ActivismFeminism

Fuck your Civility Bullshit

I’ve been collecting signatures on a petition for the Ohio Rights Group to get medicinal marijuana on the ballot this November. Since 87% of Ohioans support medical marijuana, if we can get it on the ballot, it’ll be easy to get passed. Earlier this week, Ohio held their primary elections, so knowing there would be a lot of registered voters out, I went to a polling location & stood there with my petition all day.

Fortunately, about 30 minutes after I showed up, an older gentleman (named Dave) showed up to get signatures for a petition to support the Voters Bill of Rights (which I gladly signed, as voting hours have recently been restricted in Ohio). He had a table, so we helped each other get signatures on our petitions and joked around to help pass the time. He was a really cool dude and it made collecting signatures (and getting rejected by people) a lot more fun.

Toward the end of the day, an older guy walked toward us and I asked if he’d sign my petition. He thought for a moment and said, “No, I don’t think so.” I replied, “Alright, that’s fine.” Dave then asked, “Well, will you sign a petition for the Voters Bill of Rights?” and explained it some. The man interrupted him and said, “No, I don’t support that at all,” and started walking away. That would have been that, except then he added, “If your petition was to only allow property owners and tax payers to vote, I would sign that.”

I immediately blurted out, “Wow, fuck you, dude, you’re trash.” He grumbled something about how he “pays for everything” and how he’s sick of “moochers,” and I just continued to reiterate “Wow, you are an absolutely disgusting piece of trash.” until he got in his car and drove off. I obviously didn’t change that dude’s mind, but at the very least, he probably drove home, grumbling about “moochers” & loud-mouthed women who don’t know their place. And I’m happy with that. Sorry dude, you don’t just get to say things like that in public with no consequence (even if the only consequence is me calling you trash).

Some people think I overreacted. “He just had a different opinion than you and you need to respect that! Everyone gets to have their own opinion in America!” Well, except, not really. Sure, this guy was civil. He didn’t swear, he didn’t attack either of us physically, he didn’t raise his voice…so why did I break social norms and curse him out in public? Because he wants to take away the fundamental rights of people he doesn’t like. 

A picture of me wearing a shirt that says "How About A Nice Cup of Shut the Fuck Up?"

A picture of me in high school with one of my favorite shirts at the time.

I can curse at this guy until I’m blue in the face, and the worst case is that I might annoy him. Seriously, that’s it. I was half his size, so it’s not like I was threatening or intimidating to him in any way. Swearing at him doesn’t take away any of his human rights. And I don’t want to take away any of his rights. I wanted him to stop saying offensive things, sure, but I didn’t actually stop him from talking (I just talked louder than him while he was in my vicinity).

It appalls me that there are people who value civility more than respect. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re being nice or decent or respectful, and we need to dispel the notion that civility does mean those things.

For another example, let’s look at marriage equality. “The FAMiLY LEADER” is an Iowa-based organization dedicated to promoting Christian values (I had the privilege of arguing with their leader, Bob Vander Plaats, when I went to college in Iowa). On their website, they say their stance on sexuality is: “The Family Leader affirms sexual relations within the bond of marriage, and opposes distortions of sexuality or special rights to those practicing distorted sexual behavior.”

They’re couching bigoted and hateful language in polite, “civil” language. The fact that most people would ever consider what they say to be more socially acceptable than, “Fuck you, you’re a bigot who wants to take away fundamental rights from other human beings,” is appalling to me.

Now before I get a thousand comments telling me “well you need to be civil sometimes!,” I’d like to say that, yes, I do understand the need for civility in many situations. I’m not suggesting you start cursing out your boss if you disagree with them. I’m not saying you should curse out cashiers at the grocery store (actually, you should never do that). I’m not even saying you should use harsh language if you don’t want to, or even in most situations.

What I am saying is this: suggesting that some people don’t deserve the same basic rights as you is inherently uncivil, and if I respond with cursing or any other form of “bad language,” I am not the one who “crossed the line” first, you did.

No one ever got their rights by being civil and nice to their oppressors. I refuse to play civility politics, and you should too.

Sarah

Sarah

Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

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56 Comments

  1. May 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm —

    THIS!!!!! A million times THIS!!!!!!!

    That is the thing that drives me bonkers about trying to have “discussions” with people who don’t think I’m a full autonomous human being who has the right to voice my opinion and be treated as a full autonomous human being… They don’t deserve my patience, niceness or civility because they think I’m not a person, or that other people are not people.

    The humanity of other people is not up for debate. Period. Full stop.

  2. May 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm —

    I agree that a lack of respect of basic humanity is already crossing the line.

    But then, I think there’s also an argument to be made that, while a bunch of uncivil “ruffians and punks” can be dismissed as unworthy of attention or respect, a group of calmly civil, but insistent, people are harder to dismiss.

    Times when each method of discourse gets the best response. Times to rail against oppression and times to park yourself calmly in its path with a smile.

  3. May 9, 2014 at 4:33 pm —

    It’s a tough thing for a lot of people to understand that there is a place for negative behavior and understandably so because of the damage that they have historically done. But hate, anger, incivility and other things are perfectly natural parts of what we are and have their place. But it’s a place that should be used sparingly and carefully because of the way that people respond to such behavior. A blanket “be nice all the time” approach probably also makes a significant number of people that don’t know how to use such emotions when it is appropriate.

    I guess the only thing that I would have done differently would have been to say why my opinion was “Wow, fuck you, dude, you’re trash.” in addition. But it’s not really much of a criticism because it should be pretty obvious that the idea of taking the right to vote away from others was something that would be offensive, and there might not have been much time before he walked away.

  4. May 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm —

    At one time, it was easy to see bigots. Now they use phrases like ‘traditional marriage’ (anti-gay), ‘meritocracy’ (anti-poor, and likely racist as well, or at least failing to recognize that having rich parents is an advantage), ‘special rights’ (anti-gay, anti-NDN), ‘real woman’ (anti-trans)…

    TBH, I wish they would go back to being honest about their intentions, but, in modern America, it’s not what you do that matters. No, silly, it’s your ability to come up with a clever enough euphemism for what you do!

