, aimed down at the marginalized party in a discussion to tell them to stop being so upset about things, promote engagement. I don't feel that they equate to reminders to be civil when conversations get heated, but instead function to minimize or shut down a party with whom one disagrees, by painting them as overwrought or intemperate, and oneself as rational, objective, reasonable. At least, that's how it seemed to me as one of the trans* people writing in the thread on Chelsea Manning: that a response to my posting “These are the reasons I experience other people being misgendered as upsetting” was in essence the nonresponsive, “Don't yell at your allies.”

So: are tone arguments something we should discourage on MetaFilter? And if so, how?
posted by DrMew to Etiquette/Policy at 8:54 PM (827 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

There's a fair amount of overthinking things going on here.
posted by killdevil at 9:09 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a fair amount of overthinking things going on here.

It's probably unmodly of me to snicker at this, but there's an argument to be made that this is the exact kind of dismissiveness that the post is trying to examine.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:17 PM on September 6, 2013 [82 favorites]


So: are tone arguments something we should discourage on MetaFilter?

I don't think so. Tone is subjective, and hard to read in print. One person's tone argument is another person's honestly expressed disagreements with the premise. I'd rather have a mefi where people occasionally got mad or had their feelings hurt but everybody felt like they could honestly express their opinion than one in which the possibility that you may be hurting someone's feelings compels silence, even if you disagree with the premise that Topic A is offensive/blameworthy/immoral/objctionanable. Otherwise the place becomes an echo chamber.

Obviously a balance must be struck; gratuitous insult and attacks are pretty lousy. But if we get to a place where A says "I didn't think it was wrong" and B says "I am a member of Group and my fellow group members and I all agree that it was wrong, and anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously a bad person" and that's the end if debate, I think that's be a bad place for the site to end up.
posted by Diablevert at 9:35 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've been arguing that MeFi would rather host "civil" hate than "uncivil" opposition to same for years and all I've ever got in return is along the lines of "well we don't really think that's true", so good luck.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:41 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I should probably clarify: I totally think it's fair for an individual poster to call someone else out if they think they're making a tone argument. I mean, in the thread I think it's fair to say to someone "I think it's bullshit that you're attacking my mode of expression while ignoring my experiences/evidence/arguments." I just don't think we should have an official site policy of Tone Arguments Are Verboten. Fight it out in the open.
posted by Diablevert at 9:41 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Christ, that thread pissed me off.
posted by rtha at 9:53 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


To offer a personal viewpoint: I used to get into I/P conversations in online forums, but I pretty consistently got people who would respond with "would you like with a side of 'push the Jews into the sea' with that?" And so I stopped talking about I/P topics to lay people and focused on academic conversation that at least made an effort to stay engaged. MeFi has given me some new stuff to think on gender, but at this point I pretty much avoid all conversations about women's experiences, sexual assault, etc, etc., because I'm pretty sure that no matter what I contribute, someone will come along and accuse me of "but what about the mens" or being a supporter of rape culture or what have you, because I happen to be male. I mean, sure, if you don't want me to be a part of the conversation, fine, I'll stay out of the conversation because my thoughts are irrelevant. I realize that MeFi can't possibly be a conversation between users and is actual kind of a weird melting pot where people throw in disjointed comments until a "consensus" forms. I could throw my opinion in, but really, what's the point? It can't be a conversation in any meaningful way. In general, I'm willing to entertain a whole lot of ideas, but I feel like the chatter on MeFi actually makes me less open-minded as a person.
posted by Nomyte at 10:13 PM on September 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


Hmm, whilst I can appreciate your broader point, I don't know if this is something that needs to be dealt with - or even can be dealt with - except on a case-by-case basis.

I don't know, I think when it comes to metafilter discourse, there's a lot of confirmation and attentional bias at play. As in, it's easy to over-project broad patterns on the site that aren't actually there, especially when they affect you emotionally. I am guilty of this myself.

In saying this, I guess I'm saying that I tend to be a bit skeptical regarding claims or what the community tends to do, or 'generally' behaves etc. I think it's counter-productive , and I prefer dealing with concrete examples of less-than-ideal behaviour - of which there are no shortage. I think a corollary to this is assuming that there are two sides with clear orthodoxies, underpinned by demography. Trans people feel this way, CIS white males feel that way. I don't think the binaries are helpful - there is, even here, intellectual and demographic homogeneity.

Further, I feel that some of those examples you linked to do not really qualify as "complaints that comments made by more marginalized individuals are shrill, harsh..." etc. I appreciate you linking to examples, but I feel you've kinda put words into a few people's mouths there, that aren't really demonstrating those things, or only by a very uncharitable reading. This is not to deny problematic attitudes exist here as elsewhere, but I feel the mods are pretty much on top of them.

Secondly, I suppose declaring my own bias, I think that tone does matter, and it is important. It's easy to dismiss someone who disagrees with you - civility is critical to genuine engagement. And people are - and should be - allowed to disagree here, even on very hot topics, so long as they can keep it civil.
posted by smoke at 10:36 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


There are two things that complicate this kind of discussion (and it is a kind of discussion).

First, the underlying goal is to increase empathy. That's an awesome goal. To do that on a societal level you need to change the way people think.

But changing the way people think on a societal level is really goddam hard. So you have to group together, with other like-minded people, and all push at the same time.

This makes it an essentially tribal endeavour. While this is effective (collective action > individual action) and comforting (it's awesome being in a group of like minded people) it can lead to shrillness, and hair-splitting and schisming and and casting-out and all that stuff. People from outside the tribe can look at this and question whether the goal was ever that important - which is completely unfair, but there you go. You don't change the way a society thinks and still get to be fair to everyone.

Second, while the way the change is headed is towards more empathy, (which is a fantastic direction, more empathy is what the world needs) acting as a tribe kind of intrinsically denies empathy. There is your side, and the other side. And your side is right and the other side is wrong.

So the feeling that people who want more empathy in society (because that's a great goal) but aren't in the tribe get is that the only way they can be in on achieving this great goal is to be In The Tribe. Which isn't always that attractive, because it's a tribe, as above. So they get testy, and the tribe registers that as OTHER and eventually starts saying things that come across as (paraphrased) screaming HAVE SOME MORE EMPATHY YOU FUCKING MONSTER into people's spittle-flecked faces.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:40 PM on September 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, I can't help but feeling that what you're really requesting here is modly intervention in enforcing a particular norm, in short, it's inappropriate to say some things you feel are offensive and hurtful in trans-related threads - though they may be phrased prettily.

I can totally understand you desire for enforcing these kinds of norms, but I don't really support it - indeed, I already think Mefi can be o'er-eager in enforcing some norms (though I generally agree with the norms themselves) - for all the reasons that have been hashed out in many MeTas, on many topics before.
posted by smoke at 10:42 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I feel that it's pretty much always unacceptable to make the argument "they/you are overreacting and finding things to be angry about", especially when coupled with "...and this is really bad because they/you won't convince [privileged group] to take their/your grievance seriously" when applied to criticisms and expressions of grievances made by a member(s) of an oppressed group. It's the default response to all such expression of grievances from any oppressed group, the privileged folk are always going to argue that point, and it's always going to have a strong tendency to either shut down the discussion or divert it into an argument about tone. All the social inertia is to not take such claims seriously — I agree with you that there needs to be an equal force resisting this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:56 PM on September 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


Do you feel that force should reside with the mods, though, Ivan, or as something that can be hashed out in-thread?
posted by smoke at 11:05 PM on September 6, 2013


I don't presume to know what the goals are of trans* people are when they engage in discussion of trans* issues on MetaFilter.

But as someone who had almost no exposure to trans* people or issues prior to MetaFilter, I'd like to offer that these discussions have done a great job of converting me into a firm believer that trans* identities are a real thing (not a mental illness as per mainstream belief) and made me a staunch supporter of trans* rights.

Would a less confrontational approach have had the same effect on me? Probably not.

So, trans* MeFites, if converting previously ignorant people into allies is your goal here, then the approach/tone you've been using most definitely worked on me. Thank you for the enlightenment and please keep it up.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:08 PM on September 6, 2013 [33 favorites]


"Do you feel that force should reside with the mods, though, Ivan, or as something that can be hashed out in-thread?"

Well, I just meant "force" very loosely, as in "enthusiasm" or something. This is the kind of thing that were it an actual mod enforced rule, would be well within the moderation territory that I think most mefites would feel was oppressive. I just had in mind an awareness that such arguments are always problematic and should be avoided and questioned when they occur. Part of the community ethos. It's hard to overstate how pervasive such arguments are wherever and whenever a grievance from an oppressed group is aired in the wider world. It's worth opposing them on general principle, not specific merit, because the prevailing bias so strongly favors such arguments.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:24 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Elsewhere in the universe, some guy once told me something like "You keep harping on that. Let it go already." Yeah, acting like I am imagining your ugly behavior and have some personal problem totally makes me feel better here. (NOT!)

A more effective approach is to help someone put down their baggage. But that's work and many people simply do not know how, even assuming they are willing, which many people are not.

I get the intent. I do. But even if it is completely from a positive, loving place rooted in a deep desire to help them do it better, it's just not effective. If someone were hit by a car, would you lecture them to "Quit rudely bleeding on people!"? Not likely. But when life runs us over, we get told to quit emotionally bleeding as it is rude and, also "It's in the past. It doesn't matter." (Please note Rafiki was being sarcastic when he said that.)
posted by Michele in California at 11:41 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my experience, tone arguments are almost always a derail. They are a way of talking about the way a grievance is expressed, instead of the grievance itself, and therefore make it possible to avoid addressing the grievance altogether. This is especially notable when it is a person who is part of the group being criticized trying to police the form that criticism takes, and so threads about women's issues tend to have derails where men discuss how alienating it is for women to discuss their critique a certain way, and threads about race have white people talking about how they are turned off when black people discuss the invisible backpack, or whatever. And they won't let go of that argument.

And you see the same few people raise the same tone arguments again and again and again, and, coupled with their other comments, which are often hostile or dismissive to the criticism itself, at the end of the day it is hard not to think that they are policing tone precisely because they don't want to have the discussion at all.

I mean, if they don't want to have the discussion, they don't have to. I'm never going to force somebody to have a conversation they don't want to have. But this sort of derail does something else -- it seeks to make sure other people don't have the discussion, by distracting it instead to a conversation where the way something is said is much more vital than the substance of what is said. I wish people wouldn't do this.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:54 PM on September 6, 2013 [34 favorites]


I said quite some time ago that I think that civility is often a club used by the powerful to suppress the powerless. It was in the context of, I think, the torture debates rather than trans issues but the principle is the same. Sometimes the appropriate response is incivility.
posted by Justinian at 12:28 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, I would absolutely love to see people reconsider making tone arguments, and I hope discussion of the problem will nudge folks further in that direction. It might help if people could step back and note the very real structural problem of many discussions, which goes sort of like so:
> Post about transgender issue (or Other, but we'll stick with transgender here)

> Comments that the issue isn't real (author is lying, or exaggerating, or attention-seeking, or fame-seeking, or delusional), or that the issue is real but minor / unimportant, the whole thing isn't worth talking about, or that the issue is real, but presented badly so not worth consideration, or that's just how things are and they won't change and the author and/or other commenters just need to toughen up.

> Explanations that the issue is a serious problem, is real / isn't being exaggerated / isn't just attention-seeking / does need to be addressed, and why

> Rebuttals that continue to argue that it's a tempest in a teacup or mountain from a molehill, protestations that commenter is being accused of bad behavior and they are not a bad person!, or odd substitution arguments along the lines of, "but X happens to Advantaged Group, and we don't get to whine about it!"

> Increasingly passionate and heartfelt explanations of how the issue actually does concretely affect the individual commenters in a real way, personally and painfully, as well as expressions of anger / frustration / disgust

> Responses that argue, "well, I/others would be on your side, but this kind of alienating language / discussion just makes it really hard to support you."

> (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
This is one pattern of how discussions often tend to go, and it would be great if everyone could examine that a bit and reconsider some of the steps that bring us to this sort of impasse – even if you didn't personally take part in every bit of building that structure. In other words, some people might jump into a thread and respond to an impassioned or frustrated comment by saying something along the lines of "well, this won't help you win supporters," which may seem self-evident when that comment is considered out of context, but within the Catch-22 framework of: It's not important / real, prove that it is | You're arguing too specifically / personally / emotionally / angrily, and I won't listen when you speak that way!, it's rather a different picture.

In terms of moderation, the mod team would be ecstatically happy if this sort of conversational trap could be avoided as much as possible, but it's not something we are going to create a hard and fast autodelete rule for (alongside many of the other unfair and problematic arguing styles or structures that tend to muck up discussions, such as "OH, so what you're saying is [thing the other person was not saying]," and "OH, so I guess [thing that is definitely not okay] is okay now, gotcha," the ever-popular strawperson argument, and etc., etc., etc.).

We do see the overall problem described very clearly though, and hope that talking about these problematic patterns here can help people get their heads around the elements and ultimate lose-lose dilemma of this sort of repetitive discussion trap.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:33 AM on September 7, 2013 [52 favorites]


Can we just be clear about what's "problematic" (at least in the view of most folks around here) about "tone arguments" and the argumentative dynamic taz describes above, please? It's not that they're tone arguments, per se - those happen all the time here. People regularly challenge the importance of post topics and linked articles. In five seconds of clicking around at 4am, I found a very large thread where peoples "lived experiences" are discounted - with tone arguments galore - because they work at a desk with a computer and make more money than whatever Metafilter had defined the proletariat to be that week.

In general, I think the idea that "tone arguments" ought to be avoided on any side to be silly. For instance, if I called someone a "fucking transphobic shitlord asshole, who literally roots for trans murder" for accidentally referring to Chelsea Manning as "Bradley", that would indeed be a wild overreaction, one obviously worthy of calling out. (Please God, I hope people can agree on this) I don't think the example linked in that thread was remotely near as stark, but given the obvious good faith in which the Wikipedia community at large has approached Manning's transition, as well as the number of arguments informed commenters made about the Wikipedia process not being built to do this kind of thing quickly, I think saying the site has "embraced transphobia and hate speech" was a wildly disproportional response.
posted by downing street memo at 1:06 AM on September 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


Not in those exact words, no. Some users on MeFi have made statements like "It's equally possible to consider people with no skin in the game, who characterise expressions of frustration and anger at a violently oppressive system as asshole behaviour, assholes." Which to me suggests that some people want righteous anger classified as an unalloyed good beyond reasonable criticism. On one hand, OK, sure. On the other hand, I come to MetaFilter to interact and engage, among other reasons, and there is nothing here for me to interact or engage with.

Obviously, I can interact with everyone in any other thread, but most trans users only out themselves in threads where that's explicitly relevant, and others only really contribute to those threads. And there I find it difficult to actually engage meaningfully with some of them. Again, it's not their duty to talk me about anything, gender and sexuality least of all, but the end result is that the site becomes less interactive for me if some users use certain threads to rant and rave, however justifiably.
posted by Nomyte at 1:38 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I think saying the site has 'embraced transphobia and hate speech' was a wildly disproportional response."

So? Why is it so important to discuss that and, more to the point, get everyone else to admit that?

That I don't agree that Wikipedia has "embraced transphobia and hate speech" and that this specific claim was hyperbole somehow, amazingly, managed to not disable me from reading, considering and agreeing with the writer's essential argument. The only people who get really upset about such hyperbole and "tone" are those who are inherently defensive with regard to that essential argument.

Everyone else goes, huh, they're sure worked up about this, aren't they, but I can understand why they are because they've a long, difficult history of having to deal with shit like this, and so some hyperbolic vitriol is to be expected ... but I'll try to give the argument a fair read.

Those people will be interested in discussing the issues raised by the argument.

The people who want to discuss how the writer was overreacting, irresponsibly hyperbolic, unnecessarily provocative, and alienating to allies are interested in dismissing the issues raised in the argument — their focus on "tone" and exaggeration is really just cover for trying to push the issues raised by the argument off the table and out of sight because they're made uncomfortable in some ways by them.

Incidentally, I well remember the May thread you linked to even though I didn't participate in it. And what I recall is not a tone argument used to disqualify the writer's thesis or avoid talking about it, but rather an utter disinterest in caring about the writer's thesis while accepting that it's true in some sense.

It would be hurtful, but far more honest and possibly more productive, if the people who disrupt sexism and LGBT and racism threads with tone arguments would instead just be honest and say, yeah, they/you may have a point, but I just don't care about your problems or grievances. Because that's really at the heart of it.

I totally believe the writer's argument in the May post. I totally couldn't possibly care less about their grievance.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:52 AM on September 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


Can we just be clear about what's "problematic" (at least in the view of most folks around here) about "tone arguments" and the argumentative dynamic taz describes above, please? It's not that they're tone arguments, per se - those happen all the time here.

Of course. The tone arguments we are discussing here are a problem in that they are silencing tactics used by the privileged against those who do not share their privileges. There is a long and historic oppression of women lurking behind the phenomenon of mansplaining, and it is impossible to discuss that, or why the phenomenon of mansplaining is a problem, when one or two users just want to argue whether the word mansplaining is good or not.

There is no long historic oppression of the rich by the poor. There is a completely different phenomenon at play in the May thread you linked to. And I agree with you -- if people weren't interested in the subject of the thread, it probably would have been best for them to steer clear of it, rather than to pop in just to make fun of it. That's shitty behavior in general, and not conducive to conversation. That sort of stuff is bad for threads.

But it's not the same as going into a thread about trans issues, as an example, and insisting that we would be much better about oppressing trans people if they could just find the way to ask us politely enough. That's an enormously different dynamic, and I don't think it is useful to conflate the two, any more than it is useful to go into a thread about sexism and say "But if we said 'black people" instead of 'men'" ...
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:10 AM on September 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


The tone arguments we are discussing here are a problem in that they are silencing tactics used by the privileged against those who do not share their privileges.

Did you really feel that was the intent and outcome of some of the comments linked to in the OP?
posted by smoke at 2:16 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that what requests like this often miss is that all posts and comments have a tone, and it isn't just tones like 'condescension', 'dismissiveness', 'hypersensitivity' etc. that can be irritating or provocative.
posted by Decani at 2:17 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did you really feel that was the intent and outcome of some of the comments linked to in the OP?

I cannot know intent. I do know that these tone derails have driven people from this site, though, and frustrated people to the point that they no longer participate in threads that reflect their own experiences. Whether it's intended or not, tone arguments are effective silencing tools.

If I had to guess, well, in the instance of people like cupcake1337, the behavior suggests this user genuinely does not want to have the discussion that the thread is about and want to discourage others from doing so too, yes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:22 AM on September 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


I couldn't agree more with you regarding that particular user, however, his comment were not what was linked as an example of silencing tactics.

Again, lest anyone misconstrue, I am not saying that we should keep any and every comment, only that I feel a case-by-case basis works pretty well currently, and that regardless of how wrong or hurtful you perceive someone's comments, that should not be enough to get them deleted as a blanket rule, if they are as relevant as any other derailly comments we let stand, and they are worded civilly.
posted by smoke at 2:29 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm not arguing for a blanket rule either. I don't know that anybody is. The truth is, people are going to derail with discussions about tone, and I don't think that can be done away with -- the web is always an eternal September, with new people coming in, so we always have to have the same conversations about the same things as though it is a new conversation.

I think it might be more useful to discuss potential responses to tone arguments so that they don't derail threads. I think anything thread-shitty -- people who pop in and say "this is not really an issue so why are we discussing it" -- should be flagged, and mods often will remove that sort of thing. And since certain discussions have recurred, when somebody comes in with a tone argument, perhaps it would be best, rather than respond to the argument, to say "We've actually had a thread on that subject, and that's not what we're discussing now, but if you want to read the older thread is is here [LINK] and if you want to start a new thread on that, feel free."

I think I shall try this. I tend to get derailed by tone arguments too, and spend too much time responding to them, and that makes me part of the problem.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:34 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


... that should not be enough to get them deleted as a blanket rule..."

I don't think anyone here is proposing a blanket rule for deletion. And I personally don't think that "wrong" or "hurtful" are the right criteria for this. I think these arguments "break" the discussion in some respect regardless of intent, regardless of whether they are true, regardless even of from whom they originate (though when from a position of privilege they are quite a bit more onerous).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:36 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this touches on something I was struggling to talk about in the says more about you thread and which Pope Guilty also mentions here.

There's a class of posters who constantly troll trans, feminist, race and gender threads with tone arguments, derailments and whatabouttheries. Not everybody who is skeptical about a given post is engaging in this of course, but I do think there are some posters who consistently argue in bad faith, who only get called on it when it's already too late.

It's a hard problem, because it can be hard to distinguish between somebody who genuinely believes this particular post is over the top or wrong (the first example DrMew gives here frex, is of somebody who went on to argue on Wikipedia for changing the title back to Chelsea Manning) and somebody who's just shit stirring, except on their history here. We all know that you see certain MeFites enter a thread and just know that it's going to go south quickly.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:01 AM on September 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


it seems to me that the real shutting down of discourse happens with certain opinions, facts, what have you being characterized as "derails" - i see it all the time here and it generally seems to be a way of shutting down viewpoints that others don't want to see or don't want to have discussed here

"if you want to discuss that, go to metatalk"

"oh, we already discussed that issue in this metatalk thread, so that's been done, and shouldn't be done again"

or the using of a person's alleged privilege to disregard anything they say and shut them up

i lurk in those threads, mostly, and i have learned good things from them, but i've also gotten increasing uncomfortable with the way they've been going - there's often too much cant, too much beanplating, too much heat and not enough light, too much intolerance of other people's viewpoints, and too much willingness to call discussions "solved" when they really haven't been

and there's also too much disregard of an ancient rule - treat others as you would like them to treat you

the whole "cis" argument, for example - if you don't like being called certain terms to describe your sexual/gender identity, you need to respect that some other people don't like that term being used to describe them - (as for myself, i'm not offended or very concerned about it - but you'll never see me use that term to descibe myself)

the whole privilege argument - this can be anything from a sincere attempt to get a person to look at their position in life to an ad hominem attempt to shut someone up or disregard their viewpoints

i would also say that privilege depends on context - and a person can be privileged in the society at large, but not as privileged here

the whole tone thing - people say that it's attempt to shut people down, but i can't help but notice that many of those who are supposedly targeted continue to post their opinions here

and there does come a point where people are going to choose to be engaged - or alienated - we would all do well to remember that

i think the time is coming when we're going to have to raise the bar on gender posts, just like we have with election.filter - the scalzi post wasn't really that good and the girlfriendzone post was close to marginal
posted by pyramid termite at 4:14 AM on September 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


the whole "cis" argument, for example - if you don't like being called certain terms to describe your sexual/gender identity, you need to respect that some other people don't like that term being used to describe them

I never had a problem with being called "cis" until I saw someone bullying/baiting butch lesbian women by calling them "cissies." Yay for turning a term that was supposed to be about making things even into another tool you can use to hurt women you don't like. So now what? There are already plenty of gendered words people can use when they want to try to bait or bully me. I won't say "don't call me cis," but now that I know some people think it's cute to turn it into a gendered slur, I know it's only inevitable for someone who wants to shut me up to use it on me, like all the other ones.

About the tone argument thing, in gender threads, I think it is fine for anyone to object to my tone and it's fine for me to object to anyone else's tone. Yes, some people use that to troll and/or to shut other people up. But most people who object to tone are not trolling. I grew up with plenty of people trying to brand me with a deep-seated belief that I did not deserve to be treated with the respect that they demanded for themselves - that the very idea that they should treat me with respect was actually laughable and absurd. I was wailed on many times with sticks by people who were trying to brand that into my mind. However, it never worked. I believe that I deserve basic human respect no matter what the situation is. Not different respect, greater respect, or special respect, but basic human respect. I'm not going to tell anyone else that they don't deserve that. Any if someone tries to tell me that I don't deserve it, and tries to shame me into thinking I'm a bad person for requesting that I be treated with basic human respect ... all I can say is that you were not the first, I'm quite sure you won't be the last, and it's not going to make a shred of difference to me.
posted by cairdeas at 5:07 AM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


So the feeling that people who want more empathy in society (because that's a great goal) but aren't in the tribe get is that the only way they can be in on achieving this great goal is to be In The Tribe. Which isn't always that attractive, because it's a tribe, as above. So they get testy, and the tribe registers that as OTHER and eventually starts saying things that come across as (paraphrased) screaming HAVE SOME MORE EMPATHY YOU FUCKING MONSTER into people's spittle-flecked faces.

I'm not sure if you're aware of it, but this is kind of a demonstration of the problem being talked about. It was pretty noticeable in the Scalzi thread, where anyone actually reading all the links in the OP would have noticed that all but one of the links discussed wasn't "spittle-flecked" screaming at Scalzi, but measured disappointment that actually resulted in fruitful (for both parties) discussions with him. The one truly angry tweet got turned into something that All Trans* And Feminist Activists do, resulting in extremely condescending remarks like this one making it out to be the norm and a tiny minority of "nice" activists were finally "turning a corner," which is...ugh. Often, this is followed by an evidence-free little nastygram about how this is tearing apart GLBT activism/feminism/racial justice/the "left" and will result in backlash.

Considering that these accusations are coming across at a time when actual inclusiveness and outreach with potential allies in those groups is increasing rapidly--probably faster than most times in the past, including the 1960s and 70s--that really starts to come across as this attempt to feed a loud and grumpy minority within the groups and amplify small problems and calm misunderstandings into internal warfare and sustained major offensives against allies. It starts to look like an almost gleeful bit of concern trolling, especially when some people engage in it in thread after thread without providing a shred of proof that it's actually happening. I know that that isn't what most people are trying to do, so I think it's an easy thing to fix.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:22 AM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


too much intolerance of other people's viewpoints,

Some viewpoints aren't worth tolerating.

I never had a problem with being called "cis" until I saw someone bullying/baiting butch lesbian women by calling them "cissies." Yay for turning a term that was supposed to be about making things even into another tool you can use to hurt women you don't like. So now what? There are already plenty of gendered words people can use when they want to try to bait or bully me. I won't say "don't call me cis," but now that I know some people think it's cute to turn it into a gendered slur, I know it's only inevitable for someone who wants to shut me up to use it on me, like all the other ones.

It's stupid and derogatory sure, but "cissies" no more reflects badly on the term "cisgender" than "tr-nny" reflects on "trans*". (And how is "cissie" a gendered term?)
posted by kmz at 5:32 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And how is "cissie" a gendered term?

It's a way to bait anyone who is upset by implications that they can't escape being feminine and therefore can't escape being mincing and cowardly and weak. I suppose you could try to bully cis men with that too, but they might actually hit you, so it ends up being gendered since women are a much easier target. Have never, ever heard anyone direct that to a man, to his face.
posted by cairdeas at 6:25 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never encountered that usage, cairdeas, and it seems really odd to me.

Was the person calling the butch lesbians "cissies" trans? Was it explicit that they were calling the butch lesbians cisgendered (which does not seem to me something cisgendered butch lesbians would automatically take to be an insult)? Is it possible that the word being used was "sissy" - i.e. a far older (19th century?) word impugning their toughness/butchness - etymologically completely unrelated to being cisgendered?

(I've heard a lot of men being called sissies. It's usually an insult aimed at men, and I can see how that would logically transfer to being an insult aimed at women whose self-presentation appropriated and played with traditionally (airquotes) manly characteristics.)

Ontopic - I think we've already got the answer on this one, though, right? Tone arguments are a shitty form of discourse, but they are within the set of shitty forms of discourse that are broadly permitted in the process of the free flow of conversation, unless they are for some reason breaking the guidelines/derailing or causing another problem that falls into the set of things that are not permitted.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:35 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have never encountered that usage, cairdeas, and it seems really odd to me.

Google it if you don't believe it happens.
posted by cairdeas at 6:39 AM on September 7, 2013


Well, exactly - I get '"cissy" - a variant spelling of "sissy"'. If I google "cissy insult against cisgendered" I get mainly articles about how "cisgendered" is not an insult, with somebody in the comments saying they don't like "cis" because it sounds to them like "c/sissy".

(Although that google search did turn up a fairly succinct statement of the limits of "cisgendered" as an insult:
There are no people being made the butt of societal jokes because they are cisgender. There’s no ‘cisgender panic defense’. There’s no one being denied a job because they are cisgender. There’s no one being killed because of folks hating on you for being cisgender. There’s no Cisgender Day Of Remembrance.

I repeat, cisgender means your body and the gender identity housed between your ears is comfortably aligned, nothing more, nothing less.
)

I'm definitely not saying "cis/cisgendered" or variants can never have a pejorative usage - qv "die cis scum", which although often used more or less humorously is deep in tone argument territory - although the disparity in power to harm and likelihood of being on the receiving end of aggression from individuals, corporations or legal structures due to trans or cis status probably needs to be borne in mind.

However, if I encountered a butch lesbian being called a c/sissy, absent other factors I would think that what was being impugned was their butchness, not the relationship between their birth-assigned and current gender identification (not least because there are both cis and trans butch lesbians). So, I guess I was asking if there were other factors that informed your conclusion that in this case the latter was happening.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:53 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cissie surely is an alternative (older) spelling of sissy, nothing to do with cisgendered?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:57 AM on September 7, 2013


Considering that these accusations are coming across at a time when actual inclusiveness and outreach with potential allies in those groups is increasing rapidly--probably faster than most times in the past, including the 1960s and 70s--that really starts to come across as this attempt to feed a loud and grumpy minority within the groups and amplify small problems and calm misunderstandings into internal warfare and sustained major offensives against allies.

zombieflanders, I understand that it may look like this from where you stand (and I may actually be misunderstanding your phrasing) but from where I stand, activist groups are actively devouring themselves alive with internal warfare and more-right-than-thou to the extent of making themselves ineffectual.

I was part of (shocker) a fairly left-leaning activist group for several years. (I'd give the name, but I don't want to dox myself) We were actively trying to change what I thought of as a major problem, and were gaining some strong traction. We had a rare chance at a win. We had won meetings with high level presidential staff and some small victories. We had the force of momentum.

Then some few people, may their names ever be damned, began tearing us apart by focusing on very small issues that the group wildly disagreed on. A small group also pointed out that "tone argument" was a bullshit way to shut people down, and complained. So we eventually had these discussions on a completely unmoderated internal listserve where anyone could say anything they wanted, to be sure their emotions had voice.

The disputes were so ugly and left such a bad taste in our mouth that we lost over two thirds of our membership and have never been effectual again.

Those are real concerns. Demanding that people have civil argument is not only a tactic for shutting down the oppressed, it's also a real way of making sure that your community doesn't tear each other apart and start actively hating each other. One of the things I personally love about Metafilter is that it is very intentionally a community. We try to meet each other and spend time with each other. We care about each other and help with each other's questions. We are a community that should spend more time building together, rather than stabbing at each other.

So yeah. I don't want Metafilter to become a space where no one can point out, "Hey, you're being kind of hyperbolic, do you really mean that? Maybe that's not the most productive way of discussing that? Maybe you don't want to call people monsters?" Because that way lies, at least from where I'm standing, madness and hell.
posted by corb at 7:07 AM on September 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


(That's what I'd assume, MartinWisse, but I'm aware that there may be contextual elements which inform Cairdeas' conclusion - e.g. the person calling the butch lesbians cissies might have been doing so at the end of an explicit statement that they were being mocked because they were cisgendered, and were not men, and were therefore "mincing and cowardly and weak".

However, absent some sort of other information, I'd agree - calling a butch lesbian a cissy/sissy would read to me like an insult against their self-representation as butch, which is something they have chosen and for which they are likely to get static from mainstream society, rather than their congruence of birth-assigned and chosen gender, which they have not and for which they probably won't. "You are not a man" is not in my experience a very effective insult directed against a butch lesbian, because butch lesbians don't generally want to be men - they want to be butch lesbians.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:15 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


but from where I stand, activist groups are actively devouring themselves alive with internal warfare and more-right-than-thou to the extent of making themselves ineffectual.

In my experience this nothing new - I began encountering it from the start of my political activism in the early 80s, and its history goes back much farther than that. It's much more immediately obvious now to a broader audience because of the Internet, but it's as old as people.
posted by rtha at 7:22 AM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Oh, and, it's not a phenomenon restricted to lefty political groups.
posted by rtha at 7:25 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've run into 'cissy/cissie' as an insult (an insult derived from cisgender, that is) now and then, although defined as 'having the sort of negative traits including aggressive ignorance/hostility toward trans people and resistance to education that might be kind of unfairly generalised across all cis people by someone who's had a run of bad experiences lately' rather than anything implying and mocking some supposed inescapable gendered tendencies.

It's by no means a stretch to think some trans person would be asshole enough to use it that way, of course, but I have to admit this is my first encounter with that definition and I'm absolutely certain that even when it's used as an insult (which isn't a great thing for someone to be doing in the first place) the vast majority of the time it's not meant in quite so harmful a way.
posted by emmtee at 7:28 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cissie surely is an alternative (older) spelling of sissy, nothing to do with cisgendered?

It is not an alternative spelling. You people need to hang out on tumbr more. I'm sure cissie isn't restricted to tumblr, but tumblr is ground zero for all the crazy swj nonsense. Any time you want examples of being asshats in the name of social justice, tumblr is the place to go.

Google search for cissie on tumblr
Random posts from that search that discuss the use of cissie:
Cis 101
"Cissies" and "Die Cis Scum"

I never know what to think in arguments about the tone argument. On the one hand, some people will react badly by any request from an oppressed group, no matter how it's phrased, because the request itself pisses them off. On the other, being oppressed does not give you license to be a dick. If someone steps on your foot, it's not okay to punch them in face in response.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:30 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


you don't like being called certain terms to describe your sexual/gender identity, you need to respect that some other people don't like that term being used to describe them - (as for myself, i'm not offended or very concerned about it - but you'll never see me use that term to descibe myself)

the whole privilege argument - this can be anything from a sincere attempt to get a person to look at their position in life to an ad hominem attempt to shut someone up or disregard their viewpoints

i would also say that privilege depends on context - and a person can be privileged in the society at large, but not as privileged here


Privilege depends on cultural context. One doesn't lose privilege or the disadvantages of lacking privilege when participating in an online forum. Personal popularity within a community is a distinct category from privilege in the sense of how people are enmeshed within social identities that have historically within a culture been afforded more or less deference and prestige.

"you don't like being called certain terms to describe your sexual/gender identity, you need to respect that some other people don't like that term being used to describe them" doesn't work, because it presumes a level playing field when there are actually two different categories of people separated by a power differential: The "you" whose minority identity has been used by some among the privileged majority as a cudgel to discriminate and the "other people" whose majority identity has insulated them from the attacks felt by the minority. People are free to dislike having the term cis applied to them, but it isn't simple "dislike" behind the opposition to anti-trans derogatory terms.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


zombieflanders, I understand that it may look like this from where you stand (and I may actually be misunderstanding your phrasing) but from where I stand, activist groups are actively devouring themselves alive with internal warfare and more-right-than-thou to the extent of making themselves ineffectual.

Are you talking about individual ones at local levels, or as a universal trend? Because I've certainly been a witness to the former (as has anyone who is an activist of any political persuasion) but in terms of overall progress, I don't see it. And that's my concern with statements that try and make it out like everything is doomed because a couple loudmouths make a stink about everything.

Those are real concerns. Demanding that people have civil argument is not only a tactic for shutting down the oppressed, it's also a real way of making sure that your community doesn't tear each other apart and start actively hating each other. One of the things I personally love about Metafilter is that it is very intentionally a community. We try to meet each other and spend time with each other. We care about each other and help with each other's questions. We are a community that should spend more time building together, rather than stabbing at each other.

So yeah. I don't want Metafilter to become a space where no one can point out, "Hey, you're being kind of hyperbolic, do you really mean that? Maybe that's not the most productive way of discussing that? Maybe you don't want to call people monsters?" Because that way lies, at least from where I'm standing, madness and hell


That's not what I'm talking about, though, and I'm perfectly happy with avoiding what you describe in your second paragraph. I'm talking about taking every single small thing that happens and declaring it the death of progress everywhere. I just think it's really unhelpful and appears vaguely COINTELPROish to lump the 95% of people that are having conversations in with the 5% "die cis scum" crazies here every time social justice comes up on this website. The condescension exhibited by comments like the one I linked just makes it seem like they believe the bogeyman fake movement perpetuated by lazy news reporting and asshole media personalities is how things really are, and it's not.

It's kind of demeaning, really, when the work of the vast majority of people you work with and those that have come before is ignored as being representative of "mean" and tribal activism when it's functionally identical to the "nice" and inclusive activism they describe. It's lazy stereotyping (see also: the characterization of feminism and feminists in the "Teach Naked" harassment thread) and like I said is an easy fix for those that aren't trying to troll other MeFites.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:38 AM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


is an easy fix for those that aren't trying to troll other MeFites.

To add to this, people need to prioritize (in my opinion) not looking like trolls if they're not trolling. This is enforceable. We've sort of rolled this into our mod toolkit over time, the "If you're not trolling, now would be a good time to make that clearer than it has been" statement and all but a few people respond very very well to it. It's worth pointing out as well as understanding the difference in tactics that are useful when dealing with genuinely-clueless-and-willing-to-listen people from the not-really-willing-to-listen people even though the things they say may sting in a similar way, as a site-wide problem they are very different sorts of commenters.

I think sometimes there is a thing that I see more as an overgeneralization problem more than a civility discussion problem where people show up in a thread and declare that MeFi is awful or a thread is awful when a discussion has been bumpy or a few people have been unpleasant. Not saying everyone needs to lump it and always just take it on the chin as far as other people's unpleasantness, but declaring that a thread and all the people in it are being awful is a sort of "no place to go from here" comment. It's challenging to point out specific comments by specific people without targeting them, but at the same time a lot of people who are confused and muddling (and I count myself often among these people) can often be helped by very specific explanations about what is wrong, not just "MeFi sucks" or "Fuck everyone" sorts of comments.

Maybe this belongs more in the other thread, but it's been on my mind and it seemed to segue okay from zombieflanders' comment.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


"...but from where I stand, activist groups are actively devouring themselves alive with internal warfare and more-right-than-thou to the extent of making themselves ineffectual."

As rtha wrote, internal strife is a characteristic of most activist groups, left or right. And this claim that it's epidemic and destroying the movement is perennial and almost always false.

Such arguments can be concern trolling — they almost always are when coming from outside the group, and especially from opponents as "friendly" advice, and should be dismissed out of hand. But they can be entirely sincere and the product of someone who just doesn't like conflict or is relatively naive about these things or for other reasons. But, as I wrote, it's rarely the case that their alarm and claims of imminent doom are correct. And far too often the people who play such a role end up doing more harm than good for exactly the same reasons as the concerns trolls and those who intentionally derail discussions into "tone".

"Demanding that people have civil argument is not only a tactic for shutting down the oppressed, it's also a real way of making sure that your community doesn't tear each other apart and start actively hating each other."

There's a distinction between being respectful of the people you're engaging with and the criticisms that are typical of the tone argument. What you're describing is a non-problem because it's entirely possible to insist that people present in a discussion not insult each other without policing their "tone" in more general terms, particularly with regard to simply being generally angry without attacking anyone present.

The mods here are more strict than they used to be about various forms of personal attack. And yet the tone argument, as discussed in this thread, still comes up all the time in these threads. That tells you right there that it's possible to draw a line between people attacking and insulting each other and people policing other peoples' "tone".

"Any time you want examples of being asshats in the name of social justice, tumblr is the place to go."

This ever-more-common mention of social justice on tumblr as a stand-in for whatever someone wants to present as excessive, unproductive, angry, circular-firing-squad insanity — in other words, a handy example when making a version of a tone argument in order to invalidate someone's position — is pernicious and needs to be curtailed. I don't doubt that there are excesses on the social justice portions of tumblr, but as per the discussion above, there are such excesses everywhere. It's just another way of making the "those insane, politically correct college kids that are so ridiculous who are worried about 'language' and 'privilege' and 'sensitivity' ... well, grownups know that there are more important things to worry about" argument. I've been seeing it a lot lately — in the Macklemore, someone pretty much said it explicitly, talking about kids lacking a sense of proportion or something.

It's basically a variety of tone argument, except that it doesn't even pretend to be earnest and productive. It's just a straightforward indulgence in ridicule and minimizing. It needs to go away from MetaFilter.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:01 AM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


Okay, regarding the word cissy and its derivation from the words cis, cisgender and cissexual, because what this thread needs is some context.

Trans Exterminationist Radical Feminists have been baiting and outing and attacking trans women for a long time. They out us to employers, collate and publish our dating website profiles (using the excuse that we are "pretend lesbians" and thus abusers/rapists; note that they are usually only able to do this because the trans women in question have identified themselves as trans on their profiles), lobby local and national governments and international institutions in attempts to get us barred from public facilities, or denied healthcare. Online, they constantly invade trans spaces on open websites -- like, as linked above, tumblr -- to start shit. They find photographs of trans women and reblog them with insulting remarks, spreading them to their followers so that they can laugh at them. They are, basically, scum.

If you visit a website, on tumblr or otherwise, that gives a definition of cis that sounds misogynistic, I strongly recommend that you check over that website for signs that you might be dealing with a TERF. It's not usually hard to spot them; they're obsessed. If you read and accept as common usage a definition of cis that you found on one of these websites or that has been spread by one of these people, you've been fooled.

And yeah, cissy. I've seen it used by trans women, sure. But only -- and this is very very important -- only as a cutesy nickname for people like the ones I described above, people who are harassing us and in extreme cases trying to destroy our lives, or for other people who make our lives difficult, such as harassers, abusers, doctors who don't treat us because we're trans; basically people who hurt us because we are not cis.

An alternative example: I have a joint disability that often makes it hard for me to walk and certainly makes it hard for me to use stairs. If I have to get to the fifth floor of a building with no lifts, and it's busy and people are pushing past me and knocking me as I slowly stagger up the stairs one foot at a time clinging to the handrail, and I mutter, "fucking able bodied people," under my breath, that says nothing about the usefulness or neutrality of the term able-bodied.

Cis means not trans. It says nothing about being masculine or feminine, nothing about being comfortable with the gender role expected of you, nothing nothing nothing except that you are not trans.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:03 AM on September 7, 2013 [34 favorites]


Are you talking about individual ones at local levels, or as a universal trend?

Well, me personally, I only have experience with a few national groups in a specific field, and honestly we have evidence that they were infiltrated at least once, so god only knows. My bitterness says this could be happening to everyone everywhere, but it might not be. We were warned by our predecessor group from the 60s and 70s, and we thought they were doomsayers and it wouldn't happen to us, and yet it did anyway. The bitterness of having something you love and hope for change utterly destroyed in front of your eyes does kind of taint everything. I hope this isn't going on everywhere, but there's a part that ties into grumpy "THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS."

I just think it's really unhelpful and appears vaguely COINTELPROish to lump the 95% of people that are having conversations in with the 5% "die cis scum" crazies here every time social justice comes up on this website.

I actually agree with you here. I think the problem is that that 5% can actually destroy things all by themselves even if they're not representative. I think what some people want is that they want the 95% to condemn that 5% and make it clear they're not together - which is hard for a lot of reasons, not least of which that if you're a minority group, you don't always want to turn on even the 5% of you that are being idiots. Especially to outsiders.
posted by corb at 8:05 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "This ever-more-common mention of social justice on tumblr as a stand-in for whatever someone wants to present as excessive, unproductive, angry, circular-firing-squad insanity — in other words, a handy example when making a version of a tone argument in order to invalidate someone's position — is pernicious and needs to be curtailed. I don't doubt that there are excesses on the social justice portions of tumblr, but as per the discussion above, there are such excesses everywhere."

I'd add to this is that for LGBT teens -- and especially trans teens -- websites like tumblr are the first places in their lives that they find community with people like them. They might be terrified of their friends and parents finding out, or they might be being actively victimised by their local community; you see both, if you look. In the great scheme of things, who gives a damn if a bunch of teenagers, caught in the rush of being accepted for who they are for the first time in their lives, punch upwards a little too hard or without enough care?

There is also a great deal of self-policing in these communities that works against the "worst" excesses, but it's hard to see that when you just helicopter in on a tag search to find a few examples of kids using words in ways you don't like.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:08 AM on September 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


Ivan: I know you're trying to be empathetic, and have the best intentions, but this seems to me really wrong. What you're doing here is telling fellow posters "I refuse to believe that you mean what you say. I am instead going to insist that you mean the thing you say you do not mean." That seems to me the most basic definition of uncharitable reading and bad-faith argument.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:13 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to be empathetic. If you're focusing on how someone arguing for social justice is hyperbolic and angry and off-putting and the like, then at some level you're not interested in what they have to say and your focus on tone is just an excuse. If you actually care about the subject, you'll always give people the benefit of the doubt because of course people get angry and excessive and prone to hyperbole when they're being oppressed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:21 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


> MeFi has given me some new stuff to think on gender, but at this point I pretty much avoid all conversations about women's experiences, sexual assault, etc, etc., because I'm pretty sure that no matter what I contribute, someone will come along and accuse me of "but what about the mens" or being a supporter of rape culture or what have you, because I happen to be male.

This is simply not true. I happen to be male, but nobody has accused me of being a supporter of rape culture or what have you. If you say things that come across as "but what about the mens," yeah, someone's going to point that out. If you feel the need to push back against feminist ideas, yeah, you're going to get pushback against that. If you can't take it, not participating is probably a good idea, but it's not because you "happen to be male," and saying that is a pretty ugly accusation (segueing nicely into "man-hating feminist").
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on September 7, 2013 [47 favorites]


Yeah - I feel pretty OK with the idea that, if I am told I'm mansplaining, or whatever, I'll be able to have a conversation about where that perception comes from, what I might have done to give that impression, how the conversation could go better... I've never felt that my maleness has excluded me from being able to contribute to topics about women's experiences or sexual assault (I assume "of women"). It might to some degree limit my ability to hold forth about those topics from a position of assumed authority, but that's a very different limitation, and one that I would see as a feature, not a bug.

"I cannot say what I feel" is not the same as "I cannot say what I feel and have a guarantee that I will not be contradicted or challenged, or that people will think differently about me once they know what I feel".
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:33 AM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Well, me personally, I only have experience with a few national groups in a specific field, and honestly we have evidence that they were infiltrated at least once, so god only knows. My bitterness says this could be happening to everyone everywhere, but it might not be. We were warned by our predecessor group from the 60s and 70s, and we thought they were doomsayers and it wouldn't happen to us, and yet it did anyway. The bitterness of having something you love and hope for change utterly destroyed in front of your eyes does kind of taint everything. I hope this isn't going on everywhere, but there's a part that ties into grumpy "THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS."

It's possible I've just been lucky or something, but I've largely been able to avoid the implosions. Maybe it's a NY vs DC thing? I kind of hate to say it, but here there's a certain level of internal and external game-playing that goes on that can work well for larger groups (sometimes to the detriment of other activists *cough*HRC*cough*) but will absolutely kill smaller groups that don't get a handle on it. But then I look at how things are going in North Carolina with Moral Mondays, or the women's rights movements in Texas that aren't giving an inch without a fight, and I see these widely disparate groups coming together that seem to have learned to just ignore the hater fringe and keep on pushing. Obviously, we'll see if it lasts, but for the moment, most of the conflict seems to be coming from the outside.

I think what some people want is that they want the 95% to condemn that 5% and make it clear they're not together - which is hard for a lot of reasons, not least of which that if you're a minority group, you don't always want to turn on even the 5% of you that are being idiots. Especially to outsiders.

Oh boy, do I feel you on that. Some people see conflict as their goal, and the broader activist tendency to engage in conflict resolution rather than just toss them is mighty strong. It doesn't help that they're all too likely to be exactly the kind of people to start a public row, which is part of a vicious cycle once those outsiders that want to get an emotional or financial kick out of turning people against each other (like the media) decide to point and laugh.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:34 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the majority pointing and laughing is the worst thing that happens to a marginalized group trying to noisily organize and get their message out, then I'd consider that an improvement in most cases.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you actually care about the subject, you'll always give people the benefit of the doubt because of course people get angry and excessive and prone to hyperbole when they're being oppressed.

And this is where my personal conflict comes in from a "this is my job" perspective. We have a few "You can't do that here" restrictions that could be argued to be about tone while they are mostly about comment (not wishing rape or death or torture on someone, not telling people to fuck off, not using hate speech, not attacking individuals) but these can be problematic in a context where some people's use of it is okay-or-understandable because they're justifiably angry. But we moderate more or less the same way. So this means that people can say some pretty ugly things if they say them with enough of an even tone and that some people who we absolutely agree with as far as their points and their arguments may see comments deleted because they're not taking the time/care to say them in ways that are okay here.

So there's a divide between how we feel users need to look at this and also explaining how we-as-mods look at this sort of thing (I often send people apologetic notes if I have to delete what I perceive as a totally-justified "fuck all y'all" comment but that doesn't keep me from deleting it) to set expectations of the level of anger/vitriol that is allowed to be here generally. And, pointing to what has been said upthread about tone not being as easy to read in text, this does lead to not just misunderstandings but people being justifiably (imo) angry at where we've decided to draw that particular line.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:05 AM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


As rtha wrote, internal strife is a characteristic of most activist groups, left or right.

Not just activist groups. The birding community regularly experiences epic internal meltodowns. And small church groups regularly break into smaller church groups because of differences in interpreting single passages of scripture. And local community theater troupes -- don't get me started!

It's a pretty typically human thing, in no way unique to people in feminist or leftists circles, and I am not clear on why feminists or leftists are supposed to be better at it than every other person on earth.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:43 AM on September 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


The birding community regularly experiences epic internal meltodowns

If you guys think Bunny is joking here, let me assure you that he is not. You want to see some bitter fights? Just see what happens when the AOU splits or lumps a species.
posted by rtha at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


(There's a half-formed thought here about "civilized Internet discourse (sc. in English)", which predates the web and was largely defined by and is often still policed by university-educated, often (although decreasingly so) male and white North Americans or Northern Europeans; so, it tends to be better on issues closest to that set, and has some pretty well-discussed ground rules on others. Whereas how to talk about e.g trans issues, issues around Islam and muslims, poverty and the like is relatively new territory - outside dedicated forums this generally didn't come up, or was not seen as so pressing, on BBSes and pre-web newsgroups, maybe? That's talking about the deep roots of Internet culture... )

But yeah, it does feel sometimes like if you're a member of a group which has traditionally not been valued or really noticed as a voice on the web, you are often asked not to bounce too loudly against the door glass of those which have, often as they calmly tell you what your experiences are and how you should feel about them, because broken glass is dangerous no matter how righteously it was broken. That's a problem that doesn't lend itself to easy resolution...
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, me personally, I only have experience with a few national groups in a specific field, and honestly we have evidence that they were infiltrated at least once, so god only knows.

So, in my experience, there's a huge difference between a group that is deliberately infiltrated by "outsiders" set on disrupting the original group's agenda and goals, and a group where smaller groups organically split off - some of which happens with great acidity and bitter fighting, and some of which (after a brief period of post-breakup no-contact) evolves into groups with different main focuses but comment goals who work in coalition with one another when appropriate.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2013


Progressivism is loosely based on the idea that people can always make society better. I'm a progressive, for lack of any more precise term, so of course I think this is a good thing. However, it's also natural that progressivism can fall prey to both perfectionism and a stubborn unwillingness to admit lack of perfection. After all, if you're not trying to make society better, aren't you not really being a progressive? This can lead to "People's Front of Judea"-type meltdowns when two (or more) parties have an intractable argument.

I'm not comparing DrMew's concerns to "People's Front of Judea"-type meltdowns. I'm talking about progressivism's sometimes tendency to splinter and/or focus on seemingly small or process-oriented issues.

Contrast that with conservatism, which is loosely based on the idea that society is being preserved and protected from figurative "barbarians at the gate." While conservatives certainly have their own internal strife, it's a lot easier to stay on-message when everyone, say, agrees who they are, what they're protecting, and who's not in the club.

It is both silly and actually quite on point to talk about how Barry Goldwater thought the world would be a better place if the Earth was under alien attack: the US and the USSR would forget their now-petty concerns, as everyone would cooperate against a common enemy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:06 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


> It's a hard problem, because it can be hard to distinguish between somebody who genuinely believes this particular post is over the top or wrong (the first example DrMew gives here frex, is of somebody who went on to argue on Wikipedia for changing the title back to Chelsea Manning) and somebody who's just shit stirring, except on their history here.

You can pay attention to what the person is actually saying. A tone argument needs be some variant of "I can't / won't take your position seriously because you're angry / being emotional", that is, making an argument that someone's position or argument should be dismissed or rejected because of their tone. crayz's comment, which DrDew linked to, is a good example of this: "... some in the trans community have fucking itchy trigger fingers and zero awareness of the damage they do to the cause of tolerance and mutual respect with the lack of it they show to so many others."

A lot of people participating in the Chelsea Manning thread (I think mostly Wikipedians) took exception to Standifer's characterization of Wikipedia as 'actively embracing transphobia and hate speech' (and various MeFites very broad expansions on that), while simultaneously agreeing with Standifer that the decision was fucked up and contrary to Wikipedia policy and that the arguments and tactics used to block consensus on what should have been a cut and dry policy decision were fucked up and bigoted. There is a difference between objecting to someone's tone and using that as an excuse to dismiss their position or an entire side of an argument, and objecting to someone's tone while still taking their position or arguments seriously. It's not really a "hard problem" to distinguish between the two, the distinction is usually blatantly obvious to anyone who's reading other people's comments with anything remotely resembling good faith.
posted by nangar at 10:07 AM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Interestingly, I have never seen a group more capable of cannibalism its own over failure to adhere lockstep to a party line than conservatives.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:08 AM on September 7, 2013


You can pay attention to what the person is actually saying.

And what they're doing. Art may have found the expression of the argument a little over the top, but he took the argument itself seriously, reactivated his Wikipedia membership to make the case, and reported back. He was obviously somebody whose interest and participation in the topic extended beyond a desire to police tone.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:10 AM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you actually care about the subject, you'll always give people the benefit of the doubt because of course people get angry and excessive and prone to hyperbole when they're being oppressed.

Bear in mind that, if you're stipulating that people are always going to act rationally, you're consequently stipulating a world where there isn't oppression, because it's fundamentally irrational.
posted by Etrigan at 10:13 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, I have never seen a group more capable of cannibalism its own over failure to adhere lockstep to a party line than conservatives.

I used to think that wasn't the case, and that conservatives did that much better. I think this is a result of where I came to my own processes. I started out politically by campaigning strongly for the Green Party and was as left-leaning as they come. Then I got older and started examining my views, and evolved into kind of a mix between liberal and conservative. I don't adhere to all of the policy points of either.

When I did, I got hit with a lot of really brutal attacks from my former allies on the hard left. I mean, really bad to an extent I don't feel like even explaining. Meanwhile, conservatives were patching up my wounds and offering help and behaving more loyally, even though I didn't agree with them on everything. So it certainly seemed like conservatives dealt with differences of opinion better.

Recently, though, I was talking to one of my more conservative public-figure friends, and he was talking about the kind of shit he's been taking from his own party - he publicly opposed and mocked the Birthers, and it's gone badly for him.

And so what I think my current thought process is is: Conservatives seem to be better at people who are not in their camp, but they perceive as moving slowly towards their side. Once a lefty and now have some righty views? Bend over backwards, welcome to the tribe, we knew you'd come around at last. They are playing a really long game and are glad to welcome people to their tribe even if they're struggling. Liberals seem to be worse at the embracing of people who are not in their camp but are moving slowly towards their side - in part, I think, because they believe it is inevitable that everyone eventually will come to their side. So if you're moving slowly towards, say, acceptance of diversity, you don't get any brownie points for that, because the liberal position is that you should have been there all along, and any, you're not far enough along.

Meanwhile, where both groups seem to collectively lose their shit is someone who was a member of their own, but has started making overtures or leaning towards the other party. It reads as a betrayal, as a "You were one of us and knew everything we knew, how could you leave us?" And I think that though both groups react equally, because of the poor battles some conservatives have picked in the last 20 years, more and more people are starting to meander slightly over to the liberal way of thinking on some things (gay marriage, abortion, etc). So it's much more visible.
posted by corb at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Artw did some great work later in the thread. High fives for that.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:19 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I should add, though, that back to the subject of the thread: when you're in the middle like that, it is emotionally easier to identify yourself (and vote!) with the people who treat you better. So for me, for example, it is usually easier to identify myself as a conservative even though I only agree with 50% of their positions than it is to identify myself as a liberal or progressive, because of that cannibalistic tendency.

And if you're a liberal or progressive, that means that by shooting (or yelling) at people who are trying their best, albeit slowly, to come to your camp, or who have strong identifications with your camp, you are chasing potential allies away. You are making it easier for them to go elsewhere. Maybe that's not right or fair, but that's often how humans work. And so it's shooting yourself in the foot at best, and working against the things you want.
posted by corb at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem with a community or moderator focus solely on people saying "ugly" things (as in the "fuck all y'all" example) is that tone-argument comments that seek to silence opponents are usually phrased with a fine show of reasonableness--"You are overwrought"--where a singular "you" may be generalized the the plural "you, the class with whom I disagree."

Consider this comment from the Chelsea Manning thread. The author justifyably criticizes a prior comment that, in complaining about how a facade of neutral rule-following is used by Wikipedia editors all the time to cloak self-interested or political decisions, called the editors "the absolute worst type of freaking neckbeard comic book nerd." That sort of name-calling is meanspiritied and icky. I would not have centered my calling-out of this around a use of internet slang, or accused the prior author of not understanding how the world really works, but the namecalling of the editors was out of line.

But next, the author goes on to call out an undefined "you"--trans* posters in general, or one in particular--who have explicitly called for an end to tone policing of trans* people in the thread:

If a discussion cannot be had at a reasonable tone, than the discussion cannot happen. Everyone will yell, and no one will learn. It's not a dismissal of your feelings to say that if can't post up to the standards of discourse that you'd want to see, you should wait before posting. Wanting a mature tone is not a derail, it's a fundamental basis for any discussion that could follow.

(This condescending call for quiet is by implication related to the author's calling out of the comment taunting Wikipedia editors--a comment not made by a person identifying themselves as trans*, or centered on trans* concerns.)

The problem with a practice of focusing on ugly comments and not oh-so-reasonable ones that tone police is that it supports a practice of using one ugly comment (even one made by an unrelated party) to silence an entire group.
posted by DrMew at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


And so it's shooting yourself in the foot at best, and working against the things you want.

So, while I don't disagree with you (and I think you've described some of the dynamics in eye-opening ways,) this line of argument is so often used to criticize people whose side you're not on that it actually has its own definition. It's frustrating that you may be totally right but you're still just going to make people angry by pointing it out, but so it goes.

The other side to that, of course, is that Metafilter is not composed of organized groups. There are people who have common ideologies, but even people who agree on most areas a) aren't going to agree on all of them and b) aren't coordinating with each other to decide on responses. Thinking of people here as representatives of political groups is going to lead to frustration, because they're not making decisions about what will benefit the party, they're acting as individuals according to their personal beliefs and how their digestion is doing that day. I see a lot of static caused by people saying "you are doing a thing that is a poor strategy for your cause" - people are not acting on behalf of a cause. They're just talking. Trying to interact with people like they're activists with an agenda is a good way to piss them off by ignoring their actual personal feelings.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:43 AM on September 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


I should add, though, that back to the subject of the thread: when you're in the middle like that, it is emotionally easier to identify yourself (and vote!) with the people who treat you better. So for me, for example, it is usually easier to identify myself as a conservative even though I only agree with 50% of their positions than it is to identify myself as a liberal or progressive, because of that cannibalistic tendency.

This, for me, is problematic, because if your support of the cause is so dependent on people never being mean or sharp or critical of you or your position, then I'm not sure how that counts as support. The extreme end of this is something like when wolfsdream01 said that thing about how if gay people he knew personally were nice to him, then he was supportive of gay rights, but if they were not nice to him, he was not supportive. Which, what?

I don't need every ally or coalition member or inside-group person to march in lockstep with my every word and deed. I do expect that, if they actually support the ultimate goal, they will do their best to look beyond the Furious Fringe and Enraged Edge if they need to, and to try to hear the criticism they face even if the "tone" with which it's given is less than perfect.

