Friday, February 21, 2014

a guide to How to Make a Social Justice Warrior

For the current version of this post, see My book is done, and so am I—on How To Make A Social Justice Warrior.

Addenda: Social Justice Warriors

This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.

• Unpacking “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”
• The Killing Rage of Bell Hooks
• Gendered language and sexism
• How to survive an online mobbing
• How to talk like a Social Justice Warrior, or The thought-terminating clichés of radical identitarianism

• Unpacking “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

When I began unpacking “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, I thought I would be unpacking whiteness theory. To my surprise, I also began unpacking middle-class niceness. I found a clip on Youtube where Peggy McIntosh talks about writing “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. As soon as I saw her, I thought, “That’s a nice middle-class white woman.” Almost as soon as I thought it, I heard her use the word nice—she said, “In 1980, I had read two essays by black women who had lined it out just like a given: white women are oppressive to work with. And I remembered reading those essays with astonishment. They were so factual about it. White women are oppressive to work with. And I had two thoughts in 1980, and I still remember them. One was, I don’t see how they can say that about us. I think we’re nice. And the second, which is outright racist, but this is where I was in 1980, I especially think we’re nice if we work with them. Then I thought, did we fill the reading list and the programs and women’s studies with white people’s stuff? And at first I said maybe, and then I said yes. And I asked myself, if I have anything I didn’t earn by contrast with my African-American friends in this building, show me. And I had to pray on it. And I asked my unconscious mind to answer my questions. And after three months, forty-six examples had swarmed up, most of them in the middle of the night. And if I didn’t flick on a light and write them down, they would be gone by morning, because I didn’t want to know them. They were messing up my view of myself as a person who had earned everything I had.”

Two things struck me: McIntosh created her list through prayer and sleep like a prophet, not a scientist, and what drove her was a need to reconcile her belief she was nice with her awareness that it was not nice to think she was nice because she worked with black people.

Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing made me think more about niceness, class, and whiteness when she wrote that McIntosh’s essay “completely changed the way I thought about what racism is, and the privileges I experience as an upper-middle class white person.” Koerth-Baker and I live in a state that values niceness so much that Wikipedia has an entry for “Minnesota nice.” A great many nice middle-class white people share Koerth-Baker’s reaction to “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.

I don’t. Since I’m talking about niceness and class, and because whiteness theorists love personal stories, here’s a little about me: My mother was the epitome of white middle-class niceness, a druggist’s daughter from northern Minnesota. My father grew up on a small farm, and while I’ve heard many people speak of him with respect, I’ve never heard anyone call him middle-class or nice. My earliest awareness of whiteness is tangled up in the civil rights conflict, when our family couldn’t get fire insurance because the Ku Klux Klan had threatened to burn down our home and I was bullied in school for being a niggerlover. So far as I was concerned, people who put any stock in whiteness were the enemy, which might be why Project Implicit’s test for race says I have “a slight automatic preference for African American compared to European American”. Or maybe I’m among the millions of white Americans with an implicit preference for African American because I grew up around black people and was never hurt by one. I don’t mean that I thought black people were better than white people—I agree with Malcolm X, who said after he left the Nation of Islam, “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown, or red.” I only mean that until I criticized whiteness studies, my experiences with black people were good and my experiences with white people were mixed.

When I began to argue on my blog that class matters more than race or gender in a capitalist country, I learned the limit of middle-class niceness. First came suggestions to read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. When I said I’d read it and agreed with some of its examples but not with its assumptions, niceness ended. I was treated brusquely as obtuse, then viciously as a committed racist. McIntosh’s fans insisted I was denying the existence of racism, which baffled me—if criticizing an ideology about race is denying the existence of racism, then when Malcolm X criticized the Nation of Islam, he was denying the existence of racism.

So I began researching. At the time, there was little analysis of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” online—people loved it or hated it. Adolph Reed Jr. helped me see why. In “The Limits of Anti-racism,” he wrote, “Yes, racism exists, as a conceptual condensation of practices and ideas that reproduce, or seek to reproduce, hierarchy along lines defined by race. Apostles of antiracism frequently can’t hear this sort of statement, because in their exceedingly simplistic version of the nexus of race and injustice there can be only the Manichean dichotomy of those who admit racism’s existence and those who deny it.”

Reed’s comparison of anti-racism to a dualistic religion was reinforced by the Reverend Thandeka’s “Why Anti-Racism Will Fail”. Writing about anti-racism training in Unitarian-Universalist congregations, she said the “belief that all whites are racists is based explicitly on the Christian doctrine of original sin…” Her “explicitly” is a reference to one trainer’s writing. There are anti-racists of all beliefs, but even the atheists divide white people between the saved who confess their racism and the sinners who do not.

Peggy McIntosh speaks persuasively to middle class whites and graduates of expensive private schools because she’s one of them—she’s the associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, one of the private women’s schools that have been educating the daughters of America’s elite since the 19th century. Wellesley’s graduates include two secretaries of state. It’s among the US’s most expensive schools—in 2013, a year there costs $57,042. It touts its diversity because less than half of its students are white and nearly a quarter are Asian, but that diversity doesn’t translate into class diversity—as a group, Asian Americans are richer than white Americans.

McIntosh effectively describes Critical Race Theory when she says, “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

Whether she’s playing a rhetorical game when she says she asked in “an untutored way” or was so immersed in Critical Race Theory that she did not realize she had been tutored by her friends “in the building” and her reading, I don’t know. Though she never names CRT in her essay, she mentions “institutional racism”, a core belief of CRT.

Critical Race Theory gave her a way to reconcile her belief that she was nice with her recognition of her not-nice racist thoughts. Like Saul the persecutor of Christians who became Paul the evangelist, Peggy McIntosh the racist became Peggy McIntosh the anti-racist. When she prayed to see the things she didn’t earn by contrast with her African-American friends, she was not looking for things she and those black friends did not earn by contrast with working class people of any hue—her concern was with the forms of injustice that affected her middle-class black peers.

The 1989 version of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” begins, “Through work to bring materials from women's studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men's unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged.”

She starts with the belief that all men are overprivileged and all women are disadvantaged, even though when she wrote, Queen Elizabeth was the fourth richest person in the world, Maggie Thatcher had been Prime Minister of Britain for nearly a decade, and Ronald Reagan’s cuts in social services had made over a million Americans of all races homeless, the majority of whom were men.

McIntosh says, “As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?””

It’s an excellent question. For her, acknowledging privilege is the answer. Once acknowledged, that privilege may be enjoyed—she never considers giving up her job so a less-privileged black woman might have it.

Thinking all white people are racist may comfort recovering white racists, but tests for racism say they’re wrong. Project Implicit’s researchers found that 30% of white people have no racial preference or, like me, a preference for blacks. But their researchers stress that an implicit preference may not indicate meaningful racism, especially in people who’re aware of their preferences. Being human calls for balancing preferences. During the 2008 primaries, the differences between Obama and John Edwards were minuscule, yet white Democrats preferred Obama, and in the general election, Obama won a larger percentage of the white vote than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter. If Project Implicit is right that most white people have an implicit preference for whites, their preference did not translate into meaningful racism when they acted in the voting booth, and may not be meaningful elsewhere.

But suppose McIntosh is right and all white people need to acknowledge their white privilege. What will that do? Adolph Reed Jr. wrote, “In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to recognition of injustice, which in turn will lead to remedial action—though not much attention seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus.”

The internet calls this Underpants Gnomes logic. In an episode of South Park, gnomes were stealing underpants. When asked why, they showed their three-phase business plan:

1. Collect Underpants

2.  ?

3. Profit!

They had stolen lots of underpants. As soon as they figured out step two, they would be rich. The privilege theory plan looks like this:

1. Make men/whites admit they are overprivileged.

2.  ?