  5. May 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm —

    I agree with all of this. I would like to add that while technically, the US first amendment does indeed allow everyone there to have and voice their own opinions, that in no way means those opinions are equally valid. This fool’s belief that only land owning tax payers should vote is not valid at all. It is wrong. It is against the democratic principles of modern liberal democracies. Opinions have to earn respect, just like people.

  6. May 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm —

    In general, I’m in favor of being strident, militant, and uncivil. But yelling contentless invective at an old man makes you look bad.

    • May 9, 2014 at 7:05 pm —

      I guess that would depend on the old man. Yelling invective at Rupert Murdoch might make you look good.

      OK, most likely.

    • May 10, 2014 at 6:51 pm —

      Contentless? Only if viewed in a vacuum. The statement was a direct response to the man’s claim that only property owners and tax payers should be able to vote, and that gives it content right there: Limiting voting rights to those you don’t see as moochers makes you trash and worthy of a “fuck you.”

  7. May 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm —

    Go Ohio!

  8. May 9, 2014 at 7:14 pm —

    Though in earnest it may have been a good time to tell him that everyone who buys something in Ohio is a tax payer, and if he is advocating to include all people who pay taxes then he must be talking about teenagers and felons too and maybe it would be wise to allow them to vote.

  9. May 9, 2014 at 7:57 pm —

    Long ago John Cleese was interviewed by, I think, David Cavett. He was asked about Monty Python and censorship. In response, Cleese quoted one of the show’s producers who’d received a similar question back then. The producer’s response, when asked if he was worried about ‘offending’ the audience?

    ‘There are people one might wish to offend.’

    We have a culture of inoffensiveness so pervasive that blatant racists, sexists, fundamentalists, rape-excusers etc. etc. get a free ride as long as they keep their speech in euphemisms. A Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan can transform himself into a ‘legitimate’ candidate for office, just by not saying ‘nigger’ while the microphones are live.

    Today, I wrote the most ‘offensive’ note I could come up with to the Saudi government. I am beyond ‘offended’ by their treatment of Raif Badawi.

  10. May 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm —

    Applause!

    Back during the Bush administration, while dealing with conservatives who were trying to justify torture and war (using only the most polite terms), I developed my own “Fuck Civility” speech. Gave it at an open mic night at my local UU Church, too.

  11. May 9, 2014 at 9:50 pm —

    If I may paraphrase someone whose writing I usually enjoy:

    “I’m fine with discussing things civilly. But the moment you tell me that I deserve to starve to death for being unemployable, no matter how politely you phrase it, I will assume that you are no longer interested in civil discussion.”

  12. May 9, 2014 at 11:32 pm —

    Fuck yeah.

  13. May 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm —

    Good response. There needs to be push back when fascists want to take rights away.

  14. May 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm —

    You tell ’em!

  15. May 10, 2014 at 8:54 pm —

    There is no “good” way to talk to people like him. Some people simply won’t be open to attitude change and will dismiss any kind of reproach. The appropriateness of a response depends on the quality of the offense and the limitations of the circumstances.

  16. May 11, 2014 at 12:07 am —

    Some people think I overreacted. “He just had a different opinion than you and you need to respect that! Everyone gets to have their own opinion in America!”

    AHAAHAAHAHAA

    I hate this, too. Just because people have a right to express their opinions doesn’t mean we’re all bound to respect them.

  17. May 11, 2014 at 1:42 am —

    fuck that guy…good on you for being “out of line” that guy needed to be called out on his bigoted words…what a true asshole. wow I am really sorry you had to experience such ignorance and hatred that day…

  18. May 11, 2014 at 7:09 am —

    No possible win – Cant say I can see a single scenario where you come out on top as the good guy by being uncivil (feeling good about the encounter may be the only one).

    Firstly you are conflating un-civility with bigotry, you responded to a bigoted opinion with un-civilly.

    Democracy – Collecting signatures is inherently democratic and civil endeavour, it seems that responding the way you did is diametrically opposed to the process you are supporting.

    Opportunity lost – You have made an enemy out of a potential ally. Who knows where it would have taken you had you been civil and met his mistaken attitude with a better argument. For example, if you had replied with “You are only one car accident away from being a moocher on society yourself”, or “You are only one forced redundancy away from being on welfare yourself”. Something like this may plant a seed of doubt and in time a change of attitude.

    Perceptions (cameras are everywhere) – Had someone caught this exchange and plastered it across the internet or TV, who do you think would look the injured party, you and a friend or the old man by himself? It does not matter who has the moral high ground as it will have never seen the light of day.

    • May 11, 2014 at 11:53 am —

      Ha ha, what? Using your first amendment rights to defend the constitution right to vote is somehow anti-democratic? Because she wasn’t nice? OK.

      When is incivility warranted in your estimation? And is it acceptable as long as you don’t say any of the naughty words?

      Frankly I would have been more offended by his quietly stated bigotry then Sara’s loud expletive-filled retort, but then I care more about content then presentation. And if you think a single nicely worded question or statement will make anyone change their mind you don’t know much about human nature.

      • May 12, 2014 at 5:40 am —

        mrmisconception> “Ha ha, what? Using your first amendment rights to defend the constitution right to vote is somehow anti-democratic? Because she wasn’t nice? OK.”

        Not sure what you mean by this. As I live on the other side of the Pacific could you please put some context in it for me, thanks.

        mrmisconception> “When is incivility warranted in your estimation? And is it acceptable as long as you don’t say any of the naughty words?”

        Like I said, when in public view how do you think that exchange would have beed perceived? Who has the higher moral ground is going to be forgotten. I am only commenting on the exchange given by Sarah, if you would like to give a few scenarios yourself perhaps we could see it there are better courses of action.

        mrmisconception> Frankly I would have been more offended by his quietly stated bigotry then Sara’s loud expletive-filled retort, but then I care more about content then presentation.

        You are not alone in feeling offendedI I would suspect a great many are also offended and Sarah has explained exactly why it is offensive,.. to us. But she did not explain it to the person causing the offence. An opportunity lost.

        mrmisconception> “And if you think a single nicely worded question or statement will make anyone change their mind you don’t know much about human nature.”