My high school boyfriend was a Republican for a while (how else are you supposed to rebel in a family where your dad is a Unitarian minister and your mom is a social worker?!), very much in the now-old-skool New England Republican mold, and he got thrown out of his college Republican club for having the gall to suggest they would do better to focus less on culture-war issues and more on fiscal ones. He ended up being often the lone "conservative" member of lefty campus groups because he didn't think you had to be a "liberal" in order to say that (for instance) apartheid was bad and anti-abortion policies were just excuses to control women, and the people he politicked with didn't think that him advocating for lower taxes made him anathema to the cause of anti-apartheid.
posted by rtha at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


This, for me, is problematic, because if your support of the cause is so dependent on people never being mean or sharp or critical of you or your position, then I'm not sure how that counts as support.

Let me clarify a little bit, because I think that's an inaccurate read but a totally well meaning one.

Without trying to toot my own horn too much, I would self-describe as a skilled organizer with ten years of experience. I have a lot of resources and knowledge to bring to any cause which I choose to actively work on. I also have a lot of causes I'd say I believe in - probably twenty or more. What I don't have is time to work on all of those causes. It's a lot easier to do good, as a skilled organizer, if you're focused - if you choose one or two groups to actively participate in. So as a matter of practicality and productivity, I need to choose one of these competing causes.

Now let's say for the sake of simplicity that I need to choose between two competing causes. (This isn't really even a hypothetical, this is a real choice I made recently.) I believe in them equally strongly. One of those causes offers internal solidarity and support, with only external conflict. The other offers conflict both internally and externally. I am going (and did) to choose the cause that has only external conflict, because conflict is stressful and takes a lot of out of you, and there's no sense borrowing it when you don't need to. I've experienced what it's like to organize in an organization with attacks from inside as well, and it sucked, and I don't want to do it anymore because it makes me weary and exhausted when I come home, rather than psyched for the good fight.

So I still support that cause with the mean or sharp people. I still idly hope they win. But I'm not going to spend any of my effort helping them, because I only have so much effort and a lot of things to change and I want to pick my battles.

Does that make sense?
posted by corb at 11:05 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


The birding community regularly experiences epic internal meltodowns

Knitting has been at the center of a bunch of spectacular wanks.
posted by kmz at 11:10 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does that make sense?

Sure, but it still doesn't really apply here, and it still comes off as weirdly manipulative. I know that's not your intent.

Knitting has been at the center of a bunch of spectacular wanks.

Knitting communities terrify me.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Totally makes sense, yep.

But I'm not going to spend any of my effort helping them, because I only have so much effort and a lot of things to change and I want to pick my battles.

Maybe we mean different things by "help" here, but I have "helped" plenty of causes/groups/coalitions without ever getting into fights or even going to a damn meeting by sending checks and showing up at public events and fundraisers and stuff like that. I burned out on my in-person organizing go-to-meetings ability long ago (but married someone who can keep doing that, yay!), but there are a lot of different ways to support something you believe in without having to rip your hair out in meetings.
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2013


it still comes off as weirdly manipulative. I know that's not your intent.

Could you please clarify this? I don't quite understand what you mean by "weirdly manipulative".
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could you please clarify this? I don't quite understand what you mean by "weirdly manipulative".

It's the conflation of the political with the personal that seems to get people's back up. Talking about how x or y mode of discussion on a forum - not a political activism group, not as an organized campaign, just discussion about personal issues - may make someone not want to support a political cause reads a lot like "you can't be upset about your personal experiences in front of me or I may decide to make them worse." It's a dynamic that seems to happen when the upset person is a minority, because the majority member is the one who has the ability to look at it as a political position, whereas for the minority, it's just life. Wolfdreams01, as rtha mentioned, made this dynamic explicit, but it's an undercurrent in a lot of these conversations about what tone is appropriate for minority people to use when talking about things that upset them.

And most of the time, Wolfdreams01 aside, it's totally unintentional. It's an artifact of the disparity in distance from the events under discussion. And, speaking as an often-majority person, it can be really hard to bridge that gap intellectually and read the minorities' deeply emotional reactions as personal and appropriate and not just a poor political choice. But that jump is at the heart of a lot of these conversations about tone.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


restless_nomad: "And, speaking as an often-majority person, it can be really hard to bridge that gap intellectually and read the minorities' deeply emotional reactions as personal and appropriate and not just a poor political choice."

Yeah, it's definitely an attitude you have to consciously cultivate. At least, it was in me; I guess it might come totally naturally to some people! Horrible, angelic, perfect people.

I accidentally a few words in my previous comment but missed the edit window by several hours and now it's bugging me
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Knitting communities terrify me.

Not only can they cultivate a terrifying web of interpersonal drama, they can then use it for the pattern of a doily.

Shudder.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this the safe place for me to talk about some of the psycho knitters I have known?
posted by Michele in California at 12:10 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only if you do it as a Talking Heads parody.
posted by Etrigan at 1:05 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is probably not the time or the place for slagging on any one person in particular.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:06 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The term "concern trolling" has popped up a couple times here, and is the term I thought of immediately as well. I'd be interested to hear if others believe that pointing out concern trolling would help curb the behavior DrMew is objecting to. Throwing in a quick comment that so-and-so is concern trolling and therefore derailing the thread is something that I've seen be very effective on other websites, and I've actually wondered why it wasn't pointed out more often here.

Because talking about what some hypothetical other people might think about a commenter's tone is pretty much always a derail. (Not a derail: Talking about your own reactions to the tone of a posted article. Not always, but sometimes, a derail: Talking about your own reactions to a commenter's tone.)
posted by jaguar at 1:12 PM on September 7, 2013


I've actually wondered why it wasn't pointed out more often here.

Concern trolling, as a phrase, is badly tainted by the "trolling" part - it's a red-hot accusation on Metafilter rather than a discussion of rhetorical techniques. It is possible to do and say things that fit the definition of concern trolling while being 100% sincere, whereas an accusation of trolling is, by most definitions, an accusation of insincerity. So people react super-badly even to a true accusation of concern trolling and don't engage with the substance of the complaint.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


(It's also, by definition, a take-it-to-MetaTalk accusation.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2013


I'm not really sure how to discourage the behaviors involved, but it would be nice if people generally didn't rely on things like tone for dismissing others' lived experiences (especially when there is not a common agreement on tone; for me, the original link in the Chelsea Manning Wikipedia thread was pretty tone neutral, while yes, absolutely, a lot of the things happening in the Wikipedia talk page were active hate speech to me). It'd be nice, too, if people who demonstrate a wrong understanding of a minority's experiences didn't dig in their heels and argue that so much. I think I understand how that happens; you think of yourself on the same side as someone, and then they criticize something you said, and all of a sudden you feel hurt and attacked... Those are valid feelings, but making them the hill you die on is usually an inappropriate response in discussing the realities of an oppressed group.

It varies from topic to topic. Generally, I think it really is better to be able to present your criticisms with civility, coherence and grace; and if the person you're presenting them to lacks any of those, then at least wit. People are a lot more receptive to ideas when you frame them as, "Hey, look, about that thing you said? It's actually a lot more complicated..." But we're human. Some things hit closer to home than others. Trans threads can be just outright overwhelming; they feel like stepping into war zones. An especially strange, insulting thing happening in the most recent thread (and, to an extent, in this one with the absolutely weird "cissies" sub-conversation) is that there were far more calls for trans people to tone it down a notch before any trans posters really showed up in the thread. That discussing of trans people as an always third-person, distant, "objective" thing bothers me, especially when it's critical or dismissive, and especially now that enough of us usually pop into these threads.
posted by byanyothername at 1:27 PM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


(It's also, by definition, a take-it-to-MetaTalk accusation.)

Accusing other members of possibly making a "deliberate choice" to antagonize trans advocates surely should also belong on MeTa?
posted by amorphatist at 1:28 PM on September 7, 2013


I was actually kidding and can't imagine anyone taking that remark seriously.
posted by Michele in California at 1:28 PM on September 7, 2013


Accusing other members of possibly making a "deliberate choice" to antagonize trans advocates surely should also belong on MeTa?

Yes. I was definitely part of the problem on that little derail and actually punted to Jessamyn because I was getting dug in. It was a weird spot because the thread was actually about how to talk about trans people, which is usually a MeTa conversation here, but there was a point where we weren't talking about Wikipedia any more.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:31 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Accusing other members of possibly making a "deliberate choice" to antagonize trans advocates surely should also belong on MeTa?

As moderators we sometimes have to go into threads to tell people they have reached the point where things need to go a different way which is what r_n was doing more or less and then she tagged me in and we moved forward from there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2013


So, question - are we now at a point where deliberately misgendering a trans person in a post is considered unacceptable behavior at the moderation layer? Case by case basis?
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:40 PM on September 7, 2013


Yeah, pretty much. We've been making the delete-vs-reminder note decision case-by-case, but it's going to get called out by us. No one's perfect, it's possible to do it non-maliciously, but it causes totally avoidable pain.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


So people react super-badly even to a true accusation of concern trolling and don't engage with the substance of the complaint

Given that someone concern trolling isn't really engaging with the substance of the thread, I'm not sure it matters all that much from a continuing-the-discussion point of view, but I totally understand that throwing out a term likely to escalate the drama doesn't really help continue the discussion, either. I wish there were a less-incendiary term, though.
posted by jaguar at 1:43 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, it seems to me I'm hearing that the terms "concern trolling" and "tone argument" are taken by some as fighting words, and that the suggested course of action would be to call people on these without using the terms. Pragmatically, that's probably what I'm going to do, though I think the advice not to use the phrase "tone argument" is odd. In essence, it's advising someone who's being told that their substantive comments will not be listened to due to tone not to use a phrase that some people won't listen to.

That said, priorities. It's more important to me to have that civil discourse where people will engage and learn and not be silenced than to fight a battle over the term "concern trolling."
posted by DrMew at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


In essence, it's advising someone who's being told that their substantive comments will not be listened to due to tone not to use a phrase that some people won't listen to.

That's why this is so fraught. There are real-world concerns and there are ideal-world concerns. Words have implications that we may or may not agree with, but at the same time as we educate people about how we mean those words, it's a good idea to understand how others understand them. In small and/or closed communities, you can be more regimented in how you work out these language/meaning issues. In larger and/or open and public communities, you just can't top-down manage a lot of these stuff and so to be tactical you need to contextually change up how you go about things. And I understand how tricky and how potentially damaging that is, so it's a fine line we walk trying to do it well and trying to do it right where everyone can have the conversation they want to have and no one will be diminished in trying to have it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not always that they're fighting words, it's that they're terms of art, and not everyone is familiar with them so react according to whatever their general understanding may be. This leads to confusion. With people who do know them as terms of art but are doing the things anyway, it's a quick lead-in to the kind of rules-lawyering debate that no one in the thread will enjoy except, maybe, the rules-lawyer.

Really, talking about how someone is talking about stuff is often metacommentary that doesn't belong in the thread, and flagging so we can see and remove/redirect that line of conversation can be the best way to handle it. I love you all, but sometimes I really wish folks were better at not engaging with stuff they know isn't going to be worth engaging.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is both silly and actually quite on point to talk about how Barry Goldwater thought the world would be a better place if the Earth was under alien attack: the US and the USSR would forget their now-petty concerns, as everyone would cooperate against a common enemy.

Oh Adrian. It never ends.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:57 PM on September 7, 2013


I know that some people don't mean it this way, but a lot of the support at the top of this thread for being "allowed to disagree" / warnings of an "echo chamber" and suchlike, in the context of trans threads, just feels like a desire to reasonable-people-disagree (verb, transitive) trans people. I'm trying to react as if that is not what people mean by that, but it's hard. People have actually said that, to me, here. So that's the vibe I get off that stuff. What people do with that information is up to them - just saying that it's not fun for me. (An echo chamber of people, like, not challenging our identities sounds delightful, by the way. You build it, I'll come.)

I want to echo (ha!) a thousand times what Ivan Fyodorovich said. It would be really, really great if people could quit using "tumblr" (or worse, "SJW"/"social justice warriors") as a vague stand-in for "PC gone mad." I do not use tumblr (the only person I know who uses it in this context is a fifteen year-old member of one of my local support groups), and only visit it when I'm linked to obscure art blogs by friends, but I've noticed that I tend to fundamentally disagree on a lot of really important things with people who wind up using those terms, such that I kind of instinctively support these supposedly absurd blogs I've never read out of reflex. I don't like supporting things I'm unfamiliar with reflexively, and I need to work on that, but if you're saying things like that you probably need to ground yourself and search for perspective. If after doing that tumblr still seems like the important, overreaching hand of the long, slow struggle for equality, slap away. Otherwise, say what you mean and quit being lazy. The ratio of the number of times times I've heard "die cis scum" used seriously by trans people to the number of times I've heard "die cis scum" used synecdochically by cis people is something like 1:100 by now.

corb, there's a current MeTa on the the rhetorical tactic you're using, if you're interested.
posted by Corinth at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah, plus -- not to make the thread about die cis scum -- but looking at it in isolation is just daft. It was a tattoo someone had and the photo blew up and lots of cis people got mad and started accusing trans people of being "unhelpful" and "the bad sort" so of course it became a rallying cry because it was used against us.

So now you know!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:05 PM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not always that they're fighting words, it's that they're terms of art, and not everyone is familiar with them so react according to whatever their general understanding may be.

To be honest though, being on the internet in 2013 I'd hope everybody hardcore enough to plunk down the five dollars to comment here would know what concern trolling is. And certainly what most seems to derail trans threads or feminism/sexual harassment threads are not new people coming in and asking 101 type questions that could be seen as trolling, but rather people who did the same in the previous thread.

If you're commenting in good faith you can always phrase your question or disagreement in a way that minimises offence, by frex not using emotionally charged language (hysterical is always a good word not to use); and if you do cause offence, you can always apologise and explain.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:06 PM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Some of us were gifted in, Martin. (But I don't spend much time on the blue.)
posted by Michele in California at 3:08 PM on September 7, 2013


What is this $5 you speak of.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:10 PM on September 7, 2013


To be honest though, being on the internet in 2013 I'd hope everybody hardcore enough to plunk down the five dollars to comment here would know what concern trolling is.

You are charmingly optimistic! We have people who come from a lot of places on the internet - AskMe draws a ton of people - and a lot of those places are not nearly so filled with people educated in the specific way that lots of people here are.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:15 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd had no idea that there was such a presence of "social justice warriors" on tumblr that they constitute some recognizable (and I guess generally dismissable) group before I ran into some mention of it here on mefi. The only places I go on tumblr are elizardbits' tumblr and a few other random pop culture/fashion/fandom sites, and I kind of thought that's what tumblr *was*. The more you know!
posted by rtha at 3:18 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't want to detract from the serious discussion at hand, but every question I've asked about making an independent film has been concern-trolled HARD. I think it's a very specific thing about movies where people who see themselves as "insiders" see it as their sacred duty to scream "Well, that'll never work!" at anyone trying to do anything as an outsider.

This has happened to the point where someone tried to tell me that my finding an investor, thus allowing me to finally attempt a project that has been a lifelong dream, should probably be considered a bad thing and would cause people to not want to work with me.

Even in the context of something relatively unimportant like an artistic project, it's an absolutely infuriating way to be talked to.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:21 PM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


And yeah, unless those dogs falling over in gifs are doing it for social justice, that is not my experience of tumblr at all.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:22 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of my biggest concerns about MetaFilter is that it might get too Tumblry. With its unending stream of privilege checking and shaming, trigger warnings for words such as 'mad' and 'dumb', and embracing of bad faith interpretations of everything, Tumblr can be simply dreadful. Equating respect for a website with respect for your identity seems ... not quite counter-productive, but certainly not useful.

But whenever posters here have a holier-than-thou-off, or when a negative emotional reaction to a post gets much more heavily weighted than any positive or neutral one, I feel like the site has taken a turn for the Tumblry, which is to say the worse.

As an aside, if there's a formulation I've spotted a couple of times recently I'd like to see less of, it's the asking a fellow poster 'what are you trying to achieve here?' It turns a conversation between equal members of a community website into an evaluation of the integrity of one user's contributions, and is very patronising besides.
posted by gadge emeritus at 3:24 PM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


As an aside, if there's a formulation I've spotted a couple of times recently I'd like to see less of, it's the asking a fellow poster 'what are you trying to achieve here?'

I agree that it can be used condescendingly, but it's not a bad question for each of us to ask ourselves on a regular basis.
posted by Etrigan at 3:28 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree that it can be used condescendingly, but it's not a bad question for each of us to ask ourselves on a regular basis.

Sure. But if the question doesn't come from ourselves or a mod, it feels very much like a poster appointing themselves hall monitor.
posted by gadge emeritus at 3:36 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think it's in the same category as "Maybe you should take a walk." Excellent advice, very often badly received if it comes from a peer.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:38 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh hai, that's-a me!

I don't think what I wrote was "a condescending call for quiet" (though I suppose I wouldn't). I thought it was a statement that tone matters. Which it does. Saying things that are wrong– like referring to a trans person by the wrong gender–should be called out. But lapses in tone---like accusations of bad faith, name-calling, threats, and other rhetorical nastiness that a lot of people in these threads absolutely refuse to disapprove of if they're coming from legitimately angry people--- are discourse killers. They destroy communication, burn bridges, and trap everyone in their corners.

No one has to be quiet. But if a person is in such a state that they can't talk without insisting that people are really saying something entirely different from what they're saying, then meditating would probably be more useful than posting. This is not "silencing an entire group". The only group being silenced is the set of people whose rhetoric is violent. Because violent communication, like all violence, empowers a few people to destroy everything for everyone.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:49 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Privilege depends on cultural context. One doesn't lose privilege or the disadvantages of lacking privilege when participating in an online forum.

cultural context is not homogeneous - what one might experience in alabama, seattle, detroit, texas etc etc is going to be different

just as what one experiences on free republic, yahoo news comment threads and here are going to be different

(not to mention that an insincere person could probably get away with fudging their identity and faking privilege or the lack of it - it might be hard to do here - it might be somewhat hard to do on free republic - it would be childishly easy to do on yahoo news)

"you don't like being called certain terms to describe your sexual/gender identity, you need to respect that some other people don't like that term being used to describe them" doesn't work

mutual respect always works - but it has to come from all sides, not just one - and no special pleading is going to change that
posted by pyramid termite at 3:55 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: "We have a few "You can't do that here" restrictions that could be argued to be about tone while they are mostly about comment"

I would like to learn more about the distinction being drawn here. What distinguishes a "restriction about tone" from a "restriction about comment"? (And, more basically, what does "comment" mean in this context?)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:00 PM on September 7, 2013


Oh hai, that's-a me!

Yeah, I'm going to be more direct than usual here and say: Don't do that. You're not a moderator, your suggestions that people stop talking are not going to be well-received, and especially when you are talking to people of a disadvantaged group that you are not part of, which you often seem to be, it comes off as the worst type of stereotypical privileged indulgence.

Flag and move on if you think something's damaging the discourse.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:01 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


And, more basically, what does "comment" mean in this context?

I'm pretty sure that's a typo for "content."
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2013


mutual respect always works - but it has to come from all sides, not just one - and no special pleading is going to change that

A plea for mutual respect is a good thing, but I'm not sure why "cis" has to be the flag in the ground Every. Single. Time. It is a non-pejorative, scientifically-based shorthand for something that is pretty tiresome to type out a million times, and its counterpart (trans) is considered the proper term for individuals it describes. Given the option between "cis," "normal" (which...no), and "assigned [gender] at birth," I'm not sure why people freak out so much at using the most concise and non-insulting term and then claim that they aren't being respected when it is used.

Nor am I sure why, exactly, we go round and round on it, yet here we are.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:11 PM on September 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


"The only group being silenced is the set of people whose rhetoric is violent. Because violent communication, like all violence, empowers a few people to destroy everything for everyone."

I think that prior to a few years ago, I would have enthusiastically agreed with you about this — I don't doubt that you could trawl through my comments as EB and find me making the exact argument you're making.

What's changed is that I can now see an interaction that was previously invisible to me because of my privilege. It's precisely like the epiphanic experience of suddenly seeing sexism in mixed gender groups and between professors and students when I was at university thirty years ago.

Instinctively and deliberatively understanding the greatest threat to productive discourse to be provocative, angry rhetoric within the context of a discussion about a social justice issue is very much like believing that the most important thing to protect in health care insurance is the patient's choice of physician and treatment and arguing this with someone who has no insurance at all because they can't pay for it. That is to say, almost all environments, both discursive and practical, are so heavily biased against oppressed classes and in favor of privileged classes, that just creating a space where the oppressed can make their case and feel comfortable doing so, without feelings bullied or ridiculed, is so hugely difficult that the problem of disruptive, angry rhetoric is a very distant second. It's just not relevant until this more pervasive and insidious barrier is removed.

Furthermore, that more pervasive and insidious barrier very often makes itself felt known precisely by privileged folk dismissing or even ridiculing the arguments of the oppressed class because they're supposedly angry and disruptive and insufficiently civil and respectful and assuming good-faith. But you'll note that when the privileged themselves are angry and defensive, they're very certain that their expression of this is entirely justified and even that it's a sort of a lesson for the oppressed that, see, this is what you made me do, you made me angry and unable to take you seriously.

At present, it appears that you don't really see this interaction. You may believe me or someone else that it does exist, but you've not really seen it often enough to truly believe that, yes, in fact the biggest difficulty the oppressed face is just having a space where they can express themselves at all, long before being civil or respectful or full of generous spirit and assumptions of good-faith are even relevant. I'm hoping that maybe you'll soon have an epiphany and find that your eyes are suddenly open to this nearly inescapable and constant reality. Because it's really real. It's there.

"A plea for mutual respect is a good thing, but I'm not sure why 'cis' has to be the flag in the ground Every. Single. Time."

Of course it's the flag on the hill that the privileged, defensive cisgendered are willing to die on because it makes them (us) the marked group and, by god, we're the unmarked group. We're not "other", we're the standard model. It's practically unthinkable to many people that you'd come up with a special word to describe normal people. They're normal! There shouldn't be a special word for them! Finding oneself seen by others as a member of a marked group is like learning that the Earth is in motion orbiting the Sun, and not the center of the cosmos, motionless and serenely perfect, the fixed point which defines everything else. It's unpossible.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:23 PM on September 7, 2013 [30 favorites]


cultural context is not homogeneous

Sure isn't. Doesn't change my argument.

mutual respect always works - but it has to come from all sides, not just one - and no special pleading is going to change that

"Mutual respect" will be defined differently by different groups. It was, for instance, disrespectful for black citizens to sit down at the white counter in Woolworth's from the perspective of segregationists.

People can and will feel uncomfortable being labeled cis, but that discomfort does not come from being disrespected. On the contrary, it is respectful to invite people to reflect on the ways in which they participate in unjust social relationships and how they might do better in the future.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:41 PM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


But you'll note that when the privileged themselves are angry and defensive, they're very certain that their expression of this is entirely justified and even that it's a sort of a lesson for the oppressed that, see, this is what you made me do, you made me angry and unable to take you seriously.

Oh man this.
posted by rtha at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


It would be really, really great if people could quit using "tumblr" (or worse, "SJW"/"social justice warriors") as a vague stand-in for "PC gone mad.

The thing that always gets me about people who dismiss other people as "social justice warriors" is how startled and delighted they seem to be with it. It's like they milled it themselves and it can pierce tank armor, and their use of it is the first time it has ever been seen on this Earth.

And then, the next time they use it? Just as startled and delighted.

It's sort of charming, in a way, but over time it does make you worry.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:03 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


A plea for mutual respect is a good thing, but I'm not sure why "cis" has to be the flag in the ground Every. Single. Time

i'm not sure why there has to be a flag in the ground at all - i stated a preference - i made no reference to flags, or hills to die on, or anything like the fighty rhetoric i've been answered with - i never even said i was going to continue to object to it or was angry about it

i stated a preference - once - in this thread - that's it - and i said i wasn't going to use "cis" to describe myself

that's not a flag on the ground or a hill to die on

that kind of talk makes me wonder if a discussion or a fight is wanted

it makes me wonder whether people want to be free and have allies for that freedom - or whether they want to be RIGHT

it doesn't make me wonder why i've been reluctant to enter these discussions

yeah, the tone does kind of suck here - but i certainly won't ask you to shut up

i'll shut up instead and find other discussions to occupy myself with here

happy?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:10 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Cis] is a non-pejorative, scientifically-based shorthand

The Classics major I never was just cried a little.

Less snarky pedanticism: Cis/Trans is a straightforward pair of opposing Latin prefixes. EG cisalpine/transalpine Gaul. So clearly the opposite of transsexual is cissexual. No need to bring fatty acids into it at all.
posted by PMdixon at 5:11 PM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


(There's a super long thread on treating "cis" as offensive speech here, for anyone wanting to do an Assassin's Creed-style synchronization. Both Gaul and polymers feature heavily.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the ironic thing is how pissed cis people get about that prefix.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2013


your suggestions that people stop talking are not going to be well-received,

I never, ever suggested anyone stop talking. I suggest that people stop name-calling, yelling, insulting, accusing and threatening. Those things are the opposite of talking.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:28 PM on September 7, 2013


When you suggest people stop "name-calling, yelling, insulting, accusing and threatening" when they haven't been doing those things--when, in fact, they have just been talking--it starts to seem like you're actually just opposed to them talking.
posted by kagredon at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


i'm not sure why there has to be a flag in the ground at all - i stated a preference - i made no reference to flags, or hills to die on, or anything like the fighty rhetoric i've been answered with - i never even said i was going to continue to object to it or was angry about it

i stated a preference - once - in this thread - that's it - and i said i wasn't going to use "cis" to describe myself

that's not a flag on the ground or a hill to die on


First of all, I wasn't really talking about you specifically, I was talking about the many times it's brought up, often by the same people (i.e. not as an honest question) as a pet peeve. And second, it isn't entirely true. You said people need to respect people who don't like the term. Not "should" or something similar. You also just kind of threw it out there without providing alternatives. If people need to respect others and it's supposed to be a mutual thing, then you can't just tell them to do so and give them nothing to offer respect with.

it doesn't make me wonder why i've been reluctant to enter these discussions

yeah, the tone does kind of suck here - but i certainly won't ask you to shut up

i'll shut up instead and find other discussions to occupy myself with here

happy?


Really? You're going to play the victim card here? I didn't ask you to shut up, I asked an honest question in a restrained manner about this issue. To date, some people have complained that the term is:

1) not "normalized" and therefore exclusive, which begs the question as to how it's supposed to be normalized

2) confusing, which doesn't apply to the people who have complained about it multiple times

3) "annoying" for some nebulous reason.

At every step of the way, trans* members and their allies who prefer the term have asked again and again for an alternative, and said that they would be overjoyed to use it if it would make conversation smoother. And AFAIK not a single time has anyone offered an alternative that wasn't offensive (again: "normal" isn't going to work) or that required a gender identity essay to preface its use.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:34 PM on September 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh, God, do I have to have a rap battle with Blazecock Pileon now? That's what happens, right?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:36 PM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


[please do not bring old grudges into this thread. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:37 PM on September 7, 2013


[please do not bring old grudges into this thread. Thanks.]

That thread gets rehashed Every. Single. Time. by the same person. He is obviously obsessed. Why is that allowed?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:40 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry if the cis thing is a derail, mods, but it's pretty frustrating to be in a thread asking for civil discourse and having impossible requests or even demands for respect being placed on people. Doubly so when we're accused of being antagonistic when we point that out and ask for help in doing so.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:42 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And triply so when we're repeatedly accused of telling people they're arguing in bad faith.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2013


It's not always all about you, BP. We were pitching in this thread into a discussion of whether or not calling someone "cis" was offensive. I was linking to a long thread in which that was discussed at length, because we have already discussed it at length, in a thread about how it was problematic for every thread tangentially related to trans issues to turn into a discussion of whether the word "cis" was offensive.

Honestly, if you're particularly ashamed of your behavior in that thread, I'm genuinely surprised. You seemed a bit dogmatic in that thread, if memory serves, but compared with some of your more recent adventures - like the aforementioned rap battle - I don't recall it getting egregiously weird.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:49 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


this MeTa gets weirder and weirder.
posted by kagredon at 5:50 PM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Mutual respect" will be defined differently by different groups. It was, for instance, disrespectful for black citizens to sit down at the white counter in Woolworth's from the perspective of segregationists.

Adding to this, what "mutual respect" means in an online discussion is very seldom decided by someone speaking from a place of oppression. Rather, the onus is put on them to adapt to whatever nebulous, mutable standard the privileged set for a "respectful tone". This is taken as a given when the tone argument gets made: the flow of capitulation must extend from the oppressed upwards. The privileged reserves the right not to consider the problems raised, because those raising the problems did not speak as expected.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:56 PM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yes, it seems to me I'm hearing that the terms "concern trolling" and "tone argument" are taken by some as fighting words,

It is. You see how restless nomad talked to me above? It was a pointing out that "Hey, you're probably totally correct on that, but because of who you are, it's not going to be taken well." And I didn't get upset, and thought, yeah, that's probably true. He linked to concern troll as a term, but not as a "This is what you're doing" but as a "This is how it sometimes is".

But if he'd said "Corb, you're concern trolling" I would have mentally flipped a shit, because I was being really sincere and I would have felt like that was just shit on.

A plea for mutual respect is a good thing, but I'm not sure why "cis" has to be the flag in the ground Every. Single. Time. It is a non-pejorative, scientifically-based shorthand for something that is pretty tiresome to type out a million times, and its counterpart (trans) is considered the proper term for individuals it describes.

From my point of view, it makes perfect sense why people react badly to cis. I will use it sometimes to self-refer as a shorthand, but I don't really like it either - because it is a word chosen by an outside group to refer to people that they are not. It's a word chosen by trans people to refer to non-trans people, and that makes it not great - because it's telling someone else Who They Are.
posted by corb at 6:14 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: "It's a word chosen by trans people to refer to non-trans people, and that makes it not great - because it's telling someone else Who They Are."

This is the case for many, many words for the previously unmarked "normal".

Cis is a special case, because...?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:27 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


From my point of view, it makes perfect sense why people react badly to cis. I will use it sometimes to self-refer as a shorthand, but I don't really like it either - because it is a word chosen by an outside group to refer to people that they are not. It's a word chosen by trans people to refer to non-trans people, and that makes it not great - because it's telling someone else Who They Are.

And transsexual/transgender/etc was chosen by an outside group to refer to people they're not, telling someone else Who They Are. Etymogically, cis- is the distaff counterpart as it were of trans-, so it seemed like an easy solution.

And it bears repeating that, in every conversation I've seen, trans* people (at least on MeFi) would be happy to have an alternative that didn't become a big thing every time it came up, but no one seems willing or able to do it.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:28 PM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


The tone thing also tends to lead to a lot of goalpost moving about whether the tone was respectful enough, or in the right way. It's a bad deflection, and a bad devaluation - whether or not a problem is worth considering is weighed on some personal feeling about the speech or behavior of the person making the complaint.

It's a word chosen by trans people to refer to non-trans people, and that makes it not great - because it's telling someone else Who They Are.

No one is "telling" anyone who they are. As was pointed out, it is just the Latinate antonym of trans-. It is not a term used to subjugate or oppress, nor is anyone told that they must refer to themselves as such. It's not even a new prefix, though it might be new to a lot of people. Being confronted with new words for things always bring out a certain defensiveness in people, though, and it becomes a silly derail in what might otherwise be a worthwhile discussion. Because instead of taking cis- as a Latinate prefix that is laughably incomparable to the othering language of some of the more colorful neologisms of the privileged, the assumption is made that this is some kind of magical reverse-oppression spell.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:28 PM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


zombieflanders: "an alternative that didn't become a big thing every time it came up, but no one seems willing or able to do it."

I nominate "muggle".
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:38 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


This is the case for many, many words for the previously unmarked "normal".

Cis is a special case, because...?


It's new (to most cis people), and we didn't choose it for ourselves, I guess. So, yeah, privilege.
posted by Etrigan at 6:39 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


i will make one and only one reply here

At every step of the way, trans* members and their allies who prefer the term have asked again and again for an alternative, and said that they would be overjoyed to use it if it would make conversation smoother.

i guess i could say i was a heterosexual male, although i have reservations about that, which i will explain later - (for god's sake, not "normal" - i KNOW that's wrong)

that's what i choose, if i have to choose, that's not up to discussion

what other people choose to describe themselves is their choice not mine and i have no right to speak for them - and if they like "cis", so be it

but just so you understand me fully - i don't like identity politics

i am an individual - further more, in my life i have had my individuality savagely used against me in horrendous ways

i can't feel comfortable as part of the "white" tribe, as "white" society and all it stands for despised me and made my life a living hell

i can't feel comfortable as part of the "straight" tribe, not after being called "f----t" all through school and college

same goes for "cis", although that term wasn't around back then

if labels are going to be hung on me, i prefer that they describe what i DO, rather than what i am - don't put me in a "class" or "identity" of people because they decided a long time ago that i was not one of them and enforced it violently and heartlessly

and don't call that a privilege, either - privileges don't make one's life hell, do they?

there are times when i don't even want to share the mantle of "human"

you probably don't need to hear all this and it certainly isn't going to help this discussion so it would be best to let that part of it be

i can't give you a one size fits all solution as to how to catagorize people or label them because i don't believe there is one and i don't believe i have the right to come up with one - and i don't think it's a good thing to do

my advice is to concentrate on yourself, define who you are and want to be and fight all you can against those who would oppress you for that and not worry so much about how to identify others - especially those who agree that you have the right to be as you wish to be

as much as possible, fight for things, not against them

for god's sake, let's see people as the complex and often contradictory creatures they are instead of molding them into chess pieces in a game of social chess - note their prejudices and privileges when you need to - but always remember there are not enough words in the universe to arrive at the truth of yourself, much less anyone else

and when you suggest things like mutual respect and the golden rule and people act as if it's a political ploy or a scheme of oppression, it's best to just walk on and shake the dust of that town - or thread - from your feet, if you can

much shorter direct answer to the question - i can't help you with the inadequacy of words to describe people, but i suggest you don't rely on them
posted by pyramid termite at 6:42 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And transsexual/transgender/etc was chosen by an outside group to refer to people they're not, telling someone else Who They Are. Etymogically, cis- is the distaff counterpart as it were of trans-, so it seemed like an easy solution.

Oh yeah, I get how it came about and I don't think it was maliciously intended. But I think that if trans folk preferred a different word that they chose themselves, we'd all make an effort to use that one.

And it bears repeating that, in every conversation I've seen, trans* people (at least on MeFi) would be happy to have an alternative that didn't become a big thing every time it came up, but no one seems willing or able to do it.

Yeah, and I definitely appreciate and believe that willingness. The practical problem is that members of majority groups tend not to identify by their majority identifier. You don't see, for example, white people getting together to talk about their whiteness. (Except for neo-Nazis, and they suck, but are not representative overall) So there's no real large group of non-trans people getting together to talk about how they are identified. (Except maybe awful people whose group name I do not know.) If we're thinking about it seriously, I think also that those of us who would accept a name we chose ourselves are actually also a minority group of that population. I think most non-trans people who don't spend a lot of time talking about it would prefer something like "just normal" or "born a blah", which winds up being offensive to trans people, so that's another problem.
posted by corb at 6:43 PM on September 7, 2013


Oh, man, tumblr. I didn't respond to Army and Ivan because the whole tumblr thing seemed like a derail and I didn't want to drag it out. But since people want to talk about it...

I saw a post on tumblr the other day about how transgendered people have privilege over otherkin because they can get srs but otherkin can't get species reassignment surgery.

And I came across another blog that catalogs examples of interpersonal adultism. Because apparently, adults oppress the hell out of teenagers and children. This is my favorite one: "An adult once told me that they knew better about my bodily autonomy than I do and that they were entitled to restrict it, I KNOW how much sleep I need and now they’re trying to dictate when I’m even allowed to be concious."

There is this post about how black privilege is dancing.

If people thing the above are all fine and dandy uses of social justice concepts then we'll have to agree to disagree.

And it's not surprising that people haven't come across stuff like this since tumblr is gigantic. I personally have never seen pictures of naked people on tumblr, even thought I've been told that porn is huge on tumblr.

Lastly, I don't think that all people who talk about social justice on tumblr are like the ones quoted above. There are tons of people fighting for their rights in non crazy ways.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:44 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am popping back in to remind people that we have self-identified otherkin on Metafilter who were super brave about coming out and lest people jump in to condemn them, we should remember that. I'm not saying you were doing that, nooneyouknow, just trying to head it off at the pass just in case.
posted by corb at 6:46 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I believe the appearance of objections to the term cis gender are both a derail and illustrative of the issue at hand. Here we are, having a conversation about how to handle the phenomenon of an individual saying, "I will not listen to the substance of what you are saying, member-of-marginalized-group, until your presentation ceases to offend me." And here we are again, facing complaints about tone, and the rhetorical question "it makes me wonder whether people want to be free and have allies for that freedom," because offense is taken to the use of the term cis gender in the thread.

Making the requirements for being granted a listen are that we not call all or some MeFites-who-identify-wth-the-sex-they-were-assigned-at-birth cis gender does two things. First, it derails the discussion into yet another long discussion of the origins of the terms cis and trans, which has been discussed in other threads a lot, and lo, people are feeling frustrated again. It makes the thread about a few (privileged) people, and trying to placate or convince them.

What is most problematic about objections to the term cis gender, with no alternative proferred other than "leave me unmarked" or "I'm just a people, I'm not white or cis or whatever," or "well, I'm normal," is that it makes it impossible to discuss the problems trans* folks face, which is not that we are trans*, but that we are disrespected and harassed by cis people. And that is the fundamental problem with tone arguments--they turn out to be about substance.
posted by DrMew at 6:49 PM on September 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


for god's sake, let's see people as the complex and often contradictory creatures they are instead of molding them into chess pieces in a game of social chess - note their prejudices and privileges when you need to - but always remember there are not enough words in the universe to arrive at the truth of yourself, much less anyone else

Using a Latinate prefix is not mutually exclusive with recognize the complex, fluid nature of human identity.

Personally, living as I do in a few positions of privilege, I am OK with cis-. I see it as a linguistic device; not a tool for penning me up in a little box or whatever. But then I think it's a petty thing to push back on, making a lot of wild assumptions about intent, and this objection is usually raised as a deflection from having to address anything of substance in a discussion on gender.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:52 PM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


but just so you understand me fully - i don't like identity politics

Then why insert yourself into them? This comes across a little ridiculous when this all could have been avoided if you hadn't said that there needed to be "mutual respect" when it came it identity politics.

and when you suggest things like mutual respect and the golden rule and people act as if it's a political ploy or a scheme of oppression, it's best to just walk on and shake the dust of that town - or thread - from your feet, if you can

Again: You didn't suggest it, you made it a question of need. That's where it sounded political.

much shorter direct answer to the question - i can't help you with the inadequacy of words to describe people, but i suggest you don't rely on them

To which I reply: then don't demand that others do the same.

I think that if trans folk preferred a different word that they chose themselves, we'd all make an effort to use that one.

How is that different than what trans* people are asking?

Yeah, and I definitely appreciate and believe that willingness. The practical problem is that members of majority groups tend not to identify by their majority identifier.

Yes, this is a problem. But surely you and I agree that the solution isn't that the majority gets to make the minority the other?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:53 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously, can we not do the Otherkin derail?
posted by Betafae at 6:54 PM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, apologies for misgendering restless_nomad, it was not intentional and based on a vague recollection of the name. Which was a wrong thing to do.

Yes, this is a problem. But surely you and I agree that the solution isn't that the majority gets to make the minority the other?


We totally do! I'm saying I recognize the problem, but don't know of a solution. Because you're right, that solution would in fact suck.
posted by corb at 6:54 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


and don't call that a privilege, either - privileges don't make one's life hell, do they?

They absolutely do. If there is one thing that feminism has repeatedly made the case for, and demonstrated, it is that patriarchy is bad for men too.

I mean, there are benefits to privilege, although they are often invisible to those who have them -- for instance, you're not necessarily going to notice that you're not being followed by a security guard if you're not black. But the institution of racism is terrible for everyone involved. It's a terrible system set haphazardly in place in order to protect the interests of a very few, and the elements that remain do so because they still protect somebody's interests and because they are invisible. But it's a worse world for it, and plenty of white people experience real harm as a result of racism, even though they are in the position of privilege.

Beyond that, look, you don't want to call yourself cis, whatever. It is, however, what other people are going to call you, because they need a word and it fits the bill. My suggestion is if it comes up somewhere here, and you don't like it, open a meta on the subject, or start a thread on how identity politics forces revisions in language. Both would be good places for that discussion.

A poor place for that discussion? Threads about the cis experience. Because it's a derail.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:00 PM on September 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


For the record, though, I will push back on "muggle".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:02 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's better than mudblood.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:02 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't forget about house elf oppression!
posted by zombieflanders at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "For the record, though, I will push back on "muggle"."

Presumably because using it in place of "cis" means accepting that there are not, and never will be, wizards.

And that's awful.

or possibly accepting the awful truth that all trans people are magic.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Privilegium examinosa!
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2013 [23 favorites]


Harry Potter and the Invisible Backpack
posted by zombieflanders at 7:06 PM on September 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


Don't forget about house elf oppression!

Actually was I alone in finding that kind of awful? "Ha ha! Hermione is so FUNNY because she's trying to free the slaves but most of them really LIKE being slaves! Ha ha! Because they're genetically engineered to do so! Except for one or two of the interesting Good ones, of course!"
posted by corb at 7:06 PM on September 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's examin-O-sa, not examino-SAR!
posted by emmtee at 7:08 PM on September 7, 2013


Accio Self-Respect!

:(
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:08 PM on September 7, 2013


Here's the thing about not liking "identity politics", whatever the fuck that actually means (are there any politics not predicated on the definition of extant properties in contemporary entities?): it doesn't matter at all whether or not I get to like them, because this culture makes my racial identity and my very presence a political issue. I don't have the luxury of being able to "just be people", because that's not what people see when they see me. Trans* people are forced by the political climate to be representative, always, of "their people", and for many powers, "trans*" is all those people will ever get to be. Being viewed as a complex, shifting, nuanced personality is the highest form of privilege there is.

So, I'll be honest: when people say they don't like identity politics, I have a really hard time hearing that as something other than "your existence makes me uncomfortable". These things aren't abstract, and it's such a luxury to be able to treat them as academic disagreements.
posted by Errant at 7:11 PM on September 7, 2013 [27 favorites]


Actually was I alone in finding that kind of awful? "Ha ha! Hermione is so FUNNY because she's trying to free the slaves but most of them really LIKE being slaves! Ha ha! Because they're genetically engineered to do so! Except for one or two of the interesting Good ones, of course!"

Yeah, it was kind of worst of both worlds thing, especially in a series that made it very clear where it stood on otherwise identical issues.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2013


much shorter direct answer to the question - i can't help you with the inadequacy of words to describe people, but i suggest you don't rely on them

This is a discussion forum. Words is all we got, and it's pretty fucking impossible to rely on anything else since they took inline images away...
posted by Dysk at 7:26 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


We still have ascii.
          (    )
            (oo)
   )\.-----/(O O)
  # ;       / u
    (  .   |} )
     |/ `.;|/;
     "     " "
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:28 PM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Now there is a medium truly inadequate for accurately or completely describing people. Vague approximations at best.
posted by Dysk at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was going to edit-window in a moo but decided I couldn't make it fly as just correcting a typo.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:31 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


We don't need no img tag! (warning: NSFW comment by cortex).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2013


Is it true that there's no soft 'c' in latin?
posted by yonega at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2013


"Sortex" just sounds wrong to me.
posted by rtha at 9:13 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Sorry, riff was happening only in my own head. Carry on.)
posted by rtha at 9:14 PM on September 7, 2013


For all my concern about tone, I've never found "cis" objectionable. Sort of Latinate, but there's worse things.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:16 PM on September 7, 2013


I was just thinking that kissgender sounds adorable.
posted by yonega at 9:27 PM on September 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


For the record, things like this and this are exactly what I really dislike and was specifically trying to point out. I'm not sure how this is much different from Fox & Friends "PC gone mad" segments that spend ten minutes of national airtime on this one unfortunate thing happened one time at a middle school in rural wherever. I don't feel that raising this as an apocryphal warning of what MetaFilter will become if you cede too much ground (like - heaven forfend - "cis") is ever a good faith argument in threads that have absolutely nothing to do with Tumblr and whatever goes on there. It's just so totally irrelevant as anything other than a strawman - if you think that someone is being unreasonable in a discussion here (or that someone mentioned in a FPP article is being unreasonable), bring that up. But sneering derisively about "social justice warriors" when there are (apparently) none present, and it's an obviously loaded term to start with - I'm not sure how anyone is supposed to engage with that constructively.
posted by Corinth at 10:20 PM on September 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I'm starting to hear "social justice warrior" in the same tones as "feminazi", and it's not a terribly good-faith way to engage someone, this presumption that they have some motive other than sincerity. It's just another way of dismissing someone's earnestness. If you're not cloaked in three layers of irony and sarcastic detachment, your views are suspect or those of a strident naif. As if being for social justice was somehow a bad thing in the first place. It's just weird.
posted by Errant at 10:34 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


So yeah, it is kind of weird how this thread ended up doing the things it was made to discuss and discourage. In my current sleepyheaded state, I think I've thought of a perfectly succinct way to describe that thing and why it's uncool: it's pretty much talking, loudly, about somebody while they're in the same room. Maybe you can see them--let's assume you can't, because I think a lot of this happens because you really can't at the time--but they're totally listening, and they're going to respond to you.

Now. How do you behave?
posted by byanyothername at 11:03 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't feel that raising this as an apocryphal warning of what MetaFilter will become if you cede too much ground (like - heaven forfend - "cis") is ever a good faith argument in threads that have absolutely nothing to do with Tumblr and whatever goes on there.

I did not make this argument and my posts about tumblr have been about tumblr not any kind of slippery slope thing regarding tumblr and Metafilter.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:04 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking to the OP :

It really depends on whether you're trying to persuade people to adopt your viewpoint, or if you're merely interested in talking to people who already agree with you. If you're actually trying to convince people, then yes, tone matters.
posted by evil otto at 11:12 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


evil otto: and what do you do when you're trying to convince people, and no matter what you say or how gently you say it, they keep telling you to moderate your tone? Then what?
posted by kagredon at 11:20 PM on September 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


nooneyouknow: "I did not make this argument and my posts about tumblr have been about tumblr not any kind of slippery slope thing regarding tumblr and Metafilter."

Why did you feel compelled to say that Tumblr is terrible, that we need to hang out there more to see these terrible things, and then link to terrible things on Tumblr? Why post absurd things to disagree with ("If people think the above are all fine and dandy uses of social justice concepts then we'll have to agree to disagree") when nobody is here is saying those things? None of that needs to happen, is the point I'm trying to make. I feel like if we're all on a beach having this conversation, that's like running far away from the group, drawing a line in the sand, and then looking back shouting for people to pay attention and come appreciate your line in the sand instead of just continuing to mingle and converse on a nice beach. But I'm open to hearing your take.
posted by Corinth at 11:27 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


It really depends on whether you're trying to persuade people to adopt your viewpoint, or if you're merely interested in talking to people who already agree with you. If you're actually trying to convince people, then yes, tone matters.

Who says anybody is trying to convince anybody? I don't use MetaFilter as a propaganda tool, but instead as an opportunity for discussion.

But if we're going to discuss tone, I would suggest that you're not aware of yours. Because the tone you just struck is "I know better than you,"

I tend to trust people to know what tone is best for what point they are trying to communicate. I mean, with trans people, they have been explaining their own experiences their entire life, whereas I don't share those experiences and don't know what it is like trying to communicate it to others. I would never dare presume that I am in a position to explain to them what tone is appropriate, as they have an entire lifetime worth of experience to fall back on, and I have none.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:28 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I'm starting to hear "social justice warrior" in the same tones as "feminazi", and it's not a terribly good-faith way to engage someone, this presumption that they have some motive other than sincerity. It's just another way of dismissing someone's earnestness. If you're not cloaked in three layers of irony and sarcastic detachment, your views are suspect or those of a strident naif. As if being for social justice was somehow a bad thing in the first place. It's just weird.

It denotes a tribal affiliation.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:52 PM on September 7, 2013


None of that needs to happen, is the point I'm trying to make. I feel like if we're all on a beach having this conversation, that's like running far away from the group, drawing a line in the sand, and then looking back shouting for people to pay attention and come appreciate your line in the sand instead of just continuing to mingle and converse on a nice beach.

And I feel like that a couple of people explained why they make fun of Tumblr and some of the things on it, me included, but it's getting lumped in with people making fun of 'social justice warriors' and then becoming equivalent to saying feminazi, which, come on. It's a website. Actually, it's a blogging tool. Saying something disparaging about it or pointing out ways in which it's being used that are silly is not the same thing as saying something negative about transpeople and their experiences, and yet it feels like you and a couple of others are running right up to the line of saying it is.

To which I can't help but think that it's like getting defensive that someone doesn't like Facebook because you've invested so much of yourself in your profile, and maybe you should examine why someone making fun of an internet tool affects you so personally.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:52 PM on September 7, 2013


What tribe?
posted by Errant at 12:14 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread is about tone. I'm saying that mocking kids on Tumblr in a topic not about Tumblr and throwing around loaded terms like "social justice warrior" are shitty tone. I don't care about Tumblr or your disparaging it (I do not use or read blogs on Tumblr), I care that stuff like this always comes up. Someone makes a thread about A, a few people clamor to make sure that everyone else knows how they feel about Z, and someone else starts lamenting that if MeFi makes too much progress (or even talks more frequently about certain topics) it is or might become "Tumblresque," and everything about that feels gross and familiar.
posted by Corinth at 12:18 AM on September 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


Nobody's making fun of the Internet tool. They are making fun of the people who use that tool as activists or as members of communities that are not part of the dominant culture.

I mean, it was one thing when people mocked Twitter, although they all seemed to mock content they assumed was on the site, and not its actual content. But, in this instance, Tumblr is being used as a metonym for "people who I find shrill or immature about their politics."

Also, until people actually get to the line you mentioned, let's not treat it as though it had already happened or was inevitable. It's hard enough to discuss this when we address what people are actually saying without slippery sloping it so that they will inevitably say something we can unambiguously declare obnoxious or ridiculous.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:18 AM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Why did you feel compelled to say that Tumblr is terrible, that we need to hang out there more to see these terrible things, and then link to terrible things on Tumblr? Why post absurd things to disagree with ("If people think the above are all fine and dandy uses of social justice concepts then we'll have to agree to disagree") when nobody is here is saying those things?

I was not actually seriously suggesting that people hang out on tumblr. And tumblr is terrible. Ok, parts of it are terrible, not the whole thing. I made the comments because I was talking about tumblr. People said those things weren't happening on tumblr but they are:

* Cairedas says she doesn't like cis because she has seen cissie used as an insult.
* People question that because they've never seen it.
* I say "I've seen it. It happens all the time on tumblr cause people on tumblr are sjws. Here's proof."* (I like to link to things). I could've linked to any website I suppose, but I knew it would be incredibly easy to find posts about cissie as an insult on tumblr because of the way sj can be twisted there. I then stop commenting about tumblr because it really has nothing to do with the purpose of this thread.
* Other people in response say "I have never seen "social justice warriors" on tumblr."
* And I let myself get dragged back into to tumblr discussion and respond "Let me show you them then. As you can clearly see, people on tumblr use sj rhetoric in ridiculous ways." I suppose it would have been better in my original comment to say "people on tumblr use sj rhetoric in ridiculous ways" instead of "If people think the above are all fine and dandy uses of social justice concepts then we'll have to agree to disagree" but my default communication style in text is snark**. I should probably work on that. (See what I'm talking about. I don't even know if that last sentence is serious or not. I need to go to snark rehab).

And then there was the other argument that you shouldn't use tumblr and "social justice warriors" as examples of "pc gone mad". I never directly responded to that because I don't want to get into a discussion about the nature of social justice activism on tumblr with people who don't actually read sj and sjish blogs on tumblr.

*I suppose my comment about cissie can be read support for the proposition that people shouldn't use cis, but that wasn't what it was about. It was that I've seen it used as an insult and so people saying that it wasn't were wrong. (ObXKCD)
** And also hyperbole. When I'm on the internet, especially when disagreeing with someone, I default to hyperbole and snark. I didn't even realize this until a few weeks.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:30 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


For the second time in a couple of days, I saw someone on this website suggest that other MetaFilter users shouldn't make fun of Tumblr users or 'social justice warriors'. I explained what things on Tumblr I mock when I make fun of Tumblr, as did nooneyouknow.

That's now been described as mocking progress. From someone who self-admittedly doesn't even read things on the site. So I think we've reached that line. Because to me, mocking Tumblr is mocking things like self-identified otherkin attacking trans people for having human privilege, an argument specifically called out as hurtful by trans people here.

This is not the otherkin debate, just an example of the insanity that Tumblr can and does foster in terms of taking identity politics to an absolute extreme. Or should I have not said 'insanity' without providing you with my mental illness bona fides?

So think that maybe no-one is mocking trans people. And that insisting everyone show respectful attitudes to people's ongoing stupidity is not a helpful tone either, especially in a thread which has included discussion about what to do about posters who continually go into gender threads and actively miss the point.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or should I have not said 'insanity' without providing you with my mental illness bona fides?

Seems like you are now sort of veering toward intentional self-fulfilling prophecy territory here. You're complaining that Metafilter might be getting too "Tumblry" and then setting up what you feel like is a Tumblry provocation for people to argue about in a Tumblry way?
posted by taz (staff) at 12:57 AM on September 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think it would be really nice to have gender threads where nobody talked about Tumblr shit that doesn't happen here and nobody used the loaded term "social justice warrior" and nobody compared the civil, measured, concrete improvements here to Tumblr insanity. (This happens often without these specific words, too.)

This is apparently a really high bar. I'll let step back for now, though, and listen to what other people have to say.
posted by Corinth at 1:00 AM on September 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Seems like you are now sort of veering toward intentional self-fulfilling prophecy territory here. You're complaining that Metafilter might be getting too "Tumblry" and then setting up what you feel like is a Tumblry provocation for people to argue about in a Tumblry way?

It's funny, I'm actually reading another current MeTa thread at the same time, and restless_nomad just said it helps not to be arch, and I thought, 'Damn, arch is such a default of mine, I have to work on that.'

In other words, you're right. Sorry.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:06 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread is getting harder and harder to follow for those of us who never go on Tumblr.

As a data point: I would probably be considered to be cisgendered. I don't think I'll call myself that, because I don't actually identify as any gender. I don't grok gender.
But I'm fine with the idea of being called cis or cisgendered. It's just a word, even if it's not a perfect fit (in my particular case). If it helps anyone to make sense of the world, they should go ahead and use it, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:08 AM on September 8, 2013


This thread is getting harder and harder to follow for those of us who never go on Tumblr.

I find myself on Tumblr occasionally and haven't found anything remotely close to a consensus on anything, other than people seem to like cool images.
posted by philip-random at 1:21 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too-Ticky: "This thread is getting harder and harder to follow for those of us who never go on Tumblr."

Tumblr is essentially Livejournal 2.0. Similar userbase and site culture, but communities are more open and if someone makes a particularly popular post it can be reblogged and thus seen by thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people. If you found it dismissive, frustrating, and vaguely misogynistic when people were told to "go back to Livejournal", substituting the same feeling here will work.

I guess I could start telling people I feel are being pompous, privileged, unable to apply context to arguments that are all about context, and who are hiding their bigotry or wilful ignorance in a wall of words to "go back to Reddit" but that probably wouldn't go down too well, either.

it's really tempting but I'm making a special effort, from here on out, not to.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:53 AM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


And it bears repeating that, in every conversation I've seen, trans* people (at least on MeFi) would be happy to have an alternative that didn't become a big thing every time it came up, but no one seems willing or able to do it.

You never will, because the people annoyed at being called cis will also be annoyed at being called anything else, as the battle is not about the world but about being labelled as something, beyond their control. Some people are just such delicate flowers they can't put up with that, despite the fact that everybody else in the world has had to deal with that since basically forever.

(Or more snidely, it's correct to call you trans because you're not normal, but calling me cis is wrong, because I am normal and therefore need no label.)
posted by MartinWisse at 3:30 AM on September 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


It denotes a tribal affiliation.

This is worth pulling out, I think, because it seems to bespeak an informative misunderstanding of the idea of tribal affiliation.

Tribes are self-identifying. Mods are tribes. Rockers are tribes. I imagine there are people who call themselves "social justice warriors", but I would further imagine that in so close to every case as makes no odds that they are doing so knowingly and satirically, because they know that is a phrase used to describe them by the out-group.

But if you think that people dismissing other people as "social justice warriors" are merely highlighting their self-identification as some sort of taxonomic favor to others, you are straight tripping.

It may not feel comfortable to those who enjoy using it, but the comparison of "feminazi" and "social justice warrior" is pretty much bang on, absent the Godwin - it's a term used to express contempt for a group of people you disagree with. It just so happens that people want to use "social justice warrior" and probably don't want to use (or are smart enough to realise that they shouldn't try to use any more) "feminazi" on MetaFilter. So, that comes back to what happens when a group used to getting their own way is in some way contradicted or disagreed with.

(There was a very good example of what happens, or rather a number of good examples, in the recent "mansplaining" MeTa, but that might end up as a derail, so let's park it for now.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:17 AM on September 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


ArmyOfKittens: thanks, that helps a bit.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:18 AM on September 8, 2013


That discussing of trans people as an always third-person, distant, "objective" thing bothers me, especially when it's critical or dismissive, and especially now that enough of us usually pop into these threads.

I think this is a big part of the problem of "tone." Because there is always a tone and, like "cis-," it is privileged and normalized. I got it from my father, a teacher and minister. I'm pretty sure a lot of Internet people got it from reading Robert Heinlein or Robert Anton Wilson. It has a sound of grave, measured thoughtfulness that is very Patriarchal (in the literal sense of the word) -- fatherly and authoritative, even where paternalism is unwanted and the assumed authority is unearned. It's also great cover for the polymath who wants to seem like an expert on every subject. it's inherently distancing, which is counter-productive in emotional threads where the positive response is drawing closer together, towards empathy and understanding (if not alway agreement).

Furthermore, the inherently distancing medium of the Internet makes really easy for people who are not really concerned with an issue (eg racism, sexism, poverty) to think they are talking about abstract ideas rather than people's lived experiences. And when they get angry pushback from people who do live it, they are hurt, because they weren't attacking anybody, they were just talking theoretically about abstract ideas.

Also, sometimes people don't really want a debate. They want to say "I see this behavior, and I don't like it." They don't want solutions, really, they want you or the site or whatever to listen. You could say "huh, OK, I'll try to do better" or "he'll, no, I'm not changing," or "this poster is really reading a lot into that," or whatever, but they certainly don't want you to tell them that their feelings are invalid or mistaken.

Lastly, skimming this before hitting post, I can see some of that detatched calm tone in it, so it may be so ingrained in me I can't get rid of it, but I can be careful when I am talking to not use it to obscure the need of others to be heard.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:40 AM on September 8, 2013 [22 favorites]


It denotes a tribal affiliation.

MeFi is fairly unique in that you can't join a group or subforum, or subscribe to certain posts or types of posts, or have posts or comments that others can't see or join in discussion of. The only people that have tags or badges are the moderators, and that's only here in MeTa. I'm pretty sure you can't even MeMail more than one person at a time. So I'm not sure how denoting tribal affiliations is supposed to useful here, especially since I've seen it describe anything from MeFites making valid criticisms but willing to come to compromises to a random angry person somewhere else on the Internet that's coming across as an asshole, often at the same time.

I see and hear the phrase "use your words" a lot now, and although it kind of rankles me personally, on an text-only site like MeFi, that's all we have. If you want to talk about a person or a group of people, point out specifically what it is that's significant. Don't just go around calling people who disagree with you (regardless of the energy behind that disagreement) or that are defensive about things that have caused them or others significant trauma something with a deliberately sneery tone.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:56 AM on September 8, 2013


Phrases like "tone argument", "de-railing", "privilege", and "problematic" are signalling some sort of belief system or affiliation too, which is possibly why people then leap to the "aha! Tumblr!" conclusion, as Tumblr is a site where fundamentalist believers hang out.

I don't really do Tumblr, but on LJ, I've seen a thing where people just say "that's a tone argument" and expect that everyone will agree that it's therefore a Bad Thing. But this only works if you're talking to a fellow believer: the meanings of these words (which differs from the regular English use as they're a kind of shorthand) and the correctness of the belief system may seem obvious to you but may not be obvious to others.