3. The end of prejudice and the beginning of true meritocracy!

McIntosh says, “My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow "them" to be more like "us.””

Minnich is another white academic who works at exclusive schools. She’s very right when she says, “when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow "them" to be more like "us.”” Neither Minnich nor McIntosh notice that working class white people also see middle-class do-gooders doing “work that will allow "them" to be more like "us””. McIntosh and Minnich’s focus on people of color either makes “overprivileged” working class whites invisible, or they cannot imagine that what they see as “morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal” is not whiteness, but middle-class niceness.

At the end of her introduction, McIntosh says, “I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined.”

Her mention of class should matter, but you’ll find no class considerations in what she wrote after she began praying. Most of her points boil down to a simple truth that may be implied in #36 on her list: "If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones."

If that means she never has to wonder whether a white person treated her badly because of her race, she’s right. But if she thinks white people never have to wonder if an unpleasant encounter had racial overtones, she should notice that people of color commit hate crimes too.

From “McIntosh as Synecdoche: How Teacher Education’s Focus on White Privilege Undermines Antiracism”, by the Midwest Critical Whiteness Collective (Timothy J. Lensmire, Shannon K. McManimon, Jessica Dockter Tierney, Mary E. Lee-Nichols, Zachary A. Casey, Audrey Lensmire, and Bryan M. Davis):

McIntosh suggests that the privileges might be divided into different categories, but she does not tell us how to categorize them. There is little about the order of the list to help us make sense of the key aspects or contours of white privilege.

Further, our confusion was also grounded in how McIntosh describes privilege. First, she seems to assume that lessening privilege for white people would also, in some direct way, lessen oppression for people of color. We found this especially puzzling since a number of privileges on McIntosh’s list seem better characterized as human rights, to which she refers as “what one would want for everyone in a just society”. In the case of such privileges, it seems that the struggle should be to guarantee them for everyone rather than lessen them for some.

Second, even as McIntosh gestures toward systemic oppression, her text focuses overwhelmingly on conceptualizing privilege as individual and seems to equate individual white people coming to understand their white privilege with overcoming systems of racial oppression. Stated differently, while reading and working with McIntosh’s piece might be a consciousness-raising exercise for individual white people, her text provides limited help with understanding and undermining systemic white supremacy. There is no call to activism, unless activism is conceived of as individual white people somehow lessening their own white privilege.

In my first attempt to unpack McIntosh’s unpacking, I embraced the subjectivity that Critical Race Theorists advocate and arranged her list like this:

1. Items with some objective truth

2. Items that do not apply to the white working class

3. Items that were no longer true when McIntosh wrote

4. Items that are purely subjective

I tried discussing them all and found I was repeating myself, so I’ll only include a few of the first two.

Examples of items with some objective truth

“1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

There’s an old joke realtors tell: “What are the three most important things when selling a property? Location, location, location.” McIntosh’s black colleagues at Wellesley would’ve had trouble avoiding white people—the 2007 Census Bureau estimated the town’s racial makeup was 84.6% white, 10% Asian, and only 2.2% black. If unequal racial distribution is a sign of racism, Wellesley, Massachusetts is one of America’s most racist towns.

But the privilege of being in the company of people of your race most of the time depends entirely on where you are. Wikipedia’s list of U.S. communities with African-American majority populations includes two large cities, three small ones, and over 100 towns.

Whether McIntosh thinks voluntary segregation is a privilege that should be eliminated or a right everyone should have is not clear.

“3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.”

A 2013 HUD study found “African-American home buyers learned about the existence of 17 percent fewer homes and were shown 18 percent fewer properties. On the renters’ side, 11 percent fewer units were “advertised as available” while they were shown 4 percent less units than Whites. Hispanic testers faced less discrimination, with renters learning about 12 percent less of available units, although they were shown 7 percent fewer available rental properties.”

Though McIntosh said she was considering class in her list, she overlooks a simple fact: middle class black people will still have an easier time finding a place in an area they can afford and would want to live than any poor person.

“6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”

White people are disproportionately represented because the media’s run by the rich, and the rich continue to be disproportionately white because the US has little class mobility. The people who can afford the most prestigious drama, film, and journalism schools will be disproportionately white until there is, to use Martin Luther King’s phrase, “a radical redistribution of economic power”.

Examples of items that do not apply to the white working class

“5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”

I’ve been a clerk, so trust me: Good clerks try to watch everyone to be helpful and to reduce theft. Even the most racist clerks know they should watch white shoppers. White people do not get a shoplifting pass—believing in one might explain why celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Winona Ryder get caught, but I suspect they thought they had a wealth and fame pass.

Mcintosh’s “most of the time” means she thinks being harassed is the most common experience for black shoppers. I suspect another form of privilege applies: Middle-class white people like McIntosh have the privilege of not noticing what the people who serve them are doing. Working-class white people know clerks watch them.

“9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.”

She has already forgotten the published essays by the black academics who helped her see her racism. Anyone working at Wellesley could be pretty sure of publishing an essay, because credits and writing ability, not race, matter most in publishing. A white teacher at a less-prestigious school would have a more difficult time than any of McIntosh’s colleagues.

“25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.”

If she thinks working class whites don’t get harassed by cops, I’ll happily tell her about cops harassing me when I was young and drove a used car. I haven’t been able to verify her claim that the IRS was auditing a disproportionate number of black people, but if the IRS was targeting people based on income, the disproportionate number of poor blacks would make a class injustice look like a race injustice to people who think in terms of social identity.

After McIntosh lists 50 white privileges, she says, “Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely."

In the 20th century, the people who were not free to criticize our culture were pacifists arrested in wartime and socialists denied employment during the Cold War. The most famous of those—Eugene Debs and the Hollywood Ten—were white men. The US has had black critics since Frederick Douglas. All of them were free to criticize, and criticized well.

McIntosh says, “…the feeling that one belongs within the human circle, as Native Americans say, should not be seen as privilege for a few. Ideally it is an unearned entitlement. At present, since only a few have it, it is an unearned advantage for them.”

If you accept her premise, it’s not “the few” who have the “feeling that one belongs within the human circle”. It’s the white majority. The language of privilege theory seems to have confused her—she writes as if the US in the 1980s was ruled by a white minority like South Africa under apartheid.

McIntosh says, "Many, perhaps most, of our white students in the United States think that racism doesn't affect them because they are not people of color; they do not see "whiteness" as a racial identity."

I’ve never met a white person who did not know their racial identity was white. White racists value that; the rest do not. Privilege theorists want to teach whiteness to white people to make them admit they’re “overprivileged”, but that only reinforces the social construct of race. Race will go the way of all bad ideas when people move on from it, but no one clings harder to the construct of race than identitarians.

McIntosh says, “Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already."

She still can’t decide if she’s talking about a majority or a minority. White people in the US are not “just a small number of people”. Had she been talking about capitalists, she would be accurate. In “Why Anti-racism Will Fail”, Thandeka notes, “First, 80 percent of the wealth in this country is owned by 20 percent of the population. The top 1 percent owns 47% of this wealth. These facts describe an American oligarchy that rules not as a right of race but as a right of class. One historical counterpart to this contemporary story of extreme economic imbalance is found in the fact that at the beginning of the Civil War, seven per cent of the total white population in the South owned almost three quarters (three million) of all the slaves in this country. In other words, in 1860, an oligarchy of 8,000 persons actually ruled the South. This small planter class ruled over the slaves and controlled the five million whites too poor to own slaves. To make sense of this class fact, we must remember that the core motivation for slavery was not race but economics, which is why at its inception, both blacks and whites were enslaved.”

