Oh god, it’s been two months

babyotterSay hello to the random baby otter that I downloaded from somewhere on the internet and put into my pictures folder and then forgot about.

So, life has clearly been getting in the way a little bit, and I need to build my writing habit back up. This entry is partly a placeholder and a statement of intention, and partly a public service advisory, in case anyone reads this at all: This blog might suck for a little bit.

I’m remembering when I was good at updating my blog, and what’s going on in my life then–and when I’m bad at updating (or keeping up with life generally) and what that looks like. And one of the things that it looks like is general fear of failure, of being self-conscious, and of knowing that I can do better. There are times when I can’t do anything because the fear of doing something badly is worse than the fear of not doing anything at all.

So, this isn’t going to become like my old livejournal or anything, where I habitually made entries that were one or two sentences long (I have Twitter for that now). But I may make more entries that make you go, “Why did she think we’d be interested in this?” And the answer is, I don’t think you’re interested. I need to just…not worry about writing things that are interesting, and just write things. So, bear with me. And sorry about that.

It’s like this

I did not write this. I got it from tumblr user makingfists. They’re deactivated their account, though, and I really don’t want it to disappear, so I’m posting it here. Hopefully makingfists doesn’t mind. I relate to this story SO MUCH and want to keep it.

It’s like this…

You’re fourteen and you’re reading Larry Niven’s “The Protector” because it’s your father’s favorite book and you like your father and you think he has good taste and the creature on the cover of the book looks interesting and you want to know what it’s about. And in it the female character does something better than the male character – because she’s been doing it her whole life and he’s only just learned – and he gets mad that she’s better at it than him. And you don’t understand why he would be mad about that, because, logically, she’d be better at it than him. She’s done it more. And he’s got a picture of a woman painted on the inside of his spacesuit, like a pinup girl, and it bothers you.

But you’re fourteen and you don’t know how to put this into words.

And then you’re fifteen and you’re reading “Orphans of the Sky” because it’s by a famous sci-fi author and it’s about a lost generation ship and how cool is that?!? but the women on the ship aren’t given a name until they’re marriedand you spend more time wondering what people call those women up until their marriage than you do focusing on the rest of the story. Even though this tidbit of information has nothing to do with the plot line of the story and is only brought up once in passing.

But it’s a random thing to get worked up about in an otherwise all right book.

Then you’re sixteen and you read “Dune” because your brother gave it to you for Christmas and it’s one of those books you have to read to earn your geek card. You spend an entire afternoon arguing over who is the main character – Paul or Jessica. And the more you contend Jessica, the more he says Paul, and you can’t make him see how the real hero is her. And you love Chani cause she’s tough and good with a knife, but at the end of the day, her killing Paul’s challengers is just a way to degrade them because those weenies lost to a girl.

Then you’re seventeen and you don’t want to read “Stranger in a Strange Land” after the first seventy pages because something about it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. All of this talk of water-brothers. You can’t even pin it down.

And then you’re eighteen and you’ve given up on classic sci-fi, but that doesn’t stop your brother or your father from trying to get you to read more.

Even when you bring them the books and bring them the passages and show them how the authors didn’t treat women like people.

Your brother says, “Well, that was because of the time it was written in.”

You get all worked up because these men couldn’t imagine a world in which women were equal, in which women were empowered and intelligent and literate and capable.

You tell him – this, this is science fiction. This is all about imagining the world that could be and they couldn’t stand back long enough and dare to imagine how, not only technology would grow in time, but society would grow.

But he blows you off because he can’t understand how it feels to be fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and desperately wanting to like the books your father likes, because your father has good taste, and being unable to, because most of those books tell you that you’re not a full person in ways that are too subtle to put into words. It’s all cognitive dissonance: a little like a song played a bit out of tempo – enough that you recognize it’s off, but not enough to pin down what exactly is wrong.

