February 16, 2009

The Ironies

Saturday's post was probably the most cynical thing I've ever written. I hope it was worthwhile, but I'm probably never going to know. What I do know is that I've burned up some self-respect and likely the trust of several of my readers. I'm sorry for that.

It went like this.

I'm not big on rules. I think that rules about communication are particularly harmful, since they control who gets to communicate. And it pisses me off when people try to control the avenues of communication.

Not that communication doesn't follow rules, but the rules are local, worked out between individuals--or not. When they're not, people have basically two choices. They can stop trying to communicate, or they can pretty much butt heads ad nauseum. This may or may not eventually end in the local rules being established.

Most of us tend to take this process for granted. We've been navigating the tricky waters of opening communication most of our lives. We don't think about it; we just do it. We develop strategies, which eventually become habits because they work most of the time.

Not all the time. And when they don't work, we've got not just head-butting going on. We've got head-butting between experts, because everybody's strategy works most of the time and it would be so much easier if everyone followed our rules and they could work all the time and, really, how hard is it to change just a little so my rules work again and they're not even really rules, just what works, and why won't you cooperate and are you trying to be difficult and it's just. not. that. hard.

But they're still rules. They're still arbitrary rules based on what works most of the time for most people. And my good friend was the one being told he should follow someone else's rules, which made my opinion on the matter suspect. I was being limited in my ability to communicate.

So I reversed the situation. I picked a different victim, one I was less associated with. I picked a bunch of things generally considered to be good ideas when communicating online, and I hit my victim with them as though they were written in stone.

It worked. People jumped on board and joined the finger-pointing, in comments and email (and thank you to the one person who told me by email that I was wrong). Despite me saying they weren't rules, someone called them my rules. Despite me pointing out that I was the last person who should be in a position to judge Janet, only one person commented that I was applying the rules differentially. I was, deliberately. I was a bully, plain and simple, hurting someone based on the fact that she didn't follow my rules, even as I refused to acknowledge that I was deeming them rules.

It took thirty-some comments and almost two days for someone to point that out. Even Becca, who is so good at spotting bullshit (some would say too good sometimes), didn't challenge me. I was starting to think I'd need to do it myself.

I can't tell you how many people didn't argue because I spoke with an intimidating authority. I can't tell you how many thought the rules were good ones that everyone should follow. All I can tell you is that it took far too long for someone to tell me I was as full of it as I set out to be.

Nobody should be able to do what I did. Communication requires two parties, and they should both (assuming sane adults) always have a say in the rules.

That part really is just that simple.


Anonymous said...

I didn't even notice the rule making part of your post. I focused on the excellent linkage and argument. But I did notice some bantering about rules in the comments.

Rules of evidence. CPP uses this to chastise Laden. Rules of quality assurance. JLK uses this to find his or her reading material. Rules of snark. Rules of knowing things. Rules of what each person involved is supposed to do or not do (more CPP). The unlikely rule that clowns have to be funny. Rules about writing. A rule against complaining about writing. Even rules about how to play a video game.

I'm not sure if rules are necessarily the point. As a rule.

Anonymous said...

Well, you had me scared. :)

Stephanie Zvan said...

Anonymous, part of the problem with these kinds of rules is that we don't notice them. We just follow and enforce them without thinking about them, usually until but sometimes even after they come in conflict with someone else's rules.

Mike, is that more scared than usual?

Anonymous said...

I agree. There is a difference between rule making and rules. Sometimes rule discovery links the two. You've made that point very well.

Mike, you should be more scared now than ever.

Silver Fox said...

Stephanie, the whole thing just made me sad, and I don't feel like I have enough presence in this general part of the blogosphere to really say much of anything that can't be argued down real easily. I'm not a logician (sp.); comments of mine on several blogs are routinely ignored (not here), so I've kind of given up getting involved.

The entire thing started wrong, and from there just seemed to go to sh!t. I don't mean your last post, I mean the original thing a week ago or whenever.