Both "be civil" and "that's a tone argument" can function as "because shut up, that's why". Mod intervention to ban tone arguments but not the phrase "that's a tone argument" does take you further along the road to being a site where the jargon and belief system are supposed to be background assumptions shared by all contributors. I bet some of the "SJW" criticism is from people who don't want that to happen, rather than people who don't like gays or women or transexuals.
posted by pw201 at 5:27 AM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't really do Tumblr, but on LJ, I've seen a thing where people just say "that's a tone argument" and expect that everyone will agree that it's therefore a Bad Thing. But this only works if you're talking to a fellow believer: the meanings of these words (which differs from the regular English use as they're a kind of shorthand) and the correctness of the belief system may seem obvious to you but may not be obvious to others.

Both "be civil" and "that's a tone argument" can function as "because shut up, that's why".


And this, right here, is another thing I find troubling (or "problematic", if you will, although gee I guess that tips my hand as a "fundamentalist believer") - the idea that pointing out that someone is using a tone argument is an attempt to shut down the conversation.

This is backwards. Pointing out that someone is objecting to the tone of a complaint without addressing the issues or problems raised in the complaint is doing the opposite of shutting someone up. On the contrary, it is encouraging the other person to respond to the actual subject of the matter rather than microscoping on tone and language. It is an effort to encourage a discussion of substance rather than nitpicking over details of presentation.

I resent the idea that people who want a fair, open discussion of substance on issues regarding gender, race, sexuality or whatever are just subscribing to a jargon-laden belief system; like they're some kind of monolithic bloc, a group of "believers" as opposed to "thinkers". That strikes me as dismissive and generalizing, apart from holding up Tumblr as a slippery slope boogieman.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:35 AM on September 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


I checked my posting history here and discovered that I had to ask (back in June) what "SJW" meant.

Use of the term "SJW" also signals a belief system or affiliation, and from what I've seen here, is only used as an accusation or dismissal (or in an ironic fashion by someone accused of being an "SJW"), and people who use it that way are also laying out the boundaries of what they see as a correct belief system. It's like how some men in sexism threads get accused of white-knighting if they agree that (for instance) sexual harassment is a bad thing; both terms seem to be used to accuse other people of being insincere or of stepping out of their place. They also function as a kind of "shut up." Which may not be exactly what the person using the term non-ironically means, but that's how I hear it.
posted by rtha at 6:36 AM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I read "SJW" and my ears become temporarily capable of detecting sounds usually only audible to dogs.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:39 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I bet some of the 'SJW' criticism is from people who don't want that to happen, rather than people who don't like gays or women or transexuals."

But there's substantial overlap between the two groups and, more to the point, the essential motivation for the former position is their unexamined privilege that is is part-and-parcel what's overtly expressed by the latter group.

The privileged have jargon and a shared belief system that they impose on everyone else and believe that such an environment is the normal, "shared culture", un-alienating one. They react to any environment where the oppressed express their jargon and shared belief system with defensive alienation — oh no! let's not go down that identity politics, alienating slippery-slope where cliquish groups of people reinforce themselves into ever-more extreme and ridiculous beliefs! Instead, we need the unbiased and reasonable standard of the straight, white males, which isn't alienating at all.

Yeah, all I'm hearing from the people who like to talk about the absurdity of tumblr is David Horowitz talking about the politically correct nonsense of academia and all those crazy feminists and minority studies nuts or Rush Limbaugh mocking PETA or Fox News featuring the extremes of a gay pride march — the only damn reason to bring up an extreme that you feel certain that everyone present will agree is absurd is to use it as a means for raising suspicion and calling into question the credibility of the things that you think the people present don't think are extreme but which you think are fundamentally similar in some respect.

This is often explicit, as we see above and in the comment I'm responding to: "See those crazy people? I fear, based upon what I'm seeing in the behavior of people here, that you're heading down that slippery-slope to becoming crazy people just like those people over there." (Subtext: some of what you're saying is also crazy.)

No, sorry, I'm not buying what you're selling.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


The four of us basically said the same thing in response to pw201 in four different ways. :)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:49 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]




Phrases like "tone argument", "de-railing", "privilege", and "problematic" are signalling some sort of belief system or affiliation too, which is possibly why people then leap to the "aha! Tumblr!" conclusion, as Tumblr is a site where fundamentalist believers hang out.

All of those phrases are pretty commonplace on metafilter, and have been for a while. 'Derailing' especially is hardly a Tumblr-true-believer type thing, and indeed all of them are commonly used by the mods here and firmly part of mefi culture, far as I can tell.
posted by Dysk at 7:31 AM on September 8, 2013


One of the problems I have with tone arguments made against people who are advocating (perhaps strenuously, perhaps using bad language) for ending some form of oppression is that those who make the tone arguments are basically saying, "Sell it to me."

It comes off as ignoring the very real power dynamics and social hierarchies the conversation is happening within (by needing to be "convinced" in the first place, many people are actively ignoring that structural power imbalances exist), and expecting a person who is experiencing stigma or oppression to "sell" them on the idea that they deserve equal rights, or equal respect, with nice language or by pointing out how it would be to their advantage, as a relatively privileged person, to treat others with respect.

By essentially saying "Sell it to me," you're engaging the very power dynamic you are simultaneously ignoring the existence of - the person in the buyer's seat has the power in the interaction, and it's up to the "seller" to supplicate the buyer into first listening to, and then accepting, the argument that maybe we shouldn't treat people unfairly, and should take into account how people are asking to be treated.

This is a weirdly economic way to approach what is actually a moral or ethical argument: that if you believe all humans inherently have equal worth, then you should take steps to treat people with respect and fairness, and to repair damages that have been done through oppression, especially if you are on the receiving end of unearned privilege through that oppression. Basically, the real argument is "If you don't want to do or believe an unethical or immoral thing, listen to people who have experienced things you have not, and take their perspective and needs seriously." It is not "People who have less power than you are responsible for selling their viewpoints to you, which you may deign to consider if they are nice enough."

It is true that some activists choose to take on the nicer, appealing tone and approach, because they might feel it's more effective, or they might have extra energy and resources to spare in doing that work (and it is incredibly hard work, to remain appealing or even emotionally cool when someone is confronting you with morally repugnant beliefs or just ignorantly insulting beliefs) - but it is not the responsibility of EVERY person advocating for equality to take on that approach. It is an expression of privilege to demand that they do.

tl;dr - social justice is not a flea market where the most appealing salespeople successfully sell people on treating them as equal human beings. It's the moral responsibility of every person who believes in fundamental human equality to listen to people who experience oppression, even if what they say isn't always pretty or fun to hear.
posted by Ouisch at 7:45 AM on September 8, 2013 [48 favorites]


I want "this, a thousand times this" your comment over and over again, Ouisch.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:56 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...and expecting a person who is experiencing stigma or oppression to 'sell' them on the idea that they deserve equal rights, or equal respect, with nice language or by pointing out how it would be to their advantage, as a relatively privileged person, to treat others with respect."

Yeah, you really hit the nail on its head. The "if you want to get more allies..." thing really bugs the hell out of me for exactly that reason. Coming from the privileged, it's extremely (but unknowingly, usually) smug. It takes as its starting point that the argument for fairness and justice is invalid; it's saying, "I'm inclined to not take you seriously because your argument is not self-evidently true to me, so you're going to have to be nice and respectful and very, very convincing before I'll even bother to listen".

But it's not just the privileged non-allies who make this argument; privileged allies and members of the oppressed group make this argument sometimes, too. From the privileged allies, it sounds to me to be only one-step removed from the privileged non-allies' point-of-view. It's like, okay, I believe that our argument for fairness and justice is correct, but it's so alien and counter-intuitive to most people that I take for granted the fact that we have to bend over backward in indulging the sensibilities of the privileged in order to be heard.

And from members of the oppressed group, it sounds to me like a continuation of engaging with the privileged on their terms, which the oppressed have been so habituated to that they instinctively start from that perspective.

Now, emphatically, in almost no respects am I member of an oppressed group — maybe being disabled, but that's it — so I don't know that this is the case and I recognize that it's presumptuous of me to suspect it. But I do know, far too well, what it means to live within a power dynamic where you're trained from birth to take as a given, the fundamental principle, the idea that there's nothing more important than to be extremely careful, extremely tactful, extremely mindful of every way in which the interaction might go wrong, when you want Dad to listen to you and take you seriously. And even then, you're likely to be dismissed and ridiculed. Yeah, I grew up in that environment and I know very well the instinct to bend over backwards to present your perspective in the most appealing manner possible to someone with far more power than you have.

And what it took me many years to learn is that what I thought of as being pragmatic and a necessary concession to the realities of my own self-interest in an unfair situation was basically what I'd been trained to accept, that this relationship was going to forever be on his very unfair, hurtful terms and that my refusing to recognize this was just stupid of me because he wasn't going to change. I mean, he actually said things like that to his family. And the funny thing is ... when I finally woke up and realized this was bullshit and refused to engage within the context of his deeply unfair, self-serving conventions and expectations, not only did I begin to feel a lot better about myself and my situation within that relationship, but I also discovered that he'd been lying to me: he did change his expectations and behavior, because he had no choice. Obviously, this won't always be the case with other individual people who are abusive or unjust and it won't always be the case with regard to privileged classes and members of privileged classes in society — they'll utilize their power to enforce the status quo and punish nonconformers, whenever possible. Even so, it's a price worth paying, to resist this and to suffer through their retribution, because the fundamental bottom line is that the status quo is unjust and hurtful and resisting it is the single most important thing one can do, not accommodating it in the name of being pragmatic. In each specific situation, being pragmatic in this way can be a good choice. As a general strategy, it's a lie, it's a way to remain in an unjust and hurtful situation.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:11 AM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


That is to say, almost all environments, both discursive and practical, are so heavily biased against oppressed classes and in favor of privileged classes, that just creating a space where the oppressed can make their case and feel comfortable doing so, without feelings bullied or ridiculed, is so hugely difficult that the problem of disruptive, angry rhetoric is a very distant second. It's just not relevant until this more pervasive and insidious barrier is removed.

I want to be sure I didn't read this out of context... are you including MetaFilter in "almost all environments"? (And are you engaged in "creating a space [...]" here?)
posted by amorphatist at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2013


Yes. And if I or anyone else is "creating a space" here in some sense, is that a problem?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:42 AM on September 8, 2013


Yes. And if I or anyone else is "creating a space" here in some sense, is that a problem?

I believe it is, if I'm understanding "creating a space" correctly. This is a general-discussion website, with a reasonably diverse membership. We don't have subspaces (a la subreddits), where membership/moderation/language is tightly managed to adhere to the expectations of the founding members of that space, and I believe many mefites would not be pleased to discover that metafilter as a whole had become a "space" in that sense, no matter how righteous the intent of the space-creators.
posted by amorphatist at 9:13 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


We don't have subspaces (a la subreddits), where membership/moderation/language is tightly managed to adhere to the expectations of the founding members of that space, and I believe many mefites would not be pleased to discover that metafilter as a whole had become a "space" in that sense, no matter how righteous the intent of the space-creators.

MetaFilter has always been a "space" that is "tightly managed to adhere to the expectations of the founding members of that space," inasmuch as those founding members have decided that, say, self-links and threats and verbal abuse will not be tolerated. There is certainly room for discussion of whether A Particular Thing really is one of those things, but you shouldn't pretend that MeFi was ever an unregulated free-for-all.
posted by Etrigan at 9:16 AM on September 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think it would be really nice to have gender threads where nobody talked about Tumblr shit that doesn't happen here and nobody used the loaded term "social justice warrior"

You know, I don't even use that term, but what you're asking for with that is that no one use loaded terms against your tribe. Because god knows people use loaded terms all the times here, like "wingnut" or "gun nut" or "glibertarian" or "fundie" and everyone seems to be just fine with that.
posted by corb at 9:28 AM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


but you shouldn't pretend that MeFi was ever an unregulated free-for-all.

I never pretended anything of the sort. What I was trying to get across is that mefi doesn't have subspaces a la subreddits where tighter restrictions (conforming to an identity group's expectations) apply, and that I believe that many mefites would be unpleased if one day they discovered that mefi as a whole now had tighter restrictions in place (conforming to an identity group's expectations), no matter how virtuous those restrictions might be to some. But I just totally paraphrased myself.
posted by amorphatist at 9:28 AM on September 8, 2013


You know, I don't even use that term, but what you're asking for with that is that no one use loaded terms against your tribe. Because god knows people use loaded terms all the times here, like "wingnut" or "gun nut" or "glibertarian" or "fundie" and everyone seems to be just fine with that.

I'm not fine with it. I try to speak up when I see it. It's poison to discourse.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:32 AM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


What you call "conforming to an identity group's expectations" I call "an inclusive, non-hostile environment".

Basically, what you're arguing is that enforced standards here against certain sexist comments or against people refusing to use the appropriate pronouns for trans folk is "conforming to an identity group's expectations". But those are actually moderator enforced rules here and, more generally, the community ethos has always been far less racist and friendly to POC than the rest of the web, and has evolved to be far less sexist and far more friendly to women, far less homophobic and friendly to LGB folk, and is presently evolving toward being far less transphobic and far more friendly to trans folk.

So, you know, MeFi is not the same sort of place as the wider web which does, in fact, reflect the norms and standards that are associated with a particular "identity group", that of the straight, white, cisgendered male. You seem to consider that the "normal", non-special interest kind of community. You're mistaken about that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:37 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


By assuming that "general interest" spaces shouldn't be asked to provide reasonable accommodations so that people of diverse identities and experiences can participate in...not perfect safety or comfort, but with at least enough of a solid foundation not to be actively driven away from the place by ignorance, you are being exclusionary.

It is another expression of the power imbalances at work that a "general interest" place is assumed, by default, not to be a space for oppressed or stigmatized people who might also want to participate without having to defend (very, very politely) their basic status as humans at every turn.
posted by Ouisch at 9:37 AM on September 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


As a data point from an old person, "derail" has been a standard piece of message board terminology since well before Tumblr existed, with no social justice connotations whatsoever.

(PS Corb - for reference, a TLD-specific search on google is site:http://foo.bar. Your search grammar is pulling in vastly more hits that are not Metafilter than hits that are.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:46 AM on September 8, 2013


Because god knows people use loaded terms all the times here, like "wingnut" or "gun nut" or "glibertarian" or "fundie" and everyone seems to be just fine with that.

Everyone is not just fine with that. It is, however, not something we moderate against if it doesn't come paired with attacks against specific users. As far as setting expectations, that's what you should expect or you should--not in this thread--make a case for things going otherwise.

We've discussed extensively the difference in what we expect in these directions and draw a distinction between chosen and non-chosen identifiers which I've outlined many times before in MetaTalk. I'd love to not have to rehash this here unless it's demonstratedly on-topic and not "I don't like it when people make fun of Libertarians" which is becoming a constant MeTa derail without a MeTa of its own.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:52 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shit! Thanks rosf. I still get 960 on fundie, 565 on gun nut, 2980 on wingnut, and 35 on glibertarian, which apparently is used less but I included because I always notice it and it irritates the shit out of me. We have 8 on social justice warrior, but that may be because I wasn't including AskMe or MetaTalk.
posted by corb at 9:53 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


restless_nomad: "I'm pretty sure that's a typo for "content.""

Then if I might ask, what is the distinction between a restriction on tone vs. a restriction on content?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:55 AM on September 8, 2013


Tone is "We'll delete your comment if you're sounding angry" (which we mostly don't) Content is "We'll delete your comment if you say kike or cunt" (which we usually do). Sorry about the typo above.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2013


Also, didn't preview to notice Jessamyn:

I wasn't actually talking about the moderation re libertarians but rather the expectations of other users around out-group descriptors. There seems to be an argument being made that "social justice warrior" or "Tumbler blah" shouldn't be usable as an out-group reference, but I'm pointing out that this is specific only to those terms that some people think shouldn't be insults, because they are noble and right and good.

Also I am unlikely to make a MeTa for just "how people treat libertarians" because that is actually not my problem. My problem is the dismissive and poisonous language people use for any group or tribe they disagree with politically, which tends to be more conservative than not.
posted by corb at 9:58 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]



Then if I might ask, what is the distinction between a restriction on tone vs. a restriction on content?


No more guitar solos like that.

What don't you like about it? The notes I was playing.

Nah, the notes were fine. It's that bloody setting on your distortion pedal. It dominates everything else in the mix.
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on September 8, 2013


I found this a useful example of SJW gone wrong from the Urban Dictionary

#1:

A social justice warrior reads an essay about a form of internal misogyny where women and girls insult stereotypical feminine activities and characteristics in order to boost themselves over other women.

The SJW absorbs this and later complains in response to a Huffington Post article about a 10-year-old feminist's letter, because the 10-year-old called the color pink "prissy".

#2:

Commnter: "I don't like getting manicures. It's too prissy."

SJW: "Oh my god, how fucking dare you use that word, you disgusting sexist piece of shit!"


I don't see much of this going on at Metafilter. Whatever may be going horribly wrong in the name of SJW, it's far more subtle.

I'm also pleased to see (via link at the bottom of that page) that I can buy SJW mugs and t-shirts; this is progress, if not justice
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There seems to be an argument being made that "social justice warrior" or "Tumbler blah" shouldn't be usable as an out-group reference, but I'm pointing out that this is specific only to those terms that some people think shouldn't be insults, because they are noble and right and good.

But that's not true - I mean, to be exact, no one of the several parts of that assertion is true.

The part about "social justice warror"and "tumblr blah" not being usable as an out-group reference is not true - nobody is asking for a ban on those terms. They are merely pointing out that they are out-group terms - terms that signpost that the person using them is trading in tired cliches - essentially, that they have let someone else do their thinking for them. The further argument - that "social justice warrior" is an internal tribal signifier - is simply not factually correct, so can be discarded fairly easily.

And then the part about "this is specific only to those terms that some people think shouldn't be insults, because they are noble and right and good" is also not true. There are people in this thread specifically saying that they do not support the use of such dismissive terms for their political opponents.

And in moderation terms it's pretty much a wash, because neither "social justice warrior" nor "glibertarian" is going to be moderated.

So, it seems that pretty much the same protections are being extended in either direction - say what you feel you need to say, but people may call you on it, and if your justifications for saying it are idiotic/ hateful/ dishonest/ cribbed from r/mensrights, that's going to affect how you are treated by other people. And, if in the process of that argument you move to direct personal abuse or other behaviors which _are_ modworthy, then that will lead to moderation.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:18 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


What you call "conforming to an identity group's expectations" I call "an inclusive, non-hostile environment".

Basically, what you're arguing is that enforced standards here against certain sexist comments or against people refusing to use the appropriate pronouns for trans folk is "conforming to an identity group's expectations". But those are actually moderator enforced rules here [...]


And I agree with those moderator-enforced rules (insomuch as I'm claiming to understand them correctly; is there an actual list?). But in the case of the "social justice" identity group, the expectations seem to extend far beyond those, at least from some mefites that seem to identify that group. To pick just two of (what I perceive to be) those additional expectations:

- Criticism of hyperbole/exaggeration from an underprivileged/marginalized person is frowned upon ("denying their lived experience, etc")
- Special pleading that underprivileged/marginalized groups should be able use harsh language, pejorative group identifiers etc. towards those they consider to be more privileged

I think where some of the resistance to pushing the discourse expectations of the "social justice" identity group comes from is that some mefites have witnessed (or heard fables of) community meltdowns due to continually ratcheted policing of discourse expectations. Maybe not a great analogy, but like with the security state / war-on-drugs/crime etc where politicians continually attempt to out-do each other to appear tough on crime, there may be a suspicion that the discourse policing on mefi (by SJ mefites, not necessarily mods) will also continue to ratchet, until mefi becomes an SJ "safe space". There are already many (and I'm sure excellent) "safe space" SJ communities out there for engaging in that level of policed discourse, and I'm glad that MeFi is a place where discussion is freer, if potentially more capable of being offensive to some.
posted by amorphatist at 10:41 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


- Criticism of hyperbole/exaggeration from an underprivileged/marginalized person is frowned upon ("denying their lived experience, etc")

Equating people describing their own experiences with hyperbole/exaggeration is one of the things that got us to this MeTa in the first place.

And I'm having a little trouble seeing the apocalypse you are imagining. Do you think MetaFilter would would be a worse place if people thought twice before making transphobic comments?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


By assuming that "general interest" spaces shouldn't be asked to provide reasonable accommodations so that people of diverse identities and experiences can participate in...not perfect safety or comfort, but with at least enough of a solid foundation not to be actively driven away from the place by ignorance, you are being exclusionary.

Is there a resource you can point me at, that has an explicit, comprehensive list of these "reasonable accommodations" (preferable with examples of what is or is not considered acceptable) that you would like the MeFi community to adopt? Perhaps the (perceived?) vagueness of the request for "reasonable accommodations" is part of the issue here, and I'd like to understand exactly what it is that is being proposed.
posted by amorphatist at 11:04 AM on September 8, 2013


Equating people describing their own experiences with hyperbole/exaggeration is one of the things that got us to this MeTa in the first place.

Well, there's this: This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech.

I, and many other mefites apparently, consider that to be hyperbole.

Do you think MetaFilter would would be a worse place if people thought twice before making transphobic comments?

Is there a precise term for this sort of insinuating disingenuous insult? Couldn't help getting a dig in, could you?
posted by amorphatist at 11:08 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, there's this: This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech

You understand that this was not said on, or by any member of, MetaFilter, yes?
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:12 AM on September 8, 2013


There's a certain degree of irony in replying to somebody's calm and lucid remark about hyperbole by characterizing it as heralding an apocalypse.
posted by cribcage at 11:15 AM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Analogizing moderation on MeFi to a security state / the War on Drugs is not exactly a calm and lucid remark, IMO.
posted by Lexica at 11:16 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's being requested of you is to examine how "normal" (cis) gender people go through life in a manner that allows them to unknowingly marginalized "different" (trans) gender people.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:18 AM on September 8, 2013


Well, there's this: This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech

You understand that this was not said on, or by any member of, MetaFilter, yes?


It was the lead-in text in the post -- that's at the very least a little bit of endorsement by the OP.
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Analogizing moderation on MeFi to a security state / the War on Drugs is not exactly a calm and lucid remark

The analogy was explicitly qualified with, "Maybe not a great analogy..." Somebody is trying to make a point, finds an analogy that doesn't quite fit perfectly but can't put his/her finger on another, and so apologetically uses the flawed analogy anyway and hopes we'll read charitably. This happens in life. Not everybody is flawlessly articulate every moment of the day. I'm happy to oblige. Okay, it's a flawed analogy, but maybe I can nonetheless try to understand what he/she is trying to say.

This is a tiny example, yet it seems to me very much the point of this whole discussion.
posted by cribcage at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2013


You think, Etrigan? I'd say that if we assume that whatever is quoted by an OP in an FPP represents a sincere evocation of their beliefs, rather than, e.g. the most quotable summary of what makes the link interesting, we're going to get bogged down very quickly.


There's a certain degree of irony in replying to somebody's calm and lucid remark about hyperbole by characterizing it as heralding an apocalypse.


qv:


I think where some of the resistance to pushing the discourse expectations of the "social justice" identity group comes from is that some mefites have witnessed (or heard fables of) community meltdowns due to continually ratcheted policing of discourse expectations.


There's a lot of hedging - "some people (unnamed) seem to want some concessions (unnamed) that other people (unnamed) may have seen (or heard tell of) causing meltdowns in other communities (unnamed, emphasis mine)" - but that sounds not unapocalyptic.

It is hard to be entirely aware of one's one cognitive biases, but if one is dealing with a topic that one finds particularly emotionally stirring, it's useful to read back over stuff to see whether it is indeed calm and lucid, or whether it merely appears to be so because it is at the same level of emotional heat, in the same direction, as one's own feelings.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:27 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You understand that this was not said on, or by any member of, MetaFilter, yes?

Yes, it was the headline of a link that was posted by a MeFite, and other MeFites who criticized it as hyperbole were criticized for doing so.

Analogizing moderation on MeFi to a security state / the War on Drugs is not exactly a calm and lucid remark, IMO.

The analogy was to the ratcheting, and I prefaced it with "Maybe not a great analogy", but if you have a less derail-inducing analogy at hand, I'm happy to substitute it.

What's being requested of you is to examine how "normal" (cis) gender people go through life in a manner that allows them to unknowingly marginalized "different" (trans) gender people.

I have given this some thought, largely thanks to the efforts of marginalized folk here on MeFi, but that doesn't mean I have all the information necessary to arrive at the same conclusions as said marginalized folk. I imagine somebody else has already performed a more thorough analysis than I have, so I'd like to see what their conclusions are, so I can better understand the differences between their perspective and mine. I don't think that was an unreasonable request on my behalf.

On preview: and so apologetically uses the flawed analogy anyway and hopes we'll read charitably.

Thanks cribcage.
posted by amorphatist at 11:27 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a precise term for this sort of insinuating disingenuous insult? Couldn't help getting a dig in, could you?

In my case, it's utter bafflement -- you seem to be very worried that MetaFilter is on a slippery slope towards -- an unwillingness to tolerate prejudice? I've been here for 4 or so years now, and I've seen no sign of mods ruthlessly enforcing points of view (as opposed to certain disruptive behaviors). I've seen an increase in people being willing to push back against a variety of prejudices, and in people traditionally left voiceless (in our current example, trans* people) feeling safe enough to describe their experience, correct misconceptions, and ask for honest and dignified treatment, but I think that improves the place.

I suppose it's possible that I utterly misread your comment, however.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:28 AM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


you seem to be very worried that MetaFilter is on a slippery slope towards -- an unwillingness to tolerate prejudice?

More a slippery slope towards labeling as intolerant/prejudiced/bigoted speech that does not adhere to what I perceive as certain SJ expectations, e.g. the item I gave above:

- Criticism of hyperbole/exaggeration from an underprivileged/marginalized person is frowned upon ("denying their lived experience, etc")

exemplified by:

This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech.

Now, I may well be incorrect that this is a common SJ expectation, which is why I requested a link to a resource that enumerated these, so I can better understand what really, concretely, is being asked here.
posted by amorphatist at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2013


cribcage: "The analogy was explicitly qualified with, "Maybe not a great analogy..." Somebody is trying to make a point, finds an analogy that doesn't quite fit perfectly but can't put his/her finger on another, and so apologetically uses the flawed analogy anyway and hopes we'll read charitably."

As has been expressed in another currently-active MeTa thread, analogies — even non-flawed ones — often cause problems and so it may be helpful to avoid using them during discussions of difficult issues. Using an analogy that that the writer already knows and acknowledges is bad is almost guaranteed to drag a discussion off track and into unhelpful irrelevancies.
posted by Lexica at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


analogies — even non-flawed ones — often cause problems

That's a good point that I agree with. But it's entirely separate from, once a person has used one, deciding whether to read it charitably or not.
posted by cribcage at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2013


I am not in any way speaking for DrMew, or any other person on the site, but I have often found that Derailing for Dummies is a good resource for explaining problematic aspects of a lot of common responses to marginalized people's anger or shared experiences.
posted by jaguar at 11:42 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I believe at least one trans mefite explained why they believed labelling misnaming/misgendering as transphobic and effectively hate speech was justified, and yet claims that it is nothing but hyperbole persist.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:43 AM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do you think MetaFilter would would be a worse place if people thought twice before making transphobic comments?

Of course not.

But what exactly is a transphobic comment? An easy thing to define at the extreme edge of the scale, but eventually you're going to get to a grey area, which eventually will get people wondering if they should say something which really isn't transphobic ... except it might be, so they wonder, they pause. Which is not a bad thing per say. Never hurts to be cautious right. Except at some point it does trip up casual, comfortable conversation, lots of tip-toeing around points of imagined points of possible friction, hurt. Which again is not a bad thing ... unless it kills or neuters a conversation that might have actually been going somewhere useful.

And so on. This is complex ground here.
posted by philip-random at 11:43 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


You think, Etrigan? I'd say that if we assume that whatever is quoted by an OP in an FPP represents a sincere evocation of their beliefs, rather than, e.g. the most quotable summary of what makes the link interesting, we're going to get bogged down very quickly.

Or maybe -- juuust maybe -- it exists kind of in the middle of those two extremes, and OPs should be a little more careful when they're quoting deliberately inflammatory parts of articles, because that can go a long way toward setting the tone of the entire thread.
posted by Etrigan at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, I feel really wanted and respected after p-r's last comment.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Using an analogy that that the writer already knows and acknowledges is bad is almost guaranteed to drag a discussion off track and into unhelpful irrelevancies.

I apologize for using that analogy and causing that derail; I should have taken more time to come up with a better analogy or forsaken use of one in that instance.

I believe at least one trans mefite explained why they believed labelling misnaming/misgendering as transphobic and effectively hate speech was justified, and yet claims that it is nothing but hyperbole persist.

Link? I'd like to read that again. And even if at least one trans mefite believes that to be the case, that doesn't mean we're all going to agree that the term "hate speech" was appropriate. The author of that wiki / hate-speech piece obviously believes it to be the case, and wrote a long article, which did not convincingly make that case at all, IMO.
posted by amorphatist at 11:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm on mobile so I'm afraid I can't link it. I can explain it myself properly when I'm not on a bloody touch screen keyboard. But suffice it to say that just because a bunch of editors following arcane rules came to the conclusion to not respect her name doesn't make the end result any less transphobic.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2013


I did say "leap to the conclusion" about the link between SJ language and the Tumblr hardcore SJ types. Not everyone who uses the words I mentioned is as vigilant as the Tumblr people in patrolling for examples of problematic privileged tone arguments.

I've seen "de-railing" used exclusively by SJ types, sometimes accompanied by a link to Derailing for Dummies (on preview: bingo!). I'm prepared to believe it's not specific to SJ, though.

I agree that introducing an argument about tone into an argument about substance is a diversion, but if the argument has become about how best to persuade people, talking about tone is not derailing. I think if the FP is "look at this debate that's happening", it doesn't seem to be off topic to talk about how the debate is conducted as well as what it's about.

Ivan writes:
But there's substantial overlap between the two groups and, more to the point, the essential motivation for the former position is their unexamined privilege that is is part-and-parcel what's overtly expressed by the latter group.

I'm not sure how you know how substantial that overlap is here on Mefi. I'd hope that people who just plain don't like gay people etc. will find the environment so uncomfortable that they'd soon go somewhere else or just not participate in threads where they know they're out of step with the site culture. I don't understand what the second part of your sentence means.

The privileged have jargon and a shared belief system that they impose on everyone else and believe that such an environment is the normal, "shared culture", un-alienating one.

This sounds very unlikely to me. I'm pretty near the top of the privilege pyramid (just need a bit more money) and I don't find that there's a monoculture common to people like me. Maybe that's a "fish have no word for water" thing. I think I'm part of subcultures which do have jargon and shared beliefs (atheism, for example) but I don't think those are imposed by people of my race, sexual orientation and so on.

I don't intend to make a slippery slope argument here (which means that saying "further along the road" was bad and I should have said "further along the scale" or something which didn't imply acceleration): I'm not saying that I worry Mefi will slide into Tumblr if any changes are made (that part of my comment was talking about why people identify SJ language with Tumblr). I'm saying that I pretty much like where it's at now. I think the fact that it wordy and largely civil means that you will actually see people becoming aware of things they don't know and even changing their minds here, if they're wordy types already.
posted by pw201 at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd also like to make the point that issues of transphobia and hate speech can be extremely painful ones to discuss given the impact they have on our lives, and I would invite cis members of the site to give a bit of leeway when a trans commenter labels something that way. He or she may not feel up to digging into personal experience to explain just why, and a little faith that we can spot it when it happens would go a long way towards would help.

If I had a penny for every time I've described something I know to be true from my own experiences only to immediately have a cis person tell me I must be mistaken, I'd be eating a very large chocolate bar right now.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:01 PM on September 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Ugh, tiny mobile screens. Imagine I used the edit window to fix that comment.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2013


But what exactly is a transphobic comment? An easy thing to define at the extreme edge of the scale, but eventually you're going to get to a grey area, which eventually will get people wondering if they should say something which really isn't transphobic ... except it might be, so they wonder, they pause. Which is not a bad thing per say. Never hurts to be cautious right. Except at some point it does trip up casual, comfortable conversation, lots of tip-toeing around points of imagined points of possible friction, hurt. Which again is not a bad thing ... unless it kills or neuters a conversation that might have actually been going somewhere useful.

I will be the first to admit that I am an imperfect ally of trans* people. I have a lot to learn; I make mistakes. I apologize and try to do better. But I am pretty sure that the first step towards not making transphobic comments is seeing trans* people as people, listening to what they have to say and how they refer to themselves, and take all that into account when I am talking to/about them. I delete a lot of my comments unposted, in threads about trans* issues and elsewhere, because I am not sure if I am expressing myself correctly and clearly or not, and I would usually rather go silent for a bit than comment in haste and muddy the conversation. I find that, if my insight is really good,I will find a way to bring it in later, at a time when I am more confident. I don't feel silenced because I don't make every comment I imagine....

Of course, I also screw up and post in haste sometimes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:10 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I believe at least one trans mefite explained why they believed labelling misnaming/misgendering as transphobic and effectively hate speech was justified, and yet claims that it is nothing but hyperbole persist.

So, this is something that might be useful to reflect on, because we addressed essentially this question upthread, and a mod explained where the mods were on this - here. We know where we are on misgendering on MetaFilter, because r_n has told us. Amorphatist can be as convinced or as unconvinced about this as he/she wants to be, but if somebody on MetaFilter misgenders a trans person, that's something that can be flagged, and will be looked at and responded to.

Which is where the stuff about community meltdowns basically hits the buffers. The enforceable norms of MetaFilter behavior are set and enforced by about half a dozen people. What people who are not one of those half a dozen people believe is interesting, obviously, but it isn't going to be enforced unless a plurality of those people are convinced that it should be.

So, amorphatist can say that s/he didn't think that Phillip Sandifer made the case for Wikipedia's editorial activities being transphobic, and that's totally fine. Other people can disagree, and that's totally fine. But if the problem you're having, amorphatist, is genuinely:

Yes, it was the headline of a link that was posted by a MeFite, and other MeFites who criticized it as hyperbole were criticized for doing so.

Then I kind of don't know what can be said or done to help with that, because that's pretty much how the system is set up to operate. Somebody linked to something. Some people expressed an opinion about it. Other people disagreed with them. That's how MetaFilter works -it is wholly within tolerances.

If you want a guarantee that nobody will in future be criticized for the opinions they express, then realistically that is not a guarantee that can be given - to either of the groups in your model. Neither of these groups are doing anything intrinsically wrong, in terms of the function of the site.

If there's a particular behavior within the criticism that you think is beyond the Pale - if, for example, someone is calling someone else a Nazi, or a bitch, or indeed deliberately misgendering them - then that's something the moderators can be asked about. But the existence and voicing of criticism is not a precursor of community meltdown - it's evidence of community existence.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:12 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not in any way speaking for DrMew, or any other person on the site, but I have often found that Derailing for Dummies is a good resource for explaining problematic aspects of a lot of common responses to marginalized people's anger or shared experiences.

Thanks for providing the link, I'll check it out.
posted by amorphatist at 12:18 PM on September 8, 2013

Well, there's this: This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech
You understand that this was not said on, or by any member of, MetaFilter, yes?
I'll say it. It's true. It might be hyperbolic to say that Wikipedia, as a website/institution, embraced transphobia and hate speech, because no, that's silly. But that's also not what the article was about. It was about how transphobia and hate speech were behind the fight to rename the Chelsea Manning article using the wrong pronouns. And that's absolutely, demonstrably true: the talk page is filled with many, many overt instances of transphobia and hate speech. I think the issue some have is that they only ever encounter or view the phrases "transphobia" and "hate speech" as charges, so there's always going to be a knee-jerk reaction against that. But they're descriptors for things actual people actually say that inherently diminish, insult, threaten or deny the existence of trans people. Which is what the Wikipedia thing really fundamentally boiled down to.

So, yeah. Calling that descriptor hyperbole is sort of exactly what this thread is about: it's dismissing the entire subject and those involved by not bothering to listen, read or understand because the poster has made a wrong assumption right out of the door and decided to stick to it.
posted by byanyothername at 12:23 PM on September 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


So, amorphatist can say that s/he didn't think that Phillip Sandifer made the case for Wikipedia's editorial activities being transphobic, and that's totally fine.

You're mischaracterizing me. I absolutely believe that trans people could perceive the debacle as being the result of transphobia. I objected to Sandifer characterizing the situation as [Wiki has come ] to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech., where I specifically called out the hate speech element.

If you want a guarantee that nobody will in future be criticized for the opinions they express, then realistically that is not a guarantee that can be given - to either of the groups in your model.

That is basically the opposite of my position.
posted by amorphatist at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


>The privileged have jargon and a shared belief system that they impose on everyone else and believe that such an environment is the normal, "shared culture", un-alienating one.

This sounds very unlikely to me. I'm pretty near the top of the privilege pyramid (just need a bit more money) and I don't find that there's a monoculture common to people like me.


That's because you are embedded in it, so you see the small differences, not the similarities. I mean, I am pretty high up on many privilege scales, but you only have to read a few FPPS on race, gender, or (yes) trans* issues to get an idea of how entrenched that jargon and those beliefs are. To take an extremely close example, look at the pushback that "cis-" gets. People (mosty white, male, cisgendered people, from what I can tell, but it's hardly limited) go crazy over what is a pretty neutral term. It's not remotely derogatory; it's descriptive; it's not even cumbersome. No one is insisting that "cisgender" be used all the time, even, only when we are making distinctions between trans- and cis- gendered people. Because the privileged jargon in this case is that cisgender needs no marker at all. It's just "normal." The shared belief system that is linked to is that everyone is either male or female, man or woman, that that binary status (and it's barely a status at all, it's so ingrained) is determined during gestation, and that it's fixed and immutable from that point onward. Any deviation from that belief system is pathologize to at least some degree, and, often, met with hate, dismissal, ridicule, and violence. And I get that it's not the easiest thing to get your head around. I have known a variety of trans* people at varying degrees of closeness for the better part of two decades, and I still have to check myself a lot because that shared belief system that gender is binary (leaving out all the issues of gender identity vs gender expression vs biological sex vs sexual orientation that complicate the issue) is that powerful and all-pervading.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


This ever-more-common mention of social justice on tumblr as a stand-in for whatever someone wants to present as excessive, unproductive, angry, circular-firing-squad insanity — in other words, a handy example when making a version of a tone argument in order to invalidate someone's position — is pernicious and needs to be curtailed. I don't doubt that there are excesses on the social justice portions of tumblr, but as per the discussion above, there are such excesses everywhere.

Hey Ivan,

Most of the time, when you tell someone, "this is something that happens" and they don't believe you that it happens, you don't have a handy example in written form to show someone. I don't have video of any of the time I've been street harassed or the several times I felt like I was a heartbeat away from being raped or shot. My boss who sexually harassed me when I was 23 didn't keep a blog about it.

When someone disbelieves you, most of the time, there is no concrete example of the behavior that you can offer. That was (it seemed to me) what nooneyouknow was trying to do by linking tumblr.

So now we're hearing tumblr isn't good enough/doesn't count as an example of a behavior happening, or you are trying to oppresively silence people by showing examples of behavior there -- fine.

But I will say this. People who post on tumblr don't just exist on tumblr. They're not little elves who only exist in the computer. They, many of them, are college-aged adults who go to meetings and protests, both of groups they agree with and groups they don't. They put forth their beliefs in real life. They argue in real life, with real people, get angry in real life, with real people. They go on to graduate school and lead TA sections of student they teach. Regardless of whether you agree with them or don't agree with them or think what they do on tumblr is good bad or neutral, they do it in real life to real people too.
posted by cairdeas at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I agree that introducing an argument about tone into an argument about substance is a diversion, but if the argument has become about how best to persuade people, talking about tone is not derailing.

But the argument about how best to persuade people is the derail. It shifts the focus of the subject from the actual complaint to its presentation. The presentation has no bearing on the substance of the complaint, but the tone argument assumes that considering the factuality of a complaint is based on a kind of conditional listening. That you don't have an obligation to listen to the disadvantaged if their presentation rattles you. It's an assumption that actively works against listening, and persuasion.

The way I see it, the world people are most familiar with is the one they live in. But we have other people living around us, experiencing life much differently than we are, often times based on their gender, race and sexuality. I don't know what it is to live in a lot of these worlds. But I do feel obliged to listen to what people living in these worlds have to say, regardless of how they say it.

One of the most soul-changing experiences of my life was becoming an immigrant. That was a crash course in hierarchies. I got to experience laws that limited my financial and legal status, assumptions about my patriotism, levels of contribution to society, ability to fit in, my intelligence and freedom of movement, based entirely on being an immigrant. And even then, I saw I was still in a position of great privilege - my occasional encounters with casual prejudice were nothing compared to what Asian, African and Middle Eastern immigrants were experiencing. Sometimes, the pushback against oppression wasn't pretty to hear or look at. But that didn't matter, because it didn't change the veracity of their grievances.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:02 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I objected to Sandifer characterizing the situation as [Wiki has come ] to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech., where I specifically called out the hate speech element.

Right. You said, if I may gloss in the interests of brevity, that you thought it was hyperbolic of Sandifer to liken deliberate misgendering a trans person to using racial or sexual slurs. That was what I would assume was meant by "deep breaths" - that he should take deep breaths as a metonym for the process of calming down.

So, to go back to the start, the FPP was made. There were some one-line dismissals of the content of the link right out of the gate, one of which mentioned hyperbole. You may be talking about these - I don't think you've specified. However, you have suggested (above) that yours is one of the posts that you feel was criticized-for-criticizing, and that this is a problem:

other MeFites who criticized it as hyperbole were criticized for doing so.

So, when you say:

That is basically the opposite of my position.

It would be useful for me, I think, if you explained at this point what your position actually was.

Here is my understanding of what happened: Somebody posted a link. You said a thing about the link's contents. Other people said things about the thing you said. You then had the option of saying things to them, and so on. There may be other things I do not know - e.g. there may be a deleted post of yours, or another post you feel is particularly relevant.

Based on that however, I guess my question is this: What is the problem you think this interaction is exemplifying, and what is the response you would like to see from the members and moderators of MetaFilter to resolve it?
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:05 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, you have suggested (above) that yours is one of the posts that you feel was criticized-for-criticizing

Thanks for the detailed response. I'll get to answering the main request of your comment, but I'm not sure what you're referring to with the suggested (above) that yours ... can you point out which (above) you're referring to?
posted by amorphatist at 1:25 PM on September 8, 2013


And also:

What is the problem you think this interaction is exemplifying

By this interaction, do you mean the FPP, this MeTa in general, or some specific interaction within this MeTa?
posted by amorphatist at 1:26 PM on September 8, 2013


It shifts the focus of the subject from the actual complaint to its presentation.

I think that part of the problem is that for some people, that is a feature, not a bug. For some people, the presentation is what they want to talk about, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has different things they want to talk about, and maybe that's okay. No one is required to respond to someone talking about presentation, but I don't think they should be shamed into not talking about it.
posted by corb at 1:29 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know how many different ways I need to say this, but in terms of doing damage to people and society, Tumblr strawmen are infinitely less powerful than the people taking aim at Tumblr strawmen (even if the Tumblr strawmen "exist in real life"). Why why why why why do people always gravitate to complaining about the irrelevant extremes instead of listening to the relevant ongoing discourse? I sincerely do not understand this. Stop it stop it stop it. I'd vastly prefer a hundred (completely imaginary) "social justice warrior" TAs to one "social justice warriors are the serious problem with society" person. Jesus.

And also maybe stop saying that you're cis and you don't see any transphobia anywhere (until someone is getting beaten to death) so you don't know what we're all going on about with nitpicking Chelsea's pronouns and their associated timeline. We know you don't see that shit. There are possibly legitimate times to challenge trans people's perceptions of transphobia, but every single time we point out transphobia cannot be one of those times. If you find us consistently shrill, maybe you should recalibrate your transphobia meter rather than assuming that our own (innate and constantly tested) meters are terrible and we desperately need cis guidance to understand our own experiences. We don't.

The (a) problem is people not seeing how obviously blind they are, like this:

pw201: "I'm pretty near the top of the privilege pyramid (just need a bit more money) and I don't find that there's a monoculture common to people like me. Maybe that's a "fish have no word for water" thing. I think I'm part of subcultures which do have jargon and shared beliefs (atheism, for example) but I don't think those are imposed by people of my race, sexual orientation and so on.

...

I'm saying that I pretty much like where it's at now.
"

Do we need a cissplain MeTa, or is that too Tumblresque?
posted by Corinth at 1:30 PM on September 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


corb, it becomes necessarily a bad thing when it happens every time. It may not be actionable but that doesn't make it not suck.
posted by Corinth at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


"But I will say this. People who post on tumblr don't just exist on tumblr. They're not little elves who only exist in the computer. They, many of them, are college-aged adults who go to meetings and protests, both of groups they agree with and groups they don't. They put forth their beliefs in real life. They argue in real life, with real people, get angry in real life, with real people. They go on to graduate school and lead TA sections of student they teach. Regardless of whether you agree with them or don't agree with them or think what they do on tumblr is good bad or neutral, they do it in real life to real people too."

So? Why do this matter? Why do we need to talk about them when we're talking about how people act here? Back in the 90s, I saw actual examples of really absurd political correctness. That didn't invalidate women's studies programs and whatever else people hoped to accomplish by always harping on the extreme examples of PCism. The social justice extremes on tumblr don't invalidate less extreme social justice positions here and elsewhere and there's no damn reason to be talking about them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, what Corinth just wrote:

"I don't know how many different ways I need to say this, but in terms of doing damage to people and society, Tumblr strawmen are infinitely less powerful than the people taking aim at Tumblr strawmen (even if the Tumblr strawmen 'exist in real life'). Why why why why why do people always gravitate to complaining about the irrelevant extremes instead of listening to the relevant ongoing discourse? I sincerely do not understand this. Stop it stop it stop it. I'd vastly prefer a hundred (completely imaginary) 'social justice warrior' TAs to one 'social justice warriors are the serious problem with society' person. Jesus."

This. A thousand times this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:35 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


>It shifts the focus of the subject from the actual complaint to its presentation.

I think that part of the problem is that for some people, that is a feature, not a bug. For some people, the presentation is what they want to talk about, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has different things they want to talk about, and maybe that's okay. No one is required to respond to someone talking about presentation, but I don't think they should be shamed into not talking about it.


Except that this is a time-worn tactic for getting out of discussing the subject that the discussion is about, which makes it pretty suspect. It's similar to the rules-lawyering and vocabulary nit-picking as ways to drag the topic off course. I think it can be done innocently, but often enough it's not innocent so much as plausibly deniable.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:36 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


That didn't invalidate women's studies programs and whatever else people hoped to accomplish

No, but it did undermine their effectiveness, as it gave anti-feminists a caricaturing tool ("feminazis are extermists and they hate jesus, babies and america") which alas still has some currency amongst chunks of the population.
posted by amorphatist at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your enemies will always take the most extreme wing of your movement, or the most extreme group that plausibly or even implausibly can be claimed to represent your movement, and attempt to use it to discredit you. In the event that they can't find one, they will make one up.

It's a nonsense argument.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


By this interaction, do you mean the FPP, this MeTa in general, or some specific interaction within this MeTa?

Specifically, I mean the interaction covered by your statement:

Yes, it was the headline of a link that was posted by a MeFite, and other MeFites who criticized it as hyperbole were criticized for doing so.

Emphasis mine - that's the bit I'm specifically looking at. Like I say, I don't know which specific MeFites you are referring to, there - as far as I know, that information has not been shared, but at least one of them seems to be you, and specifically your post here.

So, pretty much as I described it:

Somebody posted a link. You said a thing about the link's contents. Other people said things about the thing you said. You then had the option of saying things to them, and so on. There may be other things I do not know - e.g. there may be a deleted post of yours, or another post you feel is particularly relevant.

You're saying that what happened was problematic, but I'm struggling to understand where you see the problem, and by extension what you see as the solution. People responding to FPPs and other people responding to those responses is not just a feature but probably the feature of MetaFilter below the fold.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, is it just me, or has this MeTa really wandered off track? We were talking about how much calls for civility interfere with discussions of oppression on MetaFilter, but now we are arguing whether people are being excessively zealous on Tumblr, and if that is bad because it's mean to privileged people or because it puts weapons in the hands of the Man.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, is it just me, or has this MeTa really wandered off track?

Meta gonna metastasize.
posted by amorphatist at 1:42 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's relevant because references to Tumblr and "SJW" are prepackaged tone arguments that impede civil discourse.
posted by Corinth at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not really off-track because the two are quite connected. People have repeatedly invoked tumblr social justice, when they've made the tone argument, as examples proving their point.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:44 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Except that this is a time-worn tactic for getting out of discussing the subject that the discussion is about, which makes it pretty suspect. It's similar to the rules-lawyering and vocabulary nit-picking as ways to drag the topic off course. I think it can be done innocently, but often enough it's not innocent so much as plausibly deniable.

I think this is actually a really illuminative phrasing, actually - both about what upsets people about that, and also why it can be problematic in and of itself.

By saying that it's a tactic for "getting out of discussion", you seem to be implying two things: first, that other people are obligated in some way to respond to the discussion you want to have, and secondly, that it is upsetting when people "get out of" their true responsibilities.

This itself is not something that is universally agreed upon. It implies that there is one true discussion which is the only one that can be had, and other people, by virtue of them entering near the discussable item, are bound into service of discussing what you want them to - forcing other people to do what you want as the price of entry, which is not necessarily awesome. Particularly when Metafilter is supposedly a discussion site for interesting things.
posted by corb at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure it's super controversial that it's probably a better idea to talk about ideas than the words conveying the ideas? I've seen mod notes to that effect, at the very least. It certainly doesn't seem to be subjugating people like you imply - you're welcome not to participate, but it's also probably better that if you do you don't shit things up with tone arguments/rules lawyering/semantic gotchas/repetitive queries/whatever.
posted by Corinth at 1:49 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It implies that there is one true discussion which is the only one that can be had, and other people, by virtue of them entering near the discussable item, are bound into service of discussing what you want them to - forcing other people to do what you want as the price of entry, which is not necessarily awesome.

The upshot of this though is that there IS only one discussion to be had -- the one the derailers want to have. The original discussion gets smothered under yet another iteration of "have you ever bothered to consider how uncomfortable your anger makes me?"
posted by KathrynT at 1:49 PM on September 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


that other people are obligated in some way to respond to the discussion you want to have

It implies that there is one true discussion which is the only one that can be had, and other people, by virtue of them entering near the discussable item, are bound into service of discussing what you want them to


People are obligated in discussions to respond in certain ways. These obligations are understood in different ways in different theories of discourse. There's Paul Grice's maxims, Speech Act Theory, or pragma-dialectics to name a few.

These obligations do not imply that there is one true discussion. People are also free to raise new viewpoints, but in the problematic instances raised by the OP here, those new viewpoints raised also have the effect of avoiding earlier obligations.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:52 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Somebody posted a link. You said a thing about the link's contents. Other people said things about the thing you said. You then had the option of saying things to them, and so on.

Not really the order of things... I did say a thing (Sandifer is hyperbolic), but that was after other comments to that effect if I recall correctly. I didn't feel that anyone was particularly going after my comment, as it was mostly a follow-up to an earlier one.

You're saying that what happened was problematic, but I'm struggling to understand where you see the problem, and by extension what you see as the solution. People responding to FPPs and other people responding to those responses is not just a feature but probably the feature of MetaFilter below the fold.

Consider this from the MeTa post:

I think it is possible that tone arguments sometimes function as a sort of ad hominem derailing practice out on the blue. Is this something we should be discouraging?

This reads to me as ("glossing" here as you do): Tone arguments (e.g. calling out Sandifer as hyperbolic) should be discouraged when used against under privileged persons (such as Sandifer or his fellow travelers on the thread).

I've been pushing back against that notion, in significant detail above. Does that help?
posted by amorphatist at 1:55 PM on September 8, 2013


If it's allowed I'd like to change my tribal identity to "Sandifer or his fellow travelers."
posted by Corinth at 1:57 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


By saying that it's a tactic for "getting out of discussion", you seem to be implying two things: first, that other people are obligated in some way to respond to the discussion you want to have, and secondly, that it is upsetting when people "get out of" their true responsibilities.

I actually think that, on MetaFilter, there is at the very least a strong custom that the discussion should try to relate to the substance of the FPP. We call strong deviations from this "derails" after (often very bad) train accidents for a reason....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:59 PM on September 8, 2013


If it's allowed I'd like to change my tribal identity to "Sandifer or his fellow travelers."

Which one of you is Sandifer's Dark Passenger? So I can know to hide.
posted by amorphatist at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2013


> Here is my understanding of what happened: Somebody posted a link.

Sounds as mild as cottage cheese, phrased like that.

The OP dug down to Sandifer's fourth paragraph, found the most inflammatory possible pull quote,

This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech.

and used the entire quote, from initial cap to closing period, as the link's text--which of course bolds it and colors it yellow. And then made the whole thing, bolded and in yellow, visible on the front page.

Maybe it was not the OP's intention to wave a bloody shirt out on the front page where everyone would see it and go "Hey! Anybody want to fight about this, here's the alley." Maybe that was not the intention. But it sure was a great way to be certain in advance of having a fighty thread. If that really was not the intention then it was quite an oopsie.
posted by jfuller at 2:15 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Given that the title of the linked piece was "Something Rotten at the Sausage Factory: How Wikipedia Embraced Transphobia for Chelsea Manning," it's a little hard to argue convincingly that "This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech" is somehow an off-base pull-quote to serve as a summary of the article.
posted by jaguar at 2:18 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah. And. Y'know. Again, a lot of trans MeFites popped in to say that, yup, there sure is some transphobia and hate speech going on over there in Wikiland. So inflammatory or not, it's kind of accurate.
posted by byanyothername at 2:25 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


For some people, the presentation is what they want to talk about, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has different things they want to talk about, and maybe that's okay. No one is required to respond to someone talking about presentation, but I don't think they should be shamed into not talking about it.

By saying that it's a tactic for "getting out of discussion", you seem to be implying two things: first, that other people are obligated in some way to respond to the discussion you want to have, and secondly, that it is upsetting when people "get out of" their true responsibilities.


The implication is a lot simpler: if you choose to take part in a discussion about the veracity of a complaint, it's the least that's expected of you that you address the veracity of the complaint. If a person wants to come into such a discussion and tell others that their listening to the subject is dependent upon how it's presented to them, then what? Suddenly we're not talking about the subject at hand but trying to work out what forms of presentation of grievance the privileged may deem acceptable - a trip that, as far as history teaches me, is a wild goose chase. It's a responsibility to have an honest discussion on the substance of the matter. The "tone" has no bearing on that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:25 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


there sure is some transphobia and hate speech going on over there in Wikiland. So inflammatory or not, it's kind of accurate.

I do not disagree with this or the generalize assertions about how this situation at Wikipedia was shitty and awful. However, the general "If you want to have a discussion with a mixed group of people on MetaFilter it's best not to choose a provocative pullquote and put it on the front page" guideline is still worth keeping in mind. Yes, even if it's accurate. Because it means, in this case, you wind up talking about the definitions of transphobia and hate speech as part of talking about the topic of the thread. Which is not a bad thing but may not be the main point that people wanted to talk about. Or maybe it was. In any case, that's my meta-feeling about that data point on how that thread went.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:34 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd probably compare “My dad did not... seek to marry a black woman to put on display.". That's probably the most inflammatory possible pull quote from that reportage about Bloomberg and di Blasio, and yet it also seems to be an appropriate pull quote to capture why the reportage is of interest. It is kind of high-risk and stunty, but I can see the logic.

amorphatist: This reads to me as ("glossing" here as you do): Tone arguments (e.g. calling out Sandifer as hyperbolic) should be discouraged when used against under privileged persons (such as Sandifer or his fellow travelers on the thread).

I don't see any way that Phillip Sandifer is underprivileged, particularly, to be honest - although, you know, I don't know his life. But OK - I'm still having problems following your thread in practice, though. When you say.

I've been pushing back against that notion, in significant detail above. Does that help?


I'd have to confess to a degree of confusion. You have not identified any actual post that you felt was criticized - much less criticized unfairly - in the thread, as far as I can see, which I think would be a good start. I mean, maybe the ones linked to by DrMew in the first post to this thread, as a starter?

More generally, I'd say that your pushback has been kind of light on detail. I think your key statement is here - but that doesn't contain any examples of behaviors or statements demonstrating the expectations you are saying the "social justice identity group" has (freedom to frown upon criticism of hyperbole from a member of an underprivileged group, and freedom to be able to use harsh language against those they consider to be more privileged).

So, there are two things there which you are saying you think are being demanded. The first seems to me to back to the functions of MetaFilter - it's OK to frown upon things, if by that you mean "disagree with things in comments", if that disagreement is expressed in a style that falls within the guidelines. The second is unevidenced - I don't know what you're looking at, there - but I would say that generally interpersonal abuse is dealt with by the mods, and ultimately it's down to the individual to decide whether they are dealing with it according to the dictates of any particular agenda.

So, yeah. I've been trying to find out which posts in the thread - i.e. which criticisms-of-criticism - you are unhappy with, to answer the question of what, specifically, you were referring to when you said:

other MeFites who criticized it as hyperbole were criticized for doing so.

As a stepping stone to explain what was problematic about that criticism, and what you would like to see done in response to it.

Or... is the criticism-of-the-criticism what is happening here, in this thread? Because again, if so that is sort of how the system is structured: operational derails get bled off into MetaTalk to keep the FPP relatively clean.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


> is somehow an off-base pull-quote to serve as a summary of the article.

I didn't say it was off base. I said, and say, that putting it up in full in neon letters on the front page was inflammatory clickbait for a fighty thread; and, in particular, inflammatory clickbait to make sure all the usual suspects people complain about would be fully notified of the existance and nature of the thread.
posted by jfuller at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2013


Well, there's this: This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech

> You understand that this was not said on, or by any member of, MetaFilter, yes?

The OP of this MeTa cited a couple reactions to this as examples of tone arguments, so it's not exactly irrelevant to bring it up.
posted by nangar at 2:52 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd compare it to the framing of the deleted TERF FPP (associated MetaTalk) from a little while back. It's inflammatory and provocative, but also accurate.

A quick hunt through the article for a less oh-god-what quote doesn't really pull up anything short and snappy enough. You could put the whole opening paragraph on the front page which I guess would be okay but then as soon as people click through they see the article headline, so.

We use provocative pullquotes in FPPs all the time. The difference with trans stuff is, I submit, that people in general, mefites included, are more likely to discount trans people's experiences and words in favour of their own, which then ends up with, if you're going to make a trans FPP, make it as inoffensive as you possibly can. In the case of good news FPPs that's easy, but it makes it hard to talk about the bad stuff on here because the first instinct of many people seems to be to pretend the bad stuff isn't anything like as bad as it actually is, that the bad stuff -- transphobia, TERFS, whatever -- can be contextualised away as just being an overreaction to well-meaning but ignorant mistakes.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:53 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have given this some thought, largely thanks to the efforts of marginalized folk here on MeFi, but that doesn't mean I have all the information necessary to arrive at the same conclusions as said marginalized folk. I imagine somebody else has already performed a more thorough analysis than I have, so I'd like to see what their conclusions are, so I can better understand the differences between their perspective and mine. I don't think that was an unreasonable request on my behalf.

Indeed there are people who have performed a more thorough analysis of, say, the Wikipedia situation from a more involved viewpoint, and they arrived at the conclusion that Wikipedia is being actively harmful, embracing transphobia. Because quite simply, misgendering is transphobic, whatever the supposed reasoning behind it. Wikipedia is actively embracing it in that it is actively endorsing that position over the alternative - using Chelsea Manning as the page title.

But then you let us know that you - not one of the affected parties - consider that to be hyperbole.
posted by Dysk at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


People who post on tumblr don't just exist on tumblr. They're not little elves who only exist in the computer. They, many of them, are college-aged adults who go to meetings and protests, both of groups they agree with and groups they don't. They put forth their beliefs in real life. They argue in real life, with real people, get angry in real life, with real people. They go on to graduate school and lead TA sections of student they teach. Regardless of whether you agree with them or don't agree with them or think what they do on tumblr is good bad or neutral, they do it in real life to real people too.

