In Ira Veritas?

In Ira Veritas? January 10, 2012

Atheist blogger Greta Christina is taking D.J. Grothe (president of the James Randi Educational Foundation) to task as part of a discussion about sexism and violent rhetoric in the atheist blogosphere.  Like the last time I linked to a Greta Christina post about sexism, I’m not spending  whole post rehashing the discussion, so let me quickly get you up to speed.

A person targeting Greta on facebook posted a variety of nasty comments that included a desire to “slap the bitch” and “kick them in the cunt.”  [and at this point in the post, if you aren’t familiar with the tremendous abuse that women bloggers are subjected to, please pause and read “A Woman’s Opinion is the Mini-skirt of the Internet” and learn about the #mencallmethings tag, especially if your first instinct was to wonder why people are overreacting to internet spleen].

The argument with Grothe began when he accused Greta of taking the threats out of context and being too quick to use the ban hammer. He said:

[T]he guy’s initial comments were reasoned, and then he was roundly and personally attacked by a number of Christina’s ditto-heads in that FB thread. He reacted poorly, and that’s what Christina I think rather opportunistically ran with.

And now we’ve come around to the topic I want to take on: anger as an excuse.  Plenty of defenses (and many movies featuring explosions) are premised in the idea that you can only push a good man so far before he snaps.  So let me just say one thing first: it is one thing for the thing that makes you lose your grip be, oh, everything that happens to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and another for it to be an internet comment thread.  Descending into a bestial rage over that hardly makes you Milton’s Lucifer.

The internet didn’t do this to you

The above isn’t meant to be any kind of sticks and stones argument.  It’s valid to be upset by arguments on the internet and there are a variety of productive ways to try and  respond.  But no matter what someone says, your hurt never gives you license to try and make others bleed.  The goal has to be to correct them, not to maim them, and, if you’re not the one to do it, and you’ve already outlined your position, maybe it’s time to walk away from a fight.

What really frightens me is the idea that there’s some monster inside us that we can’t be expected to control.  It puts responsibility for your behavior on other people who need to be careful not to provoke you.  It teaches people that they are helpless before their own emotions (and telling people they’re powerless tends to sap their willpower and decrease their own feelings of culpability).

There’s no authentic you that gets revealed in moments of high stress.  You’re not a latter-day Hyde, and your nastiness isn’t some profound revelation about the nature of Man.  It’s just the same old you behaving badly, and maybe you’ve just learned something about who you’re most likely to lash out against, so you can guard yourself more closely now.

I’m lucky and unlucky that my worst angry responses happen internally.  I don’t hurt other people directly, but I don’t get called on my bad habits and it’s hard to be accountable to someone besides me.  My besetting sin is that I tend to wish anyone who’s teed me off is a lot worse than they are, so that I can stop having any kind of moral obligation to them.  And visualizing their bad qualities too intensely tends to let me stop thinking of them as people.  I’m trying to work on this.  This tendency is part of who I am, but, whether you call it transhumanism or dressing up as Christ, I’m trying my darndest to burn it out.


*The title of this post is “In anger, truth.”  When I was asking college friends for help checking my declensions, one suggested that “In furia veritas” would “either mean we tell the truth when we are furious or at least one of the furies tells the truth.”

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