But I didn't think of the email gambit. Next time I'll think of that as a means of contacting you.

Rules work some of the time, mostly when they are thought of as guidelines. Each new situation brings new potentials into the fray (!), and has to be evaluated on its own merit. Hopefully this comment addresses something in your two posts!

Well, now back to sleep - after reading this on my phone I had to go online to comment! Can't comment on Blogger w/ my phone. Drives me nuts.

Drugmonkey said...

or perhaps some people simply viewed it as some weird result of your usual reflexive Laden-defending and shrugged....

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, DM. That does confirm my impression about what I'm allowed (or not) to have valid opinions about.

Silver Fox, I always appreciate the comments you leave in this sort of thing, and no, not just this one. You're very good at suggesting people step back and take a more generous view all around.

Becca said...

Oh noes!1
I missed an opportunity for calling bullshit! Alas.

Let me sum up: oh, you and Janet were attempting to express The Rules as opposed to Your Rules? How silly. You are both reasonable usually, ergo I just presumed it was about Your Rules.

Greg- thanks for responding to my confusion. I scanned the Wii post (truthfully, got bored halfway through; I may have a philosophical opposition to Mario Kart born of my teenage experiences or I may have just been distracted). I read Stephanie's comment there, and didn't understand what it was about. Once she pointed it out as a veiled metaphor, I did get what was going on and went back to re-read a bit.
I've often thought that when I see someone coming at me with rules for how things must be, they are generally full of bullshit (self-serving doesn't begin to cover it). I try to make up for it by being much more sympathetic when someone comes at me with descriptions of how they wish things were.
The former can only perpetuate the status-quo, the later is the stuff of revolution. If we could all get over our damn selves.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Becca, that makes me feel immeasurably better. Truly.

And DM, the snark that is truly reflexive aside, I do appreciate that you haven't been piling the fuel on this time around.

Anonymous said...

I haven't said a single fucking word about rules. I have simply pointed out what I perceive to be a chain of causality that plays itself out repeatedly.

If you write blog posts and comments in an intentionally "provocative" manner that is simultaneously so motherfucking turgid and opaque that the only people who understand you are your two BFFs, then many people are going to "misunderstand" you and your intentions. This is just a simple statement of observation.

And as one observes this chain of causality playing itself out repeatedly, it is natural to assume that such a writer is unconcerned with being understood by the people (or at least many of them) who read his writing. And so when such a writer asserts that "no, really, I'm on your side" to people who have "misunderstood", it is not surprising that those people think he's full of shit.

No rules here. Just observations.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Shorter CPP: My clique can beat up your clique, so I must be right.

Truth or falsity of either the assumptions or conclusions aside, this isn't some fucking zero-sum game! What does all the factionalism really get you, CPP, aside from a big distraction from talking about more than the discourse?

Anonymous said...

big distraction from talking about more than the discourse

It is beyond ironic that you would bring this up.

Greg claims to be an "ally" of more than one less-privileged group. Yet he repeatedly offends multiple members of those groups, and then claims that he has been "misunderstood", and that it is not his responsibility to make himself understood. In the latest instance, he jumped in the middle of a discussion going on among *women* and insultingly told them that they were "doing it wrong".

And you wanna talk about distraction!?!?!? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What do you expect people to infer when someone who loudly proclaims to be an "ally" just as loudly proclaims that he will make no attempt to listen to the assertions of those with whom he claims to be allied concerning how they wish to be spoken to?

You and Greg seem to enjoy pretending that this is all about some kind of deep semiotic anthropological sociological shit. what it really appears to be to me is rationalization and denial about repeated failure to motherfucking *listen* to the people with whom one so loudly claims to be "allied".

Stephanie Zvan said...

No, CPP, I'm pretending it's about some kind of fairness. You know, that someone who, say, jumps into what is essentially a discussion between Janet and me (we are both women, right?) to say that I'm talking about the wrong thing should be judged by the same standards by which you want Greg to be judged.