McIntosh says, “Although systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and, I imagine, for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base."

What we know from watching men is that when they understand inequality in terms of rights, they share those rights—black people and women got the vote because white men realized participating in democracy is a human right. Building a fair world can’t be done by talking about taking privileges away. Who wanted the right to vote taken from white men? Who wanted the right to marry taken from heterosexual people? It’s nice to think that everyone will be equally privileged someday, just as it’s nice to think everyone will be above average and everyone will give 110%. But the problem of injustice calls for more than being nice. It calls for being just.

• The Killing Rage of Bell Hooks

Bell Hooks, the nom de guerre of Gloria Watkins, is an anti-racist feminist whose writing inspires many warriors. The opening essay of her Killing Rage: Ending Racism is fascinating, though not for the reasons she offers. Think of her as a Nabokovian unreliable narrator, and it’s both sad and hilarious. It’s the story of a ticket mix-up on a plane. A white man has a ticket for a seat, and due to an error, a black woman believes the seat is hers, though her ticket says otherwise. To Hooks, the whites who observe what happens are complicit in racism because they don’t ignore the ticket and accept the black woman’s word.

It never occurs to her that she might be mistaken. She defines herself as an anti-racist, and therefore she finds racism to oppose wherever she goes. Like many middle class blacks, she has an especially odd take on Malcolm X—she talks about his rage rather than his advice to respect everyone, and she prefers what he said when he served the Nation of Islam to what he said when he left it.

Her double-standard on class is shared by many of her fans. She says class matters, but she expects full deference from people who wait on her. If working-class folks are trying to finish another task before getting to her or make a mistake when they’re helping her, it’s because of their racism—or in the case of black workers, their internalized racism. If people always served me instantly and perfectly, I would give her claims more weight.

This is not to say Hooks has never faced racism. The old joke applies: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. The tragedy of racism is that people who might be its victims have to wonder if they’re its victims whenever a person of another race does anything that hurts or hinders them.

I didn’t start Killing Rage expecting to agree with her, but I expected to find some substance for her beliefs. Her desire to liberate subjectivity explains why there’s not.

There’s little criticism of her work, probably because it’s so very subjective. In “What Are the Drums Saying, Booker?: The Curious Role of the Black Pubic Intellectual”, Adolph Reed Jr. included her in his general critique when he said, “West, Dyson, et al, use the public intellectual pose to claim authority both as certified world-class elite academics and as links to an extra-academic blackness, thus splitting the differences between being insiders and outsiders. In the process, they are able to skirt the practical requirements of either role—to avoid both rigorous, careful intellectual work and protracted, committed political action. … In rejecting all considerations of standards of evidence and argument as expressions of naive positivism, the cultural politicians get to make the story up as they go along.”

Reed’s only specific reference to Bell Hooks is “Dyson and Watkins/hooks are little more than hustlers, blending bombast, clichés, psychobabble, and lame guilt tripping in service to the “pay me” principle.”

Like a teenager who has just discovered e. e. cummings, Watkins prefers to have her pseudonym lower-cased, but the convention of capitalizing names is useful for reading comprehension, so I’m treating her as though she were any human. No more insult is intended than a Quaker calling a king “friend”.

• Gendered language and sexism

Social justice warriors believe words shape the way humans understand the world, so if everyone used the right words, the world would become wonderful. The notion that language shapes us is older than identitarianism—it’s commonly known as linguistic relativity, Whorfianism, or the Sapir-Whorf Theory. The belief in the transformative power of language is behind the changing names for black folks: colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, and People of Color are all attempts to find the name that will create respect for black people. The feminist rejection of “girl” in favor of “woman”, the hate for the generic “he”, the love of capitalizing “Black”as though it were a nationality instead of a race, the insistence that using “man” instead of “human” erases women, and using terms like “the n-word” instead of simply saying “nigger” are all manifestations of linguistic relativism. What warriors don’t know is the theory has been generally discredited. There seems to be a slight effect of language on people’s attitudes, but the effect is small and short-term. George Orwell’s 1984 is brilliant fiction, but its assumption about controlling people by controlling language is only fiction.

Studies of countries with gendered language show little correlation with sexism. Persian and Turkish are genderless languages, but Iran and Turkey have less gender equality than any country that uses a gendered language like Spanish in which nouns are considered male or female. Iran and Turkey also have less gender equality than most countries that use a “natural gender” language like English which has gender-specific pronouns but does not assign gender to nouns.

Here are the top five countries for gender equality and the kind of language spoken, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap:

1. Finland (tie with Iceland), genderless

2. Iceland (tie with Finland), natural gender

3. Norway, natural gender

4. Sweden, natural gender

5. South Africa, genderless

• How to survive an online mobbing

Ever since the Ku Klux Klan targeted my family, I've despised mob justice, no matter what the offense or whether the mobbing happens online or off. And yet, to my shame, I participated in online mobbing when I thought it was for a good cause. I failed to understand the negative form of the Golden Rule: Do not do unto others what you would not have other do unto you. Or, if you enjoy conflict but have a protective streak, consider this version: Do not do to strangers what you would not have done to your family and friends.

I learned that the hardest way. I don't know if I made every mistake the target of a mob can make, but I made the most common ones. This is the post I wish I had read the day before I was mobbed:

The internet does not read charitably. Making that problem far worse, many web sites follow the first law of tabloid journalism: If it bleeds, it leads. Whether their audience is liberal or conservative, feminist or men's rights, white or black, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight, scifi fans or fantasy fans or romance fans, they know one truth: Outrage is google juice, because outrage junkies need their daily spike.

If you are targeted, the outraged will denounce you at your sites and theirs. What you said will be exaggerated for maximum effect. If you were pseudonymous, people who usually defend pseudonymity will proudly hunt down your real name and share it. If you're female, you will probably get rape threats. Regardless of your sex, you may get death threats—online if you're lucky, in your workplace or delivered to your home if you're not. Attempts to destroy your career may include calls to your bosses. When you have been declared a transgressor, you become an Other and the mob will excuse almost anything a mob member does to you.

You'll get two kinds of mobbers, haters who want to abuse and threaten you, and concern trolls who want to enlighten you. If the only mobbers were concern trolls, you could treat them like evangelists at your door. But the haters will be far more noticeable. When a lynch mob screams that you've rustled a horse, the ones who would like a nice talk over tea about whether you found the horse or even know that a horse went missing will be far less noticeable than the ones waving nooses.

The most important thing to understand is that you will go a little insane. At the very beginning of the mobbing, when the right response is crucial, adrenalin will kick in and you'll shift into fight or flight or freeze response. You'll be torn between anger over being attacked and despair for the consequences to your reputation. You will desperately want to do anything that will make things better, but you won't have a clue what that may be.

Your instinct to make the mobbing end immediately will be more correct than you will know at the time. The longterm psychological efforts of mobbing can be so horrible that most members of a mob would be ashamed if they knew what they were doing, no matter what they thought you had done. Most mobbing targets have to deal with some degree of adjustment disorder. Some kill themselves. During and after a mobbing, you may have trouble sleeping. You may eat or drink more. You may be unable to focus on your work. The depression and obsession that can be caused by a mobbing may drive away the friends who had stood by you during the mobbing, starting another and deeper cycle of depression and obsession.

Which is why I'm sorry to say there's no perfect solution.

But I can tell you how to keep from making a mobbing worse.

1. If you think you were wrong, or you are willing to lie for peace, apologize. Don't try to justify or explain what you did. Apologize without reservation, accepting full blame for what you did. Show that you understand your mistake, you are ashamed of it, and you know you do not deserve forgiveness, but you hope you'll be given a second chance.

