Follow-up to Tuesday’s Post
Tuesday’s post about the idea of homosexuality as a defect led to a great deal of discussion, as expected. I also received more criticism for that post than anything I’ve done in a long time. Almost universally, that criticism came from friends of Stone.
This doesn’t invalidate the criticism, and I completely understand feeling protective of one’s friends. Protectiveness of one’s friends is, in fact, one of the reasons I wrote the post to begin with.
So I’ve been doing a mental debrief. I try to do this fairly regularly. Some of the core questions I’m looking at are:
- Did this post accomplish anything good?
- Did it do harm?
- Did the good it accomplished outweigh the harm?
- Could I have written it differently so as to increase the former and/or decrease the latter?
I think the answer to all four questions is yes. For today, I wanted to focus primarily on that fourth question.
The Title – I titled the blog post after the axiom in Lavie Tidhar’s story. I think that was a mistake. My goal was to use the things Stone had written as a staring point, and to move to a broader conversation about prejudice and bigotry against homosexuals and same-sex marriage. The title kept the focus on one individual and lessened the focus on that broader discussion.
“You” vs. “You” – Similarly, about halfway through the post, I switched to statements like “you believe your sense of discomfort and offense is important enough to continue systematically denying legal status and protection to an entire class of human beings?” But my writing made it unclear that I was addressing the broader, generic “you” instead of continuing to focus on Stone specifically. This is something I could have fixed rather easily with a line like, “Dear world — if you believe blah blah blah…”
Genetic Defect – This phrase came not from Stone, but from Tidhar. My reading of Stone’s words matched up to the phrase, but after further discussion, reading, and some e-mail chats, I believe I was wrong. Stone was not claiming that homosexuality is a genetic defect. A defect, yes, but attributing it to genetics was part of a hypothetical posed by someone else. I don’t know if this makes any significant difference, but it was a mistake, and I wanted to own that.
Comment Moderation – I received feedback that the tone of the comments was too negative, especially on LiveJournal. I was asked to delete them, challenged for not responding to them all with the Smackdown Hammer of Whoopass and Moderation, and told that I was tacitly endorsing/encouraging attacks by not doing so.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never deleted comments except in cases of spam and blatant trolling. Looking back, my treatment of comments in this post was very similar to what it’s been in other posts. Likewise, the tone of the comments was similar to other posts … the difference being that this time those comments were directed at someone’s friend.
I do need to revise and post/bookmark my moderation policy. In general, I will moderate, but I try to do so lightly. Hell, I’ve allowed comments from angry “men’s rights” advocates decrying rape as a weapon women use against men. Sometimes I simply ignore these comments. I don’t believe that means I’m tacitly endorsing their nonsense.
Like I said, I understand feeling protective. But I’m also uncomfortable that apparently this sort of comment was acceptable when it was about strangers in previous posts, but gets challenged now that they’re about a friend. This is something I’ll continue to think about.
Speaking Up to Power – There’s a theory in comedy that you should always try to direct your jibes upward. Lampooning someone in a position of higher power is funny and socially useful. Doing the same to someone in a powerless position is not funny, and not cool.
While I don’t believe this is a perfect analogy, I’d be a fool not to recognize that in the blogging world, I currently have a much broader readership and much more “power.” This is something I need to think about more, and something I hope to keep in mind when writing future blog posts.
This is far from everything, but this follow-up is already longer than the original post, and there’s only so much my brain can process at once. None of this changes my anger, or my belief that it’s important to speak out and publicly challenge prejudice and bigotry. But one of the ways I try to improve as a writer and a human being is to try to understand when and how I could have done something better.
July 28, 2011 @ 9:50 am
As one of the people giving you feedback on negativity and moderation over at LJ (which is currently down), I just want to go on record saying I’ve never been comfortable with personal attacks against any person, whether I know them or not, and have frequently been uncomfortable with personal attacks in the comments on your blog, and frequently do not contribute because I expect this to happen. I’ve often felt the need to defend myself against a personal attack, which probably contributed to further unpleasantness. I am sorry I haven’t said anything before, but if having someone we know and like in the crosshairs can be a catalyst to take another look at how we treat strangers, that’s probably not a bad thing.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 9:54 am
I find it ironic and frustrating that much of this feedback came in via LJ, and I have no way of posting this follow-up there.
From what I’ve seen, there’s a very wide range of what people view as a personal attack, and that range depends in part on whether they’re the ones on the receiving end. (Or in this case, on whether or not they know the person.)
I’m not arguing that personal attacks never happen, which I hope is obvious. But while I’ve seen you receive what I think cross the line into personal attacks, I’ve also seen you post things that cross that same line … and of course, my line isn’t going to be the same as yours. Which is one of the reasons I try not to overmoderate.
July 28, 2011 @ 10:08 am
I appreciate the fact that you don’t over moderate. It makes reading comments to your blog more interesting and revealing.
Personally, I’m impressed that you speak your mind so clearly. A lot of people who have a platform can tend to cushion their opinions.