Anonymous said...

You know this is fucking confusing. I dont understand a damn thing except thast Phiso Prof seems to be able to write in a way I can read and understand and you don't.

Anonymous said...

I stopped hanging out on forums because the infighting and drama was driving me nuts. Now the blogosphere is behaving the same way. It really takes the fun out of blogging for me, and I'm not even vaguely involved. :(

Stephanie Zvan said...

Anonymous, if you have a question I can answer, let me know. If you just prefer CPP's writing to mine, he is in my blogroll--twice, in fact.

Sorry, Felicia. I'll try to post something more entertaining soon.

RBH said...

What Felicia said. While I read a number of blogs regularly, I am having a hard time sorting out just what's going on here except for some self-righteous snark on all sides. Since I watched IIDB melt down in part over how much snark is "allowable" I'm pretty cynical about the whole self-referential character of this particular kerfuffle. It's slightly amusing but gets pretty old pretty fast. But, of course, since this is the interweb, it's serious stuff!

gregladen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gregladen said...

crap, I did it again. Posted the old draft. Now searching for new draft. Stay tuned folks.

gregladen said...

I totally agree with Felicia, which is why I'm hoping this will be my last comment on this issue.

Physioprof, you've got it wrong. Let me explain what has actually happened, at least from my own biased perspective.

I'll do it in third person because Teh Clique seems to like it that way. Maybe this will help you to understand what I am saying.


Once upon a time, ages ago in blogospheric time, Laden wrote a post that had virtually no information in it, it was simply a quote about a current event forwarded to his blog with a very quick summary sentence. Laden reserves the right two make such posts on his own blog, and has a rule: If you go to his blog and tell me to stop doing that he will likely not take you very seriously.

Physioprof read Laden's post and did not like something that Laden's post implied. Laden had never meant to imply what Physioprof saw in this post, and eventually, Laden changed the wording so even Physioprof would not make this mistake, let alone a a willfully misunderstanding reader. Laden does admit, however, that the original post was poorly worded. Laden thanks Physioprof for pointing out the error, but thinks Physiprof should go fuck himself because of his over the top out of line attitude.

It is true that Physioprof came at Laden with such offensive vitriol that Laden became angry with Physioprof and told him to screw off. Laden has a rule. If you introduce yourself to Laden by telling him to fuck off and eat shit and so on and so forth, Laden may or may not decide he does not need to give you the time of day. At that time, DrugMonkey jumped into the fray and Laden made the insulting, horrid mistake of placing Physiprof and DrugMoneky into the same basket, categorically. DrugMonkey wrote Laden one of the more obnoxious, incoherent email rants Laden has ever seen complaining that he should not be put in the same category as Physioprof. Laden wrote off DrugMonkey as insane. Laden still pretty much thinks this. Although Laden does like DrugMonkeys' blog for the purpose it serves.

Discussions like this on the internet and off (via email) the internet continued for a while and it eventually became clear to Laden that there was a clique, "Teh Clique" he shall henceforth call it, consisting of the dynamic duo DrugMonkey and Physiprof, as well as Janet and Zuska and one guesses a couple of others. Much later, when Isis joined scienceblogs.com, she apparently tried to join this clique, was rebuffed briefly by Zuska, and then they made up and apparently Teh Clique let The Goddess in.

Subsequent to this first event noted above, there have been one or two other instances in which Laden managed to enrage Physiprof, Drugmonkey, or some other member of Teh Clique. One of those times was when Laden made reference to John Lennon's song, "Woman is the Nigger of the World," and by way of allegory, used the "n-word" in a context that PhysipProfDrugMonkey chose to judge as wrong, wrong, wrong. Again, Teh Clique attacked Laden, but Laden, for better or worse, decided not to back down because he felt that while his post may be inflammatory, he did not feel the need to assuage Teh Clique under these circumstances. The point of the post was indeed to be inflammatory. Laden has a rule. Don't tell him what to write on his blog, Troll!

