Repudiate, Excoriate, Disassociate

A quick word about this.  PZ Myers' frustration is understandable, and that's a beautifully written rant, but Ron Lindsay did repudiate the savages.  He said "no one wants them in the movement."  That's repudiating; it's just not excoriating.  Must we excoriate?  I'm not so sure, as my impression is that the savages love the attention. They positively thrive on being excoriated. My view is that disassociation is much more important that excoriation.  I made that point in a comment at Talking Philosophy last week, so I'll just quote myself--
I think most hardcore bullies are not going to cease and desist because people disapprove of them. They see themselves as outlaws, so in fact the more people disapprove, the more fun they have being bad boys & girls. So I think it would make sense to think about other ways of responding. One issue, which is kind of tricky, is complicity and enabling. Many people go on talking to bullies even though they see them as bullies. I think people are often actually grateful to have a few sluggers on their ideological team–though wouldn’t admit it, if asked. The bully knows this, and so feels appreciated, though people may not express their appreciation openly. The continued interaction makes the bully feel like a respectable member of “the community” (whatever that might be). So one way of attacking the problem is for non-bullies to think more about who they consort with.
Eject bullies from your own “community”, don’t join communities that include bullies, don’t hang out with bullies, even when they’re off duty. Etc. Of course, you have to be aware of who’s a bully in the first place–which means no burying your head in the sand. I think this bully prevention strategy is actually more likely to stop bullying than highminded lectures about civility. As I say, bullies are outlaws–they positively enjoy their incivility and don’t care what others think. They do like attention and interaction, though. Take that away from them, and they really might disappear.
So here's my prescription:
  1. If you are one of the savages yourself, take some time out for deep reflection. Is this really the way you want to spend your time?  Have you become the person you want to be?  Think about it.
  2. If you participate in a forum in which significant bullying takes place, get out now.  You may only be functioning as an audience or sounding board for the bad actors, but your attention encourages them.  If you go further and assist--for example, by delivering links, screen caps, addresses, and the like--then shame on you.  
  3. If you interact with and link to people who are involved in a forum where significant bullying takes place, then stop.  Your interactions send a clear message to bullies that they're not going to lose their seat at the table by being bullies, they're not going to lose the respect of respectable outsiders. Your attention is enabling bullies, even if you're not an active participant. 
As you can see, there are no examples in this post, and I'm going to have a strict policy of no examples in the comments.  Warning: I'll probably close comments at the end of the day, as I just can't get into discussions that start in September and go on until December.  I have these issues on my mind today, and with any luck I'll have other things on my mind tomorrow.

If you want to comment please focus on directly relevant, general issues like this --
  • Am I right that disassociation is the key, not so much repudiation or excoriation?
  • Are we complicit if we listen to, interact with, and link to people who are involved in a high-bullying website?
  • What are the limits?  Say that A is a savage, B directly assists A, C links to and respectfully interacts with B. Now take D, who pals around with C, and E ...  It cannot make sense to continue this chain indefinitely, calling everyone with any connection to A, however remote, an enabler?  My prescription limits responsibility to A, B, and C. Is this a principled limit?


Jean Kazez said...

Hate to be so rigid about this, but please, no examples. The reason why is because it so quickly degenerates.

What I'm trying to address is this--

Suppose you think that site X is full of virulent bullying. Then do you have a duty to stay away from the site itself, AND stay away from individuals who involve themselves there? I say yes.

Now, we could debate about which X's are that virulent. But let's not. That's what gets us spiraling into endless tales about who did what--just not a good use of anyone's time.

Jean Kazez said...

That was in response to a comment that violated the "no example" request (see end of post).

Jacques Rousseau said...

Point 1 of your prescription is vital - my sense is that 'othering' via some established narrative is sometimes taking the place of critical self-reflection. Points 2 and 3 likewise, but they raise the disagreement I'd want to express (or rather, the counterpoint, seeing as I'm still trying to work out if I disagree or not).

Even if it's true that engagement encourages, because the 'savages love the attention', surely there are some fence-sitters lurking who might be receptive to seeing some disagreement on our site X? For my part, it's sometimes been the experience of seeing how people are treated when they try to dissent that makes you realise the extent of the problem on site X (and, sometimes, who the ringleaders are). Getting out costs us these opportunities. So, we'd need to be fairly confident that not enough good is done to compensate for the fuel one is adding to the bully-fire by engaging to decide to withdraw completely. Also, don't we need to be confident that they will at some point get bored, and stop being savages? Even though nobody is engaging at site X, wouldn't they still harass non-site-X'ers at sites Y and Z, or by email?

On point 3, I'd similarly be inclined to wonder whether there might be moderates listening in to your criticism (or engagement) with someone involved in site X, who will see in your interaction a model of what debate could look like, and be inspired by it to do likewise. I do take the point that one shouldn't be friendly with the bullies - excusing their bullying so long as you're talking about more pleasant things - but I'm cautious of the more general 'not engaging', as that seems to include 'not engaging to tell them that they are wrong'.

But a great post, thanks - much food for thought.

Jean Kazez said...

All three prescriptions are rough and not exceptionless. I agree, there can be reasons to do otherwise. But doing otherwise needs a defense, I would say. The default (in the absence of special reasons) is that we should disassociate with internet bullies.

Deepak Shetty said...

+1 for the post

julian said...

Am I right that disassociation is the key, not so much repudiation or excoriation? -Jean Kazez

Everything, imo, relates back to the responsibilities of whoever it is doing the disassociation or repudiation. The responsibilities of an individual with little influence and is only peripherally involved is very different than that of someone who's been active and has far reaching influence.

The "innocent bystander" has little chance of stopping the bullying and they have neither engaged in it nor have they condoned it. They are only aware it exists among this group. So they are free to simply walk away without apology (as they owe none).

Someone with influence (especially influence over the "bullies) on the other hand is capable of effectively pushing back. Repudiation from them 1)warns others from joining 2)may push those bullying away from more severe forms 3)inform "innocent bystanders" so they can disassociate.

Then, to me at least, there's how involved someone's been. Someone who's been a bully owes a great deal more than simply a disassociation. No pain or self flagellation, but they should work to counter act the atmosphere they've encouraged. They owe others that much. Besides, as someone previously part of the "bullies" they'll carry more weight with fence sitters, innocent bystanders and leaders unsure of what to make of the situation. They're denouncement carries more weight (sadly) than that of the people they've bullied.

((Thank you for the read.))

Jean Kazez said...

I don't mean to be dismissing repudiation as much as calling attention to disassociation. I don't think the "little guy/gal" without much influence is off the hook. Reason: because bullies need attention and need respect, and they get that from groups of individuals, no one of which has to be particularly influential. If you have one really sinister person, and 10 watching respectfully, each of the 10 is still obviously complicit. That's how we'd see any other real-world bullying situation, so I don't know why the internet would be any different. 10 schoolkids watching one bully are not innocent, even if each one is "just watching." The least they can do is walk away. Surely if they're involved in important business--the 10 are trading baseball cards, or whatever, they can find some other place to do their trading, and ditch the bully!

Seems obvious to me...

Ah well, I need to close this thread, as I have lots of stuff to do tomorrow and won't be able to moderate.

Thanks all for the comments, and apologies to the one person whose comment I didn't publish. It was benign, but did violate the "no examples" request, and I didn't want to set a precedent.