This is an absurd rant. I know that. But hey… what are blogs for on a Friday? (Though this has been slowly building in draft form for a while, ’cause I get peeved by this stuff.)
You’ll read why, in the next few pages, why I caveat this: Read at your own peril. If you don’t like it when I get controversial, remember: On a PC, click the X in the upper right hand corner. On a Mac, hold “Command” and press “Q” to quit.
Nobody is making you read anything online, ever. Here goes.
When my brothers and I get together, we tend to laugh and spar, usually in that order. We’re loquacious. As Jed Barltet said in The West Wing, “In my family if you use one word when you could use ten, you’re not trying hard enough.” Our conversational style can be admittedly-offputting, because we tend to pounce on each other: Logical fallacies are immediately dismantled, suggestions to the contrary of prevailing sentiment are critiqued, and hyperbolic emotional reactions are generally excoriated. We enjoy debate and even more than that, we enjoy storytelling. My father says, half-jokingly, “never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”
We are unsurprisingly “loud.”
Now, I don’t mean we get bawdy-lit and sing tavern songs at funerals, but we do tend to be energetic and the decibel level may creep above “inside voice” from time to time. Being from New York, we also are very comfortable with what Spock called “colorful metaphors.” I believe it was Chris Kluwe who observed that a well-made argument laced with profanity is an especially effective form of communication.
Let us say that you are dining next to us, and you are dissatisfied with us. You have a litany of options available to you:
- Ignore us
- Raise your own voices slightly to be heard over us
- Ask to be reseated at a different table
- Leave the restaurant and dine elsewhere
- Speak to a manager
- Join in, make an intelligent comment, and do so quietly, modeling behavior
I must underscore that we are not being rude idiots in this scenario. Were we to cross into that territory, I might finally (and I do mean finally, as in as a last resort) add politely asking us if we might keep it down a bit.
But I don’t like that last option. I don’t like it one bit, and I don’t do it to other people. Why? Because it is not my place to tell others how to behave when they are not hurting anyone, and emphatic verbal conversation is not a cause for conflict.
You understand, then, why I think the musclebound vicious-tongued member of the social propriety police who physically threatened assault at a restaurant not long ago was well out of bounds. He had a litany of options at his disposal, but instead of solving his own problem for himself and concerning himself with his world, he decided to alter ours.
You understand, then, why I think a man making somewhat-flailing “keep it down” hand gestures at us across a restaurant and telling us to watch our language would trouble me. He had a litany of options at his disposal, but instead of solving his own problem for himself and concerning himself with his world, he decided he’d take control of ours.
This very phenomenon just happened to me again while out with a colleague and friend of mine at a local establishment, when we were vehemently debating the fact that cost-benefit was not a valid consideration when discussing the matter of the death penalty. (I am in Hitchens’ tradition a staunch opponent of human sacrifice.) A nearby gentleman decided to take issue with the one factoid he overheard out of context – that all American citizens enlist by choice, because we do not have compulsory service, and I was deeply challenging my friend’s suggestion that some people “have no choice” but to enlist – and call me out as a jerk for disrespecting the military. (Which, as I just stated, I was not only NOT doing, but actually illustrating what must be viewed as a positive fact about anyone who has enlisted, because they chose to do so.) This uninvited interjection was not only fallacious and silly in fact, but absurdly and ignorantly presented.
Hey. You. Random stranger: Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.
Part of embracing diversity is recognizing that socially-normative behaviors are relative, and there are things that matter and things that don’t, and a group of five people laughing and conversing in a restaurant or a bar who are maybe slightly-louder than the people around them is not a cause for taking a social stand. It deadens the effectiveness and meaning of interpersonal intervention.
I am entitled, by virtue of being an individual human being, to my opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. I am similarly entitled to expressions of those beliefs, and to the consequences that come from those expressions. As a public employee, there are more consequences for me than for, say, a self-employed private citizen, and there are fewer protections for me than for others, like whistleblowers and journalists. (I recognize that right now, both of those groups are under siege by those who would deny them their rights, and I empathize.)