And I guess LJ’s constant downtime means there’s no time like the present for me to start using my actual blog I’ve been working on 😉
July 28, 2011 @ 10:09 am
I know I’ve posted things that are over the line, as I have a terrible temper. As a generally mild-mannered person, if the internet can draw that sort of behavior out of me, I can only imagine that I am often seeing the worse side of others, too, which is why I’m a fan of comment moderation–for my own good. 🙂 Definitions of personal attack vary, but a lot of times moderating for staying on topic, and discussing text instead of person make it unnecessary to split that hair. Thanks for listening. It is very frustrating that LJ continues to be offline.
July 28, 2011 @ 10:20 am
I appreciate the fact that you don’t over-moderate. I think moderation is generally required in any open forum but I’d much rather be allowed to judge someone’s statements myself than be protected from them (or from myself for that matter)
Christian A. Young
July 28, 2011 @ 10:47 am
I’m kicking myself a little for not commenting properly on the first post, but I’m going through a reflective period while also having to be really careful about certain emotional reserves, so I’m late to that party. I do have thoughts, though. I’ll try to get around to them today.
That said, I just wanted to drop in and say that I think your debrief process is leading you in a useful direction. It’s a good assessment tool, and the transparency piece is particularly useful in addressing issues that came up. Reading the original piece, I did leave with some wrong impressions — which you clarify on here — so going back to read the original with this information in mind will be good.
The moderation issue is troublesome in that it’s very much an area in which it’s impossible to please everyone, I think. You seem to be comfortable with your ethic, and with revisiting it periodically, and that’s really all one can reasonably ask.
July 28, 2011 @ 11:07 am
Remember “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? You don’t hear that much these days.
Bringing someone’s honestly held beliefs to a wider audience, and contrasting those beliefs with what you understand to be an acceptable moral position is not a personal attack. Calling them an asshole… that’s ad hominem. Possibly justified, but it doesn’t help your argument.
Re: comedy – there’s an earlier theory, which is being retconned even as we speak, that suggests most comedy is about making people feel superior to whoever is the butt of the joke. Most political humour hinges on how stupid, bull-headed or devious politicians are. So do most gypsy/Irish/Polish jokes. Me, I like an old-fashioned banana skin prat-fall.
July 28, 2011 @ 12:41 pm
Don’t have much to say, just that I really admire this level of self-reflection.
July 28, 2011 @ 12:48 pm
On the title, I think the fault actually lies with Tidhar’s story in ascribing a non-existent “axiom” to the wrong person. In acknowledging your error regarding EJS, you are head and shoulders above many commentators. All too many would try to defend themselves.
As for the comment moderation, IMO there was nothing wrong there. Anyone leaving a comment should own the comment. Not removing an objectionable comments demonstrates tolerance and an open mind. I have seen way too many articles where the comments include virtually no dissent.
July 28, 2011 @ 1:16 pm
The comments in question were not dissenting. They were agreeing with and in support of Jim’s thesis.
July 28, 2011 @ 1:23 pm
Speaking up to power I don’t believe shields people who do have power in one sphere and not all others. “Nebula-award winning author”, to me, would probably put him in the general sphere with other published, critically-acclaimed but not NYT Bestseller authors. Who has how many more followers is not the equivalent of institutional power.
Did the people who critiqued your post have concrete arguments against your point? Or were they just upset with the tone of the criticism? I think if you are going to tell a significant group of people that they are “defective” and shouldn’t exist, you should be prepared for some backlash. His original post was a personal attack; it was just a personal attack on many people instead of one. That doesn’t make it less hurtful.
I’ve seen you host people saying vile things in the comments, until everyone figures out to ignore them and they get bored and go away. I don’t see any hypocrisy here.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 1:33 pm
“Speaking up to power I don’t believe shields people who do have power in one sphere and not all others.”
Which is a valid point, and one of the reasons I don’t think it’s a perfect analogy. It’s something I want to keep in mind, but definitely not an absolute rule or guideline.
“Who has how many more followers is not the equivalent of institutional power.”
True … but it can definitely have an impact, especially if those followers take it upon themselves to go after the original target. (My readers generally don’t seem to do that, but that’s not always the case.)
“Did the people who critiqued your post have concrete arguments against your point?”
Almost nobody argued to support the view of homosexuality as a defect, or to support the “barnyard animal” post I referenced, if that’s what you mean.
July 28, 2011 @ 1:38 pm
I had meant to post this comment in the entry, but LJ.. was LJ.
My thoughts on the matter are merely to dispute the argument that a defect, genetic or not, is a valid foundation for an argument against equal rights for everyone. To choose an analogy, his argument would also apply to autistic or other children with ‘genetic defects’ in not granting them access to public school or public funds to aid them in living as normal a life as possible– because they are ‘defective’ and nobody should offer them anything at all because they’re just not as worthwhile as ‘normal’ children.
I got pretty angry just typing that as a hypothetical.
The point is, the argument is ridiculous in and of itself because even if one were to grant the idea that homosexuality is a ‘defect’ of any type (and personally, I do not– abnormality, perhaps, but definitely not justifiably a defect by modern ecological studies), that argument applied to other people defined as ‘defective persons’ is nonsensical and (hopefully) goes against gut instincts about what is ‘right’.