And then one day you’re twenty-two and studying sociology and some kind teacher finally gives you the words to explain all those little feelings that built and penned around inside of you for years.

It’s like the world clicking into place.

And that’s something your brother never had to struggle with.

An Open Letter to the Internet

0321121711.jpgDear Internet,

Shut the fuck up. No, seriously.

I get that you have an opinion on everything and one of the glorious things about the digital age is that you have the power to share your opinion with everything and everyone, but there are many things that a) are not your business b) your opinion does not matter and c) you are ruining important things for people, all while you run your mouth about something that has no effect on you.

Case in point: Miss America Pagaent. An Indian-American woman won. Were you in the pageant? Do you have any chance at ever being in the pageant? Are you directly related to someone who was in the pageant? No? Shut the fuck up. Nobody cares about your racism or how you feel about the winner or who you think should have won. There’s a reason you’re not a judge in the Miss America Pageant. You know who this whole thing does matter to? The woman who won. Your shitty comment that you make in a moment of pique and then forget about? Has real consequences for her. Has the power to ruin what should be a grand thing for her. Shut the fuck up.

Do you think Quvenzhané Wallis’ name is hard to pronounce? Guess what. It’s not your business, and you’re never going to meet her, so you probably don’t have to learn how to say it. Also, she’s a kid. Leave her alone. Shut the fuck up.

Miley Cyrus isn’t complying with your definition of how women should act? Mind your own business.

Don’t like the hipster with the big glasses and the typewriter? Why do you care? Why do you think that we care that you care? Can’t you go away?

Like many people, I was bullied in elementary and middle school. It was nothing terribly serious; I was never afraid to go to school or anything like that, it was just part of the fabric of my public education. It was a thing that happened. And probably half of what I got teased about was my clothes, which in elementary school were largely hand-me-downs. When I moved to middle school, I begged my parents to buy me some brand-name clothes (No Fear and Mossimo were big at the time), and they did. I thought if I wore what the other kids wore, they’d leave me alone. But no. I got teased in middle school for my transparent and pathetic attempt to try and fit in, mocked for wearing the clothes that everyone else wore to fit in and be invisible.

In high school, I finally got the good sense to be annoyed, even angry, and gave up trying to make people like me, at least through my wardrobe choices. Because what the fuck, middle school classmates. Why do you fucking care what I’m wearing. What business is it of yours. We’re not friends. You’ve made that epically clear since second grade. So why are you even talking to me, about my shirts or anything else? Go away. Shut up and go away. Leave me alone. I’d rather be left alone than to have to interact with you on any level.

Some days I feel that way about the Internet as a whole. Shut up and go away.


Concerning the Outing of ViolentAcrez

There’s a quote attributed to JC Watts: “Character is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” The Internet could be the human race’s first true test of this maxim: What do you do when you perceive yourself to be anonymous and invisible, to not be at risk for consequences? If you use your Internet anonymity to taunt and abuse others, does that mean you’re an immoral person?

As long as there has been the Internet, there have been trolls. The motivation and type of troll can vary, but one thing is constant: they do not care what you think of them, and usually, the more you voice their displeasure, the more pleased they are (with themselves, with your frustration). If there is one Internet maxim you must learn, it is this: Don’t Feed the Troll. Like the kid who chased after you in the elementary school playground, if you can’t get him to see sense, and you can’t beat him up, and if telling the teacher will make it worse, your only option is to ignore him. But recently, another tactic has surfaced: publishing notorious trolls’ real names and biographical info. The most famous recent example of this is the article on Gawker that revealing Reddit troll Violentacrez’s information. Since the article was published, Michael Brutsch, aka Violentacrez, has lost his job and apologized on CNN. Reddit reacted harshly, deleting links to gawker.com, and debates broke out all over Reddit, alternately defending Violentacrez’s right to privacy and free speech and gleefully celebrating his public shaming (see this article, along with plenty others).

