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April 16, 2010

Patrick Roscoe, famous bad example
Posted by Teresa at 08:22 AM *

Agent Colleen Lindsay, in her blog The Swivet, has written up an outstanding example of things authors ought not do when they get rejected. I’m not going to quote it. It’s short. Just go read it. (Thanks to Jim Macdonald for the link.)

For additional fun, check out Patrick Roscoe’s website. Depending on your office’s mores, the main page may be NSFW.

Addendum: Jim points out that we’re not sure the Patrick Roscoe who’s corresponding with Colleen Lindsay is the same one who has the website and the Wikipedia entry. I hold that the front page of PR’s site is funny whether they are or not.

Further addenda: Colleen Lindsay confirms that they’re the same guy.

Beth sagaciously observes that every one of his novels has come out from a different publisher, and that in spite of his extensive career he’s blind-querying agents.

Heresiarch cuts loose in mysterious yet satisfying ways.

Comments on Patrick Roscoe, famous bad example:
#1 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:43 AM:

Oh. My.

The sheer gall of some wannabe writers makes me shake my head (that is, after it's been whacked on the desk a few times).

#2 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:06 AM:

I got a bad vibe from looking at his web site; that editor might end up needing a restraining order.

#3 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:07 AM:

Or rather, agent. Durned post button....

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:07 AM:

Joyce, he's not a wanna-be. He's got a significant career, with awards and everything.

It's remarkable.

#5 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:10 AM:

I predict that when he does a Google Search on his name in the next week he will find many, many hits! Whether he's happy with what comes up as the top result--well, that's why you should think before you send a response.

#6 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:13 AM:

Have we considered that these might be two different people with the same name?

Been known to happen.

(There's at least one other James D. Macdonald out there who's also a published author...but who isn't me.)

#7 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:18 AM:

But that trick always works!

#8 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:23 AM:

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the one on Mr Roscoe's website's front page speaks only two: complete tool. If you want to be taken seriously as a literary force, ladies and gentlemen, I strongly recommend posting on the Internet a picture of yourself, nude, with your face indicating that you are currently enjoying the world's smuggest orgasm.

Actually, that picture well suits the Standard Caption.

#9 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:25 AM:

Note to self: Add Patrick Roscoe to the "life is too short to read any of this person's work" list.

#10 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:33 AM:

Having a hard time getting it through my head that that's for reals! definite lulz.

#11 ::: j ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:45 AM:

He must be a Writer of Quality if he can get away with a comma splice in the very first sentence of his writing sample, a typo on the first line, and a sentence fragment (that doesn't look to be there for any artistic purpose) in the first paragraph. Right?

Because if Writers of Quality get away with that sort of thing, and if Mr. Roscoe gets away with it, he must be a Writer of Quality, is it not so?

#12 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:47 AM:

I've never seen a consequent I couldn't affirm.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:10 AM:

Well, that may not be a picture of him. If he doesn't write all-male erotica, though, it probably is.

#14 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:11 AM:

It's the same guy. The initial query he sent me listed all the same books and that website. I later heard from several Canadian writers who know him that he apparently goes through his professional connections fairly quickly. Gee, what a surprise. =)

Even funnier: the next day I received an angry note in response to the exact same form rejection from yet another writer. It read (and I quote):

"Wow . . . I submitted exactly what you stated you were looking for. Please use more care in evaluating future queries . . . (I've been writing for close to 15 years, know the ins and outs of the industry . . . thanks for pointing that out . . .) (Damn . . . didn't even give my story a chance . . . another hack agent . . .)"

This guy only signed his name as JM.

Yeah, I get something like this pretty much once a day. *sigh*

#15 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:38 AM:

You can deduce a lot about his career by noting that each book is from a different publisher, that he does not specify which prizes his "prize-winning" short stories won, and from the fact that he is blind-querying agents.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:44 AM:

So, beth, he's an impossibly difficult person who no one likes or wants to deal with more than once. That would be consistent with the textual evidence.

#17 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:53 AM:

beth: he does specify the prizes here.

#18 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:15 AM:

I'm amused by the Wsbsite design credit:


© 2007 pariah publishing

Yeah, he sounds like a real pain in the butt ....

#19 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:17 AM:

SeanH @17 -- thanks. I sit corrected.

#20 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:19 AM:

All proving (as if proof were necessary) that you can be a prize-winning writer and--at least on the evidence of his webpage--part time porn model, and still be a self-regarding asshole.

Yikes.

#21 ::: L. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Wow. You know, I spend an hour on average over each one of my queries: researching the agent's preferences, procuring the proper envelopes, and flossing the query language to fit the requirements of each agent while trying to be civil, polite, informative, professional. And I give myself precisely one ulcer over each one of them, worried if I have done enough.

That anyone who purports to be more professional than me--a member of the unwashed unpublished--could behave like such a douchebag to a business contact boggles my mind.

No wonder he's looking for a new agent. By his language, I'm startled he even considered a /babe/ for the position at all. Urgh.

But thank you for pointing out Colleen Lindsay. I'll be giving myself another ulcer on her behalf shortly. And should I get her very nice form rejection, I promise I will not be a dick about it.

#22 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:39 AM:

Someone has to challenge the stereotype of the chaste author.

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:40 AM:

Someone has to challenge the stereotype of the chaste author.

Oh, I'll do that!

Oh wait.

#24 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:46 AM:

Wow. That website is, uhm, unique. I was surprised that this guy seems to be an established writer though I also noted the fact he seems to jump publishers per book.

That website makes me think the guy sees himself as some kind of Casanova or guru of Teh Loves(tm).

#25 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:51 AM:

You know, I've never written an agent query, having had the same agent since 1982 and having been approached by him rather than the reverse, but L. Baird, do you really do that?

I can't imagine spending more than ten minutes at it; you follow the guidelines as stated and query about something appropriate and worth selling.

I hope I'm not sounding like a jerk here; I'm just amazed at how many writers over-think this stuff.

Admittedly, Mr. Roscoe has clearly under-thought it.

I glanced at his list of awards and quickly concluded, on the basis of the titles alone, that I am not interested in ever reading any of his work. Interesting how one can do that with such confidence.

#26 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:56 AM:

Wow. Roscoe certainly has some big, er, entitlement issues going on there...

#27 ::: L. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:05 PM:

@Lawrence #25

re: jerkishness = Not at all. It's a fair question.

I suppose I've never really timed myself, but for every potential agent, I check their websites to see what they do and what they like, research them to see what experiences other writers have had with them, and then add their contact details to my spreadsheet. Afterwards, I compile a query letter and materials based on several forms of basic query language I have, then I tailor it a little for each agent. By the time I actually prepare the query, that part might be ten minutes; it's the research that's time consuming. But I'd rather take the time over it than omit something obvious and come off as a moron. Agent querying is grueling and disheartening business, and second-guessing comes easy on the wings of even the kindest rejection. I couldn't go away from it with a clear conscience unless I knew I'd presented myself and my work in the very best way possible.

#28 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:15 PM:

Lawrence sez: I glanced at his list of awards and quickly concluded, on the basis of the titles alone, that I am not interested in ever reading any of his work. Interesting how one can do that with such confidence.

"Never Tears for California"[1], "Scent of Young Girls Dying" and "The Truth About Love" are particular turnoffs for me.

[1]Because I can't figure out how it would go into a sentence. There are never tears for California? David never tears for California?

#29 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:25 PM:

Joe runs for Oregon, dashes for Nevada, and sprints for Arizona, but he never tears for California.

#30 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Paper never tears for California, California must use scissors.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:38 PM:

...until the rocks come. Then California's in trouble.

#32 ::: L. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:41 PM:

...Unless California is playing by Lizard-Spock rules.

#33 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:49 PM:

Bruce at 5: That's also why you should read submission guidelines BEFORE you send a letter to an agent.

Something about a guy in a narcissistic-looking pose (like that on his front page) puts me right off.

#34 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 12:59 PM:

My father used to say, when disclaiming a strong or particular interest in the outcome of a sporting contest, or a political debate "I was never one to tear my shirt for __".

So, what would one tear for Cailfornia, or would it depend on where you are--beach wear, hiking gear, radiation for Lawrence-Livermore Labs, pocket protectors for Silicon Valley, pants and a suitable sweater for San Francisco, rated fire safety suits and breathing aparatus as needed during fire season, flag lapel pins for Orange County...

Thise titles sound like really bad attempts at a Raymond Chadler/Mickey Spillane mashup. With added elements, and I think you know what I mean.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Wow, that's... really special.

L. Baird, #21: By his language, I'm startled he even considered a /babe/ for the position at all.

That was my first thought as well -- this guy doesn't like women*, what's he doing querying a female agent? Then it occurred to me that if that really is his picture on the website, he's probably used to having shallow women throw themselves at him on a regular basis, and has trained himself to expect that response from women, and hence to view any form of rejection as proof of a flaw in the woman -- certainly not because of anything he might have said or done.

* He would probably say, of course he likes women! No. If he's not gay, what he likes is to fuck women, which is not the same thing. It was someone here who came up with that useful distinction, and I am grateful to them for it at least once a week.

#36 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 01:21 PM:

It was a nice day in LA, because it is always a nice day in LA. It's in the contract. BUT THEN! Godzilla emerged from the ocean. "This is for Matthew Broderick," she said, and began. There was screaming and running, and screaming and running, and it was all poorly dubbed in Japanese. People said, "Who will save us?" Well what they said was: "Dare wa watashitachi wo sukuu nodarou ka?" but if you lipread it was clear they were actually saying "Who will save us?"

"I will." A man stepped from the shadows. It was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard Nimoy was not dubbed in Japanese.

"Ha! How will you stop me, Nimoy?" sneered Godzilla. "You don't even have your pointy ears!"

"Silly Godzilla," Nimoy replied. "The magic was never in the ears. It was in me all along." Nimoy grew two hundred feet tall and leapt behind Godzilla.

"Argh! Vulcan nerve pinch! My only weakness!" screamed Godzilla and fell, crushing Tom Cruise.

The crowd cheered two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy. "Thank you two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy!" they shouted. "You saved us!"

"Not so fast," said two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy. "You people canceled Firefly. I loved that show." Nimoy began to destroy LA. In the distance, Joss Whedon chuckled maniacally. "Yes," he crooned. "Give in to your anger. I am your master now!"

#37 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 01:36 PM:

I once replied to a CraigsList ad looking for a bass player. After hearing the guy's music, I politely declined to audition. His response was "Why? Because you've never heard anything like this before?" I told him that, rather, it was cliched and inept, after which he sent me an e-mail full of random abuse, a link to a video of him playing (ineptly) with Metallica at an afterhours party, and his opinion that I was missing the chance of a lifetime.

A few months later he tried to friend me on Facebook.

#38 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 01:40 PM:

Upon reconsideration of That Picture, I find myself wondering if Roscoe might be subject to "'roid rage"?

#39 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:07 PM:

All bow before Heresiarch.

#40 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:18 PM:

Ignoring Mr. Roscoe (just like the rest of the world), I wanted to respond to Lawrence @25: I probably spent more than an hour on each agent I queried. Aside from looking at the guidelines on their websites, I looked over word of mouth on numerous websites, Googled to find their authors, and Googled "[Agent Name]" interview to see if they talked about their likes and dislikes.

It wasn't just a matter of making sure my query was just right (it wasn't and it worked anyway, but never mind that); it was also a matter of striking agent names from the list if they would be a bad fit for me.

#41 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:36 PM:

#6 ::: Jim Macdonald scribbled: "Have we considered that these might be two different people with the same name?"

"Been known to happen."

Really? (That's a joke for some of you ...)

#42 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:50 PM:

I remember the school project where we made relief maps of different states out of paper mache. Don't tell Mrs. Hamilton her class never tears for California...

#43 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Wow. I wrote a series of unreasonable responses to an agent as a joke and mine were polite and friendly compared to this. And I was trying my hardest to be rude.

Unbelievable.

#44 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 02:55 PM:

Bruce @5, Google indexes things much more quickly than that, nowadays. This post is already the fourth hit for Patrick Roscoe on Google.

#45 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 03:14 PM:

Avram @44, it follows that given the sort of person he appears to be he should be appearing on the thread any minute now. (Only to stage a flounce at least three but not less than fifteen posts later.)

#46 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 03:24 PM:

Avram #44: Right underneath a link to his bio, which is pretty precious in its own right....

#47 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 03:33 PM:

JBWoodford@45: But will his initial appearance be as himself, or as a sock puppet? We've had some excellent pinatas make their debut inside a sock, after all.

#48 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Isn't there enough sorrow in the world?

#49 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:14 PM:

The whole website reads to me as a parody of every single cliche of the sensitive, artistic, lonely male writer hitting midlife with a reverberating bang. I mean, isn't it just a little too perfect? Website as thinly-disguised dating service profile, complete with playlist/mix tape? Check. Too-adorable childhood pictures? Check. Nomadic bio with hints of a dark crisis in the not-too-distant past? Check. Almost too twee, extremely writerly titles? Check. I don't read, I perform? Check. Dreamy pull-quotes in lower-case in a grunge-typewriter font? Check. Retro typewriter background with dramatic black-white-red color scheme? Check. It's a thing of beauty, the distillation of its type. (Speaking of distillation, the only thing missing is the Catalog of Vices he may be saved from by the right partner. And now _I_ need a drink.)

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:16 PM:

I expect that Mr. Roscoe's absence is more entertaining than his presence.

I've been looking around outside. Some commenters are saying it was a tad provocative for Colleen to incite her readers write haiku about him; but if there's an issue where Making Light doesn't have a square centimeter of ground to stand on, that's it. As I said at one site, "I generally favor poetry in discussion threads. It keeps the tone from getting sour and miserable, and helps prevent pile-ons."

#51 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:20 PM:

Sadly, I also fall in the category of writers who overthink submissions. Though more so are follow-up queries, where I agonize for weeks (months? years?) and then decide I didn't hear back because I suck horribly, and then I just go hide in a corner instead. But I do try to do it all politely, or at least unobtrusively.

As to Mr. Roscoe's photo, am I the only one who considered the immediate satisfactions available via Photoshop and farm-animal clip-art?

#52 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Suzanne #51, there's a secnd photo under "contact" that's almost as good...

#53 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:37 PM:

Oh, and yes, all hail heresiarch!

#54 ::: Kieran ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 04:52 PM:

I say I'm lookin’ for someone
To represent me all night long
To negotiate royalties for me
And nudge my drafts along
Someone to tell me I'm a genius, yeah, and more
But it ain’t you, babe
You've missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, babe
It ain’t me you’re bookin’ for, babe.

#55 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Don't tear for me, California!

#56 ::: Catherine Crockett ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:08 PM:

While some of Roscoe's earlier books were published by houses I'd actually heard of, I had to look up The Hayworth Press. They apparently are part of an outfit called Taylor and Francis Group. They seem to only publish incredibly obscure academic journals. Are they an academic vanity press? I suspect so, but I'm having trouble telling for sure.

His single book publication since 2001 is with Hayworth. The 2001 book was with Key Porter who are very reputable. Before that, we have to go back to 1995. I wonder if this is why he didn't go with the usual 'most recent on top' layout and instead listed oldest first? He _did_ used to get published much more often.

#57 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:19 PM:

Catherine Crockett at 56: I don't think Taylor and Francis is an academic vanity press, as far as I'm aware. As I understand it, they're part of Routledge, and not at all obscure in my field (I can't judge the quality of the other academic work they publish, of course).

However, no question that it's a shame that they also publish an author whose books I want to read less and less the more I learn about him. Though I did have a good laugh when I saw that photo on his website.

#58 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Crap. I hope he doesn't try to friend me on Facebook...

#59 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:45 PM:

Catherine @ 56, I'VE published with Haworth, actually. Unless his book is a single issue of one of their journals simultaneously published as a book (which is what they do), I call shenanigans. (Mine was a dry, skinny tome on copyright in interlibrary loan and electronic reserves. Still hasn't sold enough to get me any royalties, but it got good reviews. I've also had chapters in other simultaneous journal/book publications of theirs.) Whatever it is, though he says forthcoming in 2008, it's not listed on Haworth's website or in WorldCat as far as I can see.

#60 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Catherine Crockett @56: Interestingly enough, Amazon's database claims it was published by "Harrington Park Press", and a bit of google-searching on that name explains the mystery. Harrington Park Press was "a small LGBT book-publishing imprint" of Hayworth, and apparently the 2/3rds of its titles that were fiction got orphaned in a sale of Hayworth to Taylor & Francis: http://community.livejournal.com/hpporphans/.

In any case, given that the sale to Taylor & Francis reportedly happened in 2006-7 and people were talking about rights reversions in March 2008, and the Amazon publication date for this book is June 2008, I would assume it never actually made print. And, more importantly, is never going to make print from Hayworth, and the fact that it hasn't been going to has been clear for over two years. Yet it remains, supposedly forthcoming, on Mr. Roscoe's website.

Yes -- among all the other sins enumerated above, his website is also two years out of date.

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:54 PM:

Catherine Crockett #56: Having had work published in a journal, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, which is part of the Taylor and Francis stable, I'd like you to explain what you mean by "academic vanity press". It may be "incredibly obscure" to you, but it isn't to people working on the politics of former British colonies.

#62 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 05:56 PM:

Janet @52: OMG that photo just cries out for a sheep.

#63 ::: Catherine Crockett ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 06:06 PM:

tariqata, Janet, Brooks, Fragano: Thanks for filling me in about Hayworth, et al.

Fragano: I've spent a lot of time in specialist libraries photocopying abstracts from a number of fields. [I temped at the University of Toronto for years, as well as typesetting math papers for a couple of years.] It seemed odd enough to be worth asking about when none of their titles rang a bell. I now know they're for real, and I did not mean to cast aspersions on anyone's publications. [Except perhaps Roscoe's.]

#64 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 06:29 PM:

Taylor and Francis also publishes "The Journal of Modern Optics," and I can confirm the editors there are quite stuffily conventional. :-)

#65 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 06:49 PM:

Catherine Crockett #56, Fragano #61:

Commonwealth and Comparative Politics is definitely Taylor & Francis, but was it one of the ones they acquired from Haworth Press? I couldn't find any record of that.

In any case, I don't think "academic vanity press" is a straightforward concept. Vanity presses in, say, the SF world can be distinguished easily from real publishers because they don't do any screening of material and don't do any editing, and expect the authors to pay (Yog's Law). In academic publishing it isn't employees of the publisher who make the acceptance decisions, the publisher supplies very little editing, and university libraries are the main source of income.

A publisher might be willing to start up lots of journals with little regard to quality, expecting to make money from library sales. The founding editors of these journals might be hoping to establish important new sub-fields. The authors are trying to get their papers published.

Some of these journals end up as important resources for some subspecialty area of research. Others end up publishing crap that was rejected from half-a-dozen other second-rate journals. And there's a wide range in between. Which outcome you get doesn't depend much on the publisher, and to the extent that it is up to the publisher it's more a question of marketing ability than of moral fiber.

After all, Elsevier publishes both The Lancet and The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine.

#66 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 07:04 PM:

#36 ::: heresiarch

Hooray! Another addition to the fine sub-genre of celebrity-giant-fan-fiction!

#67 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 07:06 PM:

Thomas #65, Catherine Crockett #63: A few publishing houses (Taylor and Francis, Cambridge, Lexington) publish the bulk of academic journals under a variety of imprints. I keep selling my soul (er, copyright) to them.

#68 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 07:11 PM:

Colleen @58 I cannot be the only person who ignores friend requests from people I don't actually know.

#69 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 07:27 PM:

Catherine Crockett@56:

Taylor and Francis is a fairly well respected academic publisher. They acquired Haworth Press in 2007. Haworth publishes a wide range of academic journals, mostly "Journal of X" titles where X= some medical or academic profession. I didn't know they published fiction, though according to Mr. Roscoe's site, "The History of a Hopeful Heart," was supposed to have been published by the Haworth Press in 2008, though still says forthcoming on this fine April afternoon in 2010. So perhaps they don't publish fiction after all? Perhaps he writes for The Journal of Cardiology and this is his collection of inspiration stories for cardiologists that run on the back inside cover? alas, the world may never know.

#70 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 07:37 PM:

@68

No, you aren't.

(Incidentally, if anyone I would recognize by a name other than the one they use on facebook -has- found me under the name I use on facebook and tried to friend me and gotten ignored, would they please tell me who they really are?)

#71 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:18 PM:

Colleen, #58: And Now You Want To Be My Friend on Facebook (seriously NSFW)

beth, #68: No -- which is why, if I'm not sure the person I'm sending the request to will remember me, I add a note providing context. It seems only polite.

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:24 PM:

I've successfully failed to update my friend list on Facebook for over a year now. I'll get to it rsn. It's just that given a choice between (say) writing a post for Making Light, and sorting out a bunch of familiar, half-familiar, and unfamiliar names for Facebook, writing the post will always seem like the better idea.

#73 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:33 PM:

By the way, I re-added TNH's addition of this to his Wikipedia article. Seems that they now have a bot that removes external links added by anonymous users.

#74 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Heresiarch! Yay! Anime pom-pom salute!


L. Baird, Lee - Yeah, the sexist language was the thing that jumped out at me the most. "Silly woman." "You lose, babe." The condescension such a man exhibits to women who don't give him the adoration he's convinced they owe him for his gracing them with the radiance of his very presence. Ick.

I am reminded of TNH's anecdote, in Slushkiller, about louts who are interested in only one thing, and cease to treat their dates as worthwhile human beings after it becomes clear they won't be getting that one thing. She was comparing them to a particular tone of author aggression upon being rejected; I submit that Patrick Roscoe represents the unhealthy intersection of author and lout.


Thena, Colleen, Beth - at least with Facebook, the would-be friend does not get an alert that you've Ignored them. I can only imagine* the vicious response you'd get from them upon receiving notice that you've rejected their magnanimous offer of friendship with their august selves.

*This is because I long ago deleted my ex-boyfriend's email sent on the occasion of my turning down his offer to "still be friends." Not having it available for reference, I can only imagine.

#75 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 08:42 PM:

Suzanne @ #62:

Why, oh why is it always a sheep? Why can't it be a giant cephalopod?

#76 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:52 PM:

mcz@75, I couldn't help but be reminded of the title of a certain James Bond movie ...

#77 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 09:55 PM:

Teresa @ 4

Finally back from work, and read your comments plus all the others.

The guy's published?! And he does this?

Sigh. Clearly I am missing out by overthinking my submissions strategies. Not that I intend to change that any time soon. I'd much rather overthink than do something utterly stupid.

#78 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:15 PM:

Oh hey! I got front-paged! In the traditional words of my people: *squee*

These things bubble up into my forebrain from time to time, and mostly I just snicker to myself in a quiet, mad way. Here on ML though I thought Godzilla v. Spock might be find a receptive audience. Yay for the Fluorosphere!

#79 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:28 PM:

heresiarch is a mad and wonderful thinker. I am in awe.

#80 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 10:56 PM:

Xopher:

Someone has to challenge the stereotype of the chaste author.
Oh, I'll do that!
Oh wait.

With Roscoe? Have you seen your ophthalmologist lately?

Janice in GA:

That's also why you should read submission guidelines BEFORE you send a letter to an agent.

Agreed. Reading examples of previously published material from the same publisher is good too. I remember a ghastly little comment by Stephen King about having been shown (as I remember it) a tender teenage-girl-coming-of-age story that had been sent to the slushpile for Playboy and a slam-bang story about giant rabid vampire bats that ended up in the slushpile for Redbook.

Avram:

Google indexes things much more quickly than that, nowadays. This post is already the fourth hit for Patrick Roscoe on Google.

I was assuming a week not because I thought it would take Google that long to index it, but because I assumed he'd only be able to skip ego-surfing for a week.

Suzanne:

As to Mr. Roscoe's photo, am I the only one who considered the immediate satisfactions available via Photoshop and farm-animal clip-art?

You may have won an Internet. With or without tubes.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little:

Yeah, the sexist language was the thing that jumped out at me the most. "Silly woman." "You lose, babe."

The only person that should be allowed to use the term "babe" is Harry Shearer, mainly because he tends to use it for emphasis when he finds anyone trying to ennoble the War of Northern Agression: I think "You lost, babe!" in this context is acceptable, but Mr. Roscoe's "You lose, babe" fails on more levels than I care to think about.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:03 PM:

heresiarch, I bow before thee.

#82 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:08 PM:

You know, if somebody were to pass that photo on to Fark or Something Awful, I'm sure a lot of interesting variations would ensue. I'm just sayin'...

#83 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:35 PM:


You're accepted Patrick Roscoe
Author House is pleased to say,
Here's our contract you we'll publish
And we'll make you pay, pay, pay!

But wait listen, there's a question
Here another offer comes.
PublishAmerica wants your novel,
Just press here with both your thumbs!

Hold! there's yet another party
Amazon has POD,
They'll distribute what you've written
And they'll ship it COD.

You say you can't find an agent
What dumb [bleeps] these losers are,
Seems to me that you're the problem
You're the loser 'neath the bar!

========================================

I think I accidentally ignored at least one person I was considering friending....

I do friend people whose names don't necessarily look familiar to me, if the person's friend list overlaps mine with a consistent subset of people. My people memory may be near-legendarily bad....


#84 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2010, 11:50 PM:

I tend to ignore FB friend requests from people I haven't met live; I'd likely make exceptions for recognizable Fluorosphere members, though.

#85 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 01:44 AM:

Avram @ 45 -- it's up to number 3, now.

More telling is that "patrick roscoe" shows up as one of the first two or three suggestions on typing in "patrick ro" into the google search bar. That's probably not happened before. He is probably fairly good at SEO writing, which helps him show up as the first hit.

#86 ::: Michael_B ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 02:27 AM:

@#75 ::: mcz :::
Why, oh why is it always a sheep? Why can't it be a giant cephalopod?

Because cephalopods are smarter than sheep, and that wouldn't be a nice thing to do to something smart, now would it?

#87 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 03:21 AM:

I see our threads are crossing.

#88 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 04:06 AM:

Michael_B #86: Because cephalopods are smarter than sheep, and that wouldn't be a nice thing to do to something smart, now would it?

"ecto gammat"

#89 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:27 AM:

A villanelle about tentacle porn and giant cephalopods is a lovely thing.

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:36 AM:

TNH @89:

Keep reading down...there's more poetry. Hoping we can get a slam going.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:15 AM:

Bruce 80: With Roscoe? Have you seen your ophthalmologist lately?

Oh, GODS no! Many averting signs. I was just thinking I'd like to be a notoriously unchaste author. Then I realized that I'd need to become an author first.

#92 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 09:07 AM:

I blame the quantity of cold medicine in my system at the moment for my lack of coherent creativity; the only bit I've been able to come up with so far is the refrain:

In, out! In, out! Cuttlefish, Ho!

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 10:10 AM:

Michael B @ 86... cephalopods are smarter than sheep

A sheep with a gun can still be dangerous.

#95 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 10:41 AM:

"A sheep with a gun can still be dangerous."

But a sheep on meth can be tazed.

#96 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 11:23 AM:

In the hopes of getting Mr. R more infamy, I have linked my FaceBook page to the original posting, and thanked both PNH and Yog. More I cannot do. My "friends" are suitable amused, horrified, and edified.

March on.

Play through.

Jane

#97 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:16 PM:

I surmise that "The History of a Hopeful Heart" is a case study by his court-appointed psychologist, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Oddments.

#98 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:24 PM:

Haworth very definitely published fiction - I know this because my accounts for 2006/7 include my cheque for a story in an anthology that fell victim to the gutting of the fiction list post-takeover. :-(

#99 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:32 PM:

While admittedly the man invites ridicule, I find it disturbing, even chilling, to observe how readily intelligent, civil, decent people join in on mobbing the misfit stranger.

#100 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:33 PM:

Regarding sheep and guns, I've been trying to come up with the perfect retort to the (supposedly) Benjamin Franklin tag about "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner. Freedom is a well-armed sheep contesting the results of this decision" or similar words, vv popular with idiot libertarians.

Suggestions so far:

"Conservatism is the political philosophy that believes the ideal citizen is a sheep with a gun."

"Conservatism is the political philosophy that considers the polis/nation/state/community/people to be a flock of armed sheep."

"Teabaggers - the movement that aims to put this theory into practice."

"Republicans are the ones who think giving sheep firearms is a good idea."

"Whatever weapons you give the sheep, he still tastes great with mint sauce in the end."

"Imagine trying to get health insurance if you live across the street from sheep with guns."

"Now imagine sheep trying to run an ammunition factory."

#101 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Alex, #100: "The innocent work-horses who get caught in the crossfire are 'collateral damage'."

Also, re that first quote, it's actually Libertarianism which is two wolves and a sheep deciding on what's for dinner -- because the sheep won't have enough money to buy a gun, and is therefore fair game.

#102 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 12:51 PM:

Laramie Sasseville #99, I think there's an important distinction to be made between "misfit lacking in social graces" and "actively rude and hostile person who attacks strangers who have shown him courtesy first." The former needs to be informed of social norms and offered help in social interactions; the latter deserves mockery.

#103 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 01:02 PM:

Xopher @91 I think you have that backwards, honestly. Try becoming notoriously unchaste first. Then you can write about it.

#104 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Laramie #99, your wording implies that Mr. Roscoe is being mobbed because he is a misfit stranger, rather than because he is by all appearances an obnoxious person. While it is true that being a misfit stranger oughtn't merit attack, it does not follow that being a misfit stranger ought to exempt one from attack.

#105 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 01:14 PM:

Teresa, 89: You rang?

And feel the mighty rise and swell
Where pearl-crowned Neptune holds his sway!
Cephalopods do. Just as well

They sleep, yet Cthulic dreams are fell.
They dream they’ll rise upon the day,
Cephalopods do. Just as well

That dreaming fishers’ wives can tell
How fresh the seafood is, (I’ll say!)
And feel the mighty rise and swell,

Come over cold, and with a yell,
They wake. The squid has slipped away.
Cephalopods do. Just as well.

In deep-sea dreams, a damosel
May find a tentacle astray,
They feel the mighty rise and swell,

It probes a cleft for mackerel,
And finds a welcome. Maiden, stay,
And feel the mighty rise and swell -
Cephalopods do just as well.

#106 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Transcription error. Line 15 should read "And feel the mighty rise and swell", in exact repetition.

#107 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Sheesh y'all, you're making me blush!

***

Two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy was about to stomp flat a stretch Hummer when the whistle blew. He looked about, and saw Godzilla standing hipshot and arms crossed. "What? What!" He asked.

"I'm protesting the outcome of our previous engagement," Godzilla said. "And I brought someone to back me up."

A small figure on Godzilla's shoulder stood up. "Hi, I'm Sam Kass, inventor of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock."

"Rock-Paper-Scissors-what-now?" Two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy arched upward one elegantly trimmed, if very large eyebrow.

"It's a variation on RPS with two additional elements," Sam explained patiently. "with the addition of two symbols in order to reduce the likelihood of ties. You see--"

"Oh I see," interjected two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy. "Very logical."

"Yes, well, under the rules, Lizard beats Spock."

Two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy stared. "That's patently ridiculous. Everyone knows that--"

"If Spock beats Lizard, then the whole system collapses." Sam Kass flips out a graphic diagramming RPSLS. "See for yourself."

Two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy studied the chart, becoming visibly agitated. "That's...true..." He grated out.

"Ha! Logic! Your only weakness!" cried Godzilla. Godzilla leapt behind Nimoy. "Vulcan nerve DEVOUR!"

Godzilla surveyed LA. It was mostly destroyed, but she thought she could still get in some quality rampaging.

"Dare wa watashitachi wo sukuu nodarou ka?" cried the residents of LA. "Kuso! Nihongo o saido hanashiteiru!"

ZANNEN!

#108 ::: Nicholas Tam ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Several days ago, a friend of mine posted on her blog about her discomfort with agents shaming bad queries and naming names. Well, now I know what she was talking about.

Look, so maybe Patrick Roscoe is a dunce, and as someone with a publication history we feel a little less bad about pillorying him than if he were a desperate upstart writer. I do think we need to look at ourselves, though, and ask if instructing people in how to query agents by showing them how not to do it ever crosses a line where blogs like Colleen Lindsay's are no longer instructive, but are indulging in naming-and-shaming for pure amusement alone.

I was uncomfortable with this back in the heyday of Twittered #queryfail and I'm still uncomfortable with it now. There are a lot of self-important nuts on the Internet and it's easy to laugh at their obliviousness to their own shortcomings, but we ought to ask quite seriously if this is what we want blogging agents and editors to do.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 04:15 PM:

Nicholas Tam @108:

I think there's a reasonable point there, worth discussing. My concern would be about the collateral damage on onlookers who were concerned that their behavior might lead to similar actions.

But let me ask you a couple of framing questions. Is it possible for someone to behave so badly that they deserve to be named and shamed? Do you have a line over which public opprobrium is appropriate? If not, does that mean that the agent has to suck up whatever is dished out without the support* of the community? Are anonymous complaints effective enough, since they leave the miscreant free to go do the same thing on further unsuspecting people?

In my personal opinion, the use of the term silly woman in his signoff was over the line of acceptable bad temper and disappointment. I'd say the same if he'd said [insert stereotype] [insert religious affiliation], or [insert stereotype] [insert racial identity]. I note that he followed it up in the same tone, too.

This kind of belittling based on gender is not acceptable behavior in a business context, or in a community like publishing. It simply isn't, and if shaming him in public for doing it makes it stop, that's a strong argument in its favor. Not necessarily decisive, but strong.

-----
* The use of mockery as a means of mutual support has come up here before. It's certainly not settled protocol, and it does make me squirm. But it's a good alternative to some other coping mechanisms I can think of.