There were one or two other instances in which Teh Clique decided that Laden had broken one of Teh Rules, came down on Laden, judged him as evil or inadequate, and demanded apologies, demanded that he change what he has written, and so on. It has even been suggested, it seems, that Laden should not comment on certain blogs (see above and related threads on the intertubes).

In every single case, the following pattern is observed to one degree or another.

1) Laden was writing about some relevant or important issue often having to do with diversity, gender, or some other political issue. Or maybe writing about none of these things, but in all cases of a political nature, Laden is under the impression (but does not give a rat's ass if this is true or not) that there is actually very little difference between Laden's general progressive liberal anti-racists feminist perspective and that found among most or all members of Teh Clique. This is not important, because Laden does not really care what Teh Clique thinks, but he mentions this now because it is funny. Or at least ironic.

2) Teh Clique identifies a statement by Laden on which they decide to pass judgment, because Teh Judgement is what Teh Clique does. Some members of Teh Clique jump in and say terribly insulting things about Laden, the kind of person he is, and so on. The argument is always secondary, poorly made, and can only be sustained if most of the available evidence is ignored. Fortunately for Teh Clique, each has its own stable of ditto heads who will accept whatever is said by Teh Clique-ons, so they can get their egos lubed without much difficulty. Plus some larger number of readers who care about these things and can be primed to see a situation where there help is needed, so ultimately there can be a positive side effect to this sort of time wasting activity.

3) A single part of Laden's discourse is then used to make the argument that Laden is any one of several very negative and nasty fill-in-the-blanks (often ad hominem, though Teh Cliqueons would incorrectly deny this). Racist, misogynist, etc. The remaining discourse is ignored, except that any additional information provided by Laden on his thoughts or meaning is considered complaint. (Zvan's earlier post is an excellent documentation of this in one case).

4) Even though none of these events ever means much in and of itself, the accumulation of accusations and hand wringing by Teh Cleekons forms a body of events that is now referred to as "repeated offense of less privileged groups" (See comment up thread here by CPP.) Over time, it seems that evidence of Laden's transgressions grow. What really happens is the event count of Teh Kleekons going ballistic in an obnoxious manner grows. Ironically, this is the same way in which evidence that girls can't do math, that dark skinned people are likely to steal your wallet, that American Indians should not be admitted to Grad School, etc. is accumulated. Crappy made up data pointed to again and again and again while jumpintg up and down starts to look good to some people simply because of the frequency to which it is pointed. Sadly.

5) Overall, we see rule making (see Zvan's posts) by Kleekons as a primary tool to ensure that their own followers and minions get a false sense of moral or intellectual security. Kleekons are bullies. They set the terms, make the rules, and try to make others follow the rules, which privileges and benefits them. One of the rules a comment like the present one will invoke is that Laden is not allowed to defend himself. Assertions by Laden that the offense specified does not match his words are not allowed, the suggestion that the Kleekons exist as a group or are carrying out unjustified blogspheric attacks are labeled as whining, and so on.

This most recent dust up is over two statements by Laden. In one, Laden means to convey that he thinks of Isis as a cliquish high schooler. Isis interpreted this as Laden saying that he thought of her as a high school cheer leader. Who knows where that came from. Perhaps Isis actually was a cheer leader, or was scared by a cheer leader while a babe in the crib, or was jilted by a cheer leader, or whatever. Perhaps it is because she already believes Laden is a misogynist and that a cheer leader is a bad thing to be. Laden does not know the answer to this question.

In any event, this critique of Isis by Laden could not be allowed by the Kleekons, so it was interpreted by one or more Kleekons as misogynist. It is not. It is misIsisist. Laden does not like the Isis persona much. She creeps him out. She is boring. And so on. Laden actually can have these opinions. Is that misogynist? But perhaps it is from Isis's perspective, so Laden provides more than three sentences on his opinion. Is he now complaining that he was...and always is...misunderstood? According to other Kleekons, yes.

