Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the "tone argument" or "tone policing": why social justice warriors act like assholes

Any suggestion that Warriors try to be polite is called “tone policing” or “making the tone argument”. To Warriors, anyone who suggests being polite is a  “concern troll” or “derailer” who wants to weaken their discussion. The “tone argument” is cited by people of all hues and genders who think their issue gives them the right to be rude. It means “I don’t have to be polite; you do.”

Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer would’ve rejected the tone argument in an instant. I like Brother Malcolm’s take best. He said, ”Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

Because Warriors have enormous difficulty grasping simple ideas, I'll spell that out: So long as no one puts their hands on you, be polite.

People who cite “the tone argument” are invariably middle or upper class. The idea that their arrogance should be accepted is, in their terms, their privilege speaking. Working folks have a stock response to people like them: “Didn’t your momma teach you no manners?”

Googling to see how common that response is, I laughed when I found “Didn’t yo mama teach you no manners, collegeboy?” Though the Warriors’ mothers and fathers might have tried to teach them manners, the collegekids of social justice fandom rant and abuse in the belief that will make a better world. They think common courtesy is too common to apply to them.

What makes me saddest about people who cite the tone argument is I share their desire for a fair world, but I can’t share their tactics. As Jay Lake said after the Racefail flamewar, “Any cause that requires mockery and abuse to advance itself isn’t one I need to engage with, regardless of my basic beliefs or agreement with the underlying goals.”

Note: This post was inspired in part by the treatment of Laci Green. If you don't know the story, start at Internet Social Justice Mob Goes Batshit on Activist, Has No Sense of Irony. All her critics had to do was say, "I disagree, and here's why." But that, alas, is not the Way of the Social Justice Warrior.