The question at the heart of the debate, in words that I am borrowing from the Babble blog Momcrunch, is this: “…Is this the best way to tackle the increasing lousy anonymity of the abusive web? Do you think revealing the identity of these vultures, or trolls, or bullies – whatever you want to call them – should be public? Will this make people behave more kindly online?”

I guess I don’t get the question, in a way. The question isn’t “Should we do [action X]?” but rather, “What are we going to do?” I mean, did you have an easy time ignoring bullies in elementary school? We can talk about shades of harm and rights of privacy (did Violentacrez harm the girls whose pictures he posted without their permission? Did he have an expectation of privacy that Adrien Chen, the author of the Gawker article, violated?) all day, but Reddit has already done that. You could argue that if you don’t like ViolentAcrez’s posts, don’t go to the subreddits that he moderates. And yet we go anyway. We know not to feed the trolls, but we argue anyway. Watching humanity–social animals that we are–grapple with the social hive mind that is the Internet is a fascinating activity. To a certain type of nerd, it’s better than the Planet Earth series.

Humans are profoundly social animals, and we’re never really alone, even when we’re solitary. We’ve all grown up surrounded by and learning the correct behavior from others. Each of us has the morals and ethics of the culture in which we grew up embedded deeply within our brains and our hearts. We police each other, we always have. Not just in the usual ways of coercion and punishment, but with social judgment, fear of embarrassment, and social exile. We do this because it’s a big, bad, scary world out there, and if you can’t count on the people around you to act in a relatively predictable way, then the world is all the more dangerous. Many of our cultural ethics and morals are designed to keep a group cohesive and working together. The Bible doesn’t tell you to not covet your neighbor’s wife only because it pisses off God. If you covet your neighbor’s wife, if you don’t respect his property, that damages the whole community. And if the community can’t trust each other–if everyone’s just borrowing everyone else’s wife without asking–then when the sandstorms come, when the locusts come, when the marauding Romans invade, we won’t be able to solve the problem. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” It doesn’t even have to come down to a situation of life or death. Anyone who has ridden public transportation can list the many unspoken rules of etiquette that govern riding the bus, the little things that you can count on that make you willing to lock yourself in a small box with forty or fifty strangers. And anyone can tell you how alarming it is when a passenger starts violating those rules of etiquette, even if they’re not doing anything dangerous (see: the This American Life episode “Ruining It For the Rest of Us,” and listen to Act Three about the Amtrak Quiet Car).

Many people (perhaps most) don’t really think about how the Internet is different from “real life,” and behave in online forums in more or less the same fashion they behave in in real life. But some take refuge in the Internet’s insulation from the “real world,” some revel in their ability to cause trouble and push boundaries. In real life, of course, boundary pushing is subject to real life consequences (whether it be raised eyebrows or jailtime). Some of us would love to cut loose in real life, but raised eyebrows scare us, so we take to the Internet, where we are protected from raised eyebrows and mocking laughter. And some of us revel in that insulation, and use it to run rampant and cause trouble. Some of us use the Internet to provide release to our inner troll. It’s not a question of whether or not trolls are immoral because at the end of the day, we’re only as moral as the group we’re surrounded by.

But all the same, I think the impulse to shut down, shame, police, or judge trolls is damn near biological. We can’t not do it. I should know by now to not feed the trolls, but I can’t not argue with them. But since they’re removed from or immune to all the usual ways of social coercion (ostracism, financial punishment, a swift kick to the face), what are we left with? Shutting down accounts or kicking someone off the Internet isn’t really practical, so what do we do? We drag them back to where we can hold them accountable for their actions–we out them in the real world, to their employers and family members. Assholes are inevitable, and we ignore as many as we can, because we’d drive ourselves crazy if we didn’t. But to ignore them all would allow social anarchy to take over, and I don’t think our biologies would allow us to do that. Maybe there’s a better way of dealing with trolls (actually dealing with them, not just ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away). I’d sure like to hear it.