July 28, 2011 @ 1:39 pm
The generic “you” comes across as aggressive even when it’s not aimed at a specific individual. It’s the pronoun that members of the audience have been taught to think means them, specifically. Unfortunately, constructions using ‘one’ tend to be awkward. Sometimes it’s helpful to use ‘I’ instead, though. That’s more natural when giving advice, but I can word ‘If I felt X, then I’d be Y’ statements for hypotheticals. As a bonus, that encourages me to think of ways that I do things similar to what I’m criticising. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 1:42 pm
LJ seems to be up at this particular second, but your guess is as good as mine as to whether it will still be there five minutes from now. Damn hackers.
While I agree with what you’re saying, I’d prefer to keep that discussion on the original post. (Link takes you to the post on my site, not LJ, which has so far been stable this week.)
July 28, 2011 @ 2:09 pm
Jim is Jim. That’s fine with me. Jim learning from Jim is also fine with me. You haven’t been boring. XD You admit where you feel that you’ve done wrong, you own up to things, you take responsibility. I think that works well.
And people sometimes are overly paranoid, and looking for others to attack them. This is also a given.
I also post/talk way too much, when I’m trying to show support. *sigh*
July 28, 2011 @ 2:32 pm
So Mr. Stone puts his words out there, and presumably he wants others to react and respond to them. “I think the opinions expressed in this set of words are wrong, and I think they are toxic,” is a valid response. How is that an “attack”?
Now, I also take your point that, when registering profound disagreement with someone else’s opinions, it’s important to represent their opinions accurately. So, yeah, that’s a good lesson for all of us.
But the idea that nobody should critique anyone else’s publicly expressed opinions strikes me as odd. It’s not like you hacked into Stone’s phone and found a text that said “Homosexuality is a defect.” He said those words, and should own them.
July 28, 2011 @ 2:34 pm
As the person who first posted criticism, I will try one more time to clarify what I was saying, because it’s not getting through. This will be blunt, though I hope not upsettingly so. If I thought less of you I would not bother, trust me.
Jim, my complaint had nothing whatsoever to do with Eric James Stone, knowing him or not (I barely do, honestly, and I don’t think he needs protecting) or how/if you should moderate your LJ or blog. I was trying to communicate, with too-excessive subtlety, that the post and subsequent comments were making you look like an asshole. I’d had the impression that you were a decent guy, so I was attempting to let you know how you were coming across, in case this was not the impression you wished to convey.
You cannot argue me out of my impression. It’s mine. In fact, you’ve cemented it further with defending it. If that’s the impression you’re going for, you’ve got it. Nothing left to discuss. That’s why there’s no need to debate with me.
The fact that you let the comments of trolls who attack *you* stay in place has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with hosting the comments of your friends and supporters who personally attack someone you’ve presented as a target. Standing stoically to take the heat is noble. Pointing out an individual for your friends to insult, and giving them a platform to do so: not so much. Do you honestly not see the difference?
Especially since your argument is not really with Eric James Stone, but with the Mormon Church and Christianity in general. It looks ignorant and petty to target him to take the heat for an issue with literally thousands of years of conflict.
Your follow-up post here shows that you realize that you did something which is bothering people, and are trying to figure out what went wrong… which is a start. But the fact that you still think I and other people are just defending “our friend” is ridiculous and dismissive. It shows that your are not listening to the underlying problem: that you were happy to attack (and see attacked) an individual in service to a cause. It’s not uncommon — Jay Lake and his readers (myself included) had a long discussion about how he was coming across as a jerk. He finally heard what we were saying and chose to present himself differently, because his tone was undermining the arguments he was trying to make. I think your passion for a cause blinded you to the method you used. And I would be sad if that became normal for you.
Again, I apologize for my bluntness. In my 25 years of online interactions, I had not previously used any profanity, so you should feel very special. It says a lot about how much I like you, believe it or not. 😉 I sincerely hope this is received in the spirit it’s intended.
July 28, 2011 @ 2:41 pm
Especially since your argument is not really with Eric James Stone, but with the Mormon Church and Christianity in general. It looks ignorant and petty to target him to take the heat for an issue with literally thousands of years of conflict.
As an adherent of a large Christian denomination with openly gay and lesbian bishops, may I please take issue with the idea that being a Christian must also mean being of the opinion that “homosexuality is a defect”?
Mr. Stone’s belief set includes that opinion. My belief set—and I am passionate about my own Christian identity—does not.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 2:51 pm
“The fact that you let the comments of trolls who attack *you* stay in place has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with hosting the comments of your friends and supporters who personally attack someone you’ve presented as a target.”
I never said it did.
As I said above, I treated comments in that post no differently than I have in others. You yourself pointed to the Dumbass Gun Amendment post I wrote a few weeks ago, which contained numerous comments expressing a great deal of anger, including some name-calling that to me was as bad or worse than what happened in the post about Stone.
Neither you nor anyone else complained about that. Nor have you complained about any other post I’ve written, until this one.