#110 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 04:56 PM:

not a villanelle, not even porn, but, squids, c of e hymnal, why not. pretend you're in trafalgar square, and sing it out.

and did that beak, in eldritch times,
crunch upon shapeless forms unclean?
and was the holy ceph'lopod
in r'lyeh's dark abysses seen?

and did that wrathful visage frown
down on its hapless mortal prey?
and was cthulhusalem builded here
where miskatonic freshmen play?

bring me my nameless ones of old!
bring me my suckers of desire!
bring me my ink! o, clouds, enfold!
bring me my tentacles of fire!

they will not cease from undead life,
nor shall their aeon's sleep be spanned,
till we have built cthulhusalem
on arkham's drowned and lifeless land.

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:10 PM:

OK, if the tentacle poems are going on over here, I'm going to quit being diffident and say go look what I wrote on the other thread.

#112 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:31 PM:

@102 and 104

My concern isn't whether the subject of mass ridicule is a mere misfit or if he is whatever gradation of jerk one might name.

My concern is how the rush to dump on any individual reflects on the community doing it. Isn't anyone else bothered by how eagerly otherwise civil people come rushing to fling stones when given any license to do so?

Let s/he who is without faux pas hurl the first mot.

#113 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:41 PM:

Laramie, he's a sexist asshole. Pointing and laughing is the appropriate response, just as it is for the other kind of flasher.

#114 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:45 PM:

Laramie Sasseville, please be clear: are you objecting to the comments folks at ML made about Mr. Roscoe's behavior at the beginning of this post, before we found other more fun things to do? Because really, I thought we were quite mild in our stone-flinging. And even had we chosen to be not so mild; it's not as if what we might say about Mr. Roscoe matters in any way to him, to his publishers, to his cat and his dog... There's nothing we could say about him that would affect any professional relationship he might have more than his own behavior could, would, and probably already has.

Or have I misunderstood you...?

#115 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:54 PM:

A friend of mine made the point that publishing a private correspondence isn't a very nice thing to do in itself, and I have to admit that she has a point. http://www.jackiebarbosa.com/2010/04/13/nowtuesday-trash-talk-when-you-cant-say-anything-nice/

#116 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 05:56 PM:

Baby shampoo manufacturers must submit test results to qualify for new standards signed by Governor Schwarzenegger to never tear for California.

#117 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:08 PM:

HelenS @ 115: Replying to a rejection with snotty, sexist tantrums isn't very nice, either. I don't see what privileges textual tantrums to the same level as, say, personal information, negotiations, or working discussions.

Perhaps if Roscoe didn't want to be known as an unprofessional, entitled jerkface, he shouldn't have sent those replies.

#118 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:16 PM:

@111--

abi, your effusion of ink on the other thread was wonderful, and part of what inspired me to do a blake/lovecraft mashup here.

the haiku that follows yours is good, too!

#119 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:20 PM:

I'd like to say, glancing skyward in a deliberately distracted way, that brief disapproving comments, particularly those linking to longer posts elsewhere and by others, are not likely to be raving successes on this thread.

It comes across as finger-wagging rather than genuine engagement, like the disapproval of someone trying to act as a moral superior rather than the disagreement of a peer. It will probably also remind several people at whom it is directed of the dynamics of other, deeply unfortunate incidents elsewhere on the web. None of this is condusive to persuasion.

A more effective technique would probably be to make your own points here on this thread, as Laramie Sasseville has. Then stay around and engage in the discussion that follows. I cannot say that this guarantees victory, but it does avoid the near-certainty of failure and irritable response of a more lecturing approach.

This is not a moral statement. It's not about the rightness or wrongness of anything that's been said anywhere, here or elsewhere. This is simply an observation of community dynamics and the effectiveness of various techniques of working within that ecosystem.

And all are, of course, enjoined to remember the value of civility in discussion.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:28 PM:

kid bitzer @118:

And a very good mashup it is, too. Sings itself right into the brain, which is the first step to madness, nameless deeds, and leaving the last sentence of one's rather convoluted prose unfinished...

#121 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:29 PM:

abi @119: (having just reviewed what's come in since I started crafting this in preview mode)

You're kidding, right? Okay, now onto my response to @109. Apologies to the rest between.

abi @109:

My hope would be that the punishment fit the crime, and this one didn't, IMO. What is missing from the original post is that the agent in question didn't just post his letter and full name on her well-read blog, she then broadcasted it several times to her 18k+ Twitter followers, incited them (yes, "incited" is the precise word I'm looking for) to check him out, and then over the course of two days, hosted a festival of mockery and haiku writing in his honor. As you've seen here, she's confirmed his website. She did this elsewhere as well.

My biggest problems are these:

1) We have only the agent to trust that the language in his letter had not been fiddled with before she threw it up. This is the least of my concerns, but it can't be ignored.

2) This is dangerous. The agent in question has immense pull on-line, which she's very much aware of. Just google "queryfail" and you'll see. As I said, she's confirmed here and elsewhere the writer's personal website, and also the books he's published. Unless she can personally vouch for the stability of each and every one of her 18k+ Twitter followers--not to mention her legion of blog readers--this is just reckless. I, myself, have about 50 Twitter followers. I probably know 20 of them. The other 30-ish? Who knows? I cannot promise they're all stable. Hell, they follow me. Probably, they're not.

3) She's made me feel squicky and worse. The guy's a complete ass (assuming concern #1 is off the table), with some serious issues in regard to his respect for women. And as I mentioned just yesterday to someone in another forum, feeling compelled to defend him makes me sick. Squicky doesn't go far enough. It's nauseating. And yet, the writer was less wrong than the agent. Please believe me, I resent the hell out of her for that.

I take my safety as a woman very seriously, and I know what I'm talking about there. I don't need any hand holding or gentle lectures about what a threat to a woman is. I also take my safety as a human being seriously, and with the evidence that's been freely offered by all parties, my take is that the writer behaved like a self-important, misogynist, commonly-gets-a-knee-to-the-nads type asshat fuck-all, whom I wouldn't cross a bar to spill my drink on. And that the agent behaved abusively.

I would have SO joined into mocking that letter if she'd taken any measures to protect his identity, rather than project it. She didn't.
As a woman and a human being, this agent has me far more pissed off than the writer.

#122 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:43 PM:

There's no point keeping score, onion never tears for California.

#123 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 06:47 PM:

Mags #121: whom I wouldn't cross a bar to spill my drink on

Now that's a memorable quote.

#124 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:13 PM:

abi@119: for my part I had felt myself to be along for the ride here (and did post earlier, though only a throwaway comment on a joke), and then saw my friend's post, which gave me to think a bit. I have not come to any conclusions yet, and was concerned largely with whether *I* had done the right thing. I was hoping discussion here might help clear matters up for me one way or t'other.

But I realize reading your post that the above scenario wasn't nearly as obvious from context as it seemed to be in my head, so I apologize for looking like a drive-by, and I appreciate your help in keeping the conversation on a reasonable track.

#125 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:17 PM:

Nicholas Tam @ 108: "I do think we need to look at ourselves, though, and ask if instructing people in how to query agents by showing them how not to do it ever crosses a line where blogs like Colleen Lindsay's are no longer instructive, but are indulging in naming-and-shaming for pure amusement alone."

You're assuming we haven't already asked ourselves those questions, and come up with "Yes it can, but it hasn't here." I think that is incorrect--how to build good communities in general, and how to use mockery in particular, are subjects we regularly chew over on ML. Here is something I wrote on this very topic not so long ago, and there's much more on that thread. If you want to make the argument that in this particular case we've come to the wrong conclusion, then please do--but don't assume we haven't even began to think about this issue.

It's very easy to go from "Mockery is a dangerous feedback loop that can lead to serious and undeserved abuse" to "Mockery is a dangerous feedback loop that always leads to serious and undeserved abuse." I agree wholeheartedly with the former, but not the latter. Mockery serves an important social function: it announces that this behavior is beyond the pale, and no one who engages in it will be given the courtesy of engagement. Sometimes that's noise on the line, preventing signal from getting through, and sometimes mockery is the signal.

Mags @ 121: "My hope would be that the punishment fit the crime, and this one didn't, IMO."

I think you make a very good point. On the other hand, that's on Colleen Lindsay, not us.

"Unless she can personally vouch for the stability of each and every one of her 18k+ Twitter followers--not to mention her legion of blog readers--this is just reckless."

"Reckless" strikes me as pushing it a bit. Did she encourage people to attack him? Did she threaten him? Minus that kind of incitement, I don't think you can hold Lindsay, or any influential person, responsible for what their crazy fans do.

"I would have SO joined into mocking that letter if she'd taken any measures to protect his identity, rather than project it."

I don't think protecting his identity or not is the nub of the issue. I don't want people using abusive, bigotry-laced language under any circumstances, even in private correspondence. I feel the world is a better place both for knowing how Roscoe in particular treats women he doesn't like and also for the clear signal that One Does Not Behave in This Way.

#126 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:17 PM:

My understanding is that while all bullies baffle someone, not everyone baffled is a victim of bullying. I say this to frame in context my admission that I've been in disagreements online where the antagonized party behaved like they were making a point by linking to a site of mine. I moved into the destination a page of artwork I felt comfortable anyone landing on, and the other guy's point went nowhere.

I don't doubt Patrick Roscoe earned his acclaim, and I think this situation is his opportunity to post something engaging. If he can generate interest in what he has to say, we'll all see -- and wonder if we should be joining -- a trend to self-promote with sexy, monochromatic pictures of ourselves.

#127 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:18 PM:

@121 Mags, thank you. I commented above because the response seems so disproportionate to the crime.

I don't want to defend a guy who was so obviously out of line, but neither do I want to see a community of intelligent people 'punish' ordinary jerks by holding them up for abuse by hundreds, or possibly thousands, of others.

#128 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:32 PM:

Laramie: My concern isn't whether the subject of mass ridicule is a mere misfit or if he is whatever gradation of jerk one might name.

My concern is how the rush to dump on any individual reflects on the community doing it.

I am not convinced from this thread that the ML community has exhibited a "rush to dump on any individual." What I see is the ML community gleefully dumping on a sexist jerk. And I've seen in past threads that the ML community sets the bar for "not just a misfit, but jerk deserving of the consequences" fairly high.

Speaking only for myself: Should a community I identify with exhibit a "rush to dump on" sexist jerks, I am well pleased.

As for the urge to take the high road and make this a "teaching moment"--well, if someone has come so far as Patrick Roscoe and has yet failed to learn not to wave his misogynist entitlement stick in professional circumstances, I'll decline to be the one to teach him. I'm guessing he does it not for lack of having encountered the lesson, but out of a hardened contempt for women who don't properly adore him; in which case Colleen's response might be precisely the right form for a lesson to take. That's on the off-chance he's teachable at all--a proposition which is unlikely but, granted, unfalsifiable.

All in all, mockery is a good public response to bigots.

#129 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 07:59 PM:

Mags @121:
You're kidding, right?

I never kid on matters of moderation. It would be profoundly unfair for me to do so.

What on Earth makes you think that I was?

#131 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:14 PM:

I'm trying my hand at hate-haiku. Be gentle:

Culled by my agent
She told me, "Sign with PA"
Could that be a hint?

#132 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:17 PM:

abi @129:
I never kid on matters of moderation. It would be profoundly unfair for me to do so.

What on Earth makes you think that I was?

Nope, I believe you're correct. I've never posted in such a fast moving thread, and probably won't again often. I've just looked back up at the post I was referring to, and feel I've misread it somewhere. Your remarks seem quite reasonable to me now.

My apologies.

Mags.

#133 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:25 PM:

I'm definitely not going to lose any sleep over the existence of this thread, or my giggling at it. I also think it highly unlikely that this thread, or the agent's post and tweets, will place Patrick Roscoe in any actual danger. That said, I understand some discomfort with it. It used to be that when you behaved like an idiot, this was known to friends, or family, or neighbors, or coworkers, but rarely all of the above. It was only discoverable by everyone if you were a sufficiently public figure that journalists researched you and published articles. Most everyone has the occasional idiotic moment. Having that mistake google-able forever is frightening.

Judging by the two letters, the website, and never having the same publisher twice, Patrick Roscoe definitely goes beyond the "shouldn't make a fuss about one oopsie" rule. He's also a rather* public figure, but it's still pretty tough that the #2 hit on his name for some time is likely to be this thread. Did he earn that honor? Yes, indeedy. Due to the nature of Google's algorithms, Making Light has a lot of power to give people's mistakes a long, long shadow. With great power, comes great responsibility. Oh, dear, now I'm imagining our fine hosts having the ability to shoot webs out of their wrists and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper.

As we continue into a world where our mistakes are likely to be google-able forever, it's going to be interesting how society handles that.


*Rather public: less so than someone running for political office, more so than someone who doesn't publish at all.

#134 ::: Nicholas Tam ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:37 PM:

heresiarch @ 125: Maybe it wasn't clear from my wording, but I didn't mean to suggest that the community here was hitherto oblivious to the ethical questions of when to name and shame. Not being someone who regularly peruses all the comments on all the posts here on Making Light, I hadn't gathered that our criteria for when a necessary service to the public crosses over into bullying, or our comfort level with the same, were in any way settled. The discussion seemed absent in this thread, and this thread alone.

I think the question of whether to attach someone's identity when you call him out is a pretty darn important one, in this age when everyone Googles everybody else. The message being broadcast here isn't just "This is not how to treat an agent (or a human being)", but "Look what Patrick Roscoe did; never work with this man."

Does he deserve it? Yeah, given his flagrantly patronizing remarks, probably. (Here I agree with abi @ 109, while adding that Roscoe's status as a previously published author is a factor, and one that makes his behaviour even less excusable.) But turning it into a festival of character assassination, even in a lighthearted (and occasionally quite funny) way - look up #roscoehaiku on Twitter if you want a taste - doesn't really add anything to our efficacy in admonishing callous, unprofessional behaviour.

You rightly point out that what may be tolerated over at Colleen Lindsay's network of Twitter followers isn't what's going on here, but let's get away from the specifics and look at community mockery broadly. Is it useful to use a huge online speakerphone to say, "This person did something unacceptable - here, see for yourselves"? Sure, absolutely. Is it valuable for droves of passersby to then say, "Ha, what a douche, and his self-portraits are squicky too"? I'm not so convinced. It's enough to hang someone without throwing tomatoes at him too. Granted, in the blog-and-comment format (or the Twitter format), public admonition blends right into calls for mass indignation, so it really comes down to readers and respondents behaving in ways that befit their conscience.

"I don't think protecting his identity or not is the nub of the issue. I don't want people using abusive, bigotry-laced language under any circumstances, even in private correspondence. I feel the world is a better place both for knowing how Roscoe in particular treats women he doesn't like and also for the clear signal that One Does Not Behave in This Way."

In the other thread you linked, you make a case for mockery and ostracism as instruments for maintaining social norms. Two things: first, the discretion of agents who agree or decline to represent manuscripts is power enough to maintain a standard of what's acceptable in a query. The world of publishing is the only network in which Roscoe is a participant here, and it doesn't need the public's help to exclude him. As for what's acceptable in professional correspondence generally - that's a legitimate concern, and yes, the less rudeness we have in society the better. But does it then follow that if one says unacceptable things, one relinquishes all expectations of privacy? I don't like that picture of society either, and I don't think that's a social norm to which people writing queries consent, nor an expectation of which they are informed.

What he wrote was self-evidently wrong, and we don't all need to jump in and share in the finger-pointing to confirm among ourselves that we're right to believe it was wrong. (And by "we" I of course mean "suit yourselves, but I'll pass, thanks.")

#135 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 08:58 PM:

The phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" makes me feel rather uncomfortable; while I don't think it much applies in this case, I've been in a few too many situations where problems could have easily been avoided by a brief foray into "rudeness" to clear the air.

It may be a good teaching tool for your five-year-old, but among adults I feel like the "if you can't say something nice" approach is more often used as an excuse by people who don't want to address the problems they're having with others. There's a definite gap between going about insulting people indiscriminately and explaining to a specific person that a particular behavior is not coming across well before you get to the point of needing intervention or to hit said person with whatever improvised weapon comes to hand.

That being said, from all available evidence Mr Roscoe does appear to have gone rather beyond the "friendly word to the wise" stage and possibly the internet makes a fairly good weapon.

#136 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 09:03 PM:

Nicholas Tam@134: yes, exactly. Privacy and consent issues are what I was thinking about.

#137 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 09:32 PM:

thanate@135: yes, I agree. I am not sure the "if you have nothing nice to say ..." position is ultimately tenable. But the privacy and consent issues seem to me to be separable.

#138 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 10:27 PM:

Lest it be lost in the crowd, there has been at least one standout positive result from this thread: L. Baird @21, "And should I get her very nice form rejection, I promise I will not be a dick about it."

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 10:44 PM:

137
Having a website pretty much guarantees that you'll get noticed by someone - it's public, after all - and putting a photo like that on your front page means that not all the notice you get will be the kind you want. (Even if you really want to be an actor of some kind.)

#140 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 11:27 PM:

abi@119 - re: moderation - I can't claim to be a well-integrated member of this community, or even one in particularly good standing with the luminaries, but I must mention that I quite enjoyed reading both the point and the counterpoint on the Patrick Roscoe "outing," even if the most compelling counterpoint was externally linked. (I do, however, understand the need to consider the numinous matter of blog posterity.)

My stance on whether Mr. Roscoe should have been publicly flogged by Ms. Lindsay is most hearty yes, however I feel better for reading the "lashon hara" piece. Without it, my personal enjoyment of this thread (and your incisive respone @109) would have been severely diminished.

Counterpoint to my own point: the fact that this thread has metamorphosed into a "to shame or not to shame" discussion does speak volumes for this community, which leads me to think that perhaps I should bite my tongue on the moderation issue and nix this comment (or you might disemvowel me again? it felt so fine before, reminded me of the first time I ever read Orbison in Clingfilm... "You can go ahead and wrap me now," Roy said. "Christ, what an asshole!" the terrapin replied.)

#141 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 11:32 PM:

If I behave badly, and someone wants to call me out over it, let them call me by name. Don't go all 'protective of identity' and other nonsense, that's just a way of saying nasty things about me, and me with no way of answering back. No, use my name, as was done here for Mr Roscoe. If he wants to answer back, he's got a clear path to do so, either in this thread or on his own site or twitter or anywhere else that suits him.

Using people's names is a form of respect for them as people, and is due to everyone no matter how awful they behave.

As far as critiquing his beefcake pic, well, he's put it up there to promote his books, so it's fair game. And there again, if he wants to answer back he can. I think it's a silly thing to do, so very few worthwhile works of craft or art benefit from such promotion, but at least it's his own beef he's caked and not stock photos. I think. But again, it's fair to point at it and say, "Look at the silly author! He can't let his writing stand on its own merits, but must flash one-twelfth of a firemen's calendar!"

You don't have private disagreements where work is concerned, and never have. It's just that now that's more obvious than it used to be. I think that's a good thing. People's reputations used to be trashable in nicely panelled rooms over sherry, and no way for them to defend themselves, or even to acknowledge fault and promise to learn from the experience. That at least has changed for the better.

#142 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden at #50 writes:

> As I said at one site, "I generally favor poetry in discussion threads. It keeps the tone from getting sour and miserable, and helps prevent pile-ons."

Teresa - you've just solved the internet, and the modern world along with it. My personal diagnosis for a surprisingly large number of problems - social cultural and economic - is that non-local communication is just too fast and easy these days, with internet dogpiles being one example.

Poetry serves to limit communication speed as well as enforcing thinking time and thus fixes the problem.

(Of course, I should have written this in verse.)

#143 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 12:56 AM:

Janet Brennan Croft at #52 writes:

> Suzanne #51, there's a secnd photo under "contact" that's almost as good...

Better maybe? The constipated look cracks me up. Or maybe that's a metaphor for writer's block...

#144 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 03:07 AM:

Dan R @140:

I'm not against links to other conversations. What I'm against is links dropped from a safe height into this kind of argument by people who don't then stick around to discuss why they did so or what they think.

(Thank you, HelenS, for coming back and telling us where you stand.)

Also, I practice very deliberate forgettery about whom I've disemvoweled. If you want me to, I could go back and look at what happened, but the site policy here is that such matters default to being closed. They don't follow you around in the mods' minds.

#145 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 03:15 AM:

Nicholas Tam @ 134: "Maybe it wasn't clear from my wording, but I didn't mean to suggest that the community here was hitherto oblivious to the ethical questions of when to name and shame."

If not, then why did you think that asking a series of basic questions about the issue was a good entry to the conversation? As opposed to, say, making an actual argument about this particular instance of the larger set, as Mags did @ 121, or you are doing now?

"But turning it into a festival of character assassination, even in a lighthearted (and occasionally quite funny) way doesn't really add anything to our efficacy in admonishing callous, unprofessional behaviour."

On the contrary--it adds fun, which is a quality sorely lacking in most admonishment. That's also what makes it important to keep a check on mockery, so don't think I'm attacking your right to ask these questions: I think it's important to have this debate. I just think that in this case the conclusion is that it's appropriate.

#146 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 04:34 AM:

I'm wondering whether I'm the only person who thinks there's a difference between the post at The Swivet and this one, on the one hand; and the haiku competition on Twitter, which I only found out about via the linked posts, on the other. I'm finding it difficult to articulate why - perhaps because I don't use Twitter and don't know the medium in the same way.

I suspect that one reason I feel that way might be that a blogpost does offer some right of reply - though I notice that although The Swivet does normally allow comments, they seem to have been disabled on that particular post. (I'll add, to pre-empt misunderstanding, that I can see why Colleen Lindsay might have thought that appropriate and also
that comment threads are not the only way in which a person might reply to a blogpost.)

#147 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 04:35 AM:

A more serene Mod'rator never
Did on the web exist,
To nobody second,
She's certainly reckoned,
And none say she's never been kissed!
It is her very humane endeavour
To take, to some extent,
Each clueless poster
As Dragon's toast, or
As fuel for merriment.

Her object all sublime
She shall achieve in time--
To let the punishment fit the crime--
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each trolling tor-rent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

#148 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 06:16 AM:

At post #147, Dave Bell had an attack of G&S.

Frenzied applause, stamping of hooves, general merriment.:

#149 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 09:35 AM:

It seems to me that the other appropriate way to call someone on that sort of sexism (or other unprofessional behavior) is one-to-one: "Dear So-and-so, It is inappropriate to address colleagues or potential colleagues in those terms" or the equivalent.

That method does not work if the person who has spoken or written offensively has already made clear that he is not reading your messages, because you had the audacity to reject him.

If it's someone that you are on anything like speaking terms with, it's possible that they'll come back with "sorry, I wasn't thinking" or at least "why is this a problem?" and be willing to read and consider an answer—not "why are you so sensitive?" or other response that is a dismissal, not a question. Not guaranteed, of course: there are people who would respond to "it's not appropriate to address me/people that way" with a tantrum and refusal to speak to you at all. But if they have already said they're not reading your email, that route is closed.

Refusing to read someone's email does not magically get someone protection from being identified in public as a bigot.

#150 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 10:03 AM:

I was starting to feel a bit chastened about my gleeful dissection of Roscoe's website @49, but pericat @141 is right -- you put a website out, it's fair game for public discussion. Lord knows my own website screams "done by an amateur using Word!!" but at least I don't have cheesecake on it. (Though perhaps I _should_ explore the concept of author's website as dating service profile...)

Whether the initial exchange with the agent should have gotten such public exposure may be another matter. That's for the agent's conscience to decide. But should we have ignored it once it was out? It was such a perfect example of What Not To Do if you want to keep up good relations in the publishing community, which is perhaps smaller and more tightly-knit than Roscoe thinks. And that's one of the things we talk about here.

Read Making Light
If you want to write

An agent spurned
Is a bridge you have burned

A well-toned mind
Trumps a well-toned behind

What you have to say
Shouldn't be a cliche

Burma-Shave!

#151 ::: L. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 10:36 AM:

@ #138 Earl Cooley III:
Honestly, I wouldn't have been a dick about it anyway. It's not how I roll.

As for publicly mocking someone for saying something insulting and contemptible, my opinion is that if you don't want to take the flack, then don't say it in the first place. This is not a man being mobbed for saying he disliked the agent's new bonnet, or some other mild critique. He's a sexist entitled asshole, and he made a point of being a sexist entitled asshole to an agent who does not suffer fools and has a public blog. At that point, if people point and laugh, he has earned the acclaim.

Once upon a time I had a fan website that generated its fair portion of flames. These were publicly posted on the website for all to see. It was and is a common flame-retardant practice in my wedge of fandom. All it does is force someone, gleefully hiding their hate and ignorance behind a screen name, to own up to what they have said.

If the writer in question here did not want to risk this situation, he should have firstly researched his potential agent enough to know she had a blog whereupon it was common practice to mock assholes, and secondly he should not have written something worthy of mockery. He's a writer, after all. He should know that you own your words, and you own what comes from them. Be prepared to stand by them.

And finally, anyone who thinks letters like that need to be 'doctored' before posting, has very likely never sat in a position where you get that kind of letter on a frequent basis. I have, and trust me, you cannot make this shit up.

#152 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 10:43 AM:

abi @ 144 "deliberate forgettery" immediately made me think of making offerings to Lesmosyne, Goddess of Forgetting. Who is the (imho) more interesting sister of Mnemosyne. I think it says something fascinating about the ancient Greek culture that they personified forgetting, or if you're of a more spiritual bent, that it was a culture that attracted a personification of forgetting.

#153 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 11:16 AM:

Kelly McCullough 152

You've now got me imagining a lost Aristophanic prefiguring of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Abi 151

I'm delighted to learn that the word 'forgettery' isn't peculiar to my own idiolect.(Unfortunately, it doesn't translate so well into French, since oubliette means something rather different..)

#154 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 11:18 AM:

@ 128 Nicole
A sexist jerk is also an individual. I have no problem with calling him a jerk. I am troubled by the disproportionate response: one person being buried under an avalanche of derision - for being a sexist jerk. Shouldn't we save some of our scorn for those who may do worse than name calling? Should we pillory anyone who makes an indecent proposal, draw and quarter someone who gets drunk and slaps an ass?


@134 Nicholas
Is it useful to use a huge online speakerphone to say, "This person did something unacceptable - here, see for yourselves"? Sure, absolutely. Is it valuable for droves of passersby to then say, "Ha, what a douche, and his self-portraits are squicky too"? I'm not so convinced.

Thank you for making so eloquent a plea for proportion.

Maybe we need some sentencing guidelines for social infractions. They must have had some in the days when people were staked out in public pillories. How long should the guilty party be subjected to public scorn for simple rudeness? How long for bigotry of one sort or another? Should the sentence for rudeness to an agent be so much steeper than it is for rudeness to someone who lacks his or her personal soapbox?

#155 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 11:37 AM:

Laramie and Nicholas
Now that you've made it absolutely clear that you think we're all Bad People for mocking a sexist jerk -
why are you coming back and telling us all over again and again?

#156 ::: mg_65 ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 11:50 AM:

Delurking to note, hopefully not too OT, that Kid Bitzer's Blake / Arkham spoof has made me quite unreasonably happy.

#157 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Laramie Sasseville @ 154: "Should we pillory anyone who makes an indecent proposal, draw and quarter someone who gets drunk and slaps an ass?"

Firstly, we aren't physically harming Patrick Roscoe, and your continued comparisons between mockery and capital punishment are off-base. Secondly, employing vicious sexist stereotypes in a pathetic attempt to exert power over a woman who just rejected you (in an entirely non-sexual context!) is not in any way equivalent to putting the moves on someone who it turns out isn't interested. The equivalent would be, if after putting the doomed move on and being politely turned down, you then yelled "Frigid bitch! No wonder no one will fuck you!" That, Laramie, is what Roscoe is being mocked for: his bizarre and inappropriate response to a perfectly innocuous form rejection letter.

#158 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 12:37 PM:

Shouldn't we save some of our scorn for those who may do worse than name calling?

Pfft! As if scorn was in such short supply.

Should we pillory anyone who makes an indecent proposal, draw and quarter someone who gets drunk and slaps an ass?

Draw and quarter? The melodrama is getting thick.

I think some people are missing the context of Ms. Lindsay's and Mr. Roscoe's interaction. It would be one thing if sexist, insulting, condescending emails like Mr. Roscoe's were a rare event. Here's a tweet from Ms. Lindsay's feed on 4/14

Started the day off w/ a rejected writer telling me I have a pole up my ass because he or she got my "submissions guidelines" auto-respond.

Here's a tweet from 4/13:

Was cursed out by yet another writer just now because they rec'd my "you need to read my guidelines" auto-responder. Is everyone high?

Hey, this looks to be a near daily event!

Have we heaped enough scorn on poor Mr. Roscoe? I say "No," and I say it because his sexism, his contempt and his sense of personal privilege is all too common. Ms. Lindsay has 100% of my sympathies in this, because she's the one taking abuse from unprofessional jerks.

Who is supposed to take a stand and say "This is not acceptable?" In my opinion, the answer is everyone. You may think that's too much, but imo that marks you as someone who values order over doing right.

#159 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 01:00 PM:

@156--

thank you so much, mg_65!

your praise in turn delights me to an unreasonable degree. a contagion of unreason. i will join you in a virtual chorus, singing along, imagining the lions in trafalgar transforming into giant chambered nautili, while nelson's visage sprouts suckered tendrils. "and did that beak...."

#160 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 02:37 PM:

thanate 135: The phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" makes me feel rather uncomfortable; while I don't think it much applies in this case, I've been in a few too many situations where problems could have easily been avoided by a brief foray into "rudeness" to clear the air.

There are, of course, those more comfortable with "If you can't say something nice about a person—come sit next to me," but that's generally a joke.

Seriously, I heard a pretty good formulation that gets a good result in more situations than either of the above, though like all rules of thumb* I'm sure it gets a bad result sometimes**.

When considering saying something (or writing something) to or about someone else, consider these questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?
If you don't have two yesses, refrain.

Applicability here: assuming Colleen didn't invent or embellish Roscoe's text, which I think is a fair assumption, the truth of what she said about him is a given. No one, I'm certain, thinks it was kind of her to do it (see below). So everything hinges on whether it was necessary (in the above formulation). Do sexist jerks need to be called on their sexist jerkdom, even if they committed it in private correspondence? No; they have no such need. Is it necessary for the general publishing community to see sexist jerks called on, etc.? I think it is, but I can see how people might differ on this topic.

In that same way, you could even argue that it's kind to people who might have to deal with him in the future, but I think that's going too far afield; in fact I will specify "kind to the person you're saying it to or about" when I quote the formula in the future.

Is it necessary for whole swaths of the internet to write derisive poems about the guy? Debatable. One thing I will say: by the three-questions formula, it's irrelevant whether it's necessary in any case where the things said are untrue, because untrue and unkind is an automatic failure; in fact I'd say untrue things should fail to make the cut even if they're kind and necessary, but that's too complex a debate to get into here.
____
*No, it isn't. Look it up. If you don't know what I'm denying here, don't worry. You don't need to know.
**Reading this on preview made me think: when the necessity is extreme enough—to save a life, for example—that may trump considerations of kindness and even truth, so that's one case when this technique gives a bad result. I'm sure others exist.

#161 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 02:42 PM:

Laramie, we do understand what you're saying. We disagree with it, for reasons which have been explained in multiple ways, and repeating it using ever-more-untenable comparisons is not going to magically change that. Has it occurred to you that you might be wrong about this?

#162 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 04:19 PM:

Laramie @154: A sexist jerk is also an individual.

True. Also irrelevant. My dispute with your #112 is with the phrase "any individual," as in "rushing to dump on any individual," accusing the ML community of cruelly indiscriminate mockery, like some offshoot of 4ch*n.

Had you said "rushing to dump on an individual," my response would have been, "Do you truly believe there are no individuals who have earned their dumping?"

"Any" does not equal "an". Own that little "y" you appended the first time!

Others have adequately taken you to task for comparing this sort of mockery to the physical act of drawing and quartering someone; I merely add that such hyperbole is highly ironic in a post scolding others for reacting to Roscoe's verbal sexism in a manner you deem disproportionate.

Lastly, if you don't want to be taken for a concern troll (too late. Still...), don't ask "Why are you spending energy on this when there are starving children worse examples of sexism in the world?"

#163 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 05:01 PM:

Watch the piling on, guys.

I picked up "forgettery" from Friday by Robert Heinlein. It's a useful and ironically memorable concept.

(And Dave, if that's to my address, I'm deeply flattered. If it's to Teresa, I agree!)

#164 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 05:12 PM:

I'll second Pericat at #141, that if someone wants to ridicule or condemn my behavior or statements, let them use my name when they do. I'll take the hits, thanks.

(And, having said that, of course a number of instances come to mind where I've written critically of people's behavior without citing their names. I am scum.)

#165 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 05:40 PM:

I take exception to you piling on at yourself, Bruce Arthurs. You should only attack yourself anonymously. that way, you'll be safer when you get angry because you won't be able to trace the disparagement back to its source.

#166 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 05:56 PM:

Pillory? Did someone say pillory?

What we need is a Hymn to the Pillory methinks.

#167 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Bruce, pericat: I find myself willing to be named, but not willing to name others. When I wish to vent, it's often because abhorrent behavior X has happened to me six times in four days, or something, and if I unload on person F by name, I'm being unfair, because I didn't mention ABCDE at the time they annoyed me. F is just the last straw, after all. If I say "I find X behavior abhorrent and I wish people would stop it," then perhaps all six people will take notice. And then sometimes I know that Person F is just somebody who rubs me the wrong way no matter what, and I don't want to make our mutual friends uncomfortable.