I am, as a citizen of the United States, entitled to freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly. I am allowed to be loud. I am allowed to offend you, and you are allowed to offend me. While there are Constitutional limitations on intentionally antagonizing someone to incite incident (the Chaplinsky doctrine established in 1942, or the “Clear and Present Danger” doctrine of Schenck from 1919), generally expressions of honest belief in discourse are afforded near-absolute protections. (At least, they ought to be, Constitutionally.) If I laugh at a joke you don’t find funny, espouse beliefs contrary or troubling to you, or get a little loud talking to my friends, in short…
I am colossally troubled by a so-low bar of protestation against expression that strangers come up to me in public and tell me and those I’m with who enjoy spicy discource to keep it down.
You may remove yourself if you find me distasteful. You are not the proprietor; you are a peer. If the proprietor asks us to keep it down, that’s one thing, but being a bully is being a bully. Your dining experience is no more important than mine. If you’d like to meaningfully join the conversation, you may find yourself one of the many lovely strangers I’ve met and with whom I’ve passionately conversed over the years, so long as you bring real contributions and substantive additions to that conversation, and don’t barrel in like Donkey Kong hurling barrels. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. You are not the police of me.
There is, of course, however – and you had to see this coming – conditions under which one DOES intervene. I daresay there are situations that COMPEL us to intervene:
If I shouted a racial slur. If I whispered a homophobic epithet. If I commented in a deeply sexist way. When one engages in bigotry, I think it’s open season. I’d have no problem expressing my deep disapproval to the party sitting next to me if I heard someone use the word f_ggot or n_gger. I would confront (and have confronted) such a person, because that’s person didn’t make a statement of controversy; that person made a statement of conflict. If someone is spouting denigrating racial epithets about people of color, whispered or shouted, I’ll help you in speaking to that person about being deeply offensive. There’s a psychosocial awareness, however, that says there are times, places, and manners of expression that make sense, and those that don’t. Body-tackling that person at a fine dining establishment? Not okay. Expressing deep disapproval verbally? Sure, I can buy that, because that’s not protected belief; discrimination on the basis of race is bigotry; our society says so.
That is my rule: If I say something bigoted, go ahead and say something to me. Otherwise, stick a cork in it. If you say something bigoted, I’m going to say something to you. Otherwise, I’m going to mind my own business. I might leave. I might flee. I have done so. But I’m absolutely not going to come over and tell you you’re wrong and to shut up and pipe down.
Doing so is authoritative and totalitarian, and I do not approve of authoritativeness or totalitarianism.
If you’re quietly expressing your deep conviction in Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, I have NO right to confront you. You’re not engaging in hate speech. Now, you come proselytize me at my table, different story, but no way would I come over to your table and speak to you about your conduct. That’s ridiculous.
Why would anyone think it’s okay to come to my table, and speak to me about having a conversation, simply because they don’t like its nature? That’s not okay. That person is rightly entitled, however, to change THEIR behavior: Stop listening. Move tables. Leave the restaurant. Speak to a manager. All sorts of options open up, available to anyone. You don’t get to decide you’re the “Me Police” just because you don’t care for me.
Being a little loud is a freedom. Being a bigot stands against freedom. I think that’s an easy distinction, and I don’t care if you agree with me or not in this particular instance… because this is my blog, where I get to say how I feel and what I think. If you want to share your feelings, start your own blog. If you don’t like what I have to say, unsubscribe and don’t visit and read this.
This all brings me to analogize the point: Short of correcting social injustice… Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.
Welcome to social media.
Firstly, there is a distinction: You choose to engage with me in social media. If you don’t want to engage, don’t connect. Social media consumption is voluntary. But, on to more analysis:
For me, Twitter, like my blog, is my “professional” restaurant. Yes, I espouse radical ideas there and foment rebellion, but that’s part of who I am and the work that I do, and when you come to MY Twitter space, you’re getting a table at MY restaurant. This is my little cafe of revolutionaries. I do not shy away from my fervent advocacy for egalitarianism, my strident opposition to bigotry and the infringement upon others’ rights, and my utter disapproval of many aspects of corporate reform and standardized testing profiteering. Don’t like that sort of thing? Don’t follow. Don’t visit. Don’t read. Don’t pull up a chair. I’m not sending you messages; Twitter is an on-demand platform. You see what you choose to see, so if I bother you, choose not to see me.
You can get up and leave. You can be re-sat. And you can talk to the manager, and because this is a professional “restaurant,” I will certainly engage with you accordingly.
Facebook, however, is my rumpus room. It’s private, my house, a place friends and family gather. It’s bedecked with pictures of my nieces and nephew, complaints about ragweed, things I find funny, recipes and football gripes and, yes, sometimes screaming about things that annoy me. I leave my dirty laundry out sometimes. I try to keep it cleaned up, but sometimes, because this is my space, I’m messy.
