On Sunday, Emma asked me a question no husband wants to hear: What happened to the man she married? Where was the man who annoyed her by forgiving everyone, then annoyed her more when she realized he was right?
If you’re now thinking I got the very best version of that speech, you are very right.
But it didn’t make me feel any better.
The answer is that man broke in 2009. In the fifty years before the great fannish flamewar remembered as Racefail 09, I had marched or protested or worked booths for every major leftish cause, from civil rights to gay marriage. Every time, I faced haters. I remember the police holding back furious right-wingers at marches for peace in Vietnam. Perhaps the scariest march was with a tiny group in Sierra Vista, AZ, a military town, when Bush was invading Iraq and there was no police presence because no one had applied for a permit before protesting—but none of the haters did more than yell and give us the finger from their cars as they sped by. Afterward, as our little group was dispersing, a young soldier came up and said he expected to be sent out in the next day or two, and he was grateful we were saying what he could not.
I don’t remember when I first heard the popular version of Martin Niemöller’s observation about Germany in the 1930s:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.I probably heard that in a Unitarian Sunday School. I heard it young, anyway. I never consciously decided I would always be one of the first to speak out, but it seems to have taken. My first instinct is to protect underdogs, even or especially when I disagree with them, no matter how large or how small the conflict.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This can be hard on my friends. Long ago, when I thought the Nielsen Haydens should be counted among those friends and I hoped Jo Walton would be, they mocked me for saying in an online argument over something trivial that lurkers supported me in email. I realized they didn’t know their standing as pros made people afraid to criticize them, so they thought lurkers were either imaginary or people whose fear made them irrelevant. It was a tiny example of how people with power fail to see the effect of their power. This should be a curse: May you never be supported by lurkers.
The lurkers in fandom’s identitarian flame wars will no longer have me to speak for or with them. In my childhood, anonymous phone callers threatened that the Ku Klux Klan would burn my home, and I was bullied in school for speaking out for integration, but racists never broke me. It’s easy to oppose people if you reject their tactics and their goals.
But fandom’s furious identitarians succeeded where racists failed. Identitarians insist they want what I want, a world where everyone is equal. But to make that world, they attack anyone who wants equality in the wrong way. Perhaps my greatest disappointment with them is they happily use the tactics of racists and bigots—mockery, death threats, blacklisting, and censorship. Like all holy warriors, they believe the ends justify the means. They often quote Audre Lorde’s most famous line, “the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house,” and fail to see that they love the master’s tools.
To be both fair and precise, what they want and I want is not the same egalitarian world. In the world I seek, people are free to disagree. In theirs, saying the right words matters far more than treating each other with love and respect. I have often shared this quote, so I’ll share it for what may be the last time: Malcolm X said, "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." I’ve always been aware that Martin Luther King’s preference for absolute pacifism and Malcolm X’s for self-defense divided them far more than their religions—as a Christian, King believed in St. Peter’s advice to respect everyone.
But “respect everyone” has never been respected by those who believe zeal matters most.
When Emma asked what had happened to the man she had married, I was in the middle of drafting a blog post inspired by the discussion over Requires Hate and the Hugos. I got this far:
“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.” —Jay Lake
"If you ever find yourself asking your friends to stop sending death threats, you need to get some new friends." —Andrew Molitor
Perhaps the greatest failing of Laura Mixon’s “A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names” is that it assumes Requires Hate arose in a vacuum—it would be like discussing Robespierre without mentioning Jacobins or the Reign of Terror.
I'm thinking about this because I just left this comment at George R. R. Martin’s Not A Blog. In response to Colum Paget's comments about being driven from the field by RH and her allies, I wrote:
A number of writers were hurt by that community during Racefail 09, an enormous flamewar that ran for months in 2009. Their first target was Jay Lake, whose crime was being a white man who wrote an essay asking people to research characters from other cultures before writing about them. Coffeeandink, one of the leading SJWs at the time, found his post "wanting". People came to Jay's defence, and they were attacked for being racists.A few of the commenters at Laura's post do understand that the history is relevant. Anna Feruglio said,
Afterward, Jay wrote “I probably won’t ever be at WisCon again, sadly, as it used to be one of my favorite cons, but RaceFail has made it very unwelcoming and unsafe for me.” He was immediately mobbed by the SJWs—Tempest Bradford announced that he was "showing his ass", etc. They knew he was wrestling with the cancer that eventually killed him, but for people who believe completely in their cause, there is no mercy for transgressors.
Jay wrote, "I know how satisfying it is to have a cause, to pounce on the wicked, the unrighteous and the foolish. I was once young and angry all the time, too. Now I’m middle aged and angry sometimes. But somewhere along the way I decided that justice tempered with peace was a lot more important to me that being completely, absolutely right all the time. (I’ve been down that road. I know people with permanent addresses on that road.)”
And like many others, my coping mechanism since Racefail is to not engage, because if I do I will go crazy, it will consume all my emotional energy and break me. It’s not a choice, it’s not that I think you shouldn’t feed trolls – it’s just that I learned in a lifetime of depression that to survive I have to retreat. And it angers me more than I can say that it makes me less of a human being. I still speak up when my friends are attacked, and I am mindful (for having been on the other side) how painful and destructive the silence of the bystanders can be when you are being attacked.
What saved me from being an Evil Ally back in the day was that one person I hurt – Patrick Nielsen Hayden – reached out to me, in some pain more than anger. And overnight it’s like the scales fell from my eyes. There were a lot of people during Racefail that taught me a lot, and a lot of people who just plain gloated in scoring points. I have very little liking for them and I find it hard to forgive them even now, and they make taking a stand for fairness and justice and diversity and tolerance a lot harder.Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said,
I also remember coming belatedly to the trainwreck that was RaceFail and noting a toxic tendency of people on one side of that war to hound dissenters through multiple communities and back to their personal blogs, spewing abuse the whole way, which tendency is noted in the case of RH’s followers as well. It’s been some years and I haven’t gone out of my way to refresh my memory, but it seems to me there’s some overlap in the LJ and twitter handles involved in both cases.
So when Emma called me on what I have become, she was addressing things I’d been thinking about. As you might expect, we had a teary conversation, and though she did not ask me to, I promised I would write one last post about fandom’s social justice warriors, the post you’re reading now, and be done with them. From now on, if I must address them, it’ll be in art. Whether I’ll get therapy, I have yet to decide—I’ve been dancing a lot, and that’s all the therapy I want.
Pertinent to the current discussion:
Is There a Statute of Limitations for Being an Ass on the Internet?
About the psychological effects of mobbing:
Mobbing drives people a little—or a lot—mad
How to survive a mobbing (that mostly happens online)