On Being “One of the Good Ones”

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.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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  1. For that particular tweet it was a bit weird, I guess because I’d seen similar without that response. Thinking on it I wondered if it was because you were talking about cis/trans and non-binary gender but without using the “jargon”. So people were not put off being condescending assholes by words they didn’t understand… Although I’m sure plenty of people get condescending assholes when they do use those “jargon” terms as well, its usually by assholes who at least know of the terms, they’ve just decided to be denialists. Also in terms of your tweet it was a terrible display of arrogance from those people who when presented with an authoritative source (the WHO) mostly decided to ignore it, although there was one attempt at a half-arsed smearing of them based on a supposed mishandling of SARS. No one seems willing to learn and accept they may be wrong given they clearly know nothing about the subject. Not a nice display.

    As for the [meta] concept its certainly something I’ve come across a lot as one of the people who runs @the_block_bot … Common theme of those thrown in there is that they are superior for not wanting or needing its services. Despite the fact that many use the bot just to make Twitter a more pleasant experience, for social networking without getting the usual anti-FTB/Skepchick/A+ trolls interrupting. Many also use it as they don’t have the spoons to deal with aggressive / passive-aggressive anti-feminists / TERFs / SWERFs / general cheerleaders on Twitter and it is a small bit of protection against that. There seems to be a bit of a meme in atheist circles that avoiding personal in your face criticism is a sign of weakness… Well yes it is when you talk about Creationism as a whole or alternative therapy as a whole not any individual person unless they are a prominent leader and avoiding all forms of criticism. But it seems the anti-feminist faction like to leap with confirmation bias claws extended on any individual feminist and if they block or ban one person from the “other side” they claim victory against feminism as a whole. Utter rubbish of course, especially when dealing with individual tweeps. These great “critics” are hardly pushing anything new or unique that a multitude of feminists haven’t already dealt with in many many blog posts. Even if they were, do they really think Twitter is a forum for in depth reasoned debate! Many apparently do and feminists are shirking their responsibilities by not allowing them unfettered into their timelines to babble incoherently over and over and over…

    Good for Heina for engaging with these people and good for anyone who decides its not for them and blocks. Both are valid options and who I choose to engage with is irrelevant in terms of the truth of any of my beliefs… Gotta be some sort of logical fallacy there if you think otherwise?

  2. 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.

    <RuPaul>Can I get an amen up in here?</RuPaul>

  3. I think the reaction is just due to the fact that the tweet was actually an original reaction to a topic that has intense media interest that tens of millions of UK people are intensely bored by.

    Even the royalists are somewhat puzzled by the 24×7 coverage of a story in which the facts could hardly be any thinner: Woman gives birth to baby.

    Pointing out that there is even less news than they claim is actually quite funny. But not half as funny as when the parents call the kid Vader so as to pick up the million to one odds at William Hill. That will be so kewl, having an actual bona fide Prince Vader.

  4. I admit that I’m kinda enjoying everything vaguely threatening to the status quo being referred to as post-modernist.

    Anyway, that was… a weird twitter “conversation”. Where did all these people who don’t know the difference between gender and sex suddenly come from? I mean, I know there’s shittonnes of them, but where did they come from on your feed?

  5. I think the problem is that this is a future King that is being talked about. It is all well and good for a future King to show himself to be not worthy (as Prince Charles has done), but the whole premise of the Divine Right of Kings is that the King is chosen by God. The idea that this is just an ordinary baby threatens the whole top-down social power structure.

    1. Maybe I’m naive, but seeing as the monarchy in England is symbolic rather than functional, does anyone care that much about their king’s “divine right?”

  6. Zinnia Jones’ recent post sent me here, and I just wanted to say YES. YES. YES. THIS. And thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

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