Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To name, or not?

Identifying things to write about is quite easy, working out exactly how to tackle it is proving a touch harder. In the online debate on sexism I see many claims that I consider to be, shall we say, exaggerated, and many that I feel are completely misguided. I have referred to conversations in previous posts but only vaguely, making my anecdote no more reliable than those I wish to address. So my dilemma is whether to directly link, or copy/paste, to the relevant comments and discussions or just to refer to them.  

Despite the reputation of many men in this arena, I am not a nasty person and wish no hurt to anyone and can’t get over it feeling like bullying. A major component of the faction wars in online atheism is an endless rally of abuse and personal attacks between a few key members that is fed by bystanders adding their own, often less diplomatic, asides. This is not a way to reach any form of consensus and only serves to highlight the few differences rather than strengthening the strength of the similarities. What begins as a lack of mutual understanding rapidly converts into opposing sides, both looking further and further afield for ways to diminish their opponent and losing sight of the original point.

To provide a suitably vague example:

R and T both agree that Custard is brilliant and form the CustardCult
T says she likes bananas in her custard
R points out that bananas are often unethically sourced
T says this isn’t really a big deal to her
R asserts that all custard lovers should respect workers’ rights
T disagrees that this is a necessary qualification
Some bystanders agree with R and brand T as an abuser of workers
Others agree with T and try to defend the position of abusers
Both parties forget that T never defended abusers in the first place, just showed ambivalence. Suddenly we have a situation where people are digging in for an argument that never was against a side that they mostly agree with.

If/when the dust settles there is nobody thinking about the custard.

With the internet we can still enjoy these shenanigans much loved by us lefties with the added advantage of every discussion being recorded for replay in handy-sized, point-scoring chunks. This has made it even easier to cherry pick points, which can then be shown to the people in each camp, who can then spread this information further. To return to my analogy above, we then lose even the benefit of a decent discussion on developing nations. So no politics AND no custard - we may as well give up and go home.

So where does that leave us with naming? Nowhere productive really, I just love thinking about sweet desserts (as does my sister who deserves a plug for her alcoholic cupcakes). Many people go the route of writing a “takedown”. Often these are well researched and can provide an excellent counterpoint to the original claims and even a productive ongoing discussion. Frequently though this too is considered bad from as many bloggers talk of mental health problems that are exacerbated by perceived nastiness).  Another side effect this can be to rally less articulate followers to take this rebuttal as a call to arms to launch tirades of abuse - highlighted in many recent articles about online ‘trolling’.  But overall I think this is all well can good when dealing with bloggers who have chosen to publicly air their work and opinions.

The big sticking point is when individuals who have not really chosen to embrace the public are the ones I wish to address. I am talking here of the majority of facebookers and tweeps with whom I occasionally share an online space but who I honestly don’t believe are broadcasting.  These are people who send tweets to groups and companies who I follow, or use hashtags that I see. Sure, their words are technically in the public domain, but to pick them out of the crowd then judge their words publicly (albeit a low double digit version of public) seems unfair. In many ways I want to address their concerns or maybe find out what I am missing that makes me question their tales, but with this I run the risk of victimising someone who may already feel that way without my meddling.

I have contemplated simply using twitter comments in quotes, but this is searchable and if not then open to doubt. I have also thought of screenshots and/or storify, but both of these seem a bit creepy when used by others and just makes it too easy to find out the source.

At present I think that directly addressing a blogger is probably alright if handled clearly and politely, while mentioning a tweep by name will not sit right with me. I will continue to be vague but I am open to suggestions - fully confidential of course - and will keep on puzzling it out and seeing how others handle this.


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