Oct. 29th, 2009

joreth: (Super Tech)
So yesterday I got into a flamewar on Twitter, that I'm actually a bit embarrassed about. Many of my tweets were quotes taken directly from my opponent and re-worded to apply to him instead of me, so any of you who follow me on Twitter but didn't follow him, if you were thinking I sounded a little bit unusually harsh or stupid, that's why.

Now, this CAN be a valid tactic to show how one's arguments are wrong in some way. For example, when one doesn't understand why it's wrong to use taxpayer money to pay for a monument to display the 10 Commandments in a courthouse, we can replace "the 10 Commandments" with some list of rules from any other non-Christian religion and ask if it's OK to do it then? This illustrates the violation of church and state and the hypocrisy of the defender of the monument.

Of course, with true bigots, they still won't see it, but it *does* make otherwise rational people actually look at the view they're espousing. Many people simply haven't looked at the issue from the other side before.

But sometimes it's just another form of "I know you are, but what am I?" and "Oh yeah? Well, you're a big poopy head too!"

So I started talking with [livejournal.com profile] datan0de about why I think I went overboard and didn't help my cause, and why there really *is* a place for the hardnosed bitch in the activism debate alongside of the kindly gentleman professor.  I already know that I'm seen as much more of a bitch online than in person, and I have always attributed that to plain text with no non-verbal cues to soften my words.

But I think there's more to it than that.

I think where I get into the most trouble is when I am limited in my expression.

If I have limited character expression, for example, I can't adequately explain my thoughts, which are often meandering and complicated run-on sentences.  With enough repetition, I'll come up with some soundbites, like "I prefer to find spaces to fit the people in my life, not people to fit the spaces in my life" and "there must be something deeper going on" and "it's not a poly problem, it's a people problem".  But that really only applies to a few concepts that I've had to express thousands of times, and soundbites are limited in their functionality.  That's why I so often just post links to videos or other people's blogs in my comments or tweets, because I just don't have the space to get my point across.

So if I have limited character space, I will have to choose the most economical words to express my point of view, which are not always the most accurate words, nor are they always the nicest.

For example, in my recent flamewar, my opponent made a few tweets that called out Steve Pavlina for trying polyamory and subsequently divorcing his wife.  He made such statements as "talk about having his cake..." and "not very becoming of Pavlina" and "just an excuse to sleep around without 'cheating'".  When I called him out for attacking polyamory, he backpeddled and tried to claim that he was simply talking about Pavlina himself, not the relationship style.  Notice how many characters it's taking just to explain all this?

So, the point I was *trying* to make was that if my opponent thought that Pavlina treated his wife poorly, then his comments should be directed towards Pavlina's actual behaviour, complete with evidence.  The act of having multiple partners is not inherently bad.  But the act of insisting on multiple partners while your wife grudglingly goes along with it, being insensitive in your choice of partners, neglecting your wife, or deliberately behaving in a fashion designed to hurt or antagonize her, well, *that's* a problem.

It's also not a poly problem.  People like this exist.  I call them assholes.  Some use the label "polyamory", some use the label "monogamy", some use the label "swinger", some don't use any labels at all.  You can call them abusers, insensitive, NRE Junkies, mentally unstable, any number of terms could be applicable.  I prefer "asshole".  But "asshole" gets a bad rap, as [livejournal.com profile] tacit discovered when he got flamed for calling George Sodini an asshole and his commenters wanted him to be more respectful of the mentally ill, completely missing the whole point of his post (Sodini was an illustration, not the focus of the post).  George might have been mentally ill (and most probably was), but he was still an asshole.  My second cousin is mentally ill.  He's a very nice man.  George was probably mentally ill.  He was not a very nice man, he was a misogynistic asshole.

So, in my attempt to say "look, if you have a problem with Pavlina, then call out Pavlina for his behaviour.  Don't blame the entire relationship style or imply it was polyamory that was at fault.  The sentences you used imply it was the relationship style because it referenced the multiple-partnership only and not any of Pavlina's actual behaviour towards his wife.  His blog post about his divorce is very loving and considerate towards her, so if you think he screwed up in some way, be specific as to what he did exactly that was so wrong and provide references if necessary", I paraphrased all his complaints and tweeted something like "That's not a poly problem. If he did something wrong, say Pavlina was an asshole and here's why, but don't blame polyamory".

Well, this guy got all pissed off for me "accusing" him of calling Pavlina an asshole.  I admitted it was my word and not his, and he simply responded with saying that "paraphrasing" is simply another way of saying "shit I made up".

And the argument devolved from there.

So, my long and rambling point here is that when I have to severely limit the number of words I use, I choose the most economical words I can think of, and because they are so economical, they are also devoid of tone and nuance and, hence, easy to get offended at.  "Asshole", for instance, covers pretty much all bad behaviour without having to be specific.  In 140 characters, that's an important quality in a word.