Your apology will be scrutinized. The most extreme outrage junkies may not forgive you, but most members of the mob will be pleased that you've seen your sin and want to be part of them.

2. If your sense of pride or integrity will not let you apologize, follow this general guideline: Do not hide, and do not engage.

Your goal is to survive with the least damage. Flames spread too quickly on the web for anyone to put out every one. Trying to fight the flames is far more likely to fan them than end them. You must let the fire burn itself out.

But you can't do that by hiding. The mobbers will make and share screencaps of what you said. Any attempt to hide will not only be futile; it will further enrage the mob as it thinks you are trying to escape from justice.

Follow these steps:

1. Do not shut down comments on your post. The outraged people want their chance to speak at the site of the outrage. By letting them vent at your site, they will vent less elsewhere.

2. Add a note to the beginning of the post and in the comments saying that you're leaving the comments open so people may respond, but you won't reply to anyone now because you need time to consider what they say. If you're aware of specific errors in what you said, mention them, but don't try to say more.

3. Do not try to defend yourself. To the outraged, you are now the face of all they think is evil. You are not a human being. You are the effigy they may pummel because they can't hit Satan or whatever they have decided you represent. Nothing you might say will change their minds—they're attacking you because they are committed to a worldview. Anything you offer in defense will become fuel for their fire.

4. Tell anyone you care about to stay out of the mobbing. Anyone who defends you will only become the mob's next targets.

5. While the flames burn, spend time with people offline. Go for walks or bicycle rides or something that's physically and mentally engaging. Clean your home. Volunteer to help someone have a better life. Make art. Remind yourself that the people who treat you as inhuman can be treated in a similar but better way, by being ignored.

6. If you suspect the mobbing is hurting the quality of your life, talk to someone you respect, a psychological counselor or a religious person or anyone whose advice you'll seriously consider.

Good luck.

• How to talk like a Social Justice Warrior, or The thought-terminating clichés of radical identitarianism

General Terms

Ally: A person of a different social identity who believes in identitarianism. Examples: Men may be feminist allies, white people may be allies of people of color, etc.

Appropriation/cultural appropriation: In anthropology, a term to discuss how cultures adopt ideas from each other. As John Stuart Mill noted, “There is no nation which does not need to borrow from others.“ To identitarians, appropriation is exploitation of oppressed cultures. For example, when twerking became popular, white pop star Miley Cyrus was accused of appropriating black culture. In the comments at Jezebel, Specular wrote: “You can't have this one both ways: either pop music created by non-dominant cultures is open to enjoyment and emulation by people outside that culture, or it is off limits to anyone not from that background and we therefore can't complain about limited sales and/or industry recognition. It's like when the folks over at Queerty complain that hipsters "stole" camp from gay people. It's not "progressive" in any sense, it's straight up genetic determinism and IMO not something to be proud of.”

Call out: To publicly accuse people of language or actions that promote an ism.

Cis/cisgender/cissexual and trans/transgender/transsexual: Trans people believe their gender is different than the sex of their body. Cis people believe their gender is the same as the sex of their body. Transsexual people have modified their bodies to make them more like the gender they believe is theirs. Cissexual people don’t change their physical gender. The terms do not refer to sexual preference; trans men and women may prefer people of the same gender or another, or have no preference, just like cis men and women.

Cishet: A cisgender heterosexual.

Classism: Prejudice against people in lower economic classes. Used to treat class as a social identity. LowEndTheory wrote, “The problem with making class oppression explainable by way of discrimination is that, as a group, poor and working class people aren’t poor and working class because they’re discriminated against. You can stop discriminating against poor people, that is, without changing the fact that we live in a society in which a very small collective have a whole lot more wealth than the great majority of others.  Hell, if you want to get creative, you can even send a couple high-SAT-testing poor people to college so that they can mobilize toward the middle class and thereby make a system that makes so many people so poor have the appearance of fairness, even benevolence.“

Internalized misogyny/racism: Anyone of a social identity who disagrees with a warrior is suffering from an “internalized” ism that makes them blind to the warrior’s truth. A slightly gentler term than “race traitor” or “gender traitor”.

Intersectionality: Suffering from two or more kinds of oppression. Intersectionalists use this word to grasp that, for example, a poor gay person has to deal with being poor and gay.

Kyriarchy: Coined in 2001 by a Catholic feminist from the Greek words for “master” and "rule or dominate”. It’s an attempt to understand power in more complex ways than patriarchy. You may think kyriarchy is a redundant word for hierarchy, but the word’s users don’t object to all hierarchies—they only object to hierarchies that aren’t proportionate in race and gender.

Microoppression/Microaggression: A small act that makes a person of an oppressed identity feel oppressed.

Patriarchy: Rule by men.

People of color/POC: In the 19th century, people of color were African-Americans, but now the term includes anyone who is not white. Its advocates say it is more respectful than minority, which implies smallness, and non-white, which defines people in terms of what they are not. There’s no corresponding term like people of whiteness or people without color for white people.

Privilege: The absence of oppression. Straight white males are considered the most privileged people in the USA.

Racism/systemic racism: In a country with a dominant racial group, the prejudices of that group are seen as supporting that group’s dominance. Not to be confused with legal racism.

Rape: For some feminists, rape is a sexual act in which consent was not explicitly given.

Safe space: A place where people of an oppressed identity may segregate themselves.

Insults and Terms to Control the Discourse

Anti-feminist: Used by identitarian feminists to say other feminists are not true feminists. A variation of the no true Scotsman fallacy, which is named for an old joke in which a Scotsman defines what a Scotsman does, then is told of a Scotsman who does otherwise and declares the other is no true Scotsman.

Bro dude/bro-dude/brodude: A heterosexual man who enjoys sports and is assumed to be anti-feminist. The name comes from their habit of calling each other “bro” or “dude”. The “bro” is added to clarify that the reference is to males, because “dude” can refer to either gender in some communities.

Check your privilege/Your privilege is showing: A reminder to people who disagree with identitarians that their social identity will be held against them.

Derail: To go off-topic. Geek Feminism says “Derailment occurs when discussion of one issue is diverted into discussion of another issue, often by the group who were being called out about their bad behavior in the first place.” The idea may come from academia, where lecturers try to keep students’ questions and comments from affecting their lesson plan. Note that disagreement is “bad behavior.” Warriors do not think going onto other people’s sites to call them out is derailment.

Discussion/conversation: Discourse that keeps to an agenda.

Educate yourself/I’m not here to educate you: A common retort. Warriors want to teach their faith, but because that faith rejects objectivity, they have nothing to support it. The response that causes them the least cognitive dissonance is to say they are not trying to do what they are trying to do.

Derailing For Dummies’ “Derail Using Education” says phrases like “If you won’t educate me, how can I learn?” are wrong because “you’re placing responsibility for your education back onto the marginalized person. As they are obviously engaged with these issues, and care about them, they are hopeful that privileged people may one day start listening and taking on board what they have to say.” This inverts the usual expectation that a person making an assertion should be able to support it.

Angrily telling people you won’t help them can be an effective way to win converts. It encourages confused people to immerse themselves in identitarian writing.

Gatekeeper: Anyone who is thought to have the power to control admittance to a community. In publishing, editors and reviewers may be called gatekeepers.

JAQing off: Questioning the agenda. “JAQ” stands for “just asking questions”. Rationalwiki defines it as “1. the act of spouting accusations while cowardly hiding behind the claim of "just asking questions." 2. asking questions and ignoring the answers.”

Robby B at Atheism+ points out:

I understand how tempting it is to notice a common motif in the rhetoric of an Enemy, coin a name for that motif, and then use that name as though it on its own served as a magic word for banishing the Enemy and dispelling its arguments or insinuations. But in this case we already have names for the instances of "JAQing Off" that are problematic:

(1) When someone asks questions in a way that is meant to suggest a specific answer, we can criticize it as a leading question.