The other bit of discourse was something Laden conveyed to Samia and Isis, in which Laden simply said that he felt the the argument they were engaged in was small time compared to the large issues on which they agree. This was also interpreted as misogynist. Laden must confess that he has not one clue as to why this was misogynist. No one has gone beyond yelling and screaming about how horrible Laden is to explain why stating a disagreement about priorities that seem to have been set by two or three people who happen to be women is misogynist. It is absolutely possible that Laden is wrong, and that what he sees as the smaller issue is not so small. Fine. One can make the case if one likes, but that was never done. No one ever made a substantive argument about this. Rather, Kleekons simply jumped directly to the ad hominem attack on Laden. And yes, my dear Kleekons, calling someone a misogynist is personal. Doing it instead of addressing his argument is ad hominem. If it is true, so be it. If it is not, it is an unnecessary insult. In this case, it is nothing other than an insult. The argument itself has been elided.

Laden is a little sad about this. He was just starting to like Physoprof. He was growing accustom to Isis. He has always liked Zuska's blog. And so on. But the Kleekons do not wish to engage Laden in any reasonable way. They only wish to have their fun, and be their misanthropic selves. This is not good. It is not even slightly interesting.

On top of this, there are potential collateral victims. For the most part these victims, like my dear friend Stephanie, or many of my highly feminist and anti-racist readers, can take care of themselves and more. Indeed, they take care of themselves, each other, me and big chunks of the rest of the world and have time to eat Kleekons for a snack. They can kick Kleekon ass from here to Kleekonia. But it is inconvenient and obnoxious to even have to consider these games. Look at the people upthread here openly saying what many other are saying via email, or just (Laden guesses) thinking: Shut. Up. Already. This is hardly worth the electrons it is printed with. Get. A. Life.

Laden has nothing more to say on this issue for the time being.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to get to know you better, maybe take you out to dinner, and THEN I'll start telling you when I think you're wrong. :)

Anonymous said...

I am not seriously afraid of Stephanie because I consider her a friend. I can take criticism from her because I know her personally. I was only being facetious because I wasn't involved in this at all. So, that's all my comment meant.

Now, that being said, I will if a dispute arises that involves a friend I know in person and someone whose blog I like and I decide to get involved to show support, it will be in favor of the friend I know. No question. That is my own rule.

If in all this, Stephanie felt bad about herself because of her original Saturday post, I think she was being too hard on herself. As for Laden, perception isn't reality. Jumping to conclusions in all this thread is what caused the mess in the first place.

"or perhaps some people simply viewed it as some weird result of your usual reflexive Laden-defending and shrugged...."

That's what friends are for, btw.

I am not sure what I am contributing with this comment, other than to say, "Don't fuck with my friends, or I will reflexively jump in and defend them."

Weird? Nope.

Anonymous said...

Mike, you always crack me up. You know, we consider you a good friend already and Vic and I really respect you. I would say pretty much everyone involved with Minnesota Atheists has been awesome to us, and we are so grateful!

Now, all of this blog stuff, am I getting into something that I am not aware of? :) Here I am just posting pictures of squirrels and spiders, with the occasional rant regarding religionuts... Is there a bigger picture I'm missing, even after reading everything? :)

Stephanie Zvan said...

Crystal, I think that dinner invitation was directed at Greg, but I'll muscle in on it if you'll let me. As for what you're getting into, who can tell? For example, I never get religionuts. Hell, I hardly ever get serious argument.

Thanks, Mike. But you do know you had to say that, right? As my friend and all.

Greg, one quibble. I made time for this.

Anonymous said...

Methinks I need to start spending more time on your blog, Stephanie, instead of just reading your comments elsewhere.

I'm not a professor, or a grad student; nor have I studied anthropology, sociology, etc. I'm more of just a techie kind of person with an interest in science in general. I read several science-related blogs for information about subjects that fascinate me, and plain old entertainment. Carrying on limited conversations in the comments with people whom I really don't know is fun and interesting.

