My comment policy…

Do not fear for I am with you, do not be afraid for I am your god; I will strengthen you, I will help you. ~ Isaiah 41:10…is very simple.  Regardless of what side you’re on, if all you do is toss insults around then you’re lucky if I’m feeling lazy and ban you outright.  If I’m feeling feisty, as I usually am, I edit your comment for my own amusement.

Behold, a comment from a tremendously unpleasant fellow named “observer.”  It begins…

You can delete this, but note it’s screencapped.

Oh no!  My fan base may abandon me in a mass exodus if they find that I’ve deleted a comment from a winner like this guy (who apparently thinks the height of wit is misspelling the names of people he doesn’t like…by that standard, I was producing comic gold in kindergarten.  I rule!).

He continues (with some help from me)…

You have been guilty of previous abuse deleting comments [and editing for your own lulz, I mustn't forget that] on fabricated grounds that had nothing to do with reality.
Your selective screencap of Vacula’s tweet is a gem – imagine if this comment was directed at a male? You would look pretty stupid. Herein lies the *real* sexism of [gentlemen] like you – you consider [women] like [Jen McCreight] to be fragile petals that *need* to be defended by white knights like you [because clearly a man can't think somebody's a lousy human being without also defending a woman]. Were I a female, I would spit in your [handsome, manly] face. I don’t know any women that don’t find your righteous posturing vile [except, of course, for your girlfriend and all the women who read your blog, and they are legion]. For that I am grateful.

[Also, I'm going to attempt to secure the moral high ground, from which I will lecture you, by calling a recovering anorexic "pudgy." Clearly I am a model of compassion and you should therefore take my opinion on moral matters, including my positive assessment of Justin Vacula, very seriously.]

[I helped your comment look like it shouldn't have been written in crayon. You're welcome. ~JT]

The edited parts, of course, were just insult-happy rage (such as referring to my face as “pudgy”), presumably at the revelation that being a bad person makes other people not like/trust you.  This version of observer’s comment is a lot better, I think.

The part that really stuck out to me was the “imagine if Vacula’s tweet had been directed at a male” line.  My initial thought was “it still would’ve been a dick move.”  I don’t see how the gender of the target changes the fact that his comment was made maliciously (a fact he later lied about, and on which he got called out).

Ironically, I’ve banned more atheists than believers from my blog (I think 3 atheists and 2 believers now).  You can criticize others here.  You can even get away with the occasional insult.  But if you’re derailing threads or just being an overwhelming ass, then you get banned or edited.  There is no tribunal for this process, there is only me.  On this blog, I am god.

There was even something resembling an argument in observer’s comment (the part about white knighting…it wasn’t a good argument, but it was at least an attempt).  So he gets to hang around, probably until his next tantrum.  However, the particularly ugly parts will get dolled up for the amusement of the other readers here.  :)

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Improbable Joe

    You know…

    My favorite part of every Justin Vacula defense post I’ve seen is where the person behaves like a cruel, amoral cretin, and then demands that you accept them as an arbiter of ethical behavior. It is the ultimate in self-refutation isn’t it? Throwing out a bunch of abusive language while attempting to hold the high ground seems to be the main script for that type.

    Mockery is too generous.

  • Peter N

    I just don’t get it. What is with these people? I know they’ve always been around, but they sure seem to be coming out of the woodwork since E*gate.

    Can anyone with a background in psychology weigh in? This comment from “Observer” fits the pattern of an unassailable attitude of entitlement, along with excoriating anyone who takes a stand against one of their heroes, almost invariably resorting to vile language, taunts, and threats, all the while laughably claiming the moral high ground. These guys (and gals) also seem to crave attention — and if negative attention is all they get, that seems to suit them just as well.

    Does this sound like one of the classic personality disorders — narcissistic? borderline? Straight-out paranoia?

    Should we be tempering our derision for these characters with some compassion? They sure seem like miserable people who are helplessly acting from some compulsion.

    • John Horstman

      It’s social psychology: privilege. When one is consistently and frequently treated in a certain way (in this case, as though one has insight into any and all subjects and has a right to voice those ‘insights’ in any and all spaces using whatever language one wishes), that becomes one’s baseline perception of normal. Any challenge to those presumed rights, then, is viewed as an attack or ‘oppression’, an attempt to relegate one to less-than-baseline status and accord one less-than-baseline voice or agency (hence all of the stupid fucking whining about comment moderation).

      I cannot overstate this point: most of these people truly believe they are striking a blow against institutionalized systems of oppression when they are defending their privilege to harass others without being challenged. Consider how the comments would sound if we were talking about an actual system of oppression, say, strictly-enforced blasphemy laws. Suddenly they seem a lot more reasonable; even the profanity-laced rage makes some sense, since it functions as an encoded protest against the very laws prohibiting one from voicing one’s opinion. To not just state ideas but to state them in a way that itself challenges the oppressive norm uses the medium of transmission to bolster the ideas being transmitted. Of course, they’re defending their ‘right’ to terrorize entire segments of the population, not speaking out against jail sentences for publishing scientific data, so the result looks pathological to everyone else.

    • John Horstman

      Part of this may have to do with a narcissistic self-image – one can’t really view oneself as a crusader for the rights of the oppressed unless one thinks one actually has the ability to leverage widespread social changes, and most of these trolls just don’t. This self-narrative is bolstered by and informs the concomitant obsession with hyper-individualistic myths like Ayn Rand’s writings, many of which literally have a single individual up-ending society. Read enough trashy Libertarian fantasy novels, and their narrative conventions start to look more and more like real life. That said (and I’m entirely speculating here), I personally find it most likely that this behavior is primarily a side-effect of a cultural system that doesn’t accord people a lot of recognition and meaningful interaction in their daily lives. When you get down to it, content people don’t tend to harbor fantasies of re-making society in their own images because things are already working pretty well for them.