        I would think that receiving verbal abuse would shut ones mind to further dialogue on the matter, especially with the person swearing at you. However, if presented with a thought provoking reply, (that you have no good comeback) its something that might cause you to think. I’m not saying it will change there persons mind because we don’t know how they came to think the way they think, but I would say the possibility exists.

        • May 12, 2014 at 6:44 am —

          “Like I said, when in public view how do you think that exchange would have beed perceived?”

          Are you aware that you’re making a tone argument, and are you cognizant of the assumptions that lay beneath a tone argument?

          • May 14, 2014 at 5:34 am

            My argument is not reliant upon the ‘tone argument’, it is but one aspect that should be considered in how the exchange is viewed and the effect that it can have. Sarah has right on her side, but as we know all to well, being right is not everything.

          • May 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

            Actually, yes, your entire argument is a tone argument. I’m asking if you are aware of the assumptions inherent in a tone argument, and if so, why you think those assumptions are valid.

            As an example: your argument (which is, no matter what you think, a tone argument) is predicated on the assumption that changing someone’s mind (either the bigot’s or that of one or more bystanders) is the highest possible good. Why? Why do you think this to be true? Why do you think a person should sacrifice literally every other goal if there is the tiniest possibility that someone’s mind might be changed? Why is this of such paramount importance that, for instance, ensuring that everyone in hearing distance is assured in no uncertain terms that bigotry is not something our society tolerates, needs to be laid by the wayside if there is the slightest, tiniest, microscopic chance that some bystander might be persuaded to another point of view?

            Why is this okay? If you’re going to make a tone argument, you have to defend the assumptions under it.

          • May 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

            Here are a few more assumptions under a tone argument:

            – It’s the responsibility of the wronged party or allies of the wronged party to educate the oppressive party.

            – The feelings of an oppressive party are super-important and it’s vital that they not be offended. Their feelings are far more important than the feelings/rights of the wronged party.

            – Oppressive people can be persuaded to be not oppressive if the wronged party and/or allies just use the correct words in the correct way.

            – It’s the right of an oppressive party to decide if the correct words were used in the correct way.

            – If a wronged party and/or allies become angry, and express that anger, they automatically lose the debate because of all of the above.

            These are only a few. These are part of the foundation of your argument. Not everyone agrees with these things, so you can’t just leave them as assumptions. You have to defend them first.

          • May 15, 2014 at 6:44 am

            reply to skeith May 14, 2014, 11:41 am and 11:51 am posts. hope it goes in the right place as I don’t see a red ‘reply’ link.

            skeith May 14, 2014, 11:41
            skeith> Actually, yes, your entire argument is a tone argument. I’m asking if you are aware of the assumptions inherent in a tone argument, and if so, why you think those assumptions are valid.
            4tune8chance> I’ll have to disagree with you ono this, but I will attempt to answer your other points.
            skeith> As an example: your argument (which is, no matter what you think, a tone argument) is predicated on the assumption that changing someone’s mind (either the bigot’s or that of one or more bystanders) is the highest possible good. Why? Why do you think this to be true? Why do you think a person should sacrifice literally every other goal if there is the tiniest possibility that someone’s mind might be changed? Why is this of such paramount importance that, for instance, ensuring that everyone in hearing distance is assured in no uncertain terms that bigotry is not something our society tolerates, needs to be laid by the wayside if there is the slightest, tiniest, microscopic chance that some bystander might be persuaded to another point of view?
            Why is this okay? If you’re going to make a tone argument, you have to defend the assumptions under it.

            4tune8chance> I have not claimed that that changing someones mind is the highest possible good.
            I have not claimed that anyone should sacrifice any other goal in an attempt to change someones mind.
            What I have claimed is that an opportunity has been lost to change someones mind. To that effect I gave two examples that could plant a seed of doubt into the bigots mind namely : “You are only one car accident away from being a moocher on society yourself”, or “You are only one forced redundancy away from being on welfare yourself”.
            The paragraph titled “Perceptions (cameras are everywhere)” does not form any part of the attempt to change the bigots mind part of the argument, rather it highlights but one possible consequence of the action Sarah took.

            skeith May 14, 2014, 11:51 am
            Here are a few more assumptions under a tone argument:
            – It’s the responsibility of the wronged party or allies of the wronged party to educate the oppressive party.
            – The feelings of an oppressive party are super-important and it’s vital that they not be offended. Their feelings are far more important than the feelings/rights of the wronged party.
            – Oppressive people can be persuaded to be not oppressive if the wronged party and/or allies just use the correct words in the correct way.
            – It’s the right of an oppressive party to decide if the correct words were used in the correct way.
            – If a wronged party and/or allies become angry, and express that anger, they automatically lose the debate because of all of the above.
            These are only a few. These are part of the foundation of your argument. Not everyone agrees with these things, so you can’t just leave them as assumptions. You have to defend them first.

            4tune8chance> I don’t agree that my argument is a tone argument, if you believe that it is I would ask you specifically say which bit is and why it is, and we can debate that. Just saying my whole argument is a tone argument does not make it so.

          • May 15, 2014 at 8:27 am

            Just saying that your argument is NOT a tone argument also does not make it so. You clearly don’t know what a tone argument is, because you’re making one over and over. This is a tone argument:

            “You have made an enemy out of a potential ally. Who knows where it would have taken you had you been civil and met his mistaken attitude with a better argument.”

            Everything you’ve said after this is has just been a reiteration of this. You are taking exception to Sarah’s tone. You’re saying she should have used different, “civil” words. This is a textbook tone argument and just saying over and over that you don’t agree that you’re doing this just proves you don’t know what a tone argument is. Which is why I asked, initially, if you knew what you’re doing. You’ve answered that you do not know what you’re doing.

            “I have not claimed that that changing someones mind is the highest possible good.
            I have not claimed that anyone should sacrifice any other goal in an attempt to change someones mind.”

            These statements contradict everything else you’ve said, and indeed contradict the very next sentence. You hammer on and on and on about how Sarah did a wrong thing by being uncivil to a bigot. You keep going on and on about how ultra-important it is to “plant a seed of doubt into the bigots mind” and how Sarah should have seized upon the incredibly tiny miniscule chance of maybe doing that instead of doing what she did, which was advertise loudly that bigotry is Not Okay.