But I agree that some kinds of behavior are cause for public shaming. Like being an entitled sexist jerk, for instance.

#168 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 06:32 PM:

i once tried attacking myself anonymously. but then i responded with such ferocity that after the third round of anonymous rancour, i attacked myself by name just to get back at me.

this enraged me so much that i outed myself as the malefactor. in a frenzy of retaliation, i started naming and shaming. myself.

none of this was unjustified. as the gravedigger says, killing yourself is fully justified, if you do it in the course of trying to ward of a suicide attack on yourself, by yourself. then it's just self-defense.

also @166: thanks, fragano. defoe was really a force of nature, wasn't he? inexhaustibly vocable.

#169 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 06:44 PM:

And Dave Bell at 147 wins the Elliptical Billiard Ball. Long may he roll!

#170 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 06:58 PM:

@169--

was it asimov who pointed out that it really ought to be "ellipsoidal", since the billiard ball is a solid rather than a plane figure?
but billy gilbert's sense of rhythm and singability was more solid still: "ellipsoidal" would have made an awful inaudible jumble in the mouth and ear. "elliptical" wins for crisp and clipped diction.
(and perhaps even the solid is elliptical at second remove, in as much as sections parallel to the main axis will be).

#171 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:15 PM:

Xopher @160: Reading this on preview made me think: when the necessity is extreme enough—to save a life, for example—that may trump considerations of kindness and even truth, so that's one case when this technique gives a bad result. I'm sure others exist.

As you know, Bob, deriving policy from exceptional cases is almost always a bad idea, because they're exactly that... exceptional. Policy can't cover every contingency; the world is too full of exceptions. Derive policy from the 90+% of cases, and handle exceptions as they arise based on one's own morals and conscience, community standards, etc. (Policy exists as a way of memoizing decisions so the computation and angst that lead to them doesn't need to be repeated -- doing computation ahead of time on edge cases is only going to lead to increased efficiency if you expect to be hitting those edge cases a lot or if you expect to need the answers to them quickly. Otherwise you may as well just do the computation lazily, so you avoid doing any computation you don't have to.)

Laramie Sasseville @154: How long should the guilty party be subjected to public scorn for simple rudeness?

As long as they hold our interest, which is to say, not very. We are the Internet; we are a flighty beast, and easily distracted.

If this guy shows up somewhere else being an asshole, I may remember this thread and refer back to check that he's the same one -- thus is reputation built -- but otherwise I'll forget about him and go on with my life. He doesn't seem to have noticed us, which is surprising but quite likely for the best, so he's likely going on with his life as well. I don't see that serious harm has been done to anyone here.

#172 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:15 PM:

Laramie Sasseville at #154 writes:

> A sexist jerk is also an individual. I have no problem with calling him a jerk. I am troubled by the disproportionate response: one person being buried under an avalanche of derision

I think the key to this is the speed and fluidity of internet communication - a really mean internet dogpile (and I'm not commenting on whether this is such a thing - I'm speaking generally) can consist entirely of individual comments which are not in themselves inappropriate or unfair. But when someone is buried under an avalanche of 200,000 such comments it can look hateful.

Unfortunately, while I believe I can point to the problem, I don't feel I can point to the solution.

#173 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:19 PM:

P J Evans at #155 writes:


> Now that you've made it absolutely clear that you think we're all Bad People for mocking a sexist jerk -

A bit overstated I think.

> why are you coming back and telling us all over again and again?

I think that comment strays into "America - Love It Or Leave It" bumper sticker territory. The third alternative is better.

#174 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:24 PM:

heresiarch @ 125:
I don't think protecting his identity or not is the nub of the issue. I don't want people using abusive, bigotry-laced language under any circumstances, even in private correspondence. I feel the world is a better place both for knowing how Roscoe in particular treats women he doesn't like and also for the clear signal that One Does Not Behave in This Way.

Several other people have touched on this issue of the revelation of identity; I think it's rather central to questions of how to react to flouting of social norms and I want to expand on it somewhat.

ISTM that there are situations where bigotry is more heinous when it is expressed privately rather than in public. One kind of bigoted speech flourishes in privacy by insisting that exposing it is hurtful to the speaker and should be avoided. It's often identified by tags like "I'm not politically correct, so if I say these things in public I'll get piled on" or "Society just doesn't accept these truths, and tries to silence anyone who speaks them." You can find other such tags on your Troll Bingo cards.

This kind of speech is a slow poison to attempts to create a socially just society because it allows tacit acceptance of bigotry and hate, and obstructs public recognition of the prevalence of bigotry (so that some people insist that "We shouldn't comment on this sort of thing because the US is so past racism!"). If we can pretend to ourselves that no one holds these attitudes, we don't have to do anything about the attitudes in ourselves, our family, or our friends.

The need to out people who make these kinds of bigoted statements is greater the more accepted the bigotry is in general, which is why I think Roscoe's misogyny is especially dire, and requires public chastising. The notion that women are and should be socially, politically, and physically inferior to men is still accepted by a large fraction of the population in the US even though it is slowly becoming unacceptable to say so in public. This is just the environment that is most fertile for the growth of private bigotry, making it especially important that we expose it when we see it.

Which is not to say that other kinds of bigotry are acceptable. But it's much easier to object to and combat publicly-held positions like the homophobia of many fundamentalist religions, or the racism of skinheads than the furtive hate that's hidden from the light.

And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body;
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood;
   - Hamlet [Act I, scene 5]

#175 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:34 PM:

A couple of questions have been rolling around in my mind (like ellipsoids) as I follow this thread...

1 - Does the book publishing industry have an equivalent to Hollywood's blacklisting? I have heard many a sordid tale from friends in the film industry; in comparison, this Roscoe business seems quite tame, really.

2 - Is it conceivable that Roscoe might somehow use his newfound infamy to his advantage? Is there a chain of events that could lead to his getting a story published in, say, Esquire magazine... or even garnering a lucrative book deal?

#176 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 07:44 PM:

Laramie--

This is tangential to anything about Roscoe, but it's your example, and it is relevant to the broader discussion of how to respond to sexist jerks: it is not acceptable to hit random strangers because you find them sexually attractive. (If the person has actively consented, because they like having their ass slapped, in some meaningful sense the interaction is not between strangers, whether or not there has been a formal introduction.)

That the offender is drunk is not an adequate excuse, for either sexual assault or racial slurs, though it's a commonly offered one. (They Might Be Giants' "You and Your Racist Friend" is relevant here, I think.)

Drawing and quartering is not, and I agree should not be, our society's punishment for assault. That doesn't mean that we should say "it's okay, we know you didn't mean any harm," smile, and walk away. Among other reasons not to wink at such behavior, the man--and it's usually a man--who's actions are treated that way has no reason not to slap more women: he got his jollies and was told he hadn't done anything wrong.

If the person who was slapped doesn't think it's a problem, s/he doesn't have to complain. But it's what s/he thinks, not what anyone else does, because it's her body, not theirs. If s/he does object, it's not for you, me, her/his friends, or especially not the slapper's friends to try to convince her/him that it was no big deal, boys will be boys, and that it would be inappropriate to start telling people that this specific man does this, so don't invite him to your parties or let him join you at the bar.

Also, people give sexism a pass who wouldn't give other forms of bigotry and mistreatment a pass. If we were discussing someone who had been racist toward an agent who rejected him, would you have brought in the comparison of getting drunk and slapping someone?

#177 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 08:00 PM:

Harry Connolly @ 158: "Pfft! As if scorn was in such short supply."

Oh, you say that now* but did you know that the US Strategic Scorn Reserve is down 20% over the last decade? Sure, that's partially because of the guerrilla war blocking shipments out of Congo scorn mines, but evidence for a Peak Scorn scenario is mounting. Our lives of easy, care-free scorn-flinging might be nothing but fairy tales to our grandchildren.

*Carelessly wasting your valuable scorn!

Xopher @ 160: "When considering saying something (or writing something) to or about someone else, consider these questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If you don't have two yesses, refrain."

Nothing to add; I just liked it.

Bruce Cohen @ 174: Yes, thank you. That's very much what I was thinking, but didn't quite articulate.

#178 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 174: Very well put. Thanks.

#179 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2010, 10:56 PM:

kid bitzer @168 -- I'm glad you were inspired to that one!

@170 -- "ellipsoidal" does scan perfectly, but isn't as crisp indeed; and if Asimov didn't state that idea first, it's certainly in one of his writings that I read it first.

#180 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:59 AM:

In my earlier post today, I kept trying to come up with a phrase to add along the lines of, "Besides, if calling out sexist jerk behavior is always seen as worse than actually being a sexist jerk in the first place, then victims of sexism are essentially disempowered while the sexist jerk is recast as the victim to by sympathized with and coddled, and that ain't right. Meanwhile we're left with no way to curb the sexism of our culture."

But everything I tried to write came out at least as clunky as that. Plus it added extra para to an already long and irritated post, so I gave up and deleted the attempt.

And then Bruce came along and said,

This kind of speech is a slow poison to attempts to create a socially just society because it allows tacit acceptance of bigotry and hate, and obstructs public recognition of the prevalence of bigotry (so that some people insist that "We shouldn't comment on this sort of thing because the US is so past racism!"). If we can pretend to ourselves that no one holds these attitudes, we don't have to do anything about the attitudes in ourselves, our family, or our friends.
And I thought, "Oh, that's what the thing I wanted to say looks like when it's actually said right. Awesome. I'll have one of those."

#181 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 03:38 AM:

Bruce Cohen@174: I've read Hamlet and seen it performed, but that particular quote never struck me before -- it exactly describes how the disease organism in Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain caused death. I wonder if that's just coincidence, or if Crichton got the idea from there?

#182 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:03 AM:

One of the most difficult things to be in a community is the canary in the coal mine. The fuse, the one who breaks first. I am this at work. I think Laramie is this here.

Sometimes the canary falls over too soon. Sometimes the signal that things are Really Bad turns out to be a false alarm. It's important, if that's the case, not to dogpile on the person who gave the warning in all sincerity, because next time they may not do so. And next time, maybe they'll be right.

The matter at hand is a marginal case. I'm divided on it myself, though I've been too busy this weekend to wade into the discussion. I regret that, because I think that Laramie, Mags, HelenS, and Nicholas Tam all have tenable and ethical positions in this matter, and the pushback has been just a bit too forceful.

I apologize, all ye luminaries, that I haven't been around enough to say this sooner.

#183 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 06:34 AM:

@182--

that's the last straw: everyone pile on abi!

#184 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 09:09 AM:

Xopher @160: Yes, I like that version much better.

#185 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 11:38 AM:

petition.
#107 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Sheesh y'all, you're making me blush!



"I'm protesting the outcome of our previous engagement," Godzilla said. "And I brought someone to back me up."

A small figure on Godzilla's shoulder stood up. "Hi, I'm Sam Kass, inventor of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock."

"Rock-Paper-Scissors-what-now?" Two hundred foot-tall Leonard Nimoy arched upward one elegantly trimmed, if very large eyebrow.

"It's a variation on RPS with two additional elements," Sam explained patiently. "with the addition of two symbols in order to reduce the likelihood of ties. You see--"

...snip...

"Yes, well, under the rules, Lizard beats Spock."

...snip...

"If Spock beats Lizard, then the whole system collapses." Sam Kass flips out a graphic diagramming RPSLS. "See for yourself."

By the Naming Scheme for Rock-Paper-Scissors, each named object is beaten by the object to its right. Rock is beaten by Paper, Paper is beaten by Scissors, and Scissors are beaten by Rock (feedback loop).

Thus, in the proposed "Rock - Paper - Scissors - Lizard - Spock", logically, Spock can only be beaten by "Rock" if we keep to the traditional interpretation.

No wonder Spock was flummoxed. "Lizard" beating "Spock" can only occur if "Lizard" is actually "Spock" in a "Lizard" suit, and the original "Spock" is a "Lizard" in a "Spock" suit.

#186 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 11:45 AM:

Bruce #174:

I see your point, but I also see a big problem with it: At any given time, many good and bad ideas, beliefs, etc., are socially unacceptable. Social unacceptability isn't some kind of goodness or rightness oracle. And which ideas are socially unacceptable depend a lot on your community, and your circle of friends, and your job. It's quite common that recognizing some facts and stating them in public has nasty personal consequences[1].

Imagine a world in which all socially unacceptable speech is made public. Let's imagine we went back and applied this rule in, say, 1950. How many quiet conversations among whites that slowly undermined support for legal discrimination against blacks or women or gays would have just gone away? How many conversations today in which respectable, responsible people opine that the drug war is a mess, or that the sex-offender mark-of-Cain laws seem like overkill, would go away, if those people expected to have their words repeated loudly in public?

Probably everyone in history who ever fought dissent from the current norms of their society believed they were fighting evil. It's remarkably hard for us humans to tell the difference between the two. That makes me pretty uncomfortable with the idea that some kinds of dissenters ought to always and everywhere be outed.

[1] Depending on your community, these include: the overwhelming evidence for evolution, the inherent unwinnability of the drug war, the race/IQ correlation, the scandalous conduct of the Catholic Church w.r.t. sex abuse scandals, the near-certainty that innocent people went to prison and had their lives and reputations ruined by witch-hunt like accusations of pedophilia via "recovered memories", the similar near certainty that previous victims of anticommunist witch hunts included a lot of innocent people whose careers were wrecked, historical and scientific and in-text evidence for the non-literal-truth of the bible, any number of issues surrounding the recent history of Israel and its neighbors, and about a zillion other things. (When you expand this to tenable but unprovable moral claims, things get even more fun.)

#187 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Duncan J Macdonald @186: "Lizard" beating "Spock" can only occur if "Lizard" is actually "Spock" in a "Lizard" suit, and the original "Spock" is a "Lizard" in a "Spock" suit.

This is presumably why Sam Kass calls his invention Rock-Paper-Scissors-Spock-Lizard. I have to agree that RPSLS sounds better than RPSSL, but it's unfortunate that people have made the change without changing "rock crushes lizard poisons Spock smashes scissors decapitate lizard eats paper disproves Spock vaporizes rock" to "rock hits Spock defaces paper chokes lizard jams scissors stab Spock pinches lizard mounts rock" or the like.

#188 ::: TK ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:11 PM:

I can see how some people are uncomfortable with Colleen Lindsay's "outing" of Patrick Roscoe's correspondence. But I have to say that I think Mr. Roscoe should have known what to expect.

It's not as if Ms. Lindsay's blog is a big secret. Her posting about Mr. Roscoe's actions was not the first time she took an asshole to task and held him up as a prime example of What Not to Do.

If Mr. Roscoe didn't want his assholishness to be revealed, he should have been more polite (since of course a professional author knows enough to research a prospective agent). This is a prime example of "You get what you ask for."

#189 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:11 PM:

abi, #182: Respectfully, I disagree that comparing online mockery to drawing and quartering is a tenable position.

I would also like to point out that the portion of the thread originally dealing with Patrick Roscoe was pretty much over (as in, the thread had drifted in several other directions) by the time people came in to lecture us on our bad behavior, and since then that is the only thing keeping him in the spotlight, because every time we stop talking about him they drag us back. This is IMO a failure mode, and suggests that there is more going on than simple discomfort with the original topic.

#190 ::: Jason Stackhouse ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:25 PM:

@Jim Macdonald (6): "Have we considered that these might be two different people with the same name?"

Once I month, someone online criticizes my 'handle'. I like claiming to receive a monetary consideration from Harris for the name.

#191 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Lee @189:

One of the various patterns of conflict that I see over and over on the web is where a group of people have, among them, argued a lone person (or a smaller group) into a corner. The cornered person can do a variety of things, very few of them particularly good for the quality of the conversation. One of them is to reach for wilder and wilder examples, analogies and rhetorical techniques to counter the sheer volume of argumentation.

I think that the thread cornered Laramie (among others), and he wasn't prepared to let his silence be read as consent. I've been in that situation before, and it's really uncomfortable. I'm not agreeing with all of his rhetorical choices, but I do note that they are not uncommon in these sorts of conversations. And they don't always provoke the kind of anger that you're exhibiting.

Also, it's worth noting that people find the thread at different times, and still have things to say. Or they're interrupted in what they feel to be an ongoing conversation by events in the big website with the blue header, and can't come back immediately. What you see as dragging the thread back to the topic is them just continuing it.

More generally, this is the third time in very short order that you've reacted with what looks from here like disproportionate anger on a comment thread. Is everything OK? It's not like you.

#192 ::: Jason Stackhouse ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 01:56 PM:

@self (160): Seriously, self. The preview function is for editing.

#193 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 03:35 PM:

albatross @ 186:

Social unacceptability isn't some kind of goodness or rightness oracle. ... Probably everyone in history who ever fought dissent from the current norms of their society believed they were fighting evil.

Yes, very true. In fact., your whole comment is well taken; I just didn't think it was necessary to quote the whole thing.

Here's the rub: any human behavior can be a two-edged sword, most especially any behavior that's meant to express disapproval of, modify, or prevent, someone else's behavior. Tools are like that: they provide agency, not justification, which forces the person using them to think about justification and issues of means and ends (or not, if the person doesn't care about the morality of their actions).

Ultimately we all have to decide on the appropriateness, morality, and effectiveness of our actions, and there aren't any rules that work for all cases at all times. Worse, we can't know for sure what the eventual (whenever that is) effects of our actions will be, so we can't always understand the tradeoffs among ends and means.

So, no, I don't advocate any particular treatment for all cases of breaking social norms. I base my own actions on my personal morality, as against the best analysis I can do on the potential effects of my actions. Based on that, I think that in this culture at this time it is almost always appropriate to make the sort of sexism that started this discussion public.

That said, I'll weasel a little and say that there are different levels of public exposure depending (mostly) on the venue of the original statement. If someone expresses bigotry about a particular person in a face-to-face conversation I would express my opinion of the bigotry on the spot, and I would probably tell the object of the bigoted statement if they were not present. But if someone expresses bigotry in a professional venue such as an email forum or a business message, I would consider that more public to start with, and would express my opinion in a wider forum.

#194 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:00 PM:

Bruce@193: But if someone expresses bigotry in a professional venue such as an email forum or a business message, I would consider that more public to start with, and would express my opinion in a wider forum.

I think that's where we part company. I don't see business correspondence as in any way a public venue.

#195 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:19 PM:

194
I was taught that you shouldn't put anything in business correspondence that would be a problem if it became public. (IOW, assume it's public to begin with, because there may be legal reasons for it actually to become public later.)

#196 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Xopher @ 91: I was just thinking I'd like to be a notoriously unchaste author.

I'd like to refer you to Mark Bernstein's "Hack's Fantasy", a filk of "Tits and Ass" from A Chorus Line. Alas, though the song is on the tape OVFF Beat, I can't find the lyrics on-line anywhere. There's a line about "girls with pentacles, things with tentacles..."

#197 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:42 PM:

That's a good rule, and one which I try to follow (though Our Dear Author obviously doesn't). But that's not to say the correspondence is public from the beginning, in the way a post on a public forum such as this is.

#198 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 04:54 PM:

albatross @ 186: "Probably everyone in history who ever fought dissent from the current norms of their society believed they were fighting evil. It's remarkably hard for us humans to tell the difference between the two. That makes me pretty uncomfortable with the idea that some kinds of dissenters ought to always and everywhere be outed."

It sounds to me as if you're grasping for a systematic approach to public outing which black-boxes individual moral stances--that no matter the input or the operator, the system would produce correct outcomes. I certainly agree that such a system would be very nice to have, and designing such systems is a worthy goal. Democracy might be considered one such system; good manners might be another. It's not, however, always possible: sometimes the moral content of the action is the only criterion on which a distinction can be made. I think that's what we have here: whether any given outing is moral can only be determined by deciding whether the reason behind the outing was moral.

It's also worth noting, I think, that the undermining of legal discrimination against black, women, and gays didn't happen primarily because of quiet conversations. It happened because decided to end their silent acceptance of discrimination and kick up a fuss.

#199 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 05:21 PM:

abi, #191: First reaction -- "WTF? I'm not angry; this isn't important enough to get angry about!"

Second reaction: What I am, or at least what I was by that last post, is irritated. Since you've asked why, I'll explain in greater detail than I would ordinarily consider appropriate.

Laramie's first post came in with a strong odor of "you people", which I chose not to address because I looked at the VAB, saw that this was a semi-regular poster, and gave them the benefit of the doubt. I do believe that the best response to most assholic/bullying behavior is "point and laugh," precisely because it unmistakably makes the point that the behavior in question is not working. There's also the point made by Bruce @174 and (IMO even better) by Nicole @180 -- that if it's unacceptable (in the name of liberalism, or tolerance, or "setting a good example", or whatever) to call someone on bad behavior, then all the power and leverage is on the side of the bad behavior. (Aside -- I still don't see how you got "disproportionate anger" out of two brief sentences, unless you were reading in a tone that I absolutely did not intend.)

By the time I wrote the second response, I was hearing, "You people aren't LISTENING to me! If I can just find the right words, I can make you UNDERSTAND!" (And then, of course, you'll agree that I'm right.) That's why that post was couched in the terms it was.

By the third response, it had become "dog with a bone," which I will admit is one of my hot-spots due to past personal history. This is when we've been over the same ground 5 or 6 times, it's obvious that there's no more juice to be wrung out of this orange, and somebody just won't let go. Yeah, that's irritating, and more so to me than it probably is to a lot of people.

At this point I consider it unlikely that I have anything further of value to contribute in this conversation (because of the irritation), so I'll go play in the other threads instead.

#200 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 06:50 PM:

My last sentence is missing a word: "they," as in "It happened because they decided to end their silent acceptance of discrimination and kick up a fuss."

#201 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 07:12 PM:

Longer comments to follow. Short version: I think that many of the writers who are keening over the wrongs done Patrick Roscoe are only doing so because they're imagining themselves in his position. This is both understandable, and a failure of imagination on their parts.

Those of us who've worked in agencies or publishing houses, or who've had long, close associations with people who do, have some notion of the misery that maliciously-behaved writers can inflict on the people they work with. Those who don't have that kind of long familiarity don't really know what it's like, because we almost never talk about it.

Writers tend to think editors and agents are powerful because we can tell them "yes" or "no." Few of us are powerful enough to have any insulation against bad behavior. I am full almost to bursting right now with stories I can't tell.

I don't know how many agents Patrick Roscoe has already had, but judging from the unchastened tone of his correspondence, I have to assume it's plural. Since he's changed publishers with every book, he'll also have gone through at least six editors, and had contact with some indeterminate number of people in production, sales, and promotion. I doubt he was a model of courtesy in his interactions with them, and I don't see what's owed him.

#202 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 07:25 PM:

@172 Steve, this is my point. No single comment mocking Roscoe is objectionable in itself. They are mostly clever, creative and amusing, but taken together in a batch of a hundred or so, they create a 'welcome to the monkey house' impression. This is that to which I object.

@182 Abi, Thanks for your support. :)
@191 Abi, My silence means only that I have a life outside the internet, and a day job. Also, I'm a she.

@155 PJ Evans said "Now that you've made it absolutely clear that you think we're all Bad People for mocking a sexist jerk -
why are you coming back and telling us all over again and again?
"

Please see my comment to Steve above. That you infer that I think you are all Bad People does not mean that I imply it or think it. My objection is to the avalanche not to the individual snowflakes. And I keep coming back because someone is wrong on the internet.

@157 Heresiarch said "Firstly, we aren't physically harming Patrick Roscoe, and your continued comparisons between mockery and capital punishment are off-base. "

Actually, there is evidence that mobbing can lead to stress-related physical and psychological illness. I've included a link below to the site of one of the earlier researchers in the field.

Do you think a harm isn't harmful because it isn't physical? Otherwise why is it harmful for Roscoe to use sexist language in the first place? And if language is harmful an analogy to physical means of punishment is perfectly reasonable.

http://www.leymann.se/English/frame.html

“hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic manner by one or more individuals, mainly toward one individual, who, due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position and held there by means of continuing mobbing activities...
...The distinction between "conflict" and "mobbing", to emphasize the concept again, does not focus on what is done or how it is done, but rather on the frequency and duration of whatever is done. This also underlines the fact that basic research carried out in Sweden (Leymann, 1990b, or 1992a, or 1992b; but also Leymann & Tallgren, 1989) has medical research concepts to lean on. Basically, it is a line of research focusing on somatic or mental stress: how intense does mobbing have to be in order to result in mental or psychosomatic illness?”

@162 Nicole; it is not, to me, a question of whether any individual deserves the dumping, it is a question of whether it reflects well on a community to do the dumping.

#203 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 07:33 PM:

@191 Abi said "to reach for wilder and wilder examples, analogies and rhetorical techniques to counter the sheer volume of argumentation."

My analogy was deliberately exaggerated. I didn't expect anyone to take it so seriously, only to consider that there are degrees of punishment, and some more fitting to an offense than others.

#204 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Laramie, you've gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. You're also not arguing with people who've failed to think about these issues. Please back down.

#205 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 07:56 PM:

Furthermore, Laramie, it wasn't a mob, or a mobbing, or a pile-on, and it's offensive of you to speak as though it were.

#206 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 08:06 PM:

HelenS @ 197:

But that's not to say the correspondence is public from the beginning, in the way a post on a public forum such as this is.

As I understand it, case law in the United States has seriously confused the issue of the privacy of electronic communication, email in particular, such that sometimes the sender and sometimes the receiver controls it, but often the owner of the system on which the message was originated owns the message. In that environment I consider that no one really has an expectation of privacy.

In any case, there are often legal constraints on how and whether the receiver of a business message may keep it confidential, so there's yet more confusion. For instance if I send my resume to a potential employer, I have no expectation that they will keep it confidential.

#207 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 08:31 PM:

I've been following this thread with considerable interest.

I don't think anyone has pointed out that there are very many specific aspects of Mr. Roscoe's website which would easily lend themselves to real "piling on" and/or mockery in many forms.

That no one here has done so speaks volumes about the quality, taste and discretion of this community. Hooray for the fluorosphere!

#208 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 08:52 PM:

Laramie Sasseville @ 202: "Actually, there is evidence that mobbing can lead to stress-related physical and psychological illness."

First, I do think that mobbing (I prefer to group these behaviors in with bullying, but I understand the distinction Dr. Leymann is making) is a problem, can lead to illness both physical and mental, and should be resisted. That site is a good reference on the subject, and thanks for the link.

Now let's talk about the ways in which what's happening here isn't mobbing.

Here is the definition of mobbing Dr. Leymann gives (emphasis mine):

"Psychological terror or mobbing in working life involves hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic manner by one or more individuals, mainly toward one individual, who, due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position and held there by means of continuing mobbing activities. These actions occur on a very frequent basis (statistical definition: at least once a week) and over a long period of time (statistical definition: at least six months´ duration). Because of the high frequency and long duration of hostile behavior, this maltreatment results in considerable mental, psychosomatic and social misery."

Obviously this case meets the frequency criterion, but a key part of mobbing is its sustained duration--at least six months by Leymann's definition. The mocking of Patrick Roscoe has lasted a week to date, and really lasted only a couple of days.

A third criteria which isn't spelled out but is implicit in all of Leymann's examples is the inescapability of mobbing. It's happening in the work place, face to face, where it can't be avoided. Again, this isn't the case with the public mocking going on here--all Roscoe has to do to avoid it is not go to a handful of websites. It's entirely possible he doesn't even know it's happening.

Very simply, this isn't mobbing. That hundreds, maybe even thousands of people have thought or even typed out "Patrick Roscoe is a douche" does not and cannot add up to sustained, personal psychological abuse by one's peers, no matter how many people join in. They're not equivalent.

"Do you think a harm isn't harmful because it isn't physical? Otherwise why is it harmful for Roscoe to use sexist language in the first place? And if language is harmful an analogy to physical means of punishment is perfectly reasonable."

I certainly do not subscribe to the "words can never hurt me" philosophy of rhetoric. Of course words can hurt--especially when they're backed by centuries of systematic violence and humiliation. It does not then follow that verbal abuse is just like physical abuse--they're different in a number of important and relevant ways. To begin with, words are not mortal, and therefore the harm they can do is far short of that done by hanging or beheading.

#209 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 09:26 PM:

Laramie, if you are Patrick Roscoe,* then please do say so, and we can talk with some hope of resolution about specific harms you feel have been done to you.

If you are not, then "someone being wrong on the internet" is not that intriguing going forward. You may believe that our mocking of Mr Roscoe's approach to interpersonal relations is offensive to you on aesthetic grounds. You've made that point, with increasing levels of hyperbole, until it's now all about you. This is concern troll territory. You don't want to be there.

Now, if you believe Mr Roscoe's behaviour is actually not that bad, and want to discuss that, rather than some nebulous concern for some feelings he might or might not have, go for it.

--
* I don't actually think you are.

#210 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:00 PM:

pericat @ 209: "Now, if you believe Mr Roscoe's behaviour is actually not that bad, and want to discuss that, rather than some nebulous concern for some feelings he might or might not have, go for it."

I think you misunderstand Laramie's position: she isn't defending Roscoe's feelings or his behavior, she's arguing that our response is inappropriate regardless of who the target is and what they've done. I think she's wrong, that she's grouped the mockery of Roscoe in with a set of other behaviors that I agree are unacceptable under any circumstance, but she isn't saying what you think she's saying.

#211 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:19 PM:

abi at #182

> One of the most difficult things to be in a community is the canary in the coal mine. The fuse, the one who breaks first.

This is why I so utterly dislike the term "concern troll" - I know what people are talking about, I know it's a real thing they're complaining about - but the term seems like such an ideal stick to hit well meaning people with that I can't abide it.

I don't have the allergic reaction to 'you people' that many people on Making Light seem to have, but this is perfectly analogous.

#212 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:23 PM:

I first met Laramie in the early 1980s. Whatever else is going on with her, she isn't Patrick Roscoe.

#213 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:26 PM:

Steve, if everyone on the internet were as benevolent as you, moderation might never have been invented.

#214 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:31 PM:

Normally it's pretty hard for me to avoid jumping in an online conversation. I did avoid this one, though, because I came in early on and it looked like Enough People Were Making That Point.

I'm not sure about the usefulness of this post, itself; it could be ammo for either side, or none, but I felt it should be recognized that,sometimes, I'm in the "Yeah, that's about enough" group; it should be recognized that there IS such a group, albeit shifting. I'm not sure there's much to say about the situation other than that.

I also invented the phrase "twitterstrafed"; is there prior art, or an existing phrase that does the same thing?

#215 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:40 PM:

heresiarch @ 210 Yes, I know. I just thought that might be a way of getting past what I see as unproductive chastising on behalf of Someone Else.

If I sent a query to an agent, and she posted it online with circles and arrows to show what was wrong with it, I would be disturbed if she attached my name. I sent it in good faith; that matters.

However, if following a standard "thanks, but no thanks" I sent a personally-insulting screed to that agent, I don't think I've a leg to stand on if she posts it with my name prominently highlighted. There are things grownups don't do, not because they are bad for business, but because they are just bad.

I don't think anyone should just have to suck it up when they get nasty letters, whether it's in pursuit of their profession or not. And I think it's the receiver's choice if all should be made public, not the offender's.

(Teresa @ 213, I really didn't think so. I was making a different point. I did it awkwardly. I am sorry.)

#216 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2010, 10:50 PM:

I wrote:

> This is why I so utterly dislike the term "concern troll".

Heh. I was just looking through some old posts and noticed one from just over a year ago where I thanked Abi for introducing me to a nice new term - "concern troll".

Look at me! I'm totally self contradictory!

#217 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 12:31 AM:

Steve Taylor @ 211: Increasingly what infuriates me about trolls is that they train rest of us to assume bad faith at the drop of a hat, and make us learn all these lightning-fast ways of shrugging off other people's arguments. It's a necessary survival skill, and yet hardening ourselves against other people's ideas is a very dangerous habit.

pericat @ 215: "Yes, I know. I just thought that might be a way of getting past what I see as unproductive chastising on behalf of Someone Else."

I really don't understand what you mean; you thought that telling Laramie that she was acting out of a concern for Roscoe's well-being (when you knew that wasn't what she was doing) would be an effective way of getting her to stop chastising us on his behalf?

I'm not trying to be deliberately obtuse. I'm just having trouble parsing.

#218 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 01:16 AM:

pericat: If I sent a query to an agent, and she posted it online with circles and arrows to show what was wrong with it, I would be disturbed if she attached my name. I sent it in good faith; that matters.

However, if following a standard "thanks, but no thanks" I sent a personally-insulting screed to that agent, I don't think I've a leg to stand on if she posts it with my name prominently highlighted. There are things grownups don't do, not because they are bad for business, but because they are just bad.

This, right here, for me, is the bright glowing line between #QueryFail and #RoscoeFail.


re: "concern troll" - It isn't a term I whip out lightly, and it runs on a fairly instinctual "I'll know it when I see it" radar, which is possibly why I hadn't thought of the possibility of its abuse. Steve Taylor brings up a very good point.

If I were to try to describe the symptoms that I diagnose as "concern troll," I'd say it's when the commenter's contribution 1) seems to have the most likely result of wrapping the conversation around the commenter and the commenter's personal concerns, and 2) the concern evinced is over something the commenter doesn't really seem to have a personal stake in.

...And yet I just managed to describe a set of behaviors *not* all of which fall into "concern troll" territory for me. Clearly this description is lacking something.

It's easier to point to what I saw happen here and say "this, here, when this happens, that's my clue." So, two common tropes showed up: urging the conversation participants to consider how their mocking of Roscoe reflected on them, and scolding the community for wasting energy on Roscoe when there are more important things to talk about. Both rhetorical devices aim to derail conversation. And both rhetorical devices are fairly patronizing, the first implying that the conversation participants can't be trusted to weigh the consequences of their own public behavior for themselves, and the second that we need to be told where best to expend our conversational energy.

