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.

The daily barrage of insults.

Update below.

Every day of my life — all day long — I have to ignore insults in order to partake in pop culture, general conversation, and/or intellectual pursuits.

If I am to enjoy the music on the radio, or the jokes in a movie, or a conversation among like-minded political animals, I have to close my ears and numb my senses on a regular, sometimes hourly basis. I have to pause and think: “Is that bad enough for me to have to not like this righteous beat anymore? Or can I carry on bobbing my head without being a traitor to myself, my daughter, my mother, my sister, my aunt, and about 80% of my friends?”

I know I write about this a lot, but it’s only because it makes me want to tear my hair out. Or move to a distant planet. It’s only because it really, really matters and very few people who aren’t women (and not a lot of them) seem to notice or, more to the point, care.

For instance:

Yesterday morning, the boy was telling me about what transpired to be a very funny animated video providing a literalist interpretation to the lyrics of an entirely enjoyable stupid song, the wildly popular “Party Rock Anthem” — and thus I heard my 12 year old say the words “so when they say ‘I run through hoes like Drano’….”

Yesterday afternoon, the same boy showed me a delightful, funny, and in fact quite interesting video made by a young video blogger named Charlie McDonnell, someone who is part of the so-called “Nerdfighter” community (all part of the Vlogbrothers phenomenon, about which I posted earlier). The Nerdfighters take as their goal in life “to increase awesome in the world and decrease suck” — by which they mean: Be the change you want to see in the world. They’re good people, led by good people. And there’s Charlie, in a “Fun Science” video, teaching us all about the nature of sound — making it fun and clever and amusing and generally increasing the awesome — and at the very end, he makes a small, silly, throw-away joke, referring to a man who had failed at something as a woman.

Then last night, during the Republican debate, folks on my side of the political map were getting justifiably angry about the ease with which the GOP candidates dehumanize undocumented workers by constantly and consistently using the phrase “illegal aliens”  — and one gentleman tweeted (in all caps, which, given the anger, makes sense to me): “BITCH YOU DON’T OWN THE EARTH NO ONE IS AN ILLEGAL ALIEN WE’RE ALL HUMANS!!”


Yesterday morning, I said something to the boy before he even got to the point of explaining how the animators had interpreted “running through hoes like Drano” (it’s a can of Drano, running under an honor guard of garden hoes — click here to watch, it’s actually pretty good). I said something to him in the afternoon, once Charlie’s Fun Science had faded to black and I’d said how much I’d liked it (it’s decidedly great — click here to watch). I almost said something in the evening to the stranger on Twitter, but I was fairly certain I would be seen as derailing, or missing the point. So I didn’t. And frankly, one gets so tired of always having to say something.

But you know what English-speaking world? When you call women hoes, or sling “bitch” around, or insult men by calling them women? You are telling me, my daughter, my mother, my sister, my aunt, and about 80% of my friends (and 50% of the English-speaking world) that we are less.

Less than human, less than men, less than worthy.

And it is not derailing, or humorless, or missing-the-point, to point it out. Because I am not less than human, less than a man, or less than worthy.

But some days (most days) I don’t point it out. I don’t even let it register. Because it wears me down, and wears me out, and I am just fucking tired.


UPDATE: And then in the course of my afternoon, I learn that there is a new book out that is actually titled: Becoming China’s Bitch. In interviewing the author about it, a writer with Foreign Policy (!) posed the following questions: “When did you first realize we were in danger of becoming China’s bitch?…What can we do to prevent becoming China’s bitch?… How do we make China our bitch?” Yes, fucking really.

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