I’m not going to debate my moderation policy. I’ve explained it a bit above, and will probably talk about it in more detail later. You apparently disagree, feeling I should more actively stifle unacceptable expressions of anger, and that’s fine. But this is the same policy I’ve followed all along, and this is the first time you’ve protested that policy.
I honestly don’t know what spirit you’re intending here, but it feels to me like your impressions are so solid that you’re not really reading what I wrote anymore…
July 28, 2011 @ 3:04 pm
Frankly, I think that some people need and deserve negative reinforcement — nothing in the posts I’ve seen were over the top in response to Stone’s beliefs, none advocated say, hurting him or even denying him the same rights he’s comfortable denying to gay people. There is no reason in the world why anyone should fee they have to avoid being hurtful in their response to him. Nor do I think it’s your job to moderate such things in proxy for anyone else, whether they’re your friends, or other people’s friends or not.
I’m not sure where the idea came up that it’s forbidden to make someone feel bad or face consequences for their actions (on the internet that mostly being what they post/say) but I strongly feel that it’s a silencing tool used to let people avoid dealing with the messes they make.
July 28, 2011 @ 3:23 pm
Data point: Not all observers believe that Jim’s original post was assholish. The comments posted to his self-hosted blog (I haven’t tried LJ, yet) also did not strike me as assholish.
Frankly, I’m very puzzled as to why saying, “This person here said this thing that I disagree with, and I think less of people who believe this thing I disagree with,” is an asshole move, but it appears to be what you are accusing Jim of.
I think it’s a really good way to write a blogpost, personally.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 3:28 pm
My quantum assholishness aside, my LJ does tend to get more comments than the blog here (except when it’s down), and there were some angrier comments over there. One called Stone a dipshit. Another talked about waiting 40 years for Stone and the rest of the bigots to die out, which I think was interpreted in a variety of ways…
July 28, 2011 @ 3:31 pm
I thought the post was fine–still do. And it is your damn blog. You were not disrespectful of anyone nor did you attack anyone. Did you misquote? I doubt it. Anyone who doesn’t want to come here doesn’t have to.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 3:44 pm
I misquoted the genetic defect bit.
I think the problem comes partly from people who like to come here but didn’t like that particular post or the comments that followed. There’s disagreement and anger at me from some people, and that’s fine. I’m doing my best to listen to that, but listening does not mean I’m going to agree with everything folks say.
July 28, 2011 @ 3:53 pm
More, I was curious if it was a reflexive “people are saying mean things about my friend, who they have never met, based on a tiny sample of his writings on a single issue”, in which case I A) understand the defensive reaction and B) don’t think it’s a useful part of a broader discussion on the social issues at stake here.
The alternative is, “people are making ad homine attacks which are failing to engage with what he wrote and instead just attacking him as a person”, which is an argument I’m more open to accepting as being a valid criticism of on-going discussion.
He published a blog post with ideas which can be accurately categorized as homophobic, which were not presented using “I” statements or as a personal, insight-oriented vulnerability-revealing perspective, but rather as an argumentative piece attempting to convince other people to agree with him. That is, he didn’t make the piece about himself as an individual. In which case, “he is wrong” or “his arguments reflect XYZ cultural categories” or “he has allied himself with such-and-such movement” all become, to me, valid engagement with his writings as he presented them. He clearly wanted them to be engaged with, or he wouldn’t have put them out there; he was trying to convince.
I was the one who suggested that demographic change would lead to a decrease in anti-gay sentiment. That is vastly different than advocating his death; I do see the cultural winds as being a positive thing. I was arguing that the world would be better off when fewer people believed as he did, not when he, as an individual, disappeared. I chose “forty years” to reflect the average current human lifespan: i.e. I suggested he die quietly in his sleep at a ripe old age. I don’t see that as a death threat, personally.
I was, at worst, arguing that engaging with his views isn’t worth the effort: they are doomed, and since they appear to be based in religion they are never going to change. I’ve never met the man and can’t speak to him personally. I can say my life will vastly improve when fewer people think homosexuality is a defect that ought to be corrected, and that I believe it inevitable that the passage of time will make that so. I was making a similar argument to his: he argued the world would be better without people who behave like me in it, because we disgust him, I argued my world would be better without people who behave like him in it, because I don’t like dealing with (imo, irrationally) disgusted people. If my opinion hurts to hear, I hope that the people it hurts think about that similarity and reconsider their original position.
The difference, of course, is that my behavior does not directly affect him (unless I’m engaged in a sexual relationship with him, of course, but I don’t know this particular dude.) His behavior is part of a voting block that continues to disadvantage thousands of families who’s only crime is having sex he finds disgusting, and he is attempting to convert more people into that block. That pretty directly affects me, my friends and my family.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 4:00 pm
Re: your first paragraph, I don’t know. Laurel said pretty firmly below that this had nothing to do with being friends with EJS. I’m skeptical that friendship wasn’t a factor for at least some if not most of the folks who were upset with me about the tone of the post & comments, but I’m also trying to take her at her word.
I’d have to double-check, but I don’t think anyone accused you of writing a death threat. I think it was described as “wishing him dead,” which … is a different reading than I had of your comment.