So I guess add to my list of symptoms above "3) the concerned commenter seems to think that everyone else needs their guidance in choosing what to talking about and how to talk about it. They appear to base this conclusion off the mere fact that, left to their own devices, the others made choices in these areas that differed from what the concerned commenter would have had them choose."

I have not attempted to break this thought process down and analyze it before, so it may be coming out quite clumsily. It could stand further refinement, I'm sure. This is what I've got so far.

#219 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 02:13 AM:

heresiarch at #217 writes:

> Steve Taylor @ 211: Increasingly what infuriates me about trolls is that they train rest of us to assume bad faith at the drop of a hat [...]

I agree completely

#220 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 03:07 AM:

Wow. o.o

Three observations:

1) I recently received a rejection from an editor who, like Colleen Lindsay, said, "I think I'll pass." I did as I've done any time I've received a rejection: I sent the story onto the next publisher on my list.

2) Colleen's "outing" of Mr. Roscoe reminds me of a time (I can't remember how long ago) when Shawna McCarthy did the same to another writer in REALMS OF FANTASY.

And, finally,

3) Any time I read/hear of something of this sort happening, I remind myself that I'd rather not be put on a spit and roasted in public. That I'm always able to remember the stories make me think that it's working.

#221 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 10:12 AM:

Nicole #218: I'd note also that "failure to disengage" can easily lead a usually well-adjusted commenter into what's normally "troll territory". That's not just w.r.t. concern trolls, it can apply to other trollforms as well.

#222 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 11:45 AM:

heresiarch @217 Much of Laramie's dissent, it appears to me, has come of two points: that there is too much pointing-and-laughing, and that it is too severe.

But "too much" and "too harsh" is a kind of floating assessment; there's no anchor, no shared levels of offense to which they can be applied. I thought that perhaps the point of disconnect between her view and mine might be that she doesn't see Roscoe's sexism as being as bad as I see it. That where I see something unacceptable in any non-intimate context, she may see something not nearly so cut-and-dried.

#223 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 12:30 PM:

#163 I picked up "forgettery" from Friday by Robert Heinlein. It's a useful and ironically memorable concept.

I'm sure I came across it in some much earlier sf story. [Pause. Scratch head. Wander around bookshelves for a while.] Aha: Isaac Asimov uses it in his story "Sucker Bait" (1954 Astounding), nearly three decades before Friday.

#224 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 12:31 PM:

For instance if I send my resume to a potential employer, I have no expectation that they will keep it confidential.

There's confidential and confidential -- a resume submitter expects her resume to be passed around to whoever needs to see it at that workplace, but not necessarily to be posted on the bulletin board in the lunchroom with all the typos marked and mocked (OOH, LOOK! She's a lawyer, and she said she was a layer! har har!), much less on a company blog. Now, I *can* imagine a company blog posting saying something like, "You know, people really should have someone else proofread their resumes. I really can't take a lawyer seriously once he's called himself a layer (and yes, I've seen this typo on a real resume)."

I think the expectation of business correspondence having some level of privacy is a good and civilized thing. It's even more important to maintain a general expectation that consent is required for making something from private correspondence public. I don't think those rules should be broken unless you have a Really Good Reason.

You can certainly make an argument that the agent had a good reason in this case, and I have no problem with people arguing that way (I haven't made up my mind on the matter myself). But I refuse to say that privacy and consent don't matter IN GENERAL as basic rights. (I say that for clarification of my position, not as an assertion that anyone else on this thread has necessarily said they didn't matter. I hope that makes sense.)

#225 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 01:47 PM:

While talking about the relative privacy of business correspondence it's probably worth noting that anyone who is a professional author or who aspires to be one is or is attempting to become at least a limited public figure*, and if they're very lucky in terms of sales and publicity a public figure. In both cases said individual has a reduced set of expectations for things in the defamation and invasion of privacy areas of law and life. As soon as you start publishing things at the professional level you are going to have a reduced expectation of privacy and the more famous you get the lower that bar drops.

Now, that's a legal rather than a moral distinction, but it's also one that any writer who aspires to any level of fame should be keeping somewhere in the back of their heads anytime they write or say anything. It's certainly something I looked into when I first started sending my stuff out, along with copyright law and book contract language.

Imho, Patrick Roscoe wasn't just being a sexist jerk. If he honestly expected that this would never come to light, he was also exercising poor judgment about what his professional status means in terms of expectation of privacy.

*For a more thorough read on the term you can look at wikipedia or any of the thousands of references that come up if you google limited public figure or public figure.

#226 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 01:49 PM:

Laramie@154: "Should we pillory anyone who makes an indecent proposal, draw and quarter someone who gets drunk and slaps an ass?"

There's a real difference between the sort of verbal demolition going on here and physical assault. But you know, given just how dangerous the world is for a lot of people who are in classes likely to be victimized, there's room to say "Yes, in fact, we should respond a lot more strongly to unwanted intrusions, treating them as assault, battery, and the like rather than trivial slights to be endured and coped with." It would be a better world if those inclined to intrude on others felt they were running really serious risks to their liberty and standing by doing so.

Steve Taylor@172: "Unfortunately, while I believe I can point to the problem, I don't feel I can point to the solution."

Rule #1: When you find there's good reason to believe you've done something jerkish, apologize promptly, clearly, and without reservation. Then settle in for analysis.

In the case at hand, if the guy had just said, "Oh, no, I was a total cretin in that last message, I'm so sorry. Let me start over with some rudimentary manners this time", or anything like that, that would have pretty much ended the thing right there. But it's hard to do that without a deep honest conviction that you can be genuinely mistaken and awful, will be sometimes, and have to deal with it when it turns out you are.

#227 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 02:53 PM:

I'm going to re-post something here that I wrote in another forum:

I'm seeing a lot of confusion here about what constitutes professionalism. What that author and that agent had wasn't an ongoing personal or social interaction. Up to the point where he started verbally abusing her, what they'd exchanged were business letters.

She'd put out a general notice that she was accepting queries from potential clients, not an invitation to exchange secrets and be his bestest buddy. He sent her a diffuse and defective query. She sent him a rejection form letter. As of that moment, it was a finished transaction. She'd fulfilled all her responsibilities to him. She had, as promised, considered his query, and she'd given him an answer. That was all she owed him in return for his submission.

He responded to her rejection with an extraordinarily rude letter. He didn't intend it to be funny. He meant for it to hurt. He meant his second letter to hurt, too.

What's the status of the social contract at that point? It's this: he's visiting gratuitous abuse upon a stranger who doesn't owe him a thing, in a situation where there has been no offer to enter into any further relationship.

Under those circumstances, there was nothing inappropriate about her printing his letter. Given that abusive behavior has a strong tendency to be habitual rather than situational, I'd argue that it was quite appropriate for her to print it. In any event, she was under no obligation to protect him, or to keep his behavior a secret.

That's my formal take on it. Personally, I'm squicked to see so many women identify with a man who was verbally abusing and bullying a woman who'd done nothing wrong, and who'd treated him politely and with respect.

If this guy wants someone to take that kind of @#$% from him, he can hire a professional and pay her an hourly rate. It's not the agent's job to let herself be abused by random strangers.

That's my take on it: once she told him "no," any privileged transaction (assuming one existed) was over and done with. Also: wherever you draw the boundary on the transaction, he was offering himself and his work for her consideration. The possibility that he's going to get turned down is implicit in that. He has no grounds for becoming abusive when he's gotten one of the two normal outcomes.

Besides, when I was four years old my mommy taught me that if someone doesn't like something you've printed, and they send you a threatening letter, the thing to do is print the letter. I dutifully filed that away until I had occasion to use it some forty-odd years later, and found that it was good advice. I'm not going to stop doing it now.

#228 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 03:14 PM:

I've forwarded a link to Comment 227 to some friends of mine as it has really helped to clarify my feelings.

I commented here at the time that I was unhappy and uncomfortable with #queryfail and I remember getting called on my somewhat weak "not very professional" comment, which made me think about where the lines were drawn (for me).

Reading this thread, where I'm now on the other side of the fence (but close enough for splinters once again) I have been somewhat confused by my reaction.

TNH's argument nails it for me. I don't think there's always such a nice and neat distinction but in this instance, it feels very clear.

#229 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 03:38 PM:

That's my take on it: once she told him "no," any privileged transaction (assuming one existed) was over and done with.

Okay, *that* makes a lot more sense to me. I may even end up agreeing with you.

#230 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 03:43 PM:

One thing strikes me:

The author wrote:

Best of luck with your list of minor writers, third-rate writers, irrelevant writers, non-writers.

As of about fifteen minutes earlier, he'd been trying to become one of those minor writers, third-rate writers, irrelevant writers, and non-writers.

#231 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 03:48 PM:

I quite like Teresa's argument at 227. That really works for me on a number of levels and it's elegant to boot. Applause.

#232 ::: TK ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 04:21 PM:

#231 Kelly McCullough - I quite like Teresa's argument at 227. That really works for me on a number of levels and it's elegant to boot. Applause.


All I can say is "Ditto." Thanks for clarifying things so well, Teresa.

#233 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Jim @ 230 -- Goodness, no, he was trying to make her a star, take her out of that ghetto, etc. She failed to appreciate the honour and the opportunity.

#234 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 05:20 PM:

I like #227 too... as usual, Teresa sheds far more light than heat on the discussion!

#235 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 06:05 PM:

Bruce Baugh at #226

>> Steve Taylor@172: "Unfortunately, while I believe I can point to the problem, I don't feel I can point to the solution."

> Rule #1: When you find there's good reason to believe you've done something jerkish, apologize promptly, clearly, and without reservation. Then settle in for analysis.

No - I was talking about another problem entirely - the problem of dogpile formation in previously clear skies.

I'm sure every single person who's read this thread agrees that Roscoe is a jerk and would do well to (but won't) apologise. That's the easy part.

#236 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 06:09 PM:

Steve: Ah, that's trickier. Somewhere I found some good advice about that, actually. Will hunt...

#237 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 06:18 PM:

Teresa @227:

Besides, when I was four years old my mommy taught me that if someone doesn't like something you've printed, and they send you a threatening letter, the thing to do is print the letter. I dutifully filed that away until I had occasion to use it some forty-odd years later, and found that it was good advice.

I am intensely curious as to the circumstances in which a four-year-old gets given this advice. We can has storytime?

#238 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 06:29 PM:

HelenS @ 224: I really don't think writing an insulting letter is equivalent to making a (however embarrassing) typo. A typo is a mistake, indicative of nothing more than poor proofreading, but the letter Roscoe produced was very consciously written to injure. There is I think a pretty bright line between them.

I feel many of the people raising concerns about mocking Roscoe are worried at some level that this sort of thing could happen just as easily to some well-intentioned but misstepping individual, and wouldn't that be awful? They are right that it would be awful, but it's also very easy to avoid: don't write letters setting out to insult people, and if you must, at least do so without resorting to bigotry-laced invective.

Everyone's seen these same tools of mockery and public derision used in inappropriate contexts against undeserving targets, but that isn't an argument against mockery and derision--it's an argument against using them inappropriately. It's not as slippery a slope as all that.

Bruce Baugh @ 226: "In the case at hand, if the guy had just said, "Oh, no, I was a total cretin in that last message, I'm so sorry. Let me start over with some rudimentary manners this time", or anything like that, that would have pretty much ended the thing right there."

Seconded. An apology would have worked wonders.

#239 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 06:48 PM:

I am intensely curious as to the circumstances in which a four-year-old gets given this advice. We can has storytime?

Nicole @237, of course, got there first and said it better, so I'll just settle down with my blankie and wait.

David Harmon @234: as usual, Teresa sheds far more light than heat on the discussion!

I am, however, keenly conscious that T is entirely capable of shedding as much heat as appropriate. <Keeps skewered hot-dogs and marshmallows to hand, just in case.>

#240 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 07:20 PM:

My problem with this is that social repudiation is a *very* effective tool. Like any tool, it can be misused, and I'm certain that a nontrivial number of posters here are victims of misused social repudiation.

As others have said, it wasn't politeness that got us from what was socially acceptable in 1910 to what is now; but definitely "they're Not Our Sort, Dear" (on behaviour, I'm not talking NINA or Jim Crow here) was a very effective way of regulating society, even then. It required people who said - and continue to say - "that's Not Right either, and I don't care what you do because I'm speaking Truth" to change things, especially changes to societal norms - because societal repudiation is so powerful a tool.

Thus my discomfort. Naming and publicizing sexist jerkery of this level I think is exactly what should be done, and "that was private" be damned. You talk to me that way, you don't get to defend behind "that was for your ears only". And dropping the weight of Teh Internets on the culprit doesn't really bother me - that's how the tool works. But the tool should only be used for good, and because it's such a big tool, the wielder had better not make a mistake.

Of course, since *I* think this is deserving of correction, I think it's a correct use of societal pressure. Repent Amarillo (WARNING! link to Google search. If you don't know what RA is, use the search results to find out before going to their site!) does exactly the same thing to "control" behaviour they think is wrong, and since they think it's deserving of correction, they think it's a correct use of societal pressure (and I'm sure we all can come up with similar instances in the last 100 years or so). I think RA's behaviour is deserving of something, but it isn't praise. But if they can be that honestly convinced of their correctness, and be that wrong, why can't I?

Because I'm a better person than they are. But then he'd say that, wouldn't he?

#241 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 08:46 PM:

Mycroft W et prev: The only way out of that hall of mirrors is, at some point, to simply "declare our allegiance" to our tribe and its rules.

In this case, we're enforcing the moral precepts of what I'd call the "liberal tribe".¹ Those precepts include general civility and and strongly discourage unprovoked aggression.

¹ Not to be confused with liberal politics, much less the slightly-less-conservative party in America. What makes it the "liberal" tribe is "open citizenship" -- that is, we'll welcome anyone who abides by fairly minimal rules, more-or-less regardless of their membership in other groups.

#242 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 08:52 PM:

Me @#241: PS: The emphasis on civility and peaceful resolutions follows from the demands posed by diversity of membership..

#243 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2010, 10:17 PM:

David Harmon @ 241: "The only way out of that hall of mirrors is, at some point, to simply "declare our allegiance" to our tribe and its rules."

Most emphatically no. Giving in to the easy certainties of tribalism is the exact opposite of what you should do when confronted with the question of "how do I know what I know?" What you should do is question your assumptions, examine them both rationally (are they logically consistent?) and empirically (do they accurately reflect the world?) until your doubts are--at least temporarily--assuaged. Deciding you're right because you're in the good gang and you're in the good gang because you're right is the worst possible response.

(Are there plenty of people who endorse liberal values in a decidedly illiberal way? Certainly. That doesn't make it an ideal.)

#244 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:11 AM:

Tom @85: I haven't done _any_ SEO, and my website is #1 hit for my name, and the site where I sell my photographs is #2. I wouldn't have thought that his name is as rare as mine, but Google is pretty smart these days.

Albatross @186: there's another dimension to this: if the speech in advocating hatred and bigotry, it ought to be treated differently than advocating tolerance. I know those are not universal social norms (unfortunately), but they should be.

#245 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:51 AM:

heresiarch #243: The problem is that both the "rational" and "empirical" tests are subject to massive cognitive (and historical) biases, and seeking out your assumptions leads eventually to "moral axioms" -- claims that simply have to be accepted a priori.

The classic question here, highlighted by recent studies in games-theory, is the choice between "maximizing personal benefit" versus "deferring to the rules supporting group benefits". ISTM that choice underlies the basic decision between Good and Evil¹ -- but the thing is, it's ultimately a choice of strategy, and there's no way to "prove" one or the other.

¹ note the parallelism failure -- in part because the associations can change... for example, when you have conflicts between different social scales (person vs. family vs. clan vs. ...), or varying resource levels.

#246 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:13 AM:

One point I'd raise here is that one of the things the growing ubiquity of an online presence is creating (slowly) is a more polite society.

One of the greatest social disincentives toward polite behaviour in cities has always been the growth of anonymity - the whole "do you know who I am?" question. One of the things which is starting to happen in just the last few years is that a growing number of people are linking their online personae to their offline personae, such that the reputation they acquire offline is linking with their online reputation to make them socially significant figures in the online world. At least part of the "problem" with a lot of this is that the persons who are most empowered by this sort of behaviour tend not to exclusively be part of the "empowerful" group in today's kyriachy (upper-middle class white, heterosexual, Protestant Christian male people from the United States of America). A lot of them are. But others aren't.

Now, looking at the behaviours offered up in the current situation, I'd point out that Mr Roscoe's behaviour is something which speaks of the ease of long practice - he's responding to a professional negative with gender-specific personal abuse of the person who refused him. Even ten years ago, if he'd done this, nobody outside the immediate participants and their close circle of friends would have known of it. Word might have circulated through Ms Lindsay's professional circle by way of queries of friends in the same business - but probably not. There has always been a lot of pressure on the persons who are receiving the brunt of abuse, run-around, or just plain rudeness to keep quiet, not make waves, not raise a fuss. Indeed, in many cases, this is what allows repeat offenders to continue their pattern of offending - nobody says anything aloud, they assume it's something they (the recipient of the abuse) did, and so there's no disincentive for the offender to alter their behaviour.

What's changed? Well, Ms Lindsay has a blog, and she has some followers on Twitter - and they have friends, and friends of friends. So when she says "oh gods, what an arsehole" about someone, she has access firstly to a much wider pool of people who can offer a reality-check on the incident - she can forward the email to someone else, or quote sections, and say "what do you think?" - and she can get the answers in something approaching real time. Secondly, if she posts something about the incident, she has people who will read it, and forward the URL on, or respond on Twitter, or whatever. So instead of Mr Roscoe's abusive behaviour remaining discreetly under wraps, to be raised in a quiet query with someone else months later and allowing Mr Roscoe to carry on being offensive without critique, his behaviour is outed pretty much instantaneously, and shown up for what it is. I'll be honest - if I were a regular reader of Ms Lindsay's blog, working in the same field as she is, I'd be a tad more cautious if I saw anything by Mr Roscoe crossing my desk, particularly if I found it wasn't something I felt I could reasonably sell. But on the other hand, if I received a follow-up email like Mr Roscoe's immediately afterward, I'd at least know it wasn't anything I said which set him off - instead, he's just a particularly bad-mannered person who doesn't appear to have grasped the rules of social interaction and who thinks he can get away with such behaviour.

Now, an interesting wrinkle: I've noticed when it's women who are raising things which are ticking them off (such as abusive email, lousy manufacturer service or similar) on blogs or twitter, it's considered unjustified and there's a lot of outcry which tends to be along the lines of "how dare she!". When it's a man doing the same thing (for example, Kevin Smith regarding a particular US airline) there's a lot more "oh, well, of *course* he's going to be annoyed and rightly so!" in the response. So maybe there's a gendered response to expressions of annoyance as well?

#247 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:15 AM:

abi@109: I'm a little startled that "silly woman" is drawing such hate. Saying "silly person" seems stilted when you're addressing a particular person of known gender. Or maybe it's just that I grew up on "silly wabbit!"; changing the species etc.

#248 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:26 AM:

I really don't think writing an insulting letter is equivalent to making a (however embarrassing) typo.

I didn't mean that they were equivalent at all. The point Bruce Cohen and I were discussing was the amount of privacy that is NORMALLY accorded to ORDINARY business correspondence: to what extent can sending in a resume, for instance, count as consent to having that resume made public? People have been saying that to a certain extent privacy and consent issues are *not* valued in business correspondence, even when one is corresponding with ordinary, civil people, and I don't think that's so, nor should it be so.

#249 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:30 AM:

David Harmon @241 --

I think we can do better than axioms these days, in that it's possible to generalize about outcomes in systems subject to selection.

There is still, unquestionably, a real choice about "optimize own results" and "optimize system health", and the related choice of timescale to be concerned with, but I think the nature of the choice can be put on much stronger ground than axiomatic choice.

#250 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Context, ddb, context. This is clearly not an attempt to engage in playful humor. It is obviously patronizing dismissal.

#251 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:43 AM:

ddb @247:

You've never been on the receiving end of relentless, lifelong, insulting stereotyping then. But I was aware of that before, because you're still stinging from your recent and relatively brief exposure to the experience.

The first time I got treated as stupid because I was female...well, I can't remember it, because it was in elementary school. Or maybe pre-school. But, like most women, I'm long experienced in people discounting my opinions (or my actual knowledge) because of my gender.

I've lost count of the times I've said something in a meeting and had it ignored, then had a man say the exact same thing and get the credit. I've certainly grown tired of people treating me like a moron in technical contexts because my voice is high or because I have breasts ("Hello, VW supply, I'd like to order a distributor clamp that would fit a '66 microbus." "Is that for a Volkswagen, lady?") And it's a well-researched fact that users on the internet with identifiably female handles get markedly more crap thrown at them than neutral or masculine ones (this is why I used to be "evilrooster" everywhere.)

You don't see it because you don't live it. But take the word of the people who do have direct experience of it. Trust us. We know what we're talking about here. There are a substantial number of people (mostly men) who think that women are less intelligent, less capable, and less worthwhile than men are. The use of "silly woman" is a marker of this attitude.

Maybe it's like the colleague I had once in Scotland who referred to another colleague of African descent as "that boy", without meaning anything by it. (I had to take him aside for a swift debriefing.) But given the rest of Roscoe's correspondence, I doubt it. He may not have sat down and consciously chosen the word, but he was clearly running a mental model where she was inferior to him, and his language shows it.

#252 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:55 AM:

(delurking)

ddb @ 247:

Historical precedent. Women's ideas have traditionally been dismissed because women are air-headed, frivolous, emotionally driven, intellectual lightweights. And "silly" is so often a term of endearment.... isn't it? Oh, she's such a cute little woman, getting in beyond her depth.

"Woman" is not a necessary descriptor if you want to call someone an idiot. "Halfwit" works just as well, if not better.

When I see "silly woman" used as one insult of many, I'm quite certain that its use is deliberate and intended to be demeaning.

#253 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:07 PM:

heresiarch@238: I feel many of the people raising concerns about mocking Roscoe are worried at some level that this sort of thing could happen just as easily to some well-intentioned but misstepping individual, and wouldn't that be awful?

I know I've been on the other side of that one fairly recently. It definitely makes me feel unsafe. I do suspect it drives lots of resistance to attempts to move the definitions of various offenses (and even crimes).

When it gets to feeling that possibly some other hypothetical person might get caught, this seems to me to be taking concern for others a step too far. (The difference between that and worrying that significant numbers of actual people will be caught is important, of course.)

(This case does not make me feel at risk; I can't imagine repeating the basic mistake of responding very rudely to a form rejection.)

#254 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:20 PM:

I have to admit that the sexism was so expected, to me, given the rudeness, that I was surprised to see such weight put on the "silly woman" and so forth. (NOT saying anyone was wrong to do so, they weren't: I mean "surprised" literally here.) I found it milder than what I was expecting to hear in that context (most likely I was expecting "silly bitch"). Given that the patterns of our modern language have been so tremendously shaped by sexism, it's actually rather difficult to frame a rude rant from a man to a woman that is NOT sexist.

Of course, the fact that I was expecting a box on the ear (in the form of "silly bitch"), and instead got the somewhat milder push in the face of "silly woman," is no defense of either tactic.

#255 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:32 PM:

Graydon #249: Yeah, but "generalizing about outcomes" doesn't help make the fundamental choice, it's just more computation about what actions will get what you want. And again, it's not just "individual vs. system", because of the multiple layers of hierarchy. Does the top priority belong to my self, my family, my circle of friends ("old boy's network"), department, my company or agency, my church/religion, my nation, humanity as a whole? Do I change loyalties when my usual choice would leave me "pissing into the wind", or when I can't rely on them backing me up?

So what can you do about choosing morality? I lean towards Aristotelian morality, and think having a personal "priorities list" is critical to moral behavior. It hardly matters why you choose your priorities, or which you choose (though they emphatically don't fall under non gustibus disputandum), but if you have them and stick by them, you have a much better shot at both maintaining personal integrity, and avoiding being exploited by others. Also, others will find you much more "reasonable" to deal with -- that is, even if they're in conflict with you, they'll know where you stand.

#256 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:37 PM:

Jacque@250: That's not at all what I was suggesting. I think you've been lead astray by my last sentence, which was peripheral, not of the essence.

Abi@251: Of course I'm aware of those things in general; I hang around progressive and feminist folk most of the time, and even read things now and then. And I don't dispute the categorization of this individual; while I was raising a question about one particular usage that people were using as evidence, there were plenty of other sexism markers.

I do see the argument that "silly woman", by coupling the gender identification with the nasty bit, is at risk of being seen as sexist (while "silly man" is much less so). I do have some trouble with these asymmetries, and might well have ended up writing that one phrase that way myself if I were accusing somebody of being silly; it mostly doesn't occur to me to deliberately suppress known gender.

I am at least reasonably safe from carelessly referring to an adult male of African descent as "that boy" -- I wouldn't use "boy" for an adult of any race, it's clearly belittling.

#257 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:43 PM:

Enjay@252: When I see "silly woman" used as one insult of many, I'm quite certain that its use is deliberate and intended to be demeaning.

Well, of course it is; it's a deliberate insult.

But is "woman" the insult"? No, "silly" is the insult. It's just not nearly as idiomatic to call somebody "silly" as to call them "a silly <something>". When the person is female, "woman" is likely to come out as the value of <something> (if you don't have a better choice such as "English knight" (pronounced "knigg-it") to hand).

#258 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:51 PM:

256/257
'Silly' and 'woman' tend to be used together much more frequently than 'silly' and 'man'. I suspect both are used more frequently by (a certain kind of) men than by anyone else.

It's belittling at best, and an all-out insult at worst.
It's the same mindset that says that women can't handle money, that they can't understand machines (especially cars) and that they have to be protected from making Important Decisions because those are just Too Difficult for their little brains to handle.

#259 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:57 PM:

I do see the argument that "silly woman", by coupling the gender identification with the nasty bit, is at risk of being seen as sexist (while "silly man" is much less so).

and

But is "woman" the insult"? No, "silly" is the insult. It's just not nearly as idiomatic to call somebody "silly" as to call them "a silly ". When the person is female, "woman" is likely to come out as the value of (if you don't have a better choice such as "English knight" (pronounced "knigg-it") to hand).

As I understand it, you're saying that "silly woman" isn't inherently sexist, though it can be taken that way, because "woman" is a simple descriptor with no sexist content and "silly" can also be applied to men (or any other group).

I would argue that although the intentions of you or any other individual using the phrase might not be consciously sexist, the phrase itself has a resonance that is historically developed that makes it very difficult for it to not have sexist meaning. The phrase has been used for a very long time in a way that directly links silly with being a woman as cause and effect, in order to dismiss women's ideas.

That meaning is offensive to many women in the same way that the use of "boy" offends African Americans, but the fact that it is offensive is not as commonly recognized.

#260 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:59 PM:

"Silly woman" is in many ways more insidious than "stupid bitch." Because it's so much less overtly hostile, because it's the lesser of many possible evils, because it can be argued as a parallel of the very mild "silly man," because it may even be claimed as an endearment, it can be used as a communicator of misogyny with a dollop of plausible deniability on top. A man who wouldn't dare be heard calling a woman "bitch" in public might feel a lot more comfortable expressing his feeling of gendered superiority by calling her "silly."

The use of plausibly deniable hostilities needs extra effort to push back, because of that very plausible deniability. No one needs to argue that "bitch" is an attack. But "silly woman" requires being picked apart for the benefit of those who don't instinctively feel it as a slap in the face, and so more will be made of it.

#261 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 12:59 PM:

ddb @x100--

I got out to play with hard boys a couple of times during my misspent youth, but I would never claim I was one. Or that the term, as they used it (it was half a joke if they used it; not a joke if a respected superior used it in the right tone of voice; a your-body-will-never-be-found insult in the wrong tone of voice from the wrong person) was demeaning.

David Harmon @xFF --

Weeelll, I think moral systems as a class are a mistake; it's an attempt to use a rule-based mapping to drive conduct, and I think the entire approach collapses under the complexity load of a large, well-connected, human population. (Rather like a lot of traditional social systems just can't cope with more than a couple-five thousand people.) I think treating such decisions as state change filters (e.g., "what causes you to like yourself less, do not do") works better in terms of providing sufficient complexity handling.

In the specific case, having a landscape of outcomes that attaches to some degree of statistical expectation, rather than assertions about the emotional states of deities or the expectations of the outcomes of the applications of will, permits -- at least I think it permits -- a more informed choice. Certainly there is a choice, but it's a much more confident choice about, frex, what generic-your old age is going to be like.

#262 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 01:08 PM:

Nicole @ 260:

Thanks, that was part of what I was trying to express, you put it very clearly.

#263 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Nicole@260: This argument, if taken literally, does seem to lead to it being impossible for a man to express displeasure of any sort with a woman. Since I'm reasonably confident that's not your actual intention, I'd like to ask for some clarification.

If you're just saying that we should be rather careful both with our feelings (are they gender-based?) and how we express them (can the expression be reasonably read as gender-based?), then I have no disagreement. (And obviously we'll get it wrong sometimes, and people will take offense unfairly occasionally, and so forth, all the usual give and take and variation of interaction between actual humans.)

#264 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 01:35 PM:

This latest turn of the discussion keeps bringing to mind Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot.

The Westminster Review (October 1856), Vol. 66 (old series), Vol. 10 (new series), pp. 442-461

SILLY Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them–the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. But it is a mixture of all these–a composite order of feminine fatuity, that produces the largest class of such novels, which we shall distinguish as the mind-and-millinery species.

As you all can see, GE's also getting at Mary Sues and romance novels, claiming that silly women create these silly products, which explains the dislike of this GE essay in many feminist* quarters these latter days -- even unto renouncing George Eliot and all her works forever and ever, amen.

Love, C.

__________________

* I am not endorsing or excusing the use of 'silly woman' or other intentionally sexist or racist insult, even though I will never give up the works of George Eliot myself, though she herself did not endorse any form of feminism, while I r one. GE was a brilliant novelist, a fascinating person, and like the rest of us, a flawed human being.

#265 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 02:11 PM:

ddb @263 This argument, if taken literally, does seem to lead to it being impossible for a man to express displeasure of any sort with a woman. Since I'm reasonably confident that's not your actual intention, I'd like to ask for some clarification.

Expressing displeasure with anyone by belittling their person being generally frowned upon, you might instead attempt to confine your expression to their actions or behaviour.

IOW, take Nicole's argument literally. Please.

#266 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 02:32 PM:

pericat@265: You're saying the problem is in saying as a form of disparagement that anybody "is" anything? We should never call anybody an idiot, moron, asshole, a bitch, or a sexist? For the highest standards of debate I do agree, but very very few conversations take place at that rarefied level; we're not managing it here, many people have said Roscoe is various bad things (we have not limited ourselves to statements about his behavior).

#267 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 02:44 PM:

ddb @266: You're saying the problem is in saying as a form of disparagement that anybody "is" anything? We should never call anybody an idiot, moron, asshole, a bitch, or a sexist?

(For sexist I would substitute "bigot?")

I would generally concur with this. I personally try (though I don't always succeed) to keep my disparagement to behavior. All bets are off if I'm venting, but I try to vent in a way that makes it clear that I'm lampooning me, my situation, and my reaction to it. When it comes down to dealing with actual people and their actual behavior, I think I can safely generalize that addressing the target respectfully is always a better bet. May not be effective, but that's another kettle of greeps.

we're not managing it here, many people have said Roscoe is various bad things (we have not limited ourselves to statements about his behavior).

Hrmm. <squirms uncomfortably>


#268 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 02:48 PM:

ddb @ 266: This is where you become tone-deaf and miss the very important connotations. "Silly woman" is a double insult, because "woman" is being used as an insult. Anything linked to feminity or the state of being female is de facto a statement that it is "less important than", "lesser" or "inconsequential" in comparison. The hidden assumption here is that a default existence is male, and that every level of perfection is male, not female.

Yes, it does mean you should stop calling people "bitch" -- that is a female dog, and not anything else. Denigration of some one by referring to them as a female of some non-human species is not amusing and reinforces the inherent sexism of our society. Try calling people a "stud" (or male dog) when you disagree, and see if you get the same feelings.

If instead you focus your disagreement on items that all humans share, or upon the actual behavior that you disagree with, then you're not as likely to run into sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, or some other form of bigotry.

#269 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 02:54 PM:

We should never call anybody an idiot, moron, asshole, a bitch, or a sexist?

Sounds like a reasonable goal to aspire to. Criticize what the person does or says, not the person's being. "What you said was _____" is fine. "Your opinion is _____" is fine.

"You are an idiot", "you are a moron", "you are stupid" — not one of those is a useful contribution to a discussion, IMO.

As Jay Smooth says in "How to tell people they sound racist", it's important to remember the difference between the "what they did" conversation and the "what they are" conversation.

#270 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Graydon #261:

Weeelll, I think moral systems as a class are a mistake; it's an attempt to use a rule-based mapping to drive conduct, and I think the entire approach collapses under the complexity load of a large, well-connected, human population.

I'd say you've got that dead backwards -- the whole point of moral rules (and many other sets of behavior rules) is to save on complex computation, by providing simple rules instead of demanding full analysis of every encounter.

And Aristotelean morality in particular is bottom-up, being specifically concerned with self-improvement. Judgment of others was an input to his analysis -- that is, he was asking, inter alia, "why do we call one person virtuous, but another merely admirable, and a third, only fortunate?"