Perhaps this was just worded poorly or something, but it really rubs me the wrong way. The people who rankle at social justice in the vein of these stereotypical Tumblr users far outnumber those actual Tumblr users and wield vastly larger amounts of power. It's kind of distressing to say "you can't call the Tumbler/social justice warriors powerless because they totally get together every once in a while and are TAs at grad schools" when the people indifferent or opposed to them run the world. Just here in the US, it took two entire years and several failed votes just to approve assistance for GLBT victims of domestic abuse. Two additional years of people suffering and dying just because Those Damn Homos and Trannies might get help. Compared to that, some people getting shouty in marches and telling 19 year-olds at a tiny portion of our higher learning institutions to do the same seems trivial, and that's just one tiny slice of it.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Thanks, OP, for bringing this topic up.

I know that I've had really epic disagreements with some moderators about the tone argument in the past. This was mainly because even if the conversation solves a lot of problems, the path to getting to that resolution sometimes veers into territory that I find deeply offensive and problematic, and deletions are rare, so what's said stands. And is an abomination unto Nuggan. (Probably a misquote from Discworld.)

And certainly my own writings and blogs have raged more than once about the inappropriateness of and rageful-makingness of tone arguments and in general I do not find them to be anything other than a silencing and bullying technique used most often in situations where the silencer is quite assured (if not entirely right) that s/he is in a majority or unaninmous-except-for-you position.

There are points to be made about that use of the tone argument and I think they may apply, still, even though this is a long thread.

I believe in another thread corb made a long comment where the idea was partly that in the armed forces in certain kinds of situations "silence is assent". Which is why I was taught and learned that speaking out, even if I cannot do it civilly, is more right than just taking it and being silent. Coupled with that in my upbringing was a strong sense that I might be the tip of the iceberg, the only person injured by the monolithic social/cultural system who for some reason (ability, fascism, police state, availability, exposure to the injury, whatever) CAN speak up and that I might represent untold tens, hundreds, thousands of silent sufferers of the same injury.

A couple years ago I might have roared onto a thread like this full of vim and vigor and spoiling for a fight. People say some righteously shitty things to each other (as well as to third parties and third party groups not heretofore present) while making arguments to each other around here. It's worse here on MetaTalk where the rules are more relaxed, or it can be.

I think since some significant changes rolled through for me in my life I've been more able to take a step back even if I feel like I'm the only one. It is devilishly hard to do, though, and can sometimes really suck. But I think it's possible for each one of us to take a step back, reassess that rage that was on the tip of our tongues and see whether there is a slightly easier way forward. Easier for other people to read and understand and more hopeful for a well-engineered bridge that we can all use to reach understanding together.

I guess in situations where a tone argument has already been used successfully against a person of minority as a derail, one thing I might stand up and write is "Hey, X is not the only one who finds this kind of thing problematic. There's me for instance." or something equally without rancor, but as flatly factual. It does have the disadvantages of making the thread for a moment all about me and it does court the possibility of feeling like I have to take on all comers (spoiler: I don't). But it sort of fulfills the basic obligation I feel to stand up and be counted without creating a bigger problem than the one I'm trying to solve.

But I don't think that here, in text, on computers we can unplug or walk away from, is where the battles will be won or lost. I think we have time here to take steps back, time to take due consideration and really respond to remarks as made to us and around us. If we just want to yell at people, we can go to 4chan. The moderators work hard to make this place a place where valuable ideas can be actually valued.

I'm not saying tone arguments don't apply. But I am saying that here, if someone pisses us off with a tone argument, we don't have to piss them off right back. We have the time and liesure to make convincing arguments without raging.

That said though, I hope that at the same time we are all mature and civil and perhaps even kind and gentle enough to give each other room when someone has clearly lost their shit, maybe a little companionable hug, pat on the back, cold water or shot of bourbon before continuing? Piling on also makes no sense, even if our opponents in discource have a spectacular pratfall. You know?
posted by kalessin at 3:09 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this was just worded poorly or something, but it really rubs me the wrong way. The people who rankle at social justice in the vein of these stereotypical Tumblr users far outnumber those actual Tumblr users and wield vastly larger amounts of power.

This sort of reframing, along with rules-lawyering, tone arguments, and all the rest are techniques for not talking about the actual problem -- they are very effective at distracting many, confusing the uninformed, and wearing down the committed. As I said upthread, they also provide a sort of plausible deniability, because they can be done innocently, and, by the time you have a pretty good idea that a person is not acting in good faith, they discussion is often ruined.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:11 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because quite simply, misgendering is transphobic, whatever the supposed reasoning behind it. Wikipedia is actively embracing it in that it is actively endorsing that position over the alternative - using Chelsea Manning as the page title.

But then you let us know that you - not one of the affected parties - consider that to be hyperbole


You too are mischaracterizing me. What I referred to as hyperbole is this sentence:

This is the story of how the fifth largest website in the world came to actively embrace transphobia and hate speech.

In particular the hate speech part. I don't consider that Wikipedia is actively embracing transphobia and hate speech, nor apparently are a significant chunk of mefites. There are certainly transphobic and hateful persons editing on Wiki, but to slur Wiki as a whole from this incident, well we have a word for that. Hyperbole.
posted by amorphatist at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


How is the output of a mechanism that, when followed faithfully by its implementers, results in something indistinguishable from hate speech, not hate speech?

Multiple trans people have said it's not hyperbole. I'm not seeing an argument for the "it's hyperbole" side more convincing then, "well, it's not."
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or, to put it another way, if I build a machine that punches trans people in the face, set it to automatic and then go off and make dinner, the first trans person to walk past it is no less punched in the face just because I didn't personally hit them.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:23 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Multiple trans people have said it's not hyperbole.

I think there are two arguments that are getting conflated here. Is the outcome of the Wikipedia discussion hate speech? And Is Wikipedia as an organization taking a stance through this process? I think it's totally possible and reasonable to answer "no" to the latter, on the grounds that Wikipedia's structure doesn't really make it fair to impute moral choices to the organization on the basis of crowdsourced processes, without answering "no" to the former. And the latter question isn't one on which trans people have any particular special standing.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:25 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Misgendering (and misnaming, by extension) are transphobic - they're actively harmful to trans people. This is hate speech. Whether motivated by hate or not, that is what it expresses. Wikipedia is actively endorsing that position by choosing to title their page on Chelsea Manning 'Bradley Manning'. Thus, Wikipedia is actively embracing hate speech and transphobia.

It's not complicated, and it's not a statement that Wikipedia endorses only hate speech, or endorses it in all circumstances (much as the sentence "John plays Drums" does not imply that John is literally always drumming, or thinks drumming is appropriate at every juncture) but simply states that Wikipedia has taken a stance that is transphobic and hateful. As indeed it has on this issue. Whatever the reason, that is what the organisation has done.
posted by Dysk at 3:26 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm just bemused that my OP about tone arguments degrading engaged discussion and being nonresponsive to the topic raised has not only resulted in tone arguments, but a series of odd excursions into MetaFilter sliding down some slippery slope into a swamp filled with wild-eyed Social Justice Warriors, where the uniqueness of privileged people's personalities is flattened by labels, and people are forced to discuss the OP instead of derailing it.

By the way, the issue of whether it is hyperbole or dangerous to one's own cause or a sign of oversensitivity to call misgendering "hate speech" has been addressed at length in the thread on Chelsea Manning. I'm one of the people who responded to these numerous tone arguments. (Apparently I was seen as one of the people with a "tone problem," I suppose for starting out with the mighty exclamation, "great cats and kittens.")

So, here's how things played out from my perspective:

FPP: "Wikipedia's misgendering of Chelsea Manning by reverting her page name to "Bradly Manning" was really transphobic!"

Tone Argument: "That's hyperbole because it's not a big deal, stop yelling."

Respondense: "Actually, here's why I experience it as a big deal."

Tone Argument: "If you keep ranting about little things, you'll lose all your allies."

Grey OP: "Tone arguments: bleh."

Thread: "Yep. . . nope. . . how do we foster good conversation. . . don't call me cis. . . Privilege 101. . . TumblrSJWOtherkinMADNESS . . . . . . . . So, you know, that OP was hyperbole and had the wrong tone."

I'm with ArmyOfKittens on this one. People use zingy pullquotes for their FPPs all the time, and when it's only certain kinds of posts, like those on trans* topics, where people are expected to be bland and walk on eggshells . . . that's kind of the tone argument problem in a nutshell.
posted by DrMew at 3:26 PM on September 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'd have to confess to a degree of confusion. You have not identified any actual post that you felt was criticized - much less criticized unfairly - in the thread, as far as I can see, which I think would be a good start. I mean, maybe the ones linked to by DrMew in the first post to this thread, as a starter?

More generally, I'd say that your pushback has been kind of light on detail. I think your key statement is here - but that doesn't contain any examples of behaviors or statements demonstrating the expectations [...]


Ivan F made this comment, which was a fairly non-specific discussion of privilege. I asked for a asked for a clarification. Then it went into a general discussion of "creating a space" here on MeFi, and how that might be good/bad. All in general terms.

but that doesn't contain any examples of behaviors or statements demonstrating the expectations

Not every thread, nor every sub-thread within is a trial. And yes, I'm sure it's a confusing sub-thread to follow, and perhaps infuriating if you're looking to join in later and can't figure where to cast your line in the hope of hooking something.
posted by amorphatist at 3:35 PM on September 8, 2013


Also let me throw my trans* hat into the ring. I am intersex and transgendered. Not respecting Chelsea Manning's identity, pronouns and other related aspects of her identity is, if not hate speech, outright rude and unacceptable to me.

If Wikipedia's extremely onerous and at times totally idiotic and also completely not immune to corruption (I am a former, possibly gruntled, Wikipedia editor) makes the whole machine of Wikipedia take approximately months or years to be able to get over themselves and do the right thing, the problem is us for giving the capital to have power while they're dicking around with process and personalities and their problem for having extremely onerous and debilitatingly slow process. I'm willing to give the organization of Wikipedia, as it is encumbered by both unworkably slow process and equally tetchy editors and administrators a pass to sort out whatever shit they have to sort out.

But if individuals within Wikipedia's power structure continue to insist on using Chelsea Manning's former name, pronoun and other related aspects to refer to her, then those people are perpetuating a certain kind of violence with their words and opinions.

And if they think that my disagreement allows them to respond rudely to me, then, well, they're wrong and I'll probably just end up ignoring them - long experience has shown me that people int hat particular headspace are vulnerable to no reasoned argument I know how to come up with.
posted by kalessin at 3:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia's structure doesn't really make it fair to impute moral choices to the organization on the basis of crowdsourced processes

I don't think anyone is calling the Wikimedia Foundation or any of the other groups behind wikipedia (except maybe the very crowds - of editors - from which they sourced their moral choices) transphobic, so much as the institution that is Wikipedia. It's made of words, after all, and those words have meanings, and whatever process is used to determine which words stay and which ones go, at the end of the day, Wikipedia says a bunch of stuff, and right now, some of that stuff is transphobic.
posted by Dysk at 3:42 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am currently in New Orleans and it *is* kind of swampy here. And there's a million other social justice warrior types at this hotel (US Conference on AIDS) so y'all better LOOK OUT.
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


so y'all better LOOK OUT

Will you please spare me in the coming purge? I, for one, welcome our new Social Justice Overlords, and I have a young kitten to support.

Oh, crap. Overpeople. No, that sound hierarchical....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:46 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's made of words, after all, and those words have meanings, and whatever process is used to determine which words stay and which ones go, at the end of the day, Wikipedia says a bunch of stuff, and right now, some of that stuff is transphobic.

To be clear, I am not advancing or arguing that point, I'm just saying that it is a separate argument than whether or not the results of this debate constitute hate speech.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:46 PM on September 8, 2013


Amorphatist, you can make the choice to look at yourself within the context of having more of a right to decide that something is a thing than someone else. You can examine how you approach a conversation about this topic and discover ways that you act from a place of privilege without realizing it and how people in my situation have been seeing it like a flashing neon sign.

Many people in this thread have discussed the eye-opening shifts in perception that occur when they themselves have done this and it makes metafilter a much more interesting place indeed when more people take it upon themselves to examine the privileges extended to them for merely being something deemed "acceptable".

It's a powerful process to go through that will make you a better person and will not harm anyone.

I'm on a phone, I can't really supply links that specifically illustrate my point, maybe tomorrow ill have the time.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not every thread, nor every sub-thread within is a trial. And yes, I'm sure it's a confusing sub-thread to follow, and perhaps infuriating if you're looking to join in later and can't figure where to cast your line in the hope of hooking something.


Not really, and it's a shame we couldn't keep the discourse civil at the last there, but that's useful in its own way. I was just hoping to understand what you think is a) the problem and b) the solution, but I think that might not be something we're going to be able to get any further with.

Specifically, based on the links you've provided, you seem to be conflating "creating a space*" with "creating a safe space". Ivan was talking about the former. The latter is something which the mods have specifically said should not be expected on MetaFilter, and I have no reason to imagine that they are lying, or would be insensitive to Social Justice frog-boiling.

I would suggest that the shield against most of the things you are concerned about (or rather, which you intimate other people might be concerned about because they might have seen, or have heard of, communities melting down under the ratcheting demands of social justice activists) is probably still the moderators, though, whose role is pretty much by definition one of conservation and incremental change.

In other news, I really want to be a Social Justice Wotherkin.


*Specifically, "a space where the oppressed can make their case and feel comfortable doing so, without feeling bullied or ridiculed".
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:55 PM on September 8, 2013


A serious question: Are social justice (actually not a term I really like, but it's clear what I mean I hope) threads a good fit for metafilter? There's lots of other places on the web that are good for social justice conversations, but they tend to be focused on those threads only. The users can legitimately be asked to not join the conversation with a more common grounding, and probably more likely to agree about key points.

MetaFilter, on the other hand, is going to have much more varied levels of discourse, and a much more diverse set of interests and backgrounds. Above MartinWisse said "being on the internet in 2013 I'd hope everybody hardcore enough to plunk down the five dollars to comment here would know what concern trolling is," but I suspect most people on the internet in 2013, even metafilter in 2013, don't actually know what concern trolling is, or when described what it is will consider complaining about concern trolling a legitimate complaint. That's why we keep having these conversations over and over, because not everyone is arguing from the same basic axioms.

To answer my own question above (yeah I hate it when people do that too), I think there is room for these types of threads, but they aren't going to be the same kind of threads that would be found on sites dedicated to social justice. And if some users aren't happy with that, there are lots of other places where these conversations can be had, and that movement can be made. Metafilter may be a progressive place in the long run, but it's going to lag behind some other places, and that does mean that the conversations may seem repetitive and frustrating to users who have more experience and awareness of the issues.
posted by aspo at 3:58 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aspo, I read your comment as "go be a good girl and sit down, we don't do trans topics very well, so, too bad for you, go somewhere else"

Except, metafilter is one of the better places to have this conversation....
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:08 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are social justice (actually not a term I really like, but it's clear what I mean I hope) threads a good fit for metafilter?

They're good for me, as a person who just hasn't had the opportunity to deal with many of these issues (especially trans issues).

If you don't like it when people argue from different basic axioms, then no, MetaFilter isn't necessarily the place for these threads. I, on the other hand, find it interesting to talk to people with whom I disagree on a fundamental level. Even if they don't change my mind, it helps me to understand how they arrive at their conclusions, and therefore helps me understand how I can convince them to re-examine those axioms and arrive at my conclusion.

There is nothing more boring to me than sitting around and talking about an issue with a bunch of people who agree with me. It might be useful if I'm trying to figure out with them how we're all going to get to a goal, but as far as conversation? Christ, no.
posted by Etrigan at 4:09 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


The upshot of this though is that there IS only one discussion to be had -- the one the derailers want to have. The original discussion gets smothered under yet another iteration of "have you ever bothered to consider how uncomfortable your anger makes me?"

Maybe, but I feel like things would be much better served if the people who want to talk about tone talk about tone, and the people who want to talk about content talk about content. Quotes allow us to do that without people losing the thread. It's not like people lose the ability to talk about content because someone wants to talk about tone. No one is obligated to respond to them either.
posted by corb at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2013


To answer my own question above (yeah I hate it when people do that too), I think there is room for these types of threads, but they aren't going to be the same kind of threads that would be found on sites dedicated to social justice. And if some users aren't happy with that, there are lots of other places where these conversations can be had, and that movement can be made. Metafilter may be a progressive place in the long run, but it's going to lag behind some other places, and that does mean that the conversations may seem repetitive and frustrating to users who have more experience and awareness of the issues.

That just makes MeFi an echo chamber in the other direction, though.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2013


I sure hope MetaFilter is a place to talk about issues like sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all these other issues. It's the place on the internet I feel most comfortable discussing them, although, heaven knows, it could be more comfortable (and I feel really bad about the trans* member having to read through some of the stuff in the last few weeks...).
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:18 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Are social justice (actually not a term I really like, but it's clear what I mean I hope) threads a good fit for metafilter?

Yes, I think so. This place has so many various and sundry backgrounds, people who've lived through things I never will. I get a lot of satisfaction out of listening to the everyday experiences of people whose lives I'll never live, where my pre-conceived notions are challenged. This usually bumps me off guard, and it's cause for me to let the words sink in. It's been really eye-opening.

Maybe, but I feel like things would be much better served if the people who want to talk about tone talk about tone, and the people who want to talk about content talk about content. Quotes allow us to do that without people losing the thread. It's not like people lose the ability to talk about content because someone wants to talk about tone. No one is obligated to respond to them either.

Unfortunately, two seamlessly separate streams of conversation don't really gel in an online conversation in the same thread. I personally think discussions about tone are dismissive and belittling, but if people want to camp out somewhere on the internet and speculate on what would make The Man suddenly snap his eyes open and realize how awful he's been, they're free to do that. Inside a thread about the substance rather than the presentation of the grievance doesn't seem like the ideal place to try and hold that conversation. And yet that's where tone arguments flock to, and those who use them attempt to predicate the discussion on whether or not the tone is acceptable. In other words I have a hard time believing in a peaceful co-existence policy as far as it goes for tone arguments bubbling along in their own unseen, unheard space in the same thread as people talking about the actual topic.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:26 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Why wouldn't mefi be a good place for that? We discuss a million difficult topics - war and I/P and IP and cat videos and child abuse and missions to Mars, and so why not topics about sex/race/gender/class? Especially since those are not walled off from a lot of stuff we talk about.
posted by rtha at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Specifically, based on the links you've provided, you seem to be conflating "creating a space*" with "creating a safe space". Ivan was talking about the former.

*Specifically, "a space where the oppressed can make their case and feel comfortable doing so, without feeling bullied or ridiculed"

[...] Social Justice frog-boiling [...]


Sure, creating a "space", but not a "safe space"... If you'd followed upthread, you would have seen that I asked for a link to a resource that laid out what this "space" would look like. There was one link provided, and it seemed less than ideal. Let's lay out what the parameters of this space will be, and I'd like to see how it differs from a "safe space". Let's be explicit.

Vague "without feeling bullied or ridiculed" doesn't really cut it, as that is indeed subject to social justice frog-boiling, as you put it. Wonderful turn of phrase you have there btw.
posted by amorphatist at 4:34 PM on September 8, 2013


I think Meta* is an EXCELLENT place for social justice topics because instead of shouting each other down ALL the time, we only do it some of the time, and when one or more of us says "Hey, that sucks, because A, B & C." moderators don't silence, ban or fuck us over because they have a personal beef against the speaker or the topic. Which is more than I can say for a lot of communities and is why I keep returning to this place.
posted by kalessin at 4:37 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


"without feeling bullied or ridiculed"

This will mean different things to different groups, and as such there is and can be no definitive master list. With regard to trans stuff, as a start don't misgender people, regardless of what time of their life you're talking about, don't misname them, and don't act like someone's complaint about oppression can have no merit unless it's put nicely enough - if the argument has merit, it has merit, regardless of the the tone or any supposed hyperbole, and if it doesn't, no amount of politeness or precise phrasing will lend it that.
posted by Dysk at 4:46 PM on September 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Let's lay out what the parameters of this space will be, and I'd like to see how it differs from a "safe space". Let's be explicit.

Vague "without feeling bullied or ridiculed" doesn't really cut it, as that is indeed subject to social justice frog-boiling, as you put it.


I think if you're actively listening, giving the people around you the benefit of the doubt and speaking in good faith, you have little to worry about. A safe space asks for this much and, I think, it's not a lot to ask for. I realize this isn't a hard line and it's entirely up to the observations of people in the conversation, but this doesn't make it much different from many, many other forms of community interaction on this site. You try to listen, try to be clear, and accept that sometimes you might unwittingly offend someone. It happens, you apologize, and make a note of it to yourself. I don't think it's any great sacrifice to abide letting people have their identity. They're conventions of courtesy that make life a little bit easier.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:54 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aspo, I read your comment as "go be a good girl and sit down, we don't do trans topics very well, so, too bad for you, go somewhere else"

Can you please tell me where I said that?
posted by aspo at 4:55 PM on September 8, 2013


Can you please tell me where I said that?


Here:
To answer my own question above (yeah I hate it when people do that too), I think there is room for these types of threads, but they aren't going to be the same kind of threads that would be found on sites dedicated to social justice. And if some users aren't happy with that, there are lots of other places where these conversations can be had, and that movement can be made. Metafilter may be a progressive place in the long run, but it's going to lag behind some other places, and that does mean that the conversations may seem repetitive and frustrating to users who have more experience and awareness of the issues.

"Sure we can talk about you, but don't think you have a right to make any demands or complaints about the local norms for doing so"

That may not be what you meant to get across, but it really is how it reads.
posted by Dysk at 4:58 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


aspo, you didn't say that. The way you framed your first para read like that, but reading the total three paragraphs gave me a better sense of what you were saying.
posted by kalessin at 4:58 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I generally hate the way most threads about I/P go, and so I don't go in them. Some people really hate cat video threads or fpps about sports and so they don't go in them. Nobody is required to go into a thread about a topic they dislike - really, if there's a thread about a TV show you don't have to go in and be all "Is this something I need a television to ..." Ditto for an fpp on trans* issues or queer ones and so on.
posted by rtha at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


"...as that is indeed subject to social justice frog-boiling, as you put it. Wonderful turn of phrase you have there btw."

Yes, except that the metaphor is based upon folklore that is untrue — frogs in a pot of slowly heating water will not remain oblivious, but rather become increasingly distressed and will leave the pot.

So this metaphor is unintentionally quite appropriate because, no, if this community begins to move "too far", whatever that means, such that the otherwise and previously comfortable privileged folk begin to leave and the space feels somewhat hostile except to a particular group, we'll notice this long before it becomes critical and can avert the catastrophe.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:08 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


But what if the frogs are actually in a double-boiler? Or the pot is on top of a church steeple?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel like "frog in a sous-vide" may be the new "declawed cat"...

There was one link provided, and it seemed less than ideal. Let's lay out what the parameters of this space will be, and I'd like to see how it differs from a "safe space". Let's be explicit.

On a practical level I don't think that's going to happen. The only people who could be explicit are the moderators, in terms of "$behavior will get a comment deleted, $approach will get an FPP deleted, $action will get a user warned, or banned". Some of those elements are pretty explicit, others are more evolutionary.

Misgendering is a good example; I think that during the time I have been here, that's changed to a "warn, edit or delete post" thing. That could be seen as part of a creep towards a safe space, but it's congruent with previous judgments on other forms of derogatory speech; it's just a new application of old rules.

Will the mods give you an explicit list of how they will respond to a set of possible circumstances, or provide hard and fast rules about what sort of space this place will evolve into? I'd say no, because moderation here tends to work on cases - so, to be more exact, the answer would probably be "we would consider the case on its merits if it arose".

(I mean, I can't speak for them, but I think that's probably the case.)

So, it's theroretically possible that this will end up as a safe space for $group, but it would be contrary to the mission statement, and it's something I don't think is likely to happen by accident. Whereas an inclusive space - one in which people can speak with the confidence that harassing behavior targeted at them on the grounds of race, gender, sexual or gender orientation or the like will be addressed by moderators - is entirely within the remit.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:13 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


> To take an extremely close example, look at the pushback that "cis-" gets. People (mosty white, male, cisgendered people, from what I can tell, but it's hardly limited) go crazy over what is a pretty neutral term.

I hesitate to dive back into this thread, but... while it's true that some people "go crazy over what is a pretty neutral term," it seems to me (and this is just my view) that it's gotten better here over time. I remember when the "cis" argument first erupted here, it was really nasty, and a lot of people were going nuts about it. Now, sure some people are still doing that, but (it seems to me) a lot fewer, and there's a lot more support for the term and (I suspect) general understanding and tolerance of it even among people who might not use it themselves. This is reminiscent of what happened with women's issues several years earlier: when I first got here in 2001/02, MeFi was very definitely a boyzone (a term that was bandied about a great deal then), and guys felt free to lob zingers at women who dared say anything that sounded dangerously girly to them. Now, sure there are still sexists, and there always will be, but the community (amorphous as it is, it's a real thing) definitely has women's back: when idiots speak up, they get slapped down. And (crucially) this came about not because of diktats from on high, but because long, exhausting, frequently upsetting discussions (in which a bunch of brave women bared their souls and shared devastating experiences) convinced a critical mass of MeFites that it was wrong to treat women as aliens. And this in turn gave a lot of women the confidence to speak openly about their experiences and about the effects of sexism on society, and MeFi is an infinitely better place as a result.

The same thing is happening with trans/cis; I totally understand why people get impatient, but it is happening. To confess: I myself bristled when I was first exposed to "cis" (even though I knew perfectly well about the Latin prefixes), but I quickly calmed down and realized it was a useful term that I needed to get used to. And now, lo, I can cheerfully identify as a cis-American! If I can do it, there's hope for all.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on September 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


"But what if the frogs are actually in a double-boiler? Or the pot is on top of a church steeple?"

There's a whole bunch of frog torturers over in Jelkinville, you wouldn't believe what they do. They coat the frogs with a topical anaesthetic that will numb the frogs to heat for almost exactly fifteen minutes, and they place the frogs in shallow pans filled with water and held over a precisely controlled heat source that will slowly raise the temperature of the water over a period of about eighteen minutes so that at about the fifteen minute mark, the frogs will suddenly find themselves in extremely hot water, which they attempt to escape from except that the heat has caused their muscles to begin to denature. So the frogs writhe in agony and struggle at ineffectual escape attempts, then die horribly at about the twenty minute mark.

These people do this for fun! It's difficult to believe, you couldn't make this stuff up.

So, anyway, this is why we can't have frogs for pets here, because sooner or later we'll begin to anesthetize them and laugh at their misery. I've met these people, some of them TA at the local university and march in pro frog torture marches. These people really exist.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


The same thing is happening with trans/cis; I totally understand why people get impatient, but it is happening. To confess: I myself bristled when I was first exposed to "cis" (even though I knew perfectly well about the Latin prefixes), but I quickly calmed down and realized it was a useful term that I needed to get used to. And now, lo, I can cheerfully identify as a cis-American! If I can do it, there's hope for all.

This is true, and even though I'm not a member of the Social Justice tribe (loosely defined - those for whom 'problematic' means 'we don't like it' rather than 'they don't like it') discussions like these have made me think deep and hard about my own behaviours and preconceptions. And to change them, I think, for the better.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:26 PM on September 8, 2013


> People use zingy pullquotes for their FPPs all the time, and when it's only certain kinds of posts, like those on trans* topics, where people are expected to be bland and walk on eggshells . . . that's kind of the tone argument problem in a nutshell.

Imflammatory framing of FPPs is well-known issue and frequently discussed on MeTa. It's not something limited to "certain kinds of posts, like those on trans* topics". Posts non-trans-related topics, like parenting, obesity, and US politics are deleted for this reason fairly frequently. If you don't believe me (and I'm sure you don't) take a look at MetaFilter Deleted Posts or search MeTa for "framing", "inflammatory" and "outragefilter".

I realize you think more outrage is good and the more fact-free it is the better. Lots of MeFites love making outrage posts, and attacking other MeFites in them, with special hate directed at any idiots who bothered to read the actual article or have some kind background knowledge about the subject. This is not something remotely limited to threads about trans issues.
posted by nangar at 5:38 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that's getting me a little weirded out is this social justice talk. I'm unsure what exactly that is on mefi.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


"(loosely defined - those for whom 'problematic' means 'we don't like it' rather than 'they don't like it')"

That's not what problematic means either way.

Apparently, I can add snarks that 'problematic' really means 'I don't like it' to my list right after complains that this is reminiscent of tumblr and uses the expression 'social justice warrior'. It's a handy list.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's genuinely not a snark. I think that's what it means.

Liking and not liking things (i.e. judgments of quality) are pretty much all there is in the world, so it's not in any way dismissive.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:44 PM on September 8, 2013


There's a whole bunch of frog torturers over in Jelkinville, you wouldn't believe what they do.

To be fair, Jelkinville is on top of a 40,000' hill, so water boils at a really low temperature and the frogs get more of a hot bath, but that's physics for you....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:46 PM on September 8, 2013


nangar: "I realize you think more outrage is good and the more fact-free it is the better."

Wow, holy shit.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Nangar, please, really?
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I realize you think more outrage is good and the more fact-free it is the better. Lots of MeFites love making outrage posts, and attacking other MeFites in them, with special hate directed at any idiots who bothered to read the actual article or have some kind background knowledge about the subject.

Ironic, in a discussion about accusing trans* people of using a contentious tone.
posted by DrMew at 6:01 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


To be fair, Jelkinville is on top of a 40,000' hill...

Besides being on top of a 40,000 foot 'hill', it's also where Richard T. lives alone, in obscurity so impenetrable that it defeats cartography.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:02 PM on September 8, 2013


On a practical level I don't think that's going to happen. The only people who could be explicit are the moderators, in terms of "$behavior will get a comment deleted, $approach will get an FPP deleted, $action will get a user warned, or banned".

I was wondering more what Ivan F. and fellow travelers hoped to achieve... over time, if the community moves (as it has previously, as languagehat pointed out), then moderation rules do as well, to a degree. Also, I genuinely would like to know what the parameters of such a space are, both out of intellectual curiosity, and also to determine if its something I should embrace, or try to influence, or oppose, etc.
posted by amorphatist at 6:12 PM on September 8, 2013


An absolutely killer recipe for boiled frog a la Jelkinville, by the looks of it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2013


I don't really grok what you're looking for, amorphatist. This is not some sort of pitched battle between the League of Social Justice Warriors and Everybody Else where you need to take up arms and fight for your right to party. There's not a manifesto or whatever. But when we, as a community, are frequently and repeatedly having discussions that make a part of the community feel unsafe, unwanted, marginalized, etc., for something out of their control--then it's worth discussing, as a community, why that is and what we can do about it.
posted by kagredon at 6:20 PM on September 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


At this point, I get the feeling that even if every single MeFite dropped "tone," "cisgender," "privilege," and "problematic" from regular use, not only would they still be tarred with the Tumblr/Social Justice Warrior brush, but there's something else that will put the bee into the usual bonnets.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:21 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I genuinely would like to know what the parameters of such a space are, both out of intellectual curiosity, and also to determine if its something I should embrace, or try to influence, or oppose, etc.

Generally what seems to happen, and what's happened here, is that certain forms of speech just... stop showing up, as people become accustomed to not using them. At first it's a strain, and people forget and/or resist, and there's some static. And then it just sort of stops being a thing, and the previously common idioms fall out of fashion. The example I'm specifically thinking of is that of casual use of "gay" as a derogatory term in various game-related sites I've seen. With some community and moderation pressure, it just becomes unfashionable. I can't remember a point at which it was common here, so I'm not sure if it followed the same pattern.

But one example of speech that has slid out of favor here is the "I'd hit that" formulation, where a casual, banal response to any post that involved a picture of a woman doing anything in any context was a vote for or against her fuckability. It took some community discussion and some pressure, but it became not-ok-for-Metafilter and, now, it very rarely comes up at all - it's not like we're still constantly deleting that kind of comment. Which is, I think, a good thing. YMMV, I suppose.

This kind of change, when it's genuinely community-driven, ends up being pretty invisible except to brand-new users who expect a different set of norms. Those folks will either adapt or not, but that's true of any community norms anywhere.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:21 PM on September 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


But when we, as a community, are frequently and repeatedly having discussions that make a part of the community feel unsafe, unwanted, marginalized, etc., for something out of their control--then it's worth discussing, as a community, why that is and what we can do about it.

Yeah, and what I hear is some people saying that we just shouldn't ever have posts or discussions about that. Which certainly avoids the problem, but doesn't actually solve it.
posted by rtha at 7:55 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am finding it a little odd that the people insisting that arguments about tone are bullshit are also stressing that the use of terms like "Tumblresque" and "SJW" make statements instantly invalid.

Nonetheless: It's simply not true that tone arguments are secretly attempts to dismiss the topic. However delicious your lentil casserole, it can be ruined by putting it on a plate made of cow chips.

And by constantly insisting that people who say "I support your point, but the way you present it is ugly" are in fact lying, you are engaging in archetypal bad faith interaction. I can't imagine a more succinct definition of bad faith than repeatedly saying "You say X, but you don't mean it; really what you want is Y."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:05 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a point at which intent stops mattering. If what you want is X, but what you're consistently getting is Y, it's time to stop doing the thing that's getting you (and the rest of us) X. And at this point, TFB, I think you have hammered your position into the ground and can probably let it go.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I always proceed from the premise that if I don't want somebody to think I want Y, I should stop behaving in exactly the manner of somebody who wants Y.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:14 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I normally assume that people mean what they say, or at least that behaving as though they mean what they say is the best way to proceed. But if you keep getting threads that turn into shouting, drama, and ill feeling, then perhaps, as you say, that is what you really wanted all along.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:33 PM on September 8, 2013


This would be the point at which we say "If you are not trolling, you need to try harder to appear as if you are not trolling."
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:37 PM on September 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's intended as a sincere demonstration that people seem to me to be talking up one standard and posting by another. And I think that's both not nice and deserves to be identified and called out. You're being listened to, you're being heard, but it seems to me that the things I'm hearing you say don't square with what you're doing and what's up with that?

But, yeah, always assume people mean what they say!
posted by kagredon at 9:39 PM on September 8, 2013


kagreon: Absolutely! That's why one says "What's up with this mismatch between how you say one should treat people and the way you're actually treating people?" If one assumed no one really meant what they said, there'd be no reason to point it out.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:56 PM on September 8, 2013


What's up with the mismatch between calling out trans* people for their tone and the concomitant lack of actual "name-calling, yelling, insulting, accusing and threatening" in the thread? I'd quite sincerely like an answer to that.
posted by kagredon at 10:01 PM on September 8, 2013


restless_nomad: This would be the point at which we say "If you are not trolling, you need to try harder to appear as if you are not trolling."

I'm tired of this conversation-ending tactic. He's not trolling, he's disagreeing with you.
posted by spaltavian at 10:11 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm tired of this conversation-ending tactic.

Me, too. Enough.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, that's a surprise.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:23 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


spaltavian: In fairness, though I usually agree that people often say "trolling" when they mean "disagreement that I don't want to actually rebut", that comment really was too arch. Not terribly so, perhaps, but in this kind of conversation, I need to be more careful.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:26 PM on September 8, 2013


...while Ivan's comment seems like either a non-sequiter or a nasty bit of personal trolling.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:04 PM on September 8, 2013


ThatFuzzyBastard, the more you express your perspective, the more you use the rhetorical platforms you've chosen, the more you sound like a sort of sinister markov chainer (an early linguistic mapping attempt at AI).

I can't count on one hand (not even using the base 12 system) the number of times I've seen you take the inverse of a feminist or gender theory argument and apply it to further your agenda. You masterfully use this rhetoric in a way that co-opts the standard methods of articulating victimization and exploitation and uses both to defend and further your priorities, which, despite the claim I think I've seen you make is feminist is in fact anything but.

The other thing that you've been doing that's alarmingly effective with your rhetoric is that it seems to borrow a number of pages from contemporary socially conservative rhetoric. Not just your really astonishingly effective tone arguments but also your wildly contradictory stated goals and actual measurable actions, which are almost at exact opposites.

You seem to understand the methodology of using the language of the exploited and downtrodden but have no sense of irony, historical accuracy or... shame? Whatever is going on with you I have to say that you've transcended simple trolling and moved into mastery of the art form. Have you thought of applying for a grant with what's left of the National Endowment for the Arts? Or would that be too shameless?
posted by kalessin at 11:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's not trolling if someone believes what they're saying, even if it makes other people angry.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard, you have accused people of violent rhetoric, violent communication, name-calling, yelling, insulting, accusing, and threatening as a way to justify repeatedly making your complaints about tone. You need to show where that is happening (flagging is extremely helpful), or stop.

From what I can tell, this centers around someone, not on this site, who said "die, cis-gender scum"(or similar) somewhere (Twitter, I think) and/or the one person commenting on this site who said that wikipedia rules lawyering "reflects on the big-time wikipedia editors who always enter these battles as being the absolute worst type of freaking neckbeard comic book nerd."

If you are finding violent, threatening comments here, you need to flag or contact us. If that doesn't work out for you, you can start a Metatalk thread about these violent comments. You cannot keep characterizing comments here as violent.

You need to stop saying the same thing over and over, making this a "no u" thing where you decide to continue complaining about tone by repeating these accusations and then insisting that pushing back against that is in fact the real bad faith argument.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:33 PM on September 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


Justinian, it seems like you think you know how I feel. I wouldn't say it's anger. It's actually more like something's clicked and I'm annoyed I wasn't certain of it earlier.

What's trolling is co-opting the language of the victimized, exploited and downtrodden for selfish and personal goals and then claiming innocence of wrongdoing or worse, alliance, when the true aim is to cause trouble or act as the antithesis of an ally. Something I've noted you do a lot of too, Justinian.
posted by kalessin at 11:46 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't really grok what you're looking for, amorphatist. This is not some sort of pitched battle between the League of Social Justice Warriors and Everybody Else where you need to take up arms and fight for your right to party. There's not a manifesto or whatever.

OK, there's not a manifesto or whatever, and that's fine. For the record, I believe Pvt Manning should be referred to as Chelsea (including on the title page of wiki), but I'm willing to assume that's due to "neckbeard" wiki infighting rather than a stance taken by wiki as an organization, or even by the voting members, even if trans members here say that shows a "hate speech" stance by wiki. Also, the "cis" debate, which I missed the earlier years of, seems kinda silly; it's a perfect compliment to "trans" IMHO, but maybe I missed some arguments about that.

However, we did have, in this thread, at least one MeFite (Ivan F, much love, I do enjoy our engagements) say that he was trying to create a "space", which (according to other members) is not the same as a "safe space", which has a specific meaning, and which the mods have said is not what is happening here. I would be delighted if each and every MeFite felt "safe" here, but what I'm asking of the MeFites who are trying to change the culture (to use a very neutral term) is: could you lay out explicitly what you're trying to achieve, in terms of changing the discourse? It's not in terms of a "pitched battle", but it is in terms of controlling discourse, and I feel just fine with saying I have an opinion about changes in the rules of discourse, no matter how much other members may feel I am "privileged" wrt themsleves. I hope this will remain a place where intelligent people from all walks of life can feel free to participate, even if they don't know the lingo that some MeFites want to make the standards of discourse. So, could those MeFites please explicate exactly what they are looking for, and I mean in specific ("you may say X, you may not say Y"), so we can have an up-front debate, where the end result is on the table, about it? Whatever the result, I don't expect this to be the new mod-standard, but just be upfront about the exact terms you're looking for, without using vague generalities?

Somebody posted a link earlier to "Derailing for dummies", but I don't think that's the ideal of a resource one should point somebody at. You know, "dummies" and all.
posted by amorphatist at 11:57 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It implies that there is one true discussion which is the only one that can be had, and other people, by virtue of them entering near the discussable item, are bound into service of discussing what you want them to - forcing other people to do what you want as the price of entry, which is not necessarily awesome. Particularly when Metafilter is supposedly a discussion site for interesting things.

It's simple, really. When you post about a band, it's frowned upon if I start up debating how much they suck. The mods are quick to intervene and right to do so if I did post such a comment because a) it's off-topic, b) it would derail the on-topic discussion, c) has been done to death already and would neither be new nor interesting.

So it goes for tone arguments in social justice threads that aren't about tone.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:07 AM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


amorphatist: "I'm willing to assume that's due to "neckbeard" wiki infighting rather than a stance taken by wiki as an organization, or even by the voting members, even if trans members here say that shows a "hate speech" stance by wiki.

The neckbeard infighting involved tons and tons of obvious bigotry and hate speech. This is plainly visible on Wikipedia talk pages. If people tell you something is transphobic, and you that choose to respond that you're just going to assume it's not, without even going to look for yourself, you should examine why your default stance is unapologetic dismissal. (Hints available if needed.)

So, could those MeFites please explicate exactly what they are looking for, and I mean in specific ("you may say X, you may not say Y"), so we can have an up-front debate, where the end result is on the table, about it?

No.

(And also your framing seems really problematic to me. It feels very us vs. them, we must hold court for the majority to assess your pleas dispassionately, and I don't know why you'd expect anyone would want to take you up on it. Flippantly asking oppressed people to create for you a comprehensive manifesto at the bottom of a long comment thread while all you have to do is just sit back and watch them futilely work to win you over is not great.)
posted by Corinth at 12:27 AM on September 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


So, could those MeFites please explicate exactly what they are looking for, and I mean in specific ("you may say X, you may not say Y"), so we can have an up-front debate, where the end result is on the table, about it?

No.


Succinct, I'll give you that.

Flippantly asking oppressed people to create for you a comprehensive manifesto at the bottom of a long comment thread while all you have to do is just sit back and watch them futilely work to win you over is not great.

Define "flippantly" in this context? Also I'll note that you obviously haven't read the whole thread, as I asked the same many many comments ago, not as we are now, by definition, "at the bottom of a long comment thread". And since you don't want to participate in this, I'll acknowledge your null contribution, and maybe keep the question open for those who actually do want to change the discourse here, perhaps some others might feel comfortable about explicating their desired end environment.
posted by amorphatist at 12:54 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tone Argument as Logical Fallacy

I'm new to this thread but, this is a really insightful article I found just now. The middle of the article makes you to think about the criteria for a tone argument to be valid. Also, I've seen people asking about the "space" we would like to see here, and I think even the 2nd to last paragraph in the article has something to contribute towards that.

amorphatist—Regarding Wikipedia, my own explanation rejects the part where you make the assumption. I would add in addition to Corinth's comment, that even if we didn't have knowledge of the transphobic discourse in the edit pages, or other external relevant information (like the editor community is 90% male), the fact that the page does not reflect the actual person's name against her wishes, makes it transphobic. It is the rhetorical pathology of it that makes the very page itself a transphobic utterance.

More broadly, am I correct in observing that neither this thread nor the other has really brought up the idea of institutional or implicit discrimination? I think it is kind of important as a concept that should help address some of the linguistic issues that are showing up, e.g. the stuff about tone arguments and about space/culture, and so on.
posted by polymodus at 12:55 AM on September 9, 2013


I'd like to be specific that this demand for a hypothetical set of rules for a hypothetical space or safe space on Metafilter is counterproductive and distracting, since we don't operate by that sort of system, period. We have a few guidelines, an exceedingly small number of explicit "rules," and a culture of case-by-case moderation and community discussion and input. I understand that this seems vague and frustrating to some, but this is how we do it here, and that isn't going to change.

If you are interested in discussing the idea of such a space generally, it might be something to take up as a conversation directly, via email or whatever, with anyone who is interested in chewing that over, but it is not something that is relevant to this thread.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:57 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Typo—I meant 4th to last paragraph, sorry.)
posted by polymodus at 1:03 AM on September 9, 2013


I think some of the problem is that we usually already have procedures in place for judging larger entities by their constituents' actions, and Wikipedia, being the kind of weird collaborative project it is, doesn't fit cleanly into them. The question of how a significant portion of vocal editors (quite possibly a large majority but I haven't run the numbers) saying bigoted things reflects on Wikipedia is less a specific social justice issue and more a broader question about how we see the structure of the organization and what that means when it comes to making any conclusions at all about the thing as a whole that is "Wikipedia."

There is lots of hate speech in the sausage factory, and the sausage itself in this case came out tainted. If this were a literal sausage factory we'd probably say something about a company (the whole entity) loudly and explicitly producing bad sasuage. Some people are hesitant to do so here because Wikipedia is a new kind of group of people. The question really isn't whether or not the process surrounding the editing of Chelsea's page was transphobic - it plainly was, and anyone can confirm this by reading the on-Wikipedia discussion (although I wouldn't recommend it). The only real point on which it makes sense to disagree is how this reflects on Wikipedia (the whole entity) - whether Wikipedia (the whole entity) can be said to be embracing the bigotry emanating from a significant portion of its userbase.
posted by Corinth at 1:04 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking here as a trans guy with a neck beard and a modest comic book collection, if you want to know which feels more disturbing, that one person posting to the Manning thread spoke disparagingly about Wikipedia editors as geeks with neckbeards, or that someone else used this fact to try to invalidate everything trans* people were saying in the thread using a tone argument . . . well, do you really have to ask?

But anyway, fistbumps to my neckbearded compatriots.
posted by DrMew at 1:10 AM on September 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'd like to be specific that this demand for a hypothetical set of rules for a hypothetical space or safe space on Metafilter is counterproductive and distracting, since we don't operate by that sort of system, period.

This began long back up the thread when another MeFite (Ivan F) said that he was engaged in creating a "space" here, and I wanted to know what exactly that meant. If that's a project of some users here, to change the discourse, MeTa seems like the place to discuss it. I'm not asking this of the mods, or of the community currently, but of what some MeFites would like to see for the future. Since the premise of this MeTa is also about changing the discourse, it seems apropos. However, I will grant you that this line of inquiry has been unproductive. Tellingly so perhaps.
posted by amorphatist at 1:14 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's quite nefariously telling that nobody took your bait to construct a social justice pinata for you to have a go at. Despite your best efforts to shine a light, the shadowy cabal working to push a Tumblresque agenda right here in River City continues apace in dark back alleys and dingy basements guarded by rusty Judas holes and politically correct passphrases.
posted by Corinth at 1:24 AM on September 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


Really, all that you need to do is to remember that trans people exist, call a trans person by their preferred gender, keep in mind that there are quite a few trans persons on MeFi (every trans thread here so far has had new to me posters coming out) and not start the same old "discussions" (tone, cis, dismissal of importance of problem) in every trans thread.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:28 AM on September 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


Your concern about "a space" has been repeatedly addressed in the thread by other users and also by me, and your insistence that people define an explicit and specific set of hypothetical rules is crossing over into a hectoring demand at this point, so, again, you need to take further discussion of this up with folks directly, if they are willing.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:31 AM on September 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


but I'm willing to assume that's due to "neckbeard" wiki infighting rather than a stance taken by wiki as an organization, or even by the voting members, even if trans members here say that shows a "hate speech" stance by wiki

Hey, don't make out like we're not willing to assume that too. I assume that wiki infighting and votes are exactly how wiki came to express transphobic hate speech. It makes no difference at all why or how they arrived at that decision. They arrived at a decision to use words that are harmful to Manning, and trans people generally. That is transphobia, that is hate speech.
posted by Dysk at 2:11 AM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


That bit about "you think more outrage is good and the more fact-free it is the better" was unfair to DrDew, and I apologize.

I still think he was misrepresenting site policy
posted by nangar at 2:31 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am finding it a little odd that the people insisting that arguments about tone are bullshit are also stressing that the use of terms like "Tumblresque" and "SJW" make statements instantly invalid.

FWIW, this is actually quite an easy one. Tone arguments are indeed bullshit. Terms like "social justice warrior" are also bullshit. The two are both part of the loose set "bullshit".
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:52 AM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Somebody posted a link earlier to "Derailing for dummies", but I don't think that's the ideal of a resource one should point somebody at. You know, "dummies" and all.

This is the kind of thing that sounds like you're being insincere about other's intentions. The use of the "[X] For Dummies" construct as a non-insulting shorthand for "introductory tutorial" entered the pop culture lexicon, moreso in online discourse, about the same time the Internet became a household term and resource. Unless it has somehow receded into obscurity (a quick check shows it has not) he only people I can think that are insulted by someone suggesting a free online resource with that title is Wiley and Sons Publishers, because they're not making money off of it.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:18 AM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd like to enter a new word to our lexicon:

Ponfighticating.

Fighty, incessant pontification that only serves to grind someone down to the point they give up trying to reason with you.

There's no trans movement, period, at all on metafilter. There are a few trans people all independently asking for respect, that's it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:40 AM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


The thing that's getting me a little weirded out is this social justice talk. I'm unsure what exactly that is on mefi.

I'll note that I don't actually mind "social justice stuff" on Metafilter, it's something that kind of comes up every day in my life and with my friends, so it's not really a "oh no, it's invading Metafilter" thing. But at the same time, being around people who do believe very strongly in self-identifying as pushing for "social justice", it does let me identify things that fall into that category. And I can say that I have been seeing those a lot on Metafilter lately, certainly.

Advocating for the oppressed: Anytime an argument tends to hinge on the fact that the people in question are an oppressed class, it's usually a social justice argument, because the person is arguing that because of historic or systematic oppression, one group should be treated differently than the majority. This can include posts about trans issues, women issues, LGBT issues, racial issues, Islamophobia, etc.

Arguing that all people have human needs which should be fulfilled by society: This is usually phrased as "economic justice", but I've seen it phrased as "social justice work" as well. This often takes the form of advocating for the homeless, the poor, inequity in schooling or higher education, food deserts, unions, etc.

And those have been appearing on Metafilter a good bit. Looking at the front page, I see The Tuition Is Too Damn High, a post about Bill De Blasio and class war/racism accusations, a post about "Wealthy Entitlement", a post about a New Jersey school that is enforcing a no-lunch-money-no-lunch policy, a post about men, sexism, and the friend zone, Gender Bias In Political Science, work against Islamophobia, a post about Teachers Unions In Mexico, the Macklemore Same Love post, a post about Incompetent Men Leaders, a post about comic book artists walking off Batwoman for LGBT-related reasons, a post about someone renouncing libertarianism, one about First Nations improvement, and a post about people who only want Japanese sushi chefs. And that's just the first two pages - the past couple of days.

Again, I don't mean to call this out as bad and I've even enjoyed some of these posts. But there certainly are a lot of posts that I'd describe as social-justice-advocacy-related.
posted by corb at 5:16 AM on September 9, 2013


Again, I don't mean to call this out as bad and I've even enjoyed some of these posts. But there certainly are a lot of posts that I'd describe as social-justice-advocacy-related.

Numbers or frequency isn't indicative of anything good or bad, unless we're talking about how much diverse stuff MeFites find cool, which I think we can all agree is unequivocally good. There's just as many if not more about, entertainment or science or other topics. For instance, I count about 25 posts on the first page alone dealing with drawing/painting, music, video, poetry/prose, and gaming.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:36 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no, I'm not suggesting it's good or bad, just that I know some mefites don't like seeing any one "category" dominate the front page. I think I've also seen this exact complaint about music posts, Newsfilter, Electionfilter, etc - all posts that most people admit have at least some value.
posted by corb at 5:42 AM on September 9, 2013


Some of those feel like kind of a stretch, also - white sushi chefs in Washington state, for example, are not an oppressed class, and describing an article about a particular kind of food snobbery as about social justice therefore feels off. Likewise the di Blasio thread - is that a "social justice" thread, or a thread about the New York mayoral election? Is JH Williams III leaving Batwoman because of editorial interference a social justice discussion or a comic books discussion?

If one is prepared to spread one's net widen enough, almost anything could look like a social justice thread by that logic - why is Marissa Mayer helping to design the Yahoo logo when she could be giving her money to charity and volunteering at a soup kitchen?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:54 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


>>Somebody posted a link earlier to "Derailing for dummies", but I don't think that's the ideal of a resource one should point somebody at. You know, "dummies" and all.

> the only people I can think that are insulted by someone suggesting a free online resource with that title is Wiley and Sons Publishers,

Did you even consider that he objected to dummies because he think's dumb/dummy is ableist? That was my first assumption because in a lot of other places including the Website That Should Not Be Named, a lot of people sincerely hold that opinion.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:04 AM on September 9, 2013


> This began long back up the thread when another MeFite (Ivan F) said that he was engaged in creating a "space" here, and I wanted to know what exactly that meant. If that's a project of some users here, to change the discourse, MeTa seems like the place to discuss it. I'm not asking this of the mods, or of the community currently, but of what some MeFites would like to see for the future. Since the premise of this MeTa is also about changing the discourse, it seems apropos. However, I will grant you that this line of inquiry has been unproductive. Tellingly so perhaps.

Oh, for god's sake. I was willing to grant you the benefit of the doubt until I got to that sneering "Tellingly so perhaps." Look, there is no nefarious agenda for you to uncover. There is nothing to find an exact meaning for. A lot of us would like MeFi to be a place where, yes, people can say what they like (within the very generous confines of the site rules—no telling other users "fuck you," etc.), but where the communis opinio is in favor of the right of women, gay people, trans people, and people in general to be who they are and not suffer for it. This does not mean that any opinions that (maybe unwittingly!) violate the "rules" will be deleted and the offending poster banned and keelhauled; it does mean that there will be pushback against comments that seem (perhaps wrongly!) to oppose that right. As I put it in my previous comment, people to whom society in general gives a hard time will feel that the community has their back. Some people seem to think they should have the right to say whatever shit they like and get no pushback whatever—if somebody says "hey, that sounds kind of sexist/racist/whatever" it's equivalent to the jackboot stomping on their face forever. To those people I say: grow up.
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on September 9, 2013 [33 favorites]


Did you even consider that he objected to dummies because he think's dumb/dummy is ableist?

Nope, because he actually responded to the link by saying "Thanks for providing the link, I'll check it out," and then only brought it up when he figured he could make a jab with it. Also, because it's a parody that seems to have support within the disabled community for mocking ableists, but that seems kind of irrelevant to his tactics.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:26 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Trans* people have worked a lot harder than most against some pretty terribly ingrained societal constraints to arrive at — or, at least, perform — their preferred identities. Is this not worthy of respect? Or even a pronomial tip o' the hat?

Rock on, you people. Saluti a tutti.
posted by Wolof at 7:25 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Trans* people have worked a lot harder than most against some pretty terribly ingrained societal constraints to arrive at — or, at least, perform — their preferred identities Is this not worthy of respect? Or even a pronomial tip o' the hat?.

Speaking as a trans person, I find this generalisation misleading and frankly patronising (in exactly the same way as "wow you're so brave!"-type comments). Many trans people have indeed faced great hardship, but you can't speak for all of us like that.

We are worthy of respect for being people. We are worthy of having our gender respected because we are people. How hard we may or may not have worked, how terribly we may or may not have suffered, none of that is relevant. If your respect hinges on my having gone through a particular imagined process, faced particular societal constraints, arriving at or expressing my identity in a particular way (or indeed at all) then I do not want it.
posted by Dysk at 8:16 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't read Wolof's comment as saying that because of the difficulties facing trans* folk in a transphobic society they deserve respect; but, rather, in addition to the fact that it's only just that trans* folk ought to be shown the basic respect everyone deserves, cisgendered folk deserve additional respect for working harder than most just to be seen as themselves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:37 AM on September 9, 2013


...but this is an example of the point I make about allies and the difference between opposing the injustice and advocacy for those who suffer from the injustice. As in this case, advocacy by allies runs the risk of inadvertently being patronizing, among other things. Theoretically, opposing injustice is always fine, but advocacy is often problematic. Practically, it's more ambiguous but a good rule of thumb.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:43 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't read Wolof's comment as saying that because of the difficulties facing trans* folk in a transphobic society they deserve respect; but, rather, in addition to the fact that it's only just that trans* folk ought to be shown the basic respect everyone deserves, cisgendered folk deserve additional respect for working harder than most just to be seen as themselves.

(Assuming "cisgendered" should read "transgendered") - even still, that rankles me. You don't know that I've worked harder than any given other person. Personally, my experience of transition has not been that it has been difficult (aside from the NHS, at least) but rather that it has been joyous, natural, and so much easier than the status quo. Nobody meaningful in my life has failed to show me support, I have not had to work to be recognised as myself. I deserve respect for that? When there are cisgendered people struggling with identity crisis, mental health issues, relationship problems, whatever other shit you can imagine life throwing at you?

No, I deserve no more or less respect than anyone else simply because of my transness. Being trans should not afford you greater respect any more than it should mean having to put up with less. To argue that it does is to treat us as somehow other and different, in a way that I find incredibly problematic.
posted by Dysk at 8:44 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or put it this way: my experience of myself, my trans experience? That's mine, and I get to define what it means to me. What the comment I responded to did, was to define my (and all other trans people's) experience of my (/their) transness for me (/them) in a particular way. A particular way I happen to think is highly inaccurate relative to myself, and not at all how I've actually experienced it.
posted by Dysk at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sometimes people mean well, but still say something that's a bit awkward.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:56 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a light trans* person, I pass really well between trans and cis communities - I have traits that make me seem to fit in as a natural in both communities. The reason I am trans* is that I identify as such and I live my life according to my own code that is sort of more compatible with the trans* identity than the normative, cis one.

But if I had wanted to act like I were normative and do just a tiny bit of fitting in, I could have done that and still could. But my mind and heart sit with the trans* community and the queer community and a bunch of other minorities. These are my people. I share a common experience of both extremely intense and personal and hostile rejection as well as very light and unthinking rejection. And honestly I couldn't tell you which is more hurtful. I guess they're hurtful in different ways.

And to look at me, I don't think anyone could guess that my experience of sacrifice and fighting for normative benefits is again a mix of sometimes very surprisingly easy victories where there was no fight at all and sometimes fighting tooth and nail for a simple pronoun. For, like, years.

But in any simple offense's or potential offense's case? Do I give a shit? Usually not, especially if it's not intentional and done in the spirit of companionship. I guess it depends on whether it's a learning moment or not.
posted by kalessin at 8:58 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe we can compromise on "everybody's life has its own difficulties: it behooves us to try to avoid being obviously dicks about things that might contribute to that"?
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:07 AM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Or put it this way: my experience of myself, my trans experience? That's mine, and I get to define what it means to me. What the comment I responded to did, was to define my (and all other trans people's) experience of my (/their) transness for me (/them) in a particular way. A particular way I happen to think is highly inaccurate relative to myself, and not at all how I've actually experienced it."

Yeah, as a disabled person, I understand that very well.

My experience is my own and really no one, abled or disabled, has a right to speak for me without my permission (and instruction). I think we give fellow members of the group a lot of leeway about this because they're often more correct than not about the experiences of other members of the group. Their generalizations are more reliable and that there's some sense of shared experience of this aspect of identity means there's a certain amount of implicit trust. And so group advocacy by members of that group is largely acceptable, within limits, though in some cases it will still rankle when it seems to speak to some individual's experience when that's not that person's experience at all.

I actually see this a lot with sexual violence — survivors tend to generalize from their own particular experience, but there is a lot of variety in the experience of being sexually assaulted and it can be very easy for someone to inadvertently delegitimize another survivor's experience when their experience was very different. It happens like this: someone who isn't a survivor delegitimizes a particular or specific example of sexual violence. A survivor then responds with an argument saying that x, y, and z happened and because of that, it's a legitimate experience that should be taken seriously. But implicit in that, though it doesn't logically follow, is that if someone's experience isn't x, y, and z, then it's not legitimate.

So even in-group members need to be very careful about generalizing about the whole group based upon their own experience.

Non-members of the group — in my case, in my example, the abled — are often more incorrect than correct abut the experiences of a group they're not a part of, of experiences which are very alien to them by definition. Generalizations made by allies and others are much less reliable and likely formed around stereotypes rather than any lived experience, even secondhand. And so there's not really any implicit trust, even with allies, because it's pretty extraordinary for people to really and truly "get it".

Advocacy is speaking for the interests of a person or a group; when someone who isn't a member of that group advocates for them, they are in some very true sense attempting to speak for them. That's extremely presumptuous when they haven't been given permission to do so, and regardless it can easily go astray because they can only have an imperfect understanding of what those interests are.

