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Tribal Justice.

15 March 2016

Yesterday on twitter a total asshole was saying really offensive things. I assume that makes it a normal Monday, but this time it crossed my carefully-curated feed. I rebuked him for presuming to speak for men, because his hateful speech didn’t speak for me. And I offered to talk to him privately about why he seemed so angry, at which point, he got bored with me and went back to antagonizing people that gave him a more satisfying reaction.

Several people then started screen-capping his tweets and sending them to his employer, presumably in hopes of inspiring professional consequences for his impolitic opinions and aggressively asserted misogyny. I can’t support that. I think it’s wrong.

We see it happen a lot on twitter these days. When people spout hateful opinions others go and attempt to quash their perspective and destroy their livelihoods by making trouble for their employer until the corporation decides the public outcry is bad for their image. They defend this by saying, “Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequences.”

But to some extent, yes, it is. Freedom from formal consequences, that is. While I understand that the first amendment formally only protects us from governmental proscriptions on expression of opinion, I find that the spirit of it – that people should not be punished for failing to adhere to a culturally or legally enforced set of politics – is being abrogated wholesale in the online community.

When we attempt to insinuate ourselves into power over others’ economic viability based on not liking how they present themselves politically, we join a long list of oppressors. People with undesirable political  opinions have long been marginalized, and I see the temptation to do so. We desire a society that respects women, so those who denigrate them should not be able to do so free from response.

But we also desire a society in which people are allowed to express even unpleasant opinions. Because every opinion is unpleasant to someone. And it takes little imagination to postulate a circumstance where liberal values are the ones oppressed: it has happened in many places and at many times. And it’s not over. It is happening now in places not far from here.

The whole ideal of liberal democracy is the rule of law and the freedom of expression. Extra-legal consequences like attacking someone’s employment as a silencing tactic is based in tribal justice: I feel aggrieved so I will recoup my imagined damages personally, through vengeance. We should not be surprised when we find ourselves looking down the barrel of that cannon instead of lighting the fuse.

Being offended – even by legitimately offensive things – does not entitle me to redress. It only entitles me to disengage. And it is not right to attack anyone’s livelihood to silence them. That way lies lawlessness and blood-feuds. It is, I think, literally uncivilized.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 March 2016 07:55

    here here….

  2. Aimee permalink
    15 March 2016 09:28

    I’m In general agreement with you that disengaging is the best and most appropriate tactic. But I do think that it is fine to spread the fellow’s gross commentary throughout your own social network, i.e., hit the “share to friends” button. That may indeed have financial consequences for the person, depending on his job. I’ll give you a recent example. I live in a small town. A local business owner got into an online fracas with a woman who had posted a less-than-stellar review of her experience at his business. He responded by calling her – in a public online forum- a count and a bitch and escalated his rhetoric from there to include all women and (for some reason) Latinos. He was really awful – “I hope you get raped by greasy illegals” kind of stuff.

    This woman screen capped the exchanges and sent them to get friend circle, and it quickly made the rounds in our small town’s Facebook community. Three days later the guy had closed up shop. I don’t know if anyone did anything beyond simply talking about it electronically, and suggesting a boycott, but that was enough apparently, to shame him into actually closing.

    I think this woman did nothing wrong. She didn’t tell anybody to pick up a pitchfork, she just recounted her experience to her friends in the man’s own words. She had a bad interaction with a tradesman, and was abused when she reported it in a review. And word got around. Word of mouth is not the same as it used to be. It’s got a lot more potential.

    • 15 March 2016 09:33

      I agree, and I shared his comments publicly in the form of repudiating them.

      And no one should mistake my commentary on the tactic as sympathy for him.

  3. Syd permalink
    27 March 2016 13:02

    I would not think about retaliating against someone who wrote something rude on line. It would take all my time because most of what is written in comments on news sites and a lot on Twitter is snarky and mean. LOL–I simply let it go. Not worth my time to control what they write.

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