About a year ago, I embarked on a project to broaden my perspectives, to venture out of my ideological bubble to see if I could find some commonality with people who look like me, come from similar backgrounds as me, and yet don’t agree with me on many issues. Over the course of this experiment, I did indeed find many ideas that resonated with me, added nuance to my own thoughts as well as reinforced some of my core beliefs. While I noticed that many of the names and faces that appeared on my Youtube feed were indeed similar to the faces as documented by the NY Times, I also found people who challenged those faces and questioned those assumptions head-on. And I wanted to challenge many of the assumptions head-on too. I wanted to create a space in my head for dialogue and by understanding where others were coming from hoped that I could add a bit of civil discourse in my little corner of virtual space.
As noted here, it’s a rocky experiment and I’m not sure my original hypothesis can work, yet I keep trying. The more diehard supporters of Trump and the Alt-Lite seem pretty intractable. While they can certainly recognize Trump’s unorthodox style, they seem to forgive him and don’t have terribly high expectations of his ability to say what he really means and still largely support him.
They also seem to enjoy that Trump stirs the pot. He’s transgressive. It reminds me, as usual, of how we as a poetry community handled people who transgressed community norms at open mikes, which is to say we largely ignored them. Yet, it’s one thing to say that Trump is an internet troll, but he’s also the President, so we seem to always fixate on whatever blunder he’s done as if it has real significance. And sometimes it does, but can we keep it in perspective, can we stay on task and pay attention to the larger problems (immigration reform, the stupid, destructive gun culture, the climate and the role back of regulations to help alleviate it, etc.)? I’ve started looking at almost all his actions as some sort of transgressive/trollish maneuver just to keep himself in the spotlight.
So this morning (before meditation no less), I open my email and see that someone has responded to my post on a center-right forum in regards to believing in white privilege. I posted:
“Yes, exactly. Heck you can even use the tool of intersectionality to tease out certain issues without going to negative extremes. And yes, you can also believe in white privilege without it necessarily being the root/end cause of every ill.
We need more nuanced conversations and discussions and [to] move away from sound bite/trolling responses to everything.
Thank you for your thoughtful article.”
David the Optimist responded to the above italicized section with, “If you’re a racist, you can do that. If you’re not a racist, you wouldn’t.”
My original post was July 30th, this response came in just before I woke up. So David the Optimist argued that if I embrace the concept of white privilege then I’m being racist, dug into the comments of this old article to call me a racist.
Now this is not the first time I’ve engaged with David the Optimist, but after futilely trying to explain how Nazism and Fascism is seen as an extreme of the political right, I’ve largely stopped. His comment this morning strikes me as entirely transgressive. He’s hoping that I’ll jump back on line and argue with him over how I am not a racist, maybe apologize for the error of my ways in acknowledging white privilege, which strikes me as entirely ludicrous. He’s arguing (I’m guessing) that because I believe that white privilege exists that I’m racist against white people.
As I type this I wonder if he knows how impossible that is? I could certainly be racist if, and only if, being prejudiced against white people can be defined as racist. Even then, the racism I’d be guilty of would be internalized racism because I’m white. Indeed to be the victim of internal racism means that you have to be a part of a sub-ordinated group, and I’m not a member of a sub-ordinated group. So not only can I not be racist against white people, I can’t be guilty of internalized racism because I’m white.
Likewise, I’m not sure his comments, however intended, fit in with the community standards:
You may wish to respond to something by disagreeing with it. That’s fine. But remember to criticize ideas, not people. Please avoid:
· Ad hominem attacks
· Responding to a post’s tone instead of its actual content
· Knee-jerk contradiction
Instead, provide reasoned counter-arguments that improve the conversation.
So, rather than respond I did as they suggested, “When you see bad behavior, don’t reply. It encourages the bad behavior by acknowledging it, consumes your energy, and wastes everyone’s time. Just flag it. If enough flags accrue, action will be taken, either automatically or by moderator intervention.” I’m not hopeful that David the Optimist, on this marginally politically right forum, will suddenly start posting reasoned arguments. If I’m being generous I’d say, he’s doing what he was doing when he tried to redefine fascism as a product of the left. He’s now trying to redefine “white privilege” as being racist.
I find this sort of argument, “I know you are but what am I?” entirely frustrating. We can’t even agree on a set of terms; a set of terms that have a history of being defined one way and now he is trying to redefine them. It’s like I’m trying to argue with people who speak a different language. I wonder if this is some sort of new tactic? If the words like “racism” are now being weaponized in a new way? I argued here that the frequency and ferocity of labeling every transgression was not having its intended impact and we might be better off trying other tactics. Now it seems that some want to turn that very tactic back at us by redefining the terms.
And I don’t have an easy fix. Other than just not responding I’m not sure what strategy would move conversations forward. I’m beginning to think that social media is creating the conditions where we can’t really wrestle with difficult conversations because we are all being driven to use a short hand to talk about things that require nuance and if people dispute the use of that short hand versus another then what? It’s maddening. I’m beginning to view social media much the way that Socrates viewed writing:
“You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support.”
Only I’d change it to reflect social media. We’ve come to believe that the ability to talk to people in a virtual space with only the words on our screen mediating our response is a good thing. Social media has allowed us to connect with many people, people we may not even know in real life. Yet it has also exacerbated certain tendencies that are anathema to a civilized society. Social media doesn’t allow us to read body language, to understand the impact of what we’re saying, to be empathic towards others. It just zeroes us in on words and how they’re used and allows us to feel better about ourselves and not really understand that there are people at the other end of that fiber optic cable who may need to know more or need to better evaluate the impact of their words before they hit “Enter.”