Recognizing and opposing an injustice is more objective and less dependent upon understanding someone's subjective experience. If not self-evidently unjust to observers, it can still be accepting the reality of an attested subjective experience and limited to opposing the specific injustice revealed by that attestation. But it should approach the matter from the outside in, from the perspective of a recognized injustice in the context of society. Advocacy is approaching the matter from the inside out, and the only people who really can do that are the people with that experience themselves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:13 AM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Avoiding being obviously dicks about things is a really good general policy, yeah.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:14 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think I would smack someone trying to be a friend, even if it was for the wrong reason. But that's just me, wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else.
posted by jfuller at 9:31 AM on September 9, 2013


Oh, I was going to mention my experience of this as a disabled person. Something that happens pretty regularly is that someone will have an accident or, hell, just some idiosyncratic pain, and then they'll tell me how they understand my experience because of this. They mean well, and I always sort of repeat in my head "they mean well, they mean well", but it still rankles. Someone's touch of arthritic pain in one knee later in life is really not at all like my experience. Quantitative differences can often become qualitative differences when the magnitude is very, very large.

I just had the most comprehensive set of x-rays taken since I was a child. The first thing my rheumatologist said when I saw him to discuss them was that one morning a whole bunch of doctors gathered around to look at them because they were so notable. But people are telling me about their arthritis all the time after they ask me about my health. I understand it, they're trying to connect. It's how we empathize. But some gaps between people's experiences are much larger than a lot of people realize.

A revealing example is that I and my sister come up against this with each other, even though we are siblings and share the same extremely rare illness that is known to afflict only ten or so families in the world. Yet she can talk about this stuff and assume some things that aren't true for me and I get annoyed, and vice-versa.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:35 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to point out that the issue that bothers Dysk in this case is discussed a lot as the "you're so brave" trope in more than one community. As the parent of a kid with a disability, I'd say it's near the top of the list of gripes raised in discussions among parents like myself. Yes, raising a kid with a disability has meant dealing with a wide array of institutional challenges, medical bills, sometimes-exhausting advocacy, etc. But my kid's life is not a tragedy that I am bravely facing. Similarly, being trans* means I've had to deal with a lot of crap, but gender transitioning is not a tragedy, it's one of the single most positive things in my life.

I personally don't feel deeply challenged if someone tells me I'm so brave for transitioning, because not that many people say it to me--probably because I'm a trans* guy. My spouse, on the other hand, being a trans* woman, gets told it a lot, in emphatic tones, and it really upsets her. I think she experiences it as the flip side of the coin of people ridiculing her--instead, as people gasping in sympathetic horror, which of course frames being a trans* woman as horrific.

There's also a phenomenon trans* folks often deal with where others explicitly state that their acceptance of us is based upon a calculation of how much we have suffered. For example, I had a student come to my office hours and demand to know if I had had "the surgery" or not. I replied that my genitalia were my private business, and pointed out how rude and strange it would be if the student went into a cis professor's office hours and asked them to describe their genitals. Then I gave the standard minilecture on how genitals do not determine gender. The student's response was that their decision about what pronoun to use for me would be based on how "serious" I was, and that that was proven by the pain and suffering of "the surgery." Yerk. So, yes, I understand why Dysk would be upset when discussions of respect for trans* people tie that respect to suffering.

Anyway, when I read Wolof's comment, my personal reaction was, "Aw, means well; makes me twitch a bit, with the "performing" identities and bravery trope." But I can understand if someone's run into the "you're so brave" trope too many times, and is feeling raw, that they would respond a lot more strongly.

In my own life, I think that one of the things that has really benefited me, but was hard for me to learn, was that when something makes me uncomfortable, that's often a good thing. It's a sign for me that there's something I need to really think about. And an example of that is when someone finds something that strikes me as no big deal as actually quite upsetting. For me, that's a sign that I need to listen harder, to think and ask questions, rather than to say, "Woah, calm down, I'm a progressive and I'm not freaked out." That is, my knee jerk response might be to make a tone argument, and what I need to do instead is say, "Hey, I hear your anger."
posted by DrMew at 10:19 AM on September 9, 2013 [20 favorites]


Something that I think may really help with one of our hot-button words here:

Thing about replacing 'privilege' with 'perspective' or something similar. You can describe the kind of privilege that this word evokes in discussions about sexism, racism, classism, genderism, etc., without actually using the word. I, for instance, learned the term privilege here on MeFi. Once I realized what it meant, I was like, a-ha! But when you first hear it in the kind of context we're talking about, it may suggest something else entirely. I was like 'Huh, weird, I'm not some spoiled brat!' And then I realized it was a concept I knew all along, but not by that name.

So, in the interest of clarity, think about wording discussions of privilege differently.
posted by Mister_A at 10:27 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wasn't brave at all! I was hanging by a thread.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:29 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Being trans should not afford you greater respect any more than it should mean having to put up with less. To argue that it does is to treat us as somehow other and different, in a way that I find incredibly problematic.

For me, the respect is due because a choice has been made to live in accord with one's own directives, to not conform with what the greater society, culture etc deems normal. I have no idea (unless I'm told) of how much suffering, conflict etc such a choice engenders but I do know that making that choice is not a trivial thing, even if ultimately making it comes easy, because then I must wonder, "What kind of life must that person have had to make such a significant choice seem so easy?"

I guess what I'm saying is that I respect anyone who has chosen to not just go with the flow ... because that takes courage.
posted by philip-random at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2013


Ok, here goes.

However, we did have, in this thread, at least one MeFite (Ivan F, much love, I do enjoy our engagements) say that he was trying to create a "space", which (according to other members) is not the same as a "safe space", which has a specific meaning, and which the mods have said is not what is happening here.

Every time a post shows up on the front page and is not deleted, a space is created. That space is dedicated to the topic of the post and, to a lesser extent, the halo of related topics. Comments not on-topic are outside of the boundaries of that space. That space is not "safe" by default, but it is still a "space", in the way that we tend to define abstract concepts using physical analogies. If I call you on the telephone, we create a space for conversation between the two of us. A coffeeshop or bar is a shared public space for socialization and engagement. So, too, an open internet discussion.

We don't tend to talk about "spaces" a lot, because their existence is evident. It's only in the discussion of what constitutes a "safe space" that we compare against the default, unprotected space. The meaning of a "safe space" is fairly straightforward also: things that make people uncomfortable are highly discouraged or rejected outright, specifically personal attacks, insults, and descriptions that are dependent on stereotypes of gender, orientation, race, etc; and also where the terms of discussion and participation are more explicitly and narrowly defined (no Feminism 101, straight people/white people/cisgender people not welcome to participate, and so on). MetaFilter isn't that. Very few people, if anyone, really want it to be that.

So when Ivan F. is talking about creating a "space", or when I am, we're talking about intentionally expanding the social bounds of a given conversational space such that frequently-silenced minority voices have an equal chance to make a case and be heard. That isn't to say that those voices are automatically correct due to political minority or that people not in the majority are automatically incorrect, but you must have noticed in the context of your own life that white people tend to be taken more seriously, that straight people tend to be treated with more respect, that men are assumed to have a social power that women have to claim explicitly and constantly. Creating a "space" in this sense means being aware of those frequently-unconscious biases and explicitly adjusting for them. What form that takes is kind of up to the individual. Maybe it means that men think a second time before saying something about a woman's experience as if they instead were an authority. Maybe it means everyone making a conscious effort to be as minimally defensive as possible. There's lots of ways to do it. None of them are a blanket ban on anyone's discourse, which is possibly where I'm going to take some issue with your comments. It's a request to consider not just what one is saying, but the position from which one is saying it, and to understand that that position is part of how comments are received by your audience, whether you like it or not.

I would be delighted if each and every MeFite felt "safe" here, but what I'm asking of the MeFites who are trying to change the culture (to use a very neutral term) is: could you lay out explicitly what you're trying to achieve, in terms of changing the discourse? It's not in terms of a "pitched battle", but it is in terms of controlling discourse, and I feel just fine with saying I have an opinion about changes in the rules of discourse, no matter how much other members may feel I am "privileged" wrt themsleves.

See, dude, here's where you're kind of annoying me, cause this is just a roundabout method of trying to reference the thought police. No one's trying to "control the discourse", because the elements that we'd like to discourage are not discursive. No one's point relies on being able to call a woman a bitch, and if it does, it's not really a point worth making. No one's position on trans* issues is aided by misgendering, except the bigot's. Dismissing a person's lived experience because it does not match your own or your impression of theirs is an anti-discursive rejection of the participant. The extent to which anyone's trying to "change the culture" is that people should be taken seriously, treated with respect, and heard as equals. That's about it, yo.

So what does that have to do with tone arguments? Well, not infrequently, people will show up in a conversation to say, "I/others would listen to you, but your anger/sadness/whatever is off-putting, so your points are irrelevant/biased/unimportant." This is not a good-faith way to engage with a person who is trying to talk to you. Sometimes people get a little mad or a little sad or whatever. Sometimes they get a lot of that. Emotions do not invalidate an argument, and the idea that all discussion should be weighted according to its overall dispassionate rationality is an actual attempt to control the discourse, by discounting any points that come from a place of discomfort or contradiction. With regard to some of these topics, the ability to remain dispassionate is a property of power, and we shouldn't dismiss people because they react to an unfairly-skewed power dynamic with something other than calm acceptance.

I hope this will remain a place where intelligent people from all walks of life can feel free to participate, even if they don't know the lingo that some MeFites want to make the standards of discourse.

There's no lingo. Look, I'll talk about post-colonial liminality in reconstructed cognizances all day if you want, because I got a very ridiculous degree, but you don't have to. Believe people when they say things, engage them honestly, accept other points of view as valid or at least founded on the comprehensible. That's how you get intelligent people from all walks of life to feel free to participate, because you are explicitly telling those people "you have something to say and we're going to make sure we can hear you".

So, could those MeFites please explicate exactly what they are looking for, and I mean in specific ("you may say X, you may not say Y"), so we can have an up-front debate, where the end result is on the table, about it?

Barring categorical insult, you can say whatever you want. I'm looking for you to consider how what you say will be received, whether there is a better and more substantial way to make your point, and that you're making a genuine effort to understand a foreign viewpoint, which are things everyone and especially me can always do better at.

Whatever the result, I don't expect this to be the new mod-standard, but just be upfront about the exact terms you're looking for, without using vague generalities?

Try not to be a jerk. When you are a jerk anyway, figure out your jerkiness and make amends as needed, then try not to be a jerk like that again. Is that too vague?
posted by Errant at 10:57 AM on September 9, 2013 [21 favorites]


Something I've noted you do a lot of too, Justinian.

kalessin, I doubt that highly for a number of reasons. First, I have no idea what the "language of the victimized" means so it's unlikely that I've ever purposefully used it. Secondly, I don't post in trans threads and haven't in quite some time. Basically, like, at all. Or the Meta threads about them in anything but a tangential manner. So there's that.

Unless you mean the PAX thread in which case all I can say is you must have a really low tolerance from even minor disagreements since my big contribution was that I think the comic strip is funny.

In any case, trolling still has an actual definition and if someone believes what they are saying it isn't trolling. It may be wrong. It may be inflammatory. It may even be stupid. But it isn't trolling! That's my point.
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you for that, Errant. I felt uncomfortable answering that question because I wondered whether it was asked in good faith and I am worn out by conversations where I feel I'm trying to avoid rhetorical traps others may or may not be setting, and then worrying if I'm being paranoid or not. I tried to make it clear in an earlier comment that I was not expecting "safe space," for whatever that's worth. But for anyone who really wants to read up on some better conversational standards, Derailing for Dummies is a seminal what-not-to-do guide on the topic. I don't know if it's widely linked here or not, but for anyone truly curious it's worth a browse.
posted by Ouisch at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although to be fair, kalessin, it is possible that adopting a specific style of argument which is unnecessary to one's point and one knows will be inflammatory could quality as a type of trolling I guess. Which is your point. I don't think that's what's usually meant by the word is all. But it is needlessly inflammatory, yes.
posted by Justinian at 11:46 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering how often Derailing for Dummies has come up, it's probably worth reading....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:50 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I personally am happy to receive and will reciprocate high fives and hugs from anybody, and in my own life I have had to learn how to kick lots of butt in order to get anywhere, but I think the "bravery"/"swimming upstream" comments reveal a misunderstanding about transition. It's just a medical condition. You don't really have any say in it. Sometimes people will be ugly to you about it; sometimes this even threatens your life and well being. Some places have healthcare and treatment available, and in some places you have to fight tooth and nail for it. A lot of these battles get lost, but it's not automatically a debilitating condition and I hope my simplifications never lead to medicalised misunderstandings: it is just a state of being that some humans are born into. If you can set aside all your ingrained gender mythologies to stop and think about it, it's actually a pretty awesome, incredible thing.
posted by byanyothername at 11:50 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


For me, the respect is due because a choice has been made to live in accord with one's own directives, to not conform with what the greater society, culture etc deems normal. I have no idea (unless I'm told) of how much suffering, conflict etc such a choice engenders but I do know that making that choice is not a trivial thing, even if ultimately making it comes easy, because then I must wonder, "What kind of life must that person have had to make such a significant choice seem so easy?"

I guess what I'm saying is that I respect anyone who has chosen to not just go with the flow ... because that takes courage.


But... this is still problematic. You have no idea whether or not any given cis person is just 'going with the flow' or if they've had to take a real stand to be who they are. Similarly, you don't know with a given trans person - maybe they stick out less as a [woman/man/genderqueer person] than they did as a [man/woman], are less abnormal that way. Trans people don't deserve any special respect, you simply cannot know how much someone's life choices represent courage, or indeed whether they do at all or not.
posted by Dysk at 11:59 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just to be extremely clear, when I say that tone policing disrupts engaged discourse, I am emphatically not saying that whomever positions themselves as in some way oppressed and upset about it "wins the argument."

And no, I don't just apply that to people who are straight and white and cis and male and don't have a disability who are crying, "Your statement that I am privileged is oppressing me!"

For example, I was at a conference where a bisexual woman (young, white, cis) presented a paper about homonormativity, based on an autoethnography of her own diaries. Well, it turned out that her thesis was that she herself was oppressed by a "homonormative narrative" because lesbian and gay people in the support group on her campus all talked about problems with family rejection and/or homophobic encounters, and her family had no issues with her being bi, and she'd never been homophobically harassed. And I tried hard to give her a listen, but the fact that she was passionate and very angry, and the fact that bisexual-identified people do in fact often face marginalization, did not convince me that because she wasn't dealing with oppression, people who were dealing with more were oppressing her. I mean, if she had spoken about people dissing her in some sort of oppression-olympics dynamic, or telling her she didn't "count" in the community, that would indeed have been a problem. But. . ."I am so marginalized by LGBT people talking about how they've been mistreated!" just made me wind up rolling my eyes.
posted by DrMew at 12:11 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


But. . ."I am so marginalized by LGBT people talking about how they've been mistreated!" just made me wind up rolling my eyes.

Yes. This sucks. This is why I tend to come down on the side of not doing misery calculus. Because you end up getting your shit coopted by folks who'll take a while to understand what their claims are doing to you (if ever) and in the meantime it is as annoying as hell.
posted by kalessin at 12:27 PM on September 9, 2013


> But... this is still problematic.

Just as a point of information, your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making me not want to say anything at all about trans issues. I know, I know, boo hoo, I should care about the justice of the issue and not whether people I thought were on my side are going to stick pins in me, but let's face it, people are human and nobody likes having pins stuck in them. You might want to reconsider how urgently you need to push back against people who are trying, however awkwardly, to be on your side.
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


The whole "You're so brave" comments being problematic is not new, nor confined to trans issues; I don't think it's fair for allies to say we'll support marginalized groups except when they might call us out for using stereotypes we didn't previously know about. That's not much progress.

The 'Super-Crip' Phenomenon

Model Minority Stereotype for Asian Americans
posted by jaguar at 12:34 PM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making me not want to say anything at all about trans issues.

I believe that is considered the idea.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:39 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by kalessin at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I believe that is considered the idea.

Still trying for the Good Faith Medal, I see.
posted by kagredon at 12:44 PM on September 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I believe that is considered the idea.

Coming from a guy who has spent most of his time on MeTa in the last couple of days telling people not to ascribe motivations to posters, how is this not trolling?
posted by zombieflanders at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think that I, as a tired out person trying to get some bridges built, am much more inclined to want/expect that other folks who are also tired will instead say "Hey, you know what? I think I need a break from this conversation." and then leave, as unriled as possible to return to the grindstone another day.

As a trans* person, an Asian, an intersex person, a member of many other minorities, I don't get a fucking choice about whether I get to opt out of trans* issues or Asian or intersex issues. If I did get a choice to opt out, then maybe I'd say how people being so actively majority around me was kind of problematic and alienating. As it is, I get up the next morning and have to deal with the same shit.

Choosing to and opting out are both privileges that majority folks tend to have. I try to exercise that privilege only when I think it'll do more good than harm. But otherwise I try to be reliable, despite the casual insults that splash me sometimes when I work around other tired out people.
posted by kalessin at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just as a point of information, your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making me not want to say anything at all about trans issues. I know, I know, boo hoo, I should care about the justice of the issue and not whether people I thought were on my side are going to stick pins in me, but let's face it, people are human and nobody likes having pins stuck in them. You might want to reconsider how urgently you need to push back against people who are trying, however awkwardly, to be on your side.

...isn't this effectively the exact same tone argument that spawned this meta?


Look, it effectively comes down to "don't speak for me" which isn't that fucking hard. Don't make out like I'm some superhero for being trans, don't make out like being trans is some fucking tragedy and aren't I brave - you don't know what it's like. I won't speak for you, all I ask is the same courtesy repaid.

But I guess I should shut up, because good intentions (and it's not like the road to hell is paved therewith or anything, is it?) and I wouldn't want to lose allies now would I?
posted by Dysk at 12:51 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Okay, so as a cis person who was initially kind of nodding with Wolof's post, I was sort of taken aback for a minute by Dysk's first response. But as I kept reading, it made a lot of sense--and especially when I made the connection with the not-the-same-but-related phenomena that jaguar linked--and I'm glad that she spoke up about it, even if it made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first, because I'd rather have it pointed out that "hey, the way you're thinking about this is, even if you mean well, is kind of in a dynamic that can be uncomfortable for trans* people."

So, I don't know. Did it make me feel bad for a moment? Yeah, a little. Is that really a big deal in the scheme of things? No, not really. Did I learn something? Yeah, I think I did.
posted by kagredon at 12:56 PM on September 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


I believe that is exactly the way it should work, kagredon.
posted by Ouisch at 1:02 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dysk, It's sort of a not awesome ally who uses the tone argument on a minority to criticize what they say. I mean, it could have totally been inadvertent, but I don't try real hard for allies of that quantity. I figure allies shouldn't really seek incentive from minorities. That seems like the wrong direction of generosity.

That said, I think that that is the way, kagredon, that a lot of folks in privileged or advantage positions do learn, and I'm glad you found something valuable in this mess.
posted by kalessin at 1:15 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oops, sorry, quality, not quantity. Dur. Multitasking.
posted by kalessin at 1:41 PM on September 9, 2013


> Look, it effectively comes down to "don't speak for me" which isn't that fucking hard.

Really? Here's what Wolof wrote:

> Trans* people have worked a lot harder than most against some pretty terribly ingrained societal constraints to arrive at — or, at least, perform — their preferred identities. Is this not worthy of respect? Or even a pronomial tip o' the hat?

Rock on, you people. Saluti a tutti.


I don't think Wolof thought he was "speaking for you." I think he thought he was being supportive. For that, he got slapped in the chops. The response wasn't "hey, I know you mean to be supportive, and that's great, but you might want to consider how it looks from this side," it was "Speaking as a trans person, I find this generalisation misleading and frankly patronising ... If your respect hinges on my having gone through a particular imagined process, faced particular societal constraints, arriving at or expressing my identity in a particular way (or indeed at all) then I do not want it." Which means it is that fucking hard, which made me react as I said above. I'm not telling you to shut up, and I trust you're not telling me to shut up. We're all just trying to communicate.
posted by languagehat at 2:20 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


The reason some people can be prickly about the "bravery" thing is that it is a pretty common stereotype people fall back on to show a general positivity. I like to acknowledge the positivity behind it, but it is still a stereotype that doesn't fit everyone and may reflect a misunderstanding. It's also something that a lot of trans people encounter pretty frequently, so it can grate if you've heard it a thousand times this week, despite being a positive stereotype. Just like the idea that trans people are cool for being willing to swim against the mainstream: it's not like we have a choice, and for many of us, our rough and tumble Tank Girl Rebel Spirit is something we only learn by necessity. I'm a very quiet, shy person, honestly, but I've had to learn to speak up and be loud because, well, people listen a little better then.

Something else that feels kind of related that's also worth considering is that you wouldn't necessarily be able to identify the trans people in a big group. I have to constantly be explaining it in my own life (which has made me a lot more outspoken about this stuff as human rights issues) because where I live, it's difficult for me to obscure my pre-transition life and probably dangerous even if I could. But people who meet me for the first time today will express a bafflement when that comes up; there's an awkward tension where they try to see me as a guy, and can't. Which is sort of where I'm going with this. Trans people, just like cis people, come in a variety of shapes, including the bog standard "looking like anyone else" flavor. The wrong assumption that we don't hasn't exactly come up in this or any thread on the site I can remember, but I think it's very much a "somewhere in the backs of minds" thing that influences how people feel about, as an example, trans athletes, where many people will quickly demonstrate an ignorance of how trans bodies work.
posted by byanyothername at 2:38 PM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Trans* people have worked a lot harder than most against some pretty terribly ingrained societal constraints to arrive at — or, at least, perform — their preferred identities.

I don't think Wolof thought he was "speaking for you." I think he thought he was being supportive.


You see the bit I bolded? That's the bit where Wolof was speaking about my life for me. However they meant this to come across, it was a fucking problem for me as a trans person.
posted by Dysk at 2:50 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In short: don't treat me like I'm special. I'm not. I'm just a human being. Treat me like everyone else. I'm no more brave, determined, no more taking a stand than anyone else is, and it's presumptuous and othering to claim that I am - with no knowledge of me as an individual - simply for being trans. Making that same claim about all trans people or trans people in general does the same thing.
posted by Dysk at 2:53 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


if he'd worded it in a way that didn't present it as accepted fact, would you find it less problematic?

ie: I can't help but feel that Trans* people have worked a lot harder than most against some pretty terribly ingrained societal constraints to arrive at — or, at least, perform — their preferred identities.
posted by philip-random at 2:53 PM on September 9, 2013


The reason some people can be prickly about the "bravery" thing is that it is a pretty common stereotype people fall back on to show a general positivity.

One of my oldest friends just completed a full course of treatment for stage IV lymphoma, with excellent results and prognosis. I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, "Honestly? Tired of being told how brave I am for being able to make myself lunch, and guilty, because I really do feel fine and apparently I'm not supposed to."

It's important to acknowledge the general difficulties involved in unbalanced power dynamics, but it's also important not to erase a given personhood in the service of exploding the stereotype. If I have to cram you into a box in order to point out how unfair that box is, I'm not really helping. If I make every part of your life about how you're not dead from the cancer, I'm not seeing anything but cancer in you; if I can't say three words about you without relating it back to your trans* status, I don't think I'm really treating you like a real person, which is more or less the whole point of talking about any of this shit at all.
posted by Errant at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


> In any case, trolling still has an actual definition and if someone believes what they are
> saying it isn't trolling. It may be wrong. It may be inflammatory. It may even be stupid.
> But it isn't trolling!

"Trolling" has always (from usenet forward) meant making some wildly contrafactual or contraconventional claim that you don't actually believe, just to stir up drama for the lulz. Now, though, on metafilter only, it is far down the path of having a special site-specific meaning, that being to continue to restate a wrong opinion unrepentently in a thread whether it's your true, heartfelt opinion or not. Annoying and upsetting others by clinging to it and restating it is the essence of the troll; your sincerity is not relevant. It's just a matter of time before somebody announces that insisting on the canonical definition of "troll" is a troll. Actually, I don't read all comments in all threads, it may already have happened.


> Just as a point of information, your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making
> me not want to say anything at all about trans issues.

It's all making me feel the same way though, hat, so it's probably a wash.
posted by jfuller at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


See also: inspiration porn.
posted by Ouisch at 2:57 PM on September 9, 2013


philip-random, not really. I mean, it's obvious that it's an opinion anyway, and explicitly framing it in that way makes it no less egregious. The simple fact is, Wolof does not know what people have faced. Couching it as less universal would have alleviated a lot of the offense - "many trans people" (or better still, "some trans people") rather than "trans people". We're not all the same. In fact, we share pretty much just one feature - that we're trans.

Just as a point of information, your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making me not want to say anything at all about trans issues.

Just as a point of information, being told that what you've said is problematic is small beer compared to being constantly told a load of problematic rubbish about yourself. If merely being told that you've said something insulting is enough to make you want to back off, imagine how this entire discussion and the thread that prompted it might make a trans person feel about contributing to MetaFilter in general, and trans threads in particular.
posted by Dysk at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is going to be long. And I've not proofed it as well as I should have, so I hope I'll be given some slack on typos or incoherence.

"I should care about the justice of the issue and not whether people I thought were on my side are going to stick pins in me, but let's face it, people are human and nobody likes having pins stuck in them."

It's really not fun. But it comes with the territory. I mean, it really and truly comes with the territory and if you don't understand that, you perhaps not ought to be in that territory.

That's not to pick on you — what I'm aiming for with the previous sentence is that there's a difference between being regularly outspoken and active — an activist — on some issue involving a group to which you don't belong, and just being the kind of person who's inclined to be able to see the merit in the grievances of various groups and having a general attitude of "yeah, that's a problem, I'm on their side". For the latter, you might speak up now and then and it's kind of okay to make mistakes because this is more like you're just inclined to be sympathetic but it's not like you are deeply involved and educated about it and, more to the point, you're really not expected to know how to behave appropriately unless you become more involved. I'm okay with missteps by those folks, they're just well-meaning people who don't know enough to realize what they'd need to know to avoid making such mistakes. I feel this way about stuff where I'm in-group, such as being disabled, and although I have less standing to have an opinion on this, I personally also feel this way in those cases where I'm an active ally.

That's not a license for such people to expect to be given a pass when they are actively making things worse — like, you can say, ouch, I'm not sure what I did wrong, I was only trying to express my feelings and thoughts about being on your side, and I'm feeling a bit hurt and defensive about being slapped down. One statement like that is fine. An extended argument is something else; and when it's part of a larger worldview that consistently says "you can't expect me to be on your side unless you treat me well", then we're in wolfdreams01 territory. And when you show up in MeFi threads over and over to make the tone argument in service of "I'd be an ally, but you're alienating me and people like me", then really, you're not an ally, you're an enemy. That's willfully not understanding what you should understand.

That's not you, languagehat. That's not most people. It's a few people. But those people are really damn outspoken and they show up everywhere and are disruptive.

But, anyway, when you're really and truly an ally in the active, longstanding sense that I've been a male feminist for thirty years, then you absolutely should (mostly) know better and you (I) should have long ago learned to take your lumps when you go awry and someone snaps at you. It's still very unfun, human nature is such that it's still pretty crushing in a way, and I've been doing this for a really long time. It's crushing and all that, but the bottom line is that I have privilege and habits that are borne of that privilege and even thirty years of awareness doesn't erase that, because 95% of society reinforces that privilege. I will make mistakes. I try really hard not to, but I still do. And so I absolutely, positively, have a responsibility to take criticism, even angry criticism, even accusatory criticism, with some grace and walk away and try to learn something from it. If I or anyone else who's an ally is unwilling to do that, then we don't have any business placing ourselves in that role. That's just the way it is. People with privilege have a lot of trouble with this because we are trained to expect that we can just walk into an environment like this and everyone will be respectful and listen to us and even be sort of grateful that we're involved. That's a really wrong attitude, it reflects that underlying problem, but it comes with the territory because, as I already said, most of the world that we privileged folk live, especially those of us who are privileged in most respects, is a world that reinforces that thinking even when we know better. And most don't know better and so will take a stab at being involved and then react very badly when they're put in their place — which isn't automatically at the front of the room, taking charge.

Many such folk walk away and are bitter. Some people might argue that this is a problem, that those of us on the inside shouldn't do that because we need these allies. But as I wrote in a previous message, it doesn't pay to coddle people's assumed sense of privilege and privileged behavior. Best that you push back against it right away and not later when they've insinuated themselves and it's harder to do anything about it.

Okay, but coming back around to Wolof's comment, and yours and my reaction to it, that's kind of a difficult situation. I don't know how closely Wolof's been following these discussions here. I'm obviously following the trans* conversations close and, lately, participating. I'm not sure about you. But let's assume that Wolof is pretty much coming into this with not much knowledge and experience about this. Is it okay that Dysk was so upset and snapped at him? Well, let's put that aside for a moment.

I think it's reasonable to expect that I wouldn't have made that mistake. I mean, not only have I been paying a lot of attention to these discussions, and not only do I have my own experiences, as I discussed, of people assuming they know things they don't really know about my experience as a disabled person, but I also am the person very explicitly and frequently and ardently making the argument that there's a difference between "opposing injustice" and "advocacy" and that the latter is not really okay for an outsider. And Wolof's comment was firmly in the advocacy territory. It does, in fact, implicitly speak for someone else's experience. And you? Well, you probably should know enough not to make that mistake, I think. How about how we both feel bad for Wolof and defended him? Well, I don't know. I do think that given this thread, your comment was unfortunately very ironic. I like you and 99% of everything else I've read that you've written in the trans* threads has been really cool and not at all counterproductive, so I personally chalk this up to you being a little cranky, like you sometimes are, and more to what I also felt, and that was Wolof was coming from a good place and it was uncomfortable to see him slapped down for it.

But I won't say that Dysk was wrong. Dysk was totally right. Totally.

Because the bottom line is that we who aren't trans*, and are cisgendered, and in the other respects where we're privileged, our sense of what's proportionate and what's disproportionate, what's justified and unjustified, with regard to what trans* folk say and how they react and all that ... it's unreliable. Of course we're going to see Wolof's comment sympathetically because we don't have Dysk's perspective on how what Wolof wrote was really, really a problem for Dysk and other trans* folk, as well as disabled folk and lots of other, similar examples. Dysk has very good reasons to have a short fuse with this. I was sympathetic to Wolof, but the same comment applied to disabled people might have rubbed me intensely the wrong way, like it did Dysk. I think it would have really pissed my sister off. But that's partly because she has a lot more contact with people who are very condescending and even pitying about her disability while they expect to be responded to as if their pity and condescension and almost complete lack of awareness of, well, anything about what they're blathering about is a gift ... it's infuriating. But I don't deal with that very much.

But if my sister or someone else really snapped at those people in response, they'd be very surprised and hurt and possibly come up with all sorts of stories about why my sister or whomever is just a mean and ungrateful person for not properly appreciating someone's well-intentioned comment.

Basically, with Dysk's reaction, it's simply not our place to make a judgement about whether it was appropriate or fair, or whatever. Not our place. It's not our place to get defensive on Wolof's behalf. We don't know. We are not in a position to evaluate whether Dysk has good reasons to respond like that. Or, rather, we're not in a position to do anything other than to respect Dysk's explanation for it.

This is kind of what the sincerely offered tone argument comes down to, also: outsiders are in no position to make judgments about what is and isn't justified and appropriate about how angry or undiplomatic or hyperbolic or whatever an insider expressed their experiences and grievances. But they do, they do so all the time: "that was uncalled for". How do they know it was uncalled for? They don't.

That doesn't include personal attacks and whatever. But how a trans* person characterizes the way that Wikipedia has dealt with the Chelsea Manning page? No, we who are cisgendered are in no position to make that judgement.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:05 PM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't know how closely Wolof's been following these discussions here. I'm obviously following the trans* conversations close and, lately, participating. I'm not sure about you. But let's assume that Wolof is pretty much coming into this with not much knowledge and experience about this. Is it okay that Dysk was so upset and snapped at him? Well, let's put that aside for a moment.

I think that in the context of a long, long thread, where a lot of ground has been tread, many comments made, and that's starting wind down, you can expect a bit more than you can in general. The comment existed in a lot of context.

I also really disagree with the characterisation of my response as "a slap in the chops" or "sticking pins in [them]". At no point did I insult Wolof, or claim that their intentions were anything but good, or call them names or say they deserved any kind of disrespect. What I did was say - unequivocally - that it was offensive and problematic. This does not impugn Wolof, it merely dryly, factually states my reaction to it, my feelings about it. That people are getting as defensive as they are - it's not even Wolof, it's others on Wolof's behalf - does not strike me as something I could've avoided with more gentle phrasing. As was, my response still strikes me on re-read as firm, but unaccusatory.
posted by Dysk at 3:15 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Basically, with Dysk's reaction, it's simply not our place to make a judgement about whether it was appropriate or fair, or whatever.

Here's what Dysk wrote:

> In short: don't treat me like I'm special. I'm not. I'm just a human being. Treat me like everyone else.

Is that what you're doing? It doesn't sound like it to me. It sounds to me like you're saying "Dysk is not just a human being and we shouldn't treat Dysk like everyone else. Rather, we must privilege Dysk's responses in a way we wouldn't dream of privileging other people's responses." Do you see the contradiction here? I thought Dysk treated Wolof badly and I said so, just as I would have said so if I thought someone else treated Dysk badly. Dysk doesn't appear to want kid glove treatment, so it seems to be you're being problematic here.

> As was, my response still strikes me on re-read as firm, but unaccusatory.

We'll have to disagree, and I strongly suspect Wolof would disagree.

In case it needs to be said: I'm on your side, I respect your feelings and reactions, but I think you were unnecessarily nasty to Wolof. I'm not trying to make a huge deal out of it, but I wanted to say something. And now, so as to avoid making this All About Me, I'll stay out of it, unless someone needs a further answer from me.
posted by languagehat at 3:23 PM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm on your side, I respect your feelings and reactions, but I think you were unnecessarily nasty to Wolof.

That was my take as well, only mentioning it because Dysk mentioned her perception was different from my own and my experience here has been that phrasing matters a great deal more than people sometimes give it credit for. And I think everyone's personal radios aren't always tuned to MeFi frequency, nor should they be, but sometimes it's helpful when there seems to be a disconnect, to mention something.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:27 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is that what you're doing? It doesn't sound like it to me. It sounds to me like you're saying "Dysk is not just a human being and we shouldn't treat Dysk like everyone else. Rather, we must privilege Dysk's responses in a way we wouldn't dream of privileging other people's responses." Do you see the contradiction here? I thought Dysk treated Wolof badly and I said so, just as I would have said so if I thought someone else treated Dysk badly. Dysk doesn't appear to want kid glove treatment, so it seems to be you're being problematic here.

Uh... this is exactly how we'd treat everyone else (I'd hope!), just relative to their own lived experiences. You privilege people's responses above others' if they're speaking about their own lived experience, about their journey through life. It's not treating me any different to listen to me (and other trans people) on trans issues, but not on what it's like to be disabled, say, and instead privilege for example IvanF's responses on that topic.

In short: context. Treating everyone equally does not mean treating everyone exactly the same in every situation.

I think you were unnecessarily nasty to Wolof

I am really, genuinely struggling to see this. What did I say that was nasty?
posted by Dysk at 3:28 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


jfuller: I just realized you used usenet quoting protocols in your response to me! Nice! It says something about how much time I spent on Usenet that I didn't blink an eye and didn't even notice until I re-read it later.
posted by Justinian at 3:41 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like we kind of went from dismissing trans* people's experience, achieved an uneasy acceptance, and now we are back to dismissing trans* people's experience. Or, I should say, at least one trans* person's experience.

Is that what you're doing? It doesn't sound like it to me. It sounds to me like you're saying "Dysk is not just a human being and we shouldn't treat Dysk like everyone else. Rather, we must privilege Dysk's responses in a way we wouldn't dream of privileging other people's responses." Do you see the contradiction here? I thought Dysk treated Wolof badly and I said so, just as I would have said so if I thought someone else treated Dysk badly. Dysk doesn't appear to want kid glove treatment, so it seems to be you're being problematic here.

It seems to me that Dysk was very honest about her response to Wolof. Could Dysk have been kinder? Yes; I was sad to see that comment. On the other hand, Dysk is more of an expert on trans* issues ( especially her trans* issues) than pretty much anyone currently speaking, and I think, (and Ivan Fyodorovich pointed out in his comment) that it is really hard to say "hey, don't be so mean to your allies" and not make it a threat. Because that is being a very mercenary ally. It's one of the things that makes being an ally hard -- you give up the privilege of being an expert or having it be about you.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:45 PM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think it's worth it to note that the flag-and-move-on philosophy also works really well for ideological clashes between minorities and majority allies and potential allies. Sometimes we as individuals do not have the personal experience to see and agree with the trans* person's experience. Hell, that works for clashes between two different trans* people with different perspectives too.

And that's okay. Not every potential ally has to get along with every minority. Sometimes personal communication styles are just not compatible. What I think works best is that when we discover these incompatibilities we try to, without rancor, observe that incompatibility and move on. There's a trans* person for every potential ally, we just don't all have to get along in a fuzzy rainbow of supportiveness.
posted by kalessin at 3:59 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hee hee, I'll take my lumps and no offence intended.
posted by Wolof at 4:03 PM on September 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


lI'm on your side, I respect your feelings and reactions, but I think you were unnecessarily nasty to Wolof.

That was my take as well, only mentioning it because Dysk mentioned her perception was different from my own and my experience here has been that phrasing matters a great deal more than people sometimes give it credit for. And I think everyone's personal radios aren't always tuned to MeFi frequency, nor should they be, but sometimes it's helpful when there seems to be a disconnect, to mention something.

I'm torn as to how to quote these lines since they're from separate people in one comment. But I guess you and they can figure it out from the rest of the thread.

Anyway, it seems like folks missed or mistook the links jaguar provided above.

I'm really, probably unproductively easy going about this kind of problem (because I usually don't let it bother me), but the stereotype in question here is a combination of charitable righteousness (paraphrase: "How dare you not take my charity?") and a dangerous kind of subtle stereotyping. The reason it's dangerous and subtle is that it's a stereotyping that the person doing the stereotyping perceives as flattering.

Lest anyone mistake my intent here, I'm not here to call this stuff out, but I'm trying to explain a tricky concept few of us seem to really understand.

But jaguar's links are about differently-abled folks and Asian folks. I'm half-Asian so I totally get the Asian thing, but I think one of the ways we've already discussed that is perhaps less challenging because these points have been made and discussed more before is the beauty industry.

What happens when you set a person up to live up to an impossible or very improbable ideal? Lots of shitty stuff. Physiological and psychological issues, putting oneself under unhealthy stress trying to live up to the standard. You also get situations where folks who don't live up to this standard are seen as even more undesirable and even less good citizens than they were (not) before.

So before the beauty industry it seems like we had a wider and better tolerance as a global society for a wider and more diverse population appearances of men and women. But the beauty industry got going and the ads went to wider and wider audiences and now we all have this improbable standard of beauty to live up to. And does it seem like life has gotten easier for those of us not beautiful enough? I'd say most definitely not.

In all situations like this, folks who either took the improbable/impossible standard as bullshit and didn't even try or folks who didn't but were simply unable to live up to it are both left behind and ostracized even more than when the standard didn't exist. And a lot of this because someone noticed a flattering pattern and called it out, into a stereotype.

So yeah. I mean, I think I'm pretty demonstrably clever and wordy and you wouldn't know it here but I'm pretty good at math and computers, but I didn't make a 4.0 or higher GPA and I did get a lot of flak for that. I didn't ace my SATs. I didn't get into an excellent college on my first application. It was supposed to be easy for me and it wasn't.

I had Asian friends in High School who were getting Cs and Bs and it was hellish for them. No sympathy from friends and certainly none from parents. What was wrong with them anyway? No one really asked us if we wanted to be something other than math and science geeks and doctors. It was rare that one of us had friends and parents who supported a career in the arts. Or even dropping out and finding our own ways in the world. Nope. Our paths were often very strictly controlled. By our whole community. Friends, parents, teachers, counselors, religious leaders, everyone bought into a very focused career path and so we tried. And only some of us succeeded. And the rest paid for it. Every single day.

So that's one of the fallouts of insisting on transmitting this kind of complement to someone who's in a minority. Even if you admire them and their courage. Find some other way of saying it. Maybe admire them by supporting them instead of making them take an unwelcome compliment?
posted by kalessin at 7:32 PM on September 9, 2013


So what could 'supporting them' look like?
I'm asking because I'm pretty sure that those who make unwelcome compliments intended to be doing exactly that: supporting.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:08 PM on September 9, 2013


So what could 'supporting them' look like?

Say you see your friend across the room, and you rush up to them and excitedly say, "Hi! You look great!"

And they yelp, "OW! You're stepping on my toe!"

Do you:

A. Say, "I'm SO TIRED of people telling me that I'm stepping on their toes! Why can't you just get over it already! It really hurts my feelings that everyone's implying I'm clumsy!"?

B. Say, "You're being ungrateful about the compliment I just gave you! Why can't you at least say thank you? It's not like I was TRYING to step on your toe!"?

C. Say, "Oh, my gosh, sorry," take a step back, and then try the conversation again?

So, you compliment someone, or say something that you think is supportive. The person you're trying to compliment or support says, "Actually, that's not cool." You can just say, "Oh, sorry, I didn't know, thanks for telling me."

That's it. "Sorry, I didn't know, thanks for telling me." And then try to learn from the mistake and move on, in the same way that if you've stepped on someone's toe you'd say "Sorry" and move. No one's trying to make it some big guilt-trippy deal.
posted by jaguar at 11:38 PM on September 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


(Which seems to be precisely what Wolof actually did in this case, too.)
posted by jaguar at 11:40 PM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sorry, jaguar, but that's too abstract for me to be of any help. I've seen that 'stepping on toes' analogy many times, I'm looking for actual examples of what support would look like in the real world (in which no one I know in person is trans*).

Apparently, 'you're so brave' is wrong, and reading the explanations here, I can see why it's wrong.
But what would be right? Wouldn't that mostly depend on who we're talking to and what this person has experienced? I'm assuming it would, but are there things to generally keep in mind?
After all, it seems that there are things that can generally be said to be 'not cool'. Are there things that are generally cool?
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:47 AM on September 10, 2013


Too-Ticky, it's really not much more complicated than listening to what the person in question has to say, what they want, and showing them some respect. Obvious things like using the pronouns people prefer and so on are (I take it) a given, and beyond that, there really isn't much that's universal. It's not like there's some particular sort of 'support' we trans people are all walking around completely lacking in our lives. If you're not actively treating us like shit though (whether well-intentioned or not), you're streets ahead of a lot of people.
posted by Dysk at 1:27 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, if that's called support, then support sounds doable.
Not saying every trans* person needs support... or rather, actually, don't we all need support? I know I do, every now and then.

Not (accidentally) treating people like shit can be hard... news at eleven, I suppose. But I try. Many of us* try. And yes, I'm learning a lot from threads like these.

I still can't manage to use singular 'they'. Not sure I can learn. It keeps sounding ridiculous and wrong to my foreign ears. But apart from that, calling people by what they have indicated as their preference... sure. Common decency.

I really wish there were a good, usable, commonly used, standardized set of gender-neutral pronouns in my language. Oh, and while we're at it... in yours, too.

Thank you for being willing to explain.

*us = people in general
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:55 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still can't manage to use singular 'they'. Not sure I can learn. It keeps sounding ridiculous and wrong to my foreign ears.

There are people who have names that sound ridiculous and wrong to my ears, and loads of Britishisms that just make no sense at all in that regard ('Saint John' is pronounced "sinjin"? 'Menzies' is pronounced "mingus"? Really?) but I still manage to use them, even as they ring jarringly in my Danish ears.

Singular they probably does take a bit of getting used to for most people. Actually knowing someone who goes by it has helped take a lot of the weirdness out of it for me - I think it's just a matter of exposure and time, really.
posted by Dysk at 2:40 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Singular "they/them" is now nearly considered standard English and is unremarkably grammatical to nearly any native speaker under about 30. I stopped correcting it in student papers years ago.
posted by spitbull at 4:11 AM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, "could care less" is more controversial.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:28 AM on September 10, 2013


Too-Ticky's not a native speaker, so it's likely he has less exposure to colloquial English.
posted by nangar at 4:45 AM on September 10, 2013


Understood, that's why I made the point that the usage is now widely considered grammatical -- as reassurance.
posted by spitbull at 4:54 AM on September 10, 2013


But be glad English doesn't force you to choose between inclusive and exclusive first person plural, because then "we" could really get into it.
posted by spitbull at 4:56 AM on September 10, 2013


On the other hand, it lacks a difference between plural and singular 'you', which is quite practical to have.

I'm indeed not a native speaker. Which may contribute to the awkwardness, as I've been taught very explicitly and deliberately for years that 'they' is plural.

(I'm also not really a 'he'. But I prefer being called 'he' over being called 'they'.)

Back to the topic at hand, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:45 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm also not really a 'he'. But I prefer being called 'he' over being called 'they'.

That's pretty embarrassing in this case, since we were talking about using people's preferred pronouns. (I have no idea where I got he from.)
posted by nangar at 5:59 AM on September 10, 2013


That's why "y'all" was invented, although there is singular y'all (usually used in insults).

And of course European languages like to mix up plural and honorific/deferential/formal "you."

And hey, pronoun issues are not a derail!

Just don't call me late for dinner.
posted by spitbull at 6:03 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's why "y'all" was invented, although there is singular y'all (usually used in insults).

And if all y'all want to include everybody, y'all use "all y'all".

(I tend towards UKian English, but y'all/all y'all are too useful not to nick; could care less if it's not quite correct.)
posted by MartinWisse at 6:49 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm also not really a 'he'. But I prefer being called 'he' over being called 'they'.

I like to use they when I'm uncertain about a poster's gender and their profile doesn't make it clear. Better than sie or sir, which invokes my German instincts.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:51 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


In pronouns I prefer Spivak which is best understood by taking "they" and dropping the initial "th" and the occasional "y". And making it singular. E, em, eir, emself, etc.

Main problem with Spivak is that it doesn't pronounce as well as it reads. Voiced it can sound like non committal slurring.
posted by kalessin at 6:53 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


In case it needs to be said: I'm on your side, I respect your feelings and reactions

That's not really clear from what you first said though:

Just as a point of information, your endless parsing of how problematic everything is is making me not want to say anything at all about trans issues.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:56 AM on September 10, 2013


Jaguar's analogy is solid– attempts at support can often seem painfully condescending. What it leaves out, though, is the difference between
• "Ow! You're stepping on my toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, you asshole!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, what the fuck is wrong with you?!?!?"

Those are very different responses, and which one your friend chooses will say a lot about whether they're a friend worth keeping.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:54 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


ou see the bit I bolded? That's the bit where Wolof was speaking about my life for me.

I think he was speaking in general. The same argument has been made regarding the use of "men" and in "men do..." or "men can...". People who complain are told that "then it doesn't apply to you". This seems pretty similar to me; I think the alternative would be almost endless caveats.
posted by spaltavian at 7:58 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, it lacks a difference between plural and singular 'you', which is quite practical to have.

In Northern Ireland it is quite common to hear people say "yous" as the plural, "So what are yous doing later?".
posted by knapah at 8:10 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jaguar's analogy is solid– attempts at support can often seem painfully condescending. What it leaves out, though, is the difference between
• "Ow! You're stepping on my toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, you asshole!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, what the fuck is wrong with you?!?!?"

Those are very different responses, and which one your friend chooses will say a lot about whether they're a friend worth keeping.


Which one your friend chooses may also depend a lot upon whether people have been treating your friend's toes as an ideal venue for tap-dancing practice in the hours or days leading up to your accidental step.
posted by Dysk at 8:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


Those are very different responses, and which one your friend chooses will say a lot about whether they're a friend worth keeping.

The responses don't happen in a vacuum. Here's a real world example: I had a friend, well a member of my friend group, who had a habit of walking up behind people and giving them big "surprise" bear hugs, lifting them into the air. I didn't like this and had asked him not to do it many times, but he kept doing it. Then I got into a car accident and had fairly bad whiplash / soft tissue injuries in my neck and back. This was well-known in my friend group, and I was wearing a soft foam collar to help minimize pain. So this time when Dave came up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist without warning or permission, and hoisted me into the air, I SCREAMED in agony, and whirled around and said "Dave, what the goddamn fuck?! Leave me the fuck alone and don't goddamn touch me unless I give you explicit permission, that fucking hurt!!" Dave then proceeded to sulk and pout and follow me around for the rest of the party, demanding that I apologize to him for being such a bitch when all he wanted to do was give me a hug.

So, whose response was more justified, my anger or Dave's hurt feelings?
posted by KathrynT at 8:41 AM on September 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


• "Ow! You're stepping on my toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, you asshole!"
• "Ow! You fucking stepped on my goddamn toe, what the fuck is wrong with you?!?!?"


you missed the first one. "Excuse me, that's my toe."
posted by philip-random at 9:15 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Those are very different responses, and which one your friend chooses will say a lot about whether they're a friend worth keeping.

Or, whether you're as good a friend to them as you think you are.
posted by Errant at 9:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: "Those are very different responses, and which one your friend chooses will say a lot about whether they're a friend worth keeping."

In what horrifying world do you live where, if a friend expresses what seems to you like anger out of all proportion to a slight just inflicted on them, you immediately start to evaluate their worth as a friend and don't ask them something like, "Hey, are you okay?"
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


We have always called MetaFilter a social network for non-friends which might explain some of the dissonance that is occurring here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:11 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Depends on whether their rage is an isolated incident, or how they always react to slights.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2013


Maybe they "always react to slights" with rage because you're always slighting them.
posted by KathrynT at 10:27 AM on September 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


....or whether, when I say "Woah, what's up with that?" they respond with "Look, I've been dealing with a lot" or "How dare you question my righteous rage?!?!??!"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:28 AM on September 10, 2013


Come on folks, people can MeMail TFB if they want to discuss extended dance remix versions of his chosen analogy. This is getting rabbit-holeish here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


I like that the guy who steps on toes is the good friend in this scenario.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoops. Sorry.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2013


To be fair, it's not entirely improbable that there's going to be a degree of pushback to a mansplanation about tone that is also a tone argument.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:31 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: "Come on folks, people can MeMail TFB if they want to discuss extended dance remix versions of his chosen analogy. This is getting rabbit-holeish here."

I'm choosing to read this as a plea for musical responses after another recent MeTa.
posted by Corinth at 10:43 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm choosing to read this as a plea for musical responses after another recent MeTa.

One toe! One toe!
I heard he pushed the boundaries
I heard he had a style
And so I clicked this MeTa and listened for a while
And there he was explaining, bleeding going to my eyes
Giving me pain with his fingers
One toe, one toe
Giving me pain with his words...
Killing me textually with his wrong..
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


What do I need to stop doing?
What do I need to start doing?
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:18 AM on September 10, 2013


I am incredibly late to this little party, but I just had a serious revelation. I am not being sarcastic or insincere, I mean it.

I'm no fierce advocate on any of these issues.

I feel a lot of people who are derailing these threads regularly feel the same way, but have to pretend otherwise to somehow strengthen their arguments about tone. It seems so... un-Metafilter to say you just aren't terribly involved or consumed with a given social ill, but it's true. I'm not, and I won't pretend to be just to argue. Myself and some others really ought to GAFB.

I guess people are scared of being branded "not an ally", or whatever, but I know what I feel and what I've done and how I conduct myself politically and personally. I'm comfortable with it and am done trying to impress random people on the internet with my bona fides. As long as what I say is treated in good faith and I reciprocate this, I don't think there is a problem.

My new motto is:

I will say what I feel if the issue is relevant or interesting to me and realize that a lot of my fellow MeFites are seriously involved in this stuff and use a different vernacular or some language choices I don't care for. I'll do my best to ignore what bothers me and stay on point with the thread.


PS

I know I've posted derails in two of these threads and upon reflection I'm sorry for it. It wasn't my intention. I do really hate the language of progressivism. I need to process that and figure out what it is that bothers me. Off to write!
posted by lattiboy at 11:37 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm no fierce advocate on any of these issues.

I feel a lot of people who are derailing these threads regularly feel the same way, but have to pretend otherwise to somehow strengthen their arguments about tone. It seems so... un-Metafilter to say you just aren't terribly involved or consumed with a given social ill, but it's true. I'm not, and I won't pretend to be just to argue. Myself and some others really ought to GAFB.


But, surely, any member who is not particularly invested in any discussion has the option to not comment. If members are slightly interested, they can certainly read the thread and learn something (if only that disengagement is well justified for them).

The problem is more members who feel a need to enter threads they are not engaged in and derail discussion by insisting the people in the thread should talk about what they want instead. People who are passionately against something but are open and honest about their point of view are more constructive in most cases.

One always has the option to walk away, after all. There is no "comments/day" prize.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


There is no "comments/day" prize.

Aw, maaaaan

/kicks ground, sulks
posted by zombieflanders at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust: "There is no "comments/day" prize."

I went to look at what my comments/day was an it's about 0.5, which is higher than I expected. Huh.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:16 PM on September 10, 2013


Well, you are an entire army....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm comfortable with it and am done trying to impress random people on the internet with my bona fides.

I think you just revealed a major disconnect here. I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly don't treat women like people, try to educate myself on trans* issues, and acknowledge the serious injustices that are done to minorities and the poor in the US because I want to let everyone know my 'bona fides". I do it because I genuinely believe it is the best interest of the good.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:42 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think you just revealed a major disconnect here. I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly don't treat women like people, try to educate myself on trans* issues, and acknowledge the serious injustices that are done to minorities and the poor in the US because I want to let everyone know my 'bona fides". I do it because I genuinely believe it is the best interest of the good.

Jesus, four comments in and I regret trying to honestly explain myself. Way to take everything else I said off the table and pick out the line that could be best misconstrued out of context.

If you read the first part of my comment, this quote would make sense. It was about myself (and others) incorrectly inflating our role in these issues to argue semantics.

You have succeeded in being both condescending and rude to somebody trying to get things back on track in these things, so congratulations on that.
posted by lattiboy at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


But, surely, any member who is not particularly invested in any discussion has the option to not comment.

That's what I meant. Poor wording on my part. I don't literally want to go into a thread and say, "I am not particularly involved in this, so I thought you guys should know."

I just mean don't comment in it.
posted by lattiboy at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2013


uh...
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:18 PM on September 10, 2013


I appreciated your point that there are other people who are more invested in a subject. I think this actually touches on something quite important -- that there is a risk of people coming into a discussion from different sets of experiences, and not realizing how much that affects the conversation.

If somebody hasn't had direct experience with something, they may tend to treat it abstractly, like a logic puzzle or even as a subject of bemused humor. And a lot of us enjoy engaging with things intellectually, and picking at arguments, just for the pleasure of the rhetoric.

This can actually be a bad way to approach things when dealing with somebody for whom the subject isn't an abstraction. There is a risk of seeming like somebody isn't taking it seriously, or doesn't recognize that they're not just engaging a subject intellectually, but actually taking a conversation off course, or undermining real-world experiences, or assuming a critical or ironic or expert viewpoint that the conversation doesn't warrant. And because the subject is an abstraction to the speaker, they may have trouble understanding why people are getting huffy when they raise critiques that, in the abstract, are perfectly reasonable, but in the real world feel like rules lawyering, or dismissing experiences, or all the other conversational gambits enumerated on the site in the past few days.

And I think it's quite valuable to ask why certain language bothers you. I would be curious to hear your feelings on it, once you've reflected.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:20 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


If that's "uh..." as in "uh...you're saying don't comment in it while commenting in an about-it thread", that's not really being at all fair. This is a metatalk discussion about the meta topic and how it plays out on Metafilter, people talking about their perspectives and personal strategies and ideas about how to improve their own engagement is a good thing. It doesn't have to be a formal model of how they'd engage in some notional thread-of-the-sort-we're-discussing at the same time.

But really in general probably a good idea period to type whatever "uh..." stands for instead of the "uh..." itself since it's kind of a rough conversational non-volley that leaves people having to try and guess what you're thinking under a cloud of implied snark or criticism or whatever. If you think someone said something frustrating, it's better to just go ahead and say that, we're stuck with text and text alone here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


You have succeeded in being both condescending and rude to somebody trying to get things back on track in these things, so congratulations on that.

Yeah, it was a rather misanthropic pain foresty twist of what you were trying to say.
posted by philip-random at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2013


lattiboy, I don't think you are trying to stir the pot here, but you came into a long and contentious thread about tone arguments preventing minorities from expressing their opinions and experiences, suggested you had no real stake in the argument either way, along with what read like a dismissal of many of the commenters as incincerely participating for some sort of status boost, and then ended with

I know I've posted derails in two of these threads and upon reflection I'm sorry for it. It wasn't my intention. I do really hate the language of progressivism. I need to process that and figure out what it is that bothers me. Off to write!

which reads a lot like dismissing the entire point of the thread, and you are offended that people are pushing back?

If I've misread you, I apologize, but that is a lot to take at the end of a thread like this.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, then, I'll try to write something that responds to lattice, because I sincerely don't understand the first comment or the whole subsequent interaction.

I guess I'll start by saying I think Lattice's original comment is sincere, but contradictory at the same time. I mean, you don't care, that's great, but this something you equate with "progressive language" which is something you hate, which is a little more than not caring about something.

So what is it? You don't care, or you hate it?
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:31 PM on September 10, 2013


"not care" is misrepresenting you, I'll try to fix that.

You aren't a fierce advocate, which I read is you saying don't want to look at this. I get that, it's a bit annoying to have to wade through this stuff.

Your comment just totally broadsided me for some reason and I'm really struggling with it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:35 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I took it lattiboy was saying "I'm an interested reader, just not a super advocate on one side or the other. I don't want to have to demonstrate that I'm taking a certain side as a prerequisite to participate in a discussion."
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:37 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for lattice but I can say that the "language of progressivism" (whatever it is) can be immensely frustrating. I mean, I'm well educated, I've spent more of my life writing and reading (or related) than doing pretty much anything else except perhaps sleeping, so though I'd never claim to be an Expert on anything, I am generally confident when it comes to "using my words". But then I come across a situation on a website of which I'm a member where the conversation has become so academically dense, the implications so loaded that I really start to doubt what "my words" even mean anymore.

On one level, this is really quite good -- questioning of assumptions and all that. But on another, yeah, it does frustrate.
posted by philip-random at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2013


LobsertMitten: That helps a lot. I don't want a fierce advocate. I actually agree with Lattice on that. I don't want allies. It feels so damn condescending sometimes.

It's just, the comment came in from a weird angle that I couldn't parse. Like, my brain totally borked on it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:43 PM on September 10, 2013


I don't want to have to demonstrate that I'm taking a certain side as a prerequisite to participate in a discussion."

I actually took it differently -- I heard lattiboy as saying "I have been moved to comment on these subjects solely because the language frustrates me so badly, even though I'm not particularly invested in the subject matter. However, in retrospect, I can see how this would be derailing and annoying to those who WERE invested in the subject matter. In the future, I will try to bear in mind that people truly are invested in these things, and for good reasons, and save my discussions of language for a place where that is the main topic under discussion."
posted by KathrynT at 1:44 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I didn't read lattiboy saying that at all. I read him as saying, "you know, I don't feel as strongly as other people do about a lot of this stuff, but what I haven't necessarily done is respected the fact that other people do genuinely feel really strongly about these things and have therefore constructed a language around it, the same way that everyone constructs a language around their own interests. My distaste for certain terms isn't as important as engaging honestly and constructively, and being so engaged in turn, and as an aside I'd like to figure out why I actually have that distaste in the first place."

I don't read him as being dismissive at all, entirely the opposite. I read him as saying that he needs to not dismiss in a knee-jerk fashion just because a term rubs him the wrong way, and that while he's not going to go out of his way to prove his ally-hood on a given subject, he's also going to try not to dismiss other people's commitment to the same.
posted by Errant at 1:45 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Language of Progressivism" is a shitty catch-all for what I'm trying to describe, but phillip-random is coming close to what I will eventually write when I think about it more.

And to clarify for Annika: I mean to say I don't have a lot of passion for many of the SJ issues talked about here. It doesn't mean I disagree with the goals. Hell, I support the people doing it (financially and logistically), and I hope for the outcome of equality and justice. I just can't feign intense interest in the discussions around it. Additionally, I find the discussions to use language which I find incredibly pretentious and loaded. This is my deal and I will explain it elsewhere in a more articulate manner.
posted by lattiboy at 1:47 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be honest I've never had any issues with the "language of progressivism", whatever that may be. In fact I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean. In my head it sounds like "the slogans, jargon and vocabulary unique to progressives", in which case, I'd be curious to know what's wrong with it. And by that I mean as opposed to unique vocabulary used by, say, conservatives.

