So it’s come to this: I must express the most bizarrely meta think I’ve ever thought.
One’s openness to engagement with hostile and/or contentious individuals is not necessarily a sign of superior strength, intellect, moral fortitude, or anything at all like that. It’s generally a function of many, many other mitigating factors.
Some of these relevant factors include, but are not limited, to
- Relative notoriety: Is the name the sort that has a dedicated contingent of individuals who insist on heaping blame onto the holder of said name no matter what the topic at hand might be? Is every word written and/or uttered by the individual scrutinized by those who are against them? Does this person deal with large amounts of people coming at them every day on various media?
- Timing: Is the person in question among the first to speak up and out about a topic, smoothing the way for subsequent individuals?
- Context: Are they making statements that only make total sense within a specific framework or subculture?
- Interpretation: Is their statement aspirational or descriptive? Resigned or excited?
To my knowledge, no one but me has a Google alert for my name and all variations of it thereof; my name alone is not a lightening rod in the first place. I’m generally rather flattered when people tell me that they read something that I wrote. I say things that are contentious, radical, and at least a little off-putting fairly often. People coming at me online still are few enough to be amusing rather than a life-altering nuisance to me (although Monday did give me a taste of what it’s like to be piled-upon by the Twitter troll patrol). I follow in the footsteps of the initial bad-asses rather than count myself among the first to speak up. I often speak within and for particular subcultures and rarely speak aspirationally.
If any of the above were to shift, change, or even be slightly tweaked, my approach would likely do the same, i.e. be altered. I do not deserve praise for not usually blocking (and sometimes interacting with) dedicated trolls, assholes, individuals of ill repute, purveyors of haterade, even the simply unrelentingly contentious, on Twitter and elsewhere. Not having people fixate on my every word as they lick their lips and salivate in anticipation of tearing apart, misconstruing, and decontextualizing everything I express — how is that a reason to consider me praiseworthy? Save the dubious praise for said individuals for collectively not targeting me very much. It’s no feather in my fedora.
As it is with almost everything else ever, any judgment of someone’s approach should be based on an informed assessment of their individual situation, not on some idealistic principle so far removed from reality that it practically denies reality. Engagement with the hostile is best left to those of us who’ve only done this a hundred, rather than a thousand, times before. Expecting everyone to be open to every conversation at all times is a recipe for activism burn-out — and I’m not there yet. Not even close.
Many thanks to Zinnia for talking to me about this and helping me to get my thoughts together about it last week.