Which brings me to my next point: online text vs. speech.  This is another limiting factor.  My speaking style is nearly indistinguishable from my writing style in terms of word usage and grammar.  But what ya'll don't hear is my hesitance, my pausing to consider just the right word, my desire to express a thought without offending, my attempt to soften the blow with a smile to indicate that I'm not mad or that I just made a joke, or my self-deprecating shrugs and head bobs.

Make no mistake, I am just as passionate about and solid in my position in person as I am online, but mostly what I am trying to do is educate, not offend.  I know there are other words that I can use, and I've seen other people be more conciliatory in their responses, but that is not the message I want to send.  I don't want to hurt people's feelings, but I also do not want to soften my position to something that I don't actually feel.  

Take the idea that one should "respect all beliefs".  I simply do not believe we should.  Some beliefs are worthy of more respect than others.  Some beliefs are just flat-out wrong.  I don't think false-respect or patronizing my opponent is at all appropriate, nor is it something I actually feel.  But, at the same time, when I speak in person, with my tone and body language, people get their feelings hurt less - or at least, not to a degree that they are willing to be as derogatory and rude as they are online.  

My message *is* easier to take in person, but it's still the same message, and I feel it's an important message to send.

I can also read *their* body language and hear *their* tone online, so I make fewer mistakes in choosing the appropriate response (while still holding true to my position), and I can better gauge when I should be more hardnosed, when I should be softer, and when I should make a joke instead.  This is my weakest area of debate and argument, but it's pretty much useless in a purely text-based forum.

So, yes, I am a bitch.  I'm the one who wields the sledgehammer in the debates, and I'm fine with that role.  As Heidi Anderson said over in her blog at The Fat One In The Middle and The Asshole Skeptic said much better than I can, there is a place for the sledgehammer and a place for the nice, soft, arts-and-crafts rubber mallet to tap, tap, tap away at the opposition.  I'll even go so far as to agree with The Asshole Skeptic and say that the majority of cases require the soft taps.  But a variety of tactics are required, and I'm the one who not only wields the sledgehammer, but who happily carts around a truckload of sledgehammers of various sizes and materials.  There needs to be people willing to speak with passion and conviction, and there needs to be people willing to draw the fire away from the guys trying to make the point, providing that the evidence and reason is not sacrificed for the passion and the drawing of fire.

Yes, I'm a bitch, and I stand by my position that a bitch is required.  But the limitations of certain venues, namely online, character-limiting venues like Twitter and comment boxes in other people's blogs, emphasize my bitchiness where I don't intend to be bitchy, and seem to add bitchiness simply due to the stripped-down communications that are the hallmark of the venue.  So even when I'm not trying to be a bitch, when I'm not wielding the sledgehammer, being economical with my words and removing my vocal inflection and body language makes me *seem* like I'm being a bitch, makes me seem angry, makes me seem hurtful when it's not my intent.

And then when people react in what they perceive is a like manner, well, then my temper gets the better of me and I actually *do* become a bitch.  Throw in my inability to bite my tongue and let an error go by unremarked, a problem that I've had since I learned to talk and never *quite* learned how to suppres and, well, I'm rather insufferable sometimes.

So it's really *difficult* for me to be nice.  I have a practical, pragmatic speaking style & I require evidence and reason, and that is often received as "cold".  I am passionate about my stances, and that often translates to "angry" and "hateful" (a complete contradiction from the cold-hearted-bitch accusations, but I get called both anyway, sometimes in the same argument).  But when I cannot express my tone and body language, all that's left is the pragmatic writing style that my readers infuse with their own emotional baggage.  And when I have to strip my position down to the shortest phrases and words possible, even cold and/or angry words are left devoid of nuance and are seen as even colder, angrier, or meaner than I intended.

It's really *hard* for me to be nice!
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

In human history, supernatural explanations of phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations thousands upon thousands of times. Natural explanations have been replaced by supernatural ones exactly never. So why would we assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

What else is there really to say here that hasn't already been said a million times?  Every single time a supernatural explanation is proposed for a phenomenon, as soon as we develop the technology to look into it, a natural explanation is revealed.  Every single time without fail.  Ockham's Razor, the Null Hypothesis, even the "better safe than sorry" method of the opposition, all suggest that, when we don't have an answer, instead of saying "god did it", we should just assume "no god did it" until proven otherwise.  Maybe when god actually *does* do something, I might be more willing to entertain the possibility that something supernatural was the cause in the absence of any other data.  Until then, it's so unlikely that I can reasonably behave as though it is untrue.
joreth: (polyamory)

Over at the OrlandoPoly LJ community, there's a new posting suggesting a holiday theme to the upcoming meeting - candy swap and poly holidays!


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