#271 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 03:32 PM:

Jacque@267: Mind you, I'm perfectly willing to claim my share of the less-than-ideal rhetorical language, here and elsewhere. Anybody who really believes that, over the long term, their behavior is truly faultless, is narrow-minded or rather lacking in self-perception or something.

#272 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 03:39 PM:

pericat @ #265 "Expressing displeasure with anyone by belittling their person"

Yes. I hear "silly" as belittling, no matter the noun which follows.

#273 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 03:45 PM:

ddb @ 266:

We should never call anybody an idiot, moron, asshole, a bitch, or a sexist?

That depends on whether you want them to change the behaviour that provoked the insult in the first place.

Idiot, moron, asshole, bitch, or sexist are all descriptors that are (presumably) based on comments or activities that CAN be changed (although the person to whom the descriptor applies might not agree with the premise that their behaviour needs to be changed). But as Lexica mentioned, calling names is not a constructive way of offering feedback if you want a positive response, because they insult the person rather than critique the behaviour. That makes it harder for a person to know how to make changes if they have acted out of ignorance. It also makes it easier for the person being attacked to dismiss the comments completely.

IOW, "You need to consult with others when making decisions and stop yelling at those who disagree with you" is a lot more likely to produce results than "Stop being an asshole."

On the other hand, things such as skin colour, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, ability, and so on can't so easily be changed, so when they are linked to in an attack it really is an attack on an individual, not their behaviour.

#274 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Ginger@268: "Bitch", at least, is not a problem for me (I'm not at great risk of inappropriate use); I use the verb, but not the noun, of people ("I'm bitching about whatever today").

For some reason, son-of-a-bitch doesn't trigger the same distaste in me. Logically it should; the insult is in claiming somebodies mother is a bitch, which ought to be as out-of-bounds as directly claiming it. (Or maybe that his mother is a dog?) In any case it's not generally applied to women.

If you really mean that any reference to anything relating to female gender is inherently demeaning, I have to say I'm not willing to go that far. That would seem to be a counsel of despair, with no visible way back to a saner linguistic place, and I'm not going there. That the issues are tricky and subtle and laden with bad history, I do entirely agree with.

Oh good, we can still call people assholes, since all people share that :-).

Oh, and...

Jackque@267 again: I recognize "bigot" as the general term that "sexist" is a specific form of, if that's what you're asking. When we're discussing the details of offensive language, the exact cases are often critical, though -- "silly woman" clearly gets different reactions from "silly man", never mind "silly African American" or "silly Protestant" or whatever (those last perhaps getting blank incomprehension from most people?).

Generally: there are very basic communications issues here, including the most basic one, the "meaning" of any communication. Which have not, I think, been satisfactorily resolved (though there have been lots of illuminating theories, no doubt more since I last paid attention). And communications theory and ethics make a bad pair.

#275 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 04:21 PM:

@272, Linkmeister: I hear "silly" as belittling, no matter the noun which follows.

... I'm not going to put this as well as others have, but "man", traditionally*, defaults to "responsible". A "silly man" can go back to being treated as a serious one merely by doing one serious thing. A "silly woman" will have more trouble.

I feel like I'm failing to express my idea with the clarity and vigor it deserves.

* "Traditionally" is often a filler word, but not in this case.

#276 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 04:42 PM:

ddb @ 274: "For some reason, son-of-a-bitch doesn't trigger the same distaste in me. Logically it should; the insult is in claiming somebodies mother is a bitch, which ought to be as out-of-bounds as directly claiming it."

I would hope that would clue you in that something more than the pure denotative meaning of "silly" and "woman" is at play here, that in fact there's another important consideration affecting the sexist impact of "silly woman"--namely, its context. Of course imagining the offensive potential of "silly man" doesn't illuminate the offensiveness of "silly woman," because insulting a man doesn't happen in the same discourse as insulting a woman. For a man, there's no centuries of history of patronizing dismissal, there's no well-oiled engine of social marginalization that will kick in the instant someone labels him "silly" and gets it to stick. No possible insult directed at a man can have the same connotations, because it does not occur in the same context.

"If you really mean that any reference to anything relating to female gender is inherently demeaning, I have to say I'm not willing to go that far."

It's demeaning if the reference to gender is used to dismiss a orthogonal concern. Consider:

"Why should we care what he thinks about our interior decoration? He's just a stuffy engineer."

What bearing does being an engineer have on the subject of interior decoration? Manifestly, none. Yet it's quite clear that the fact of his engineer-ness is being used to dismiss his opinion on an entirely unrelated subject. Femaleness is often used in a similar way to dismiss women's concerns on any number of issues.

#277 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 04:44 PM:

Sandy B @275, I think the asymmetry is in the "what you do" vs. "what you are" distinction. Or, as it's called in some psychological theories, "state" vs. "trait." The implicit assumption is that a silly man is in a state of being silly, which he will probably emerge from shortly, while a silly woman is inherently always a silly woman.

The subtleties of language are fascinating.

#278 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 04:50 PM:

OtterB@277: Then again, people may be reading things into statements that the people making the statements had never for a moment meant, and would vehemently reject.

#279 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:03 PM:

ddb, it's not really accurate to compare "idiot" and "moron" to "bitch" or "silly woman."

Idiot and moron both denote stupidity, and stupidity only. They mean the same thing when applied to a man as to a woman.

"Silly woman" and "bitch" don't just mean what they denote, though. They also mean "embodying of negative stereotypes associated with women." When applied to a woman, they insult not just that woman, but all women. When applied to a man (as "bitch" sometimes is), they express that the man is worth less because he's like a woman, which is an insult only within the context of the sexist "man=good; woman=bad" worldview. And, again, insulting to all women, in suggesting that being grouped in with us is undesirable.

Calling a man a "silly man" doesn't mean that he's embodying negative stereotypes associated with men; if anything, the insult there lies in the suggestion that he's not embodying positive stereotypes associated with men (strength, intelligence, decisiveness).

So no, you really should never call anyone a bitch if you're trying not to perpetuate sexism, because you can't use that word to refer to a human without implying, at best, that women are inferior to men, or at worst, that women are equal in value to female dogs. (Which isn't to say that women don't use the word 'bitch' all the time--I've been trying and failing to excise it from my vocabulary for the better part of a year--but the fact that women do it doesn't make it not sexist).

That does not hold true of the other words you listed. While rude, they're rude because it's rude to call people names, not because they suggest that an entire gender is innately inferior to the other.

#280 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:08 PM:

ddb @ 278:

Then again, people may be reading things into statements that the people making the statements had never for a moment meant, and would vehemently reject.

True, but that doesn't stop the statement from being offensive. It just means the speaker is not aware of the offensiveness. The offense doesn't cease to exist because it's not directly intentional.

Someone who says something offensive unintentionally isn't a bad person, simply ignorant. But their condition—ignorant or intentional—has no bearing on the effect of the words on their target.

#281 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:22 PM:

enjay@280: Eventually, people can take things to the point of becoming "offense thieves" -- taking offense that isn't theirs. I don't feel that way about this discussion yet, except for the full logical implications of a few of the more absolutist comments. But it's something to keep in mind, for me.

It's blatantly obvious that not everybody, not all women, not all American women, not all middle-class and up college-educated American women of my generation or younger, agree on all of this.

#282 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:28 PM:

281
It's blatantly obvious that not everybody, not all women, not all American women, not all middle-class and up college-educated American women of my generation or younger, agree on all of this.

Your conclusion doesn't follow.

#283 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:28 PM:

ddb @278, The problem there is that the power to define the word always lies with the person who has more agency.

When a man says something sexist, and a woman says "hey, that was sexist," if the man can turn around and say "no it wasn't! I didn't mean it that way--you're just being overly sensitive," then women have no redress for sexism, because whenever they're victimized, they're also blamed for being victimized. When a man reacts this way, he is using his agency to assert that he has the right to decide whether or not what he said is hurtful to someone else, instead of respecting their right to decide that for themselves.

If a man says something sexist and honestly doesn't mean it to be sexist--if they really want to contribute to a world where women and men are viewed as equals--then the appropriate response is to believe the woman when she tells him that what he said was hurtful. If you say "Wow, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way--I meant XYZ," then you are simultaneously: 1. valuing the woman's right to be the arbiter of what is hurtful to her, 2. acknowledging that sexism is wrong, 3. divorcing your point from the unintended sexist connotation, and 4. asserting that you still believe the point you meant to make has value. Also, 5. Getting the conversation back on track in a way that suggests you welcome the woman in question to participate in it, and care what she has to say.

Another example, this one about racism: when Obama first took office, there were people who were defending disparaging remarks about him by saying "I am/he's just calling a spade a spade." I'd wager that the vast majority of those people didn't know that "spade" is a racial slur referring to men of African descent.

When others expressed shock at their wording and tried to explain to them what they were inadvertently saying, there were two reactions: on the one hand, the people who went "wow, I did not know that. What I meant was, I think those comments about Obama are true." On the other, there were people who said "ooh, the PC police are trying to silence me!" The former came off looking like they really didn't mean to be racist, and wanted to discuss the issues at hand. The latter come off looking pretty racist, whether they originally meant to or not.

If something you say gets taken some way you didn't mean it, all you have to do is say so. So long as you do it in a way that acknowledges the mistake instead of blaming the person or people offended, then hey--no harm, no foul, and the conversation needn't experience but a momentary interruption.

#284 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:35 PM:

ddb @271 --Anybody who really believes that, over the long term, their behavior is truly faultless, is narrow-minded or rather lacking in self-perception or something.

Whether people ever use demeaning epithets isn't the issue. Knowledge, and the responsibility that goes with it, is. When I know that people find words like 'tard or lame or boy or silly+woman offensive, then my continuing use of those terms, whoever I direct them toward, reflects a conscious decision to use what has been defined as a hurtful term. As others have said, when I'm upset about something, it's more productive and more honorable to focus on the behavior than the person. Sure, I can continue to call people whatever I like, but I can't expect not to be called on it.

and ddb @278 Then again, people may be reading things into statements that the people making the statements had never for a moment meant, and would vehemently reject.

The old 'I didn't mean it that way' argument. That implies that people shouldn't take it 'that' way. Except that as has been pointed out, terms like silly+woman are markers, and the best response is to call people on this in the hope that the term -- and the underlying attitude -- will diminish.

#285 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:41 PM:

My quickie reading is that a man who presents himself in a sexually, um, provocative pose on his website probably means something sexually demeaning in the phrase "silly woman". Just my opinion, though.

But to go over the question abi poses n 109: Is it possible for someone to behave so badly that they deserve to be named and shamed? Named, yes, if they are dangerous (for a pretty broad interpretation of "danger"-- being verbally abusive is, from my perspective, abusive enough). Shamed? I have qualms about that: there is always an element (or at least the risk thereof) of harming the other person for one's own amusement.

#286 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:49 PM:

ddb@281:

Certainly not all women, broken down into whatever subdivisions, agree on all of this. This is quite true.

It's also somewhat irrelevant, because no one gets to dictate what is offensive to someone else. Substantial numbers of women are offended by the phrase "silly woman" for reasons gone into in detail previously; the fact that other women are not offended by it doesn't mean that the offense to those who object to it is not real or that they shouldn't say so.

If someone is offended, they're offended. But saying that someone shouldn't be offended is a game that's played all the time. "Oh, don't take everything so seriously, it was just a joke" is constantly used to disenfranchise people from their right to feel offense. "You shouldn't be so sensitive, because it wasn't meant maliciously." "Don't be silly, that's not offensive." The thing is, something may not be at all offensive to person A but still be incredibly offensive to person B. I don't get to say that African Americans shouldn't be offended by someone calling them "boy" even if the use of the word doesn't impact me. And I won't accept that someone else should be able to tell me that I shouldn't be upset by the use of the phrase "silly woman" in an attack.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by being an "offense thief." Are you suggesting that it's not appropriate to stand in solidarity with individuals or groups that are offended against when you are not directly affected? I'd have a very hard time agreeing with that. I'm white, but I don't see why that should mean, for example, that I couldn't stand up and say something about ways in which people of colour are unjustly treated.

#287 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:50 PM:

ddb @ 281, I'm with PJ Evans and not at all sure how you reached your conclusion there. Could you unpack the evidence and reasoning on that one?

I tend to think of the phrase "silly woman" as a single unit of meaning with a strong sexist connotation based on the weight of history and the contexts where I've encountered it. The words can be broken apart and parsed separately certainly, but when you do that you're no longer talking about the same thing. You can break a short story into individual words, but then it's no longer a short story. In the context of the history of sexism I think a good case can be made that, "silly woman" is a short story if for no other reason than that carries a bunch of meaning not apparent when you break it apart.

BTW, if it matters, I'm a white American male and thus have never heard it applied to me, just to others.

#288 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 05:59 PM:

P J Evans@282: Well, it makes it hard to figure out who I should take as my guidance on these issues (if I were inclined to do that, rather than making up my own mind).

Annalee@283: Do you hear what you just said there? I think you just said I have the power to define the word, and then insisted that I use your definition. I consider both sides of that to be just plain wrong. I have equal power to define words with everybody else. (In my actual experience, less practical power -- I hang around with lots of women who are professional writers or otherwise language experts, so I can't "get away" with anything in that area and often find I'm having misunderstandings corrected.)

If I find I've miscommunicated to a person, I tend to do what you suggest. However, that's not the same thing as a discussion of communication and usage in a public forum. I don't automatically defer to anybody here any more than you do (other than moderatorial issues).

#289 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:01 PM:

These things change over time as well. It is my understanding that 'son of a bitch' was originally not intended as an insult to the target's mother, but a euphemistic way of calling a man a dog—which was too extreme an insult to use in public.

#290 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:03 PM:

288
'What we have here is a failure to communicate.'

If I go any farther than that, I'm going to be swearing.

#291 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:12 PM:

enjay@286: Of course people are offended if they're offended. Equally of course, sometimes they're reacting reasonably, and sometimes they're not. People can randomly take offense about the most absurd things -- hats, feet, words, faces, food, flags, whatever. I'm not going to give every individual out there the absolute power to warp my usage arbitrarily for their own amusement, thank you very much.

I think my actual decisions and usage are not that out of line with what you would want me to do in this, though. I think the problem is that I'm objecting to the absolutist phrasing of some of the statements. Absolute statements "always" (oops!) cause me to examine the outer limits of what they enclose; and I nearly always find it absurd or ridiculous.

#292 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:17 PM:

Kelly@287: Since I actually use "silly x" for various values of x, humorous and otherwise, it's definitely not a single unit of meaning for me. And "silly woman" doesn't carry extra meaning for me. In fact, I got there from "silly person", which I rejected twice -- too close to the Monty Python reference "son of a silly person" for serious use, and it felt strange to use the somewhat forcedly generic "person" in a discussion where the gender of the individual under discussion was clear.

Certainly you have to look at language at a bunch of levels at once to accomplish anything meaningful about meaning.

#293 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:26 PM:

ddb@ 291:

Of course people are offended if they're offended. Equally of course, sometimes they're reacting reasonably, and sometimes they're not.

No. That's the whole point. You don't get to say whether they're reasonable or not, because then you are imposing your life experience and the cognitive filter of your world view and context on them, and it may or may not be appropriate. Reactions which would be entirely inappropriate from me in my context might be entirely appropriate for someone else in a different context.

You can of course still decide how to respond and whether it is reasonable for you to accomodate someone who has taken offense. It might or might not be, depending on a whole lot of variables. But that's a separate issue from defining their response within your context.

#294 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:27 PM:

Oh good, we can still call people assholes, since all people share that :-).

You are either missing the point that several people have made (about criticizing a person's behavior, not their being) or are willfully choosing not to address it.

A failure to communicate, indeed.

#295 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:32 PM:

As a slightly linguisticky angle on the "silly woman" topic, I think it helps to consider that in any phrase of the general form "[evaluative description] + [categorical class]" there is an inherent free-floating implication of "[evaluative description] because of membership in [categorical class]". This implication can be over-ridden by a sufficiently low cultural/historical association between the description and the class.

For example, if someone said something along the lines of "I saw that slimy lawyer again this morning" it would be reasonable to conclude that the speaker is making a derogatory comment about lawyers in general (in part, because of pre-existing cultural associations) whereas the same person saying "I saw that slimy gardener again this morning" is more likely to be interpreted as expressing an opinion about one particular person who also happens to be gardener.

In this context, the differential insulting qualities of "silly woman" and "silly man" derive from the lack of a socio-cultural context of men being considered to be inherently silly because of being men.

#296 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:48 PM:

@294: Or, perhaps, the ddb, he make-a teh wee small joke....

#297 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 06:58 PM:

ddb @247, "silly woman" in isolation might just be tone-deaf, a clueless attempt to be lighthearted without realizing how it comes across to many people. "Silly woman" in conjunction with "you lose, babe", however, puts it pretty clearly into the "deliberate attempt to demean" category for me.

#298 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 07:04 PM:

ddb #288: You're playing word games, trying to delegitimize the offense taken by a group you don't belong to, and people are starting to get irritated or worse. Personally, I suggest you stop digging.

#299 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 07:32 PM:

I started to say this once and stopped, because my point had been addressed by several others. However, it's now clear that the male-privilege root of the argument is still going strong.

Nicole, #260: The use of plausibly deniable hostilities needs extra effort to push back, because of that very plausible deniability.

ddb, #263: This argument, if taken literally, does seem to lead to it being impossible for a man to express displeasure of any sort with a woman.

This rebuttal, if taken literally, appears to imply that you cannot imagine any way of expressing displeasure with a woman that does not involve disparaging her gender.

When you add in the "offense thieves" toss-off, and the "not all women would agree with this, therefore the woman I'm arguing with must be wrong" fallacy*, it starts to sound remarkably like "I want to be able to say anything I like to a woman without being called on sexist language, no matter how many times it's been explained to me that the language in question is sexist," with a side of "Words mean what *I* want them to mean, no more and no less." Also, #291 sounds a lot like "I'm just playing Devil's Advocate here," which is also a trigger for many people in online contexts for reasons that should be tolerably obvious.

This is what argument from a position of privilege looks like. It's probably not what you intend to be saying, but it is how you're coming across.

* Be really careful how you play that card. I could, for example, say that by those rules, C. Wingate @285 and Kelly McCullough @287 invalidate your argument, and you would have no recourse.

#300 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 07:43 PM:

ddb @281:

It's blatantly obvious that not everybody, not all women, not all American women, not all middle-class and up college-educated American women of my generation or younger, agree on all of this.

I'm sure that's true, and that you can name specific women who don't view "silly woman" as being more charged than "silly man", but it's really not terribly relevant; granted I may have missed it, but I didn't see anyone claiming that All Women Everywhere agree on the point.

Your point about "offense thieves" -- people who are offended on others' behalf, when the specific person on whose behalf they're offended isn't upset -- is valid (though problematic when it's a group, rather than an individual, being insulted -- is the straight guy who speaks up against homophobia when surrounded only by other straight men an "offense thief"?), but this part of your post is perilously close to the "My Black Friend Says It's OK" response to accusations of saying something racist -- just because there is disagreement among a group about whether a usage is offensive toward that group does not, in and of itself, make it acceptable.

#301 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:05 PM:

The term "silly women" has biblical reverberations -- if you look to Timothy 3:6-7, in the King James version:

"For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Later bible translations have re-labeled said women as "vulnerable," "weak-willed," "weak-minded," or "foolish."

In latin (for those interested):

"aex his enim sunt qui penetrant domos et captivas ducunt mulierculas oneratas peccatis quae ducuntur variis desideriis

semper discentes et numquam ad scientiam veritatis pervenientes"

Needless to say, I happen to agree with the notion that two-word combinations (noun + modifier) often stand as a single entity, with connotations greater than the sum of their parts, particularly if historical usage has given the phrases additional weight and substance.

Here's an example -- if you were in Israel and happened to run into someone who was particularly tightfisted, would you refer to him as a "stingy Jew?" Both terms might be accurate, but what reason would you have for pointing out his religion, if not to accentuate the stereotype, and give a more sinister meaning to the adjective?

#302 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:06 PM:

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

What you choose to do about the response is the next step, but in no way changes the first one.

#303 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:23 PM:

ddb@280: I have equal power to define words with everybody else.

No, you don't. When multiple women tell you that something is offensive, and tell you why it is offensive, and you say "no it's not because I say it's not" in the same breath that you claim not to have more agency than we do to define words, you are being at best obtuse.

If you are male and white, than you have far more power to define words than anyone else. You have the power to dismiss others as "offense thieves," or claim their feelings are "unreasonable." You have the power to not be held accountable to the ways in which your words and actions actively deprive others of agency.

You have this power because you can pretend the problem doesn't exist, and it costs you nothing to do so. That gives you the absolute power to frame the problem anyway you please. You can say "we're equal" as if that makes it true, and absolves you of any responsibility to make it true. You can ignore everyone who tells you that you're wrong.

And you can do all this without any real concern that it might impact your job, limit your business prospects, or reduce your esteem in the eyes of your peers and colleagues. You can do it without anyone dismissing your entire gender as unreasonable; without anyone suggesting that you are biologically disposed to such an illogical position; and without having to bear up under the weight of centuries of oppression while others tell you you've got it every bit as easily as they do.

We do not have those luxuries.

So no, we do not have the power that you have to frame the argument, or determine the language of the debate. You are blameless for your ignorance of this, and the harm is causes, only before the clue phone starts ringing off the hook.

And now I'm afraid we've passed the point where I can continue to be civil about this, so with apologies to our moderators for being so snarky, I'm done for now.

#304 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:25 PM:

David Harmon@245: but that's the problem. Trust me, what happened to me in school maximized group benefits - at great cost to one member of the group. The problem with using the societal pressure tool is that it is most easily used by the norms of the society to enforce the status quo; "maximizing group benefits" only works if the group benefit is actually a Good Thing. Which gets us back into mirrorland.

For instance, if NINA, the chance of me getting a construction job is significantly greater than if not NINA - I'm NI. Since "the group" is primarily NI, this maximizes group benefits, at the expense of the minority.

If you're thinking a better way is minimizing damage to members of the group as opposed to minimizing damage to the person individually, that may be closer.

Meg@246: actually, I think that's also a problem (as I've said several times here re: pseudonymity). I take pains to dissociate my online persona (which I keep as consistent as possible) from my real name (if not my offline persona) because "on the Internet, no-one knows you're a dog" is now transferring into "on the Internet, you're Dog X from 1544 Anylane Blvd, City, State, and I can take online disputes offline and offline disputes online" and I have legitimate fears of that happening.

As I have also said here, it's not a full-on cut; anyone with time to waste on it could associate me with me, and publicise it if they really didn't like me (and I'd appreciate it if nobody actually did, neh?). I'm not trying to Witness Protection Program; I'm just putting on a lock to deter door-rattlers. That's enough, for my safety.

I think online or off, some of the people with traditional power are finding out that they're the High School Quarterback five years out of High School, and society doesn't work the same way any more as they're used to. And the tool of social displeasure works against them, too, if there's enough people willing to help be the tool.

Because that's one thing that the Internet certainly *has* done - made a critical mass of people interested in X much much easier to get than before; and on average, internet-connected people's social networks are larger than they were before, so the chance of being "Oh, you're *that* guy" is higher, as well. That's good and bad, of course - just another tool. Which is why I fear when I am involved in its use.

So I'm not really upset with be dogpile; it's how the tool works. At least it tends to be dogpile for short (unless you're James Ray, of course) times rather than isolated exclusionary tactic for years.

General, but sparked by 257 enjay: As I've said on a number of recent discussions on abuse of privilege, "deliberate" is a bad word to use. Many times, there's no deliberation happening at all - and that's the problem (Sometimes, I realize, deliberate is exactly the word for it - but frequently, it isn't). This person has lived his whole life with enough innate power and privilege that he assholerises to anybody who says "no" - and the technique he has learned to assholerize to women is what we all see here. No thinking required - and almost certainly no thinking performed.

That doesn't make it better. That doesn't make it less offensive (more so, perhaps). That certainly doesn't make it blameless! And it doesn't make it any less hurtful, offensive or demeaning that it wasn't deliberate. But deliberate implies he knows what he's doing and could just do something different; when in fact, it goes much deeper than that and is much harder to fix.

Step one is knowing that privilege exists. Step two is seeing how it works. Step 3, at least, is trying to unlearn the bad behaviours that come with, or are safe because of, privilege. Somewhere in there is understanding, and somewhere in there is not being a self-centred asshole enough to be willing to cause less damage. Somewhere in this chain, also, lies deliberation.

On Agency: the reason that 283 Annalee Flower Horne isn't playing "you have the power to define the word, but insisting that you use her definition" is that this is a time and a place of shifting agency dynamics. Traditionally, what she said about "when men say" was true. In many, if not most places, it still is. But some people, like Annalee, are saying "I'm going to grab some of that power myself, because this is wrong." In the right place, and if this is the right time, the power play will work, and then she'll have enough agency to at least debate the definition without being dismissed as a "silly woman". If it isn't, the play will fail, as most of those plays in the last 40 years have. But every single success builds a bigger fraction of society that can, or will, use societal pressure to change things. In some places, it's happened already. In some places, it won't for a very long time.

On offence: One of the reasons I keep my real name and my online persona separate is that there is a way to seriously offend me using my real name. It's not David, but pretend it is. If you want to subtly piss me off, or play power games, call me Dave. If you really want to piss me off, call me Davey. I've had years of "lighten up, everybody does it, and it's not *really* offensive, I'm just trying to be matey." and "Of course people are offended if they're offended. Equally of course, sometimes they're reacting reasonably, and sometimes they're not."

Fuck That. I don't actually, really, CARE, if it's unreasonable. In fact, it's even better if I'm not. Because not doing something that offends me not because the offence is reasonable, but because it's right to avoid giving offence, is actually better than not doing it because it's reasonable. It says I matter. And doing it, knowing it's offensive, because "that's not a reasonable thing to be offended about" is almost worse than doing it, knowing it's offensive, and intending to be.

#305 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 08:29 PM:

Lee@299: it starts to sound remarkably like "I want to be able to say anything I like to a woman without being called on sexist language,"

That's pretty far and away from what was originally said.

ddb@247: I'm a little startled that "silly woman" is drawing such hate.

I've yet to read anywhere where ddb comes out and says no one is allowed to be offended by the silly woman comment. And nowhere has ddb said ddb wants the right to say "you silly woman" to some woman at some point in the future.

what ddb said was he was startled by all the hate towards the comment.

Lee@299: no matter how many times it's been explained to me that the language in question is sexist

Isn't that the problem though? enjay is saying stuff like this:

enjay@293: No. That's the whole point. You don't get to say whether they're reasonable or not, because then you are imposing your life experience and the cognitive filter of your world view and context on them, and it may or may not be appropriate.

So, on the one hand, enjay is saying those who are offended are saying that offense is personal, therefore no one can come in and tell them NOT to be offended. On the other hand, you're saying the words are, by definition, absolutely offensive. Which removes the option for someone to NOT be offended.

I agree with enjay on this. Offense is personal. But consistency would demand that NOT being offended is also personal. Whichi means that if ddb is NOT offended nearly as much as someone else, that his reaction is just as valid as whoever finds the comment to be the most offensive thing ever said in the world.

But to take ddb basicaly saying he wasn't offended as much as some have been, and turing that into "I want to be able to be as offensive as possible to women" is seriously misrepresenting what was actually said.

Offense is a spectrum. and it's personal. And just because someone was NOT offended to the point of hatred doesn't mean they're your enemy worthy of dogpiling or strawmanning their position into "I want to offend women at will".

#306 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:05 PM:

I want to offend bad people at will, but not if they can find me in meatspace and retaliate. Ah, well....

#307 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:07 PM:

It makes me sad and tired that every discussion about sexist* behavior will inevitably result in several men* stepping forward to condescendingly explain that the sexist* behavior in question was, in fact, if squinted at right, perfectly innocent, misunderstood, not sexist* at all, and if the people being offended would just realize this all this silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry would go away.

I mean... every time. Every damn time. I can't post about this on my read-by-twenty-people blog without someone leaping in to go "Oh, but when they said (some highly offensive thing), clearly they only meant (literal dictionary definition), and therefore anyone claiming that the phrase is offensive is just looking to take offense!" This is followed shortly by "Why, my female/black/gay friends are never upset when I say that exact same thing!" and "Yes, but there's always SOMEONE who will take offense to ANYTHING you say so it's not like that means it was REALLY offensive."

Is it really all that damn controversial for women to say "This is offensive, this is part of a cultural pattern of offensive behavior, and this will offend even if someone sincerely and honestly means otherwise"? Especially when "sincerely and honestly means otherwise" isn't something anyone could argue in good conscience in this particular circumstance.


* Insert "racist" and "white people" as necessary. Or "homophobic" and "straight people". Or...well. So on and so forth.

#308 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:19 PM:

I think that when people start saying "I can't be civil about this anymore" it's time to think about whether you've maybe gone to far, insisted too much, crossed a line...and stop digging.

#309 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:24 PM:

Fade@307: "It makes me sad and tired that every discussion about sexist* behavior will inevitably result in several men* stepping forward to condescendingly explain that the sexist* behavior in question was, in fact, if squinted at right, perfectly innocent, misunderstood, not sexist* at all, and if the people being offended would just realize this all this silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry would go away."

What you said. And a lot of it.

#311 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:37 PM:

Fade: every discussion about sexist* behavior will inevitably result in several men ... (saying) ... if the people being offended would just realize this all this silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry would go away

I'm pretty sure no one has said anything like that on this thread. I can't recall the earlier posts exactly, but specifically ddb, whom the current anger is directed at, said nothing of the sort.

he has certainly NOT called the people who were offended to have had a "silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry" of a reaction.

This is strawmanning ddb into something so overtly evil that dogpiling him seems acceptable.


#312 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:38 PM:

Mycroft W@304:

I use "deliberate" in the sense of intending harm. The ranting abuse may well be reflexive, but that doesn't eliminate its intentionality.

Greg Landon@305:

To clarify, I believe that the question of offense and how to respond to it occurs at the intersection of both personal and community social issues. It is not the exclusive property of either.

Individuals experience offense on a personal level—what you feel is what you feel, and denying that offense exists doesn't change that. If another individual says you shouldn't or don't really feel the way you feel, it's hurtful, on a personal level.

However, the question of the experience of and response to offense also exists at a community level. In denying the right to offense it can deny that the original offense was wrong. It can impose a specific worldview and cognitive filters in order to deny the real experiences of other groups. At this level it has a social impact, not just an individual one.

On an individual level, it's perfectly fine for ddb or anyone not to be offended by language such as "silly woman." The response of any given person will be formed by their personal experience and learned culture. People have different experiences and won't all agree on what is offensive.

The problem arises when there is an apparent denial of the phrase's inherent ability to offend on a larger social level. ddb has suggested that the word "woman" in the original phase does not have derogatory meaning, that only "silly" is an insult; that meaning may be read into speech that was never intended; that people can easily become "offense thieves" and take on offense that isn't genuine; that plenty of women don't find the phrase "silly woman" offensive, so who should he follow for guidance (implying that not all responses are correct/genuine); that he will not allow others to define what is proper usage of language; and that people can get offended over ridiculous things. Since he hasn't also said, "Ah, I see what you mean" in response to the many explanations that have been given of why many women on this list see this as an offensive phrase in the context in which it was given, I find it hard not to read this cumulatively as a defense of the neutrality of the phrase itself, and as many have pointed out, the phrase is not neutral. The sentiment it expresses have impacted many on a personal level and have impacted women as a community on a wider level. Individual women may or may not have experienced such impacts and may not even believe in them, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Overall, I don't think people are arguing with ddb because he isn't offended by the phrase. It's because he hasn't acknowledged that it is a phrase that can offend.

#313 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 09:48 PM:

#302 The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

It should go without saying that that's perfidious twaddle, scarcely one step up from subtext-hunting.

#314 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:06 PM:

I am noticing a pattern in these discussions, which is destructive to both communications and community. It goes like this:

Someone says X, perhaps in a quoted comment far away.

Some other people comment that X is an annoying or nasty thing to say, that it seems kind of sexist, racist, etc.

I see this, and don't understand what it is about X that is offensive. I question this. The whole thing makes me anxious, because I have no idea how to avoid offending people by saying things no more obviously unreasonable than X, and I don't want to be taken for a racist, sexist, etc.[1]

A long conversation ensues, starting out basically polite and friendly, but with growing exasperation and frustration on both sides, largely because the stuff that makes X offensive to lots of people is a whole bunch of experiences I haven't had[2].

Over time, more and more of the people on the other side start more-or-less openly judging me as racist, sexist, etc., for my intentional bullheadedness in refusing to see why X is offensive. Or perhaps I simply parse their comments this way. Or more likely, most don't throw in an open accusation of this kind, but a couple do, and I mix them all together in my head.

This makes me still more upset and angry, since that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

Temperatures rise and responses get angrier and angrier, more accusations fly. I may suspect that many people on the other side of the discussion are acting in bad faith--playing "gotcha" games, calling me names, etc. Many of them are convinced I'm either acting in bad faith or am at least willfully blind. This ends badly.

Is there some way to short-circuit this? I mean, I understand there are the two obvious ways (one side or the other always gives in to avoid the conflict), but I'll admit I don't see how that works out well.

[1] Yes, there's the original sin type racism, sexism, etc. which everyone suffers from. But in context, when you slam someone for making a sexist comment as part of a general comment on their assholishness, you're almost certainly not talking about that.

[2] In some sense, that's the core of privilege, right? It's not just that you live in a different world than someone else, it's that you don't even see how their world is different from yours.

#315 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:25 PM:

enjay #312:

ISTM that there are two separate issues here:

a. What will offend my listeners?

b. What values should this community support or enforce, by our reaction to Alice being offended by Bob's words or ideas?