            If you want to claim that you’re not asserting that “planting a seed of doubt” is the highest possible good, then what are you saying is the highest possible good? And how does that comport with everything you’ve said about “planting seeds of doubt” at the exclusion of every other possible action?

          • May 17, 2014 at 6:23 am

            4tune8chance> Just saying that your argument is NOT a tone argument also does not make it so.
            Skeith>You clearly don’t know what a tone argument is, because you’re making one over and over. This is a tone argument: “You have made an enemy out of a potential ally. Who knows where it would have taken you had you been civil and met his mistaken attitude with a better argument.”

            No, it is not because Sarah did not make an argument with the bigot, she used verbal abuse instead of an argument! Therefor, pointing out that replying with argument has a better and safer outcome is valid criticism. You may agree or disagree with the criticism, but you have no grounds to call it a tonal argument.

            Skeith> Everything you’ve said after this is has just been a reiteration of this. You are taking exception to Sarah’s tone. You’re saying she should have used different, “civil” words. This is a textbook tone argument and just saying over and over that you don’t agree that you’re doing this just proves you don’t know what a tone argument is. Which is why I asked, initially, if you knew what you’re doing. You’ve answered that you do not know what you’re doing.

            Sarah’s tone does not come into it, the facts are:
            Bigot states ‘X’,
            Sarah responds with verbal abuse.
            I claim that there are better methods, and that there are possible unforeseen circumstances. Calling this valid criticism (no matter you agree with it or not) a tonal argument is false, it is an attempt to silence criticism and avoid the points made.

            4tune8chance> “I have not claimed that that changing someones mind is the highest possible good.?I have not claimed that anyone should sacrifice any other goal in an attempt to change someones mind.”
            Skeith> These statements contradict everything else you’ve said, and indeed contradict the very next sentence. You hammer on and on and on about how Sarah did a wrong thing by being uncivil to a bigot. You keep going on and on about how ultra-important it is to “plant a seed of doubt into the bigots mind” and how Sarah should have seized upon the incredibly tiny miniscule chance of maybe doing that instead of doing what she did, which was advertise loudly that bigotry is Not Okay.

            Again your recollection of what I write and what you think I am writing are two different things. The closest I have come to the things you say I have said are “Who knows where it would have taken you had you been civil and met his mistaken attitude with a better argument.” To emphasis the point I provide a couple of examples. (hmmm in retrospect it would have been better to say “…met his mistaken attitude with an argument.”).
            I would ask you not to put words in my mouth and stick to the facts please.

            Skeith> If you want to claim that you’re not asserting that “planting a seed of doubt” is the highest possible good, then what are you saying is the highest possible good? And how does that comport with everything you’ve said about “planting seeds of doubt” at the exclusion of every other possible action?

            It is what it is, a seed of doubt. I’m not claiming it is anything more than that, it may have a positive outcome, it may not, it depends upon the reply being memorable and if the person thinks about the argument against his ideas, now or in the future. That IMO is a subjectively better outcome. You may agree or not with that approach, either way its a valid counter point and is not tonal.

          • May 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

            “It is what it is, a seed of doubt. I’m not claiming it is anything more than that, it may have a positive outcome, it may not, it depends upon the reply being memorable and if the person thinks about the argument against his ideas, now or in the future. That IMO is a subjectively better outcome. You may agree or not with that approach, either way its a valid counter point and is not tonal.”

            I’m asking you what you think the highest possible good is, in a situation of this nature. You keep promoting this “seed of doubt” bullshit and saying this is the route Sarah should have taken (instead of what she did). What, I’m asking you outright, is the highest possible good, in your opinion? Don’t fucking dodge this. Don’t mealy-mouth, and don’t quibble semantics, and don’t demonstrate any further that you have no conception of what a tone argument is and that you have no willingness to learn. I don’t need any more evidence from you on that point. Begin your sentence with, “In my view, when we encounter unabashed bigots in the wild, the highest possible good is ….”

          • May 19, 2014 at 6:44 am

            Skeith> I’m asking you what you think the highest possible good is, in a situation of this nature. You keep promoting this “seed of doubt” bullshit and saying this is the route Sarah should have taken (instead of what she did). What, I’m asking you outright, is the highest possible good, in your opinion? Don’t fucking dodge this.

            I don’t know what the ‘highest possible good is’ I didn’t think of it in those terms. One has a better (and potentially safer) possible outcome, thats all I have ever claimed, so on a scale of one to ten, one could be a 6 the other a 7 I don’t know.

            Skeith> Don’t mealy-mouth, and don’t quibble semantics, and don’t demonstrate any further that you have no conception of what a tone argument is and that you have no willingness to learn.

            I have responded previously why the tone argument is not applicable in this circumstance (no argument was put forward by Sarah only verbal abuse), you have yet to respond to that point.

            Skeith> I don’t need any more evidence from you on that point. Begin your sentence with, “In my view, when we encounter unabashed bigots in the wild, the highest possible good is ….”

            In all honesty I cannot start a sentence as you have framed it because that is not how I perceive the situation at all. My approach is to take one consideration with another, on a case by case basis, IMO there is no one default way for every situation. For example what if your are outnumbered, the best strategy might be to say nothing, if the crown is unruly the best strategy bight be to run! In the case of Sarah I have put my opinion in the sentence titled ‘opportunity lost’, and given the reasons why I believe it is a better strategy.

          • May 19, 2014 at 5:48 pm

            “I have responded previously why the tone argument is not applicable in this circumstance (no argument was put forward by Sarah only verbal abuse), you have yet to respond to that point.”

            That’s because you may as well have said that you’re not making a tone argument because of mosquitoes. It’s a nonsensical statement. The “tone argument” is an argument that YOU are making. Not Sarah. You, making your argument, are criticizing Sarah’s tone. The tone argument is yours. You are making it. Sarah is not. Sarah is not required to make an argument for you to critique her tone.

            Everything you say with regard to this proves more and more than you just don’t know what a tone argument is (it’s the argument that YOU are making).

