We began a discussion last week on another thread. I called time on it with the promise that I’d pull it to the front page. So here we go.
The questions before the assembled multitudes: What, if any, is the distinction between a bully and a person who bullies? Can a [bully/person who uses bullying tactics] ever say anything of use to the conversation? Can such a person be redeemed, or should they be written off and excluded from further conversations?
This is the classic Heisenbergian tension between knowledge of the moment and knowledge of the trend. On the one hand, it is entirely possible, according Bruce Baugh’s theory of the phenomenological internet, to define one’s self as a troll within the space of a single blog comment. And all it takes is one really bad comment to sour the conversation and hurt one’s interlocutors. On the other hand, people are more complex than that. The same person can start a really good conversation and degenerate into spittle-flecked ranting later on. Even within the space of a comment thread, they may go back and forth several times. (Perhaps there’s some Schrödinger in my pseudo-scientific analogy. Can someone be both troll and not-troll until they hit the submit button?)
I’m playing about, but there are two serious matters here, one abstract and one practical.
In the abstract, I find myself growing increasingly allergic to the tendency to blur the lines between what people do and what they are. Because these labels don’t just sit there in the air. The next step after labeling is writing off. Fandom, like any group of people, is full of little lists of people whom all right-thinking people must disapprove of, exclude from con panels, and excoriate at every opportunity. And it can be like the TSA’s No-Fly List: no appeal, no removal. But that process ignores the complex reality that people learn and change; that people are misinterpreted and multifaceted, and that even generally bad people can do good things. I think this kind of labeling is damaging, and I will not participate.
But there’s no denying that there’s a serious practical matter here. How much can we tolerate people who use bullying tactics (or are bullies)? How much should we give them the space to come back and behave well, and promise ourselves that if they cross the line we’ll deal with them then? Every time we do that, we risk excluding the more fragile members of our community and our conversation. And that is expressly against the charism of this site.
I have my own opinions: I try to keep a wide door but good bouncers. The wide door is because I’ve been shunned in the past for excessive mouth-footery; thus will I not shun others. I’ve screwed up in my life and learned to do better; thus will I give others the chance to redeem themselves.
And the good bouncers are a fact of this community, to whom we owe the greater part of the pleasure of this site.