(a) is morally neutral. It's just as valid to know that lots of women will find a dismissive "silly woman" to be offensive, or to know that your grandparents will find discussion ofa gay friend's recent wedding offensive.

(b) is where the "shoulds" and "rights" come in.

It's important to distinguish between those two questions, and it seems like a lot of the discussion blurs that distinction.

#316 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:34 PM:

Wow, James, I couldn't disagree more. The meaning of communication isn't what you meant to say, it's what your listener hears (or reader reads). There's no other way to analyze communication failures.

Extreme case: you say something in a language no one else in the room understands. Your communication is meaningless, which is to say no communication took place. If you assume that the meaning of communication is the intent of the speaker, you have to analyze that communication as successful, because you know what you meant.

I think part of the problem here may be that you're interpreting that as a political statement, whereas actually it's a technical statement about the nature of communication.

#317 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:38 PM:

I was thinking that in the time of King James, "silly" meant "poor." Had it changed by then?

#318 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:43 PM:

317
I thought it meant something closer to senile or foolish (or mentally disabled, in more correct terms). I have seen it used that way, in a legal document from around 1800.

#319 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:47 PM:

albatross @ 314, That is the core of privilege, yes. When one can at best intellectually understand that a given phrase or set of circumstances is problematic for a group, but where the problematic effects have not, can not, ever, affect one's own mode of life or standing in the larger group.

Because I am a gay woman in a straight society, I have had the experience of being marginalized. Because I am a white person in a society that privileges white people, I have had the experience of being of the norm. When someone says to me, this thing you do or say gives offense to me, I can relate to their experience of oppression intellectually, but I am not of that group and cannot know the particulars. I have to defer to those who do know.

I once used the word "denigrate" during a mailing list discussion of I forget what. One of the participants contacted me privately. "I am a black woman," she wrote, and went on to say that she found that word, and all it contained, to be a problem for her. "To make things black is not to make them bad, or evil" was the essence of her note.

It made me think about the evolution of language and cultural value structures, and how pervasive the idea is that 'black' is synonymous with wrong, with evil, with ignorance, and that 'white' is, well, not.

I know there are plenty of people who would say she was oversensitive. I did not and do not think so; rather, I think she was someone to whom words matter, and I was and am grateful to her for showing me how a particular word might resonate in ways I would not, of my own experience and status, be aware.

#320 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:51 PM:

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

If you say something, and someone laughs his/her ass off, but you didn't mean it as funny, the meaning perceived by the other person is that your communication was funny. You then have to figure out if you want to correct that perception or not.

In the initial communication, your intent matters not at all. Only in subsequent communications regarding the initial communication can you explain your intent.

Meanwhile, the recipient is still dealing with amusement, and you're dealing with a response you feel is inappropriate.

#321 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:52 PM:

enjay: "Overall, I don't think people are arguing with ddb because he isn't offended by the phrase. It's because he hasn't acknowledged that it is a phrase that can offend."

ddb did say at 281: not everybody, not all women, not all American women, not all middle-class and up college-educated American women of my generation or younger, agree on all of this. which to me at least acknowledges an existence of a spectrum of offense from slightly perterbed to hatefully offended.

I don't think he came out and directly said it could offend. But if that is reason enough for dogpiling, then show me someone who *was* offended by the "silly woman" comment and who explicitely stated that its OK to NOT be offended to the point of hatred.

I've yet to see that either. At least, I haven't seen it from those directing the most dogs onto the pile.

#322 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 10:53 PM:

I think also Miller's Law might be considered here. From Communication Resource Center

Miller's Law was formulated by George Miller, Princeton Professor and respected psychologist. It reminds us of the importance of suspending judgment about what someone else is saying, so one can first try to understand what the person is saying without overly tinting it with our own colored glasses.

It goes like this: To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.

#323 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:14 PM:

Albatross: "A long conversation ensues, starting out basically polite and friendly, but with growing exasperation and frustration on both sides, largely because the stuff that makes X offensive to lots of people is a whole bunch of experiences I haven't had."

At this point, you go, "Oh, ugh, the world's full of nasty stuff I haven't run into. I'm sorry. This is way outside my experience, and I didn't mean to push any more junk onto you. Thanks for explaining. Let me work this over and see if I can find a way of making the point I actually wanted to make without inflicting more collateral damage, and in the meantime, I'll keep listening."

It works.

One part of privileged life is the confidence that the world has nothing basically outside your experience in it. The realization that it does is seldom comfortable, but it's a thing we can learn to deal with - maybe not happily ever, but certainly calmly, and taking it as a fact of life much like, say, the reality that not everyone speaks English. We listen and learn and practice and get on with things.

This stuff becomes tension-making only when somebody insists that because their heart was pure, there just can't be anything really deeply wrong with what came out. Abandoning that conviction is the key to a happy life in diverse circumstances.

#324 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:16 PM:

Lin, I'm really skeptical of that, because in my experience it's often been used by people who are choosing not to listen to the explanations other give and instead relying on their own imaginative guesses about what someone might, could, or should have meant. I would say instead that the key to understanding is a willingness to simply and clearly admit lack of comprehension.

#325 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:17 PM:

320 "The meaning of your communication is the response you get."

Interesting, but seems like an oversimplification, especially when dealing with multiple responses in a public forum.

#326 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:18 PM:

Sorry for the cascade, but to clarify my last:

Begin with "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

Follow it with "Can you explain?"

Then listen. For as long as it takes.

#327 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:20 PM:

Greg London, I apologize: I did not mean to say that ddb was claiming those things that I wrote, and rereading it, I do see how it came across that way.

So, to be clear: I don't think that you, or he, or anyone else I have seen post on this thread yet, is saying that no one should be upset about sexist language.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to make what I mean clear. Because every time I say "I'm tired of discussions of sexist/racist/homophobic remarks turning into people getting defensive because they didn't see it that way, and a long focused discussion with those specific people" what apparently comes across is "You're sexist/racist/homophobic!"

I'm not saying that.

I am tired of these discussions all turning into a discussion of who gets to decide what's offensive. Especially since it always seems to come down to "You're not allowed to tell me that you're offended unless I think you're justified in being offended."

#328 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:23 PM:

albatross @ 314: "Over time, more and more of the people on the other side start more-or-less openly judging me as racist, sexist, etc., for my intentional bullheadedness in refusing to see why X is offensive."

You might want to consider the possibility that bullheadedly refusing to defer to other people's expert opinions on a subject which you admit you know nothing about is, in fact, crossing the line between passive "original sin" bigotry and active "defending the status quo" racism.

If you were in a conversation with a physicist about advanced physics that you knew very little about and they made a statement you found nonsensical, how far would you pursue the possibility that this expert was wrong about the subject of their life's study and you, the lay person, were right? How quick would you be to grant that even if it didn't make sense to you, it was probably still correct? Do you extend the same respect to minorities and women when it comes to things they know a great deal about and you know nothing?

#329 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:24 PM:

Okay, one more.

The meaning of communication to anyone else is demonstrated in the response I get.

This doesn't rule out stuff happening in my head or anyone else's; it just looks to the shared external world for confirmation.

#330 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2010, 11:58 PM:

Bruce @326
Miller's Law is asking that you assume whatever is said that doesn't make sense to you, makes sense to the other person. It doesn't ask that you figure out what it is true of, only what it could be true of. A variation on "put yourself in the other's shoes." Often this leads to your list of questions.

If the person hearing a statement that doesn't make sense assumes the person making it is wrong, not factually wrong, but reactionally wrong, your list of questions often does not follow. I acknowledge with this statement that it is a generalization, often true, but not always.

@329
Exactly. This discussion has been about what people say to each other, not what we each say in our own heads.

#331 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:04 AM:

Lin: Oh, yeah, coupled with the right kind of self-skepticism, I can see the Miller formulation being really handy. I'm just thinking of situation where the problem is that the imaginer isn't getting anywhere close and isn't paying attention to clues that this is so.

#332 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:07 AM:

@322: "Miller's Law" is what keeps conspiracy theories going; the only thing people can imagine to explain a weird set of facts is often a highly improbable conspiracy.

#333 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:10 AM:

Dan @325
Interesting, but seems like an oversimplification, especially when dealing with multiple responses in a public forum.

Talking with multiple people gets multiple responses. Unless all the responses are pretty much the same, I would judge each response from each person separately, as I would in a verbal conversation. The meaning to one person is different than the meaning to another. I may find myself having to apologize to one, while the others are just fine. The meaning to one is hurt/offended, while the meaning to the others is not.

#334 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:11 AM:

ddb @332

Quite probably.

#335 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:11 AM:

Mycroft W #304:David Harmon@245: but that's the problem. Trust me, what happened to me in school maximized group benefits - at great cost to one member of the group.

And in response, you evidently left that tribe -- an option which is not really unique to modern society, but is certainly not available everywhere/everywhen -- and America in particular has traditionally made a big point of having the option. One of the derived values of what I'm calling the "liberal tribe" is that this sort of exploitation -- abusing an unwilling member for the benefit of everyone else (that is not the group as a whole, but "group minus victim") is wrong. In this respect "we" stand apart from the bulk of traditional human culture, because that tactic is actually pretty common, by various names -- scapegoat, Sin-Eater, untouchable, and less formal terms. "The Omelas option" is a stylized representation of this tactic, and the discussion it brings out was surely Le Guin's point in writing the story.

The problem with using the societal pressure tool is that it is most easily used by the norms of the society to enforce the status quo; "maximizing group benefits" only works if the group benefit is actually a Good Thing. Which gets us back into mirrorland.

Indeed -- social pressure is a tool for enforcing the status quo, for any given group. But what gets us back to mirrorland is actually the introduction of the term "Good Thing" as if it could exist independently, without a group to endorse -- and enforce -- it. (Which brings us back to Aristotle vs. Plato....)

Signing off for the night....

#336 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:13 AM:

I have said before that there is no unfettered right to take offense.* There is one level on which I can understand the "denigrate" example, but on the other hand I had to look up the etymology, as it is often the case that such etymological analogies turn out not to be true. It feels to me like borrowing trouble.

See, there's another way to look at it anyway: that labelling the speech of others offensive is a means of asserting privilege, because it attempts to put the labeller in a dominant position in terms of what is being said. On that level it all tends to deconstruct, out of context, into a set of power tactics. I am extremely wary of discussions of privilege because it all too often seems to me that those who discuss privilege in the abstract enjoy many privileges in the particular; the potential for abuse in this is so high that I've tended to take the (not entirely proportionate, I'll admit) position that the only privilege I'll acknowledge any more is the particular.

The first exit from this is an old principle: "Assume good faith."** In this wise I do not think the community should by default rise up in defense of emotionalized responses to statements that do not on the surface call for such responses.*** The penalty for doing otherwise is a community of none but fellow porcupines, as it were.

*As far as Roscoe is concerned, he took the fetters off by writing a missive that was one big offense, so on that account the continuing discussion has completely taken leave of what he wrote.

**Again, in Roscoe's case that assumption lasts about as long as it takes to read one sentence of what he wrote.

***Yet again, Roscoe calling her "silly" is contemptuous to where any sexism is frosting on the cake.

#337 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:13 AM:

Lin, having spent fairly extensive time with a paranoid schizophrenic family member in the grips of deep psychosis, I'm not sure I'm willing to treat Miller's Law as more than Miller's Seriously Needs to be Contextualized Suggestion.

#338 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Bruce @331

isn't paying attention is a key qualifier. Miller's Law facilitates communication. It can't eliminate all confusion. Societal presuppositions about the connotations of words and phrases can still cause problems. (grin. See above)

And I am signing off. I can't keep my eyes open.

#339 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:21 AM:

Kelly @337

In your situation, that sounds like a good plan.

#340 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:24 AM:

Kelly @337

I worked with a paranoid schizophrenic. Miller's Law may apply in that what was going on in her head was true for her, but damned if I could get it to relate to anything at all in my head/world.

#341 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:30 AM:

enjay@293: I have two choices; either I can treat all claims the same, or else I can treat them differently based on something like which I think are reasonable and which are not. Treating all claims the same comes down to accepting all claims, or rejecting all claims. Neither is a workable strategy; accepting all gives every individual in the world veto over my use of language, and rejecting all eliminates the possibility of learning from others. That leaves only making up my own mind -- based on whatever data I can get access to, of course.

Note that I'm not expecting anybody else to follow my decision here; I'm just saying that, in the end, I'm the person who has to decide how I'm going to communicate. Your second paragraph even seems to accept this view.

Lexica@294: As Jacque suggested, that one bit was a little joke. The smiley-face is supposed to be a cue to people that something of the sort is going on, and you even quoted that in your complaint. Of course, if a joke doesn't work, then it doesn't, and there isn't much to be done about it. Since I'd agreed explicitly in a couple of places that the verb "to be" is dangerous in such contexts, though, I think you're taking a rather narrow view of things to think I mean it.

Lee@299: You say the "not all women would agree with this, therefore the woman I'm arguing with must be wrong" fallacy, and the quotes there are YOUR quotes. I did not in fact say that. This is getting badly out of hand when people start making up stupid stuff and claiming explicitly and with quote marks that I said it.

There is a huge difference between that, and what I was asserting -- that I cannot assume any one woman to speak for the class of women, since all women are clearly not in agreement.

And I'm now severely out of time, and also out of patience. G'night, all!

#342 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:37 AM:

re 328: Claiming expertise is about as clarion a claim to privilege as it gets. The problem is that claiming expertise about the experience of anyone else is questionable, and that therefore the privilege stands a great chance of being spuriously claimed. And that's even before one gets to the extremely knotty issue of whether anyone else's experience has any claim on me if I didn't participate in it.

#343 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:11 AM:

341
the "not all women would agree with this, therefore the woman I'm arguing with must be wrong" fallacy, and the quotes there are YOUR quotes. I did not in fact say that. This is getting badly out of hand when people start making up stupid stuff and claiming explicitly and with quote marks that I said it.

Adding some frosting to that cake: that's how I read your remark also. So you might possibly want to re-read what you said, in the context of what other people understood you to mean.

#344 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:15 AM:

heresiarch #328:

There's a subtle difference between what I was talking about and what I think you're talking about. In order to be able to communicate with reasonable efficiency, I need some intuition about what the rules are. What topics, words, phrases, expressions, etc., are likely to give unintended or needless offense. (Sometimes, the offense is needed to discuss the topic, but I'm interested in not stepping on toes when there's no need to do so.)

When I keep asking about why X is offensive, but X+epsilon is not, I'm not claiming expertise about what should be or really is offensive to anyone else[1]. I'm trying to understand how to avoid giving offense. In the likely-dogpile situation, I'm also trying to understand what the community rules[0] are, and that's where the real pressure and potential nastiness comes in.

When many other people in the community get increasingly angry at me for not seeing the distinctions they're seeing, the message I'm getting is "The rules of this community will include a bunch of things we don't care to explain to you because it's too annoying and we're all tired of explaining it. So sometimes, you are liable to say something that seems normal to you, and get dogpiled. At this point, the only acceptable response is to apologize and shut up and listen as we lecture you." That's an amazingly shitty way to run a community.

Now, obviously, most interactions here aren't that way. Mostly, that's because everyone here seems to try to give me an honest and generous reading of what I write in nearly all cases. Without that, I think communication would become impossible--or rather, all our communication would read like contracts or standards documents. At least, without an honest and generous reading, it would be nearly impossible to disagree with the consensus views here as often as I do while still feeling like a member of the community.


[0] You can tell we're talking about community rules, norms, etc., both because we're talking about "shoulds," and because there is enforcement of those norms in the discussion.

[1] Though obviously I have to decide whether a given level of offense is worth worrying about, in a very big world where most everything offends someone. And I'm a member of this community, and I do think I'm as entitled as any other member to express my opinion of our norms.

#345 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:20 AM:

Lin Daniel at #320 writes:

> The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

I'm happy to talk about 'intended meaning' and 'received meaning'. If they are too badly mismatched then talking about 'meaning' gets me nowhere.

On the other hand...

> To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.

That is nothing short of brilliant.

It calls to mind something I read in a book on relationships which said that when you argue with someone, you should argue against what they're trying to say, rather than picking holes in what they actually did say.

#346 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:27 AM:

heresiarch:

If you were in a conversation with a physicist about advanced physics that you knew very little about and they made a statement you found nonsensical, how far would you pursue the possibility that this expert was wrong about the subject of their life's study and you, the lay person, were right?....

I think this is a lousy analogy, for two reasons:

a. We're mostly not discussing something about which I have no knowledge (say, the problems unique to long-term relationships between gay men), but rather something that exists in the world I live in, which I know something about, but also which I probably don't observe as effectively as other people (say, sexism in the high-tech workplace).

b. We're also talking, ultimately, about community norms. Whose offense should win, when Alice says she doesn't like Bob's word choices and he says she's oversensitive? How should I moderate my words and conduct to be a good citizen?

This doesn't seem much like claiming a right to have a place at the physics conference to describe my theory of irreducible complexity and intelligent falling. It seems like claiming a right to a vote and an opinion on political issues of interest to the community, but which don't land most heavily on me. Like me having strong opinions about Medicare or immigration reform, and voting on that basis, even though I'm neither an immigrant nor old enough for Medicare.

#347 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:28 AM:

Fade@327: Greg London, I apologize: I did not mean to say that ddb was claiming those things that I wrote, and rereading it, I do see how it came across that way.

Then apologize to ddb, not me.

I am tired of these discussions all turning into a discussion of who gets to decide what's offensive.

Again, I never saw ddb say that the phrase is not offensive, nor that no one may be offended by the phrase. It started with ddb saying, at most, he wasn't offended as much as some other people were. Which almost immediately was translated into some poeple accusing ddb of the crime of not being offended enough. Which turnes even further into a crime as offensive as the offensive statement that started it in the first place.

Especially since it always seems to come down to "You're not allowed to tell me that you're offended unless I think you're justified in being offended."

funny you should put it that way. I was just thinking that there are some people who seem to have in their minds that the appropriate level of offense to take at some remark or other is a level of offense equal to or greater than their own offended reaction. And anyone who isn't sufficiently offended is just as guilty as the offender himself.

And it also seems to be a common response to accuse anyone who is less offended than this minimum bar to be guilty of exercising privilege. Not always, but it seems to be a pattern. Even though they may be offended by the event, they're not offended enough.

I thought the "silly woman" and "babe" comment were based in sexist culture. I was offended by the comments. Not as much as some people, but I thought it was mild sexism exhibited by a man with no power in teh situation, so on an absolute scale, not as bad as some other sexist situations that occur in the world. But still probably an attempt to invoke a culture of sexism.

Would I "out" the man, print his full name, and publicly shame him? I don't know. Probably not. My level of offense isn't high enough for me to go that far.

Was Roscoe intending to be sexist? I don't know. I'm not sure it matters to me. It seems to me that what triggers my response level is how much actual damage is being done. Roscoe wasn't in any position of power and whatever he said had no effect on the power balance between him and the agent. It wasn't like a boss saying sleep with me or you're fired. It was a writer who got rejected and came back with some verbal abuse to try and lessen the pain by inflicting some pain of his own.

Those who refuse to allow someone like me to have a less offended reaction to the situation will often eventually get to the point of accusing me of privilege. I'm not offended enough because I haven't had to suffer like they did. I'm not offended enough because I'm privileged.

Which is really just a way for people who have decided that the appropriate level of offense to take is "their level or higher", for people like that to find ways to dismiss anyone who was offended on a level less than them.

"privilege" seems to be an accusation always leveled at people who are "fellow travelers" but just aren't "faithful enough" to the cause in the mind of the person making the accusation. I seldom hear people accusing outright racists of exercising privilege. THey're just called racists. The accusation of privilege seems to be reserved more for those who support the cause of equality but just aren't devoted "enough" to the cause.

If you're really tired of these kinds of conversations turning into who gets to decide what's offensive, then consider allowing everyone to decide for themselves how offended they will be. Because when people decide for everyone else it is invariably either "as offended as I am or less" or it's "as offended as I am or more".

At which point, you have people who should be allies in a fight against something truly evil instead splintering and fighting each other arguing who are the "true patriots" or truly enlightened souls or true scotsmen to the cause of equality.


#348 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:39 AM:

Greg:

If Alice says something and Bob's offended, the question of whether Bob has a "right" to be offended isn't about either Alice or Bob. It's about how the community should respond.

Should other people come to Alice's defense, or Bob's, or stand back and ignore it? Should the moderators disemvowel Alice's offensive comment, or tell Bob to suck it up?

Otherwise, there wouldn't be any point in talking about having a right to be offended. How can anyone not have a right to be offended, or to feel however the hell they feel? The only question is whether should other people consider you the wronged party when you're offended.

#349 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:25 AM:

C. Wingate @ 342: "Claiming expertise is about as clarion a claim to privilege as it gets."

That's quite true, and at the heart of the "but by pointing out my privilege you're invoking privilege!" mess we're hip-deep in. But all privileges are not created equal: some are earned due to merit, and others accrue based on membership within some group. The objection isn't to privilege per se, but to privilege handed out based on skin color or gender or some other orthogonal criteria. Women claiming special knowledge of what it's like to be women is different than men claiming to have special knowledge of how to write great novels.

albatross @ 344: "When I keep asking about why X is offensive, but X+epsilon is not, I'm not claiming expertise about what should be or really is offensive to anyone else[1]. I'm trying to understand how to avoid giving offense."

I see the distinction you're drawing, but I don't think it's quite as relevant as all that. Essentially what you're demanding is that they deliver their knowledge in a form which makes sense to you before you will act on it; to some extent that is a purely functional requirement--life would be a lot easier if you had an explicit understanding of what is offensive to others. But if that proves impossible (as it often does), what's next best: you drawing an extra large box around that subject within which you must tread carefully and rely on the kindness of others, or you ignoring their inarticulable concerns and doing whatever you want? One of those demonstrates consideration and respect; the other demonstrates uninterrupted privilege.

(I'm not sure it's coming through, but I'm writing this with great sympathy for your position. I'm also very attached to my explicit understandings of things, and more times than I care to admit I've been far too bullheaded when called on something I wasn't convinced was privilege. It's really, really hard to let go and just take someone else's word for something when you just aren't seeing what they're seeing. Sometimes, though, you just have to.)

#350 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:52 AM:

Greg London @347: "privilege" seems to be an accusation always leveled at people who are "fellow travelers" but just aren't "faithful enough" to the cause in the mind of the person making the accusation. I seldom hear people accusing outright racists of exercising privilege. THey're just called racists. The accusation of privilege seems to be reserved more for those who support the cause of equality but just aren't devoted "enough" to the cause.

I've mostly interpreted instances of "your privilege is showing" as a gentle admonishment that the person whose privilege is showing wrote something that was unintentionally offensive.

#351 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:18 AM:

C Wingate @342: Claiming expertise is about as clarion a claim to privilege as it gets.

No, not really. The nature of privilege is such that it's generally accompanied by ignorance about its nature, and even existence. That's the opposite of expertise.

Also, as heresiarch pointed out @349, privilege is a form of unearned status. Any status accorded on the basis of actual expertise is earned, and therefore not the same thing as privilege (at least not in the sense being used here).

#352 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:41 AM:

#347 Greg
Perhaps the agent was performing a "community service" of outing Mr Roscoe and thus sparing agents and other people from abusive missives from Mr Roscoe and from wasting their time and attention dealing with him instead of their time and effort going to more rewarding, productive, positive activities.

There's sexism and then there is sexism. Mr Roscoe's reply to being turned down, was uncalled for in its noxious tones and being abusive. The sexism was part of a more general level of abusiveness.

#335 David
Indeed -- social pressure is a tool for enforcing the status quo, for any given group.

Social pressure can be a tool for enforcing the status quo--alternatively, it can e a tool for change and blowing the status quo away. Consider social pressure regarding fashion, "Musn't wear Last Year's Fashion!" --that's social pressure away from the status quo as regards what people are wearing.... Or, there is the Pee Party, who are imposing social pressure especially with broadcast media promoting them all out of proportion to their actualy numbers (more people protested at protests in 2001-2008, against the misadministration, and got no such media promotion....)trying to change the status quo.

#320 Lin
Once upon at time I was on busiess trip to Huntsville, AL. I went into the hotel restaurant where a coworker alread was, sat down, and looked out the window. "What're those?" I asked, "They look like geese!"
"They're ducks," said the coworker.
"But they look like geese!"
"They're ducks.''"
A few minutes later, someone else on the business trip came over to the table, looked out the window. "What are those?" he asked. "They look like geese."
"They're ducks," said the coworker.
"But they look like geese..."
I burst out laughing, this being almost exactly repeat from five minutes earlier, with me seeing the Muscovy ducks and thinking they looked like geese, not ducks. The laughter was at the repetition/incongruity/context, not seeing the sentences as innately humorous, but rather, the situation of the repeated situation.

# 314albatross

[2] In some sense, that's the core of privilege, right? It's not just that you live in a different world than someone else, it's that you don't even see how their world is different from yours.

No, the core of it is not caring that their world could be different from yours and/or seeing different and unequal in opportunity and unequal in shares of the pie available as proper.... there's privileging based on all sort of things --gender in e.g. religious authority positions in most religions, national origin, ethnicity, height, appearance, etc.

#353 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:07 AM:

I keep some guards about my gate,
Lest in my sleep I twitch.
Their names are Anglo, White and Straight
And Western, Male and and Rich.

They guard me well. My gate they keep,
Lest in my sleep I quake.
I never see them while I sleep,
And never while I wake.

#354 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:54 AM:

Greg @347:

guilty of exercising privilege
accusing me of privilege

That, there? That's the problem with your mental model. That's why these things turn into a thrash for you. Please listen to what I have to say here.

Privilege isn't a crime of which you are guilty. It's not an accusation. Privilege is an innate characteristic that gives you an advantage.

To use a non-gendered, non-racial (mostly), non-pretty much everything example, I am privileged because I am a native speaker of American English. This means I can go anywhere in the world and have a fair chance of making myself understood without launching into a solo game of charades. It means I can live in the Netherlands and take a few years to become fluent in the local language. It gets me better jobs, more money, an easier life, than being a native speaker of, say, Serbo-Croatian.

Non-native speakers of English, operating in an English-language environment, often have a smaller vocabulary or a marked accent (ie, they don't talk like the TV). This can have indirect effects, making people assume that they're less intelligent, because they have trouble expressing the same nuances that they might in their native language. It can also lead to misunderstandings, disasters both social and physical, and difficulty in contexts such as meetings and telephone calls. People simply react differently to them than they do to me, and it's usually to their disadvantage.

This is not my fault. It's not something to feel guilty about. There's nothing I can do to change myself and make the difference go away. But I exercise my native-speaker privilege every time I open my mouth or touch a keyboard.

If I generalized from my own life, I'd think that moving to the Netherlands without being fluent in the language was difficult but tolerable; that much of the provision for incomers is superfluous and a waste of money; that people who struggle are making it up or being over-sensitive. That's not a crime or a fault; that's just inexperience. My obligation there is to listen to the people who tell me otherwise, and trust them to know what they're talking about. And then I should learn from it, the way one learns from every experience.

Where fault comes in is if I know, if I've been told, that this is a problem, and I dismiss it because it doesn't happen to me, or to that fantastically linguistically talented friend who managed to pick up English in four years and Dutch in three. Because there are always exceptions to every rule (even this one). Or if I accuse everyone who talks about the problems they experience of overreacting.

And it would certainly be something to feel guilty of to assume that when a non-native speaker is they're having trouble expressing themselves in English, it's because they're not as smart as they really are. It's equally a failing to stand by as other people treat them as stupid. Saying "Those people [treating them as stupid] might have a point, you know, and should be given the benefit of the doubt, instead of being asked to look at the person fairly" crosses the line from having privilege or exercising it to being cruel.

See the distinction? You're not guilty of privilege. But you can be guilty of not caring about other people being hurt by an imbalance of privilege. I'd think that someone with your passion for justice would care about that.

#355 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:42 AM:

Greg, DDB --

Do either of you feel like you're about to break through into a new understanding of this whole "privilege" thing? Because if you're not, I remember how this argument goes, and it's not as much fun as holding a bridge luncheon in a stamping-mill.

And a general comment:

"Silly woman" is toxic. Analyzing it as though its meaning were the sum of its component words won't tell you what's going on. It's one of those formulaic phrases used to deprecate women, like "dumb bunny" or "stupid cow." (Pedantic note: it's enshrined in 2 Timothy 3:6, where it's used to translate a clearly deprecatory Greek term.) "Silly woman" is somewhat less common these days than the other phrases I mentioned, but Patrick Roscoe didn't pair those words up accidentally, and he didn't mean well by them.

#356 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:57 AM:

Teresa #355: Thank you!

Paula #352: alternatively, it can e a tool for change and blowing the status quo away.

Sort of -- in most of the the cases you're surely thinking of, like civil rights, what's actually happening is that one subculture has become cohesive enough that it can use inter tribal pressure on other subcultures, to try and take over the main culture. Of course, this goes both ways, as with the Tea Partiers. Similarly, stuff like the Confederacy Month recognition represents pushback by the remnants/heirs of the original southern-plantation culture. Either way, it's an "intratribal" conflict at one scale, but also "intertribal" at the next scale down. Politics in general is a way to play out such conflicts, while trying to avoid physical combat.

Consider social pressure regarding fashion, "Musn't wear Last Year's Fashion!" --that's social pressure away from the status quo as regards what people are wearing....

This, on the other hand, is totally wrong. Fashion is a cycle of controlled, indeed forced, change. The status quo here is that those who have the money, leisure, etc., to keep up with the cycle, gain or maintain social status thereby.

#357 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:19 AM:

Dave Harmon @270 --

Morality is, indeed, a means of simplifying one's interactions with the wider world, so a full analysis doesn't have to be done each time. But to get a functional morality, you have to either learn or derive the rules.

Since "learn the rules" breaks in an environment of rapid change (one does not, in effect, have the subsequent versions and bug-fix releases; for example, the whole current state of world Anglicanism can be considered as a dispute over whether or not to adopt a new release of morality, but I digress), this puts one into the category of "must derive the rules".

The scope of rules derivation -- you cite as an example determining why some are considered virtuous and some not! -- is very broad. You have to consider a great many cases, and how they interact, and if the resulting rules function as useful abstractions in the general case. Even if you do all that, individuals do not generalize to societies.

This is why I'm much more interested in "what", rather than "how"; no single outcome can be considered on its own, but a fairly short list indicate a plausibly-moral society. (Shorter than the fairly short list, as a forinstance -- Gini coefficient under 25, political system with an effective right of refusal, rule of law, and no statistically significant biases to heritable characters could be taken as indications of a plausibly moral society.) At that point, the obligation is not to follow the moral rules, but rather to conduct one's self in a way that does not move anything or anyone further from the plausibly-moral (plausibly-good, decent, desirable, well-conducted, peaceful, all more or less equivalent in context) state.

It's a much simpler problem and it scales to societies without difficulty.

Privilege thrash --

Praise ale when it is drunk,
Ice when it is crossed,
A ship returned to harbour,
A friend on the pyre.

None among the living may be justly regarded as a good person; expectations, rhetorical constructions, or social norms that attempt to differentiate good people from bad people, require the acknowledgment of one status or another, or devolve into arguments which reduce to "how dare you say I am a bad person!" are clear and unambiguous markers of a busted axiom somewhere.

#358 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:22 AM:

Teresa @355 In a complete role reversal from abi @251's scenario - the woman, speaking from a priveleged vantage, gets the credit (@301)...

#359 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:30 AM:

Lin@302: The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

That's simultaneously a brilliantly incisive observation of great value, and one of the nastiest bits of confusion to come along in centuries. And I think it's being used in the wrong way here.

People tend to over-focus on their own side of the communication channel, and tend to attribute error to the other side, and this statement works to counteract that. That's tremendously useful. Observing how people react to a communication is very valuable in figuring out how to communicate better. And certainly, when there's a clear pattern of people taking something in a way not intended, one can begin to conclude that the way it's being presented is part of the problem.

However, it remains true that there are idiosyncratic rare total misreadings of communication that are entirely the fault of the receiver. The most obvious example, already cited, is people who are clinically insane.

#360 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:38 AM:

DanR: Eeeek! I'm sorry. I somehow missed your earlier post. You did indeed make that point fifty comments before I did.

#361 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:54 AM:

ddb, with regards to your original remark back in 247, permit me to offer a moment of rhetorical satori I had going to bed last night: in context, "silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" is a manifestly speciesist remark!

re 354: abi, the problem with your example is the effects your describe are the objective result of not just the prevalence of (limited) understanding of English, but also of the consequences of having or not having various degrees of fluency. The effects of not being able to communicate as well as one would like are something that one can look at the situation and see, because they are first order effects. The advantage (which I think is a better word, because it is more neutral) is something anyone can see the mechanism of. When you start talking about the advantages that (say) men have over women, there is no longer anything objective in general to point to, because after all the whole point of objecting to privileging is that men and women are, objectively, equal.

That's connected to my rejection of the notion that racial or sexual privilege can be considered as a tide that lifts or lowers all boats. I think that obtained when there were explicit rules/norms, but I don't think it's true now.

#362 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:00 AM:

Interesting reading down through this thread. It made me think of alien contact stories, and perhaps some warnings to be cautions of the Fair Folk. In those tales your words and behavior may be taken to mean things you do not intend them to mean, and this is more likely to cause you grief than pleasure. And even in a situation where you know this is true, it's easy to get it wrong.

It is much harder to remember this when the alien culture coexists, unnoticed, in your workplace or on the streets of your town.

It is simultaneously true that we must agree on a shared core of meaning, or there could be no social interaction, and that we are seldom in 100% agreement about exactly what something means, even when we think we are. If the Venn diagram for "what I meant" and "what you understood" don't significantly overlap, there is a problem.