            “I don’t know what the ‘highest possible good is’ I didn’t think of it in those terms.”

            Well, then, why don’t you do that and then get back to me.

          • May 21, 2014 at 5:46 am

            4tune8chance> “I have responded previously why the tone argument is not applicable in this circumstance (no argument was put forward by Sarah only verbal abuse), you have yet to respond to that point.”
            skeith> That’s because you may as well have said that you’re not making a tone argument because of mosquitoes. It’s a nonsensical statement. The “tone argument” is an argument that YOU are making. Not Sarah. You, making your argument, are criticizing Sarah’s tone. The tone argument is yours. You are making it. Sarah is not. Sarah is not required to make an argument for you to critique her tone. Everything you say with regard to this proves more and more than you just don’t know what a tone argument is (it’s the argument that YOU are making).

            Oh dear,.. NO! A tone argument is a response from a person in a privileged position who lectures the non-privileged person on being more civil.
            I am criticising the use of verbal abuse, plain and simple, not cool. Had Sara said something like this:
            A – “You are only one fucking car accident away from being a bloody moocher on society yourself”, or
            B – “You are only one fucking forced redundancy away from being on bloody welfare yourself”
            (you can place any form of actual tone, inflection on any part of the above)

            Had had I responded the same way to the above examples you would have a point. You don’t get to call ‘tone argument’ in cases of abuse, be it physical, mental, or verbal. Abuse is abuse, I don’t get why you don’t see the difference, nor why there has been less criticism, perhaps you could answer this point of mine please.

            4tune8chance>“I don’t know what the ‘highest possible good is’ I didn’t think of it in those terms.”
            skeith> Well, then, why don’t you do that and then get back to me.

            Because its irrelevant to the point I am making, one just needs to produce a better outcome, it does not have to be the penultimate response.

          • May 21, 2014 at 7:01 am

            It’s hilarious that you have apparently finally looked up what a tone argument is, but arbitrarily redefined it so that it no longer includes what you’re doing. That’s not actually how it works, and it’s not even a good try.

            “Because its irrelevant to the point I am making, one just needs to produce a better outcome, it does not have to be the penultimate response.”

            That’s very … lazy and unexamined of you. You can’t be fucked to put any thought about this? And yet you feel like you can rationally critique Sarah’s actions and compare them against a “better” response? Better by what standards? You have no standards if you don’t know what Sarah ought to be trying to accomplish.

            You’ve been very persistent in being wrong about the tone argument, and expended a lot of time and effort in avoiding the admission that you are making one. If you’d spent a quarter of that time and effort instead putting a some thought into your own position here, you might actually have a position in the first place. I don’t know why you are on a skeptical website if you can’t be bothered to think about what you’re saying.

          • May 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

            skeith> It’s hilarious that you have apparently finally looked up what a tone argument is, but arbitrarily redefined it so that it no longer includes what you’re doing. That’s not actually how it works, and it’s not even a good try.

            How is it redefined? How does it ‘actually’ work?

            4tune8chance> “Because its irrelevant to the point I am making, one just needs to produce a better outcome, it does not have to be the penultimate response.”
            skeith> That’s very … lazy and unexamined of you. You can’t be fucked to put any thought about this? And yet you feel like you can rationally critique Sarah’s actions and compare them against a “better” response? Better by what standards? You have no standards if you don’t know what Sarah ought to be trying to accomplish.

            Saying one scenario is better than another is the only point I am making, it is you that seems to need me to commit to some ‘be all and end all’ solution. That I don’t meet your standards is not an issue, unless you can demonstrate that it should be, can you?

            skeith> You’ve been very persistent in being wrong about the tone argument, and expended a lot of time and effort in avoiding the admission that you are making one. If you’d spent a quarter of that time and effort instead putting a some thought into your own position here, you might actually have a position in the first place. I don’t know why you are on a skeptical website if you can’t be bothered to think about what you’re saying.

            I have given my reasons, and provide examples of the differences between a tone argument and criticism, and when its applicable. Your continual criticism of these responses amounts to saying “I’m wrong”. Demonstrate that I am wrong, as I can hardly second guess at your objections. Comment upon examples A and B, don’t just dismiss them.

          • May 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm

            “Saying one scenario is better than another is the only point I am making, it is you that seems to need me to commit to some ‘be all and end all’ solution. That I don’t meet your standards is not an issue, unless you can demonstrate that it should be, can you?”

            You don’t meet ANY standards. You don’t have standards. You don’t know what you want to accomplish; therefore you cannot choose between actions on the basis of which is “better” because you have no standard by which to measure “better.”

            I just bought a new computer. Is my new computer better than the old one? It has a processor that’s more than twice as fast, and it has literally 16x as much RAM as the old one. Is it better?

            What if I told you that my objective with the computer is to edit movie files, and Movie Maker causes the new computer to overheat unless I cut all but 1 processor core out? Now that you know what I’m trying to accomplish and only now that you know what I’m trying to accomplish, can you intelligently judge if my new computer is better than the old one. Now you have a standard by which to measure the two computers and judge which one is better. Prior to applying a standard, one might say, mealy-mouthed, that the new comp is clearly better because: processor and RAM, but that statement is meaningless unless you know what my goal is and how each comp performs toward the achievement of that goal.

            (true story, overheating now resolved with new cooling system, new comp is =now= better than the old one but it wasn’t until last week)

            Until you set an ideal, a “highest possible good,” you have no means to judge the relative effectiveness of any given action. In my opinion, the highest possible good would be to establish, for the bigot and everyone nearby, that our society does not accept bigotry and it does not accept bigots. By that standard, Sarah’s actions are clearly superior to anything you’ve attempted to suggest. By offering arguments and trying to reason with a bigot, you imply that bigotry is just another point of view, something about which reasonable people might disagree, which definitely does not send the desired message.

            Therefore Sarah’s actions are better than your proposals, and you cannot gainsay this assertion in any manner until you establish what standard you are using to measure.

            “I have given my reasons, and provide examples of the differences between a tone argument and criticism, and when its applicable. Your continual criticism of these responses amounts to saying “I’m wrong”. Demonstrate that I am wrong, as I can hardly second guess at your objections. Comment upon examples A and B, don’t just dismiss them.”