I will say that if the intended meaning here is "regardless of political affiliation, it is nigh impossible to reduce complex issues to a couple handy slogans" then that's entirely on the mark. I just don't see what makes progressivism special in that regard.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:47 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't mind a list of terms included in the "language of progressivism", myself. I'm curious.

I've lost track of what I've picked up and from where.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:50 PM on September 10, 2013


I will say that if the intended meaning here is "regardless of political affiliation, it is nigh impossible to reduce complex issues to a couple handy slogans" is entirely on the mark. I just don't see what makes progressivism special in that regard.

I would say the (perfectly righteous) goal of being completely and totally inclusive. No matter how clunky or unnatural it makes the discussion. Also, the (again, totally a good thing) incredible level of sensitivity. It can drive things to a kind of parody of conversation if you read too much of it.
posted by lattiboy at 1:50 PM on September 10, 2013


Sure, I can see how trying to make sure you're covering as many bases as possible can make it seem like an interminably long wait to get to whatever the point actually is.
posted by Errant at 1:54 PM on September 10, 2013


I would say the (perfectly righteous) goal of being completely and totally inclusive. No matter how clunky or unnatural it makes the discussion. Also, the (again, totally a good thing) incredible level of sensitivity. It can drive things to a kind of parody of conversation if you read too much of it.

Oh, I see what you mean, I think. Language that tries to be inclusive and sensitive in ways that sound clumsy and lead-footed maybe? Eh, I dunno, I don't think it's that big a deal. Most of the time when people bring this up there's a strange absence of immediate examples of people trying to be so inclusive and sensitive that it demonstrably bogs down the conversation. Neologisms are only clunky because they're new. When they sink their way into our vocabulary, the flow's much easier. This is the same for any new word or term.

I'd also add that, given the choice between inclusive, sensitive language and the opposite, I'd much rather speak carefully and note suggestions in language that people make than to be in a conversation where such conventions don't matter.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:56 PM on September 10, 2013


My understanding of what lattiboy's saying is that he cares about the same SJ issues as activists do, to the extent that he sympathizes with them, but he doesn't care enough about them to be someone who is actively an activist, especially with regard to discussing these issues with actual activists. Part of what gets in his way is the manner in which many "progressive" discussions are conducted.

Since he knows that his distaste for "the language of progressives" puts him at odds with most, well, progressives, and since he knows that he's not as passionate about SJ issues as most activists, he doesn't want to be "that guy" who constantly derails threads by taking exception to the language of progressives.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:58 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also can't remember conversations on this site that attempted to be "completely and totally inclusive" or exhibited some "incredible level of sensitivity". But then that's just from my POV. Getting hung up on terms that bug a person, while absolutely understandable, sort of loses sight of the actual important stuff behind the terminology. If you can see past it, there's a lot to see and hear.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's also something different-in-kind about the language used in discussions of progressive issues vs. your general jargon/terms-of-art situation with a lot of topics in that there's not the sense of emotional charge so often in an otherwise seemingly formally similar conversation about some academic topic.

Like, I find discussions of high level mathematics or philosophy or economic theory confusing on the basis of the shared vocabulary I'm not fluent in, but the stakes are less personal in that case; I'm not gonna feel like I'm (however indirectly) prevented from discussing something I have a real personal connection to if I can't keep up with e.g. ring theory, and the math wonk is likely to feel something more like abstract annoyance than personal insult if I'm clumsy in my attempts to speak the lingua franca.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


And guys, the way my original comment (whatever flaws it had) is being analyzed like it's some kind of abstract art might speak just a little to how much "motivation interpretation" goes on in threads. I kept the comment as plain spoken as possible to avoid excess ambiguity.

As generally positive as the reaction is, it sounds like a jury debating the culpability of an ape who killed his trainer........
posted by lattiboy at 2:09 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jargon itself is usually the least of it. Discussions about SJ issues have certain ground rules and underlying structures. Terms such as "tone argument" and "safe space" are not merely words in a vacuum. They refer to ways to structure (or undermine) conversations. These conversations have a number of important rules. Those rules are tightly bound with a number of key assumptions of the modern progressive movement.

To be a progressive who is unaware of these rules' existence, or that other conversations are not necessarily structured in these ways, is to be like a fish who doesn't know what water is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a couple of reactions to the already admittedly shitty phrase "language of...".

To me it reads like a short and shitty way to say that the para- and metalanguage that progressives (of whom I am one) use to talk about their experiences and they way they tend to take dissent and try to respond to it makes it hard for a generally generously disposed but new participant to really get a toehold.

And I get that. But I am also sort of very periously balanced between wanting to help out and honestly not wanting it to cost me any more to reach out than it already does.

There are a lot of previously-discussed reasons for my feeling already tapped out, ranging from simple stuff like tokenism (the urge and urging to speak as one person for a huge group of people), fair representation (the goal to make sure that it's not just one type of person who participates in the discussion from any particular viewpoint), my personally being poorly suited to 101 discussions, and the overall demand that a a lot of folks who are not within the progressive circles make to be educated - which takes a potentially force-volunteered educator's time away from eir preferred work (presumably not that kind of teaching).

And similarly there are a lot of previously-discussed reasons why I should get over feeling tapped out.

I like to think that I personally strike a pretty good balance between offers of critique, help, advice, and reserving some time and energy and commitment to me, for my projects.

But it also reads to me as a potentially artificial boundary that turns out to be a good excuse for not doing one's own self-taught homework.

There is, honestly, a huge amount of stuff out there for folks new to progressivism to learn from. It does usually demand dipping a toe into the psychologically challenging space of both coming to a set of subjects anew and having to double down with a lot of humility (because the resources that are out there are created overwhelmingly by people already tired of your song an dance if you come in from outside of the communities you are researching).

But there are, nonetheless, a lot of places to go to self-educate if you find you are not getting what you need or want from the progressives you are talking with.

I'm happy to provide links tailored to the particular kind of progressivism folks might be interested in dipping a toe into, but I'm not going to spam this comment with wild-assed guesses.
posted by kalessin at 2:14 PM on September 10, 2013


Cortex: That's it exactly. the sentence "I do really hate the language of progressivism." pushed a button.

I really, really, get heated when people talk about things like this in high-minded abstract terms without even looking down at me to ask me what it's actually like. It gets tiresome to watch. This is not a subject to pontificate endlessly about and there are a million more aspects of being trans that I'd like to share with everyone.

I'm sorry if I've been skirting "Social Justice Warrior" territory. It's not my intent at all.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:22 PM on September 10, 2013


METAFILTER: it sounds like a jury debating the culpability of an ape who killed his trainer
posted by philip-random at 2:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


As generally positive as the reaction is, it sounds like a jury debating the culpability of an ape who killed his trainer........

Wait what? That's a pretty far leap. Were we supposed to just nod at the screen and not remark on your comment? You're free to jump in and clarify stuff if you think people are off base. However it "sounds" to you, these are just people trying to reflect upon things you've said and ask you for clarification.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:29 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


i.e., having a discussion.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:29 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


To me it reads like a short and shitty way to say that the para- and metalanguage that progressives (of whom I am one) use to talk about their experiences

There's nothing wrong with the phrase "language of progressivism". I have no idea why "language of progressivism" would be any less accurate than referring to the metalanguage or paralanguage of progressives. It's much more accurate, really, unless you're using new and unusual definitions of "metalanguage" and "paralanguage" that are not found in my linguistics stuff. Metalanguage is not simply any meta discussion, or rules concerning meta discussion: to the extent that any metalanguage could exist for SJ stuff, it's always embedded in the speakers' native languages. As for paralanguage, I'm not sure what version of MetaFilter you're experiencing where you can sense posters' literal non-lexical communication!
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2013


As for paralanguage, I'm not sure what version of MetaFilter you're experiencing where you can sense posters' literal non-lexical communication!

As a floating sphere of pure energy, this actually comes pretty easy to me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:35 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm saying the (excuse the irony) "tone" of how it's being interpreted back and forth like a neanderthal's cave painting. Condescension. I'm obviously here, just ask me. I feel like I'm being reverse mansplained.

"Guys, I think he means....." "No, I read it as....." "His motivations are...."

Jesus, just read it! Besides the "PS" part (which I specifically said I had to process) it couldn't be more straightforward.
posted by lattiboy at 2:47 PM on September 10, 2013


Jesus, just read it!

You may have noticed by now that what's totally obvious on its face to us about things we say is not necessarily obvious to everyone else. So maybe the problem isn't everyone else wanting to treat you like an ape or a caveman.

You said things. People talked to each other about what you said. If people had to speculate, maybe it wasn't clear enough. If anyone was off-base, you can always jump in and clarify. It's real simple. I apologize if that "sounds condescending" or if my tone offends you, but it seems you're getting miffed about people actually talking about what you said. If they're on target, what's the harm? If they're off-target, well, clarify.

I don't mean to be dismissive about your frustration, but I don't get what the big deal is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lattiboy: I totally get your frustration. Now imagine that's how people talk about you all the time.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:54 PM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Many people obviously thought that what you said was not as clear as you thought it was. That's a reality. You intended and experienced it differently and can't see why people are having such a hard time seeing what you see. Welcome to a lot of my world.
posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I honestly feel like you're all going to hop out and be like, "We just had to show you how it feels to be talked down to and marginalized!", but I don't think you guys are at all aware you're doing it. And I honestly feel like we might be getting to the heart of the issue here.

This is like some weird mirror of society at large. Amazing, and I mean this with all sincerity.

Like, this is an after-school special level of moral lesson.... but, many of you are participating in the devices you are so against while simultaneously telling me I need to "educate myself" in "101 courses" on how to talk about things because I'm "new to progressivism". I'm not new to it, I'm new to "people who talk in a certain fashion".
posted by lattiboy at 2:58 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


And on lack of preview: yeah, this is not a feeling I'm trying to make you feel on purpose, and I really doubt anyone else here is either.

Weird, right?
posted by rtha at 3:00 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Like, this is an after-school special type construct.

Is it that one where Scott Baio smokes weed and gets in a rowboat? Because that one owned.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:00 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, from my perspective all I've tried to point out for like, 8 months now, is that people tend to wade into these types of discussions with this unspoken idea that the "normal people" have an ingrained right to define "what it is" for the "not normal people".

It happens, it's obnoxious. People get pissed off when I point it out.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


many of you are participating in the devices you are so against while simultaneously telling me I need to "educate myself" in "101 courses" on how to talk about things because I'm "new to progressivism".

Ah, didn't catch this edit. By my count, no one said these things to you. I think you're talking about this comment, which is actually a pretty general riff on the phrase "language of progressivism" rather than some pointed critique against you, personally. Let alone "many" of us telling you what you should and should not do.

The motivation I'm seeing here is people trying to understand your position and being pretty cool about listening. That's it. I mean you're right here. You can participate, too. No one is going to attack you for good faith participation. And if they do, well, I've got Scott Baio right here with a quarter ounce and an oar ready to set them straight.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:07 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


unless you're using new and unusual definitions of "metalanguage" and "paralanguage" that are not found in my linguistics stuff.

Pardon me, I can't find it in the mainstream definitions of "paralanguage" but the meaning I was taught included word choice, which is why I included it in this discussion. And with respect to metalanguage, I meant to address the deductive reasoning some folks do around here though that may have been a stretch.

Thanks for pointing out my error. I'll now go look for a word that I am in fact looking for.
posted by kalessin at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2013


to be clear, I really do think that I'm getting a taste of what it's like to be spoken down to. It is quite eye opening. On the flip side, I feel that you guys (sorry for the generalization) use many of the same methods as the people mentioned up thread as derailing things use. Except it's couched in dense and academic language.

That's what I mean about this possibly being a factor in the general ugliness of the threads.

On my phone, please forgive typos and poor editing.
posted by lattiboy at 3:10 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


[This is aside from everything, but please do not use the edit feature to add substantial additional thoughts/content to a comment after you've already posted it. Typos only. Makes fast-moving conversations potentially very confusing otherwise; just post a new comment adding the clarification/addition/whatever instead.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:13 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


No one is going to attack you for good faith participation.

I dunno. I often see what seem, to me, like attacks for what seems, to me, like good-faith participation. Now, maybe that's me and I just have an unusual (and wrong?) perception of things, but one of our big mantras is to let a person speak for his or her own experiences. Lattiboy is explicitly telling us how he feels.

We have always called MetaFilter a social network for non-friends

I've never heard that before, but I like it. It's how I feel about this place.
posted by cribcage at 3:16 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Looks like the term I was looking for when I said "paralanguage" is an even split in various commentaries between "paralinguistic communication", "word choice", "diction" and "paralanguage". And none of them except for "word choice" really conveys precisely what I was trying for, so I'll stick with "word choice".

Thanks for the nudge SticherBeast. I try to be careful but it's hard to combat against poor initial lessons and incomplete studies.
posted by kalessin at 3:21 PM on September 10, 2013


one of our big mantras is to let a person speak for his or her own experiences. Lattiboy is explicitly telling us how he feels.

Yeah, and we're speaking from ours, so that maybe we can understand where the disconnect is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:28 PM on September 10, 2013


Well, for my part, I hope I wasn't talking down to you, because I wasn't talking to you at all. I was talking to someone else about what they said about what you said, and about what I thought about what you said. That is remarkably meta-talk, I admit, but I think I am just fulfilling the subsite's noble and glorious purpose.
posted by Errant at 3:30 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


to be clear, I really do think that I'm getting a taste of what it's like to be spoken down to. It is quite eye opening. On the flip side, I feel that you guys (sorry for the generalization) use many of the same methods as the people mentioned up thread as derailing things use. Except it's couched in dense and academic language.

That's what I mean about this possibly being a factor in the general ugliness of the threads.


I'm sorry you feel that way. I was and am confused by your initial comment. I have made a couple of attempts to explain what I found off-putting about it, and I acknowledged that it's possible that I misread your intent. A couple of other posters had different interpretations, but rather than say "what I meant was..." and clarify the situation (as Marisa Stole the Precious Thing suggested), you are aggrieved. How can we discuss your ideas if you won't?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:33 PM on September 10, 2013


No one is going to attack you for good faith participation.

I wish this were the case, but there are a fair number of topics on MetaFilter where that's not the case (for persons of Known Unorthodox Opinions or for relative newbies), and trans topics are among the most so, even after the Trans 101 discussions a little while back.
posted by Etrigan at 3:37 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


OK, you will at times be attacked despite participating in good faith. This is true. But I don't think it's a huge, huge problem here.

In other words, speaking for myself at least, I'm not trying to tell Lattiboy how he feels or dismiss it. I'm just speaking from how I think the dynamic looks from where I sit, and what my personal motivations are, and apologized if I sound condescending (which I tend to do a lot but that's another story).

In case it wasn't clear, Lattiboy, I do appreciate your input, and I don't at all intend to talk down to you. I'm hoping rather that this back and forth might lead to better communication and understanding.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:39 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


No one is going to attack you for good faith participation.

Not really true, unfortunately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:57 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


CLARIFICATION OF INITIAL POST

I am not an activist, and I don't like the language and structures which have to be adhered to, so I'm not going to go into explicitly SJ threads because there are too many sensitive toes I will step on with my plodding feet. I am also not willing to change how I speak or write to adhere to these structures which I fundementally disagree with.

I believe there are other people basically in the same boat, but because of the incredible amount of pressure on this site (however well intentioned) to be completely and totally in agreement with these languages and structures, they inflate their actual interest or participation in these issues and argue semantics.

Additionally, I feel that perhaps those people who view themselves as highly knowledgeable in these areas should step back and see that their language and methods can be construed as condescending or accusatory. I realize many of these people have dealt with an incredible amount of marginalization in their lives, so the very idea that they could be participating in such behavior may be not something they agree with at all.

/CLARIFICATION
posted by lattiboy at 4:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not really true, unfortunately.

Yes, thanks.

people who view themselves as highly knowledgeable in these areas should step back and see that their language and methods can be construed as condescending or accusatory.

For example?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:08 PM on September 10, 2013


incredible amount of pressure on this site (however well intentioned) to be completely and totally in agreement with these languages and structures, they inflate their actual interest or participation in these issues and argue semantics.

I'm really not aware of any advantage I have as a progressive on this site except, perhaps, a facility with articulating difficult and subtle issues (not that this seems to actually accomplish anything in these threads).

But invisible privilege is what it is. I am sorry you feel so unwelcome.
posted by kalessin at 4:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


For example?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:08 PM on September 10 [+] [!]



And like clockwork


I'm really not aware of any advantage I have as a progressive on this site except, perhaps, a facility with articulating difficult and subtle issues (not that this seems to actually accomplish anything in these threads).

But invisible privilege is what it is. I am sorry you feel so unwelcome.
posted by kalessin at 4:12 PM on September 10 [+] [!]

posted by lattiboy at 4:17 PM on September 10, 2013


kalessin: I think I misread your comment. I thought you were saying I had "invisible privilege", on re-read I think you were speaking for yourself. That's my mistake (I think). Jesus, now I'm doing it.
posted by lattiboy at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2013


I am constantly amazed at the amount of people on a site that asks for content that "most people haven't seen before[...]is something interesting about the content on the page, and might warrant discussion from others" that complain about unfamiliar stuff that they don't wont to talk about For Reasons.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, like I said, I'm sorry you feel so unwelcome. And I feel I should add that my expression is and was genuine and is and was not meant to be condescending or accusatory.

We often see what we want to see when we read. I find it's a good thing to try to remember to assume good intent. By which I mean no acrimony or criticism whatsoever, just a heartfelt sentiment in response to feeling wrongly accused myself.
posted by kalessin at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2013


lattiboy, thanks! I do have two sincere, non-snark questions, which you're welcome to ignore or answer in memail as you see fit (or address in this thread, obv):

Can you be more specific about the language and structures you're talking about? I know I sort of operate inside a particular bubble in parts of my life, so I don't always know what it is I don't know, you know?

And: do you see people in other kinds of perhaps specialized-knowledge-assumed threads (e.g. software, law, cats, parenting, mental health issues, geology, etc. whatever) doing the same kind of assumed-common-language thing, and does it bug you in the same way?

I'm trying to figure this out because I can't make other people do stuff or change, but there might be stuff I can change about me and how I communicate, and if I have a better idea of what that is, I might be able to do something about it.
posted by rtha at 4:25 PM on September 10, 2013


rtha: I have to go to home now, but I will get back to this thread in a bit.

I would absolutely love to discuss what I think are some big stumbling blocks between people who largely agree on where they want the world to go. I think it's a huge issue that's often cheaply dismissed as paternalism or mansplaining. I get there is a ton of baggage on all of this stuff, but I would like to honestly see a good natured discussion about how the language can be alienating.
posted by lattiboy at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


And: do you see people in other kinds of perhaps specialized-knowledge-assumed threads (e.g. software, law, cats, parenting, mental health issues, geology, etc. whatever) doing the same kind of assumed-common-language thing, and does it bug you in the same way?

Again, not speaking for lattiboy, just myself.

The easy answer is yes.

The more complex is answer is ... yes, but for some reason some topics are just more loaded. Someone said it upthread already. If the topic is something like coding or plate tectonics and I stumble into the conversation and get the terminology mixed up, though I might get abruptly shrugged off, it's likely to happen on an intellectual as opposed to an emotional level. Whereas when you're dealing with something as potentially sensitive as trans issues or mental health, the emotions are just that much closer to surface. And this goes both ways. Mine, because (speaking hypothetically here) I in no way intended to cause any emotional offense and/or discomfort. Yours, because you couldn't help but feel it.
posted by philip-random at 4:36 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think topics are more loaded because people get more invested in them. Like I am necessarily invested in social justice issues that impact me, my friends, my family, that I see as pretty critical to my genuine day-to-day happiness.

I am less invested in social justice issues that don't impact me, my friends, my family directly (though I tend to be pretty seriously sympathetic since I'm pretty involved in social justice issues in general).

But even though I am formally trained as a chemist, if the topic is chemistry-related and someone says something technically wrong, I might lightly chide them for it, but it's hard to really get passionate about (unless one is a nomenclature/process/documentation geek of higher degree than I am, and I'm pretty focused on that). But the way an error in understanding propagates through a technical field is very different from how an error in understanding a civil right or a social injustice propagates through our day-to-day lives.

It's true that in the abstract an error in understanding or documenting or carrying out a chemical process could save or doom lives. You can see the interconnections through chemical manufacturing through pharma and to the public. But those industries are highly regulated, and errors in that kind of process are hard to take personally - I think we mostly agree that when individuals make errors in industry that propagate through to the public and affect lives of innocents that unless the company is found to be negligent, it's the process or a simple mistake or an unfortunate series of events that get blamed.

But if it's an error in justice, that's so much harder for me to understand and forgive - and I see this pattern in all of us. Because in the very word, justice, there's a promise of fair treatment, moderation, mercy, compassion, liberty, all the things we hold dear. And when we see a failure in justice it's hard not to get outraged. We're supposed to be better than that. Whatever the injustice is, someone should have caught it!

Anyway, that's how it's always seemed to me.
posted by kalessin at 4:46 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


For me it is "please don't use the same marginalizing techniques that have been employed against me my whole life because I don't fit the definition of normal"

I don't see it as "SJ-filter" I see it as "look, there's that shitty thing happening again, and it affects me and here's why it sucks"

Then someone comes along and tells me why I'm wrong and why I'm offending them.

I'm not organized into something, it's just what I deal with.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


lattiboy, thanks. I'm on vacation right now and about to go have dinner with mefi's own ColdChef (woohoo!) so I might be too tipsy to type or even read later but I will respond, in-thread or memail.
posted by rtha at 4:55 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with the phrase "language of progressivism".

I dunno, given the context of the term's use, it seems to me that it includes the language around trans identities, which kinda implies that by far most trans people are progressive, since they use words to discuss trans experiences and positions in and relative to society. Much as I personally wish that this were true, trans people are not all progressives, and we in fact come in all political orientations and affiliations, more or less.

Similarly (though possibly to varying degrees, with 'non-progressive' alternative language sets existing to various degrees) for say, the disabled, queer people, the neuro-atypical, etcetera.

"Progressives" might generally embrace much of this language, but it isn't tied to it, and it isn't theirs.
posted by Dysk at 5:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "language of progressivism" (and by that I assume people might be referring to things like "privilege" and "tone arguments," among many other terms, but those were mentioned in this thread) gave me words to use to describe phenomena I experienced in my everyday real actual life where people treated me in some unfair way that was just barely this side of plausibly deniable.

I knew with certainty, since I was a little kid, that something was seriously off when people treated me with disrespect and shut me down and talked over me because I was a girl or looked a certain way, but until I began reading about feminism, which then led me to broader social justice stuff, I didn't have any real way to describe it or words to use that felt right, or that connected those experiences to something larger (a system of oppression) rather than just crappy stuff that everyone deals with sometimes. (And yes, I do know the difference.)

I did also feel frustration at not understanding that language at first, especially when it was applied to struggles that were not my own (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) It felt alienating to me, especially as an outsider in some of those conversations. I have become more comfortable with it over time, just through exposure and reading, but more and more I have come to feel like maybe we shouldn't mind so much if people are uncomfortable with the language we use to talk about things we experience and constructs we see that are still invisible to other people. The suggestion that we should change that language is a subtler form of that "sell me" thing I mentioned earlier.

The language may be obtuse or dense, and what concerns me the most about that is that people who legitimately don't have access to literacy or education might be shut out from using it, but for people who admit that they are well-educated and still find it boring or confusing or ugly? I'm comfortable with your discomfort.

The terms and concepts empower people who are seeing and describing things that you might not have personal experience with. I think that's where the real discomfort lies. Blaming the language, in my opinion, is most of the time just a handy place to put that discomfort.
posted by Ouisch at 5:17 PM on September 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


I believe there are other people basically in the same boat, but because of the incredible amount of pressure on this site (however well intentioned) to be completely and totally in agreement with these languages and structures, they inflate their actual interest or participation in these issues and argue semantics.

Not wishing to create the perception of a pile-on, but I'd be suspicious of my thesis if I found myself thinking this. It feels uncomfortably close to the insistence by some reactionaries that quote-unquote social justice is a dishonest process where people pretend to care about queer, trans, feminist etc issues in an attempt to curry favor and score points with their peers.

This is particularly tricky as an argument on MetaFilter, I think, because nobody has to be here - it's basically a leisure activity. And nobody has to say anything in any thread. So, if one genuinely didn't care about this stuff, one could simply not interact with it - there would be no benefit to doing so, especially if you were bluffing an interest and thus at risk of being found out.

(Likewise, if the penalties for not visibly supporting these inquiries and using this language were so sever, people would not turn up in threads to say, specifically, that they did not support these inquiries and would not employ this language - but that happens a fair amount.)

tl;dr: If a theory about why people talk passionately about stuff requires some or all of those people not actually to be very interested in the stuff they are talking about, that may be a problem with the theory.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:28 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification. I disagree with you, I think, but there are two (maybe 3) areas of language which I think are getting conflated:

1a. The sort of formal, academic language some people use to discuss issues of oppression. This can sometimes get pretty thick, but it's often possible to have the same conversation in plainer languages. Many of the great orators have managed it.

1b. A specialized language with specific terms and short hands -- this is harder, since these terms exist to make conversation on topics easier. You pretty much have to learn some of this to participate. Without an idea, for example, of the difference between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual attraction, it's nearly impossible to discuss gender issues. Lack of time and interest in learning the language is part of why I don't participate in most music or spirts threads.

2. The language relating to issues of different disadvantaged groups. There's a lot of variation, but you need to respect it, even if it isn't immediately obvious -- when a woman is talking about harassment, a man's idea of what is harassment isn't really significant. Similarly, complaining that a group is not being friendly or is being hostile (as people have done upthread) isn't helpful. You can't be an ally on the condition of being catered to -- that's a threat not support. Because too many people have been told to "be nice."

Anyway, all of that I could see being lumped into "progressive language," and some of it could be toned down, but some of it really can't without essentially ceding the entire argument to the privileged side, which is death.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


I knew with certainty, since I was a little kid, that something was seriously off when people treated me with disrespect and shut me down and talked over me because I was a girl or looked a certain way, but until I began reading about feminism, which then led me to broader social justice stuff, I didn't have any real way to describe it or words to use that felt right, or that connected those experiences to something larger (a system of oppression) rather than just crappy stuff that everyone deals with sometimes.

This is how I feel about "mansplaining" for instance. I could describe it with a couple sentences and an example, but a single word encapsulating the phenomenon is extremely helpful. I know a lot of people bristle at this word, even those who believe the concept it represents exists, but I think these complaints more often than not boil down to an objection over its tone, and occasionally its misuse. Language which helps crystalize a certain behavior tends to make people associated with that behavior defensive, but I think it's important to have in mind that the language here is being used is to serve to define a behavior. If you begin from the starting point that people are using this language in order to talk about their experiences, then it's a lot harder to see some kind of demonizing intent, how ever irrelevant that still is to the veracity of their claims. This helps us to be able to talk about things such as why these behaviors occur, if and how they harm, who, and how this can be amended.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


"I wouldn't come shit in your threads on physics so much if you just stopped using loaded terminology like vector, scalar, constant, and velocity."
posted by Betafae at 5:57 PM on September 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was going to comment on how little gravity you're giving these claims, but I'll just drop it.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, so I'm in agreement with lattiboy, and here's why. I don't have a college education, lack the time or resources to properly educate myself about 101 issues (although I try, especially by reading discussions like this one), and I have some physical limitations. There are lots of sites out there where I've actively engaged in trying to understand people/positions/experiences, and been shot down.

Why? Because I'm a white dude. With a roof over my head. And I grew up in a solidly white, solidly upperclass environment. And I'm not trans. My "privilege pyramid" is pretty stacked up, albeit with a couple of stones missing: I'm gay and I'm poor and I have arthritis and RSI issues in my hands plus I don't see very well. Which makes typing hard. So there's some "intersectionality" for you.

I wanted to participate in this discussion, and here's what I bluntly wanted to say: I'm an ally to trans people, but only because I'm good friends with quite a few. I came at these friendships from a weird angle (from 12 step groups) and because of that I've been in the (I think) unique position of trying to understand their perspectives through listening to their experiences rather than deciding I know what their experiences are. And these long friendships have led me to knowing these people, not as trans, but as people. And from that, I've learned to accept people for who they are: I don't care about gender, what you are now or what you were at birth. I don't care about race, or physical sex, or your abled-status. I care about what you say and how you act. Those are the barometers by which I measure a person. My general plan when dealing with people is to just try to be nice and pleasant and treat them as my equal, as I would hope they would treat me.

I am not interested in activism on their behalf (because it's not my place), I have enough going on in my own environment to worry about theirs. I can acknowledge the "struggles of the oppressed" because I suppose my economic status and other factors makes me "oppressed" although I don't think anyone is actively holding me down and I don't feel the boot of the man on my neck.
I'm living a pretty good life for an oppressed man, and I really don't need anyone feeling the need to rise to my defense (which is what I think Dysk talked about so eloquently earlier and why, fundamentally, I "get it" albeit "not all of it").

And yet, in these discussions, I feel like I have to constantly censor myself, constantly "check my privilege", constantly monitor everything I write very carefully so as not to offend anyone, ever. And being beind a keyboard, I can't see your expression, I can't parse your feelings, and you can't parse mine. Now pile onto this my lack of ability to express myself well for physical and educational reasons, and it really does grind that I can't say what I want without "being problematic" or coming off as a "special snowflake". It's like walking on eggshells sometimes.

And I resent people telling me I'm "problematic" in my blunt words. No, that's not my intent, my intent is to be concise.

Were I to carefully parse out my blunt paragraph up there, I'd need another couple hundred words to say what I wanted in "the correct way". And I simply lack the physical stamina to type all that, aside from not knowing the language or every person's sensitivity level or whatever.

It's not something specific to mefi, either. The reactionary, defensive positions that people take in forums like tumblr and SRS make it really tough for me to engage there without coming off badly. I just end up banned. For advocating. For supporting. For attempting to engage - IT'S NOT MY JOB TO EDUCATE YOU SHITLORD" - well, f-u too.

Knowing my limitations, it's damn near impossible to say "I get it" without pissing someone off.

So I don't participate. And I think that's problematic, because I may not say things well, but what I do have to say is a contribution and I don't know, maybe it helps someone or maybe it doesn't. But I paid my five bucks, so there it is.
posted by disclaimer at 6:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


I feel like part of this "language of progressives" idea is also sort of linguistic relativity in action (apparently what I learned, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a misnomer). The idea is that language can shape or help shape or have a bearing on how our thoughts are shaped. (this definition is the "weak" one - Wikipedia)

Anyway, it seems to me that I speak these words in these ways, I choose my words the way I do because there's this sort of endless self-adjusting feedback loop between how I think, how I write, how I read, how I think, how I write, how I read, etc.

Which becomes another reason why certain kinds of disagreement, especially those centering around my expressive style, can be so shocking.
posted by kalessin at 6:03 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I boggle that people keep bringing tone argument into a discussion about tone argument.

Anyway, I'm off to declaw my fedora in Israel and/or Palestine. In the ladies' room. While mansplaining.
posted by Betafae at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And you're a cat, right?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:28 PM on September 10, 2013


Disclaimer: I appreciate your ability to "know thyself". Just so you know, I don't have a college degree either.

As far as your commenting style: you are speaking for yourself and not marginalizing people and being generously honest about what frustrates you. I don't think what you said was "bad".
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:40 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ha! Disclaimers comment came in after I'd re-written a paragraph literally 7 times so as to not come off as dismissive of unenlightened or whatever.

Basically, "what he said". Except I'm not gay or disabled, so more like "a lot of what he said".
posted by lattiboy at 6:50 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


disclaimer: "And yet, in these discussions, I feel like I have to constantly censor myself, constantly "check my privilege", constantly monitor everything I write very carefully so as not to offend anyone, ever. And being beind a keyboard, I can't see your expression, I can't parse your feelings, and you can't parse mine. Now pile onto this my lack of ability to express myself well for physical and educational reasons, and it really does grind that I can't say what I want without "being problematic" or coming off as a "special snowflake". It's like walking on eggshells sometimes."

I've been in a similar place -- for mostly different reasons, although disability is one of them -- with discussions around race and mental disability. I've been worried I'll unintentionally say something hugely insulting or splash my privilege around.

What I generally do in these situations is:

1) add at the end of my comment/question/etc. a little note to say that I'm white/neurotypical and that while I'm not trying to be awful it's possible I might have been. I haven't been yelled at yet, but a few times I've been patiently taken aside and been Explained A Thing, for which I am grateful.

2) never debate the fundamental facts of the situation as stated by the people affected. In a conversation about race relations if a person of colour states as facts A, B, and C, I'm not going to question those even if they don't ring true to me: I simply don't have the cultural context to even begin to unpack it. What I can do, if I have thoughts to add, is proceed on the assumption that the facts as given are the facts.

Option 2 is the way a lot of trans threads on mefi get derailed: a news or opinion article will be presented but conversation on the actual subject never gets to happen because commenters are too busy interrogating the basic facts of the matter. Which is where a lot of trans frustration on mefi comes from: we're not trusted to be reliable sources of information on trans issues.

Around trans and general LGBT issues I try to keep my jumping on people limited to times when someone has stated that the facts as I know them cannot be true or must be debated -- which is bullshit -- or when someone has flat out told me what I believe, or when someone is just being utterly gross.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:56 PM on September 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


And yet, in these discussions, I feel like I have to constantly censor myself, constantly "check my privilege", constantly monitor everything I write very carefully so as not to offend anyone, ever.

I totally get this feeling, have totally had this feeling, still have this feeling a lot of the time. I hit a lot of the privilege checklist pretty hard myself.

Here's the thing, though - none of us have a "Get out of criticism, free!" card for these conversations. Because the idea is not that you'll never make a mistake, never unintentionally hurt someone or step on their toes, never misunderstand the terminology, never screw up.

The idea is that when you do, inevitably, make some mistake or offend someone, you will respond appropriately. You will be reflective and hear, really hear people's criticisms and take them into account as though they are worth respect. Even though it hurts.

That's it, really. You can't go through life, or even through a contentious conversation, with your goal being that you will never, ever hurt someone, as though you can be equipped with the verbal equivalent of a broom sweeping all vulnerable people and insects out of your path pre-emptively. You must work with what you've got, what you know right now and do your best to avoid hurting people, but with the awareness that there will be more to learn, you will screw up, and your primary responsibility is to respond well to people telling you that you screwed up.

It is difficult but still far more manageable than never, ever making a mistake.
posted by Ouisch at 7:40 PM on September 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


disclaimer: "So I don't participate. And I think that's problematic, because I may not say things well, but what I do have to say is a contribution and I don't know, maybe it helps someone or maybe it doesn't. But I paid my five bucks, so there it is."

lattiboy: "Ha! Disclaimers comment came in after I'd re-written a paragraph literally 7 times so as to not come off as dismissive of unenlightened or whatever."

I am fine if people, finding themselves unable to contribute in a way that isn't problematic (for whatever reasons), simply don't. Maybe just keep reading, or if you're truly disinterested skip to another thread. If people are seriously having to rewrite things seven times because they can't find a way to say what they want to say without being offensive, maybe those things need to be thought about some more before they wind up in a thread.

(This feels a lot to me like a more polite retread of SJW/Tumblresque arguments, though, so I don't know that it's actually going anywhere. Saying that it's too hard to be PC these days and that people are too sensitive and implying your thoughts are being effectively policed - yeah.)
posted by Corinth at 8:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


And to be clear, who is defining "problematic" now?
posted by lattiboy at 9:12 PM on September 10, 2013


I think "problematic" is like "offensive" in that it's defined by the conversational participants. If something offends me, than it's offensive. If I see a problem in something, it's problematic. Both words are mostly useful when used as signposts not conversation-enders, and the best response to having either one applied to something you said or did is "Huh, ok, didn't realize that was a possible response" and add it to your general store of knowledge so that you can better calibrate your words or actions in the future.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:18 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was using it in the sense that you were applying it yourself to what you were writing. The first six drafts of the post you went over seven times you found to be problematic, presumably?
posted by Corinth at 9:24 PM on September 10, 2013


Due respect, Restless Nomad, but I think while these conversations may indeed benefit from suggesting constructive ways to respond to characterizations like "offensive" or "problematic," they could benefit a lot more from moderators reminding readers to afford commenters the benefit of the doubt and go the extra mile to see if there isn't a possible good-faith interpretation that isn't offensive or problematic.

I'm glad Disclaimer and Lattiboy shared their experiences. Those do have value here.
posted by cribcage at 9:25 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


And if this were limited to strictly SJ type threads it would be one thing, but it isn't. Basically every thread that isn't about the history of Amish basket weaving is immediately privilege checked by (usually) the same group of vocal people.

I dunno, perhaps my time here is done. Maybe I'm a relic from a different era and I'm not contributing much anymore. All I'll say is that an echo chamber of any kind is not a great place to spend time, and I do feel that's what is happening here.

I am honestly too busy and tired to take the time to properly articulate this, but I'm not some closet conservative or MRA cast off, I'm a long time member and a decent person.
posted by lattiboy at 9:26 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Due respect, Restless Nomad, but I think while these conversations may indeed benefit from suggesting constructive ways to respond to characterizations like "offensive" or "problematic," they could benefit a lot more from moderators reminding readers to afford commenters the benefit of the doubt and go the extra mile to see if there isn't a possible good-faith interpretation that isn't offensive or problematic.

That's generally what "problematic" is, though. I've always seen it used, and used it myself, to mean "I get what you're saying, and I agree that what you're saying is plausible/one aspect of the issue/well-intentioned/has merit in some way, but it also ignores these other aspects of the issue which complicate the issue."

I mean, otherwise I'd just say, "That's wrong."
posted by jaguar at 9:35 PM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Speaking for myself, not ex cathedra-

I certainly agree that people should be reading charitably, offering other commenters the benefit of the doubt in most cases, and trying to write their own comments (even critical comments) in a way that fosters good discussion.

I do see people sometimes being too quick to jump to comments like "here's how what you said could be interpreted in a bad way", and it would be great if people could ask themselves whether that's something they find themselves doing and, when composing a comment along those lines, consider whether it's actually a helpful thing to post.

Just like other nitpicky kinds of things (ambiguities, etc), it's easy to identify ways a comment *could* be interpreted badly... but in most cases around here at least, the person probably didn't mean the bad interpretation, they meant something more reasonable. Setting aside a very few people, I think most participants around here have a lot of common ground and in general discussions go better when we can all acknowledge that and treat each other as if we're all trying to have a good discussion -- which means reading charitably unless the person has given some pretty clear signs otherwise.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:38 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's always a possible good-faith interpretation that isn't offensive or problematic. That's why these things tend to go for so long. But just because something has a possible good-faith interpretation (oh, this guy keeps telling us why this instance specifically isn't mansplaining, maybe they just don't know any better, etc.) doesn't mean that everything is magically okay and nobody is going to point out issues. Telling people to reread the mainstream majority opinions until they don't hurt anymore isn't super useful in threads like these.

I just don't see that, lattiboy, although you've been here longer than I have. That seems exceedingly hyperbolic - and maybe even just wrong - to me. The same group of people (social justice warriors, maybe?) immediately invade every thread and "privilege check" it?
posted by Corinth at 9:41 PM on September 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am fine if people, finding themselves unable to contribute in a way that isn't problematic (for whatever reasons), simply don't. Maybe just keep reading, or if you're truly disinterested skip to another thread. If people are seriously having to rewrite things seven times because they can't find a way to say what they want to say without being offensive, maybe those things need to be thought about some more before they wind up in a thread.

Sorry, but the fact that someone is taking six/seven tries at something before they post it is ample evidence that they're being thoughtful. Indeed, it feels like the definition of such. I'd far rather a contentious notion get aired (thoughtfully) than repressed. Let the community roll with it from there. I have that much faith in Metafilter.

I mean seriously, lattiboy has brought up some important stuff in this thread, and the thought that he's frustrated enough from the response he's gotten to leave the community strikes me as a big deal.

The "stepping on my foot" analogy got brought up a while back, and it's a damned good one when it comes to sensitive issues. But sometimes in a vigorous public space, feet do get stepped on. It's the price of mixing with others in what amounts to a free street. By all means, let me know if I've imposed too much on your personal space. But please don't make it so I'm averse to even walk down the same sidewalk as you.
posted by philip-random at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just don't know why the default feet getting stepped on are women's/trans people's/other minority's and when majority feet get stepped on MetaFilter is suddenly on its way to hell in a handbasket because of all the foot-stepping.

There's also a pretty striking imbalance in terms of which feet are wearing heavier boots, and which stepping is institutional.
posted by Corinth at 10:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'm going to step away for a bit. I'll keep reading as this is interesting stuff.

I would like to thank those of you that put a real effort in explaining the use of language & structures to me and why some people find them very important. Also, I kinda get mansplaining now, although I think the phrase is kind of shitty.

Although I strongly disagree with a lot of what's been said here, it wasn't this thread that made me feel the way I do about the direction of the site. Most all of you were delightful.
posted by lattiboy at 10:19 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hardly see MetaFilter becoming an echo chamber. I am curious about what threads lattiboy is talking about, because there have been no dearth of the sort of comments that the supposed dominant viewpoint on MetaFilter find to be problematic, or even objectionable.

I mean, the list of non-echo chamber stuff that showed up in the recent young-woman-discouraged-from-programming thread was so literal that an actual list was made. And it was made because the comments that were offered were often curt, dismissive, and derailing, and have a long history of being so discouraging that people leave the site.

So I'm not seeing an echo chamber. I do see people getting called on those sort of comments, but that's not an echo chamber, that is merely people responding. Without it, it would be an echo chamber, and the echoes would have been "it's not a big deal," "it probably didn't happen like she said it did," "she's just promoting herself," and other comments that minimize the content of the linked article, and hand-wave away sexism. And that's an echo chamber that demonstrably does drive away people. Usually the very people who share the experience of being misbehaved to or disregarded like the author of the piece.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:26 PM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ok, here goes.
[...]
posted by Errant at 10:57 AM on September 9

I stepped out of this thread a while back for IRL stuff, but I'd like to thank you Errant for taking the time to respond, and say that it wasn't my intent to ignore your comment, but being that it's quite far back and off-current-thread, so prob best not to revive that subthread.

Okay, so I'm in agreement with lattiboy, and here's why.

That's a wonderful comment IMHO.

Seeing peeps here who almost certainly agree with each other 99.9% on any relevant policy matter go at it over toe-stepping minutiae is scary. Reading through the last day's worth of comments, it's almost a parody, I can't quite make out who is agreeing with whom, or more appropriately I suppose, who is disagreeing with whom, over what, other than maybe that everybody else needs to be really careful about stepping on somebody else's toes, because there's a way of invading somebody's toe-space that you haven't thought of yet, and if you think you've thought carefully enough, well maybe it's worth examining your privilege before saying that out loud.

On preview:

I just don't know why the default feet getting stepped on are women's/trans people's/other minority's and when majority feet get stepped on MetaFilter is suddenly on its way to hell in a handbasket because of all the foot-stepping.

It's like you couldn't make this stuff up. MeTa is the place for these kinds of discussions, but I hope we look back on this thread as where we hit Peak Toe.
posted by amorphatist at 10:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like you couldn't make this stuff up. MeTa is the place for these kinds of discussions, but I hope we look back on this thread as where we hit Peak Toe.

And how does sarcasm help here?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:30 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And how does sarcasm help here?

By drawing attention to the absurdity? Few of us are immune from sliding down the rabbit hole, I'm aware I'm certainly not.
posted by amorphatist at 10:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, so one, you're welcome, amorphatist, and I would love to continue that conversation if you'd like to. Two, you're kind of annoying me again, dude. I promise you -- I assure you -- I don't agree with anyone 99.9% of the time, and the only person I agree with around 80% of the time is me. You referenced Ivan F. in the comment I responded to, and there's a lot along these lines that we agree on. On the other hand, we just had a fairly contentious and heated disagreement about science journalism and the presence or absence of reductive and damaging cults of personality in that contemporary conception. I don't want to speak for him, but I would guess that, in regard to that topic, he considers me hopelessly naive, and I think he's obdurately cynical. And that's a guy I like!

The perception of lockstep is a false one. We are all large; we all contain multitudes; his views on, say, feminism are not the same as mine, even though we agree on many things. That's what the discussion is all about. You get pissy, you get annoyed, you take a deep breath and a long walk, you come back and start talking again.

Acknowledging in concert a visible pain is not remotely the same as agreeing on what to do about it or how to prevent it in the future. If I and Ivan F., or any other theoretically "progressive" person in these arguments, seem to wholly agree that something is a problem, it's because we believe that a problem exists. That isn't an echo chamber. That's concurring on first principles. If the argument is "no it doesn't", sure, that's going to look like an arrayed army. But if the first principle, that a person talking about their own experience is right about their own experience, is accepted as a premise, you're going to find an enormous amount of disagreement and argument over what happens next. Why else do you think any of us keep talking about stuff, just to hear ourselves? I can do that in the shower, and encounter 80% fewer accusations of progressive idolatry.
posted by Errant at 10:59 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


By drawing attention to the absurdity? Few of us are immune from sliding down the rabbit hole, I'm aware I'm certainly not.

Then perhaps your humor would be more pointed if aimed at yourself.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:37 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two, you're kind of annoying me again, dude. I promise you -- I assure you -- I don't agree with anyone 99.9% of the time, and the only person I agree with around 80% of the time is me.

Well, that's kindof my point. What I said was "agree with each other 99.9% on any relevant policy matter" ... Dude, you can't even agree with yourself 81% of the time when it comes to internet debatery (for the record, I have my own back over 87% of the time, on nine out of ten occasions). But far as I can tell from this topic, there's little argument over actual policy, more about toe-stepping.

I can do that in the shower, and encounter 80% fewer accusations of progressive idolatry.

You are not alone.
posted by amorphatist at 11:38 PM on September 10, 2013


amorphatist: "Seeing peeps here who almost certainly agree with each other 99.9% on any relevant policy matter go at it over toe-stepping minutiae is scary. "

FYI, while I'm sure this wasn't your intent, describing the sort of stuff that trans people and others have been speaking passionately about in this thread as "minutiae" is kind of what we're talking about?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:05 AM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


One, that puts you at 78.3% accordance, so my shower is still more pure. Second, if "relevant policy matter" is "here is the problem"... are the left and the right fully in concord because both camps agree that unemployment is an issue?

My argument, such as it is, is that "what you can tell" is told in no small part according to pre-existing bias and not according to examination of the conversation. You don't get to say that the social justice battalion turns on its allies because of a lack of ideological purity and that simultaneously all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice. You're only saying that because you have an oblique point. I would like you to make that point less oblique.
posted by Errant at 12:07 AM on September 11, 2013


One, that puts you at 78.3% accordance, so my shower is still more pure.

I'll still bleach it down first.

Second, if "relevant policy matter" is "here is the problem"... are the left and the right fully in concord because both camps agree that unemployment is an issue?

Perhaps it's better to read "relevant policy matter" as "relevant policy matter decisions", if that makes my point clearer.
posted by amorphatist at 12:20 AM on September 11, 2013


and that simultaneously all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice.

I don't believe this (and from my few experiences in SJ circles, might believe this to be impossible), and hope I haven't claimed or insinuated it.
posted by amorphatist at 1:13 AM on September 11, 2013


Ok, now I'm confused. If what you mean is "those peeps agree on 99.9% of relevant policy matter decisions", but you aren't claiming or insinuating that "all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice", what are you actually saying?
posted by Errant at 2:08 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just like other nitpicky kinds of things (ambiguities, etc), it's easy to identify ways a comment *could* be interpreted badly... but in most cases around here at least, the person probably didn't mean the bad interpretation, they meant something more reasonable.

But this overlooks the fact that on a lot of these issues, it's not that abstract or removed for a lot of participants. That some statement could have been well-intentioned doesn't remove the hurt of the unintended implications of the statement. That's really what problematic means for me (contra offensive) - that there are implications, perhaps easy to overlook, to a given statement, which are offensive. It's like offensive one step removed. It's not a claim of bad faith, it's not a claim that the implications were intended or even considered, merely that they're there (and surely if they haven't been considered or noticed, pointing them out is helpful, no?).
posted by Dysk at 2:20 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Reading through the last day's worth of comments, it's almost a parody,

If we're putting a checklist together, this is probably one to add. It doesn't really work both to ask that other people assume good faith and hunt for the one possible non-pejorative interpretation, and also to reserve the right to describe the concerns of others as comedic, as long as its you doing it. That's basic golden rule stuff.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:54 AM on September 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


No one is going to attack you for good faith participation.


QED. LOL.
posted by spitbull at 5:17 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between arguments that say people are problematic and those that say other arguments are problematic. I don't see problematic as troubling when used along the lines jaguar describes above, which is how I understand the term.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:49 AM on September 11, 2013


LobsterMitten, I couldn't agree more with Dysk's most recent response to you.

It seems like this request you're making is that we trans* people ignore and/or try to take charitably one of the primary instruments and sets of methodologies used to keep us down. As I said in one of the bullying threads, at least in my very direct and personal experience hostile or problematic words are usually only one step away from extreme and often savage violence over my trans* identity.

And by then in the conversation I already feel like I have bent over backwards so it's hard to let that sort of response just lie there. It feels and reads like an insult. As similar in tone and timbre as when TFB said that word that got him banned for a day from the mansplaining thread.
posted by kalessin at 5:57 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Been thinking about this a bit closer to home, so let's see if I can't get my head cut off and stuck on a pikestaff again. I promise to take it in good part.

My child, who was adopted from China, dislikes mentioning that she was adopted, because kids at school are all gushing sympathy and "Oh, it must be so hard to lose your parents". It's all coming from the best possible place, but she's irked by it. Physically, it's totally obvious, as my wife and I are about as Chinese as Chiko rolls or fortune cookies.

As far as she is concerned, she has parents, the only ones she's ever known. She's written her own story and she isn't interested in others' versions of it.
posted by Wolof at 6:52 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


As an aside, this is why I asked upthread if we had now reached a point where misgendering trans people was considered a default-moddable issue - because it had previously occurred in a context where the charitable way to interpret it, if one tilted one's head and squinted, was that it was just an honest typo and the less charitable but very much more likely way to interpret it was that it was a hostile action, and had not been the cause of moderation.

So, it seems to me like there has been a change there, which is awesome. We're back to the "civilized discourse in Internet culture" thing, to a degree. MetaFilter's moderation, as far as I know, tracks pretty closely to the set of people, in demographic terms, who historically have defined what constitutes civilized discourse (in English) on the Internet - as do I. But the stakes are lower for me getting to educate myself by trial and error on what is and is not civilized discourse outside my demographic, because basically nobody cares what I do beyond intermittent stabs of annoyance. Moderation on the other hand is the application of individual and group judgment to the structure and performance of a whole community, so in a sense while ex cathedra can be used to mean "this is not to be assumed to be a guideline on how moderation will take place", statements of how this kind of discussion are seen are nonetheless relevant to an understanding of how discussion on these topics is likely to be framed in conversations about moderation.

That doesn't mean that anyone involved is at fault on any side of the ongoing discussion (we are used to being victimized by language/we fear a creeping limit on our freedom of language/we have to find and enforce an accommodation satisfying to everyone, and so on) but it does mean that stakes and concerns are different to different groups, and dialog is important to make sure everyone at least understands where other people are coming from and can make an informed decision about how much weight to give to their concerns.

To employ an external example unrelated to trans/QUILTBAG issues, Laura Hudson - of whom I am an enormous fan - wrote a piece for Wired about the dangers of shaming people on the Internet, which used the very different cases of Adria Richards and Mike Krahulik. When people took issue with her representation, she ended up writing a long clarification, which in many people's eyes raised as many issues as it resolved. People are products of their culture, even if they are wonderful people with whom one is almost always sympatico/a, and sometimes the person who is being described as a product of their culture is you. It's a learning process.

(It was not, I think, wholly coincidental that the discussion of Adria Richards on MetaFilter was also kind of a terrible hatepit, but that's yet another story, although definitely one that is connected to tone arguments...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


As I said in one of the bullying threads, at least in my very direct and personal experience hostile or problematic words are usually only one step away from extreme and often savage violence over my trans* identity.

Which is a terrible, fucked up thing about the world and I am really goddam sorry and sympathetic that that's a fact of life. But where LM is coming from is not "this is how you have to act in the world, for everybody else's sake"; she's talking about what helps things work out okay here on Metafilter, where we're explicitly just typing to each other, for the collective okayness of conversation around here.

It's hard stuff. It's probably unjust in some sense; it's part of why Metafilter, while we want it to be a decent and accommodating space to talk about stuff, can't really be a Safe Space in the term-of-art sense that some dedicated forums are. But there's ten thousand people here on any given week, and there's always, always going to be degrees of potential conflict and room for better or worse turns in the conversation, and getting a lot of those better conversational outcomes can depend on people trying to go for the generous read or the constructive reply, even when it's goddam frustrating.

We're not saying people can't or shouldn't be frustrated by the shit other people say, just that there's value in everybody trying to keep the bar on the higher side in terms of what ends up playing out in words on the site. It's a weird, complicated balancing act, please understand that we understand that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:44 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, cortex, I hear you. And I want to say that I am not asking for a safe space in any way. I hear loud and clear that Meta* is not a safe space and when I participate in threads I cannot assume that. But there's also a difference between not expecting a safe space and being unwilling to tolerate verbal violence, so I will, as shitty as it is, have to infringe on your and the population's good nature and generosity as long as I'm here because as long as I'm here, I'll speak out against what I see as egregious words. Not all words, but the ones that go beyond where I'm comfortable compromising about and assuming good intent for.

I also want to say that I am not unaware that we are on the cusp of turtles all the way down when we talk about these language and language use issues. That's part of what makes trans* identity so much a combination of terrifying, infuriating and confusing for those of us with that identity. That trans* identity and issues are so entrenched in the understanding of and application of language itself.

But I also feel sometimes like I am looking at the details of our language in a different figurative wavelength. By which I mean there is a limit to the usefulness of optical microscopes. They only work with details that are bigger than the average wavelength of light that you use to look at things with. This is why electron microscopes were invented - so we could discern details at a smaller size because the wavelength of the electron beams we scan things with in electron microscopes is smaller. (Unfortunately this analogy doesn't work for scanning tunneling microscopes, so I'll stop here.)

As a trans* person I am able to detect and respond to smaller subtleties of meaning in words written and spoken about trans* experience and non-trans* people's experience of that than folks who do not have the trans* experience seem to. And it seems to me that this was born of necessity. That I learned these subtleties in the crucible of bullying and violence.

To be simultaneously welcomed by well meaning non-trans* people and then have my experience with language and the subtleties of language both questioned and dismissed is a very hard pill to swallow and makes it hard for me to assume good faith even while my detractors are saying they're doing the same with me (assuming good faith).

This is part of why I am extremely skeptical that lattiboy's call for a referendum on the language-of-progressives will do anything for me other than silence my already quite-silenced-enough-already perspective.

Because in my experience, a lot of the times that folks who are not really entirely sympathetic to my experiences get ready to dismiss my concerns is by taking a great interest in how I use my words and how I apply and understand them. The reason I find all this problematic is that it often turns out that the person going this route has a lot of baggage they are not willing to admit. The next step is dismissal and then willful ignorance and rudeness. Please note that I am no saying lattiboy's agenda is the same as this outline or necessarily that that's how it'll go down, but I am saying that in my experience that's often how it does go down.
posted by kalessin at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


LobsterMitten wrote "I do see people sometimes being too quick to jump to comments like 'here's how what you said could be interpreted in a bad way'" and "it's easy to identify ways a comment *could* be interpreted badly..." She did not say "therefore, hostile attacks are OK".

> I asked upthread if we had now reached a point where misgendering trans people was considered a default-moddable issue

Based on mod comments in the Wikipedia / Chelsea Manning thread, it's clear this is something they are not going to tolerate here.
posted by nangar at 7:57 AM on September 11, 2013


Sure - and Restless_Nomad said explicitly that upthread, when I asked. Which was what I was saying - that's a situation where an ongoing dialog has probably altered the balance between the ideal of light-touch moderation and the desire to have certain standards of behavior maintained in MetaFilter discourse.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:00 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In practice, in my in-person socializing life, I almost always interpret what would otherwise be irksome or offensive comments/questions very generously, reminding myself that the other person means well. Even the patronizing and/or pitying comments about my illness and disability or when someone compares some transitory joint pain to what I experience.

The only exceptions to this are people who do it repeatedly and who I know are really and truly so self-centered that it's no accident that they can't go outside their limited viewpoint. Otherwise, though, I think most people are decent and good and are well-intended and I tend to be very generous about things that I notice will be more than other people can stand.

For example, this is true of me on both sides of customer service interactions. As a customer, I usually don't complain, and when I do, I'm not angry. On the other side, I don't get defensive with angry customers and I'm very patient. It's not that I'm timid — I think people here can tell that I'm fairly strong-willed and perfectly able and willing to speak my mind. I just tend to think well of people and I'm generally fairly patient with them.

And so I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm very receptive to this "be generous and forgiving and assume good intentions" advice.

Yet, I disagree with it in this context.

Because while I, personally, am generous in interpretation and forgiving of people being patronizing or pitying about my illness and disability, I feel very, very strongly that just because I'm that way, I don't have any right to expect other people in my situation to be the same. Those who are not so generous and not so forgiving and become angry and respond strongly ... they have good reasons for this. I'm not the measure of other people.

This is true for all this stuff. Being tolerant of people who relate to your illness with pity and patronizing platitudes and insulting advice shouldn't be the the default expectation. Just because any individual person doesn't know how to behave with more sensitivity and means well doesn't mean that I and other disabled and seriously ill people don't have to deal with a new example of such people every day, and, more generally, we have to deal with a society, culturally and materially, that is designed around people who are able and healthy.

Do you remember the AskMe question that spawned a big MeTa thread about a postal worker who wouldn't help a disabled person with a package and one of the commenters characterized the questioner as "entitled"? There were a lot of people who defended that comment, and no few of them did so on the basis that it was well-intended, it was pragmatic and realistic, and that those of us who were offended were overreacting.

And maybe if that one comment stood entirely alone and did not exist within the context of many, many other comments and experiences like it it would make sense to interpret it very generously and be patient with the answerer. But that's not the world that the disabled live in. When able and healthy people approach issues like this, they think about any particular example in isolation with norms and expectations based upon their own experience, which is nothing like the experienced of the disabled and ill.

Whether it's disability or trans* issues or sexism or any of the other things like this, no, I don't agree that the people who have to live these lives should be expected to respond generously and assume good intention (or that good intention matters very much) when people say or write insensitive, irksome, or hurtful things. Maybe some of us as individuals, for whatever reasons, whether by temperament or personal philosophy, will choose to do so, but this is a personal choice, not something we should have to accept as an imposition from larger society.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


that's a situation where an ongoing dialog has probably altered the balance between the ideal of light-touch moderation and the desire to have certain standards of behavior maintained in MetaFilter discourse.

Yes and this is always, always, going to be somewhat tricky and we appreciate people's patience as they deal with community members who are working to good-faith get their head around this disconnect (usually you are hands off but this time you are hands on, why?) and our attempts to deal with people who are maybe not so good-faith-y dealing with it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've vented my frustration with certain decisions before but I want to express my gratitude to Team Mod for making Mefi, in my opinion, by far the best large general interest (i.e. non-explicitly safe) site for trans people. It's not perfect, sure, but perfect is on a small hill, visible in the middle distance, and not on another planet.

Did that make sense? I hope it made sense. Thanks, is what I'm getting at.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:32 AM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


100% behind that, with an addendum that it's not just Team Mod but also a ton of other people actually getting it, too.
posted by Corinth at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, and a ton of other people are actually getting it because the mods, and trans* people themselves, foster an environment where its possible to get it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:49 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, more and more people are actually getting it because of the trans* people who are willing and able to explain stuff. Thank you all for your patience.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is it possible that we are going to get to end this thread with high-fives and group hugs (for the hugging inclined)?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


<half sarcasm, half good, huggy humor>Let me get out my non-existent uke for the Kumbaya chorus.</halfsarcasm, half good, huggy humor>
posted by kalessin at 9:39 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's the floating hedgehog FPP.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:39 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually do play the uke.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ok, now I'm confused. If what you mean is "those peeps agree on 99.9% of relevant policy matter decisions", but you aren't claiming or insinuating that "all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice", what are you actually saying?