I probably had a point here, but I seem to have misplaced it.

#363 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:00 AM:

DDB: I've come to regard "the meaning of your communication is the response you get" as meaning, approximately, "the point of the project is what gets built." Language can be a single-user application in your head, but communication is a thing that happens between people.

Using it to mean "It's your fault if they're responding unreasonably, because you didn't say it right" is either a deeply irritating ploy, or useful information, depending on the intent of the person who says it -- which is often hard to judge, since the phrase tends to turn up at moments when everyone's frustrated.

#364 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:20 AM:

C Wingate @361:

It's an analogy, and like many, imperfect.

But there is one significant second-order effect, which I have experienced as someone imperfectly fluent in Dutch. Even when people consciously make allowances, there is still a level of unthinking assumption of lesser intelligence in people who are not articulate in the language of the conversation.

That's non-trivial in a number of contexts, and I watch Dutch colleagues whose English is imperfect struggle with it when talking to our American team. It is simply harder for P to convince the guys in Seattle of something than it is for me, because they rate him lower as a result of his somewhat tangled English.

And you may not like the word privilege, but that's the accepted term among people who discuss the matter. There are many terms I don't like, but redefining them in the midst of a conversation is...distracting. More productive of heat than light.

#365 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:34 AM:

Of course being a native English-speaker in an English-speaking world is a form of privilege. It's like being issued a Mercedes when other people are driving Yugos and Trabants.

#366 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:41 AM:

C. Wingate #261: are you complaining about the lack of specific examples of male privilege? Lists are available. And if a variety of specific privileges are granted to a single group (say, men), doesn't "male privilege" make sense as an umbrella term for the set of those privileges?

Abi #354: never was Anglophone privilege more apparent to me than when I moved to Yeongdong, a town in the Republic of Korea. It has a population of about sixty thousand, and a native Anglophone[1] population of about six. And the prevalence of English was staggering. On food packaging, official signs, restaurant menus, shop names - out of all proportion to the number of English speakers who would see it.

[1]by which I mean, people for whom English is their native language, rather than native-born people who speak English

#367 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:19 AM:

Amen to abi @354.

I would add this thought, because I think it's key to the problems encountered when discussing privilege. Some examples of privileging of one group over another are obvious to all; when straights can get married and gays can't, for example, it's a clear demonstration of one group having a right that other groups don't. But many examples of privilege occur at a more subtle level that isn't so easily recognized. At that level it is much, much harder to deal with, because it is largely invisible to those who have the privilege. I think that this is key to understanding how privilege works and why addressing it is so difficult.

In some parts of my life, other groups are privileged above me, and I'm quite likely to recognize the effects of the privilege that allows access to some while preventing or inhibiting my access in ways that vary from blatant to exceedingly subtle. But in other parts of my life, I'm part of a privileged group, and my experience of that is quite different. As a white person, I belong to a privileged group. As a white person, it's hard for me to see the benefits of that membership, because it's normal. I am unlikely to see its effects, the ways in which I am advantaged over other groups, unless those effects are pointed out to me, because it's normal. I may even deny that I am privileged, because my experience is normal.

Being part of a privileged group means that you get to experience what is defined by the dominant culture as normal, with the assumption that if someone experiences something else it's an individual exception to the overall state of normality, not indicative of different empowerment levels for different groups.

As others have said, being privileged is not inherently good or bad. It just describes a power relationship. Ethical questions only arise when situations involving privilege are pointed out and you have to decide what actions you are going to take with respect to them.

#368 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:37 AM:

347
Was Roscoe intending to be sexist? I don't know.

Having seen the photo on the front page of his website, I do. That photo says to me 'I'm G-d's gift to women, and I want everyone else to know it'.

(Long time not seen, Greg.)

#369 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:52 AM:

abi@254: Privilege isn't a crime of which you are guilty. It's not an accusation. ... Where fault comes in is if I know, if I've been told, that this is a problem, and I dismiss it because it doesn't happen to me

the first mention of privilege on this thread towards anyone actually on the thread was Lee@299: However, it's now clear that the male-privilege root of the argument is still going strong.

who is that directed at except for ddb? And why was that directed at ddb other than because he wasn't offended enough? At no point does ddb say he dismisses the problem of sexism. He wasn't as offended as some other people were.

Fade@307 says that every time this conversation comes up some straight, white male (someone with privilege) always comes in and says everyone's reaction is a "silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry".

Except that no one said that here. ddb never called OTHER PEOPLE's REACTIONS silly, ridiculous, or exagerrated. But ddb's position was strawmanned into saying this.

Lee@299 says it starts to sound remarkably like "I want to be able to say anything I like to a woman without being called on sexist language"

Except that no one said that here. At no point does ddb even remotely imply that he wants a free cultural pass to use sexist language and get away with it. But ddb's position is strawmanned into being just that.

What has happened on this thread is that several people have taken whatever ddb's actual postion is and turned it into the most outright evil thing imaginable. And when, for example, Lee does this in 299, what is the lead in to her post but her assertion that what's really going on here is male privilege. Followed by her strawmanning ddb into ddb wanting a free pass to make sexists statements.

The thing is that while you, abi, haven't used the concept of "privilege" as a bat, some people on this thread did. You can't have someone say "this is male privilege" followed immediately by an absurd strawman of the alleged privileged male and tell me that privilege cannot never ever be used as an accusation in and of itself.

And "privilege" isn't the root problem anyway. The root problem is that some folks have a bar of what is an "acceptable" level of outrage to any particular incident, and anyone who isn't outraged "enough" is clearly one of teh enemy.

the entire subthread around ddb devolved because some people didn't think ddb was sufficiently outraged at Roscoes behaviour and so they start talking about how ddb starts to sound like he wants a free pass to make sexists statements whenever he wants, or that *every time* there is a conversation about sexism, some male comes in and dismisses the problem as "silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry". Except it didn't actually happen here.

So, the thing is that I get the concept of privilege, as it is explained in the dry pages of some tome of higher wisdom. But that's not the issue here. The issue is that in this particular thread ddb was attacked for not being offended enough. His position was strawmanned by real live people into absolute evil. One of those strawmans were forwarded under the smoke screen of "privilege". One was sort of implied that a male _always_ comes in and dismisses the problem.

This isn't an issue of ddb exercising privilege to dismiss a real problem. This is a number of people strawmanning ddb's position into absolute evil because ddb wasn't sufficiently offended. And they just happened to try doing it while using "male privilege" as a smoke screen.

So, while you, abi, may not use privilege as an accusation, some people actually do just that. Some people did it here. And if not as an accusation directly, they used it as a nice wrapper around their completely outrageous strawman of the straight, white male on the thread with whom they disagree.

And so long as people try to tell me that no one misuses privilege or any other gender equality terms, then there's no way to resolve a specific incident where someone clearly DID.

#370 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:00 AM:

#366 Sean

English in a number of countries is partially like "Haagen-Daas" in the USA--used for promotional effect. There are brand names of products in East Asia which are nonsense "English" which exist for their appearance/looking trendy.

The underlying reasons include the economic clout and mindshare clout of the USA. In Europe a few centuries back France and French had that position (lingua franca), more centuries back Latin had it in the Mediterranean, Greek before that, Aramaic before that... "trade languages" have uses--in e.g. India there are dozens of local languages, what allows people from one region in India to speak to people in another region is the trade language English.

The privileging of English speakers is that in regions where English is the primary or secondary language, they can communicate where someone speakig some other language, may not be able to.

On the other hand, there was a conversation I was in in Tel Aviv, conducted partly in French and partly in German, which the other person and I could partially speak, since our primary languages did not overlap....

#371 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:22 AM:

369
This is about privilege, and about how invisible it is to those who have and benefit from it, and how visible it is to those who don't.

Greg, you've been here before in this same argument, with this same position. Stop digging now, please.

#372 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:24 AM:

greg@369:

I'm working, so I don't have time to respond to a lot of things I'd like to respond to in detail, but I do want to say this:

This is a number of people strawmanning ddb's position into absolute evil

Oh, come on. This has on the whole been a very respectful argument. ddb's points have all been addressed carefully and in detail. The worst that has happened is that people have linked things said on the list to larger social issues and let it be seen that they are irritated—exactly as you have in this post.

And so long as people try to tell me that no one misuses privilege or any other gender equality terms, then there's no way to resolve a specific incident where someone clearly DID.

It's possible to inflate any perceived injustice, as I think you've made quite clear.

#373 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:29 AM:

Greg @369:

The first mention of the word "privilege" may not be till 299, but the discussion of a particular gendered insult starts at 250. It starts when ddb doesn't see "silly woman" as anything different than "silly rabbit," a perspective that makes a lot more sense from his view of the world (= privilege as a man) than it does from that of the women (and men, by the way) who have repeatedly explained why it's offensive on this thread.

Now, I really don't know where you get the "not offended enough" thing, but it's certainly not a quote. And it's not an effective summary of anyone's position that I can find on the thread. I'd suggest not complaining about other people strawmanning while you're using it.

But that's not the issue anyway. The issue isn't whether ddb, or anyone, is offended, enough or not, on behalf of me, or Colleen Lindsay, or anyone else. That whole line of argument is, as far as I can tell, a misinterpretation (that's the kindly term).

The issue is whether ddb, and others, are willing to take my word for it that the world looks different from where I'm standing, and extend to me the right to speak up when something that has been said is offensive to me. Whether they think I'm important enough as a member of the community that they'll respect my request not to say it again. And whether they'll trust me, as an adult, not to overuse that respect*.

-----
* The immediate assumption that if you give women an inch on sexist language then they'll take a mile? Pretty insulting, actually.

#374 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Greg@347: Yeah, it's interesting how quickly things escalate, and what was originally the issue gets forgotten and rolled over.

Teresa@355: No, no sign of any new information or anything to change my model on privilege coming up here. And I don't care that much about trying to convey to people what my model actually is when they're not interested in hearing me. And since people have started telling flat-out lies about my participation in this thread, I'm a bit peeved about things myself.

#375 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:35 AM:

abi@373: The issue is whether ddb, and others, are willing to take my word for it that the world looks different from where I'm standing, and extend to me the right to speak up when something that has been said is offensive to me.

Well no wonder the discussion gets confusing; because from my end that was never in question. That's a bedrock axiom. (It's as much a duty as a right, actually.)

#376 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:39 AM:

ddb @375:

because from my end that was never in question. That's a bedrock axiom.

That's not what I get from 256ff, when repeated explanations about why "silly" is offensively sexist when combined with "woman" seemed to have got nowhere with you.

#377 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:44 AM:

Have you ever noticed that really useful insights into yourself and your blind spots can come from some kinds of conversations, but rarely from others? Like, just to pick an example out of thin air, when someone introduces a really useful insight about the world to you as justification for dismissing your point of view and telling you to shut up and listen, it might come off just like all the other forms of armchair net.psychoanalysis that attempt to answer the same question: What's wrong with you that keeps you from agreeing with my obviously right position?

In my mind, "privilege" is in much the same category as "groupthink." It is both a useful and powerful way of understanding ways you can blind yourself, and a commonly-used bludgeon in certain kinds of disagreement.

#378 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:45 AM:

ddb@374:

You've complained about people misreading or lying about what you've said. I've complained that cumulatively, your posts defend the neutrality of "silly woman" and do not acknowledge that the phrase can offend.

Clearly there's a communication gap happening. So here's an opportunity to clarify.

(1) Do you believe that the phrase "silly woman" is sexist?

(2) Do you believe that it can be offensive to women?

(3) Will you attempt to refrain from using it, whether or not you believe it is sexist?

#379 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:57 AM:

abi: The issue is whether ddb, and others, are willing to take my word for it that the world looks different from where I'm standing,

Then show me where he insisted the world must look the same to everyone else as it looks to him.

and extend to me the right to speak up when something that has been said is offensive to me.

Then show me where he insists that you don't have the right to speak up or be offended.

Because he never said anything like that. The spark that ignited the firestorm was ddb's very first post in the thread @247: I'm a little startled that "silly woman" is drawing such hate. Saying "silly person" seems stilted when you're addressing a particular person of known gender. Or maybe it's just that I grew up on "silly wabbit!"; changing the species etc.

I'm startled by the hate. But maybe it's just because I grew up with a different experience.

It's three sentences long. Two of the sentences explicitely state that ddb is talking about his own personal experience. He wasn't as offended as others. He had a different experience of the language.

At no point does ddb say he isn't going to take your word for it that the words land differently for you. At no point does ddb say you don't have the right to speak up or be offended.

What's ironic is that you say the issue is whether people are willing to take someone else's word for it that the world looks different from where they're standing, and I couldn't agree more. ddb was reporting how the world looked from where he was standing and that's when he started getting heat.

he never says you can't have your reaction. He never said you can't speak up to stuff that offends you. He never said this is silly, silly, overwrought, over-emotional, ridiculous, exaggerated outcry. He never says that he wants to be able to use sexist langauge and get away with it. Those are all things peolpe accuse him of saying. But he never said anything like that.

What he said was his personal reaction to the phrase. And like you said, the issue is whether people will allow otehr people to report their personal reaction and allow it to be different than theirs. Some people saw a different reaction from ddb and couldn't let him have his own personal, different, reaction.

#380 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:58 AM:

albatross @377:

Although what you say is useful and valuable, it does also require that people have rather a lot of patience about matters that damage their lives in deep and fundamental ways. That's not always very easy to do. It is very difficult, after a rather large number of blatant injustices, never righted or even acknowledged, to approach this matter in a calm and conciliatory manner every time it comes up. I am certainly doing my level best.

It's also far too common that the fact that I, and others talking about this, are hurt and irate turns into a reason not to listen to us. The argument is always that, if only we'd been gentler and more patient then this wouldn't be one of those conversations that shut the listeners' ears. So the weight goes back to the people who are already carrying the load.

Can you see how that's a Catch-22? Even if it's also true?

#381 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:58 AM:

Calming down slightly, I withdraw the third question. It's not pertinent to what I'm saying. But I think that the first two are, as I see them as the nub of the arguments happening on the list.

#382 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Greg, he fails to acknowledge what they've said about it. Do you see how people who've been ignored in a lot of meetings might conclude he hasn't been listening?

ddb, I'd like to see you answer enjay's questions.

#383 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Graydon #357: I had to look up "Gini coefficient", but Wikipedia suggests that your demand for "under 25" is sorely unrealistic, as that's currently the lowest measured value (for Denmark). Any attempt at morality must first recognize the world as it is....

And the thing is... situations change, but people don't, much. If your basic moral set is reasonably general and well-founded -- that is, based on the nature and needs of humanity, rather than the current power structure -- then situational changes become a lot easier to handle. One of the jazz greats reputedly said "be nice to the people you meet on your way up, because you'll be seeing them all again on your way down". That pretty well exemplifies what I'm talking about here -- the idea is to recognize that power and privilege are situational, and accordingly to recognize that such asymmetries aren't fixtures of the universe. Another example of that is the Meta-Golden Rule: "treat your inferiors as you'd have your superiors treat you".

Note that both of those rules deal just as well with an more stratified society as with an egalitarian one, and they do better than more specific rules in the face of change. In either sort of society, being moral involves giving up immediate benefits for the sake of an indeterminate future. But the thing is, human instinct, and the way we build out social structures, do tend to support moral behavior, in terms of "social capital", gratitude, and other human responses. That's precisely because those innate behaviors emerge from the "deep time" of human, and pre-human, evolution. (Even a dog knows when you're not being fair!)

#384 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:17 PM:

I associate the word "silly" with the notion, supported by decades of short-form televised documentaries, that animated anthropomorphic rabbits are apparently not entitled to the same range of choice of sugary breakfast cereals as human children are. It is a galling example of privilege and discrimination, but the economic and societal forces driving it seem to be intractable; the situation seemed entirely unaffected by the gains of the Civil Rights movement.

#385 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:19 PM:

abi @364:

"...there is one significant second-order effect, which I have experienced as someone imperfectly fluent in Dutch. Even when people consciously make allowances, there is still a level of unthinking assumption of lesser intelligence in people who are not articulate in the language of the conversation."

It's a tangential thought, but (As You Know, Bob) I am watchful, bordering on overprotective, of Scraps when we're out together, and I notice when people assume he is dumb, based on the aphasia/apraxia since the stroke. (He is much more charitable about them than I am.)

I've also notice the number of times we enter into conversations with people in bars and restaurants who take their cues from our other friends, and treat him like a person of above-average intelligence. (Those last groups include a number of people who've only known him since the stroke.)

(There's another tangential thought about the privilege I have because I "sound white" over the phone, but I haven't fully verbalized it yet.)

#386 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:20 PM:

Greg @379:
What he said was his personal reaction to the phrase. And like you said, the issue is whether people will allow otehr people to report their personal reaction and allow it to be different than theirs. Some people saw a different reaction from ddb and couldn't let him have his own personal, different, reaction.

No, it's more than that.

It's whether, having explained his point of view (which would tell me, by the way, that if had he ever used that phrase on me, it wasn't badly meant), he also takes on board my view, and the views of the others here. And, out of respect for us as his equals, considers the impact of those words on us.

Do we matter enough to him for him to change his behavior? He matters enough to us that we, as a community, took on board his reaction to the term "gun nut"*. Is it reciprocal respect?

Also, Greg, drop the anger level, please. You came in wrathful and aren't getting any easier to deal with. It's not, pace me @380, doing your points a lot of good.

-----
* which is an interesting symmetry...just as a "silly woman" is different than a "silly rabbit" because of a long-running use of intellectual belittlement against women, so is "gun nut" different than "Pokémon nut", because of a different, but equally pervasive, range of stereotypes.

#387 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:21 PM:

abi: It starts when ddb doesn't see "silly woman" as anything different than "silly rabbit," a perspective that makes a lot more sense from his view of the world (= privilege as a man)

You start out saying the important thing is whether or not people will allow other people to have their own experience of the world, and then that right there, from my experience, is exactly the sort of phrase that dismisses ddb's experience because he is male.

His perspective makes more sense from a privileged male perspective? What happened to everyone being able to see the world differently, from their own experience? What's the point of categorizing his experience as taht of a privileged male other than to discount it on some level?

Would it be acceptable for men to dismiss the women who are offended by the comment simply because they are women? Why is it OK to say that ddb is just having the reaction he's having because he's a privileged male?

My experience of comments like this is that people think there really is a "right" opinion, and various reasons (oh, he's just a privileged male) are used to remove (dismiss, marginalize) the opinions of people that don't have this "right" opinion.


#388 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:21 PM:

I think Greg is somewhat right here, though I also think part of the problem was that dlb's original response was tone deaf to Roscoe's actual statement. That isn't unimportant, in that one of the age-old tropes about social interaction is that women understand men, but men don't understand women and are therefore obtuse when it comes to these interactions.

Abi, the thing is that the lesser intelligence assumption proceeds objectively out of the communications difficulties: if one has trouble manifesting one's intelligence in speaking, it's not surprising that other people don't see it. It's not desirable, but at least the linkage is out in the open. The problem with analogizing it to race (for example) is that the whole point of the problem in the latter is that the linkages aren't supposed to be there! There's no objective connection between racial appearance and any number of other characteristics; all of the expectations about the latter are created through social interaction. But since in the USA there is no longer (if there ever was) a common social context, people don't come to the question with a common set of expectations, or for that matter, common approaches for forming those expectations. I for instance (and I'm not that young) grew up in a Maryland which was in the throes of shrugging of the effects of decades of being somewhat in the south. I had three black kids in all my classes, and they all lived on the same back road in a row of tiny houses, and I hated them-- not because they were black, but because they treated me abusively. In middle school there was one black kid, who was much like everyone else; I then went off to boarding school where there were a group of black kids plucked out of the ghetto and set among the very rich and the rest of us (I being very much "rest"). My mother came from a broken farm family in Ohio, and was ill-used as a child; she came to resent, I think, that because she was white the objective deprivation of her past didn't count, but I also think she disdained those who had not (like herself) pulled themselves up out of their circumstances. My father rejected his southern upbringing. This does not, in my evaluation, add up to a coherent picture: far stronger in my personal experience is that of being abused by virtually everyone until I reached middle school and finally had some champions besides my parents, so I am perhaps hypersensitive to what often to me seem to be spurious claims to suffering. I did not pull myself up by my bootstraps, but people did not come to my cause simply because I was white and male-- or more precisely, they did not neglect others because they were not white or were not male. Or more precisely still, I do not think it can be shown that this neglect occurred-- it certainly wasn't happening in middle and high school. Meanwhile I could see quite plainly that my southern relatives, at least the older ones, did take for granted that blacks as a class were inferior, and they had attitudes towards relations between the sexes that I and my parents emphatically rejected-- if only because of the bad ends they led to.

enjay, the issue of homosexual marriages is anomalous in two respects. First, it does go back to that older, objective "here is a privilege that's in the books" system; it isn't comparable to biases which are said to be more or less uniformly spread across the population. But also the point of it, after all, is to obtain the same privileging which marriage already obtains, and those privileges are a mixture of spelled-out rules and societal mores, the latter again highly variable. A lot of the former (for instance, the whole hospital visitation thing) are hard to defend by any standard, but then one gets into the whole issue of whether society as a whole should be involved in the formation of families and particularly as related to child-bearing and rearing. The latter is a complete mess in that our desire for personal autonomy fights against the necessity to live socially in order that there be a next generation.

and SeanH, I don't deny that all kinds of privileges happen. What I don't accept is the assertion is that they are functioning more or less equally in all times and places. For instance, in the society of this discussion I don't think any of the things listed would be tolerated.

And let me go back to the "denigrate" example from way back. I looked up the etymology, because all too often this kind of claim is based on folk etymology which one could reasonably argue is an attempt to assert privilege of its own. However, in this case the "-nigrate" does trace back to "negro". Well, OK-- but the inference that people who use the word do so with unconscious bias is, at least, unproven. The other solution is not to take it so personally. One of the things that Buddhism and Christianity agree on is that a lot of getting through life with your soul intact is to learn how to put up with a lot of crap, and generating crap for yourself on your own is not conducive to success in this regard.

#389 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:32 PM:

abi #380:

I do see that, and it sucks. Way back in #314, I tried to identify the pattern into which this class of conversation often falls. I don't think I did a good job there, alas.

There's an ugly feedback loop here.

a. I feel anxious because I don't want to make an ass of myself in public, but am not sure I know how. I keep asking for clarification, questioning why X is bad but X+epsilon isn't, wondering out loud why this distinction makes sense--because of this anxiety.

b. You hear my questioning as me dismissing your experiences and concerns. This starts to make you mad--Damn, another guy who's going to tune you out because you're a woman. Your increasing anger comes out in your increasingly frustrated responses to my comments/questions.

c. I hear your anger, and it appears that maybe I'm making an ass of myself right now, by trying to figure out how to avoid making an ass of myself. This makes me still more anxious, and more defensive, which makes me want to engage in more discussion over where this making-an-ass-of-myself line is.

d. This makes you still madder, plays more on your fears/experiences of being told your point of view doesn't matter, and this comes out in your continuing comments.

And so on. It's a feedback loop, a communications failure. And understanding that failure is morally neutral--I don't need to know who is right or wrong in this case--I can just notice that this is the way the discussion is spiraling into something ugly, and try to find some useful way to short circuit it.

I'll note that I don't really think there's an answer that involves a priori deciding which peoples' claims of offense always win or always lose. A proposed way of short circuiting this meltdown that says "men should always defer to women in matters of sexism-related offense" seems no more likely to get good outcomes than the opposite rule, in which women swallow their offense or men ignore and belittle it.

#390 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:34 PM:

David Harmon @383 --

People are currently evolving at an accelerated pace, and having been undergoing an accelerated pace of evolution since, at least, the adoption of agriculture. People do change. People change quite fast, even at a biological level. At a cultural level, well.

I know people who are not out to their parents because their parents will have Teh Freakout. (Their parents have the dark suspicions already; it's the confirmation that will lead to the freakout.) No one in the generation of the people in question really gets the reason for the freakout; it doesn't parse. No one in the generation of the parents comprehends why there wouldn't be a freakout. (Or consider the point, quite recent, in which the consensus of the matrons tipped from being disapproving of unmarried cohabitation to believing that not living with the guy before marrying him was crazy.)

There's this obvious, drastic, and rather brutal shift off of honour culture behaviors in the post-industrial world; there's this continuum (and it's heavily class mediated) from, say, Lord Cochrane, who was by no means stupid but an utter git for reasons of personal honour, to the modern affluent Anglo conclusion that there really isn't any good reason to start a fight that involves hitting people.

(Oh, and tangentially -- unless present-day Denmark is the pinnacle of human achievement, of course we could do better than Gini 25.)

Power and privilege are situational, but the situations are not free of intent. It's perfectly possible to know what the right way to behave in pretty much any situation while treating the structures and systems that produce the situations as normative/natural/inevitable, and I consider that a failing in the ... philosophical system, let's call it.

(Any of the Athenian systems were OK with expending child slaves down silver mines, for example.)

And sure, there's some good rules for conduct in that kind of approach, in that they can be applied quickly without bad results in pretty much any context. They're just not anything like sufficient because they don't function to evaluate the structures producing the situation.

#391 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:37 PM:

albatross@389, it's only a feedback loop until "you" say, "Gosh, I hadn't thought of that, but I can see why you feel that way. I'll think about that seriously. But what about [other questions]?"

#392 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:40 PM:

One of the things that Buddhism and Christianity agree on is that a lot of getting through life with your soul intact is to learn how to put up with a lot of crap, and generating crap for yourself on your own is not conducive to success in this regard.

Nice. Thank you.

On the other hand, some crap no one should have to put up with; from this comes revolutions and reform movements.

#393 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 12:44 PM:

xopher he fails to acknowledge what they've said about it. Do you see how people who've been ignored in a lot of meetings might conclude he hasn't been listening?

abi: No, it's more than that. It's whether, having explained his point of view (which would tell me, by the way, that if had he ever used that phrase on me, it wasn't badly meant), he also takes on board my view,

It seems like the accusations against ddb keep shifting. And the tests that ddb must "pass" to be deemed acceptable get updated and modified. Pop quizzes have been introduced to the thread now.

Meanwhile, people have made outrageous representations of what ddb actually said and few seem to see a problem with that. The issue, they say, is whether ddb passes their tests. And all those strawmen? Well, we'll just ignore that, that didn't really affect the thread in any meaningful way.

ddb never said the things that people strawmanned him as saying. He stated his experience, and some people either completely misread it or they completely ignored it.

THe thing is that everyone who states an issue with ddb seems to think that issue only operates one way.

If the issue is that people be allowed to ahve their own experience, someone show me where ddb doesn't do that.

If the issue is that everyone be allowed to have their own experience, then all those people dogpiling ddb for expressing his opinion need to acknowlege they dogpiled someone for their opinion.

if the issue si failing to acknowledge what other people said, then several people who have strawmanned ddb need to acknowlege their fabrications.

If the issue is that people must take on the other person's poitn of view, understand it, or at least give space for it, then someone show me where anyone here who disagrees with ddb's opinion has come out and explicitely stated that they have taken on his poitn of view enough to grant him space for it.

Every single rule that people are using against ddb could equally be charged to at least one person who has dogpiled ddb.

#394 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:02 PM:

Although this thread doesn't need anyone else piling on, I've been thinking about the permutations of Patrick Roscoe's statement: "You lose, silly woman."

1. "You lose, silly" would have been gender-neutral, and sufficiently insulting for most people. But that's not what he said.

2. When he gets rejected by a male agent, does he tell them "You lose, silly man" (Or even "You lose, silly")? Somehow I doubt it.

#395 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:02 PM:

C. Wingate @388

And let me go back to the "denigrate" example from way back. I looked up the etymology, because all too often this kind of claim is based on folk etymology which one could reasonably argue is an attempt to assert privilege of its own.

Really? Honestly, what's the worst that can happen when a marginalized person speaks up about language they experience as marginalizing them? Would the empire fall? Is it really that hard to acknowledge their POV has value?

It's not a pissing contest, honest.

However, in this case the "-nigrate" does trace back to "negro". Well, OK-- but the inference that people who use the word do so with unconscious bias is, at least, unproven.

It's also irrelevant.

The other solution is not to take it so personally.

And that is the essence of privilege. I had it, she didn't.

#396 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:07 PM:

Greg@393:

Your defense of ddb is based on "he didn't say that." The challenges are based on, "he implied that." Until he actually says what he thinks about the phrase in question, the side that challenges ddb can't prove that their accusations are justified, and you can't prove that they are unreasonable and outrageous, and this argument can go on until the cows come home with both sides feeling aggrieved and righteous. Which is why I'd like him to clarify his position.

#397 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:09 PM:

Not sure if this is helpful, but I would like to point out that quotation marks which Lee and I used in our comments were not actually meant as a quote of ddb. ddb, you've expressed irritation at feeling misquoted, and apparently Greg London (maybe others?) feels that way, too. I've inserted substitute letters to focus on the structure, not the arguments:

Lee @299:
When you add in the "offense thieves" toss-off*, and the "X" fallacy, it starts to sound remarkably like "Y"

me @284, in direct response to ddb's 278:
The old 'Z' argument. That implies that ...

In both cases, the attempted message was, "When you say AAAAAA, it comes across to me as X/Y/Z," not, "You said XYZ, and you mean it, too."


*well, OK, "offense thieves" was from ddb

#398 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:13 PM:

Greg @369 and responses:

We've been here before on male privilege. (Link is to the post that starts a several-hundred-post subthread from a few years ago.)

#399 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:17 PM:

Greg @393 --

DDB is socially tone deaf; he's been, from all evidence available to me, socially tone deaf all his life. (If you are socially tone deaf to the point that I, who am seriously aspie and was raised by wolves, can detect it, it's not to a trivial degree.) He is to be commended for arranging his life so that it works, despite this, but one of the consequences is that his signaling is more or less totally dysfunctional around fraught issues.

My best observation is that DDB's expectation of the extent of the class of subjects provoking ire is very small; he's a rationalist, and he's, by default, considering everything as a hypothetical (and his own experience as normative) unless he is required not to do so by a compelling standard of evidence, where "compelling" is somewhere off in "peer-reviewed article" territory. So the emotional temperature reading is wrong, and in consequence the signaling is badly wrong.

"Silly woman", in some of the possible tones of voice, is a "your body will never be found" grade of insult. About half of the participants in the conversation have been expected to eat that insult, multiple times.. As Abi noted, remaining calm about the whole thing is a significant effort.

You, in advocating for a standard of fairness in which DDB gets parsed absent the brutally asymmetric social context, absent the serious failure of signaling, and in a presumption of benevolence not justified by the exchange (because of the failure of signaling with respect to emotional temperature, rather than any comment on DDB's character), aren't helping. Communications failures aren't usefully addressed by saying "someone has to admit they were wrong".

It's much more useful to consider things in terms of the mechanism of fail.

In this case, a large portion of the mechanism of fail is DDB not recognizing that saying "are you sure that's shit?" to people who have been expected to eat shit by the shovelful and smile is not possibly said in a tone of neutral inquiry. It can't be done, irrespective of the interlocutor's character or reputation.

Insisting that the upset must follow utterly dispassionate conduct rules or they lose, which is what you are doing, also doesn't help. That's the "and smile" part of the social expectation of shit-eating, and it's not going to go over well, contribute to understanding, or generally do anything other than serve as a mechanism for dismissing the upset.

Being indirect, especially with a known rationalist, in communicating degree of upset, mechanism of upset, or perceived asymmetry of communication, is also highly unhelpful, and it is possible the conversation would have proceeded better if various upset persons had communicated the upset with what they perceived as brutal directness, rather than tact.

#400 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:31 PM:

#388:

And let me go back to the "denigrate" example from way back. I looked up the etymology, because all too often this kind of claim is based on folk etymology which one could reasonably argue is an attempt to assert privilege of its own. However, in this case the "-nigrate" does trace back to "negro". Well, OK-- but the inference that people who use the word do so with unconscious bias is, at least, unproven.

I don't think that inference was there or is necessary. The essence of the statement was "I am hurt by this usage." Even if the etymology isn't there (as in the case of "niggardly" you may be thinking of), that doesn't make that go away. In this case, you have two alternatives; you can explain that they're wrong to be hurt, because really the words are unrelated, so they're just being oversensitive, or you can apologize, and file away that you shouldn't use that word in front of that person. Explaining from a position of greater education (a privileged stance, of course), that their pain is not real is not likely to help matters; quite the reverse, I'd expect.

I'm not saying you should regard "denigrate" as off-limits entirely; I've never known anyone else to be upset by it, or at least not who felt comfortable enough with me to tell me about their discomfort. I'm saying that you shouldn't use it in front of people who you know are upset by it. It's much the same way that I try to avoid using "dyke" with my older lesbian friends who are hurt by it, even though I use it all the time with younger friends. It's not the word or the etymology that matters; it's not saying things that you know hurt people.

#401 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:35 PM:

Applauds Graydon @ 399.

It's a pattern I recognize from Usenet days, and it's not something that's easily changed.

I will admit that I fall into the category of the offended, but also that I've either been at work or too sick to get too far along in wanting to get engaged in the discussion. Part of my annoyance/offense has been based not just on what was said by ddb but by experiences I've gone through from people like Patrick Roscoe, based on both what he wrote to Colleen Lindsey and what I read/saw on his website.

It's a very visceral reaction on my part, but these days it just leads me to write off--most likely wrongly, on my part, but based on several years worth of either engaging in or observing similar patterns of argumentation on Usenet--the person arguing in that manner. I can't change what said person said, thinks or feels, and obviously I can't convince them. Any more, I just don't have the time for someone who demonstrates that type of behavior, and that's sad, in its own way.