            Here’s how one typical tone argument goes. A white person enters a space established by and for black people, and starts asking Racism 101 questions. The black people tell Entitled White Person to GTFO and go read a fucking book, jackass. Entitled White Person then whines about why are you so meeeaaaaaaan and I only want to leaaarrrrrn and how can I leaaarrrrrnnnnnn if you don’t teach me? OMG you’re so mean, why are you so mean?

            That is a tone argument. The black people in this scenario are not bothering to engage Entitled White Person. They have better things to do with their time. They are not making arguments. Entitled White Person responds by critiquing their tone (choice of words and manner of delivery) with the message that Nobody Will Learn If You Are Mean. That’s the crux of a tone argument: Nobody Will Learn and/or Change Their Minds If You Are Mean. This precisely the argument you are making to Sarah, except that you’re not even pretending that the bigot is interested in learning, but instead pretending that learning can be forced into a prejudiced mind against the bigot’s will.

            There are a zillion premises underlying the tone argument (and the closely-related Educational Derail), some of which I specified for you, all of which typically go unspoken, assumed, and unaddressed. You cannot just assume these. Not everyone agrees on these points. You have to state why you think it is an oppressed person’s and/or allies’ responsibility to educate privileged individuals, etc.

          • May 22, 2014 at 6:19 am

            4tune8chance> “Saying one scenario is better than another is the only point I am making, it is you that seems to need me to commit to some ‘be all and end all’ solution. That I don’t meet your standards is not an issue, unless you can demonstrate that it should be, can you?”
            Skeith> You don’t meet ANY standards. You don’t have standards. You don’t know what you want to accomplish; therefore you cannot choose between actions on the basis of which is “better” because you have no standard by which to measure “better.”

            How do you know I don’t have standards? Really this line of questioning is getting ridiculous. You have to have standards with which to judge one is better than another, which is all I have ever claimed.

            Skeith> I just bought a new computer. Is my new computer better than the old one? It has a processor that’s more than twice as fast, and it has literally 16x as much RAM as the old one. Is it better?

            If your judging speed of processing then yes, but your new computer may have a smaller battery than your previous, in which case no. This sort of comparison is different to that which you want me to adhere to i.e. some sort of “highest possible computer”.

            Skeith> What if I told you that my objective with the computer is to edit movie files, and Movie Maker causes the new computer to overheat unless I cut all but 1 processor core out? Now that you know what I’m trying to accomplish and only now that you know what I’m trying to accomplish, can you intelligently judge if my new computer is better than the old one. Now you have a standard by which to measure the two computers and judge which one is better. Prior to applying a standard, one might say, mealy-mouthed, that the new comp is clearly better because: processor and RAM, but that statement is meaningless unless you know what my goal is and how each comp performs toward the achievement of that goal.

            I totally agree, I’v made a similar point. But it is in no way any sort of “highest possible computer” now is it! You have made a judgment that one is better than another in certain circumstances, exactly what I have done.

            skeith> Until you set an ideal, a “highest possible good,” you have no means to judge the relative effectiveness of any given action.

            But you have not done that, you have selected 3 parameters out of potentially hundreds, (resale, ease of use, screen resolution, cost, etc, etc) not in any way close to the “highest possible computer”. Your own argument supports my position.

            Skeith> In my opinion, the highest possible good would be to establish, for the bigot and everyone nearby, that our society does not accept bigotry and it does not accept bigots. By that standard, Sarah’s actions are clearly superior to anything you’ve attempted to suggest.

            How are they ‘clearly superior’? Make a list of plusses and minuses from the perspective of the bigot, and an observer, and I will do the same, then we can see if each has valid assumptions.

            Skeith> By offering arguments and trying to reason with a bigot, you imply that bigotry is just another point of view, something about which reasonable people might disagree, which definitely does not send the desired message.

            I imply no such thing. I totally reject that argument and reason imply that bigotry is a valid point of view. If it were true, argument and reason would never change peoples minds, you don’t know how deep the bigotry is within a person on a first meeting, nor if some experience will change their minds.

            Skeith> Therefore Sarah’s actions are better than your proposals, and you cannot gainsay this assertion in any manner until you establish what standard you are using to measure.

            You have provided no argument to support that assertion. People of all persuasions can and do have life changing moments, IMO it better to try than not try, and both are better than verbal abuse.

            4tune8chance> “I have given my reasons, and provide examples of the differences between a tone argument and criticism, and when its applicable. Your continual criticism of these responses amounts to saying “I’m wrong”. Demonstrate that I am wrong, as I can hardly second guess at your objections. Comment upon examples A and B, don’t just dismiss them.”
            Skeith> Here’s how one typical tone argument goes. A white person enters a space established by and for black people, and starts asking Racism 101 questions. The black people tell Entitled White Person to GTFO and go read a fucking book, jackass. Entitled White Person then whines about why are you so meeeaaaaaaan and I only want to leaaarrrrrn and how can I leaaarrrrrnnnnnn if you don’t teach me? OMG you’re so mean, why are you so mean?
            That is a tone argument. The black people in this scenario are not bothering to engage Entitled White Person. They have better things to do with their time. They are not making arguments. Entitled White Person responds by critiquing their tone (choice of words and manner of delivery) with the message that Nobody Will Learn If You Are Mean. That’s the crux of a tone argument: Nobody Will Learn and/or Change Their Minds If You Are Mean. This precisely the argument you are making to Sarah, except that you’re not even pretending that the bigot is interested in learning, but instead pretending that learning can be forced into a prejudiced mind against the bigot’s will.
            There are a zillion premises underlying the tone argument (and the closely-related Educational Derail), some of which I specified for you, all of which typically go unspoken, assumed, and unaddressed. You cannot just assume these. Not everyone agrees on these points. You have to state why you think it is an oppressed person’s and/or allies’ responsibility to educate privileged individuals, etc.

            Good example, but hardly analogous, and it does not demonstrate that I am wrong.