Do not come into my house and tell me how to hang my shirts.
You don’t get to speak to the “manager” here, because this isn’t a “restaurant.” This is my private space, and I say what goes, with impunity, and owe no explanations.
I do not have the same sociopolitical, philosophical, metaphysical, ontological, pedagogical, and epistemological views as the vast majority of the people I know, like, and love. My beliefs are my own, and arrived at through critique and analysis, reflection and experience, and I feel no meaningful compulsion or motivation to conform to normative expectations, beyond the fearful inner child that just wants to be loved and accepted. However, being authentically me is more important to the health of my inner child than seeking immediate inclusion for the sake of inclusion, and so I do that instead, whenever I can. I try. I recognize that my attitudes and orientations are often the minority view, and sometimes, a minority of one.
So what? I am an individual.
I do not require that everyone I’m friends with on Facebook feel, act, or believe similarly to me. I like diversity. I like dissent. I enjoy debate. I like contrary opinions. But, because this it is not MY space, I also don’t feel obliged to give all parties equal voice. You control your space, I control mine.
If you come into my space, you’ll read my ideas. If you choose to engage me in my space, on my wall or in my messages, you’re engaging me on my territory. I didn’t solicit your input; you reached out to me.
Similarly, if I go onto your wall, into your space, that’s yours, and you have every right to espouse your beliefs there, free and unfettered. I don’t feel entitled to give my counterarguments in YOUR space, though if I choose to, and you let me, we might well debate meaningfully. I think this happens all the time. But ultimately, you have the tools to hide, delete, and control what happens on your wall because it’s YOURS.
In short, my wall is MY WALL, and your wall is YOUR WALL.
If I were to post something that bothers you, and you’re deeply troubled by it, just as if you were sitting at the table at the restaurant, you have a number of entirely viable options to defend yourself against being offended. Instead of moving tables, speaking to a manager, not listening, or leaving, you could:
- Block my post
- Block me
- Report my post
- Tell Facebook “I want to see fewer posts like this”
- Unsubscribe from my feed
- Unfriend me
However, what would possess you to tell me I don’t have a right to say what I want in my space? What in the world would make you think that it is inappropriate for me to speak controversially or loudly or passionately about whatever I want in my space? My Facebook account is sealed tighter than a drum. If you’re friends with me, it’s because we agreed to be friends, and that means we agreed to be in each others’ spaces using the settings we choose for ourselves to moderate our Facebook experiences. Nobody made you be friends with me. Nobody forced you to read anything. Nobody demands your presence. I don’t.
I have never complained about being unfriended.
I find instructing me on how to make you comfortable in my space to be arrogance tantamount to bullying. Let’s take a recent example.
If you’re not familiar with my position on adult-on-child violence, it’s clear: no adult should ever intentionally harm a child, in any way, for any reason, without exception. No spanking, no hitting, no withholding bathroom privileges as punishment, no forcible starvation, no neglect, no psychological warfare, period. Ever. Nurturing a child does not require you to toughen them up, smack them around, or physically harm them. The research is compelling and concrete, the examples of ineffectiveness replete, the socially-cyclical nature of violence easily observable, and while I don’t expect to convince everyone because so many people are products of that cycle, I have ZERO TOLERANCE for excuse-making and apologies for adult-on-child violence. I simply don’t tolerate it. Call it a quirk, call it fervor, call it whatever, but that’s the score.
If you post something that lauds, approves of, or supports adult-on-child violence, we’re done. If I see someone who posts something about hitting children, I unsubscribe from the thread or from their feed altogether or even unfriend them. You see, I know that my Facebook status with a person is not analogous to my interpersonal relationship with them. I can unfriend you because I like kicking around Facebook to laugh and rant, and still think you’re brilliant, intellectual, insightful, worthwhile, and wonderful.
But you know what really frosts my cupcakes? Telling me that I ought to keep my opinions to myself on my own wall. It’s my wall. Mine. Not yours, mine. Not everybody’s, mine. It’s mine. You can do ALL of those things above to control how you experience me, and if you choose not to, I’m going to be annoyed.
Leave the bar. Move down a few seats. Go engage in your own conversation. You do you.
