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.