      When most people spend their days at jobs in which they are regarded (and expected to be) consistent, predictable parts of an industrialized workforce focused on maximizing profit for someone else, I don’t find the appeal of revolutionary individualist fantasies at all strange. Even more so, if one lacks the kinds of social connections in one’s daily meatspace life that provide alternate perspectives and meaningful exchange of ideas and instead socializes mainly in online communities that are definitionally formed around agreement with certain perspectives, one’s worldview will inevitably be strongly reinforced. This can lead to a strong sense of tribal mentality where outsiders are Other and any challenge to one member of the tribe, whether that challenge bears any relation to the core principles of the group or not, is seen as a challenge to the entire tribe. This is why, if I go to an MRA forum and say that [interchangeable misogynist douchebag 'leader'] is a terrible cook in a thread discussing cooking, I’ll receive a bunch or rageful, nonsensical tirades disparaging a bunch of irrelevant qualities about me in response. This will happen even if most people on the forum actually agree that [interchangeable misogynist douchebag 'leader'] is a terrible cook, because an outsider is challenging a member of the in-group, and that alone is experienced as a threat to the identities of every member.

  • John-Henry Beck

    I’m one of those who doesn’t get how people like that can be so blatantly vile and abusive while claiming to not be the sexists and haters. Sure does seem like a lot of hate there.
    I know it stems from having a different perspective, a different interpretation. But the people I’m tempted to spew that kind of bile at are doing far worse than, say, criticizing Vacula and the SCA. So I don’t know how we can get around to any kind of rational discussion.

    • Azkyroth

      You’re making the mistake of thinking that labels are supposed to follow and describe reality. To (a particular kind of, and in operational rather than potential terms) stupid people, labels are definitional. They are Not Sexist, therefore what they do is Not Sexism. Just like There Is No Evidence For Evolution.

  • http://- GD

    My take on ‘white knighting:’ In almost any context, it is the moral responsibility of the strong to defend the weak (wait, don’t kill me yet). Unfortunately, in the modern world, men still tend to have louder voices, more power and more influence than women. In (only?) this way men are ‘stronger’, women are ‘weaker,’ and it is among a man’s moral responsibilities to combat this inequality and utilize his ‘strength’ in defense of those who ought to have it, but do not yet.

    • Droopy

      I feel it is generally the case that a privileged person should come to the defense of a marginalized person, whenever it doesn’t detract from the marginalized person’s agency or sense of identity.
      I think white knight-ing only describes the case in which the privileged person’s well-intentioned actions serve to further marginalize the person they want to help.

    • iknklast

      I would agree, but I would add another thing (from the perspective of a woman, who is one of those who reads and appreciates JTs blog). In many cases, like that of JT, the men are standing beside us assisting us, not in front of us swinging a giant sword while we cower behind. To be a white knight is to be defending a helpless woman who stands on the sidelines and faints now and then. This does not come close to describing Rebecca, Jen, Greta, Ophelia, or Stephanie – not to mention most of the other women involved. JT does not condescend, and does not take over the sword to protect us. He merely joins us to add his voice and his strength to already strong voices.

      Perhaps this guy should heed his own role in “white knighting” Vacula. By defending Vacula, is he acting as though he’s too weak to protect himself? Or is he just out there swinging beside him? I’d be interested to know.

  • Baal

    “Were I a female, I would spit in your face” <–
    The obnoxious commentator threw in a ton of these gratuitous insults and was otherwise being a jerk. Whatever argument or position he was taking was entirely lost as a result. While I think this guy has earned derision, deriding him shouldn't get quite as ugly as he did for the same reason, you'll be open to a fair dismissal of your argument and derision in turn (fwiw, i don't think any of the comments here merit that type of a response).

    • Azkyroth

      I don’t know, I can’t shake the blindingly obvious fact that the “WHY” of the derision and insult has some relevance to how it’s parsed.

  • RuQu

    You see this same sort of madness in the people who say things like “Don’t you dare call me a racist, but Obama is a secret Muslim Nazi-Communist planning to start a civil war, declare himself Emperor For Life and eat all our white American babies.”

    I’m down in the American South, and I have been hearing more and more about the inevitable civil war if Obama gets re-elected. It’s getting disturbing.

    I think an extra dose of irrationality comes from the cognitive dissonance of being unable to accept the reason you disapprove. This poster is clearly sexist, but in being unable to accept that label, he cannot formulate reasons to defend it. Since he has no rational reasons to fall back on, he is left with the immense freedom of the irrational, which he exercises liberally.

  • Adam

    Russell Glasser over at the old blogspot AXP blog had a trick where he would run a script that would pull all the vowels out of troll posts. That was good for many lolz.

  • Wes

    imagine if Vacula’s tweet had been directed at a male

    Yes, let’s imagine that. Imagine that it was directed at a male who had been subject to years of harassment, dismissal, hatred, and bigotry for the crime of being a male blogger. Imagine this male was a high-profile member of a community with a continuing history of treating men, and this man in particular, like shit. Imagine if Justin’s tweet was the 1,000,000th dismissive, asshole move, piling on to the mountain of hate that this man had to deal with. And imagine that Justin knew about all of this, because the post he linked to was all about how he couldn’t take this crap anymore. Yeah, it would still seem like kind of a dick move.