(2) When someone asks questions in a way that assumes a questionable premise, we can criticize it as a loaded question.

(3) When someone asks questions to dismantle a view no one holds, we can criticize it as a straw-man fallacy.

(4) When someone tries to implicitly defend a position by attacking an opposing view, we can criticize it as a false dilemma fallacy.

(5) When someone insinuates a conclusion rather than stating it explicitly, we can criticize it as a suppressed conclusion. (Likewise for suppressed premises.)

… and so on.

Misogyny: Sometimes used in its dictionary sense of “hatred of women”. Usually a synonym for “anti-feminist” and “anti-woman” to suggest an active and extreme hatred of women.

MRA: People who identify as Men’s Rights Activists. Used by identitarian feminists for anyone who disagrees with them.

Neckbeard: A sexist man. Literally, a man with a neck beard, which is associated with being overweight or poorly groomed. Feminist warriors refer to a neck beard in the way male chauvinists refer to hairy legs.

Oppression Olympics: Competition to see who is most oppressed and should be deferred to in discussion.

Punch up, not down: People without privilege may insult people with privilege, but people with privilege should not respond.

Shaming/Body-shaming/ Fat-shaming, Kink-shaming/Slut-shaming: Criticizing someone for something identitarians believe should not be a source of shame. At its extreme, this means no one should suggest anorexics or fat people should modify their behavior, or that a fetish might be harmful, or that women in revealing clothes should ever dress more modestly.

Shitlord/Shitlady: Someone who says or does something an identitarian doesn’t like. The term may have begun in a group called Shit Reddit Says. It has been adopted by some of the people it’s intended to mock—I recently saw a picture of an interracial couple proudly wearing their Shitlord and Shitlady T-shirts.

Showing your ass: To say or do something that, to a warrior, reveals prejudice. Like “neck beard”, "showing your ass" surprised me when I first heard it because it suggests the human body is shameful. Then I remembered identitarianism’s middle-class roots, and the implied desirability of modesty made perfect sense.

Splainer/mansplainer/whitesplainer/cis-splainer: A person of an oppressing identity who explains something that contradicts an identitarian. An example of ad hominem (“to the man”), which is dismissing an opponent on the basis of who they are rather than what they say—a mansplainer is a man whose explanation may be ignored because he is a man.

People who use the terms do not claim to be femsplaining, POCsplaining, or transplaining.

TERF: Trans-excluding radical feminist. A feminist who thinks cis-women and trans-women have different social identities and therefore trans-women, like men, may be excluded from a feminist group.

“Tone argument” or “tone policing”: People who suggest warriors would be more effective if they were civil is considered a  concern troll and derailer who only wants to weaken the discussion. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer would’ve rejected that idea in an instant. Malcolm X said, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” The strength of the second part makes some readers miss the stress on the first: Until people put a hand on you, treat them with respect. If they put a hand on you, defend yourself—and stay respectful. (As he probably knew, "Do not speak ill of the dead," is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad.)

People who cite the tone argument tend to be university graduates. Working-class people have an old response to rudeness: “Didn’t your momma teach you no manners?” But warriors think common courtesy is too common to apply to them. After the flamewar called Racefail 09, Jay Lake wrote, “Any cause that requires mockery and abuse to advance itself isn’t one I need to engage with, regardless of my basic beliefs or agreement with the underlying goals.”

Want a cookie? A response to anything a warrior thinks does not deserve acknowledgement or credit.

Reclaiming Civility

This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.

"Civility costs nothing, and buys everything." —Mary Wortley Montagu

“You should respect each other and refrain from disputes; you should not, like water and oil, repel each other, but should, like milk and water, mingle together.” —Buddha

"If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die." —Maya Angelou 

My momma taught me me some manners. So did my daddy. I’ll always be sorry that when disagreeing with people who reject civility, I sometimes followed their lead. I rationalized it by saying that playing by the house rules was just being polite, but I knew that wasn’t so. The Golden Rule has nothing to do with how people treat you. The Golden Rule is about being true to yourself.

Manners are about more than philosophy; they’re about tactics, too. Every diplomat knows that—in a better world, we would forget the people who won wars and remember the ones who prevented them. 

In 2009, a CBS poll found that only 24% of women and 14% of men in the USA consider themselves feminist in the absence of a definition, even though most Americans want men and women to have equal rights—in 2010, a Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition poll found that 84% of Americans would support "a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace". In 2013, University of Toronto psychologist Nadia Bashir led a team that studied public perceptions of feminists and environmentalists and found they’re unpopular because they have a reputation for rudeness. Bashir suggested listeners “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”

If I could teach activists one thing, it would be to respect everyone. Some cite Martin Luther King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” to claim King thought civility is oppressive. But he did not rage or insult when he wrote. He told his critics, “Since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”

King gave advice I wish I’d always remembered: "No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm." In the last year of his life, he said, "The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force." He knew civility is not an obstacle to nonviolent protest. Civility is at its heart. The first word in "civil disobedience" was crucial to his activism. If it was not, he never would have said, “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

Where there’s no respect, there's no love.

How to make a Social Justice Warrior

This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.

How to make a Social Justice Warrior
• The cult symptoms of Social Justice Warriors
• Ten Points About Conformity

How to make a Social Justice Warrior

"Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe—typically under the influence of those in authority—that what they are doing is right.” —Alexander Haslam

“It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.” —Bertrand Russell

“Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.” —Oscar Wilde

“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” —Mark Twain

The recipe for making a Social Justice Warrior:

1. Call attention to an injustice.

2. Blame the injustice on a group the injustice appears to favor.

Social justice warriors are the crusaders of identitarianism. Where history’s crusaders cried “God wills it!” to excuse their deeds, today’s crusaders cite social justice. Just as many Christians reject the Crusaders’ approach, many identitarians reject the warriors’ approach—but just as few Christians spoke out against the Crusaders, few identitarians speak out against social justice warriors. “They mean well,” their enablers say without remembering that history is filled with bad things done with the best intentions.

Though social justice warriors sometimes act offline—delivering death threats, calling employers, etc.—they are primarily an internet phenomenon. This doesn’t mean they’re a product of the internet. Their predecessors posted flyers, shared pamphlets, and scrawled their outrage on walls.

To social justice warriors, the most privileged group in the US are white men. They fail to see that rulers may have nothing to do with the ruled. According to the US Census Bureau in 2004, white people were 82% of all US households, 75% of the lowest economic quintile (the bottom 20%) and 88% of the top 5%. If you believe the races should be evenly distributed, the underrepresentation of white people in the bottom quintile was 92.5% and their overrepresentation in the top 5% was 107%. But that approach means Asian-Americans are far more privileged. Though Asian Americans were 3.65% of the population in 2004, they were only 2.76% of the bottom quintile and 6.46% of the top quintile—the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in the bottom quintile was 75%, and the overrepresentation in the top 5% was 176%. By identitarian logic, Asian-Americans are nearly twice as privileged as white Americans.

If you prefer to look at median household wealth when thinking about privilege, the United States Census Bureau’s 2006-2010 American Community Survey found the median household wealth was $54,857 for white Americans and $68,089 for Asian Americans. By that analysis, white Americans were only 80% as privileged as Asian Americans.

If you’d rather look at religion and privilege, Pew found in 2009 that 43% of Hindus and 46% of Jews make more than $100,000 a year, while only 21% of Protestants, 16% of Mormons, and 19% of Catholics are in that same top bracket. By identitarian logic, Jewish and Hindu Americans should be more than twice as privileged as Christian Americans.

But that calls for identitarian logic to be consistent. It’s not. Subjectivity doesn’t call for consistency.