July 28, 2011 @ 4:04 pm
On, and one more thing: anyone who’s pissed off at you for something I said seems out of line to me. They can be pissed of at me; I was purposefully dismissive and in-one’s-face with my rather contemptuous response (though I went into the less-dismissive reaction of where I actually think reactions similar to his tend to come from elsewhere in the same comment section, in response to people who seemed genuinely baffled rather than just tired of the same-ole-disgust). But that doesn’t make you an asshole, it makes me an asshole (I would also accept worn-down, bitter, cynical, ineffective and judgmental as adjectives). You’re just the guy who stated up front that moderation is limited.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 4:09 pm
To a certain extent, yes. I don’t accept responsibility for what anyone chooses to say in the comments. But I’m responsible for the tone I set in my initial posts (which often sets a baseline for the comments that follows), as well as how I moderate those comments.
July 28, 2011 @ 4:14 pm
True but I don’t the tone you set was out of line or significantly different from other posts you’ve made. Nor were the comments, IMO.
July 28, 2011 @ 4:29 pm
Frankly, even though the post was negative I don’t think it came across as a personal attack against Eric Stone. Not unless “you” (in the general sense of course ;D) wanted to read it that way. Yes the post wasn’t perfect, but that’s already been acknowledged, and this follow-up took that into account and discussed what that means to the original (genetic defect vs defect). I didn’t read the LJ comments, but the ones on here seem to be upset at the very gall of you to critique Stone’s comments. Personally, I find that hilarious to the extreme. They have no problem lambasting you for doing a critique, some of them even come right out and call you an asshole, but for you to do the same – that’s a no-no.
Plus, the premise of Stone’s post – that being gay is a defect – is a personal attack against all LGBTQ people. It may be his opinion, it may be what his religion teaches, it may even be codified into law – none of that changes the fact that he is attacking a subject class of people and therefore opens himself up to being labeled a bigot, homophobic, and even an asshole.
BTW – I must argue vehemently disagree to the accusation that you, Jim, are an asshole as well. You are way too nice to the dissenters and their opinions on all things to fall into that category.
July 28, 2011 @ 4:30 pm
Dude, it’s your LJ/blog/whatever.
You can post what you like, and moderate however you like (although I’m always in favor of notice up-front regarding the standard and level of moderation, so people know what they’re getting into).
And once you have even a small level of fame or notoriety, no matter what you say, someone is going to dislike it. You could have posted about broccoli and someone would have taken offence, although possibly it would not have resulted in this level of reflection after the fact.
You made a very sensible post about a matter of significant controversy, and some people got upset. If you had included another bunch of qualifiers and disclaimers, people still would have been upset, because it’s an emotional topic. I think that’s par for the course, and I seriously hope it won’t result in you dialing back your commitment to addressing these issues. Your voice is valuable; it would be a shame if having one or two people call you an asshole were sufficient to chill your speech.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2011 @ 5:33 pm
If it were that easy to shut me up, it would have happened a long, long time ago 🙂
July 28, 2011 @ 9:41 pm
You know what?
Dude is a bigot. The day I feel bad about saying that bigots are bigots, or that bigots are bad human beings, or that I have no intention of reading the work of bigots is…I don’t know, the day you can check me for signs of alien implants in my skull.
Further-the-fuck-more: if you are upset by people calling your friend a bigot, maybe the problem is that YOU ARE FRIENDS WITH A BIGOT. Possibly. I’m just saying.
July 28, 2011 @ 9:44 pm
This. I know plenty of Christians who are not bigots.
Eric Stone, from what he’s written, is a bigot. He has chosen to express that bigotry in a public forum, knowing full well how fame and the Internet work.
If people are upset that I’m calling their friend a bigot…well, maybe they should take another look at their choices in friends. Because I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy here.
July 28, 2011 @ 11:08 pm
I had missed the comment storm on LiveJournal due to LJ’s flakiness this week, but read up on it.
I think any confusion over the intent of your original post is a combination of that generic “you” problem mentioned, and just the varied definitions people have of “attack”. I didn’t see anything in your original post that sounded like a personal attack against Stone. What read was attacking ideas you felt were toxic, not the person writing about those ideas. That said, I realize that some people don’t differentiate as much between the ideas and the person as I do, so an attack on those ideas may come off as an attack on the person.
As for moderation, you’ve already said you have no plans to change how you moderate your posts (nor would I say you should). From what I saw, you responded appropriately to any comments that stepped over a line. Tacit approval would be not addressing the comments at all.
I do applaud your willingness to look at the issue and consider whether you wrote what you intended clearly. You’re good people 🙂
July 28, 2011 @ 11:19 pm
Disclosure: I know Stone from a writer’s forum and think he’s a lovely person and brilliant flash fiction writer. I didn’t have a problem with the original post or comments–I didn’t think they were all polite, but they didn’t reach the level of vitriol I’ve seen elsewhere on the internet (okay, so that’s an admittedly low standard). Originally I wasn’t going to post anything here, but in the spirit of self reflection, I did want to tease out one issue.