#402 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:35 PM:

Graydon, I am not allowed to produce fire here in my current location, but you should, at this moment, try and imagine me sitting here, lit cigarette lighter* held up to the heavens, chanting "Gray-don! Gray-don! Gray-don!"


*Not that I own one, so you really have to use your imagination here.

#403 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:43 PM:

enjay: Your defense of ddb is based on "he didn't say that."

and what he did say. His first post, three sentences total, two sentences use the subject "I" clearly indicating his experience, not dicating how otehrs must feel.

The challenges are based on, "he implied that."

Saying what his experience is doesn't imply anything about him dismissing other points of view. That is the "crime" he is charged with, not granting someone their own point of view.

Until he actually says what he thinks about the phrase in question,

I think it's been established that he wasn't as outraged as some people were. Can you allow him to have that opinion or not?

the side that challenges ddb can't prove that their accusations are justified

Ah, so the dogpiling is OK until proven innocent? The multiple and outrageous strawmen are OK until ddb is proven innocent? The inventing out of thin air that ddb said this or that when he didn't is OK until we establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that he didn't in some way imply those fabrications?

and you can't prove that they are unreasonable and outrageous

Only if "guilty until proven innocent by an angry mob" is something you consider reasonable.

Lorax: We've been here before on male privilege.

Out of curiosity, is it important to you that people be allowed to have their own experience of something, even if its a different experience than your own? Or must everyone have the same reaction to a thing? Because I'm guessing that I have a different experience of how people use "privilege" in real life, (that it sometimes gets misused and abused and used as a weapon), and that rather than allow me to have that experience, you want to find any reason to dismiss me and my opinion.

To borrow a phrase from pericat, would the empire fall if you acknowledged that sometimes "privilege" is abused as a term? Would

#404 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:46 PM:

pericat #395:

How many people are you willing to offer veto power for every word and phrase you might wish to say? And how well will you be able to communicate when you're done?

#405 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:50 PM:

re 400: Well, the "niggardly" example is a stronger case, but the message is, "It isn't always about you." I mean, we're fighting a losing battle on that word, because eradicating ignorance can never keep up with the spread of misinformation, but nonetheless the message is that if one is going to take things personally, one is going to suffer. And that therefore it is prudent to avoid taking things personally when it isn't plain that they were meant personally. That's not the only principle in play: one has an obligation to eliminate innocent uses of hateful speech. But "hateful" again comes under intent. I insist that one can only rightfully take offense at malice, not at accident. (One can be annoyed at obliviousness and stupidity, but that's not the same thing as taking offense.)

#406 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:53 PM:

Enjay@378: 1) maybe, 2) yes, and 3 you withdrew (and it's less relevant in light of the answers to 1 and 2 anyway perhaps?).

In particular, I have flagged the phrase as having more weight than previously. (As of about 10 messages into the argument.)

That one phrase seemed much more innocuous than many of the others cited in evidence, and I was curious about that, and I asked.

Greg@379: You do seem to be reading the text I wrote.

Debbie@397: Yes, that's helpful. That didn't seem like a possible reading of Lee's comment that I originally objected to. Lee, if you meant what Debbie says, my apologies for going off on you.

Graydon@399: Interesting, in that I'm socially less tone-deaf than many in the groups I normally mix in.

I wrote much of this, and some other stuff, before, and lost it in a system reboot (forgot it was pending; bits of time waiting for compiles and such being used for web surfing). So I think I'll post this before anything else happens.

#407 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Greg@402, please go back and read what I've actually said throughout this thread.

#408 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:55 PM:

sorry, that should have been greg@403.

#409 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:56 PM:

Graydon...kudos. You're really good at putting these things into words.

#410 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 01:57 PM:

albatross @404

In my experience, it's not marginalized people or groups who force me to shut up.

#411 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:02 PM:

Albatross @ 404: How many people are you willing to offer veto power for every word and phrase you might wish to say? And how well will you be able to communicate when you're done?

I would like to gently indicate that this is precisely the point that all of us women have been trying to make: when you are not privileged, this is what happens to your voice. Someone else comes along to correct you, or to tell you that your reactions are wrong because [insert relevant experience], or because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Every time women point out to men that there are hidden assumptions and "default" expectations that are jarringly wrong for anyone not a default person (i.e., white male, etc. etc.), the reaction is generally one that we see with ddb and with Greg.

The point here is, when you realize that you do have privilege -- in other words, you are generally not required to account for your words because of who or what you are -- then perhaps you can come to realize that what you say might occasionally be wrong. There are times when what you say might just be misconstrued. Changing what you say and how you say it, to reflect the world around you rather than the world within you, is not censorship. It is growth. It is change.

Not all change is bad. Keep in mind that women have been repeatedly telling men and women of all ages how to avoid some of these issues for the past 40 years, and repetition gets tiresome. We start using shorthand, and forgetting to unpack -- or just getting too tired to bother unpacking our statements for the men who continue to misunderstand. Not all men misunderstand, and not all women automatically understand; but the vast majority of us have dealt with this conversation repeatedly, with little outward progress.

Saying "silly woman" is indeed a deeply misogynist and insulting way to address a professional doing her job. Fighting with the people who point out why this is misogynist or insulting just gets all of us angry. Figuring out why you might not understand or agree with us would be more useful.

#412 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:06 PM:

ddb@406:
Thank you. That helps to clarify things, and I appreciate your doing it. And after all this, I'll bet you've flagged it! :D

For me, personally, the issue has never been whether you as an individual think that the phrase is sexist. It's been that you understand that it can be a linguistic pointer to sexist attitudes, and that many women have experienced the consequences of those attitudes, sometimes directly through the application of that phrase. Having that acknowledged was important to me.

#413 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:11 PM:

C. Wingate @ 405, I insist that one can only rightfully take offense at malice, not at accident.

I disagree.

I will be more accommodating, generally, to those who give offense by accident. If someone steps on my foot by accident and apologizes, I accept the apology, whereas I'm not going to accept the apology all that quickly if they do so deliberately and then apologize some time later in a fit of guilt.

And if someone steps on my foot by accident, then claims I shouldn't be upset because it was an accident, and gets upset when I suggest they move a few feet away so that it doesn't happen again... I may still believe it's an accident, but their apology starts getting a lot less credit.

But whether or not they meant to do the stepping, my foot hurts.

I have been marginalized by people who meant well in the very act of marginalization. I have had gender stereotypes reinforced, or enforced, or pushed on me by people who sincerely and earnestly believed that it was for my own good, that I would be grateful some day, that I would eventually be a happier and healthier person for accepting the offensive things they offered and said. There are issues I'm still dealing with years later because of good, honest, helpful people who, with no malice in their hearts, explained to me that things I wanted to do or desires I felt were bad, wrong, not to be followed, inappropriate for me, an error in judgment, morally suspect, or just plain impossible.

Intent does not equal outcome. It'd be nice if it did. But it doesn't. And I refuse to have my own emotional reaction, and attempts to deal with on-going problems, because of things people did to me defined entirely by their stated intent.

#414 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Steve Taylor @ 345: "It calls to mind something I read in a book on relationships which said that when you argue with someone, you should argue against what they're trying to say, rather than picking holes in what they actually did say."

I think this concept has a very relevant application to arguments between groups as well: argue with the best argument that the other side is making, not the worst. Its application to this thread is an exercise left to the reader.

C. Wingate @ 388: "The other solution is not to take it so personally. One of the things that Buddhism and Christianity agree on is that a lot of getting through life with your soul intact is to learn how to put up with a lot of crap, and generating crap for yourself on your own is not conducive to success in this regard."

The problem is, it is personal. Discrimination is society deciding that you, yes you there, is a less worthwhile individual. It's you getting insulted, and dismissed, and humiliated in ways ranging from the superficial to the profound, every day of your life. How can you not take it personally?

That said, people do have to cope somehow, and detachment has proven to be a good way of doing that. But simply detaching and letting the crap flow past you leaves it there to hit everyone else. It's a personal coping strategy, but it will never make society better.* (As such, advising the downtrodden to try this strategy is a good way for the privileged to keep their privilege unchallenged.)

The only way to make society better for everyone is to stop putting up with the crap, to demand that society change itself. I think this is most difficult moral decision any human being ever makes: when do you challenge the horribleness of the status quo and when you do simply accept it and try to survive?

*Not to mention that not even the purest detachment will put food on your plate when society denies it to you, or shield you from blows when bigots attack you.

#415 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:18 PM:

pericat, in this context (meaning, in this discussion) you aren't a marginalized group. In fact, I would interpret the tenor of the discussion now as annoyed with several of us for refusing to get with the societal program.

Indeed, let's back up: Roscoe versus the agent is in reality a powerless to powerful relationship: she holds the cards, he is a suppliant. So one of his "sins" in this is petulance at not getting his way in a subordinate relationship. I don't know whether he treats male agents the same way, but I don't think he thinks that she is obliged to give in to him only because she is a woman; I think he figures his excellence is so manifest that nobody in their right mind would turn him down.* I think that his sexism gives form to his offensiveness, but I think the root of his offensiveness is arrogance.

*It's all too likely that he thinks that women are not, as a rule, in their right minds.

#416 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:21 PM:

C., you've put your finger on what makes Roscoe ridiculous. It's not quite the same thing that makes him offensive.

#417 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:24 PM:

Wow, my post @384 was so far behind the curve, I should remember to kick myself in the trids rather than try to post before morning coffee. heh.

#418 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Heresiarch, you're begging the question, and inviting another. It's not discrimination to have used the word "niggardly" or the word "denigration"-- at least, you cannot show that it is so. But that's not the important question here. This is: does going around with a chip on various people's shoulders about language really improve society? I think that it does not; I think that it makes discriminatory impulses worse and encourages malice all around.

I've known real emotional abuse, never mind getting beat up a lot. I'm tired of having it belittled simply because of my gender and my race. My soul is so scarred from it that it will NEVER be healthy-- never. I hate myself for all the times that I cannot keep myself from passing it on to my kids. Someone saying they are bothered by "denigrate" cannot compare with the insult that has been heaped upon me. I can understand what it is like to be rejected for what you are, because it has happened to me. Walk a childhood in my shoes, and then come back and tell me what I can or cannot feel. The world is made a nastier place by people taking offense all the time; anger breeds anger, and soon an eye for an eye means the whole world is blind.

#419 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:40 PM:

DDB is socially tone deaf; (snip)

It doesn't change what he said versus what everyone made up about what he said.

"Silly woman", in some of the possible tones of voice, is a "your body will never be found" grade of insult.

And we're talking about silly woman in the context of Roscoe's letter to Colleen. I say it was sexist but I wasn't as offended as, say, if Roscoe was an agent telling an author he'd publish her if she'd sleep with him.

If you expect me to take any occurrence of sexist language of any degree and demand that I be offended as if it were the most horrible brutal thing imaginable, then I'm not doing it. And if that's a requirement for commenting discussions like this, let me know and I'll shut up. OTherwise, the fact remains that there is a spectrum of offense and I'm not as offended as some people.

As Abi noted, remaining calm about the whole thing is a significant effort.

Roscoe was the person who used the phrase. If abi or anyoen else wants to feel rage towards Roscoe, you haven't heard me say otherwise. I'm pretty sure ddb hasn't said anything about that either. People can have their own reactions to the use of the phrase.

But then the thread turned from anger at Roscoe to anger at ddb. And teh anger at ddb wasn't because ddb used the phrase or said something sexist, it was because he wasn't as outraged as the most outraged person on the thread.

No one has asked abi or anyone else to "remain calm" in response to Roscoe's phrase.

Stop framing the issue as if anyone did.

What I'm saying is that, for example, abi's reaction to Roscoe is just as valid as ddb's reaction. And while ddb never dismissed abi's reaction, a lot of people jumped ddb for his reaction.

You, in advocating for a standard of fairness in which DDB gets parsed absent the brutally asymmetric social context, absent the serious failure of signaling, and in a presumption of benevolence not justified by the exchange (because of the failure of signaling with respect to emotional temperature, rather than any comment on DDB's character), aren't helping.

I'm advocating a standard of fairness that abi herself (and a whole lot of otehr people) have said is at least one of their principle guides in situations like this: everyone has a right to their own experience. To use abi's own words:

The issue is whether ddb, and others, are willing to take my word for it that the world looks different from where I'm standing,

If that's a just principle, it cannot be a one-way rule. it has to apply to everyone. If not, then what it really means is some opinions are more important than others, adn I get to decide which ones are valid and to hell withthe rest.

Everything you've said so far is that all the communication failures have occurred on ddb's part. whether you want ddb to admit he is wrong or whether people just want to hound him until he shuts up or however you want to address it is secondary to the fact that all the sources of miscommunication that you list all poitn back to ddb.

All I'm saying is that ddb is clearly not the only source of miscommunication.

One of the things I pointed out was a post by Fade that can be taken to completely strawman ddb. Fade apologized. It was an apology to me, for some reason, even though ddb was the one who was strawmanned, but it was an apology nontheless.

But God forbid that this is anyone but ddb's fault.


It's much more useful to consider things in terms of the mechanism of fail.

In this case, a large portion of the mechanism of fail is DDB not recognizing that saying "are you sure that's shit?" to people who have been expected to eat shit by the shovelful and smile is not possibly said in a tone of neutral inquiry. It can't be done, irrespective of the interlocutor's character or reputation.

And again, that's strawmanning what was said. ddb started out @247 saying he wasn't as offended as some people.

by @257, he says: Well, of course it is; it's a deliberate insult.

but that wasn't' good enough for some people. It wasn't clear enough to them that ddb was sufficiently offended or was offended for all the right reasons.

Insisting that the upset must follow utterly dispassionate conduct rules or they lose, which is what you are doing,

The hell it is. People are saying they subscribe to the principle that others allow them to have their experience. I happen to personally believe that myself. All I'm saying is that if they hold to that, then they need to extend it to others as well.

If they do NOT hold to that, if they are NOT willing to extend the same rule to others, then they can't say they hold it as a general principle. It's only something the hold for their own benefit.

I've never held this as in "do this or 'lose'". I've held it as "if you say this then hold to it. If you don't hold to it, then don't tell me you do."

also doesn't help. That's the "and smile" part of the social expectation of shit-eating, and it's not going to go over well, contribute to understanding, or generally do anything other than serve as a mechanism for dismissing the upset.

My god. At no point have I dismissed anyone's anger or upset at Roscoe's comment. At no point have I said any such bullshit as people "must follow utterly dispassionate conduct rules".

You wanna be pissed? Be pissed. Anger can lead to clarity soemtimes. Go for it. But when you say something is important to you, when you say you hold something as a guiding principle, and then you violate taht prinicple in the very same breath, I just might point it out.

If people really do NOT think everyone has a right to their own experience, then stop saying they do.

If they DO think everyone has a right to their own experience, then let people have their own experience. That means let ddb have his own opinion and his own reaction, even if you don't understand it. Don't tell you need more information to understand ddb's position before you'll allow him his opinion.

you can't' have it both ways.

You can be absolutely infurated as your acting on that principle, or cool as a cucumber, I don't care. But if your own words are invoking a basic moral principle, that you yourself don't even follow, then stop saying it, stop wasting the characters.

Being indirect, especially with a known rationalist, in communicating degree of upset, mechanism of upset, or perceived asymmetry of communication, is also highly unhelpful, and it is possible the conversation would have proceeded better if various upset persons had communicated the upset with what they perceived as brutal directness, rather than tact.

I can parse this at least two ways. Either you think people were indirect about how they felt about Roscoe's comments and should ahve been more clear in that they were upset, in which case, I think that was clear in the thread. OR, you think people were indirect with ddb's reaction to not being upset as others were, and should have been more direct with him, in which case, I gotta say, have you read this thread? And if it was the second one, how does havign people expressnig their anger at ddb because ddb wasn't upset enough, how does that jive with 'everyone has their own experience'?

I wasn't as upset as some people by Roscoe's comment. can you grant me that experience or not? Will you treat it as equally valid or dismiss it as me being "privileged" or "tone deaf" or (insert any other excuse that allows you to disregard the fact that I have an opinion that is different than yours)?


#420 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:41 PM:

C Wingate @415 : pericat, in this context (meaning, in this discussion) you aren't a marginalized group.

What the hell?

#421 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:52 PM:

419
Greg, you're trying to analyze everything to death.
Please stop doing it.
It doesn't help.

#422 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Greg London - "People are saying they subscribe to the principle that others allow them to have their experience. I happen to personally believe that myself. All I'm saying is that if they hold to that, then they need to extend it to others as well."

No one here is saying anyone's experience is invalid or illegitimate. (REALLY!!!) It's the potential consequences of holding various opinions that are being explained, both personal ("I have been directly affected by X, and this is what it has meant to me, and what I'd like to see different") and in terms of community and societal dynamics. And since when is such a discussion not legitimate?

#423 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:55 PM:

I think C. meant that you, pericat, are not part of a marginalized group in the context of Making Light. One of those things that's technically true but...well, it's like saying the Moon is closer to the Earth than any other celestial body. Doesn't help you get to it.

#424 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:55 PM:

Xopher, what makes him offensive is that he's trying to be offensive.

#425 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 02:56 PM:

I think a closer look at the beginning of this thrash might be helpful.

247: ddb expresses surprise that "silly woman" is drawing so many red flags from so many people.

250, 251, 252, 258, 259, 260: Various people explain what's going on to ddb.

263, 266: ddb makes a few reductio ad absurdum critiques of the arguments offered.

265, 267, 268, 269, 272, 273: people bite down on the reductio and say, yes, I still think the principle applies.

274: ddb floats the theory that the other side is arguing that any reference to femaleness is derogatory; boldly stands against this.

(responses to ddb dominate the thread; I'll stop noting every one)

278: ddb makes nebulous statement implying that he feels people are misrepresenting his position, or at the least that people taking offense where none was intended is a serious problem.

281: ddb introduces the idea of "offense thieves," notes that not all women have same opinion about stuff.

288: ddb sounds incredulous that Annalee @ 283 actually said what she said, asserts that he doesn't have more power to define words than anyone else.

290: P J Evans politely withdraws, citing great anger (this is the first time any of ddb's interlocutors exhibits anger.)

294: Lexica suggests that ddb may be "willfully choosing not to address [other people's points]."

298: David Harmon accuses ddb of playing word games

(things become a meta debate about which side is more at fault)

---

My impression is that numerous attempts were made explain in a polite way what was offensive about "silly woman," to which ddb responded with reductio ad absurdum straw men. Temperatures gradually rose as ddb dug further into his position, but the real turning point was when ddb sort of randomly threw out the concept of "offense thieves" (without explaining how that was relevant to this conversation) and that "not all women agree about this" (absent the presence of a woman who disagreed).

#426 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Greg: I think one thing that's going on here is that you think everyone involved in the conversation should be treated equally.

That's not appropriate in this case.

Suppose someone attacks someone else with a broken beer bottle, doing severe damage. Then you find out that the "victim" beat the "perp" with a bicycle chain on a weekly basis for 10 years. That makes a difference (or should; not sure it does, in law).

You want to treat the guy who got beaten for 10 years the same as a guy who didn't. You think that's fair; I don't.

What I'm getting at is this: the women in this conversation are legitimately entitled to have their opinions/feelings/experience given more weight on this question than is given to the men's.

#427 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:22 PM:

greg@419:

Where exactly has anyone demanded that ddb feel a required level of offense, as opposed to insisting that their own level of offense be recognized as valid? These are very different things. It is not necessary to have the same reaction as someone else in order to understand their position.

#428 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:27 PM:

I hope this doesn't boil down to an argument about which person's Entitlement Flamer Bingo card has the most elegant typeface.

#429 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:28 PM:

heresiarch @425: Thank you for that. I do think that ddb's comment at 256 is contains unhelpful subtext and some implied dismissal of abi's comment at 251.

#430 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Xopher @423

Oh. Huh. Well, thanks for parsing. I think it's bizarre, but perhaps C. can unpack it.

#431 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:36 PM:

Debbie: No one here is saying anyone's experience is invalid or illegitimate. (REALLY!!!)

That's not my experience of it.

It's the potential consequences of holding various opinions that are being explained, both personal ("I have been directly affected by X, and this is what it has meant to me, and what I'd like to see different") and in terms of community and societal dynamics. And since when is such a discussion not legitimate?

I'm not experiencing this as limited to just the kind of conversation that you describe. I can see what you describe as part of the conversation, but not all of it.

But apparently I am unable to communicate why it feels that way.

And at the moment, I can tell that I'm angry because it felt like Graydon@399 distorted just about everything I've said thus far, to much applause. So, I'm not much good at the moment.

#432 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:37 PM:

albatross @ 389:

I feel anxious because I don't want to make an ass of myself in public, but am not sure I know how. I keep asking for clarification, questioning why X is bad but X+epsilon isn't, wondering out loud why this distinction makes sense--because of this anxiety.

Sometimes the difference can't really be put into words, or, if it can, it can't be done without writing an essay. Sometimes it's a discussion that's happened so many times that people are sick of answering it (see, for example, pretty much any alt-med question asked on a medical blog). However, what you have going for you is that you realize that other people do have different experiences, and that even if you don't quite know why they're offended, you realize that they are and that chances are it's for a valid reason.

Sure, some people do manufacture offense (see the War on Christmas folks), but that seems to me to be a reaction to running up against having the tiniest bit of existing privilege taken away from them and discovering they don't like it.

On the more general communication discussion:

For as much as I see my own intentions when I communicate, I have come to the conclusion that a person's intentions pretty much mean squat when communicating, as heresiarch's post at 414 illustrates with the foot-stepping example. What matters much more is the reaction to the reaction. If you say something along the lines of "I'm sorry, I didn't realize," or "could you tell me what I did wrong?" or "I didn't mean it that way, what I meant was..." you demonstrate that you care. If you leave it "I didn't mean it," then so what? Lots of other people have and do.

#433 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:41 PM:

albatross,

Another thing you can do is take a bit of time to google around for yourself when someone says they find something ****-ist. Sometimes the people in the minority group don't feel like explaining for the 5,673,242nd time why they find something offensive.

#434 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Debbie: No one here is saying anyone's experience is invalid or illegitimate. (REALLY!!!)

me: That's not my experience of it. But apparently I am unable to communicate why it feels that way

xopher: the women in this conversation are legitimately entitled to have their opinions/feelings/experience given more weight on this question than is given to the men's.

Ah, well, there's the "why". At least now I know I'm not crazy.

#435 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:44 PM:

"I insist that one can only rightfully take offense at malice, not at accident. (One can be annoyed at obliviousness and stupidity, but that's not the same thing as taking offense.)"

I take issue with this (as Fade Manley has also done in #413).

I don't know about enough about Buddhism to comment on its approach to the matter, but Christianity has long noted the evil of indifference, even in the absence of conscious malice. Sometimes, indifference is even treated as worse than malice.

Consider, for instance, Pontius Pilate in the Passion: he doesn't hate Jesus, or wish him ill in principle; but at the same time he doesn't particularly care what happens to Jesus, and agrees to his crucifixion when others who *do* want him dead make it clear that letting him live will threaten Pilate's own power.

For this, Pilate gets to be the *one* person who's specifically mentioned as responsible for Jesus' crucifixion, in the Creed.

Indifference isn't exactly the same as accident, but accidents often occur as the result of indifference. And I think one can justifiably take offense, and not just be annoyed, by that.

#436 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:46 PM:

It occurs to me that the closest equivalent to 'silly woman' is 'silly little man.'

Also relevant might be the following (includes graphic examples)

#437 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 03:53 PM:

It strikes me as weird that one of the lessons I am apparently supposed to be taking away from this is that it's much worse for Roscoe to be a sexist than to be an arrogant jerk.

And Earl, what I want to do is commit all the entitlement cards to the flames.

#438 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:01 PM:

C.@437:

Whether it's worse to be sexist or arrogant may be arguable, depending on what actions define the condition, but being arrogant often seems to be more generally recognizable than being sexist. That leads to extra effort being put into pointing out the sexism, and the amount of space given to the effort can lead to assumptions about relative importance.

#439 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:05 PM:

428
*snicker*
(which got a question from my immediate supervisor, who'd come over with a work-related question).

#440 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:17 PM:

Scott@429: Going back and reading my @256, I'm still not sure what unhelpful subtext you are seeing. Could you be more specific?

#441 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:26 PM:

re 435: John, that is a good point. I would further add that I take offense at my children often enough for accident that happens out of a pattern of carelessness.

Where I'm coming from in this is that I don't think our assessments as to cause and effect-- or for that matter, often enough effect alone-- are so trustworthy that we can always push the responsibility for our hurts upon others. To really defend the "denigrate" example, it is necessary to assert that the use of the word is in fact injurious to African-Americans even if they do not notice it. Otherwise, the person can fix the injury by renouncing the interpretation, and since the word cannot be got rid of, that approach fixes the problem more completely. But I simply do not believe that there is any possibility of demonstrating that the word is in fact so injurious. That's where I draw up short here: I see a pattern of overgeneralization and supposition which isn't congruent with my experience of real harm that goes way beyond discomfort at the sue of a word.

I overgeneralized too. On the other hand, I am not Pilate, given power of life or death over any presented to me. I'm not a powerful person; I can only advise based upon how I have to live my life. And mostly I can "fix" things by fixing myself, not by demanding that others straighten themselves out. Hell, I can't even get this from my kids; how can I expect it of the world at large?

#442 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 04:40 PM:

Greg @434:

Debbie: No one here is saying anyone's experience is invalid or illegitimate. (REALLY!!!)
me: That's not my experience of it. But apparently I am unable to communicate why it feels that way.
Yes! True! This is a conversation that already hasn't worked ... what, four or five times now?

You're not crazy, and neither are the people you're talking to, but the results are not good. In fact, the harder you try, the worse they get, and so far you've been unable to break the cycle.

You're in a hole. Stop digging. Rethink from scratch.

Have you read the comment Bruce Baugh posted recently that got promoted to a front-page entry? You should. Read the thread, too. It's here: I'm having what Bruce is having.

#443 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:14 PM:

enjay: Where exactly has anyone demanded that ddb feel a required level of offense

ddb@247: I'm a little startled that "silly woman" is drawing such hate

ddb@257: Well, of course it is; it's a deliberate insult.

At that point, ddm says "silly woman" is insulting. That should have been the end of it. But the questions continued, the purpose of which is to do what?

To make sure he realizes just how insulting it is? To make sure he acknowledges it as insulting for the right reason?

No, nobody came out and said "you have to be offended enough" or "you have to be offended for the right reason", but then what is the reasoning for the continued dog-pilage after he said it was insulting? Because teh conversation was so enjoyable?

And once accusations of privilege were leveled at ddb, what was that based on, functinoally speaking? He'd said it was offensive. What more must he do to avoid the "privilege" bat?

And then we have xopher who came out and explicitly said that "women are entitled to have their opinions/feelings/experience given more weight than the men's."

Why is that? Would xopher have said that if we were talking about something where the man agreed with the general opinion of the thread? No. It was pulled out and dropped into the conversation because ddb had an opinion that wasn't quite up to snuff with everyone else. And so, a good way to dismiss it is "oh that's just male privilege" talking. Xopher's explanation was just another level of smoke screen above the fact that someone's experience, someone's opinino was dismissed because someone else didn't like it.

Or, put another way, if ddb had been rabidly offended by Roscoe, do you think he would have been equally dogpiled here? An honest answer to that would have to say "no".

So, ddb was targeted because he had an opinion about Roscoe that folks didn't like. An opinion that found the phrase offensive, but didn't find it offensive enough. If he HAD been offended enough, then it is clear that "male privilege" and "women's opinions get more weight than men's" and other tactics to dismiss his opinion would not have been applied.

as opposed to insisting that their own level of offense be recognized as valid?

You might as well ask "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Don't think so? Then tell me where exactly does ddm ever tell anyone that their response is NOT valid?

ddm never told anyone there response was invalid, so framing everyone's dogpilage here as nothing more than fighting ddm for the right for validation is not reality based.

And if "The issue is whether ddb, and others, are willing to take my word for it that the world looks different from where I'm standing, and extend to me the right to speak up when something that has been said is offensive to me." if that really is the issue driving this whole dogpilage, then I would think someone might gently take xopher to task for saying that men's experiences aren't as weighty as women's.

But I suppose it depends on whether the moral principle is that (1) men extend to women the right to speak up when offeneded and men shut the hell up, or if the moral principle is that (2) human beings extend to all other human beings the right to speak up when offended, and everyone figure out a way to deal with the shit that happens when not everyone is offended exactly the same.

Personally, I stand for (2), and I find (1) offensive to some subjective degree.

If people had started out by saynig they supported (1), then I wouldn't have anything to call them on. They said they were gender inequal, they acted gender inequal. But I took at least some comments here to be saying that they stood in (1), that everyone has a right to their experince, but then they took ddb to task for not havign an acceptable level of offendedness. At which point, what they said and what they did didn't match at all.

So, for future referenece, if anyone here is for men just shutting the hell up, all I ask for is that you be clear about that up front.

#444 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:15 PM:

ddb@440: Absolutely. First, given your exchange with enjay at 406 and 412, which I'd missed when I posted at 440, I think I might have added tone to your response that wasn't in 256. That perceived tone colored your stance and responses throughout the thread for me. So the following is strictly how I read and interpreted your comment.

Your opening sentence to Abi feels like teenager saying 'duh,' rolling eyes heavenward and adds some unwarranted snark in the "even read things now and then." The formulation "I hang around progressive and feminist folk most of the time" has hints of "my minority friend..." something that lorax@300 picked up from your comment at 281.

The second paragraph reads as a little dismissive when I read abi and enjay (251, 252 respectively) as relating examples, personal and historical, why "silly woman" is inherently sexist, and that the way the phrase reinforces stereotypes is why
it has entirely different connotations and reasons for being used than "silly man" ever would. Enjay offered up an example, "halfwit," that Roscoe could have used instead.

Your acknowledgment that you have trouble with this sort of thing, and that you might have used "silly woman" without thinking about it is a great step forward. You clearly seem to be thinking about it here. But then in your last sentence, it seems that you stop thinking, by intimating that it's worse to be racist than sexist.

I don't know how to read "I wouldn't use "boy" for an adult of any race, it's clearly belittling" in this context as anything other than reaffirming that you don't think that "silly woman" is also clearly belittling, even when multiple people have said that it is. That might be a failure of comprehension on my part, and given enjay@412, I have to think about where my thought-fail is.

#445 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:16 PM:

#316 Xopher I think part of the problem here may be that you're interpreting that as a political statement, whereas actually it's a technical statement about the nature of communication.

Interpreting "the meaning of your communication is the response you get" as a technical statement about the nature of communication, not only is wrong, it's devastatingly wrong. THe idea borders on being batshit insane.

E.G. Sasquehanna Hat Company

#446 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:19 PM:

Greg:

This is just my take, and it reflects the realization that I've had in a number of conversations here, dating back a couple years.

It's acceptable to just conclude you're not going to agree with the people with whom you're arguing, even people you like and respect and trust, from within a community you value. Sometimes, you have different enough experiences, or different enough moral intuitions/beliefs, that you're not going to agree. That's more-or-less what the whole community has done w.r.t. brtn, right?

For my part, I find that I simply don't accept the moral intuitions or buy the model of the world implied by a number of comments above, in particular Xopher's #426 and several earlier comments by Pericat, and a number of others. This isn't "you are evil and wrong" sort of disagreement--they're sensible, sane, decent people, their opinions are worth hearing--I just don't quite end up at the same conclusions they do.

One result of this: My disagreement with them isn't, as far as I can tell, a failure of communications. It's not that if I could explain what I'm truly saying, or if they could, then we'd agree. And that means that more argument or discussion won't really help. I could be wrong, but I rather suspect you may be in that place, too.

There is nothing in the world wrong with recognizing this, and accepting it, and just saying "I hear what you're saying, but I disagree." That leaves a kind of open issue w.r.t. whether this kind of issue will come up in future conversation, but I think (from the years I've been on Making Light since the big meltdown in the last privilege argument we got into, where you jumped in after I left, more-or-less in my defense) this is a managable kind of disagreement with the community.

All IMO. I think I should bow out of this conversation here, because since I got involved, I've been tensing up, waiting for the next dogpile with me at the bottom. It's kind-of liberating to realize that there's no need.

Also, I haven't seen you around here in a couple years. It's nice to see you back. Most of the time, we're not actually stuck in this particular conversation, but are instead talking about other stuff. I hope you'll stick around for some of that.

#447 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:20 PM:

C Wingate @441 To really defend the "denigrate" example, it is necessary to assert that the use of the word is in fact injurious to African-Americans even if they do not notice it.

It's not necessary to defend it. It doesn't matter if she was the only person of colour in the world to be sensitized to that word, or another word or phrase, or one of many people so sensitized. It punched her buttons, she said so, and I said 'okay. sorry. didn't intend offense.' and we. moved. on.

And we could move on, and could continue a meaningful conversation because I did not get defensive and pushy and try to force her to justify her reaction.

As Graydon pointed out earlier, if one is coming from a position of privilege, and someone who isn't says, "I'd druther not eat that as it tastes like shit," it really is better to not react by saying, "Here's a whole plate of shit, then."

#448 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 05:21 PM:

On second, third, and fourth thought, I believe in the intelligence and good will of the people involved in this conversation. Therefore, I have to believe that if those driving it could figure out how to keep it from going wrong in the same way, over and over again, they'd have done so long ago. Since they haven't, it must follow that they can't. And if they can't find their way clear of it, I'll have to do it for them.

Which is to say: thank you all very much for your participation, and I am now shutting down this thread.

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