• The cult symptoms of Social Justice Warriors

Irving L. Janis could have been describing social justice warriors when he wrote in Victims of Groupthink: “The member’s firm belief in the inherent morality of their group and their use of undifferentiated negative stereotypes of opponents enable them to minimize decision conflicts between ethical values and expediency, especially when they are inclined to resort to violence. The shared belief that “we are a wise and good group” inclines them to use group concurrence as a major criterion to judge the morality as well as the efficacy of any policy under discussion. “Since our group’s objectives are good,” the members feel, “any means we decide to use must be good.” This shared assumption helps the members avoid feelings of shame or guilt about decisions that may violate their personal code of ethical behavior. Negative stereotypes of the enemy enhance their sense of moral righteousness as well as their pride in the lofty mission of the in-group.”

Janis listed eight symptoms of cults:

1. an illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all the members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks; 

2. collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead the members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to their past policy decisions; 

3. an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions; 

4. stereotyped views of enemy leaders as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too weak and stupid to counter whatever risky attempts are made to defeat their purposes; 

5. direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, making clear that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loyal members; 

6. self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize to himself the importance of his doubts and counterarguments; 

7. a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent); 

8. the emergence of self-appointed mindguards—members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.

Cults keep members from questioning their assumptions by creating a self-contained environment, complete with unique terminology. Robert Jay Lifton wrote in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”

Whether the anonymous author of “The Culture of Cults” offers an accurate description of cults in general, I don't know, but the writer’s description includes many bits that describe Social Justice Warriors. It identifies:

Their kind of cult: “therapy cults promote a secular type of belief system, based on quasi-scientific or quasi-psychological principles.”

Their approach: “Actions which, to an outsider, might seem devious or immoral, may, in the mind of a believer, seem perfectly just and ethical.”

And their pursuit of ideological perfection: “‘The Demand for Purity: The creation of a guilt and shame milieu by holding up standards of perfection that no human being can accomplish. People are punished and learn to punish themselves for not living up to the group's ideals.’”

Its list of cult traits that fit social justice warriors:

• Independent and non-accountable—believers follow their own self-justifying moral codes: e.g. a Moonie may, in their own mind, justify deceptive recruiting as 'deceiving evil into goodness'.

• Aspirational—they appeal to ambitious, idealistic people. The assumption that only weak, gullible people join cults is not necessarily true.

• Personal and experiential—it is not possible to exercise informed free choice in advance, about whether the belief system is valid or not, or about the benefits of following the study and training opportunities offered by the group. The benefits, if any, of group involvement can only be evaluated after a suitable period of time spent with the group. How long a suitable period of time might be, depends on the individual, and cannot be determined in advance.

• Hierarchical and dualistic—cult belief systems revolve around ideas about higher and lower levels of understanding. There is a hierarchy of awareness, and a path from lower to higher levels. Believers tend to divide the world into the saved and the fallen, the awakened and the deluded, etc.

• Bi-polar—believers experience alternating episodes of faith and doubt, confidence and anxiety, self-righteousness and guilt, depending how well or how badly they feel they are progressing along the path.

• Addictive—believers may become intoxicated with the ideals of the belief system, and feel a vicarious pride in being associated with these ideals. Cults tend to be cliquey and elitist, and believers can become dependent on the approval of the group's elite to maintain their own self-esteem...

Non-falsifiable—a cult belief system can never be shown to be invalid or wrong. This is partly why critics have low credibility, and why it can be difficult to warn people of the dangers of a cult.

• Ten Points About Conformity

1. Choose your group carefully—you will conform

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” ― Henry David Thoreau

“We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity — an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.” —William H. White on groupthink

A Harvard study in 2011 led by Jamil Zaki found that the process of changing your mind to conform may involve literally changing your mind. Men were asked to rate women in terms of attractiveness, then told their rating was different than most other men’s. The men then rated the women again, and their new choices were more like what they thought the majority believed. Changes in the parts of their brains linked to subjective values suggested the men were not lying to conform. They were rewriting their opinion.

2. Your community may change your memories

“Social manipulation can alter memory and extend the known functions of the amygdala to encompass socially mediated memory distortions.” —Micah Edelson, Tali Sharot,Raymond J. Dolan, Yadin Dudai, “Following the Crowd: Brain Substrates of Long-term Memory Conformity”

3. Your community may make you more extreme

"Groups consisting of individuals with extremist tendencies are more likely to shift, and likely to shift more (a point that bears on the wellsprings of violence and terrorism; the same is true for groups with some kind of salient shared identity like Republicans, Democrats, and lawyers, but unlike jurors and experimental subjects).When like-minded people are participating in 'iterated polarization games'—when they meet regularly, without sustained exposure to competing views—extreme movements are all the more likely." —Cass R. Sunstein, "The Law of Group Polarization", 

4. If your friends jump off a bridge, you’ll probably jump too

Referring to people who choose not to vaccinate their children as “nonconformers” and calling their communities “people networks”, Nancy Walsh noted in “Social Network Sways Vaccine Compliance” that “the most striking difference between the conformers’ and nonconformers’ people networks was that 72% of the nonconformers’ network members also were in favor of nonconformity, while only 13% of conformers’ network members held that view.”

5. Creating a believer is all about timing

Kim of the "Den of the Biting Beaver" wrote: “I suppose it all came together for me when I bought my first Andrea Dworkin book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, right about the time I kicked my ex-husband out. In it I found names for the infrastructures I had already recognized in my mental meanderings. Andrea Dworkin gave me a center from which to work, and I connected with her words on a very basic level. From there I read everything I could get, and sometime around then I also began blogging about the threads I was so excited to be seeing.”

If she had read a book by a Scientologist or a Jehovah's Witness or Ayn Rand, she would’ve found different "names for the infrastructures" that gave her a “center from which to work”. There are times when we know something is wrong with the world and we need a model to understand it. Then we accept the first one that seems to work. So long as we can interpret the world in that model’s terms, we have no reason to seek another.

6. Trolls can make you doubt me: the nasty effect

1,183 participants in a study read a fake blog post about new technology. Half saw polite comments on the post; half saw rude ones. Except for the tone, the comments were similar in content and length. One of the study’s co-authors, Dominique Brossard said, “Basically what we saw is people that were exposed to the polite comments didn’t change their views really about the issue covering the story, versus the people that did see the rude comments became polarized — they became more against the technology that was covered in the story.”

When people with agendas act offensively, they can be acting effectively. When warriors object to “tone policing” and “concern trolling”, they’re not just being abusive, they’re furthering their cause.

The “nasty effect” makes sense if you think humans are pretentious monkeys. When one group is flinging feces, the others fear there’s a good reason.

7. You will trust me if you agree with me: confirmation bias

“Men readily believe what they want to believe.” —Julius Caesar

"In one sense [Stephen Jay] Gould has been proved right, though not in the way he would have wanted. His distortion of Morton’s data reveals how strongly held ideological beliefs – in this case not racism but anti-racism – can persuade one to see what one wants to see among the thicket of facts." —Kenan Malik, “The Science of Seeing What You Want To See”

Confirmation bias is the tendency to trust information that supports our beliefs and reject information that doesn’t. Humans may be susceptible to confirmation bias because it’s easiest to be a complacent member of a tribe if it’s hard to lose faith in the tribe. Confirmation bias explains why most people don’t change their opinions until the circumstances of their lives change.

Confirmation bias pays the bills in journalism. Pundits provide fuel for their fans’ beliefs. We love the ones whose views are like ours and hate those who differ. Whether they tell the truth is irrelevant. We listen for confirmation, not information.