Related to the levels of power I think is timing. Stone’s comments and blog post were from 2006 and 2003 if I recall correctly. I don’t think that’s a concern in terms of ‘people change’ since my assumption is that his view comes from a religious perspective and as he’s still Mormon I doubt it has changed, but dredging up old posts in a new argument is a tactic that you see in more personal attacks. (Old actions/statements are evidence of your character so even though I’m ostensibly arguing with the statement itself, it’s really because of my dislike of you that I even remember or care about it)
But there is a reason this post and others like it are coming up now: it was an axiom in a recent story. My question then becomes why was the axiom named for Stone in the first place? I admit I don’t know but I can speculate at least a couple of reasons:
1. Perhaps the author knew of the statements when they were originally made and since that time has held the opinion that Stone has deplorable views on homosexuality and when the time came to illustrate certain deplorable viewpoints, Stone’s name was a fitting association.
2. Perhaps Stone is well known among the genre community as having deplorable views on homosexuality.
3. Stone achieved a certain level of notoriety over the Leviathan nebula win and became a target.
But whatever the reason, the story and the commentary are cementing the association. If Stone wasn’t known as having that view before, he certainly is now. Maybe that doesn’t matter since, to my knowledge, he hasn’t rescinded the view. And maybe it doesn’t matter because, well, why would it matter? Would it matter if I were known as a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian? Would it matter if people knew I hated peanut butter? Would it matter if anyone knew anything about me so long as it were true?
It would only matter if knowing that Stone believes or believed that homosexuality is a defect if having knowledge of that belief damages his reputation unjustly.
But isn’t that the point of reputations? Isn’t knowledge of our own beliefs and actions and the perceptions of the same the reason we’re careful in their formation? I don’t want to be known as a mean person, so I try to refrain from saying and believing mean things. I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of cussing in which I used to engage not because of any objective valuation of the words, but because of my perception that cussing is harsh and I want to avoid that association.
Which all leads to the obvious problem: What perceptions and valuations do we give to statements like “homosexuality is a defect.”
Using the premise: If Homophobe –> Ignorant/evil/[expletive]
Stone believes homosexuality is a defect, defect refers to genetic defect, therefore he believes homosexuality is unnatural, therefore he is homophobic and therefore Stone is ignorant/evil/[expletive]
On the other hand someone who likes Stone and thinks he’s a lovely person comes at it from:
Stone is not an evil/ignorant/[expletive] therefore Stone cannot be homophobic therefore Stone’s comment is being interpreted incorrectly and we should stop talking about it because it’s making me have inconsistent thoughts
Of course no one is explicitly making those connections. They’re merely inferred from the totality of the circumstances. Plus there are the issues of definitions of homophobia, defect, genetic defect, scope of the argument, etc.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that just because I think I’m a nice person, and I define racist as a not nice person, doesn’t mean that certain statements I may make are not, in fact, racist. But is a racist someone who makes racist comments on occasion, one who makes them all the time, one who acts on racist beliefs? If someone were to call me a racist is that “Hey, you are a Racist with the implication that it is a large enough part of your identity to turn you into someone not worthy of goodwill’ or is it ‘Hey, that thing you did/said there? That was racist. Don’t do it again. If you think/speak like that frequently then you are not a person who is worthy of goodwill’
So is this association calling Stone a homophobe? Is it calling him evil/ignorant or something else? Or is it saying ‘Hey, that comment you made there? We don’t like it, we reject the argument and we’re going to talk about the argument because it’s common enough to be a problem we need to address.’ My thought is the post was intended to be the latter.
But since the comment was not recent, the story and subsequent posts are implying that it is a large part of Stone’s identity, that in the list of things you should know about Stone, the first one is he thinks homosexuality is a defect.
There’s a phenomenon where if you like a person, you tend to forgive the things they say/do. You view even multiple acts/statements in isolation and excuse the behavior as atypical. But if you don’t like someone, then you have no problem viewing even a single acts/statement as evidence of a larger problem.
So if I like Stone as a person then I will be disinclined to view the statement as negative evidence of his beliefs or identity. If the evidence is so patent as to be impossible to ignore, I simply sever it completely. “Well he’s otherwise a nice guy he just has this bit of unpleasantness”
If I were to dislike Stone, then the statement would make out a prima facie case that he is… something negative.
This is why reputations are so important. If you think positively about someone, you’re more likely to like the stories they write, to buy the stories, to vote for the stories. If you dislike them, you’re disinclined. If the stories are good enough you may be able to grudgingly accept them or if you’re particularly enlightened, you may be able to look at the stories in isolation.
Since I try to maintain a positive view of the universe, I believe everyone is enlightened. I believe that regardless of Stone’s statements, one can judge his work and acts independently. I believe that so long as facts are represented accurately, we shouldn’t shy away from opinions which are reasonably deduced.
This post has gotten so much longer than I originally intended that I don’t even remember what my original point was. If anyone has read through to the end hoping that I could find some way to tie it all together: I am very, very sorry for wasting your time. Have a lovely day.