As for this whole debacle, it mystifies me, but seems so familiar in other regards. Much of it really does seem to remind me of high school. My current work environments consist of very small groups, so I don't ever see cliquishness happening there. Is this sort of thing more prevalent then I am aware of, or is this type of situation rare?

owheelj said...

This is hilarious.

I am now officially* more mature than everybody involved in this discussion.

Congratulations to me. There will be a celebratory party at my house this Friday. Dress as your favourite immature scientist.

*As officially declared by myself.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Dan, thanks. I'm pretty much with you on the entire second paragraph. I also think group size is a big part of this. Socially, I think ScienceBlogs is almost exactly the wrong size right now. Too many opinionated people (i.e., bloggers) to have to iron things out between them but not enough that they don't keep bumping into each other whether they want to or not.

owheelj, sounds like fun. You do know you have to clean before grown-up parties, right?

Barn Owl said...

Too many opinionated people (i.e., bloggers)

Not to mention people with massive, tetchy egos. Whenever I spend extended periods of time with people outside of academia, as I have with a recent volunteer stint in my local community, I'm smacked in the face by the pervasive cult of ego inflation upon my return to the university environment.

Anonymous said...

No way Stephanie, the dinner invite was totally for you, Greg seems WAY too mean to invite out to dinner! lol.

In all seriousness, I don't know any of you well enough to comment on anything happening, which is why I stick to my religionuts. I was proud that I had one special one, but when I went around the blogs, he was commenting at them all. I thought he was just mine... :) lol.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Barn Owl, are you supposed to be this clear-sighted in daylight?

Crystal, yeah, but I've never gotten any. (Although I did get trolled by FtK once, it wasn't on this blog.) We need to have a launch party for Quiche Moraine soon, so you can come and be scared of both of us. :)

Mme Piggy said...

Jesus Christ on a piece of toast! That is all.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Ah, Madame. Hard to believe you were there at almost the beginning of all this, isn't it?

D. C. said...

or perhaps some people simply viewed it as some weird result of your usual reflexive Laden-defending and shrugged....

That's a remarkably clumsy attempt to devalue SV's thoughts and opinions, DM.

D. C. said...

If you write blog posts and comments in an intentionally "provocative" manner that is simultaneously so motherfucking turgid and opaque that the only people who understand you are your two BFFs, then many people are going to "misunderstand" you and your intentions.

Is that what you've been trying to do? I never looked at it that way, but it makes some sense if you combine it with poor writing skills. Maybe you could improve with some training.

D. C. said...

What do you expect people to infer when someone who loudly proclaims to be an "ally" just as loudly proclaims that he will make no attempt to listen to the assertions of those with whom he claims to be allied concerning how they wish to be spoken to?

Don't keep us guessing -- what do you expect?

Anonymous said...

wow(oww) I missed this post. One word tho: protofascists thrive on selectively arbitrary rule-based exclusion.
ooops: that wasn't 'a word'...

critter said...

This is fascinating.

I have spent most of my life feeling like an outsider, an observer of an alien culture; hoping to figure out the rules so I can pass for normal.

It's good to see others put these ideas into words.

Betül said...

OK, I am just catching up with all of these and I need a summary of your summary to get what is going on in summary.

This actually did sound like a game. Just tell me one sentence (or even a word) to describe all these please. (ref: thesis kick. my reading quote of the month is filling quickly)

Anonymous said...

Good lord, why are you people doing all of this in public? Some of you have long memories for little slights; that's the joke that ends " ... because there's so little at stake."

Could you all agree to put up a common banner when this is done and you're back to writing about the world instead of each other?

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hank, we've never stopped writing about the world, not one of the people involved in this.

Why talk about it out loud? In my case, it's because it isn't just an argument happening. It's also a particular type of argument, a particular type of communication. That's what I blog about, or at least one of the things.

Anonymous said...

I fully intend to stop talking about this the moment everyone finally just settles down and agrees with me.