8. You may vilify people and lose any ability to question your beliefs

Clay Shirky wrote in “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”: “The second basic pattern that Bion detailed: The identification and vilification of external enemies. ...even if someone isn't really your enemy, identifying them as an enemy can cause a pleasant sense of group cohesion. And groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies. The third pattern Bion identified: Religious veneration. The nomination and worship of a religious icon or a set of religious tenets. The religious pattern is, essentially, we have nominated something that's beyond critique.”

9. You may come to believe in altruistic punishment

From Douglas Preston’s “Amanda Knox: She was acquitted of the Meredith Kercher murder. Why do people still hate her so much?”: “Experiments show that when some people punish others, the reward part of their brain lights up like a Christmas tree. It turns out we humans avidly engage in something anthropologists call “altruistic punishment.” What is altruistic punishment? It is when a person punishes someone who has done nothing against them personally but has violated what they perceive to be the norms of society. Why “altruistic”? Because the punisher is doing something that benefits society at large, with no immediate personal gain. Altruistic punishment is normally a good thing. Our entire criminal justice system is based on it….”

10. You will dance to the Amygdala Hijack, or the Hulk Effect

Humans react, then think. The reason? Our emotions are controlled by the brain’s limbic system and more specifically, by the amygdala. Wikipedia defines the Amygdala hijack as “….the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat. ...not all limbic hijackings are distressing. When a joke strikes someone as so uproarious that their laughter is almost explosive, that, too, is a limbic response. It is at work also in moments of intense joy.”

The hijack could be called the Hulk Effect: the angrier we get, the stupider we get. From “Neuroscience Fundamentals—The limbic System”: ”Amygdala hijack is known to be an evolutionary response to the environment where there is no time for rational thinking. Actions must be done to protect yourself from harm immediately resulting in “unthinkingly” or impulsive behaviours. Hadley (2010) proposed that up to 75% of the conscious reasoning is lost during the hijack. This conclusion was backed up by another paper by Peters (2011) who claimed that the energy sent to prefrontal cortex is greatly reduced during the hijack. Moreover, only 5% of the brain is devoted to the “present” situation whereas the rest is occupied with the past or future hassles.”

The hijack especially affects teenagers. From Kelly Pfeiffer’s “The Adolescent Brain and Decision Making Skills”: “In 2008, B. J. Casey’s research team at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and California Institute of Technology published an article suggesting that the limbic system is the major contributor of poor judgment and impulsivity in the teen brain. The team proposed that although the frontal lobe of the cortex can weigh options to make a decision with a safe outcome, a teen’s “on guard” limbic system often wins out over the reasoning of the prefrontal cortex resulting in more high risking taking decisions. The theory is that the impulsive ever vigilant limbic system keeps a teen’s brain focused on primal tasks such as finding a mate, elevating one’s status with peers and seeking pleasure activities such as eating, sex and novelty.”

But adults shouldn’t get smug. When we feel a threat—including a threat to our belief systems—we all dance the to the Limbic Hijack.

Class and Fandom

Class and Fandom
• Class, Race, Fandom, and Dr. Who
• Damien G. Walter and “class envy”
• Are poor people invisible in fandom?
• The hardest panel for an f&sf convention

• Class, Race, Fandom, and Dr. Who

The Doctor of Dr. Who reincarnates whenever a new actor takes over the role, so, in theory, the Doctor could become anyone. But so far, all the Doctors have been white, male, British, and vaguely middle-to-upper class.

Except one.

Christopher Eccleston is known to fans as the Ninth Doctor. I loved him because his incarnation, with a Northern English accent and a black leather jacket, evokes the working class. Some people hated him for that reason; a snobbish Guardian writer referred to Eccleston’s Doctor as “looking like an EastEnders extra.”

The Doctor is traditionally accompanied by a companion or two, the Watsons to his Holmes. My favorite, Billie Piper’s very working-class Rose Tyler, began with Eccleston and continued when David Tennant  became the Tenth Doctor. You may argue whether the Ninth’s working class status is a matter of sympathy or identity—though he was reborn in a new human form, he was still a Time Lord—but Rose Tyler was, in the words of the actress who played her, “a bit of a chav.” The show made that explicit when Rose, possessed by an alien intelligence, looked in a mirror and exclaimed, “Oh my god! I’m a chav!

Many fans saw what the snobbish Guardian writer missed. Backword Dave noted in “The new Doctor Who” at A Fistful of Euros: “Both Rose and the Doctor seem to be “working class.” So far they’ve stood up for enslaved corporate hacks against unnamed bankers, overthrown a despotic billionaire who considered his staff “disposable,” supported an honest (and Labour seeming) MP against a corrupt system, visited a Victorian funeral parlour (where the most likable characters were a maid and Charles Dickens). In the second episode, the sympathetic character was some kind of maintenance worker, and in episode 1, Rose worked in a department store. Where is the middleclassness?”

The white Rose Tyler had a black boyfriend, Mickey Smith, who could be considered a companion, but his part wasn’t as important as hers. The first major black character in Doctor Who was Piper’s successor, Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones, a middle class medical student.

Just as Rose was an excuse to acknowledge class issues, Martha was an opportunity to explore race. How well the writers did depends on who you ask.

Now, the Doctor always reincarnating as a white male has bugged me for decades. Whoopi Goldberg hinted long ago that she would love the part. If the producers insisted on someone male and British, Lenny Henry proved he would’ve been great in a Dr. Who spoof in 1985.

People who talk about race and Dr. Who focus on a scene from “Human Nature”. Martha, who had been pretending to be the Doctor’s housemaid in 1913, tries to convince an upper-class Brit that she’s from the future:

MARTHA: I’m training to be a doctor. Not an alien doctor, a proper doctor. A doctor of medicine. 

JOAN: Well that certainly is nonsense. Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color.

It’s a brilliant scene. The comment about “hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color” tackles race and class simultaneously. To an upper-class Brit in 1913, being a doctor isn’t for the working class, and it’s especially not for brown-skinned members of that class.

But K. Tempest Bradford denounced that scene on Tumblr. then accused its writer, Paul Cornell, of unintentional racism at “Let’s Talk About Human Nature”, where she also complained about the Doctor getting to pass as a teacher while Martha had to be a servant.

No one at Tumblr said a word about class, nor did Bradford at her blog. But Cornell, replying at Bradford’s blog, mentioned class immediately: “...the question is, do we have everyone in (upper class, somewhat sheltered) 1914 be portrayed as absolutely non-racist, or do we note the possibility? I hate it when series set in the past ignore the racism of previous eras to extraordinary degrees. (To not have Martha hammered with it *every time* she sets foot in the past was, though, I think, the right decision.) I think it airbrushes the suffering of individuals back then out of history, by implicitly saying things were always all right. However, as you’re in the group portrayed here, I think your voice should have weight, and I don’t want to push it aside through my own privilege. It’d be really good if we could manage to have the (perhaps first ever) caring, dignified chat about race in the series. Mainly because I’m an enormous wuss and if it gets heated I could well disgrace myself with the wailing and the sobbing.”

Bradford continued to ignore the subject in her response to Cornell. He did not, saying, “I think it’s clear that, in some ways, we simply let you down, and I’m sorry about that. Some of this stuff one just can’t argue with, really. Back then we saw ‘chosen by the Tardis’ as a more poetic way of saying ‘by a roll of the dice’, but yes, it’s our choices that mattered. As a British person, the idea that in 1914 Joan would have known about women of colour being doctors feels very strange to me. That sort of cultural information would have been hard to come by (people of her class would have been surprised by that, I think, up until the 1950s, some much later), and I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to assume her ignorance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think one of the reasons the text is problematic for you is that you feel kicked by the heroine expressing such things. The way institutional bigotries touch good people (because I think it’s important to be able to acknowledge one’s own racism, so I also think it’s important to show racism as a flaw in otherwise positive characters) is a theme in my work. I’ve read the Butler, which is, as you say, the best sort of SF.”

