That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Every time I get involved in some drama online I am sure to hear from someone who thinks I’m just an awful, awful person who should shut up. This is not uncommon amongst people who post about race/gender/sexual orientation/etc. shenanigans. I have my special box of trolls just like most other activists do.

I got a note from a newish detractor back during the RoF cover stuff who left a comment that was nothing more than trolling without even the appearance of trying to have a conversation or be a useful member of the conversation. I usually just delete these, but in this instance I wrote him an email explaining why I would not be releasing his comment and being snarky at him (my tolerance for stupidity was low at that moment). The reply contained what one might expect, but also contained two curious elements.

#1: I’m rather glad you didn’t post the comment and replied via email, as now I can be rather more honest than I would be in a blog posting (which is more public, after all).

#2: you’re a person whose principal interest lies not in addressing substantive matter of the various levels of discrimination that exist in the SFF community, but in scoring points off people. You appear to take pleasure in misrepresenting, insulting and ridiculing others–essentially inflicting pain on them.1

This commenter — Euan Harvey — seems to be under the impression that it’s perfectly okay to abuse me in private email but not in public.2 But while claiming that he’s allowed to be as nasty as he likes, he also condemns me for being MEEN myself. Perhaps he feels it would be more acceptable if I were meen in private. I’m not sure.

The phrase “scoring points off people” is an oft-used one by a particular selection of my trolls, but variants of it crop up all over. Again, I’m not unique in this regard. We wild unicorns always have someone talking about how what we do is just to satisfy our own need to be angry, or to inflict pain on others, or whatever else.

But this email struck me in particular and made me think about exactly what this scoring points thing was really about. I finally grokked what was going on after some thought. It’s something I’ve always understood on a subconscious level, but never really articulated before. It’s something along the lines of: how dare I use these people’s own words and attitudes against them? How dare I, in public, on well-read blogs and in the company of influential and intelligent people, repeat what they have said or written and expose it for the crap it really is?

This is part of the tone argument — because how often have you heard people say that if only POC would take white folks aside, privately, and explain to them where they went wrong instead of getting angry in public, everything would be okay. We’d be listened to, respected, etc., if only we went about things properly. It’s a square on the BINGO card.

There’s also an element of: you can’t possibly mean the things you say because they are so unfavorable toward me. Instead, you must just hate me for irrational reasons and wish to destroy me. It’s all about me.

And: this is just a game to you. I cannot fathom how this could be an important issue to you because it’s not an important one to me (I’m not affected by it, I’m white/male/straight). No, it’s really that you just enjoy a good hate-on and keep a scoreboard of all the people you’ve hurt.

If I have to explain all the ways in which those things are totally wrong, then you have not been paying very close attention to things I say.

Anyway, having all of that crystallize in my head was an interesting moment. It never fails to boggle me, the notions that people will hold. Or the grudges. Some people really do seem to think I do all of this for my health. I’ll leave them to their fantasies.


  1. Yes, these are direct quotes. []
  2. I love how he assumes that his emails will be kept private. But if he truly believes all I want to do is hurt people, why in the world would I keep this private? Trolls just do not think these things through, do they? []

22 thoughts on “That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

  1. Another element of the ‘point scoring’ accusation is this:

    Many people seem to see life as a zero-sum game, a contest. It’s not a process or progression, it’s something you ‘win’ or ‘lose’.

    I’ve noticed this particularly in a work context. I’ve been in many meetings and discussions where people will insist on having the last word or be seen to be the solver of a problem because it means that they win and everyone else involved will lose. In fact I’ve had colleagues who have explicitly stated that this is the only way to behave that will work.

    Oddly I seem to have built a fairly successful career from a cooperative framework. But who knows, maybe I’m just a freak…!

  2. “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”
    James A. Baldwin

  3. And: this is just a game to you. I cannot fathom how this could be an important issue to you because it’s not an important one to me (I’m not affected by it, I’m white/male/straight). No, it’s really that you just enjoy a good hate-on and keep a scoreboard of all the people you’ve hurt.

    This is the attitude that gets to me most: that pointing out oppression is some kind of wankfest, and how Above It All they are.

    The other thing I find “funny” is that when the shit hits the fan–OSC talks about overthrowing the gov’t because of gay marriage, or a well-known author calls a young POC author a “NWA”, these concern trolls are no where to be found.

  4. How dare you be funny as well as right. Activists are supposed to be earnest, plodding, and dull.

  5. While the guy’s comments are irritating, is it possible to publish them in the context of his entire email? No matter how much I hate someone’s words I always demand to read them in the context of their entire communication.

  6. I love how the “if only the POC would take the white person aside privately” disregards that the white person was speaking/performing in public.

    This underlies the attitude that the public space belongs to the white person, not the person of color, and so the white person should be made to feel at home there at all times and is not obligated at all to think about how their statements/acts may make anyone different from them by race, gender, or sexual orientation feel. It’s your job to make them feel at home. Helping Others feel welcome or safe? So not their job, dude.