And earlier:

You don't get to say that the social justice battalion turns on its allies because of a lack of ideological purity and that simultaneously all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice.

I never claimed "all of the interested social justice parties speak with one voice." I'm not sure what you're talking about, and I'm not trying to be obtuse, maybe it's possible this thread has been going on too long for me to keep all the balls in the air.

Perhaps it's the floating hedgehog FPP

And... I have just lost all will to disagree with anything ever.
posted by amorphatist at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2013


"The hedgehog compels you!" ?
posted by kalessin at 10:11 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually do play the uke.

Likewise.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:34 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do not, which is why my uke is non-existent. :)
posted by kalessin at 10:50 AM on September 11, 2013


There are only two kinds of people: People who know they play the ukulele, and people who have not yet realized they play the ukulele.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:05 AM on September 11, 2013


i have a ukulele but it's one of those cheap novelty ones meant for kids and i can't figure out how to tune it and i don't know if this is because it is actually untuneable because of being a cheap novelty instrument made for kids instead of a proper musical instrument made for music or if i just don't know what i'm doing. i might be the statistical ukulele outlier who cannot do the thing
posted by titus n. owl at 11:08 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ukes are funny that way because the line between Actual Instrument and Kid's Toy is blurrier and at a much lower price point than for just about any other instrument. Like, the transition point is somewhere in the $20-40 range, which is nutso cheap.

So you could have a totally crappy kids toy that will never tune, or not. Hard to say! But if you're ever wanting to find out for sure, you can get a total solid instrument for like fifty dollars new at retail.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:11 AM on September 11, 2013


Perhaps I should get a uke. I used to play the piano and enjoyed it. I am pretty accomplished Guitar Zero. I recently took voice lesson and got a good grounding. Perhaps all of this could roll up into fun.
posted by kalessin at 11:13 AM on September 11, 2013


Well, I for one think this thread has reached a lovely place :) thanks you all.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:31 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I stepped away for a while and collected my thoughts. I wrote this earlier, so sorry to detract from the ukulele talk:

I'm glad we had this. Maybe we've had this before and I'm unaware, but I can't recall as good a discussion on this impossibly sensitive subject.

I think the idea of people "getting it" isn't quite the same as people "agreeing with it" when it comes to the larger culture of the site. I see a lot of pain and a lot of emotional trauma being shared here, and it's incredibly sad. I'm very sorry these things happened and will do my best not add to it. I sincerely mean that.

For instance: I didn't know "trans*" is what we're supposed to write now. Now I do. Great! If "QUILT BAG" is the new "LGBTQ", double fine. If I use the wrong current terminology and people correct me in a reasonable manner, zero problems. I will amend my writing and apologize. This isn't really the issue. Labels change, and I get that. I think addressing people as they wish to be addressed is obviously the thing to do.

Onto the core thing that's bothering me:

On paper, I am uber-priviliaged. In reality, I haven't really gotten to cash those chits in much. And I'm not going to (and shouldn't have to) re-state every life experience that doesn't make me fit so nicely into the prescribed slot in society you think I belong to. It's maddening that your whole personality and self is now neatly encapsulated in some $5 word because of the circumstances of your birth. In order to participate, you have to begin your argument with your sociological makeup (as a cis gender, heteronormative, white, male, I...) like somehow your personal makeup validates/invalidates your entire experience. And in order to have a "valid" opinion on something outside of what people have ascribed you authority on, you have to use the intellectual equivalent of "I have black friends..." or explain in great detail why you are allowed to comment on this. It is the opposite of good faith and strips people of their privacy.

The irony of the above paragraph is not lost on me. I understand this is one of the main complaints of marginalized people. The real irony is that instead of trying to attack it, it's been co-opted and enshrined into law. Now everybody is prescribed a perception and backstory. This is undoubtedly more "fair", but it isn't "better". It's just taking the existing unpleasantness and spreading it around.

And people who don't think this all creates a milqutoast, boring, groupthink-y place should read some of the advice upthread: You have to assume you experiences are wrong or not thought out, you have to assume you are offending somebody, you have to qualify everything with the fact that you're probably being a monster. Fucks sake, who can live like this? It turns the majority of a post into a rambling qualifier about how sorry you are for probably offending everybody everywhere because just look at you!

"Peak toe" was a pretty good phrase for where it feels we are.

It's the responsibility of users to flag things they find offensive and ignore obvious (or more clever) trolling. It's the job of the mods to warn or remove the trolls. The alternative is what we have now, which is basically "call out culture" butting heads with assholes. It's an endless cycle and eats up all the air.

If this whole thing was a well choreographed attempt to "show me what it's like", bravo! As I said upthread, I fucking get it now! I knew something was bothering me, and upon reflection I've identified it. I still don't think the answer is taking the worst parts of what are described as "privileged attitudes" and making it the framework for how everybody talks in pursuit of a more perfect Meta*
posted by lattiboy at 11:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, I for one think this thread has reached a lovely place :) thanks you all.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:31 AM on September 11 [+] [!]


Oh god, the timing.
posted by lattiboy at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2013


perfection sucks. I agree.
posted by philip-random at 11:38 AM on September 11, 2013


lattiboy, what I see the gap as is the majority (where you live, with or without cashed in privilege live, unless you get into threads like this) wanting comfort while the minority (where the trans* people and progressives live) generally hears this seeking for comfort as "What? Comfort? What's that?"

As a trans* person, I usually (in situations/spaces/contexts that are not Metafilter/MetaTalk/AskMetafilter, etc.) get to choose between:
a) speaking my mind
or
b) living in comfort

Outside of Meta* I don't get to both speak my mind AND live in comfort. Invariably if I am talking about my experience and speaking my mind about it, the amount of flak I get for doing so makes it impossible for me to to be comfortable. At every turn I am opposed by more than one opponent (sometimes dozens, sometimes everyone), and even if one opponent is arguing fair points and assuming good intent, the rest of them aren't, so I am generally at the center of a shitstorm of shouting me down for having the temerity to have a bad experience and say so.

Or I can choose the alternate: staying quiet and living in a modicum of comfort. Because if I don't say anything, I don't draw attention and I don't get a lot of disagreement.

But this Metatalk discussion, posts in the blue and the green are all spaces/contexts/situations where the Moderation Team and a lot of Meta* users go out of their way to invite my comment. And comments from people like me. So I come to those discussions with the expectation that the moderation guidelines will apply to me and I will be given the room I need to disagree, and maybe I can do so in relative comfort. I know that because of moderation guidelines it's likely that I'll have an okay time. What's usually a shitstorm outside of Meta* may be unpleasant at times inside of Meta* but I'll still get the room to speak my mind and it might not cost me a whole day of social media maneuverings to manage the shitstorm.

I am not expecting you or anyone else to be perfect. But what I am hoping for is a detente. An awareness of what it can be like for me and for other trans* people to dissent, and an ability to tolerate that dissent. Not as something you take personally, but as something you hear. And I am looking for you to be held to the same standard as I. That the Moderation Team expects me to read, think, post comments, and have the content of those comments change in response to the good feedback I get from the other people in the discussion.

To me, that kind of change in response to discussion is a good thing. It makes me stronger, it contributes to the overall culture and community of Metafilter and it, I think, even goes outside our community and helps the global community on the Internet work some stuff out too. That's why I participate, why I do it in good faith and why I expect that good faith from others.

You talk about having to check and double-check what you say and you ask who can live with this. I am telling you that I live with this every day. See the choice I make daily between speaking out and being comfortable. It's every single day for an outspoken minority. Every. Single. Day. About Everything. And as a minority I don't get a choice. I can either go along with the majority (with whom I disagree) and be comfortable or I can sacrifice comfort for the cause of trying to get my message out.

It seems like you're talking about how this is a great sacrifice for you. If it is, then please understand that it's a sacrifice I make every day. I am not unaware of what it MAY cost you. Please do not be unaware of what it DOES cost me.
posted by kalessin at 11:53 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


And in order to have a "valid" opinion on something outside of what people have ascribed you authority on, you have to use the intellectual equivalent of "I have black friends..." or explain in great detail why you are allowed to comment on this.

So, here's the thing for me. (For clarity: not speaking as a mod, just a commenter.) We do this all the time when talking about things that don't touch on identity. If I want to spout off about plumbing on AskMe, it's not a hardship to include some context about how I know about plumbing. If I want to rant about politics, everyone will assume that I am just talking out of my ass like everyone does unless I specifically say that I'm speaking from a position of insider knowledge about politics. This is just basic internet conversation etiquette. No one knows you're a dog, and all.

If I'm talking about the experience of being trans, I am talking out of my ass, because I'm not trans. I can talk about my experience being a non-gender-conforming queer women and how that might be like being trans, but I still don't have any knowledge of what it's like to be trans. So I try pretty hard to frame everything in "I" statements and be aware when I'm projecting from my own experience into an experience I have not actually had. And when someone points out that I've crossed the line from empathizing into fantasizing, then I stop and listen.

And despite the fact that I try really, really hard to be a good trans ally, despite the fact that I have an ever-increasing amount of trans friends and want desperately for their lives to be happy and peaceful, I still fuck it up. I still have no idea when or how to ask someone whose gender identity is unclear to me what pronoun they prefer. And I can talk all I want about how when people ask *me* that (which happens) I find it weird and offputting, but that still doesn't mean my opinion is more valid than a trans person's - or even that it's valid at all, except in the sole case of "people who are talking to me."

And so I don't actually talk much in trans threads outside of my moderatorial capacity. I read them carefully and with great interest, but I don't feel like I have much to add. I don't talk much in threads about race, either, because I'm white. I don't talk much in threads about poverty, because while I've been broke, I've always had a solid middle-class safety net. I talk a *lot* in threads about being queer or female, though, and I'm always a little confused by people who seem to feel like they have more insight into my life than I do.

I don't find this groupthink-y or echo-chamber-y at all, because it means that lots of different people talk about lives that are different from mine, and I learn a lot from it. I actually find it much more boring and homogenous when straight, white, middle-class men between 18 and 35 talk over those threads in ways that are so canned that people can recite the lines cold, as has happened in the other big MeTa.

So my recommendation, which maybe I should make in that thread, too, is talk about yourself. Don't talk about me and my experiences. Talk about what *you* feel, what *your* life is like, what color the grass is on *that* side of the fence. It's scarier, and it makes you more vulnerable, but it also makes you a vastly more interesting and valuable conversational companion.

As we've seen here, because you've been doing a great job of it. For which, thank you.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:14 PM on September 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's maddening that your whole personality and self is now neatly encapsulated in some $5 word because of the circumstances of your birth. In order to participate, you have to begin your argument with your sociological makeup (as a cis gender, heteronormative, white, male, I...)

I don't feel this way at all here on this site. I never had my various identities questioned or attacked, nor have I ever felt the need to bring them up. Nor have I ever had anyone ask if I was white/a man/cis/heteronormative/whatever. And I participate mostly in social-justice themed threads.

This is not to say that your feelings are wrong, its just to say that your experience is most likely not entirely a result of your identity.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:21 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In order to participate, you have to begin your argument with your sociological makeup (as a cis gender, heteronormative, white, male, I...) like somehow your personal makeup validates/invalidates your entire experience. And in order to have a "valid" opinion on something outside of what people have ascribed you authority on, you have to use the intellectual equivalent of "I have black friends..." or explain in great detail why you are allowed to comment on this.

This just isn't true. Other than being female, I can tick off every box on every privilege checklist I've ever seen. (I'm not currently financially well-off, but my parents were and I have way more of a safety net because of it.) I don't think I've ever listed my sociological makeup or claimed I had minority-culture friends in order to comment on a thread -- here or even in much harsher "safe space" social justice sites, on all sorts of social justice issues -- and while people may very well have disagreed with what I said, no one's ever told me that my opinion was invalid simply because I was the one holding it.

What I have done, in my own life, is work to become aware of how my sociological makeup affects my worldview, and I try to hold on to that perspective when I'm hearing about other people's experiences.

I grew up being taught that there was one "correct" way to experience the world. I've learned, through reading and discussion and travel, that there are many ways to experience the world and none of them is any more "correct" than any other. We're all doing the best we can given the circumstances we're in. I don't think anyone's asking you to get pre-approval for your circumstances before you're allowed to comment, but instead asking you to remember that most real-world issues have many many many aspects and problems and joys and that it's presumptuous to think that one person can definitively rule on all of them.
posted by jaguar at 12:22 PM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


If this whole thing was a well choreographed attempt to "show me what it's like", bravo! As I said upthread, I fucking get it now!

Do you? Because I'm starting to resent this repeated assumption. Like, loads of people here have put a lot of effort into listening to you, discussing your words, trying to communicate some helpful stuff back. And your response is to cast this aspersion at everyone, as a whole, that we're all trying to "show you what it's like" to be a minority?

I've been scratching my head at your claims that one must understand some deep academic parlance (HS grad here) or have "to begin your argument with your sociological makeup" in order to participate or your conflation of one comment into things "many people in this thread" have said to you, and other things that just do not gel with the site I see. But I figure OK, this is how this dude experiences the site, maybe he's a bit sensitive but that's no crime.

What I find hard to overlook, though, is you projecting this absurd motivation onto all of us. It's hugely unfair and I wish you'd get off it already. I can give you benefit of the doubt when it comes to what looks like some hyperbolic claims about SJ in Metafilter and the people who take part in the discussions, but I don't like being told why I do what I do.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:42 PM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's the responsibility of users to flag things they find offensive and ignore obvious (or more clever) trolling. It's the job of the mods to warn or remove the trolls. The alternative is what we have now, which is basically "call out culture" butting heads with assholes. It's an endless cycle and eats up all the air.

I've been on this site for eight years and I don't recall this being the rule, nor ever being the way things were done here. We flag things that the mods should address, but we also self-police. If this sort of policing derails the threads, we take it to MeTa, but otherwise there has always been a strong culture here of developing and maintaining site-wide norms.

But you're conflating two things here. This supposed "call out culture" that you describe is, in fact, users disagreeing with other users. And some of that disagreement will be based in the way privilege informs discussions, because a lot of people accept as a fact that privilege does inform discussions. And, in fact, a lot of these users are trying to create a place where informed, useful discussions can be had, and a lot of what they are responding to is an entrenched desire to dismiss that discussion by saying the subject under consideration isn't actually worth talking about. because it's just somebody looking for drama, or because the person was hysterical, or because of all the others reasons enumerated.

I mean, I'm sorry you don't like being called out, or like it when other people are called out, or whatever the source of your ire is. But what you're calling "calling out" is other people expressing their opinions, and those opinions are often informed and rooted in real-world experience, and are often butting up against opinions that are uniformed and based in abstractions.

The fact is, this dynamic will take place in any thread. If somebody goes into a thread about thermodynamics and starts speaking authoritatively, but has no experience, they will be called out on it. And if they start using a variety of rhetorical tools to move the discussion to something other than thermodynamics, people will call them on that too.

And it happens. But not as much, and it's not nearly as notable, because we mutually understand that thermodynamics is something that some people know more about. But in the world of privilege, we wind up with the strange circumstance where people with privilege feel they are in a place to speak authoritative, and express unlearned doubts, about the experiences of those who actually have experience and authority. And when they are called out, the response is not, "Well, that was fair," but instead "How dare somebody try to silence me?"

And this supposed call out culture has done nothing to stem the flood of people who, without benefit of expertise or life experience, nonetheless feel free to enter these threads and tell everybody how it is, how they are wrong, how they are silly, and how the real discussion should be about something else. So I agree that simply calling people out doesn't work. But I don't know what does. I don't know how to make it clear that that sort of behavior actually shuts down or derails discussion, except by saying so. If I can find a better mechanism, I will use it, but for now language is the only tool I have.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


If this whole thing was a well choreographed attempt to "show me what it's like", bravo! As I said upthread, I fucking get it now!

for what it's worth, I didn't take this part of lattisboy's comment seriously. That is, I cut him the slack of accepting that okay, he's not saying it very well, but I think he's kind of making fun of his own paranoia. I say this not because the words stand very well on their own (they don't), but in the context of the rest of his comment, which is generally more thoughtful. Particularly this part ...

... like somehow your personal makeup validates/invalidates your entire experience. [...] The real irony is that instead of trying to attack it, it's been co-opted and enshrined into law. Now everybody is prescribed a perception and backstory. This is undoubtedly more "fair", but it isn't "better". It's just taking the existing unpleasantness and spreading it around.

And people who don't think this all creates a milqutoast, boring, groupthink-y place should read some of the advice upthread: You have to assume you experiences are wrong or not thought out, you have to assume you are offending somebody, you have to qualify everything with the fact that you're probably being a monster. Fucks sake, who can live like this? It turns the majority of a post into a rambling qualifier about how sorry you are for probably offending everybody everywhere because just look at you!


Which isn't to argue that all the normal people of the world (whatever the hell normal is) should be free to take a ready-fire-aim approach to life, who cares who they hurt? But at what point does the push-back against such extremes neuter positive discussion to greater community's loss? I don't think anybody has a clear answer to this, because it happens in a grey area. Thus ... problematic (for lack of a better word).
posted by philip-random at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think anybody has a clear answer to this, because it happens in a grey area. Thus ... problematic (for lack of a better word).

I think we only need look outside our community to find out what happens. Metafilter and sub-filters are a rare breed and the Moderation Team is who I thank for that, as well as a presiding culture of people who read, think, post, read, think, post.

I don't think anyone gets to claim that it's perfect, but I have been in the wilds of the Internet. That's where my experience of being trans* was formed, and I prefer the civility that Metafilter has. I know that I can go to reddit or the chans if I want more extremes. And I come here for the civility that I find an uncommon gem in the rough of the wider and wilder Internet.
posted by kalessin at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe the problem's me. Either this is all unfair hyperbole thrown in the face of a bunch of helpful people, or my "groupthink" has clouded by sense of reason.

Either way I think it's time for me to back outta this thread.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:19 PM on September 11, 2013


Sorry to drop that turd in the punchbowl and then have to quasi-leave the thread, but I'm at work. My responses will be economic and possibly a little curt:

jaguar: The thing is, I do completely appreciate that life is a prism which everybody sees differently. I don't try to ascribe my world view as universal, but it's universal for me, it's mine and I don't think I should have to apologize for it because of who I am genetically or presume it's somehow flawed or unworthy or uninformed. You simply don't know the life I've lived or the people I've associated with. Essentially we're diminishing the role of an individual and their experience in favor of their perceived privilege.

restless-nomad: As always, a thought provoking post. I understand what you're saying, but I feel there is a difference between offering advice/insight and offering commentary/conversation. It's hard to articulate, but I don't think it's a foreign concept. Essentially, we're all now supposed to "show our work" when speaking. It's as if the venue has changed from conversational to rhetorical. I know my general college drop-out vocab is failing me here.

Marisa Stole the Precious Thing That was supposed to be a little sarcastic bit at the end. I can't believe you think I think that you're all literally having a meeting to teach me a lesson. It was a joke. A hyperbolic attempt to honestly portray my surprise at how it felt.

Bunny Ultramod : The mantra of "informed and useful" discussion is a rhetorical bludgeon that is repeatedly deployed. I'm saying, sure, the discussion is now "useful", but also kind of boring and bland and incredibly guarded and paranoid about offending people. I'll never complain I'm "being silenced". I'm a big boy and can type pretty fast. If and when I'm banned, I suppose I can start saying that.

kalessin: That was a beautiful post. I thank you for your honesty in all these things and I'm sorry it takes it out of you. I can only imagine how interacting in that way your whole life must wear you down.

That being said, I don't agree with the fundamental part of your post as it relates to the issue:

"It seems like you're talking about how this is a great sacrifice for you. If it is, then please understand that it's a sacrifice I make every day. I am not unaware of what it MAY cost you"

I'm white, but I'm one of very few white people in my zip code. I'm hetero, but the majority of the people I associate with are not. I'm doing okay financially, but that is a new development and is not at all a certainty long or medium term. I do resent the idea that I'm holding on to this big bag o' privilege until I'm 35 at which point I'll retire to the Hamptons. Oh, and that bag (invisible or not) is the shorthand for everything about you and how people have decided to view the things you say. It also shades your motivations and is a license to discount something you think because "of course you think that, look at the bag your holding!"

The injustice and general shittiness of the world touches everybody. Some more than others, some groups more than others. It's spread it's rancidness on me more than I care to think about. I'm not going to change the way I speak or the way I think to conform to the admittedly not-ideal way you've had to your whole life. Honestly, would you wish what you've eloquently experienced on others? Because I don't think this is much of a solution and I'm not terribly interested in it.
posted by lattiboy at 1:31 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't care along which axes your privilege(s) fall or do not fall, but if I could wish for one thing it would be that people who aren't me would stop telling me what my experience *really* is. That's it. You can share yours without apologizing. You can say "Huh, I had no idea. It sounds kind of similar to [thing I experienced] but I don't know if it really is or not." But people who never heard of the existence of your experience before (this has happened most notably and recently in trans* threads) who come into a thread about trans* stuff and announce that they were entirely unfamiliar with the subject until they skimmed the linked article but here's their expert opinion are infuriating, and yes, those people should apologize.

I'm privileged in certain areas and contexts of my life and not in others. That I was granted those privileges is basically nothing to do with me - they happened to me - and even though I may not ever get to take huge advantage of them in any concrete way, they do in fact put me higher up on the ladder than other people. I mean, I can be a dyke and a woman of color and a holder of an Ivy BA all at the same time, and all of those have certain advantages and disadvantages depending on certain contexts. I can't get rid of them, and I can't pretend they don't exist. I can acknowledge their presence and try to see how they intersect, and how they affect my life and perspective.

I'll never complain I'm "being silenced". I'm a big boy and can type pretty fast. If and when I'm banned, I suppose I can start saying that.

Speaking of perspective....You know there are longtime mefites who step into threads, say incredibly boorish shit, then step out, and they're not banned. You know this. You are not walking some fine, invisible line that you might accidentally fall over into banhammer territory.
posted by rtha at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


And on a re-read of my comment I realized that this bit - but if I could wish for one thing it would be that people who aren't me would stop telling me what my experience *really* is - could sound like I'm talking specifically to you, lattiboy, and that's not what I meant. It's more a general thing.
posted by rtha at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


lattiboy: "Oh, and that bag (invisible or not) is the shorthand for everything about you and how people have decided to view the things you say. It also shades your motivations and is a license to discount something you think because "of course you think that, look at the bag your holding!""

No, I don't believe so. There's nothing to say that a cis person, for example, can't gain a deep and nuanced understanding of what it is to be trans. They're just unlikely to do it independently, because many of the assumptions they make about the way the world works, the way that people work, are informed by their cis experiences.

Similarly, while I may be able to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of what it is to be black, I will have to do so by listening to black people speak about their experiences and I will have to consciously squash my own instincts to do so, since my instincts around race have been informed by a lifetime as a white person.

Maybe that image is hyperbolic; I don't know. But it's exactly the kind of knowledge and experience gap that I try to keep in mind when involved in discussions about race.

Another example: as a white person I would be surprised and annoyed to find myself being followed by store security, but black friends have told me it's common; as a white trans person I probably would never be followed around that same store but I do have experience of waiting until 3am to do my shopping at the local supermarket to reduce the number of people who will casually hurl abuse and occasional objects as I try to buy my broccoli.

Context. You can't know what contexts you're missing until you listen, and if you try to join in on conversations where that context would be relevant without it, your opinion will probably be dismissed. But! If you remember going into a thread that you might be lacking some important information, information that is not in the FPP and has not been stated explicitly but is taken for granted by many participants, you can prepare yourself for listening to minority groups and taking their statements and arguments seriously, even if they don't instinctively ring true.

woah this was a long comment and I still feel really quite weird and headachey so apologies if it's just a torrent of babble and bullshit. please also read "general you" instead of "you, lattiboy" as I completely lost track of who I was replying to after about eight seconds
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:55 PM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't try to ascribe my world view as universal, but it's universal for me, it's mine and I don't think I should have to apologize for it because of who I am genetically or presume it's somehow flawed or unworthy or uninformed. You simply don't know the life I've lived or the people I've associated with. Essentially we're diminishing the role of an individual and their experience in favor of their perceived privilege.

This isn't really what's being said here, unless we're talking about people making uninformed and incorrect assumptions about groups of people rather than individuals.

Essentially, we're all now supposed to "show our work" when speaking.

I don't think this is true in the vast majority of cases. I for one can't remember the last time I did it, if I ever did. I'd be willing to be there are a lot of white, straight, cis, middle-class dudes on MeFi that have spoken up for people that don't fall under any or even all of those descriptions without ever saying it even once, let alone in every conversation. When posters do "show their work," it seems to come from those who are the subject of the debate (trans* people, for instance) when their experiences are being misrepresented by uninformed (and very rarely, antagonistic) POVs.

That was supposed to be a little sarcastic bit at the end. I can't believe you think I think that you're all literally having a meeting to teach me a lesson. It was a joke. A hyperbolic attempt to honestly portray my surprise at how it felt.

It's really hard to have a serious conversation when hyperbole is being injected into it, especially when hyperbole is one of the issues we're trying to reduce. Plus, as this thread and the Gender-Filter one have illustrated, there are people here who apparently very much think that there's a band of Social Justice Warriors attempting to institute some sort of re-education regime on the site. There's a lot of accusations of bad faith being thrown around, many of them erroneously, so maybe the easiest thing to do is just be on the level with each other.

The injustice and general shittiness of the world touches everybody. Some more than others, some groups more than others. It's spread it's rancidness on me more than I care to think about. I'm not going to change the way I speak or the way I think to conform to the admittedly not-ideal way you've had to your whole life. Honestly, would you wish what you've eloquently experienced on others? Because I don't think this is much of a solution and I'm not terribly interested in it.

This reads as really unfair to kalessin, who I believe is trying to point out that she can only guess at where you are but knows where she is, and is speaking from her POV. It's not a competition, nor do I think most people see it that way.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:56 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


lattiboy, I'm glad you see some of how you and I share experiences in common.

Because of my shitty, rancid experiences, because I have many loved ones and friends who are an even shittier end of the spectrum than I am, I have chosen to live my life in a way that's compatible with the idea of bettering my life while I better their lives and others' lives whom I don't know.

I'm not insisting that you do that. I just don't give you any credit for deciding you're not doing that, at least in this context.
posted by kalessin at 1:57 PM on September 11, 2013


To clarify, when people say that one group is privileged, it doesn't mean that that group doesn't experience problems, that life is hunky dory for them, or that being privileged in some way means that you will be happier than those without that privilege.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm like restless_nomad in that there's a lot of threads about things like trans* issues or racial experience that I just don't really talk in much at all even when I find them interesting or eye-opening or occasionally a little frustrating.

And I'll say that for me where the "show your work" thing comes into play mostly is times when I start to make a comment in a thread where I'm out of my depth, and realize that I don't really know how to shore it up, and end up realizing that if I feel like I need to write an extra paragraph about how it makes sense for me to be saying whatever I'm saying, I should probably just take a hard look at how much it needs to be said vs. how much I just feel like having my turn to talk.

Every once in a while I give it that hard think and end up saying, yeah, this is an important contribution to this discussion even if I need to do a bunch of extra framing work to try and make it go okay and not be misunderstood. More often, really a lot more often if you count the times I get that "gotta comment!" instinct but don't let it get as far as actually putting fingers to keyboard before I rethink it, I end up figuring out that my instinct to jump in is less about making the thread better than it is about me typing something because I'm me and my thoughts are super interesting to me, etc.

There's no silver bullet for it, it's always a judgement call, but getting to a place of being okay with just not saying something in a given thread if it seems like (a) too much work or (b) too much me-me-me has I think made me a better conversationalist, here and elsewhere.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:09 PM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


i end up feeling personally conflicted when the topic is trans* people, and i am a trans* person, but i am not the specific trans* person the thread was started about, and i am coming in to tell my autobiography as part of my comment on this website, because i feel that my experiences are relevant and my own experiences are all that i am competent to speak to in this matter, but at the same time i feel like well i am not the specific trans* person the thread is about and my life story is not actually the topic here and what if people think i am chiming in with my me-me-me for the sake of me-me-me-ing

this is a personal problem and i suspect i should consult my chaplain
posted by titus n. owl at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm saying, sure, the discussion is now "useful", but also kind of boring and bland and incredibly guarded and paranoid about offending people.

Well, I disagree, and it seems to me that this is a matter of taste. I obviously don't share yours, and all I can suggest is that you be the conversation you want to see.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:33 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my head it sounds like "the slogans, jargon and vocabulary unique to progressives", in which case, I'd be curious to know what's wrong with it. And by that I mean as opposed to unique vocabulary used by, say, conservatives.

I think the problem is when you (meaning anyone) are automatically granting the slogans, jargon, and vocabulary unique to progressives a free pass, while flagging, removing, or complaining about the slogans, jargon, and vocabulary unique to conservatives. (For one I can remember offhand, the use of 'undocumented' vs 'illegal aliens')
posted by corb at 2:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen pushback on "illegals," but that seems warranted because it assigns illegality only to immigrants and not to anyone else who has engaged in illegal activity.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


And of course in this case we're talking about terms designed to be positive or neutral ("undocumented") vs terms designed to be condemnatory ("illegal aliens"). Similar to terms like "pro-choice" vs "pro-abortion".
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:10 PM on September 11, 2013


corb: That is a ... poor.. example of what I'm talking about. It's a straight up shorthand epithet specifically designed to ascribe people to a lower class.
posted by lattiboy at 3:13 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, I disagree, and it seems to me that this is a matter of taste. I obviously don't share yours, and all I can suggest is that you be the conversation you want to see.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:33 PM on September 11 [+] [!]


Honestly, you're right. I contribute a bit, but since I noticed the change, I've largely ignored any thread that is controversial (Of which there are quite a few. Per week.) out of basic fear. Which is kind of the crux of all of this. People don't want to argue anymore. It isn't worth the ridicule or the condescending "education" you'll end up getting. Often involving multi-page long replies speaking in a tone and using words that few outside Wesleyan Humanities faculty have ever used in human conversation. It sometimes appears people have saved a thesis from a MSW degree to dump on some random internet asshole.

In threads, I often found that the people in the link were being wildly over sensitive and glass jawed, that perhaps the reaction of those people was not great, and that (while nothing is happening in a vacuum) this particular incident is not a major battle of equality. You know, like white people liking Big Freedia, "dongle gate", Scalzi's lawn, open letters from parents. And in all those threads, practically nothing was learned. Nothing was achieved. Everybody exposed their outrage glands like a dog dragging his ass on the carpet and we all went home.
posted by lattiboy at 3:17 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In threads, I often found that the people in the link were being wildly over sensitive and glass jawed, that perhaps the reaction of those people was not great, and that (while nothing is happening in a vacuum) this particular incident is not a major battle of equality.

I guess my question is why you feel any need to participate in a thread where you feel a mountain is being made out of a molehill? There are dozens of threads posted per day. I only participate in the ones I find meaningful. The last thing I would want to do is go into the Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven thread and say "Why does anybody think this is a big deal? Everyone is overreacting!"

There are a lot of threads. Certainly there are some that you find meaningful, instead of threads where you feel like your significant contribution would be to minimize the meaning that others ascribe to the link. Failing that, you can always post your own links that seem meaningful to you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:22 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that I tend to be wordy is not because I have a saved backlog of MSW degree theses to dump on folks. The reason I tend to be wordy is that the subtleties of the language we have to work with (American English) are not good for talking about emotion.

I am led to understand that talking about this in German (which has a lot of vocabulary dedicated to the subtleties of emotion) would be a lot more succinct. Alas, I do not have German.
posted by kalessin at 3:23 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I also think that speaking German would be too high a wall to ask strangers to climb to talk about this stuff with me. So I opt for wordy American English.

This is sort of a have your cake and eat it too kind of situation. I feel like I'm getting painted into a corner by the folks who are down on progressive liberals and there's nothing I can do to win. It's like that part of the checklist folks were making in that other thread where someone posted two opposite choices and checked one. In order to uncheck the checked one I'd have to check the first one and lose anyway.
posted by kalessin at 3:26 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Often involving multi-page long replies speaking in a tone and using words that few outside Wesleyan Humanities faculty have ever used in human conversation. It sometimes appears people have saved a thesis from a MSW degree to dump on some random internet asshole.

You appear to be bringing some preconceived notions to these discussions that may be making it difficult for you to find common ground with a lot of people trying to have an exchange of ideas with you. If this stuff isn't for you no one is making you contribute. If your argument is that you feel that the way the discussion in some threads is happening is making you not want to contribute, there may be better ways to approach the topic. Because that's an excellent common-ground finding point, I think, but not if you basically taunt the people who you are wanting to have a discussion with.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:27 PM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Seriously. Lattiboy, maybe if you spent a bit more time reading these threads and a bit less time trying to come up with redolent slams about those who participate in them (and kudos - that'll show those pencil-necks at Wesleyan!), the experience would go better for you?

Right now you are kind of saying "you guys are a bunch of utter assholes and I am scared by how you are mean to me for no reason at all. You assholes."
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:31 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


It isn't worth the ridicule or the condescending "education" you'll end up getting. Often involving multi-page long replies speaking in a tone and using words that few outside Wesleyan Humanities faculty have ever used in human conversation. It sometimes appears people have saved a thesis from a MSW degree to dump on some random internet asshole.

Again, maybe the hyperbole and stereotyping isn't very useful?

In threads, I often found that the people in the link were being wildly over sensitive and glass jawed, that perhaps the reaction of those people was not great, and that (while nothing is happening in a vacuum) this particular incident is not a major battle of equality. You know, like white people liking Big Freedia, "dongle gate", Scalzi's lawn, open letters from parents.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. First of all, it's never about just one incident, it's about how they all add up and are representative of something much, much larger. I didn't participate in the Big Freedia thread, so I can't comment on that one, nor the "donglegate," but I can get why it was a big deal. I've already commented on how the shitty part about the Scalzi's lawn thread was about the misinterpretations of the links within the OP as well as the really nasty stereotypes and condescending attitude of a lot of the posters there towards feminists and trans* people, much of which has been repeated in this thread and the Gender-Filter one. I'm assuming the "open letters from parents" refers to the thread about the woman whose daughter left programming because of being harassed? If so, yeah, there was a lot of second-guessing of the author that I never recall seeing in threads about male programmers, some from who have participated in these recent MeTas and made bad-faith accusations.

And in all those threads, practically nothing was learned. Nothing was achieved. Everybody exposed their outrage glands like a dog dragging his ass on the carpet and we all went home.

I don't think that's true at all.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:35 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Often involving multi-page long replies speaking in a tone and using words that few outside Wesleyan Humanities faculty have ever used in human conversation.

Just for some context:

I have conversations like this with my friends, face-to-face, all the time. You and I do not have the same friends. That does not make my friends, or me, vanishingly rare specimens of an obscure species.

I did not go to college, I don't have any specialized degrees, and while I am happy to stick a chip on my shoulder about academia in some contexts, I think your contempt is misapplied here.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:39 PM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


And of course in this case we're talking about terms designed to be positive or neutral ("undocumented") vs terms designed to be condemnatory ("illegal aliens").

Well, so much for taking people at the best possible interpretation of their words. "Illegal alien" wasn't "designed to be condemnatory." It's been a term of law for centuries.
posted by Etrigan at 4:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd hardly call my comment "taunting". It isn't. It's just that if people wonder why some just choose to stop contributing or close their accounts it's because there are a class of almost "professional mefites" who have the time and inclination to essentially drown people in words. Hell, just look above you! I've had no less than 20-odd replies of incredible length which I can't possibly respond to and keep my job.

And the reaction that I got for facetiously using Wesleyan as an example of somewhat long winded beanplating (because of an alumni friend of mine and her stories from there) is another example of the new sensitivities we've developed.

Also "chip on my shoulder." Which I don't doubt at all, but just imagine if that phrase was used to describe a disadvantaged persons reaction or language in a thread. The shitstorm would be nothing short of epic.
posted by lattiboy at 4:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think exasperation is what I'm reading, not a chip on the shoulder.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the reaction that I got for facetiously using Wesleyan as an example of somewhat long winded beanplating (because of an alumni friend of mine and her stories from there) is another example of the new sensitivities we've developed.

This is a really, really good example of why sarcasm hinders communication. People here are being earnest and trying really hard to understand each other. When you say something facetiously, you're actively undercutting that process, because the non-verbal signals that usually accompany it to make the sarcasm clear are gone.

So, very seriously, if you find people reacting wrongly to what you say, first cut out the sarcasm.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


So, if people respond to you as if you are an intelligent human being with an interest in having the discussion on the topic you introduced, they are proving your point and justifying your decision not to listen to them?

You know, I have to applaud that: that is gold-medal ignorance.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:19 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a really, really good example of why sarcasm hinders communication. People here are being earnest and trying really hard to understand each other. When you say something facetiously, you're actively undercutting that process, because the non-verbal signals that usually accompany it to make the sarcasm clear are gone.

So, very seriously, if you find people reacting wrongly to what you say, first cut out the sarcasm.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:12 PM on September 11 [+] [!]


Thank you and understood. I'm doing my best here, but my inherent smartassedness tends to take over when I have a whole grip of folks challenging me and asking questions.

The thing is, I can't believe "Wesleyan Humanities" cannot be processed as a little sarcastic aside by folks with the incredible intelligence on display here without 3 call outs. Pretty sure somebody accused me of calling all you guys "assholes" a few comments ago and that was left unchecked. Just sayin'.....

And now I'm ignorant because I don't listen. Thanks for the gold-medal though. I never won an award before.
posted by lattiboy at 4:21 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: "Well, so much for taking people at the best possible interpretation of their words. "Illegal alien" wasn't "designed to be condemnatory." It's been a term of law for centuries."

My mistake, then. But it still doesn't strike me as a term a person would choose for themselves?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:26 PM on September 11, 2013


Is it too late to high five again?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:28 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it still doesn't strike me as a term a person would choose for themselves?

It's absolutely not that, and I have no issue with it being at least frowned upon. But saying it's intentionally inflammatory ascribes motive where none may exist, which, y'know.
posted by Etrigan at 4:31 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm doing my best here, but my inherent smartassedness tends to take over when I have a whole grip of folks challenging me and asking questions.

Did you want to have a conversation or just vent? It's kind of frustrating to do the former when you lay out extensive comments and then characterize responses as multi-page jargon-laden rants when they are neither (and are in fact shorter than your comments).
posted by zombieflanders at 4:44 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, very seriously, if you find people reacting wrongly to what you say, first cut out the sarcasm.

***

Thank you and understood. [...]

The thing is, I can't believe "Wesleyan Humanities" cannot be processed as a little sarcastic aside...


So, when you say "understood", there, Lattiboy, what do you mean? You seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that people did not understand that you were making a sarcastic aside. This is not the case. They understood it, and felt (rightly) that the limited resources you are able, for whatever reason, to dedicate to this discussion would be better spent on listening, trying to comprehend, making relevant points and asking relevant questions rather than trying to think up sarcastic asides and insults. Which is pretty much what restless_nomad just said, except she was a lot more polite.

And now I'm ignorant because I don't listen.

...Yes?

I mean, not listening is quite a common reason why people are ignorant, from childhood up. And, given that a whole bunch of people have tried to talk to you like a human being, and you have written them off as "professional mefites", and used their genuine attempts to engage you like a thinking person to justify what you misterm "smartassedness" and might more accurately be termed inexplicable pride at how little you are taking in... well, yes. You're ignorant because you don't listen. QED.

If your end goal isn't at the very least to maintain your current level of ignorance, then I'm genuinely not sure what it is, but am pretty sure you are going about it wrong.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


my inherent smartassedness tends to take over when I have a whole grip of folks challenging me and asking questions.

I've been guilty of that myself, Lattiboy. I've got a sharp tongue and I get an honest chuckle from using it sometimes, so it takes a bit of extra effort not to do so. You are right, it becomes more difficult to restrain that impulse when other people aren't, and exponentially more so when they aren't called out on it either by self-policing mechanisms or by moderators.

But that aside, it doesn't help. It just doesn't. No matter how sarcastic and snarky someone else has been, no matter how bad-faith their interpretations of your comments, doing the same will never help the conversation. It pours gasoline on the problem. This is not a two-wrongs-make-a-right situation. You have to decide how committed you are to your original goal of having a genuine presentation, if not exchange, of ideas. The other two options are better: keep your head, or walk away.

To my mind, that's a big part of what this thread has been about.
posted by cribcage at 4:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


But that aside, it doesn't help. It just doesn't. No matter how sarcastic and snarky someone else has been, no matter how bad-faith their interpretations of your comments, doing the same will never help the conversation. It pours gasoline on the problem. This is not a two-wrongs-make-a-right situation. You have to decide how committed you are to your original goal of having a genuine presentation, if not exchange, of ideas. The other two options are better: keep your head, or walk away.

Almost nobody in this current conversation with lattiboy is doing this, so perhaps avoiding stepping into the bad faith arena, by ascribing fault where there is none, is warranted?
posted by zombieflanders at 4:53 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest: You've called me ignorant a few times now and simplified everything I've said into me calling you guys all "assholes". And you're giving pointers on how to behave in here? Really?

I would honestly like to know why your comments are allowed to stand and I'm getting warnings for saying people are a bit wordy.
posted by lattiboy at 4:54 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that posts like the wikipedia one are basically a special flavor of 'outrage-filter': a broadly progressive aligned person/institution does something shitty, and the only available avenue of discussion is to express how disappointed/angry you are at the subject of the post. But these posts have the added twist that when someone invariably suggests that the subject of the post should be given some leeway or treated more gently for being broadly progressive, the thread will derail into arguments about tone-arguments and concern-trolling.
posted by Pyry at 4:55 PM on September 11, 2013


I would honestly like to know why your comments are allowed to stand and I'm getting warnings for saying people are a bit wordy.

We basically don't delete stuff on the grey, and you're not getting warnings. You're getting negative reactions, but that's not a moderation issue.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:58 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would honestly like to know why your comments are allowed to stand and I'm getting warnings for saying people are a bit wordy.

This sounds like maybe a mod question so I'd like to point out that nearly everyone's comments are being allowed to stand. Peopel not liking what you say or you not liking what other people say isn't a moderation issue and I'm not sure why you think it is?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:58 PM on September 11, 2013


I honestly didn't realize the grey was mostly unmoderated. Heh. Feels like a thing I should've known after all these years.

Nevermind my previous post. Running Order Squable, I think you're being a jerk and astoundingly smug.
posted by lattiboy at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I didn't know "trans*" is what we're supposed to write now.

Well... opinions are divided. I'm trans, and have always used trans as a shorthand umbrella term for all sorts of gendervariant identities, much in the same way that people who use 'trans*' do. Not everyone included in either term has a label that starts with "trans" (e.g. genderqueer people) so the use of the glomming character has always struck me as a little weird.
posted by Dysk at 5:03 PM on September 11, 2013


The thing is, I can't believe "Wesleyan Humanities" cannot be processed as a little sarcastic aside by folks with the incredible intelligence on display here without 3 call outs.

But it's complicated, because there's a difference between recognizing that someone is being sarcastic or glib or whatever and knowing what you're supposed to take from that. Like, does chucking Wesleyan Humanities out there function to signal that:

- you think Wesleyan students/academics specifically are sorta full of shit?
- you think Humanities education in general is sorta full of shit?
- you think there's an in- and out-group thing about this kind of conversation that's fundamentally problematic or unfair that lines up well with a Wesleyan-esque syllabus?
- you think there's value in that Wesleyan stuff but it's unfair that it's not more accessible to people who didn't happen to take that sort of university courseload?
- you think there's value in it but you're frustrated not to be up to speed with it?
- you think Wesleyan is a funny word and so, hey, a little bit a levity?

And it could basically be any of those. It's sort of an out-of-the-blue reference to drop into the conversation at this point, and different readings of it are gonna carry very different payloads. It's sometimes a lot easier to tell someone is being facetious or sarcastic than it is to tell why or with what intent.

I'm a big proponent for the whole say-what-you-mean tack with this stuff, skipping the sarcasm and smartassery and so on and sticking to just straightforward statements of opinion and position, for a bunch of reasons, not least of them being that when you're being straightforward and unambiguous there's generally a whole lot less of that ambiguity that comes into play. Not none, always, but at least way less. Lowering the friction in communication like that's always a good idea, I think.

my inherent smartassedness tends to take over

Boy howdy do I feel you there. Another big reason for the straightforwardness idea above is that I can really, really get the same way and I've seen it mostly get me into trouble and generate bad feelings or misunderstandings. I know myself well enough to know that I've got a serious kennel of imps running around on my shoulders and they're great with the zingers but not so great with the making things go smoothly. It's hard to keep 'em in check, I don't always succeed. But it's really worth making the effort.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:03 PM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Dysk: "I'm trans, and have always used trans as a shorthand umbrella term for all sorts of gendervariant identities, much in the same way that people who use 'trans*' do. Not everyone included in either term has a label that starts with "trans" (e.g. genderqueer people) so the use of the glomming character has always struck me as a little weird."

Yeah, I don't really bother with it in general, for similar reasons. Unless someone asks me to, in referring to them, personally.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:28 PM on September 11, 2013


running order squabble fest: You've called me ignorant a few times now and simplified everything I've said into me calling you guys all "assholes". And you're giving pointers on how to behave in here? Really?

..Yes?

I mean, this seems to me again to be pretty self-evident. If you don't behave the way you are behaving - insulting people who care enough to engage with you, and mocking their attempts to treat you like a good-faith interlocutor - then there's no way I would get away with any of that.

I mean, the mods probably wouldn't delete it, although they might tell me to knock it off, but the people you were engaging with in good faith with would shut me down immediately, and, faced with the threat of losing peer approval, which is after all what motivates us social justice warriors, I would slink away, defeated. Or, more likely, I wouldn't do it in the first place, because there would be no reason to do so, because you wouldn't be indulging in the rude, dismissive and - sorry, but, really - wilfully ignorant behavior you have been displaying in this thread.

So, I'm actually giving you incredibly good advice about how to behave in here, if I am indeed a jerk (and astoundingly smug) - and I'm not disagreeing. The only way I get to work my jerkish magic without getting immediately shot down is if you tapdance non-stop on the nerves of the good people with hostility, dismissiveness and refusal to listen or learn until they just don't care so much about protecting your feelings.

(And that's hard - these are good people! Cortex is still in there, treating you like someone who sincerely wants to be a better contributor, empathizing with you, looking for common ground. These people are saints.)

If your goal is to frustrate me in my jerkitude, "listen, engage sincerely and don't demand that people act as audience and target for insults which amuse you as the fee for your attention" is not just a pointer but an awesome pointer.

On which note, I'm out. Peace.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:29 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


And of course in this case we're talking about terms designed to be positive or neutral ("undocumented") vs terms designed to be condemnatory ("illegal aliens"). Similar to terms like "pro-choice" vs "pro-abortion".

So without getting into the merits of either of those specific terms, I'm going to point out that on many issues, the words we use - particularly the words politicos created and passed into common parlance - are in fact very deliberately chosen to convey meaning. Even ones that - thank you Etrigan - come from the distant past and have not been coined fresh, even ones that were born yesterday.

My credentials here are mostly that I've had to hear this from paid consultants - that the words we choose are absolutely critically important in how the public thinks of a thing. As was mentioned above - pro-choice vs pro-abortion. Functionally, they're the same - people who want the choice of an abortion to be legal. They're not for all choices - they're for this very specific choice. But the neutrals, the people who don't have strong opinions, hear pro-choice and think, "I like choice." It has positive associations. People who don't have strong opinions hear pro-abortion and think, "Abortions are messy and ugly, awful things. I don't want to be for them, even if as long as I didn't have to think about the details, I would be."

Progressives designed the term "undocumented" specifically as a positive pushback to the existing words - conservative by function of being status quo - "illegal aliens". Why did they do this? Not, certainly, out of the pure goodness of their heart - but because they did some studies, and found that the neutral people, the giant mass of people that aren't invested, will vote for "undocumented amnesty" and against "letting illegal aliens stay."

So to allow one phrase but not the other - on either side - is to say, "I agree with the direction of that political movement, but find the other political movement's direction to be repelling. I want people's thinking to be altered by being surrounded by the words that are used near them."
posted by corb at 5:33 PM on September 11, 2013


I dunno, what do the people themselves want to be called? I'll use that, if anyone can tell me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:36 PM on September 11, 2013


ArmyOfKittens, it's been a long hard day, and I, too, dreamed of high fives....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:55 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm available for high fives. I think I'm not available for the rest of where this conversation has gone in its twilight, though.
posted by kalessin at 6:04 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Illegal alien" wasn't "designed to be condemnatory." It's been a term of law for centuries.

Laws can be condemnatory and politically motivated, and so can the terms that they use. The fact that it's a term of law doesn't automatically mean it is not condemnatory.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:32 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Very quickly - inmigrantes indocumentados is the general term in Spanish-language media. The AP style guide now tells journalists to avoid "illegal immigrant/alien" as a term.

Notably Justice Kennedy - who would be a tough sell to describe as exactly progressive - avoided the use of the term "illegal alien" at all, except in quotation, in the majority opinion on Arizona vs United States - an opinion which also stated that generally it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.

So... as of summer 2012, at least, "illegal alien" has been a formally questionable way to describe an undocumented worker. More generally, people without full and up-to-date papers in the US are not strictly present illegally until they have been subject to the due process of the law (even then they are not an illegal person, thanks to the 14th Amendment).

corb is broadly right, though - your choice of term is likely to be informed by your politics. The NYT style guide is interesting:
Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives [to illegal immigrant] when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegally; who overstayed a visa; who is not authorized to work in this country.

Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely than illegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.

Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.
]
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:36 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robert Anton Wilson once defined national borders as those lines on a map signifying where opposing armies finally grew exhausted with fighting each other, so they stopped.



And now I'm too exhausted to really finish this thought. So I guess this is me stopping.

Peace to all.
posted by philip-random at 6:44 PM on September 11, 2013


"Illegal alien" wasn't "designed to be condemnatory." It's been a term of law for centuries.

Laws can be condemnatory and politically motivated, and so can the terms that they use. The fact that it's a term of law doesn't automatically mean it is not condemnatory.


All true. However, that particular term wasn't designed to be condemnatory, any more than the various terms that have been used to denote African-Americans over the years -- "Negro" and "colored" weren't designed to be condemnatory, but they're still mostly frowned upon now.

Again, it all goes back to that "assume good faith" thing that people are allegedly advocating. Note how eager people are in this very thread to dogpile on "illegal alien" even when it's clear that neither corb nor I seeks to use it in a condemnatory fashion. The credmongering is breathtaking.
posted by Etrigan at 6:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The credmongering is breathtaking.

So you don't think assuming good faith is a good idea?
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:50 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Etrigan, I didn't mean it that way. And, clearly, I will not be mongering cred with anybody in this thread.

I just feel like illegal is a little too close to other epithets in it's current use. Historically, sure, you're totally on point there. It's just that I didn't think it fit the "jargon" argument at hand. I haven't heard "illegals" used in a non-hateful way... ever, to be honest.
posted by lattiboy at 6:54 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


What the what is 'credmongering'? I was just pointing out a logical fallacy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:55 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally I'm a crudmongerer: I make awesome suits of armour out of random bits of fluff, old tissues, the ripped edges of £5 notes, the ends of shoelaces, and various other detritus I find in my pockets. It takes a while.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:59 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


All true. However, that particular term wasn't designed to be condemnatory, any more than the various terms that have been used to denote African-Americans over the years -- "Negro" and "colored" weren't designed to be condemnatory, but they're still mostly frowned upon now.

Well, that's a good example - they may not have been used with pejorative intent at the time they were in common usage, but the society and culture in which they were used was profoundly racist - to the point where in the mouth of a white person they were almost unavoidably pejorative, as they were drawing attention to a status differential based on perceived race.

So, somebody saying "negro" these days is doing so with knowledge of that historical context (in most cases), and is playing on that for an intended purpose (historical reference, shock value, reclamation, just plain being racist). The words are not problematized due to an arbitrary decision made by a consortium that controls the meaning of words in English. They are problematized because people who use them are harking back to a time and a culture which was itself racist.

"Illegal" as a noun, or "illegal alien" as a term are on that curve now, although fairly high up on it, I'd speculate; they are usable as a dogwhistle, but their usage is not limited to dogwhistling. Over time, they will probably retreat from general usage - a process we are already seeing in the style guides and the Supreme Court - assuming the US continues on its current social trajectory.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:09 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I stress, it wasn't my intent to get hung up on the specifics - though that's pretty interesting, rosf - but more just to talk about how every piece of political terminology where there are two alternatives is, in fact, a political choice - whether or not you're aware of it. It's the difference between "collateral damage" and "innocent civilians accidentally killed". Or "enemy combatants" and "resistance fighters". Or to get cliched, "terrorists" or "freedom fighters".

To take one piece of language mentioned upthread - the use of the word "problematic" is a signal that you've at least spent some time in progressive territory. It is used to suggest that part of what someone is saying does not adhere to doctrine - again, whether that doctrine is good or bad - and thus should be re-examined. Thus, it bothers some people, because it argues that progressive doctrine is indeed neutral doctrine - which progressives tend to not see as a problem, because that is both what they want, and also the world they tend to or try to live in.
posted by corb at 7:10 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Note how eager people are in this very thread to dogpile on "illegal alien" even when it's clear that neither corb nor I seeks to use it in a condemnatory fashion. The credmongering is breathtaking.

Which is fairly irrelevant at this point, considering that, as far as I can tell, we have discussed this issue more in the last couple hours than the original supposition corb made about the terms' use here in the first place.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:14 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


To take one piece of language mentioned upthread - the use of the word "problematic" is a signal that you've at least spent some time in progressive territory.

Really. So how do US conservatives succinctly describe when an argument is flawed or incomplete?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:15 PM on September 11, 2013


the use of the word "problematic" is a signal that you've at least spent some time in progressive territory

I'm not sure about this, or rather this is not true for me. In my world it's just a word that doesn't have any particular progressive overtones. I think this may be one of those situations where people who are inside of specialized cultures/tribes/communities may lose track of the fact that these words also exist "in the wild" and may be being used by people who don't have the same associations with them that other people do.

And the thing is, we're responsible for understanding both (all?) contexts at least a little bit so that we can communicate with people. Part of good faith is trying to understand these multiple shades of meaning. Insisting that a word means any one particular thing--as opposed to the reality that meaning evolves and is highly contextual and really part of a communicative event rather than a listing in a dictionary--is a thing that tends to not really be helpful. Speaking about what it means to you and why it means that to you is often helpful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


To take one piece of language mentioned upthread - the use of the word "problematic" is a signal that you've at least spent some time in progressive territory. It is used to suggest that part of what someone is saying does not adhere to doctrine - again, whether that doctrine is good or bad - and thus should be re-examined.

Well... that's what it might mean to you, but "problematical" has existed in the language since at least the 17th century, and the transmission from the ancient root is really pretty pure - "problema" as a noun exists in Ancient Greek from the classical period (lit. "the thing that is thrown in front of you").

If you were to ask me where I first encountered the word "problematize", I couldn't tell you with confidence, but I'd associate it more with continental philosophy then progressive politics, and for that matter I think it might have come up in the discussion of the use of language in the Agamemnon, which is... not hugely progressive, although pretty bold for its time.

As Jessamyn says, there's a danger of letting one's own polemical perspective blind one to the sheer bigness of words.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Problematic' is a word that I mostly see in academic papers* and progressive discourse, probably because progressives have a stronger tendency to import words from academia.

*So academic papers have their own kind of general style, which seems to be a byproduct of the peer review system in which you are both pressured to criticize others (in order to justify the novelty/utility of your work) and pressured to not be overly harsh in your criticism (because to be published your work must be favorably reviewed by your peers, who might be the people or friends of the people whose work you're criticizing). So that results in constructions like "these assumptions are problematic in many real-world scenarios" rather than "their work is based on totally incorrect assumptions".
posted by Pyry at 7:40 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Problematic" as a "progressive" term is used primarily because it is considered impolite and declassé to say that something is "so fucking fucked up, holy shit". Just about every progressive I know, including myself, would prefer some version of the latter, but swearing at people tends to put them off, even when they've done something worth swearing about. This is a tone argument most people tend to accord with.

But yeah, when people say "problematic", it's usually because they want to say "racist" or "sexist" or "transphobic" or whatever, but people flip the hell out when you say those things to them, so we have to be nice and find a word that won't immediately make people melt down. If you don't like "problematic", I can understand that, I don't like it either and think it's annoyingly euphemistic. But please understand that, for the most part, people are using that word because they're trying to be nice to you, not because they're trying to lord some putative education over you or indoctrinate you via the language of nanny-state death camps. If you'd like me to stop using "problematic", I'm happy to do so, but if you start wigging out when I tell you straight up that you did something super racist or sexist or classist, remember that I was willing to dance around for the sake of your feelings and you asked me not to. If you start telling me then that my tone is putting you off, we are going to throw down, I tell you what.
posted by Errant at 8:34 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


So instead of discussing the central premise of the meta we are instead going to politicize language, nitpick over terms, and imagine hoards of social justice activists threatening to disrupt metafilter?

Am I being uncharitable here, or is my observation accurate?
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:35 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of both, I think.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:39 PM on September 11, 2013


Ok then, fair enough. I *am* a little annoyed. Next time I'll work on less uncharitable-ness.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:44 PM on September 11, 2013


If you'd like me to stop using "problematic", I'm happy to do so, but if you start wigging out when I tell you straight up that you did something super racist or sexist or classist, remember that I was willing to dance around for the sake of your feelings and you asked me not to

Here's the thing, though.

If you want to say one word, and substitute another in its place as a matter of habit, no matter how mundane and innocuous the word, eventually, people are going to catch on that it's a substitute for an insult, and get irritated. You using a kinder, gentler insult is not actually trying to take care to spare someone's feelings. You know what you mean. Everyone who uses the word in the same way that you do knows what you mean. It's a codeword that, as you say, signals to everyone "I think this guy is fucked up, but I'm going to pretend to be - but not actually be - nice about it."

People who do not share the same political views as you do not think the same things are racist, or sexist, or classist as you do. For most of these things as they are currently understood in progressive lexicon, they mean "From an oppressor, to an oppressed." There is a strong difference of opinion on these things - they are not universally understood. Conservatives, on the whole, tend to interpret these things in a neutral, context-free atmosphere - any discrimination, whether positive or negative, on the basis of race or sex. Progressives tend to - or seem to tend to - interpret these through context of history in an attempt to swing the pendulum.

My views here, as an aside, are taken from having lived in both worlds. I'm a weird political chimera, with feet on both sides of the aisle. So it's a little easier to see, or at least to occasionally be able to see dispassionately. Fish, water, etc. You have to step outside to see how things are viewed without your lens.
posted by corb at 8:57 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does it have to be politicized? Seriously, I'm a person, not a political pawn.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:06 PM on September 11, 2013


If you want to say one word, and substitute another in its place as a matter of habit, no matter how mundane and innocuous the word, eventually, people are going to catch on that it's a substitute for an insult, and get irritated.

A criticism of an argument is not the same an an insult.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seriously. How would you like people who disagree with your arguments to address you? I'm not in any way guaranteeing that articulating that desire will make it manifest -- especially since, as many have noted in this thread, articulating their own desires about how people disagree with them has not resulted in any agreement to do so -- but I would like to know what people who are claiming to be insulted by the minority think a reasonable disagreement would look like.
posted by jaguar at 9:10 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you want to say one word, and substitute another in its place as a matter of habit, no matter how mundane and innocuous the word, eventually, people are going to catch on that it's a substitute for an insult, and get irritated.

Here's the thing, though: me saying that I think you did or said something racist/sexist/whatever isn't me insulting you. It's the fact that you think that it is me insulting you that is the locus of the problem, not that I said something at all.

Believe me, I understand that people don't see the world the same way I do, and that doesn't especially bother me the way you seem to think it does. But no, it's not a secret that "problematic" means "messed up in a given way which I will presumably elaborate on momentarily". I don't think I'm fooling anyone. I think I'm just not swearing at them, and hopefully I'm also addressing the problem while not putting them immediately on edge. That isn't me being pretend nice, that's me being actual nice. But if that person is going to be put on edge no matter how I say it, there isn't anything I can do about that, because that's on them.

