So the ‘Net is -rightly – fluttering with anger on reading Kathy Sierra’s post about some – outrageously inappropriate, to put it mildly – posts about her on some sites run by other members of the Internet intelligentsia. Posts which ranged from junior-high-school sexual imagery to what sure read like death threats.
Go check out Technorati on it, and go and browse through her post, the comments, and posts about it.
Most people are very reasonably outraged. The perpetrators are so far silent.
Business as usual, many people say. So what? Well, so a lot, I think. I think that we have, as a culture, forgotten what manners are for, We forget the delicate dance of power and self-control that enables people to live together in a society. This manifests itself in a number of depressing ways; Jane Hamsher and blackface as valid political commentary; Freepers and LGF commenters who think that a few well-deployed nukes would be a good substitute for a foreign policy. And on a smaller and more personal level, a bunch of upper-middle class computer wonks who can’t disagree about Internet strategy without slipping the bounds of civility and acting like asses.
Personally, I blame it all on nonviolence, but that’s a matter for another post.
Luke Ford, Cathy Seipp’s would-be Boswell, is supportive of the rights to free expression of a middle-aged man who harassed Cathy’s daughter, and posted and obscene (in the moral, not necessarily sexual sense) commentary purporting to be Cathy’s final missive…while Cathy was dying. Eliot Stein should be free to comment, and write, and we shouldn’t infringe on his freedom to be as hurtful and outrageous as he chooses to be.
I’ve been thinking about how to respond, and two things come to mind.
A few weeks ago, I did something in Las Vegas I’ve been kinda ashamed of. Seriously. And no, it didn’t involve three lithe (female!) Cirque dancers…
We are at dinner at the Bellagio, and having a kind of serious business discussion. If you’ve met me, you know that even when I’m not projecting (and oh, yes, I can) my voice carries pretty darn well. And people have at times come to me and asked me to moderate it, which I’m happy to try and do.
In this case, a somewhat tipsy man was at the table behind me, and took increasing exception to my talking. Which he eventually expressed – not politely – but forcefully and profanely – expecting I’m sure that his bullying tone and threatening affect would shut me up.
I told him to fuck off, and meant it. I was surprised and somewhat alarmed at how angry I was, and how willing I was to match his escalation, rather than do the things I knew would de-escalate. He raised an empty champagne bottle over his head and gestured threateningly with it (the counter to a champagne bottle threat, in case you’re wondering, is slightly different from a wine bottle threat, unless the bottle is from a particularly good vintage…a rising x-block trapping the wrist, at which point there are all kinds of things you can do) and we had a standoff until a whole lot of restaurant staff showed up. They were moved away, we got free desserts, and my friends were more than a little concerned about my flash of temper – as was I.
Then I read Blackfive’s little story about someone who handled a situation much better than I did, and think about the fact that civil society depends in large part on our willingness to enforce civility. Yes, I know that civility and conformity are close neighbors. But I have no worries about being able to tell the difference.
People who behave badly should expect that there will be consequences to their behavior, and that being a bullying asshole doesn’t mean that you’ll get your way, and that bad behavior online or in person – has consequences.
I value civility here a lot, and appreciate the fact that we manage to disagree heatedly and yet with some measure of mutual respect. Thank you all for that.
As for Eliot Stein, and the people who slimed themselves by posting abusive things about Kathy Sierra? Fuck ‘em.