    1. “the public space belongs to the white person, not the person of color”

      Nail head, meet hammer. Look how badly these people freak out when they encounter spaces that *dont* cater to their comfort.

    2. Thank you for putting this into words so adroitly. Something had been bothering me about “if only the PoC would take the white person aside…” beyond the expectation of entitlement to PoCs’ time and effort — the expectation of entitlement with regard to space and who “gets” to perform where fits a missing piece into that puzzle.

    3. I think its a way to insist that some folks get to save face, when it becomes clear that deepseated ignorance may play a part in their initial reactions in these conversations. Its ok for them to swoop in and attempt to school poc in public, but for the sake of their feelings pointing out that they may have cluelessness (about terminology, the existence of racism, etc) needs to take place in a soothing (and dont forget forgiving!) environment.

      1. And the irony is, if they’d just listen to what PoC have already said — in writing, countless times on the internet where anyone can approach it at whatever pace is comfortable for them, already helpfully categorised and chronologued and everything — they could make that comfortable, soothing space for themselves, without having to impose on anybody.

        Sometimes it seems like for some folks it just doesn’t count unless they learn it the hard way. :-/

  7. My fiance actually had someone use the “scoring points” argument off him the other day. The differences are many, and I don’t mean to imply that it’s in any way the same, but this one was used by a friend, which made it even weirder. I think there are times that arguments *do* become about scoring points or whatever, but I think people are way too quick to jump to that conclusion. I also think politicians and the news media are at least partially to blame for this; people are getting used to the idea that arguments are like this, I guess.

    But man, that is some dumb email.

  8. “You just want to score points” = “I can’t imagine you opposing me and my squee for any other reason than petty ego games, because that’s the only reasons someone could hate upon my magnificience and truth, and detract from His Royal Whiteness, Center of the Universe (TM)”.

    There’s also the funny contradiction of holding that view that white/male/straightness = center of all things AND YET believing when we talk about stuff, that they’re somehow sending us a message we haven’t heard before?

  9. You know, that I know all about this routine. It is all about us insisting on personhood and using their weapons against them while refusing to let them define the parameters of our existence. If I hear one more load of “Oh you weren’t clear enough, oh you weren’t nice enough” BS I’m going to cut somebody.

  10. Hrm. Now I’m wondering if the tone argument, or a variation on it, generalises to other topics of discussion and negative adjectives. Unpacking that a bit, it seems like a common way of attempting to shut down someone a detractor disagrees with, but cannot come up with a reasoned response to, is twofold:

    1. Detractor labels detractee with some negative quality, something nobody wants to be perceived as: “You’re MEAN!” “You’re PARANOID!” Et cetera.
    2. Detractor further frames this quality as a binary: there’s only Mean and Not-Mean, and if the detractee does or says anything that doesn’t fall within the narrow boundaries of whatever the detractor deems to be Not-Mean (note that the detractor also puts him/herself into the position of being the one to determine what is Not-Mean — a blatant power grab), the detractee is automatically Mean.

    This started to come to mind yesterday during an RKBA discussion on Twitter and then my LJ, when someone was trying to label me “paranoid” and I refused to buy into it — fear/concern/whatever is a continuum, not a binary, and there are reasonable degrees of it. Likewise, anger/meanness is also a continuum, and there are reasonable and, IMO, justified degrees of same.

  11. It also allows people using this attack on you to identify you as “the mean person” and ignore anything you say because you’ve already been written off as a horrible mean meanie who’s just out to score points. And by extension, any issue you comment on is instantly ignorable because your meanness infected it.

    It’s sort of a double whammy – they ignore any issue you talk about, and try and make it look like anyone who agrees with you is infected with the meanie virus. And at the same time, they’re hoping to shut you up by claiming that you polite a debate by being present in it.

    Euan Harvey seems to be mostly getting published in ROF. So any damage ROF has done by shooting its self in the foot with it’s response to fishtitscoverfail is something he probably thinks hurts his bottom line.

  12. I think the “scoring points” thing is also related to the people who perceive discussion (and life) as one big debate. They ignore feelings, subtleties, and so forth and focus on who’s “winning” the discussion. When in fact there are always multiple levels of right/wrong, complexities that are difficult to understand, and sometimes people can be right about one thing and wrong about another.

    Think back to high school. Did you know any young Republican sorts who really loved the debate team? That’s how the world looks to them. Pro/con, right/wrong, whichever side scores the most points wins. A witty remark, regardless of its truth, is perceived as scoring points because it sways the audience.

    1. That’s interesting, my high school must have been an anomaly. :) The debate team was almost all leftist with a few Marxists thrown in for good measure. Maybe because we were in Oklahoma, so this was our method of rebellion from the state at large?

      1. That’s possible. I was in Wisconsin, so the debate team was perhaps rebelling in the other direction. :)

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