Aliette de Bodard
July 29, 2011 @ 4:16 am
I tried to answer your earlier comment on your LJ, but that was when the entire system went ballistic on me, and I gave up…
I said the virulence was making me uncomfortable, and that the attacks would make me uncomfortable, regardless of who they targeted. I then admitted to knowing Stone, and I had the feeling that you dismissed my comment as “only wanting to defend [her] friend, therefore invalid”. I apologise if that’s not what you meant, but that was my perception of it at the time.
I’m not sure how to articulate this–I’m always made uncomfortable by the virulence on the Internet. To some extent, I suspect it’s cultural: where I come from, I was always taught that it’s a very bad thing to be loud and virulent, and that even if you disagree with something, you have to do it politely (from several years of reading blogs, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is how things work in my corner of the world–especially when you combine upper-class France and upper-class Vietnam, two cultures that have a tendency to wrap up things in layers of politeness–, but that the US doesn’t put the same value on politeness vs. frankness)
I have seen the other blog posts you mentionned as having heated discussions (on your blog and elsewhere), and I feel just as bad when I read them, which is why I have learnt to triage, and avoid reading posts that seem like they would create similarly aggressive discussions. I read those posts either because the subject interests me particularly, or because I recognise a name–which is why I read this in the first place; and yup, this totally means that the initial glance at the post was biased.
When I do get around to reading posts like this, I generally just don’t have the courage to wade alone into the midst of an intense debate like this with a contrary opinion, no matter how I might feel (and I agree that having opinions and not expressing them is… problematic on a moral and ethical level). I’ve tried to wade in once or twice, and have taken a lot of heat for daring to disagree with the majority opinion–and having heated discussions completely drains me, and I just don’t have enough spare energy to be posting on every single debate I disapprove of. What made me de-lurk was partly Laurel’s initial post, and also partly knowing Eric–but again, my posting or not changes nothing to the fact that I’m uncomfortable and that I disapprove.
But I can see why you would think that I’m just doing this for a friend, and I’m afraid that I can’t offer you any other justification than my word. Thank you for listening.
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2011 @ 7:45 am
“I didn’t have a problem with the original post or comments–I didn’t think they were all polite, but they didn’t reach the level of vitriol I’ve seen elsewhere on the internet (okay, so that’s an admittedly low standard).”
Heh. I think “low standard” is an understatement, given some of the sites and comments I’ve come across…
You weren’t wasting my time. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I appreciate you sharing your thought process on this, and you touch on a number of interesting points.
FWIW, I don’t personally think of Stone as evil. Ignorant? In this area, I suspect so. But the all-or-nothing approach seems inaccurate. Someone can be bigoted in one area, and a wonderfully kind and generous person in others.
Does that make the bigotry okay, or change the fact that such attitudes are hurtful and threatening to millions of people? Not at all. But people are messy, and in general, can’t be defined by any single belief or attitude…
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2011 @ 8:03 am
I shot you an answer via e-mail.
I will say that while it definitely struck me that all of the criticism I received came from friends of Stone, I don’t believe that automatically invalidates what people are saying, or that friendship was the only reason for saying it.
I apologize if you felt dismissed or blown off.
July 29, 2011 @ 9:22 am
I appreciate the fact that you do not delete comments. I’d rather see people own what they say. And I’d rather read someone’s own words than just see everybody else’s interpretation of them (unless they are an author I am reading for class and they write really really badly).
With regard to personal attacks, I feel as safe posting on your lj as anywhere on lj. (That’s not a criticism bashing lj – I’m just trying to be accurate because I’m oversensitive to personal attack-ish things.)
Just my 2 cents.
July 29, 2011 @ 9:50 am
I think folks should definitely check out the whole comment thread over at LJ before weighing in on this subject. There are over a hundred comments over there, some quite caustic.
Jim is not the first blogger to face rising negativity as his blog becomes more popular and widely read. At some point, every blogger is faced with this problem.
Jim, you seem to take it as a point of pride that you have not deleted comments in the past, and therefore should not delete them ever for the sake of consistency. However, take a look at the community that has developed. You said that not one person defended Eric’s views on homosexuality. Out of 100 comments, that says a lot. There are two possible explanations for that. The first is that no one actually agrees with Eric at all. The second is that Eric and people with similar beliefs are not engaging.
What can develop in blogs that tackle controversial issues, but do not create safe, moderated spaces for discussion, is that like-minded blog followers intimidate dissenters to the point that they give up and go away. Comment moderation is work, which is why Toby Buckell disabled comments on his blog. I can understand why people would not want to spend the time policing comments. On the other hand, relationships can be damaged by conflicts that arise from those comments. I had a longtime friendship ruined by an interaction in your comments–something that I couldn’t control and tried to mitigate as it was happening, but to no avail. I will probably avoid getting involved in comments even more in the future to avoid that sort of thing. Whatever desire I have to express my opinions online is not worth burning bridges to do it.
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2011 @ 9:56 am
I’m sorry you lost a friend over an online discussion. Are you implying that I’m responsible for the fact that you and someone else you claim was your friend chose to communicate with each other in a way that ultimately destroyed your friendship?
