Many a year ago, there was a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter. It was kind of a big deal. Eventually, it came to symbolize a whole bunch of things that I approve of. So then sit-ins kind of became a thing. Also be-ins, love-ins, smoke-ins, etc.-ins. It was, forgive me here, the in thing. And I'm kind of all good, here. People do-in things. Things that needed doing. Or things that were fun to do.
Now and again, people attempting to accomplish things I vastly disapprove of have sit-ins of their own. Certain anti-abortion activists have tried sit-ins at clinics which also provide abortions. There have been other sit-ins for causes I truly hate. The March on Washington was a transformative moment in our national conversation on racism. Since then, there have been many, many marches in and around Washington for many many causes, some of which I admire, some of which I am confused by, some of which I oppose with every fiber of my being. When people do things that really piss me off, like sitting in front of a clinic which provides abortions to prevent people from getting the medical care that they need, I often hear this behavior defended using the idea that since I approve of the concept of a sit-in to protest racism, it is hypocritical of me to oppose a sit-in to protest abortion. To which I say, in my most polite tone of voice, "Please fuck the hell off."
I'd like to say that tactics are value-neutral, but of course, they aren't. When you choose a tactic, you are choosing to hurt some people, and not others. Like every other action we take in life, it has ramifications and consequences. When you take an action, you are making choices about who bears the cost of those actions. When the nice young men decided to close down the Woolworth's counter by sitting there and offering to pay good money for service, they were making a choice about who and how they hurt people. The poor waitron who got no tips that shift? They hurt him/her. Possibly they put that person into an incredibly uncomfortable position. I think that their judgment that this amount of collateral damage was reasonable given the situation was correct. I have no idea how seriously they thought about it; literally no idea.
It is not useful to detach tactics from goals. It is utterly reasonable to point out how a tactic makes achieving a specific goal more or less likely. Tactics that alienate the people that the movement is trying to champion are almost always a really bad idea. The Left is really good at that particular error, gods bless them. Tactics should support the intended outcome. And pretty much every tactic carries with it a cost as well as a benefit.
So, on to Requires Hate. If you haven't been following along (and I certainly wasn't), or if you need a quick refresher course along with an incredibly useful analysis of the whole situation, do please seen Laura Mixon's post: http://laurajmixon.com/2014/11/a-report-on-damage-done-by-one-individual-under-several-names
So, Requires Hate, who has many other nom-de-nets, has done a whole hell of a lot of rage blogging, and a lot of sock-puppeting, and wreaked a swath of destruction which is amazing to contemplate. Kind of terribly bad. Genuinely damaging to my community. Really, read Laura Mixon's post. It's illuminating. But in trying to understand and process this stuff, people are starting to focus on Requires Hate's tactics.
So, the thing that RH did which was both incredibly cunning and incredibly damaging was that she repurposed both the anger of the oppressed and the language of social justice to censor, oppress, torment, bully, and destroy people. Evidence suggests that she did particularly targeted people that she envied, often people who were marginalized because of race, sex, or sexual preference. And because she presents herself as of an oppressed race, sex, and sexual preference, it was particularly hard to call her to task for this. She was very good at using the rhetoric and framework of an oppressed minority to do this. She also used rage in this way. And so people are starting to criticize most especially the use of anger, but also in some cases, the use of that particular tool-box of rhetorical tricks, as if it were the tool-box that is at fault, and as if we could stop this type of abuse if we just accept that those particular tactics are unacceptable.
Tactics are not value-neutral. They tend to hurt people. They tend to have costs. But the way we should evaluate them is not in a vacuum. Instead, we need to understand what goals they are in pursuit of, and judge them within that context. Context always matters. And goals, goals matter a whole hell of a lot.
I'm not real fond of judging people based on motive. Motives are basically a black box. I believe they exist, and inform the actions of people, but in the end, the only thing I can actually see is what they do. And if their motives are pure, but their actions are destructive, I worry a lot less about their intent than the result of their actions. I can see real-world results. I can't see their heart. And tactics are a little like that. I can't know too much about why people deploy certain tactics. I can guess, psychoanalyze, and interpret, but in the end, what I'm left with are real world results. Who benefited, who was hurt, how consistently did that happen, did the person employing those tactics adjust their tactics based on results.
You know, I probably have room in my life for a rage blogger about books. I kind of like invective. I've been known to indulge. Refer back to my rant about the movie Prometheus, for example. One of these days, I shall probably rant about the television show Scandal. I was very fond of Television Without Pity's synopses of Veronica Mars, wherein I discovered that Duncan was best described as a potted plant. There was a lot of contempt and anger in those posts, and gods know I wasn't kind about that Prometheus. There is a strong argument that this was a similar tactic to what Requires Hate used in her blog. (We're temporarily ignoring the various stalking behaviors, and flat-out lying she did about the texts she reviewed.) If we restrict ourselves to looking at tactics, we would have to conclude that my rage blogging about a movie or television show and RH's rage blogging about books are morally equivalent. But the damage my blogging did, and the damage it was intended to do, are extremely different from what RH did and evidently wanted to do. (I am inferring intent based on actions and results. I am not claiming to actually know her mind.)
A long time ago, I went to a workshop for budding activists. One of the things I concluded was that I probably wasn't cut out to be an activist. But the second day of the seminar, I got into a conversation with a nice young woman. The seminar was being put on as an attempt to honor Paul Wellstone's legacy, and George Bush was president. So, we were all reasonably assumed to be leftists, and pissed off at GWB. The nice girl next to me expressed doubt about the harsh judgments that were being made about the Shrub, and said that it wasn't fair because as far as she could tell, he was sincere, and who were we to judge?
Who are we to judge? Who else is there? How else is civility and community to be maintained, if we refuse to judge actions? And worse, if we only judge motives and sincerity, how can we make any judgments at all? We cannot read the hearts and minds of men. (If you think you can, please seek immediate psychiatric help. Seriously.) But someone must judge our actions. Someone must look at the way we move through the world, the way we solve problems, the people we are willing to hurt, the ways we learn or refuse to learn, the damage and good that we do, and make judgments. We must judge ourselves, but we must also judge each other and hold each other to account, not for the secrets in our hearts, but for our actions in the world. We are real, and we hurt and bleed and dance and sing. It is right and proper that we look at each other with compassion, but also hold each other to account. When we choose an action, we may or may not know the results of that action. Error happen. But change and learning also happen. And there is no one else who can judge us. We must judge ourselves. Who are we to judge? The only people who can.
When we judge tactics, it is necessary and appropriate to understand those tactics within a context. Who was hurt? Who was targeted? What was accomplished? I believe that there are times to say terrible things. I believe there are times to be tactful. The virtue I hold supreme is kindness. If cruelty is the actual, observed goal, I don't care which tactics you are currently using. I've seen cruelty accomplished with the gentle language of psychotherapy as well as the cutting instrument of obscene invective. And I've seen kindness demonstrated using both of those techniques, as well. How matters, god knows, but never as distinct from what.