            Incase you have forgotten the actual scenario goes like this:

            man – “If your petition was to only allow property owners and tax payers to vote, I would sign that.”
            Sarah – “Wow, fuck you, dude, you’re trash.”
            man (mumbling) – “pays for everything” “sick of “moochers,”
            Sarah – “Wow, you are an absolutely disgusting piece of trash.” (repeatedly).

            An argument requires some exchange of ideas, non provided by Sarah.
            An argument requires some reasons to support an idea, non provided by Sarah.
            The only thing Sarah did was to lash out. The accusation that I used a ‘tone argument’ falls flat because no ARGUMENT is being challenged (tonal or otherwise), it is a valid criticism against verbal abuse.

            Take another look at the examples A and B, they are worlds apart from what I maintain is valid criticism. So to repeat the point you are avoiding – Had I responded the same way to the examples (A and B) you would have a point. You don’t get to call ‘tone argument’ in cases of abuse, be it physical, mental, or verbal. Abuse is abuse, I don’t get why you don’t see the difference, nor why there has been less criticism, perhaps you could answer this point of mine please.

          • May 22, 2014 at 6:41 am

            “How do you know I don’t have standards? Really this line of questioning is getting ridiculous. You have to have standards with which to judge one is better than another, which is all I have ever claimed.”

            Because I have asked you more than once to iterate your standard and you refuse, and say instead that you haven’t thought about it and can’t be fucked to think about it now. Am I not speaking your language or something? Am I speaking over your head? Do you not actually know what is meant by “the highest possible good” even though I have indirectly defined it for you?

            What’s ridiculous is that you claim to be able to judge which course of action would be “better” without being able to articulate the standard by which you are measuring “better.”

            “But it is in no way any sort of “highest possible computer” now is it!”

            Yes, I see that you actually have no clue what I’m talking about, which means you have no clue what you’re talking about either. Go read a fucking book, jackass.

          • May 22, 2014 at 6:43 am

            P.S. The term “argument” is a word that refers to the line of reasoning that one person makes. It is not used in this context with the colloquial English definition. It does not actually require two parties to make an argument, only one. You will learn this once you read a fucking book, but I should go ahead and drop this in so that you know what to look for.

          • May 22, 2014 at 7:25 am

            4tune8chance> “How do you know I don’t have standards? Really this line of questioning is getting ridiculous. You have to have standards with which to judge one is better than another, which is all I have ever claimed.”
            Skeith> Because I have asked you more than once to iterate your standard and you refuse, and say instead that you haven’t thought about it and can’t be fucked to think about it now. Am I not speaking your language or something? Am I speaking over your head? Do you not actually know what is meant by “the highest possible good” even though I have indirectly defined it for you?

            Like I said in the last post your computer example proves you wrong, because I have used the very same judging process as you did with the computer, without the need for some ‘highest possible solution’!

            Skeith> What’s ridiculous is that you claim to be able to judge which course of action would be “better” without being able to articulate the standard by which you are measuring “better.”
            I have, repeat – I don’t know what the ‘highest possible good is’ I didn’t think of it in those terms. One has a better (and potentially safer) possible outcome, thats all I have ever claimed, so on a scale of one to ten, one could be a 6 the other a 7. You have yet to articulate what is wrong with line of reasoning.

            4tune8chance> “But it is in no way any sort of “highest possible computer” now is it!”
            Skeith> Yes, I see that you actually have no clue what I’m talking about, which means you have no clue what you’re talking about either. Go read a fucking book, jackass.

            Don’t blame me for your failed analogy.

            Skeith> P.S. The term “argument” is a word that refers to the line of reasoning that one person makes. It is not used in this context with the colloquial English definition. It does not actually require two parties to make an argument, only one. You will learn this once you read a fucking book, but I should go ahead and drop this in so that you know what to look for.

            Right, now what line of reasoning does the singular Sarah make to the man?

        • May 12, 2014 at 7:35 am —

          I’m not sure if you’re naive or misguided or just so steeped in classism that you don’t see it.
          That wasn’t verbal abuse.
          Angry words aren’t any more or less likely to change anyone’s mind. I don’t know why you think detachment is more effective. Injustice never changes without anger. I think it’s good and right that people should be angry.
          You want to be a street corner debate scholar, go right ahead. Please don’t tell the rest of us to swallow our outrage and play nice with those who embrace and encourage persecution and bigotry.
          It’s kind of bullshit for you to claim that calm, measured words are somehow better or more effective than righteous angry words. And I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to convince people so entrenched in their malice. If other people got mad, maybe they’d care enough to stop these shits from fucking us over. I don’t give a damn about persuasion, because he’s unmovable. I’m not going to debate skinheads or militia members over my human rights. It’s futile, and it’s unfair to ask people to do that.
          I want people like this guy toothless and cast out so they can do no more harm. Don’t care about their heads or their hearts, just want them to remove their boots.

          • May 14, 2014 at 5:52 am

            Well I doing believe I am misguided nor steeped in classism.
            Um yes it is verbal abuse! It is the dictionary definition of verbal abuse.
            I would argue that anger is how the words are delivered you could have used Sarah words calmly, or you could have used my suggestions angrily. IMO the argument is the more important part of the delivery, and if that is memorable and the person you are speaking to has no comeback, then there is a some chance that it will play upon his mind.
            I’m not telling anyone to do anything, i’m suggesting that an opportunity was lost.
            There is no content that is righteous content in “trash, disgusting” that is opinion on a persons character, not his argument.
            There is nothing wrong in getting mad or passionate about something, but I would argue that there are better methods for presenting that argument, and influencing passers by.
            You don’t know that he is unmovable.
            I don’t think I would debate extremists either.
            Better to have an ally than an enemy. If you don’t try, you have failed by default.

        • May 12, 2014 at 8:05 am —

          @4tune8chance – You say that she wouldn’t change his mind with anger and I agree, you also said you agreed that most people would be offended by his belief and I agree with that too. The thing is, what he said was only said to two people (as far as I can tell) in the story so if Sarah had been calm and quiet it would have stayed between the three of them while Sarah’s response broadcast to anyone within earshot this jerk’s agenda, which you agreed most would disagree with. I think that is an overall win especially since Sarah said she did care if people thought she was mean.