Bradford replied, “I will have to defer to historians on this one, because I admit I don’t know.”

Despite acknowledging her ignorance, Bradford didn’t change her mind. At Tumblr, she said, “Having a discussion with Paul Cornell about this episode over on my blog. I’m realizing again (always have to re-realize this stuff) how some people just do not see the world the same way as others. They just don’t fathom how everything in this episode is just… arg.”

To people who care only about the depiction of race, class and history are always irrelevant.

I can suggest answers to her plot complaints, though whether my explanations are implied by the script or are only fan-spackling, I don’t know. She says, “People have pointed out that the Doctor did not choose the time and place, the TARDIS dd. Well, TARDIS: wtf? Still not okay. ... In the world of the show that is bad enough. But I find it to be handwavy and bull on the part of the writer/creators/whoever came up with this idea. It looks like they’re trying to absolve the Doctor of responsibility here, and that’s a dick way to do so. Plus, it doesn’t fly for the TARDIS, either, as it’s been well established by this point that it has a consciousness, too.”

1. Having the Tardis rather than the Doctor choose a time and place at random seems like a good plan if you’re trying to hide from creatures who can travel in time and space.

2. Throughout the show’s history, the Tardis has been presented as slightly damaged and not completely dependable. Maybe it goofed up when it chose 1913 Britain.

3. The Tardis, a time-traveling vehicle with an alien consciousness, might not know or care to avoid sending Martha to any place with a history of racism.

4. The Tardis might have thought the Doctor’s pursuers would never think to look for him in a racist time.

Bradford also complained, “It’s yet another example in a long list of examples where Martha is put into the Mammy role. I might have let it slide except it happens so often it’s a damn theme, and that’s really problematic.”

It’s actually another example of companions put in servant roles. Did anyone complain when the working class Rose Tyler was put into a maid’s role?

For the social justice critics of the handling of Martha Jones, the question isn’t whether the stories accurately present the prevailing attitudes toward race and class—as evidenced by Bradford’s comment about deferring to historians. The question is whether it’s racist for a middle-class black woman to visit a time where black women are assumed to be working class. That Martha is heroic isn’t doubted; she’s a much-loved character in Whodom. I think the fans who wanted her written differently are missing something the writers know: part of her heroism comes from confronting racism. She could have been written like Star Trek’s Uhura and only visited post-racial and non-racial places.

Which would have meant keeping her out of the last five hundred years of history where English was spoken.

Or it would have meant ignoring racism in those times.

Good writers know a truth that fans don’t: A writer’s job isn’t to give fans what they want. It’s to give them what they need. If fans are upset because a beloved character faces hard realities, their upset may only be a sign that the writers are doing their job.

• Damien G. Walter and “class envy”

On July 10, after writing about Jemisin and Beale, I got a tweet from Damien Walter (@damiengwalter5), columnist for The Guardian. This part of the discussion stuck me:

Damien Walter
No, Will. This is the whole point. As we covered already, this isn’t about Jemisin. It’s about you, and your victim complex.

Damien Walter
And your class envy, and your being beaten up as a kid. And your anger, which you’ve turned in to racist insults, when…

Damien Walter
…you could have turned it in to something better.

Will Shetterly
Ah, “class envy.” On this side of the pond, that’s what rich folks say about the people who don’t know their place.

His “class envy” reminded me of Jemisin’s use of “flyover country.” In identitarian terms, classists are classist.

He didn’t clarify what he was thinking of when he said I deal in racist insults. I do my best not to insult anyone, though I realize that to people who think in terms of “class envy”, any disagreement from someone lower in the class pyramid is insulting.

• Are poor people invisible in fandom?

If fandom has an entry cost, it’s the price of building a collection of books, comics, or movies that you love. That’s become harder for poorer folks. In 1960, you could buy a paperback for 35 cents, a third of the federal minimum wage of $1.15. By 2010, paperbacks cost as much or more than the minimum wage of $7.25.

Convention fandom isn't cheap—two adults who go to a major convention that's further than a day’s drive from home can easily spend a thousand dollars or more on transportation, hotel, and meals. Attending distant cons simply isn't possible for many Americans. Even local cons are unaffordable for many in this land of great privilege and great poverty.

Three fannish organizations help people attend conventions. TAFF, the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, brings fans on trans-Atlantic visits. DUFF, the Down Under Fan Fund, does the same for trans-Pacific visits. Con or Bust provides assistance for fans of color in North America. TAFF and DUFF are only for a few well-known fans, people who’ve been contributing to fandom for years. Con or Bust is open to any fan of color, regardless of economic background—one of Con or Bust's first beneficiaries was Deepad, who described herself as upper-class. Poor fans of no color are not eligible, which eliminates two-thirds of the US’s poor.

Fandom reflects the US’s middle-class, people with disposable income for fannishness. It’s become far more diverse in terms of race and gender in the last fifty years. While that deserves to be celebrated, another change has been missed. As fandom’s been gentrified, fewer working-class fans of any hue have the money to join.

• The hardest panel for an f&sf convention

F&SF conventions have been doing panels about gender and race for decades, but panels about class are new. I propose them wherever I go, and I’ve found they do well at general conventions like ArmadilloCon  and LepreCon, and poorly at literary conventions like Fourth Street and World Fantasy. I suspect literary conventions attract a high percentage of liberal identitarians who happily talk about racism and sexism, which they can blame on conservatives, but hate thinking about their own economic privilege in ways that aren’t as easy to dismiss.

The class panel at Armadillocon was the best I’ve ever been on, probably because none of the participants were defensive. Joe Lansdale was funny and honest about growing up working class,  and pointed out that if you have a southern working class accent, middle-class folks will assume your IQ is at least ten points lower. Marshall Maresca had the best observation about how the class system makes people take its workings for granted: his wife once said everyone in Mexico City had servants, and he had to point out that was mathematically impossible. Scott Lynch talked about how writing about con artists led him to writing about class. Since I was the moderator, I spent most of my time asking questions and making sure everyone participated. The audience laughed a lot and asked great questions.

My advice for anyone doing a class panel is to start expecting trouble: I noted in my opening statement that class is often called the US's last taboo, so if anyone wanted to leave, they were welcome to. I think that seriousness made it easier for people to say, “Dude, we know this is dangerous; now let's run with scissors.”

If you noticed that the panel consisted of four men who look white, I'll add what I pointed out to Marshall Maresca when he mentioned his reservations about being a good person to speak about class: Marx and Engels were middle class white guys, too. It isn't what you are that matters in class issues; it's who you support.

The World Fantasy class panel was one I proposed: “The Role of Class in Fantasy and Horror”. I’m not sure if the description was mine, but I’ll take credit for it: “Science fiction often deals with class conflict. How does fantasy and horror pursue the same concepts? Are vampires and elves the bourgeoisie? Are werewolves and orcs the working class? Who are the working class heroes of our genre?”

I should've dropped off it. Six panelists is at least one too many for a difficult topic. The best thing about it was Kari Sperring’s presence; she brought a British perspective that I especially enjoyed.

Afterward, I noted a few things we didn’t get to:

1. Fear of the working class in our genre. That's obvious with Morlocks. Is it implied with Frankenstein's monster? How often are rednecks used as "the other"?

2. Who are the genre’s working class heroes? Is Sam Gamgee a class traitor? If Conan's a prole and Elric's a king, where do Fafhrd and the Mouser fit?

3. Contemporary fantasy is a rejection of the imaginary setting of pseudo-medieval fantasy, but is it also a rejection of rigid class systems?