July 29, 2011 @ 10:55 am
I think there’s a bit of a problem, too, with another issue you’ve brought up; when do people have a right to be angry, and in what ways are they “allowed” to express that anger?
I’ve seen the tone argument used to tell people faced with with a blanket attack on who/what they are, and a good reason to be angry, to stop talking about the ways they’ve been hurt — and I don’t want a few people telling you, Jim, that they feel the attacks got too personal to stop those people from feeling like they’re allowed to be angry or express themselves when responding to your blog.
BUT, I’ve also seen people using a reference to the tone argument to wave off criticism of their own entirely inappropriate levels of vitriol, and to advocate violence and viciousness and character assassination in a way that would be clearly wrong if it came from the more bigoted side. And yes, hurt people other than just the “Bigots” so attacked.*
Sometimes in the same discussion.
I don’t think either happened in the post we’re talking about, as you called people, mildly, on their more inappropriate comments, but this is a heck of a balancing act. Because how do you keep people who are easily made uncomfortable without denying others their chance to have a part in the conversation? Especially when both are capable of being a valuable part of discourse.
* Never mind the question, as raised above by Hel, as to the difference between saying something prejudiced based on unthinking, and being a through-and-through Bigot.
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2011 @ 11:02 am
Please pretend this is Google+ and I just hit the “+1” button for your comment.
July 29, 2011 @ 12:59 pm
+1 from me, as well.
July 29, 2011 @ 1:15 pm
What I am saying is that a lot of people who would otherwise read and comment on your blog may not because they perceive the atmosphere to be hostile.
July 29, 2011 @ 2:26 pm
But the all-or-nothing approach seems inaccurate. Someone can be bigoted in one area, and a wonderfully kind and generous person in others.
Yes, absolutely. I thought about breaking up the sufficients and necessaries even further so I could separate the Ignorant/Evil/[expletive] spectrum, but I feared I was approaching a dangerous level of fetishism for logic.
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2011 @ 2:28 pm
I’ve flaunted my data fetish here many a time. Logic fetishists are equally welcome and accepted 🙂
July 29, 2011 @ 5:14 pm
After looking through some of the posts here, and the Dreamwidth responses to your last post, and thinking about why I’m reacting so strongly, I want to say one more thing:
The “oh, he’s bigoted but he’s a wonderful person otherwise so we shouldn’t be mean” thing…offends me. Doesn’t just anger me. Offends.
Yeah, yeah, he’s so-and-so’s friend. He’s a nice guy. Great. I have friends too. Most of them are nice guys. (Not “nice guys”, which is a whole different thing.) This “kind, generous person” and “nice guy” just said that a whole bunch of them were defective. He just compared their relationship to other consenting adults to marriage to barnyard animals.
EJS is not someone’s grandfather who grew up in a different generation: he’s an experienced writer who knows what kind of platform he has. He didn’t talk out of his ass one night after having a few too many beers: he wrote out a public blog post. (And if his views have changed since then, it’s his responsibility to make that public as well.) He’s not speaking without thinking; he didn’t make a mistake; he said hateful, bigoted things about a group of people that includes some of my loved ones.
Unless he’s personally saving orphans from Hell in his free time, I don’t see how any other quality of his is gonna outweigh that.
So: fuck him. Fuck his beliefs if that’s where they lead him. He’s an adult, he’s responsible for what he believes, and he’s chosen to subscribe to, and publicize, horrific dehumanizing views about people who aren’t hurting anyone. And if calling him a bad person for that makes me judgmental, then I’m pleased to be in the Granny Weatherwax “judging makes us human” camp. If he’d made a blog post talking about how the KKK kind of have a point, would anyone be on here defending him?
I don’t think so.
July 30, 2011 @ 2:26 am
So I’ve read over all the comments on the original post, but I haven’t read all the ones here. I get that Stone is a good friend to some people and I have no doubt he’s a nice guy. However, some of the things that he was saying has been said by others who are clearly bigots. It’s the same shit that supporters of same-sex marriages have heard before and I’m guessing the reason why the “tone” of some people is so hostile is because it’s been all heard before, and people are tired of it. I don’t know if Stone has read everything and if he has been personally hurt by it and does not feel that he can respond because the environment is hostile. However his statements were hurtful to the group, and therefore some their supporters are going to lash out.
I’ve read through similar discussions regarding race and the thing I got from there is that perfectly nice people can be racist while trying not to be. These nice people can be called out on it, but at the end of the day, being called a racist is not worse than the being on the other side on racism. In this case, Stone being called a bigot is not worse than his hurtful opinions.
Honestly, the whole “you should of monitored this better” thing bothers me. I’m glad it’s lightly monitored. Just because people respond angrily does not mean what they’re saying is not valid. Quite frankly, sometimes people need to respond angrily because there’s no other way for them to respond to something that affects them at a more emotional level. All this treads very closely on the tone argument, which I think more people should look up if they’re wondering why people don’t always respond politely, why this sometimes has to happen, and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m sorry if some friends and supporters of Stone feel like it’s unsafe for them to speak up, but at the same time I hope they understand why people responded the way they did.
I wish I could say what I mean better. I don’t believe you could have done anything better then you already did.