          • May 14, 2014 at 6:00 am

            Perhaps, its hard to tell from a distance. My mental picture of events may be different from your own, I have a picture of a polling station with “a lot of registered voters about” So am thinking that there would be onlookers.

          • May 14, 2014 at 11:44 am

            4tune8chance– it was toward the end of polling hours, and most people voted earlier in the day. There was no one around, and the dude was already 10 feet away from me by the time he even finished talking. He obviously wasn’t interested in listening or learning.

          • May 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

            Reply depth exceeded… This is actually a reply to 4tune8chance, not Mr. M.

            Here in Massachusetts, no political campaigning is allowed at the polls. For example, people holding signs have to stand several hundred feet away. and you aren’t even allowed to wear campaign buttons into the building. I’ve never seen signature gathering at the polls and I’m pretty sure it would also be illegal. If the same is true in Ohio, Sarah and the other signature gatherer must have been out in the parking lot or on the sidewalk near the entrance to the school fire station, town hall or whatever, not a totally isolated place, but not in the midst of a crowd either.

            I’m sure there was some brilliant cutting remark Sarah could have made which would have reduced the bigot to tears, praying upon his mind for months, causing many sleepless nights, ultimately making him re-evaluate his life, and return, Vader-like, from the Dark Side, but I could never come up with it and most likely would have settled for “Fuck you, asshole!”, probably muttered under my breath.

          • May 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

            Sarah May 14, 2014, 11:44 am. it was toward the end of polling hours, and most people voted earlier in the day. There was no one around, and the dude was already 10 feet away from me by the time he even finished talking. He obviously wasn’t interested in listening or learning.

            Thanks Sarah for clarifying that point.
            I’m guessing that he has not given any consideration to the fact that he himself could be put in the unfortunate position of being a ‘moocher’ himself, due to a singe unfortunate circumstance. “it’ll never happen to me” is a rather universal human trait.

          • May 15, 2014 at 7:13 am

            Reply to Buzz Parsec May 14, 2014, 11:45 am
            Reply depth exceeded… This is actually a reply to 4tune8chance, not Mr. M.
            Here in Massachusetts, no political campaigning is allowed at the polls. For example, people holding signs have to stand several hundred feet away. and you aren’t even allowed to wear campaign buttons into the building. I’ve never seen signature gathering at the polls and I’m pretty sure it would also be illegal. If the same is true in Ohio, Sarah and the other signature gatherer must have been out in the parking lot or on the sidewalk near the entrance to the school fire station, town hall or whatever, not a totally isolated place, but not in the midst of a crowd either.

            4tune8chance> As I have explained to others the crux of my argument does not hinge on bystanders hearing the exchange, that last point was only to highlight possible repercussions. Seriously what if was in the process of some sort of breakdown and was carrying a gun!

            Buzz Parsec> I’m sure there was some brilliant cutting remark Sarah could have made which would have reduced the bigot to tears, praying upon his mind for months, causing many sleepless nights, ultimately making him re-evaluate his life, and return, Vader-like, from the Dark Side, but I could never come up with it and most likely would have settled for “Fuck you, asshole!”, probably muttered under my breath.

            Ay, there’s the rub!
            Oh to have a rapier like wit, in truth its not a thing that one is born with, but gets better with practice.

  19. May 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm —

    I’m a big fan of swearing myself (in case y’all hadn’t noticed!) and what Sarah did in this case seems well justified and effective.

    An even better ploy, though, is to get the opponent to lose his temper and look like a fool in front of everybody, whilst maintaining your own cool. At the very least, his raised blood pressure will increase his chances of an early demise.

    • May 12, 2014 at 11:09 am —

      Right, except the problem there was that the dude was already walking away. By the time he finished talking, he was out of hearing distance for a normal level of conversation.

  20. May 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm —

    There’s a 60s protest movement song about exactly this, called “It Isn’t Nice”. I’m familiar with a Joan Baez recording.

    It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
    It isn’t nice to go to jail,
    There are nicer ways to do it,
    But the nice ways always fail.

    More at: http://www.lyricstime.com/malvina-reynolds-it-isn-t-nice-lyrics.html

  21. May 12, 2014 at 10:05 am —

    The problem with the “uncivil” approach is that its effectively a practice of using social shame to push your values, silence dissent, and to show everyone that to think what the person you’ve shamed thinks will make you other and ostracized. Because of this its inherently only effective when you’re punching down; beating on either unpopular ideas or unpopular people. It makes it a very effective tactic for, say, silencing anti-gay attitudes in California but nearly useless for fighting anti-atheist attitudes in Texas.

    My worry is that endorsing a tactic that is only really effective at fighting minority or dissenting views will do more harm than good. I certainly realize that ‘the other side’ does this all the time.

    • May 12, 2014 at 10:16 am —

      On the other hand, being told to “be nice” is also a way to silence descent.

      • May 12, 2014 at 10:21 am —

        You’re absolutely right. But I do think somewhere there’s a middle ground between “I think X” “Well fuck you” and “You don’t need god to be good” “Why are you so hateful?!”.

        • May 12, 2014 at 10:57 am —

          I agree that if someone were to walk around waiting to sling fuck yous at the slightest provocation I would suggest they tone it down, but from what I can see here this man had a monstrously offensive opinion and wasn’t going to hang around for a nuanced debate. Pointing out his viewpoint to those in the vicinity will at least let the bystanders know that others believe these things.

          Sometimes righteous indignation (and I realize the irony of using that term) is called for, and a loud rebuke is not out of line. And yes I know the tactic can be used to oppress but our refusal to “endorse” it will not change that in any way.

  22. May 12, 2014 at 10:40 am —

    I did a piece about this a couple years ago; it was a recording called “A Civil Discussion.” It was a Christian congratulating me, an atheist on how “civil” I was being, even though I am a rotten person who belongs to burn eternally in the Lake of Fire. Those who would wish the Ultimate Pain on me are not deserving of my “civility.” But I give it to them anyway, and sometimes I’m privileged to be ‘one of the good ones.” To my face, anyway. There’s a reason I use this name–and it’s not because I made it up myself.

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