I don’t blow people up on their own walls. I might engage with someone on a topic about which I disagree, but if I do that, I know FULL WELL that I’m asking for it. What I usually end up doing is when I reach my saturation point with the debate, I unsubscribe from the thread, and it dies. I move on, forget about it, and we all roll merrily along.
I like controversy, and I can have controversy without conflict. I like debate, and I can have debate without denigrating you. What I DON’T do is private message you, summarily blast you on your wall, or excoriate you publicly for espousing a belief about which I disagree.
I recently commented, after a very frustrating day, that if people on my newsfeed reposted the video of that woman in Baltimore beating the crap out of her kid in the street, they should not be surprised if I unfriend, block, or unsubscribe from them, because people by now should know how deeply passionate I am that adult-on-child violence is an epidemic in this country, and any glorification of or justification for it is, to me, loathsome. Because I’ve had problems with this in the past, I gave fair warning to my social media connections that I was in no mood. (This is, after all, Facebook. This isn’t a professional environment; I was chatting with my “usual peeps.”)
Why on EARTH would you think the appropriate thing to do after someone comes home from a long day, plops down at the table with a sigh, and expresses how exhausted of X they are, is to pour that person a gigantic heaping bowl of X?
That’s antagonizing me, and I’m going to react unhappily, as anyone would. Don’t like my comment? Unsubscribe. Think adult-on-child violence is so awesome that you just HAVE to shout about how awesome this mother beating up her kid is? Hey, baby, go right ahead! But when you want to talk to me the next day, and find yourself unfriended, that’s the price you pay. I’m me. If you want to be connected to me socially, you’re connected to THE REAL ME, not to the version of me that’s convenient for you or to the piece of me that you care for.
As Arthur says in “First Knight,” “I cannot love a person in slices.”
Don’t like my post? Unsubscribe. Unfriend. Disconnect. Take responsibility for YOUR social experience, instead of correcting mine. Isn’t that the responsible thing to do? Isn’t that the ONLY thing that’s APPROPRIATE to do? It’s not as if you said something horribly racist or advocated for specific action to abuse kids. You just approved of a woman significantly disapproving of her son joining in a mob scene. (I think such an attitude is deeply misguided and fails to recognize larger socioeconomic issues, but again, this is Facebook, land of Bub and The Oatmeal and Kardashian Butt Memes. C’mon.)
As I absolutely believe you have a right to post and say anything you want, and would never infringe upon your right to do so, isn’t the only appropriate, adult thing to do to handle the situation myself?
A friend I dearly love blew me up for my comment that I vehemently disapproved of the circulating mother-hitting-child meme, and that friend suggested that I had a responsibility not to post controversial things if I didn’t want to be yelled at or chastised.
Dude, that’s messed up.
I accept that there are consequences for one’s actions, especially in public fora, and I certainly confess that sometimes I get quite peeved (that’s the understatement of the century) about things like being violent toward children, majoritarianism that abuses the minority, corporate reform in education, bigotry and homophobia, animal cruelty, and anything about the New England Patriots (not really), but I have two choices:
I can mind my business, and remove myself from the situation, or
Respond with the full preparation to engage in meaningful debate.
What is not, ever, in my mind, a viable option, is the condemnation of others for espousing their own beliefs on their own wall. I did not solicit your input; you are invited to by virtue of being my Facebook friend, but you were not specifically invited to comment. Unless you were, in which case, that’s another story entirely.
Bottom line is that I do believe people have responsibilities to be mindful when they post things, but my expressing a very rational belief – like, I disapprove of being violent to children, for any reason, and have no desire to see that crap on my newsfeed, so don’t be offended if I step out – is being mindful.
I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I did not ask to be, set out to be, or state that I was. Just unfriend me, and move on with your life. It is nobody’s place to put me in mine, any more than it is mine to put you in yours. There’s meaningful debate, and then there’s whatever the other thing is.
In short, I think the bar for intervention in another person’s affairs should be set quite high, and for me, bigotry and the harm of children are just about the only things that clear the hurdle. Debate loudly, speak passionately, laugh boisterously, embrace each other, fan the flames of fervent discourse, and be ferocious and strident at at times, and enjoy the fact that the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees your right to do so.
I have the same rights as you. And I recognize you do have the right to call me a jerk in a public place. Do so at your own peril if it’s just because you don’t like my volume or agree with the substance of my material argument… because I’m not the guy that says “oh, sorry,” and shuts up and sits back down.
Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.