This thread has largely been about tone arguments. When someone says that they find the use of the word "problematic" to have a polarizing tone, I feel compelled to say, ok, but I started saying that because you said the same thing about all the other words I was using. Is there a word that isn't going to put you off and that will allow us to have the conversation? If there is, great, I'll use that. If there isn't, then fuck it, my politeness or impoliteness seems to have no effect on whether my argument is dismissed, so I'll just pick whichever one I feel like employing and hope that, miraculously, you decide to listen anyway. Which you probably won't, but whatever, I'm still going to give it a shot.
posted by Errant at 9:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Well jaguar, for starters using the word problematic would appear to be unhelpful.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:13 PM on September 11, 2013


For my part I didn't mean that there's anything wrong with 'problematic', it doesn't have any bad connotations or anything like that, it just has a bit of the 'flavor' (for lack of a better word) of academic writing, and using it gives a bit of a hint as to your background in the same way that your choice of 'soda' vs. 'pop' does to your geographical location.

Also, I don't think 'problematic' is really used as a straight euphemism for 'fucked up', it seems to be used more as a way to put a kind of academic distance between the people having the discussion and the thing under discussion. That is, if I say a work is 'racist', and you like that work, then you might get the impression that I think you're a racist by association. Whereas if I say that a work is 'problematic' for various reasons, I'm inviting us to both consider the work independent of our personal feelings for it.
posted by Pyry at 9:22 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't think "problematic" as a fig leaf for racist/whatever is a universal usage.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:28 PM on September 11, 2013


The only correct use of "problematic".
posted by Errant at 9:32 PM on September 11, 2013


My comment was typed from a place of exasperation, Pyry.

I think I need to abandon ship on this thread. I can't handle the endless pontification.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:35 PM on September 11, 2013


My comment was typed from a place of exasperation, Pyry.

Oh I know, I just wanted to clarify in case anybody got the impression that I was saying 'problematic' was some kind of alienating activist jargon when I meant something much different. These huge metatalk threads always cycle through like five or six topics, so maybe in a few days it will be back to its nominal topic of tone arguments?
posted by Pyry at 9:49 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what subculture you guys are in, but in mine people have been using problematic for decades and not as a euphemism for other things, and not simply meaning problem, and certainly not meaning "bad" or "wrong". I've always understood it to mean, and I use it to mean, "troublesome" or "tricky" or "difficult". Most of the dictionary entries I've seen support this. And it makes sense: it's useful to have a word to mean "prone to trouble".

In discussions like this, if I say that something's problematic, what I mean is that there are or potentially are problems associated with it. That's not the same thing as saying it's wrong and it sure as hell isn't a euphemism for "racist" or "sexist" or "homophobic" or "transphobic". I'll pretty much say those things directly.

I'm a descriptivist, and if a large number of people are using it simply as a synonym for "wrong" or as a euphemism for something that might cause offence, than I'll have to learn to accommodate this. But these usages are news to me — like jessamyn wrote, it's just a word and it's never been a shibboleth in my experience. But I can see how it might be a shibboleth for academia, or at the very least a certain kind and degree of education and erudition. If so, it nevertheless is in wide usage throughout these subcultures and is not particular to cultural studies and the like.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:05 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before I bail, here's what I think I'm learning from this thread:

My involvement here has gone from lurker for 6 years to commenter for what, 2 and some change?

I'm scared to make an FPP, but I think where my exasperation is coming from is that there's only so much I can do to as a commenter to help create the thrusts of conversation that I prefer to engage in. With that in mind, maybe it's time for me to make the leap to contributing to the front page. You know, make posts that shed light on things that I want to talk about, should someone feel like talking, but more importantly, framing up what I see in the world that I think others might like to know about.

So thanks everyone, for getting me off my ass and onto the next level of participation here.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


How would you like people who disagree with your arguments to address you?

Personally, I'm a big fan of using no buzzwords whatsoever, or as few as you can manage. I am well aware that it's hard, but I think it's much more useful.

I think there's also a big difference between someone who disagrees with your arguments, and someone who thinks that your argument is racist or sexist or whathaveyou. Those are actually two separate and distinct things, though they may be conflated.

In the first case, I think it's really important to acknowledge the other person's view as a valid view, before you start talking about your own. "I can see why you would think that, but I think (this other thing)..." Because really, if you're a functional human, you should be able to see why someone thinks something - put the connections together, add culture, reading, viewpoints, blahblah whatever. You shouldn't have to need to want to grind someone into the dirt, to make them feel stupid for their argument, in order to express your own. And that's another thing - there is usually I think no need to straight up say, "You're wrong, and here's why you're the wrongest thing that ever wronged." If you're talking about your own arguments, and those arguments are different than the thing they are saying, it is clear you disagree. Nothing is gained by ratcheting up the emotion.

In the second case, I think it's helpful to first address the substance of the argument before you address the parts you see as racist/sexist/blah. "Yeah, I see what you're saying, but" or "I really agree with you about this thing being awesome and here's why!" Then move into the second bit - "I noticed you used the word blah. I don't know if you know, but you might want to consider using a different word than blah. X group has had this thing happen to them, and when you say X word, it really hurts them." The implication is - "I know you're a good person and don't want to hurt people's feelings. Can you be nice?" Everyone wants to be nice. Everybody wants to be the good guy. Or say, "When you say blah, it make some people feel like blah." You're not making judgments about the person or why they said the thing, you're just being helpful so they don't hurt people.
posted by corb at 10:22 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the second case, I think it's helpful to first address the substance of the argument before you address the parts you see as racist/sexist/blah. "Yeah, I see what you're saying, but" or "I really agree with you about this thing being awesome and here's why!" Then move into the second bit - "I noticed you used the word blah. I don't know if you know, but you might want to consider using a different word than blah. X group has had this thing happen to them, and when you say X word, it really hurts them." The implication is - "I know you're a good person and don't want to hurt people's feelings. Can you be nice?" Everyone wants to be nice. Everybody wants to be the good guy. Or say, "When you say blah, it make some people feel like blah." You're not making judgments about the person or why they said the thing, you're just being helpful so they don't hurt people.

I totally agree with that. I also see that as the most common response on MeFi to problematic (I know) comments. I think there are very few exceptions -- or even just the fear of those exceptions -- from which people are generalizing. Am I missing something?
posted by jaguar at 10:55 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I was talking about the use of the word "problematic" in the context of what we've been talking about, which is within social justice conversations and specifically with reference to things like representation and tone arguments etc. In that specific context, "problematic" as an adjective is frequently deployed to describe statements or actions which appear to reinforce hierarchical structures and power dynamics, either by accident or by design (exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C). It did not remotely occur to me that anyone would read me as saying that the word is equivalent to racist/sexist/etc. in every and all contexts, but since that does appear to be what people are reading, let me clarify that that isn't what I meant and that it isn't a dogwhistle, and that I made sure to emphasize that further elaboration was required even when using the word in the context I did mean.

I will, however, continue to stand behind the idea that when people in this vein call something problematic, they are saying more or less straight out that there's a problem with the thing and not that there may be some potential problem. I haven't heard anyone say that something was problematic if they meant they weren't relatively sure something icky was going on. Obviously, as a word, it has many more applications than just the social justice ones, but in the context of those conversations, I don't think I'm incorrect about its current connotation.

In the second case, I think it's helpful to first address the substance of the argument before you address the parts you see as racist/sexist/blah. "Yeah, I see what you're saying, but" or "I really agree with you about this thing being awesome and here's why!"

And what happens if I don't agree with them? What if I don't see what they're saying, as in, I understand the words coming out of their mouth, but their premises are bad and their conclusions are worse? Do I still have to bow and scrape and make sure that I validate them as a person before addressing how they've invalidated me or someone else? No. This is the advice of power demanding appeasement. I refuse it. I do not know they're a good person. I don't know if they can be nice. And I'm not going to reassure them that their status and position are good, just, and will not be threatened. Is there anything that exhibits privilege and soft power more than the demand that you not act upset if I hurt you and the implication that upsetting me with your response is a failure to be avoided at all costs?
posted by Errant at 11:34 PM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


People who do not share the same political views as you do not think the same things are racist, or sexist, or classist as you do.

...and people who don't share your (generic you) transness might not think the same things are transphobic. But the idea here is that we listen to the people affected. It's not a simple matter of left vs right, and being trans is not a political affiliation or position.
posted by Dysk at 1:20 AM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


> the idea here is that we listen to the people affected.

This is simple, short and anyone should be able to manage it. Well put.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:32 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just please never use "problematic" as a noun or you will be getting "revise and resubmit" reviews from me! A "problem" is fine.
posted by spitbull at 2:50 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was about to scoff and say "that'll never happen". Then I remembered "hermeneutic". And "mnemonic".

And then I fell to the hard ground and wept. For hermeneutic. For mnemomic. For all of us.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:41 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


spitbull: "Just please never use "problematic" as a noun or you will be getting "revise and resubmit" reviews from me! A "problem" is fine."

Pfft. That's nonsensical!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:50 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The credmongering is breathtaking.

So you don't think assuming good faith is a good idea?


I think assuming it is a great idea. When it's been demonstrated that people are disregarding the parts of your posts that explain that you're putting forth a viewpoint that you do not necessarily share just so they can have an argument and/or demonstrate that they Really Get It and/or want some favorites, then I'm okay with no longer assuming it.

As you may be able to tell, that's happened to me a time or two here even before this particular occasion.
posted by Etrigan at 4:17 AM on September 12, 2013


Is there anything that exhibits privilege and soft power more than the demand that you not act upset if I hurt you and the implication that upsetting me with your response is a failure to be avoided at all costs?

This is one way to view it, certainly, but I think the thing that it is important to remember is that this kind of behavior is not reserved for the majority, or dominant power structure, if you will. If you flip that question, it is equally valid, but the suggestion that it exhibits privilege and soft power may seem strange to you. The demand for civility cuts both ways. It also cuts those who find your requests or statements shocking or upsetting. And I think, overall, it does serve to bring about a better world.

There is no issue you cannot bring up in that format - not even the most serious of issues. No, not even if you think everything is wrong and they are completely wrong and their premises are bad. You are not prohibited from raising even the most intense of criticisms. What it does do is remove the personal sense of confrontation from it.

Which I think, for many people, as you say, is the problem. They want to engage in confrontation. They are angry, and they want to say - or appear to want to say - the equivalent of "Fuck You" to the people they perceive as having the power or the people they view as privileged. "Fuck you, how dare you be privileged while I suffer? How dare you live a comfortable, quiet life while I suffer? I will rub your nose in it and make you bleed."

the idea here is that we listen to the people affected.

I think that is not quite complete. This is definitely a social justice principle, but generally I think the motto is "listen to the people most affected, who have suffered most from systemic oppression." Because we live in a very interconnected society - most people are affected by all things, and I don't think anyone is arguing, say, that we should listen to very conservative Christians on not teaching sex ed in schools, simply because it is more important to them not to have it than it is to others to have it. Or, say, that we should have listened to the owners of lunch counters who were affected by being forced to accept all comers. (again, lest it be confused, I am not endorsing these, simply using them as examples)
posted by corb at 4:21 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's worth remembering that incivility is not just a matter of oppressed people getting mad at people who are more privileged. A lot of MeFites think of MetaFilter as "our" site, where "our" means something like 'white, middle-class American professionals', and have no problems attacking people they think don't belong here because of their class, ethnic or religious background. (I actually think the latter is more common here, though I may just notice it more.)
posted by nangar at 5:09 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of MeFites think of MetaFilter as "our" site, where "our" means something like 'white, middle-class American professionals', and have no problems attacking people they think don't belong here because of their class, ethnic or religious background.

As a non-white non-American this has not been my experience.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:23 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The demand for civility cuts both ways.

Amen. And while I agree with you that it brings about a better world, I think the more immediate point is that civility is absolutely necessary to this world—MetaFilter and its textual exchanges among non-friends—functioning at all.

A lot of MeFites think of MetaFilter as "our" site, where "our" means something like 'white, middle-class American professionals', and have no problems attacking people they think don't belong here because of their class, ethnic or religious background.

I'm inclined to dispute this, at least from my own perspective, but the more I think about it...I dunno, maybe you're right. Yes, a lot of MeFites disparage religion. There's usually considerable pushback when it happens, but it does happen. And we do tend to see things through a certain social lens. There are a lot more librarians or IT staff on this site than, say, janitors or factory workers. Americans outnumber non-Americans (which is a pet-peeve complaint of mine, but I can agree it's true). It's common for upper-class people or issues to be disparaged; and when it happens with lower-class people or issues, much of the pushback tends to come in the form of, "I'm not insensitive, because I used to be in those shoes."

My inclination is to disagree with you. But it's food for thought, for sure. Maybe you are right.
posted by cribcage at 5:34 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


People who do not share the same political views as you do not think the same things are racist, or sexist, or classist as you do.

Yeah, but those people are wrong. Racism or sexism or transphobia etc. is on the whole not something reasonable people can disagree about in the same way you could argue about the best way to solve the economic crisis.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:00 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not hugely a problem most of the time - not least because Internet culture (in English) is pretty homogeneous in the greater scheme of things, and MetaFilter represents a fairly homogeneous group within that culture - but you can see trigger points. Like the aforementioned Adria Richards thread, where a not-white woman in a non-programming role at a tech company got a white male developer fired*, and the resulting high-pitched humming among some of our brethren was, it seems pretty clear, informed by status anxiety.

There's a degree of anxiety, also, around the discussion of hip-hop and other forms of African-American culture. Islam and Islamic cultures do not seem not well represented demographically here, and you get weird stuff in talking about them - like the assertion that the average Muslim family in Paris has eight children, if memory serves. And trans issues, and indeed trans people, although probably better represented on MetaFilter than in the average sampling of American society, seem to trigger anxieties also, possibly in part as a result of that.

That stuff gets pushed back on, but it also recurs. On the other hand, there are at a rough guess maybe a dozen or so people who generate the vast majority of the more tiresome and repetitious abreactions, which is really kind of great for a community this size, and there's an ongoing dialog about how to respond to it. I get more of a feeling that the same fairly small number of people having the same reaction every time gives the impression that there is more of this going on, because it seems counterintuitive to imagine that the same person would turn up in thread after thread saying the same thing over and over and over and over again. The brain imagines a more credible scenario, in which that one person is in fact a plurality.


*Not really.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which I think, for many people, as you say, is the problem. They want to engage in confrontation. They are angry, and they want to say - or appear to want to say - the equivalent of "Fuck You" to the people they perceive as having the power or the people they view as privileged. "Fuck you, how dare you be privileged while I suffer? How dare you live a comfortable, quiet life while I suffer? I will rub your nose in it and make you bleed."

Appear is an important word there. Confrontation does not always include "fuck you" and "make you bleed." But, sometimes confrontation even when phrased nicely, e.g. "please examine the ways in which your arguments reproduce inequitable power relations," will evoke negative feelings from your interlocutor. They may hear "fuck you" when it isn't said. And, as has been discussed at length in this thread, people can phrase arguments with nice words while still implicityly saying fuck you to those who they define as less-than-human.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:03 AM on September 12, 2013


Yeah, but those people are wrong. Racism or sexism or transphobia etc. is on the whole not something reasonable people can disagree about in the same way you could argue about the best way to solve the economic crisis.

I can see why you would say that - because by whatever definition we all, uniquely have of these items, I think it's fairly safe to say that an overwhelming majority of people think these things are wrong. But the problem is that we are not all agreeing on those definitions. We are not all agreeing on what, precisely, is racist or sexist or transphobic. We agree that those things are bad, and I think that people who think they are good may, in fact, not be reasonable people, but we are not actually agreeing on what, specifically, we think is bad.

So we have, in my view, reasonable people who disagree strongly on the definition of racism, for example. Some people - fine, decent people - believe that racism can only be racism if it takes place from an oppressor class to an oppressed class. To put in plain terms, they often believe it is impossible to be racist against white people, for example, because they don't think that any race-based discrimination against white people comes with a structure of power behind it. And that is a perfectly fine belief for them to have, whether or not other people agree with it. Some other people - fine, decent people - believe that racism exists whenever someone makes a judgment or discriminates either for or against someone on the basis of race. For example, they may think affirmative action or racial quotas are racist, because it is discriminating positively on the basis of race. And that is also a perfectly fine belief for them to have, whether or not people agree with it. Neither belief is (or at least, is necessarily) coming from a place of bad intent. Neither belief, in my view, deserves to have its adherents described as unreasonable people simply because of their disagreement. Which means, in this case, that it is something reasonable people can disagree about.

It's important to remember, even in this time of highly politicized discourse, that most of the people we disagree with are reasonable people, who came to their beliefs through a different acculturation and different process than we did. They are not our enemies. Or at least, they don't have to be.
posted by corb at 6:15 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think a lot of this is matter of what I notice versus what other people notice. My class background is different from most MeFites', so I notice class-based attacks more. One of my contacts quit the site and another drastically cut back their participation after being repeatedly told that perspectives of people from their ethnic backgrounds aren't wanted here.

I'm really glad His thoughts were red thoughts hasn't experienced this.
posted by nangar at 6:29 AM on September 12, 2013


One of my contacts quit the site and another drastically cut back their participation after being repeatedly told that perspectives of people from their ethnic backgrounds aren't wanted here.

I would like to know more about this. You are welcome to hit us p on the contact form if you don't want to talk about it in this thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:00 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


On "problematic". There was a question/answer a bit back where the question was posed what conservatives say instead of "problematic".

First just a way I think about "problematic". I think it is not as emotionally pitched as "racist", "sexist", "ableist", "trans*phobic", "homophobic", etc. I think it stops short of saying that a thing or an assertion or an opinion is *ist or *phobic.

This is a personal experience anecdote and I have no idea how widespread this is. Also it should be noted that the conservative folks I know are in general VERY fiscally conservative and often at least moderately or VERY socially conservative. Most of these folks I know are either TEA party members or they are so libertarian and independently conservative that the TEA party is distastefully progressive or regimented for them, so they are familiar with TEA party rhetoric and often use it but they do not identify as TEA party members.

So among these folks what I find is that they're pretty hyperbolic in their rhetoric. They aren't careful of my feelings or really concerned about splitting hairs. If they feel I'm being too much a dove on war/international policing efforts, they say so. They don't quibble. They usually speak directly to me from the heart.

For example my boss recently said, when I was referring to the disputed history of "teabagging" when applied to TEA Party political actions, that "With you liberals, it's always all about SEX!" He didn't say that my understanding of the history of the phrase was "problematic". He didn't say that I should check my facts. He just said how he felt.

I don't necessarily think this makes the conversation any better. In fact, I felt that when he said "With you liberals, it's always all about SEX!" that he was conflating at least 3 levels of meaning and misreading my intent and misattributing my motives.

I see the use of "problematic" as being more careful, not less so. And I see the interpretations of my use of "problematic" as being a veiled insult as not affording me the courtesy of assuming my good intent.

Also I am left wondering whether we aren't really talking about the substance of my disagreement being offensive or the word "problematic" being offensive. And like jaguar I'm left wondering what the appropriate substitute would be for me to say instead of that word. I'm fine with it being a phrase or a different style of wording, but I'm not okay if it takes me on a deeply circuitous path or forces me to say something I don't actually mean.

I say this while being totally aware of the irony of me being worried about deeply circuitous paths of phrasing. But at the same time I'm not going to say something I don't actually mean. I think that's another layer of these kinds of discussions, too.

Sometimes I feel like, when there's someone who's my political opponent and who's objecting to my words, what they are in fact objecting to is the substance of my disagreement. Which feels silly, since if I didn't have a substantive agreement, why would I bother to disagree?
posted by kalessin at 7:28 AM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would like to know more about this.

jessamyn, when I was having a rougher time, I told you and cortex (primarily) that I was feeling unwelcome and that I was repeatedly told that my perspectives weren't actually desired.

I know this was partly because I was partially insane (by which I mean my circumstances were making me clinically mentally/emotionally unstable - now I'm not crazy because my therapist said so! - paraphrased jokingly from Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory) back then, but I also experienced it as a very personal thing, which is why I complained about the moderation I was experiencing from the moderation team feeling unjust.

And I know we've moved on from there in many ways and as a community and a team of moderators we've changed our perspective enough to know that there's more room for more diversity of opinion in some ways.

But there were bad ol' days back then and even though I was partially insane, it was still bad sometimes. It still seemed like (looking back) it was sometimes a lot more important to the moderation team back then that there be harmony than that we be good at handling dissent.

Like I said, I think that we've all gotten a lot better since then, but I was here for when total harmony was more important than it is now, and when dissent was much more a concern of making trouble than it is now (we are more tolerant of it now and I think better for it).
posted by kalessin at 7:55 AM on September 12, 2013


It's interesting that there's pushback against the idea of the word "problematic" being a part of the "language of progressives". It's especially interesting in light of the pushback that there was to the very idea that there could even be such a thing as the "language of progressives". It is perfectly natural and expected that various movements/subcultures/etc. will each develop their own spins on communication, including but not limited to unique words, existing words used in different ways, the use of certain words at a particular level of frequency, etc. It doesn't matter that the borders of progressivism are fuzzy, or that many people might be progressive on some issues but not others.

Nobody is claiming that the word "problematic" was invented by progressives. Nor is it reasonable to interpret corb's remark as meaning that anyone who ever uses that word is a progressive. The fact is, the word "problematic" is used in a particular way with a particular level of frequency within the progressive world. Hell, it was used about 70ish times in this thread before corb had even brought it up. (There's nothing wrong with that, either.)

Compare with how "personal responsibility", "faith", "freedom", "family", and "tradition" are associated with (American) conservatives. Conservatives do not have a monopoly on those terms. Not all conservatives use those terms with equal frequency. Many non-conservatives use these terms. However, it would be perfectly accurate to say that those words have particular meaning and frequency within the conservative movement, especially when taken as a package deal: a forum which frequently featured those terms would almost certainly be a conservative website, or a website which frequently quoted conservatives.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Until I start regularly seeing words like hierarchical, consensus-minus-one, wage slavery, black bloc, Spassguerilla, genderfuck, or lumpenproletariat regularly bandied about on this site, I'm going to go ahead and say that the leftist influence on MetaFilter has not made that many inroads in terms of in-group slang and terminology.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:20 AM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


That's a plain old No True Scotsman. The left is a big space, with many variations inside of it. Not all on the left, let alone SJ-oriented progressives, use many of those terms you've listed with any great frequency. You might as well say that right wing terminology has not really made any inroads at FreeRepublic.com, since nobody on there ever refers to Oswald Spengler's concepts of Apollonian, Magian, and Faustian civilizations, nor are many people on there huge fans of The American Conservative magazine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:32 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would like a list of the supposed language of progressiveness that has flooded this site, somehow alienating people with its in-group exclusiveness. I'm not just seeing no true Scotsman, I'm barely seeing any Scotsmen at all.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:35 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Fuck you, how dare you be privileged while I suffer? How dare you live a comfortable, quiet life while I suffer? I will rub your nose in it and make you bleed."

It's typically less of that, and more "fuck you, how dare you rub my nose in my suffering and make me bleed while you live a comfortable, quiet life?" Not that that's saintly, but it's certainly a different and more understandable thing. I've literally never seen anyone attacked merely for being "privileged" - only ever for saying things that have (often inadvertent) implications that are hurtful to people in other positions in society. The fact that the person positing the problematic position often doesn't realise they're rubbing someone's nose in it, that's where the invisible knapsack metaphor goes.

To take one piece of language mentioned upthread - the use of the word "problematic" is a signal that you've at least spent some time in progressive territory. It is used to suggest that part of what someone is saying does not adhere to doctrine - again, whether that doctrine is good or bad - and thus should be re-examined. Thus, it bothers some people, because it argues that progressive doctrine is indeed neutral doctrine - which progressives tend to not see as a problem, because that is both what they want, and also the world they tend to or try to live in.

Maybe it's my academic background, but someone calling something or other problematic implying that they are arguing from a "progressive" perspective? So remarkably not true in my experience.

It's especially interesting in light of the pushback that there was to the very idea that there could even be such a thing as the "language of progressives". It is perfectly natural and expected that various movements/subcultures/etc. will each develop their own spins on communication, including but not limited to unique words, existing words used in different ways, the use of certain words at a particular level of frequency, etc. It doesn't matter that the borders of progressivism are fuzzy, or that many people might be progressive on some issues but not others.

Thing is, a lot of what would be by implication included in the "language of progressives" is in fact the language of various other groups, developed to describe and discuss their experiences. The "language of progressives" on a gender front includes much of the language of trans people. It's not necessarily intended to be so politically loaded as the phrase implies, it's just a way of talking about gender in a way that is useful to trans people, progressive, regressive, liberal, conservative, neo-nazi, whatever. Politicising the language so strongly has the effect of putting the identities it describes and the people who use it in a little box marked with a particular political affiliation, which makes us far easier to dismiss, to avoid listening to, as we suddenly represent "the other side" to a great deal of people when in actual fact it's a weird mixed bag of disagreements that represents no one side over any other.
posted by Dysk at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's important to remember, even in this time of highly politicized discourse, that most of the people we disagree with are reasonable people, who came to their beliefs through a different acculturation and different process than we did. They are not our enemies. Or at least, they don't have to be.

As agreeable and noble as this sounds, it can be really hard when people are using the language and concepts of those who actually do disagree. Like when someone is talking about harassment, and the response is to launch into a spiel about how we have to worry about false allegations and how women being suspicious of men is unfair to men who don't harass and so forth. That's repeating the same arguments people who want to minimize the perception and stigmatize the victims of harassment use, and it's...difficult to take that as an expression of solidarity.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:53 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would like a list of the supposed language of progressiveness that has flooded this site, somehow alienating people with its in-group exclusiveness. I'm not just seeing no true Scotsman, I'm barely seeing any Scotsmen at all.

First off, the idea that this language "somehow alienat[es] people with its in-group exclusiveness" is a completely separate idea from the fact that there is something like an social justice speech community.

Anyway, a sample list of terms: problematic, privilege, trans*, cisgender, racism (used to refer exclusively to discrimination conducted by members of a racial group with relative power), sexism (used to refer exclusively to discrimination conducted by members of a gender with relative power), gender (used as distinct from sex), concern trolling, tone argument, slut shaming, sex positivity, etc. etc. etc.

It is not a criticism of these terms to point out that these are words used within a certain subculture of SJ-minded progressives.

Nor is it relevant that many of these terms were birthed in academia. "A-OK" may come from the space program, but using the phrase does not make you an astronaut. Non-academics (and also academics!) also use these terms, and these terms, with those specific meanings, are almost always used in some sort of SJ-oriented political context.

...

Politicising the language so strongly has the effect of putting the identities it describes and the people who use it in a little box marked with a particular political affiliation, which makes us far easier to dismiss, to avoid listening to, as we suddenly represent "the other side" to a great deal of people when in actual fact it's a weird mixed bag of disagreements that represents no one side over any other.

I hear what you're saying, but at the same time, much of that language is nonetheless subsumed into a greater language of, for lack of a better term, progressives.

Also, and more importantly the political position - and it is a political position, even if it's a good one - that, say, it is wrong to misgender a trans* person, is generally considered to be a progressive position, as contrasted with a moderate or right-wing position. People may disagree within the progressive movement (viz. TERFs), and people with progressive attitudes towards trans* issues may certainly have any number of other beliefs about any number of other things, but it's still going to be referred to as a "socially liberal" or "progressive" stance.

However, there's no getting around the fact that what we would consider to be a healthy attitude towards trans* issues is going to be called a progressive stance. I have never heard of, say, a conservative who used the correct argot regarding trans* issues, all the while maintaining what would be described as a conservative stance on the topic. (If you have an example on-hand, I'd love to see it.)

I would also say that trying to make trans* issues seem apolitical or nonideological is not nearly as rewarding as it might otherwise seem. However, that's a much bigger topic, bigger than even just trans* issues.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:03 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would also say that trying to make trans* issues seem apolitical or nonideological is not nearly as rewarding as it might otherwise seem. However, that's a much bigger topic, bigger than even just trans* issues.

I would rather like to be able to exist without being an argument for or against a particular ideology - that would be rather rewarding to me. Your mileage may of course vary.

I have never heard of, say, a conservative who used the correct argot regarding trans* issues, all the while maintaining what would be described as a conservative stance on the topic. (If you have an example on-hand, I'd love to see it.)

I can't easily provide any examples, but I know a few people like that, trans and cis. One or two of them are even members of the Conservative Party. Certainly, I know a good handful of staunchly Tory trans people who use much of the 'progressive' terminology (e.g. trans, cis) while having incredibly conservative views on both gender and everything else.
posted by Dysk at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's repeating the same arguments people who want to minimize the perception and stigmatize the victims of harassment use, and it's...difficult to take that as an expression of solidarity.

zombieflanders, before I get into the meat of what you're saying, I want to say I appreciate how thoughtfully you're arguing this. Which actually gets back to the meat in a way - when you're writing, because I know you're taking the time to think about what I'm saying and respond in a way that is trying to reach me, it makes me want to be my best conversational self and try to think about what you're saying and respond in a way that is trying to reach you.

You're right. It's absolutely really, really hard. I think I'm a prime example of how sometimes I can't meet my own ideal goals. Sometimes I get a hot head (good lord especially in sexism threads or certain politics threads) and it's hard to remember that I really want to try to be clear, I really need to try to phrase things in a way that will let someone hear me. When you feel under attack all the time, it's incredibly, incredibly difficult to put that aside.

I don't think anyone should be blamed for not being able to do that. I just think if you can manage to push past that it can be really amazing, though. I guess I view it more as an ideal to strive for, rather than a reality that is completely achievable now.

I have never heard of, say, a conservative who used the correct argot regarding trans* issues, all the while maintaining what would be described as a conservative stance on the topic.

I think - and I am speaking purely anecdotally and may be completely wrong - this may be because the transfolk that conservatives are more familiar with often try to steer deliberately away from the "correct argot." My experience with conservative transfolk mostly comes from American military and veteran transfolk, but those experiences were very, very different than more "progressive" transfolk. They tended to be more gender-prescriptive, and they tended to make big points of separating out being trans as a medical problem, not an identity - a medical problem that they would be happy to leave behind once they got it surgically corrected. They often do not want to identify as part of a trans community.

I think that if conservatives were approached on this as a matter of etiquette, though, they would be very receptive. "I don't care what you believe about me in your heart, but I would really appreciate if when you are talking to me, you use these pronouns" for example.
posted by corb at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sticherbeast: "I have never heard of, say, a conservative who used the correct argot regarding trans* issues, all the while maintaining what would be described as a conservative stance on the topic. (If you have an example on-hand, I'd love to see it.)"

The modern UK Conservative party (and coalition government), for one. They're far from progressive, even socially -- they are forced to pay lip service to certain progressive values, but their doubling-down on the poor and disabled is not something I would expect from a "progressive" government -- and they use all the right language around trans people. And yet we've actually taken backwards steps under their rule: our marriage rights and certain civil rights have been diminished.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:51 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't bother to speak the correct argot with my conservative friends because they don't give a shit about the correct argot. They might be more polite with me if they give a shit about me and I make them pay enough for using the incorrect argot, but they really couldn't give more than one half of a shit on average about what correct or incorrect argot is. They don't measure worth that way and they don't measure worthiness of arguments that way.

That said, I'd love to make progress here on this with them. Sometimes I feel like a Connecticut Yankee when I'm talking with my hyper conservative friends and acquaintances. It's like two different worlds. And sometimes the breakthroughs I make with them (though rare) are like I just predicted an eclipse.
posted by kalessin at 10:54 AM on September 12, 2013


I would rather like to be able to exist without being an argument for or against a particular ideology - that would be rather rewarding to me. Your mileage may of course vary.

That is an uncharitable mischaracterization of what I said and meant.

Political positions are different from one another - definitionally, they must be different from one another - and they can't all be right. Many political positions are wrong about trans* issues. I am sure that what we currently call progressive views on trans* issues will eventually become mainstream and uncontroversial views, but we are not there yet.

I can't easily provide any examples, but I know a few people like that, trans and cis. One or two of them are even members of the Conservative Party. Certainly, I know a good handful of staunchly Tory trans people who use much of the 'progressive' terminology (e.g. trans, cis) while having incredibly conservative views on both gender and everything else.

Okay, but I'm not talking about people's party memberships. A conservative who is socially liberal when it comes to LGBT issues is still a conservative. What I am looking for is someone who talks about trans* issues, using the argot we've been talking about, using that argot correctly and in good faith, but who comes down instead with the fundamentally conservative view that transfolk are all mistaken and blabbity-blah.

For a mirrorverse example, imagine a sincere defense of American capitalism, which correctly and in good faith uses as much Marxist jargon as possible. Could such already thing exist? Maybe, but I haven't seen it yet, and it would seem like it would be pretty hard to use terms like "alienation" and "exploitation" in ways that are ultimately pro-capitalist.

Either way, if you do remember a specific example later on, I'd love to see it.

...

I think - and I am speaking purely anecdotally and may be completely wrong - this may be because the transfolk that conservatives are more familiar with often try to steer deliberately away from the "correct argot."

Yes, this is a very good point! To talk about the "language of progressives" does not take away from the variety of languages that various transfolk use when discussing trans* issues. There will be some overlap, but it does not overlap entirely. Most importantly, that "progressive" language will still almost always be expressing viewpoints that are politically progressive.

The modern UK Conservative party (and coalition government), for one. They're far from progressive, even socially -- they are forced to pay lip service to certain progressive values, but their doubling-down on the poor and disabled is not something I would expect from a "progressive" government -- and they use all the right language around trans people. And yet we've actually taken backwards steps under their rule: our marriage rights and certain civil rights have been diminished.

Interesting, and shitty, but this is exactly what I wasn't talking about! Someone who merely pays "lip service" to progressive issues, but who actually diminishes important rights when in office, is definitionally not a good faith actor!
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:55 AM on September 12, 2013


problematic, privilege, trans*, cisgender, racism (used to refer exclusively to discrimination conducted by members of a racial group with relative power), sexism (used to refer exclusively to discrimination conducted by members of a gender with relative power), gender (used as distinct from sex), concern trolling, tone argument, slut shaming, sex positivity,

This is a strange collection of words you have identified as somehow being the language of progressivism. Some of it is perfectly quotidian, some of it is in wide use on the web, some of it rises from the particular language needs of a specific community (I can assure you, there is a tremendous disconnect between mainstream progressives and trans people), and some of it (such as gender being distinct from sex, which dates back to 1955 and comes from psychological circles) are widely accepted as basic definitions.

I dunno. I guess it's only important if people feel like there is some thick bubbling swamp of incomprehensible in-speak going on, and they are left behind. If not, what does it matter? We choose the words that best express our understanding of the world, and best reflect our experiences.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Yeah, but those people are wrong. Racism or sexism or transphobia etc. is on the whole not
> something reasonable people can disagree about in the same way you could argue about the
> best way to solve the economic crisis.

MartinWisse, if there were some magical touchstone that could distinguish all comments that actually are racist or sexist or transphobic from all that are not, there would be a lot more general amity in racism/sexism/transphobia threads than thare is. But I haven't got any such magical touchstone, and neither do you, and neither does anyone else.

There are perfectly clear cases at both ends. At the innocuous end there are comments that not even the most hair-trigger caller-outer would bother to call out as any kind of *ist or *phobic. At the other end there are comments that even the worst of the reddit/youtube/4chan commenter base would look at and go "Big0t3d? U B3tch4!" (Though I've never seen one of these on metafilter.)

In between these extremes is the hard part, the fuzzy range where legitimate disagreement can take place. Here are the two best example I can give:

1. The assertion is that if a member of a group that has suffered from a given kind of bigotry calls out a certain comment as an example of that kind of bigotry then it is an example of that kind of bigotry, there's no defense, no further discussion is possible.

Many here would agree. I don't. I say those callouts are often true but in logic they are not necessarily true and in everyday fact they are sometimes not true, but instead (just as one example) represent willful misreading by the caller-outer based on unprovable assumptions about what the commenter "really meant" instead of what he/she actually typed. Assertion 1 is in the fuzzy range and agreement or disagreement depends entirely on where in the fuzzy range a given user personally draws his/her line.

2. The assertion is that a persons' experience is unchallengeable. You can't be mistaken about what you experienced, so any attempt to correct or question someone's account of an experience is to be rejected out of hand. What's more, since it's so self-evidently true that you can't be mistaken about what you experienced, any questioning must be in bad faith.

Lots of agreement on this one, but only imperfect agreement from me. I say it's very, very hard to separate "I experienced X," where the speaker has the best possible access to what was experienced, from "I experienced X as Y," which involves going beyond and interpreting experience. Interpretation of experience can certainly be mistaken and questioning a fishy interpretation does not by any means have to be done in bad faith out of bigotry. "That comment hurt me"? Who am I to question that? Wouldn't do it. "That comment hurt me because bigotry"? The because is subject to examination, and questioning, and maybe rejection. Assertion 2 is in the fuzzy range and agreement or disagreement depends entirely on where in the fuzzy range a given user personally draws his/her line.


Sub-point: I am perfectly well aware that denying either 1. or 2. flies in the face of this site's developed culture and therefore represents trolling in the new, improved "If you're not a troll don't look like one" sense in which posting (and especially re-posting) points known to be likely to cause friction and evoke anger is trolling, even where the poster sincerely believes those points and is not just making stuff up and posting it for the fun of seeing others get angry (as the classical sense of trolling has it.) I put up this comment and deny that it's a troll. I grant that flying in the face of the site's developed culture is a thing, arguably even a bad thing (though not for those who really believe in diversity of opinion.) But it needs a name of its own.
posted by jfuller at 11:07 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sticherbeast: "Interesting, and shitty, but this is exactly what I wasn't talking about! Someone who merely pays "lip service" to progressive issues, but who actually diminishes important rights when in office, is definitionally not a good faith actor!"

Oddly enough I think the Tories have been acting in good faith about trans issues, as they understand them! But being instinctively authoritarian they have a rather medicalised, binarist view of trans people, which fits some of us pretty well (hi!) but is actively harmful to others. I think they're acting on data which they believe supports this view.

I don't think they're right, not at all. And the tireless work they've been doing to cut support for our country's most vulnerable people is working against trans people as a population, and I don't hesitate to condemn them for it and a hundred other disgusting things they've done (I can't fucking stand the Tories).

But acting in bad faith, on this issue, when considered from within their worldview? No, I don't think so.

/derail
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:12 AM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I say those callouts are often true but in logic they are not necessarily true and in everyday fact they are sometimes not true, but instead (just as one example) represent willful misreading by the caller-outer based on unprovable assumptions about what the commenter "really meant" instead of what he/she actually typed.

I think there's something of a disconnect here. What you're characterising as a "willful misreading" based on assumptions about what is "really meant" could very well represent a pointing out of implications of a statement, an explanation of why they're problematic, and no assertion that this is what the poster meant, merely that it's what they're effectively saying.

You see this dynamic all the time - people getting defensive and calling bad faith on what they perceive as an uncharitable interpretation that impugns their motives, when no discussion of what the poster meant or their motivations is actually present.
posted by Dysk at 11:12 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


this site's developed culture and therefore represents trolling in the new, improved "If you're not a troll don't look like one" sense in which posting (and especially re-posting) points known to be likely to cause friction and evoke anger is trolling

Yeah we've actually been discussing that in mod-town. The "If you're not a troll don't look like one" has been a thing that has evolved over time and is now not quite accurate to what we want to be saying. In short, the implication is that people are entirely responsible for their own presentation here. We will help people be understood (and this can range from giving people a reality check on what they look like from our vantage point to pre-reading posts for them to trying to outline what we think the problems are) but expect people who are having troubles being understood to meet us partway.

After a certain point, people are on their own. If they are continuing to do the things that look trollish, that have been pointed out to them as seeming trollish, then they are in many ways indistinguishable from a troll (which is someone who, in my opinion, riles up people with disingenuous arguments designed to derail and not to discuss, NOT just someone whose opinions people don't like). It used to be that with most users pointing out that they were, possibly accidentally, looking trollish could help be a line in the sand "You may not know this is happening but now might be a very good time to dial it back if you are trying to have a good faith conversation" and people would self correct and it was straightforward. Now we're getting to the point where the same people seem to need frequent "dial it back" requests and we need a better way to say "You're doing that THING again, that thing that kills discussions and makes them all about you" without it looking like we're even implying that people are trolls.

We don't let other users call people trolls anywhere other than MetaTalk. We-as-mods should be really careful about looking like we are calling people trolls. At the same time, we have some users who do a thing that is toxic to a discussion and does not scale in either a "This is a community not soandso's personal forum" way or a "We don't have the resources to deal with the shit you constantly stir up" way. So yeah, I hear what you are saying. We have to retool how we moderate these sorts of disruptions somewhat differently.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


But acting in bad faith, on this issue, when considered from within their worldview? No, I don't think so.

Well, that sounds all the more interesting, and I would love an example of the kind of thing you're talking about, especially with regard to terminology use. I'm on the other side of the pond, so I don't know British politics well enough to know where to start.

...

We have to retool how we moderate these sorts of disruptions somewhat differently.

I agree, and I'm glad to hear that this is being looked into.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:22 AM on September 12, 2013


I'm also glad to read that note, Jessamyn.
posted by cribcage at 11:23 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: "Well, that sounds all the more interesting, and I would love an example of the kind of thing you're talking about, especially with regard to terminology use. I'm on the other side of the pond, so I don't know British politics well enough to know where to start."

Eh, it was all pretty low key and probably didn't make the papers all that much. It'd be difficult to find public examples. A lot of email spam and surveys and the odd earnest statement by the equalities minister. Considering the Gender Recognition Act was put into place after the previous government got bullied by the ECHR they didn't really have to do much, and while they did manage to fuck it up, the changes they made were consistent with their worldview, imo. (Doesn't stop them being awful, though.)

What was apparently my very first FPP is about the fuckup.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2013


So, what should be done about tone arguments?

When I said I liked the status quo on moderation, I was implying that I liked the fact that mis-gendering or "I'd hit that" will be subject to moderation. These things are just boorishness with no added value. There's no reason why you cannot avoid them and still have a conversation.

I would be against mod intervention against tone arguments because (a) I don't really have evidence that tone arguments are preventing people from having the conversations they want to have at the same time as the people who talk about tone have that conversation (again), and (b) I don't see much reason to think that people making the tone argument on Mefi generally do so because they don't like certain classes of people or to stir up shit.

I suppose what I like about Mefi is that it's a generalist site: just as you might have a non-101 level forum for talking about evolution where you just ban comments like "If people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?", you can find sites where comments like "Why are you people always so angry? You catch more flies with honey." are not allowed. But I would not like Mefi to become a non-generalist site.

There's an important difference between my two examples. People who are hurt/upset by tone arguments include groups who get all sorts of crap thrown at them, whereas the people who are upset by the monkey argument generally don't. Some people seem to want to redress this by taking it as a sort of axiom that stuff which hurts or upsets those groups must be done away with at all costs.

As the OP says, the consensus (with which I agree) is that Mefi should not be an SJ "safe space". Let's be clear: if you accept the consensus (and assuming that such "safe spaces" actually work), you accept the consequence that some people who get a lot of hurt will get more hurt from Mefi, because you value some other stuff more than doing all you can to prevent further hurt (I expect some people who accept the consensus will get angry at this and think they're being accused of not caring about oppressed people: if so, I invite you to read what I wrote again).

So, those who accept the consensus already don't accept the axiom. But, assuming they're decent people, among the other things they want, they also want to help those people who get a lot of crap. The question is about where to draw the line. For the mods, I think the line is in the right place. For the users, they've got the choice of not participating in tone arguments or pointing out that they can serve to silence the oppressed. Is more than this needed?
posted by pw201 at 12:15 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like the aforementioned Adria Richards thread, where a not-white woman in a non-programming role at a tech company got a white male developer fired*, and the resulting high-pitched humming among some of our brethren was, it seems pretty clear, informed by status anxiety.

That's such a mischaracterisation of some of the participants of the thread, one I carefully read more than once at the time because it was so contested, that I think it will affect how I see all future comments from you.

It's also not the first time I've seen a difficult thread (even this particular thread) be recontextualised afterwards so that some participants/arguments were painted in a more unflattering light, and it's not a trend I'd wish to see continue.

As an aside, I can't be the only one who doesn't particularly like the formulation trans* for no other reason than I can't stop myself from looking for the footnote.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


nope you're definitely not the only one who doesnt' like the term "trans*" because of the wildcard, plenty plenty plenty plenty people feel the need to remark upon their personal reasons for disapproving of the term every time it comes up and that's one i've definitely seen a lot of times!
posted by titus n. owl at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's such a mischaracterisation of some of the participants of the thread

It really is, and I hope that the spirit of jessamyn's comment can perhaps begin to be applied here.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not to start a whole other shitty thing, but I really don't think anyone is "pro-abortion," in the sense that people like abortions and want more abortions to be performed because they think more abortions is always a laudable goal. I think that highlighting "pro-choice" over "pro-abortion" as the term from that dichotomy that invokes the greater innate response is wrong. For this reason I don't think this an example where terms are "functionally the same," and certainly not neutral, and certainly not organically created.

I kind of want to respond to lattiboy but it's late as hell and we just got back from a visit with the surgeon that contained less-than-ideal news for my friend (nothing awful, just the recovery timetable has been pushed back a week or two) and I do not have the energy. But, like, saying you have privilege but it totally hasn't ever benefited you in any way is pretty much missing the point by as much as possible.
posted by Corinth at 12:32 PM on September 12, 2013


the resulting high-pitched humming among some of our brethren was, it seems pretty clear, informed by status anxiety.

Not at all clear. Not at all charitable. This conversation will go better if people can differentiate how a thread felt to them from specific concrete examples that they can point to.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


But what if the person really does live under the bridge between the blue and the grey and always demands you answer a riddle before you pass?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2013


Oh, jeez. My little Chromebook fucked up and I responded a few hours after I thought was current. I see more replies now. I'm sorry, please feel free to ignore that.
posted by Corinth at 12:44 PM on September 12, 2013


But what if the person really does live under the bridge between the blue and the grey and always demands you answer a riddle before you pass?

Ask this guy.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:44 PM on September 12, 2013


I feel the need to speak up for actual trolls here, who have been unfairly identified with online trolls, whose name is a homograph for our bridge- and mountain-dwelling friends, but the two words have different etymologies. The online troll gets his name from the act of trolling, which is derived from the Old High German word trollen, which meant "to walk with short steps" and eventually evolved into the fishing term where you hang a line behind your boat to attract fish. Online trolls saw themselves as doing the same thing: Dragging a line to get angry responses.

The "ugly dwarf or giant" meaning of the word, and apologies that those descriptions sound pejorative, comes from Old Norse. And they have trouble enough, what with widespread anti-troll prejudice and animal rights groups always after them for their reported violence toward billy goats. The last thing they need is to be associated with online jerks.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is an actual discussion ongoing here, so maybe y'all could take your "long wind-down" into some unused MeTa thread. Kid Charlemagne's question seems to have been answered, and the podcast thread is quiet. Thanks.
posted by cribcage at 1:00 PM on September 12, 2013


Maybe you might be a little slower on the draw after three jokey comments about trolls from users that have participated un-jokily and earnestly in this thread for five days.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:12 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod: "I feel the need to speak up for actual trolls here, who have been unfairly identified with online trolls"

Plus, they have complex and fascinating romantic lives.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:12 PM on September 12, 2013


Four now.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2013


This is a strange collection of words you have identified as somehow being the language of progressivism. Some of it is perfectly quotidian, some of it is in wide use on the web, some of it rises from the particular language needs of a specific community (I can assure you, there is a tremendous disconnect between mainstream progressives and trans people), and some of it (such as gender being distinct from sex, which dates back to 1955 and comes from psychological circles) are widely accepted as basic definitions.

I dunno. I guess it's only important if people feel like there is some thick bubbling swamp of incomprehensible in-speak going on, and they are left behind. If not, what does it matter? We choose the words that best express our understanding of the world, and best reflect our experiences.


Not to pick on you, but your objection is a bit like a British person saying that "trousers", "aluminium", and "pub" are perfectly ordinary, neutral, descriptive words, and as proof bringing up a citation that "aluminium" is the standard IUPAC name for the element. I mean, yes, these are ordinary, neutral, descriptive words, but that largely misses the point.
posted by Pyry at 1:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


What I am looking for is someone who talks about trans* issues, using the argot we've been talking about, using that argot correctly and in good faith, but who comes down instead with the fundamentally conservative view that transfolk are all mistaken and blabbity-blah.

Oh that's easy - a good chunk of my extended family.
posted by Dysk at 1:49 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not at all clear. Not at all charitable. This conversation will go better if people can differentiate how a thread felt to them from specific concrete examples that they can point to.

Well, would it really be a good idea to start talking about specific examples at this point, Jessamyn? It feels - that word again - that that is specifically what you would not like me to do.

So this is an "I didn't mean do foo rather than bar, I meant be aware of the undesirability of doing either foo or bar" construction, yes? Saying which would be somewhat redundant, I think, because I understand the structure of the phrasing and what is intending to do, but could be done in any case. Let's assume the lesson is learned.

So, anyway. My feeling, absent concrete examples, is that there was an unusual level of fervor in some contributions to that thread that was presumably inspired by something, but it's not a feeling wholly alien from the actual content of the thread. Examples are available, although in this context unsought and unwanted.

It could be the case that in fact a sober analysis of the facts of the case led on naturally to such fervor and force - that the something is actually logic and reason, and my analysis is aberrant. It could be that the something was related in every case to some other element of which I am unaware - a personal history, a loss by a favorite sports team, a bad day at the office. My analysis of the available evidence may be off. But again, it's not unrelated to the actual content of the thread, or observation of the behavior of people involved in it.

This not being my first Internet rodeo, I am OK, I think, with hypothesizing that some of that fervor was related to an anaphylactic response to an attack on an in-group from a member of a series of intersecting out-groups (and possibly a hypothesized army of tumblr social justice warriors, which at least ties it back to this thread neatly). Heck, one of the plaints that comes up pretty much every time the harassment question comes up on the Internet is "what if an innocent's career were destroyed by a malicious suit?". And here was an extreme example of this anxiety made flesh.

I understand that it's often best not to get into this kind of imponderable, especially from a moderation perspective. I mean, what would one do about it? Demand that people not feel anxieties? Outlaw subtext? I understand that, and removed myself from the conversation for that reason.

Nonetheless, I feel basically OK with surmising that, just as complaints about rap being about nothing but bitches, hos and gats are sometimes not just about the lyrical content of rap music, there is something more going on here in certain cases than an emotionless analysis of the facts of the matter.

I'm entirely aware of the impossibility of moderating for that, and of the arguments for not entertaining the concept, can-of-worms-opening as it is. That is totally understandable to me, and I totally get it.

There are things I find less explicable - there's one right here, in fact. I don't really understand why Blazecock Pileon's behavior gets the long shrift it does. That I find bewildering. There's no good argument that I can see for it based on the good running of MetaFilter, or MetaFilter being a pleasant experience for the general user, as there is, for example, for shutting down suggestions that vitriolic responses to donglegate might not have been conceived in a vacuum.

I'd love to understand that better, because I think it would be actually positively informative to my understanding of the logic and process of moderation. However, it is not really ontopic.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:03 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, yes, these are ordinary, neutral, descriptive words, but that largely misses the point.

Before I start let me say that I am responding in general to the bigger pattern here of what I see happening in this thread as well as some of the other gender threads in the past week on Metafilter as well as MetaTalk. I'm not saying that you, Pyry, are responsible for this kind of dynamic nor that you've caused or participated in them. But I do think that critique of language, word choice and style and so on are at the heart of something deeper, which has to do with how we argue a point and what's acceptable and not about getting to that point.

I see two main issues that bother me most here:
1) That this issue of word choice applies to all of us equally. We all use specialized language. I don't like how this is becoming a conversation about how just progressives do it and how that's harmful. I think specialized definitions and word choices are harmful for everyone (not just victims of rampant progressives) in a melting pot kind of community like this.
2) The thing that bothers me about all these gender-related discussions and the response of the majority of conservative members is the lack of shame and/or humilty. Progressives factor shame and humility into pretty much all of our figuring of the world. And I think it makes us more likely to find points of compromise from which we can collectively work together. - In contrast, I usually don't see a lot of shame or humility from the conservatives I talk with. By which I mean backing down seems a foreign concept. "Find an advantage and press it for all it's worth" is more like what I see going on, and I don't like it. - Because I, in good faith, am always looking for situations where I can compromise and find common understanding. I don't see that reflected in the values and behavior of many conservatives I talk with (and most of those whom I've talked with here).

So I'm feeling sort of pressed and like I've lost ground and it's not so much a compromise as an inversion of how fair and just the moderation policies felt for me and my representation of progressive communities. It feels like this idea of special vocabulary being bad is not a fairly-applied rule among all of us, but I guess we'll see how it works in the longer run in other threads.

But if I'm going to find common ground I want to know I can count on my partner(s) in that to be willing to compromise as much as I am. If I don't see that it doesn't really seem like a negotiation or a compromise. More like a pitched battle.
posted by kalessin at 3:04 PM on September 12, 2013


I don't like how this is becoming a conversation about how just progressives do it and how that's harmful.

I apologize if it has seemed to focus only on progressives. I think conservatives certainly have language and jargon of their own - I just think most people here are already aware and understand the reasons they don't like that language, while the other is a new idea for them.

Progressives factor shame and humility into pretty much all of our figuring of the world. And I think it makes us more likely to find points of compromise from which we can collectively work together. - In contrast, I usually don't see a lot of shame or humility from the conservatives I talk with. By which I mean backing down seems a foreign concept. "Find an advantage and press it for all it's worth" is more like what I see going on, and I don't like it. - Because I, in good faith, am always looking for situations where I can compromise and find common understanding. I don't see that reflected in the values and behavior of many conservatives I talk with (and most of those whom I've talked with here).

This more than anything is a really helpful breakthrough - not just of the specialized language that turns us off to each other, but the emotional language that might serve to turn us off.

If, as you say, progressives factor shame and humility into everything they do, that is a fundamental disconnect. Not because conservatives can't compromise - they can - but the compromise itself can only take place if it doesn't require shame and humility. You are, for lack of a better word, joining your strengths rather than joining your weaknesses.

I, as a (now) self-identified conservative, am also always seeking for common understanding and compromise. I absolutely am. But I personally, especially as a woman, am tired of shame. I am tired of being humble. I have no desire to embody either, even for a moment. I have done that for too long and I am tired. If the price of admission is saying that I'm a bad person, seeking to find shame in myself, I am not interested in the ride.
posted by corb at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2013


Let me first say that in this formulation, I can only speak for myself. There may be other progressive voices who concur, but I haven't spoken to them. I don't know if they share this experience.

To me, the experience of shame, humility, is part and parcel of what I do as an activist, as an educator, as an organizer, an essayist. I listen for shame/humility in others and in myself and in it I find strength and common cause. As you say, joining in weakness.

But paradoxically (it seems, at least to you) I don't find that it removes my strength or my ability to be strong. In contrast, because strength is not common in the folks I make common cause with (we are often overstretched and underappreciated), but shame and humility are part of our common experience (because as minorities shame and weakness - or humiliation/humility - are part of how we are kept down, kept in our place, kept from speaking out), we can find common cause there.

It's in resisting that impulse to let shame or humility overcome us, take over our initiative and silence us that we tend to stand strong.

So I don't think shame and humility are fettering my ability to do good. I think they help me find and build community and like-minded folks, and I think we find common cause in overcoming it.

That said, I think that the awareness of where we end and others begin is also in formed by our strong sense of humility. And I think that's lacking in the way I see conservatives fight. It's not that I don't understand. The take no prisoners, give no quarter way of fighting that I associated with clashes I've had with more conservative friends/acquaintances is certainly very tempting to me. And, forged in fire like I have said I have been, I deeply and viscerally understand the impulse.

It's just that the way I learned to build coalitions and alliances, I cannot afford to fight like that. There is too much collateral damage and I cannot condone it. If I am fighting for a common cause with allies from coalitions at my side, I cannot afford to make sweeping generalizations or to conflate how I'm feeling with how I should act. Instead I have to be passionate, sure, truthful and reliable. I can't afford to be blazingly passionate at the expense of my allies and my colleagues.
posted by kalessin at 4:23 PM on September 12, 2013


Just one more elaboration: I think also in dealing with and experiencing so many aspects of being shamed or humiliated (or at least obdurately enduring those attempts) I found that I couldn't not be aware of humility and shame in others (or lack thereof). To me, these two social forces are part of what keep us all in check, keeping the internal beastliness and related impulses in us civilized.

And it's hard for me to be aware of that at the same time that I'm trying to have reasoned discourse with someone who is really trying to use every rhetorical trick in the book to get me to trip up or question my own motives and agenda. It's real hard to juggle that imbalance in a way that feels at all just to me. Or anything other than a huge waste of time and energy.
posted by kalessin at 4:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It feels like this idea of special vocabulary being bad is not a fairly-applied rule among all of us, but I guess we'll see how it works in the longer run in other threads.

Eh. I'm a progressive, and have studied cultural studies subjects (not nearly as much, as well, or to the degree that some have here on Metafilter - after all, there's some seriously learned folks here), and it's not so much the use of certain terms that can bug as the occasional high density of their use. Just because you understand - or, as this thread shows, at least have a personal definition - the jargon doesn't mean the overuse of it isn't still annoying.


And it's hard for me to be aware of that at the same time that I'm trying to have reasoned discourse with someone who is really trying to use every rhetorical trick in the book to get me to trip up or question my own motives and agenda.

So you see it as you're just trying to have a discussion while anyone who disagrees with you has ill-intentions and is only trying to trip you up? Is this just on Metafilter, or is this in larger discourse? It's quite possible that whoever you're talking to thinks the same about you... or even is just trying to get their point across in their manner, rather than using their tricky knowledge of rhetoric to try and get you to doubt yourself. That sounds like a very unfortunate way to see these things, so I hope you'll clarify to point out where I've gotten it wrong.


titus: nope you're definitely not the only one who doesnt' like the term "trans*" because of the wildcard, plenty plenty plenty plenty people feel the need to remark upon their personal reasons for disapproving of the term every time it comes up and that's one i've definitely seen a lot of times!

Yes, yes, you've got me. *rolls eyes* Actually, what it just means is I generally use transfolk or transpeople, neither of which has raised objections so far.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:55 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you see it as you're just trying to have a discussion while anyone who disagrees with you has ill-intentions and is only trying to trip you up?

No, I only understand that to be happening in special cases where I feel like I am going out of my way to seek understanding and that's not being reciprocated.

I have a signficiant number of friends, colleagues, acquaintances who have conservative bents in their ideologies, either political or fiscal or social. And still we manage to be friends.

In this particular context where we are talking about disagreements, I'm still talking about a special case, where conservatively-minded folks are fighting for their points in a certain way, where no quarter is given, not in all cases of disagreement.
posted by kalessin at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2013


"Transpeople" will raise objections, because there ought to be a space there ("trans people"), making it clear that the "trans" part is merely an adjective linked with the "people" part, which is the actual noun. Running them together looks like "transpeople" is the noun, which makes it seem like "transpeople" is a category apart from "people." Just FYI.
posted by byanyothername at 5:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Again, in trying to discuss this, please remember to assume good intent. It doesn't do us (together, you and I) any good if you cherry pick places where my argument/perspective isn't couched in enough qualifiers and conflate that with the idea that I believe it as a blanket statement.
posted by kalessin at 5:06 PM on September 12, 2013


I've been in rooms with editors having protracted conversations about how to treat various coupled words: space 'em, join 'em, hyphenate 'em, etc. In my experience, the only thing everybody agrees on is that each option is appropriate some place. But which to use where? Pull up a seat.

I add that not to invalidate anybody's strong opinion, just to say that smart, well-meaning folks disagree and while you might occasionally hear one of them disagree by explicating what sounds like a very plausible "rule," that's smoke and mirrors. It's opinions all the way down, and mostly they're opinions about language and not about people. Assume good faith, as Kalessin says, and mostly in this case you're going to be correct.
posted by cribcage at 5:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was pointing out why some (myself included!) prefer "trans SPACE person" as a phrase, and why the other one might look icky. I'm aware that there's not grammatical agreement, but to boil it down to just that seems a bit oblivious to context. (Not to come across overly harsh in replying; I know you meant well. Or, I think you did. Most people do. But the abstracting of trans issues is one of the big reasons why we have this thread, so.)
posted by byanyothername at 5:27 PM on