On public insults and the nature of activism.

It’s ok to yell at Kahn, though.

It’s been a somewhat rocky couple of weeks here at In My Head HQ.

As a direct result of my Israel/Palestine activism and open enthusiasm for the current President of the United States, I have recently been called (in no particular order) a defender of anti-Semitism, a supporter of neo-Nazis, someone who spreads hatred of Israel, the anti-Christ, willing to murder in order to have an easy life, dumb, #biggestliberalasshole2012, a liar, willing to shrug away evil, and disgustingly indifferent to women of color (these are all direct quotes).

It has also been darkly suggested, by someone with 50,000 Twitter followers, that s/he “knows a lot more about you, and what you support, and what you are, than you realize,” and by someone else, with far fewer Twitter followers, that I am sexually aroused by drone strikes in which people are killed (my previous arguments against drone strikes notwithstanding). Oh, and something or other about me being too cowardly to argue with someone who was hectoring me.

And (I have very good reason to suspect) a great deal else that I know little about, because I block/spam/ignore people when they behave in such a fashion and thus don’t see subsequent insults, and I certainly don’t bother to go looking to see what folks might be saying about me or my work in the internet’s more extreme corners.

I tell you all this not to gain sympathy (well, ok. You can give me a little sympathy) but to make a larger point, one that starts with the fact that what I’ve experienced is as nothing compared to the flood of bad behavior endured by writers and activists with a higher public profile and/or full-time employ. Nothing.

Of course, there’s a point at which this is simple trolling: People with a nominal worldview who are mainly in it for the abuse. Whether it’s me liking Barack Obama, women who call out sexism, men who like Star Wars the wrong way, or teenagers who don’t know how to use internet slang, the fight’s the thing, the act of screaming insults the actual point.

And of course, there’s a point of simple incandescent anger, tinged with fear (you know: I’m a danger to Israel and Jews everywhere, etc and so on).

But there’s another point — a very important point — at which this sort of thing is about a difference in tactics and values (and not just the “don’t call people the anti-Christ before you’ve even met” one).

Because there are two different kinds of social activists in the world: There are those who think that change only ever happens incrementally, that we can only organize people where they are and not where we want them to be, that revolution (as an Egyptian revolutionary recently noted) is a process, not an event. And there are those for whom all evil must be relentlessly labelled as such and any change that isn’t instant is not fast enough.

And both kinds of people are right.

We will never change the world by refusing to talk about what’s wrong with it, and any change that isn’t instant is — really and truly — not fast enough. Lives are ruined or lost as we struggle forward, and the human race needs angry prophets who remind us of that.

Yet, for all that that is so, the fact remains that revolution is a process, not an event. That we can only organize people where they are, not where we want them to be. And change only ever happens incrementally. It’s genuinely unfortunate, but it’s also, simply, true.

I try to listen to angry prophets. I try to give them their due, and I try to incorporate at least some of their righteous fury (because, aside from anything else, while “reasonable” might be my brand, I’m always angry, Captain). I know that we move things forward by steadily making the list of that-which-is-infuriating broader and longer: Once it was slavery, then it was poll taxes, now it’s effigies of the President hung on front lawns.

But I cannot hear anyone while I’m cleaning “anti-Christ” and “murder” from my ears, and I can only imagine that the people who have a higher public profile and/or full-time employ have it even harder, because they hear so much more of it.

People stop listening when you treat them with derision — it’s really that simple. No change is fast enough, but if you want any change, you’re going to need people who are willing to listen to you.

Unfortunate, but true.



  1. Captain_Button

     /  October 26, 2012

    Anger and indignation are habit forming drugs.

    Silly geek digression:
    Your good point about shutting down communication reminds me of the scene of that theme in Terminator 2

    Sarah Connor: How are you supposed to know? F__king men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death…

    John Connor: Mom.

    Sarah Connor: …and destruction…

    John Connor: Mom! We need to be a little more constructive here, okay?


    • Darth Thulhu

       /  October 26, 2012

      Hamilton was so good in that movie. Her character was completely broken, literally unhinged, and she and her son and the killer robot helped put her back together.

  2. Eilis

     /  October 26, 2012

    This is the first time I’ve commented here, but I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years now. I had never given a terrible amount of thought to the Israel/Palestine conflict before I stumbled across your writing, and since then I’ve done quite a bit of reading and thinking about it. I still don’t feel that I’m informed enough to hold truly strong convictions on the subject, but I do have an actual opinion now(one that agrees with yours), and I wanted to thank you for opening my eyes to that. I really appreciate what you write on the subject. When it comes to American politics, you and I have pretty divergent views, but honestly that’s a big part of why I keep coming back here. I think you’re an excellent writer, and you present your ideas and opinions clearly. Sometimes things you say upset me or make me angry, but again, that’s a huge part of why I read you. You help me understand where “the other side” is coming from, you make me think about my own opinions and beliefs in a new light. Usually that makes me even more sure in my own opinion, but every now and then something you say will tweak my thinking in a way that really changes how I feel about something. And even when your words only strengthen my convictions, I deeply appreciate your writing for that, because it makes me more clear about what I believe, and more able to explain myself in a way that people with opposing viewpoints can understand.

    I just wanted to say, I disagree with you, often very strongly, most of the time, but I really appreciate your writing. I enjoy reading your blog, I think you’re a fantastic writer, and you have made a positive impact on my beliefs, opinions, and honestly, on my life. Thank you.

    • That, Eilis, is a remarkable statement. If only more people could be as tolerant of the opposite view then they would find that there is more that unites them than divides them.

      “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”

  3. I hear you on this, so much, on so many levels. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this kind of nonsense, and I so appreciate your willingness/ability to respond in this way.

  4. Bob Jones' Neighbor

     /  October 26, 2012

    I think, Emily, that you know as well as I do that these horrible insults are coming from people who have never examined their own beliefs, You, on the other hand, have gotten to this point by starting nearly at square one. And you’re a hell of a good writer to boot. Keep on pushin’.

  5. Darth Thulhu

     /  October 26, 2012

    So, if we can’t officially call you the anti-Christ until we meet you, can we at least agree to entitle you “Emily Lynn Hauser, Provisional Anti-Christ”? ; )

    Anyone who is simultaneously an Israel-hating anti-Semite and a bloodthirsty neo-Nazi who sexually enjoys ordering the deaths of others is in very Presidential company. Enjoy your newfound boundless power and social influence!

  6. Lise

     /  October 29, 2012

    Send Them To Your Sister.

    My regards and respect to Eilis. I disagree with my sister sometimes, too. But I wish I could stand between her and anyone who dares threaten her.

    • Eh, that’s ok. It’s not your job. Just be there with full-sugar chocolate cake on my birthday when the need arises. 🙂