Social media is a privilege, not a right

Cry Baby Milo

 

After I wrote a piece for Splice Today, I thought I was done writing about anything related to Milo Yiannopoulos. I don’t agree with him politically, and personally, well, he really likes attention and I’m the sort of person who considers Thomas Pynchon a role model for self-promotion. I think his support for Donald Trump is rooted in the idea that narcissists like other narcissists.

However, Yiannopoulos has been suspended from Twitter indefinitely, and it has reignited the free speech debates. Since my article was a defense of Yiannopoulos speaking on campus in the face of some genuinely daffy protestors, I thought I’d weigh in.

Twitter’s ban is not a violation of Yiannopoulos’s free speech rights. He’s been suspended at least once before and had his little blue checkmark taken away. Much of it is rooted in his habit of instigating harassment—and harassment is not protected speech. He’s an adult and a public figure, and his behavior should be held to a higher standard. That’s not to suggest that regular people should be allowed to get away with harassing others on social media, but holding public figures accountable does send a message that this behavior is unacceptable. Twitter has a greater obligation to keep its users safe from harassment than to provide a platform for it.

If we were talking about the government interfering Yiannopoulos’s output, then it would be a very different conversation. Even then, harassment is still not protected speech.

The reason I defended Yiannopoulos in regard to his campus appearances is because going to college means exposure to a range of ideas, and guest speakers are a part of that. He was often a guest of student groups, attendance was voluntary, and he said he never got paid for these appearances. I don’t see anything objectionable in that. While I also believe that one’s right to protest should be defended, I’m under no obligation to be silent if I think the rationale behind a protest is loopy, which I go into greater detail about in the article. I think all those protestors accomplished was garnering more attention for a professional attention whore.

I don’t think the Twitter ban spells Yiannopoulos’s doom. He still has access to other social media platforms and he can still write his column without fear of being thrown into a gulag. While his message means nothing to me, Yiannopoulos is smart and creative enough to find new ways to market himself, and his devotees will come running. He may be down, but he’s not out. We’re stuck with him.

 

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What I’m talking about when I talk about control freaks

In the last few pieces I wrote for Splice Today, I made references to some of the more aggressive protestors, particularly on campus, as control freaks. In a Twitter exchange from a few weeks ago with Noah Berlatsky (where he took the piss out of me—thanks, buddy), it occurred to me that I should be a little more specific, and I’ve mulling it over ever since.

I was reminded of it when I was watching a talk with American feminist/activist Gloria Steinem and Egyptian feminist/journalist Mona Eltahawy from 2012. During the Q&A session at the very end, a rather impertinent question was directed at Eltahawy, where a woman in the audience was demanding to know why a self-proclaimed Egyptian feminist like her is no longer living in Egypt, and not doing more to end female genital mutilation and distribute birth control. Eltahawy’s answer was pretty straightforward and simple: “As a feminist, I would never tell another woman what to do. It’s not your place to tell me where I should be, it’s not your place to tell me what work I should do. I think I can figure out for myself what work I should do…and don’t come to my conversation to tell me what I should be doing.”

To be fair, the woman asking the question does go out of her way to declare that she is not a feminist. But the exchange between her and Eltahawy is an example of what I’ve thought about in regard to feminism, liberalism, and control freaks. (In this particular example, thought, I regard the woman in the audience as the control freak, not Eltahawy).

What it comes down to is this: if you don’t trust someone to make their own decisions, you find ways to control them. If you don’t like what someone has to day, you shout them down, you rip the mic from their hands. You enforce codes of conduct on their behavior and their speech. You’re telling prospective listeners you don’t trust their decision-making. And you give up any hope you have of being seen as less than a tyrant.

Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental of human rights, once you get past the things you need for basic survival (clean water, health care, etc.). Protecting it means keeping our society free and open. It also means protecting the expression of ideas you don’t agree with, even if you know those ideas are appallingly bad.

I foundationally view feminism as a human rights movement, so I naturally view protecting the free expression of women to be paramount—and that includes women like Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin, who I find perpetually disagreeable. And protecting the free expression of women shouldn’t come at the expense of men we disagree with—and yes, that includes Milo “Feminism Is Cancer” Yiannopoulos. I admit that it’s a long hard slog; there has been a backlash against the fight for women’s rights as long as there has been a fight for women’s rights. As my mother likes to say, “The battle of the sexes is eternal.”

If there is any advice I have for any lefties who don’t regard me as a traitor, it would be this: understand the Streisand Effect. Understand that by saying, “Don’t look at that,” everyone will look. If you try to ban someone from speaking publicly, you will only arouse curiosity in the person or idea you are trying to ban.

If you loathe someone, set them free.

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Sebastian Junger’s PTSD Hypothesis

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Sebastian Junger’s work as an author and documentary filmmaker has been, for the last 10 years, been largely centered on the War on Terror, often going into the field in Afghanistan with the US military. His newest book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, is on the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of returning soldiers. His very direct, hands-on experience has given him some very unique insights into the warrior psyche, including what becomes of these fighters when they come home.

Junger describes PTSD as a “disorder of transition,” explaining in a recent TED Talk that “maybe what determines long-term PTSD isn’t what happened out there, but the kind of society you come back to. In close, cohesive, tribal society, you can get over trauma pretty quickly. If you come back to an alienating, modern society, you might remain traumatized your entire life. Maybe the problem isn’t the vets, maybe it’s us.”

As he spoke, I thought of the other large group of traumatized people in our society: rape victims. There’s no shortage of personal accounts to be found where rape victims have described their experiences in a similar way—that while being violated was terrible, trying to report the crime was even worse than the crime itself. Too often, rape victims report being met with indifference and/or disbelief when seeking out help from the law enforcement and healthcare professionals who are supposed to have their best interests in mind. In the Pulitzer Prize winning article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” a woman who already has mental health issues is raped during a home invasion, and is so disbelieved by police and her own guardians, that she ends up being charged with filing a false report. Video evidence made by the rapist of that assault is eventually found when he’s caught continuing to rape women in another state.

That story, to me, is a good illustration of what Junger is talking about in regard to the relationship between alienation and trauma. In the intervening years between the woman’s assault and finally being vindicated, the agony of her situation must have been unbearable. While this may be an extreme example, it’s not terribly unusual. As much as everyone says rape is a terrible crime, and perpetrators need to be held accountable, we’re not very good at following through on those words.

Nowhere is that clearer than in regard to prison rape. American society is notoriously short on sympathy for criminals as it is, and that lack of sympathy gets in the way of our pragmatism. What I mean is this: nearly everyone who goes to prison will eventually get out. Whatever trauma they endure in prison stays with them. While going out into the world as a former prisoner is itself already alienating, I can see where society’s condoning attitude about prison rape can make it even more difficult to work past the trauma and work to rebuild one’s life. It’s likely an overlooked component as to why the recidivism rate is so high.

To bring this back to the military, rape still remains a complex problem. To focus on the nature of alienation, less than 1% of Americans have served since 9/11. When we talk about military rape victims, we’re talking about an even smaller group. Throw the trauma of war into that mix, and coming to home to feelings of isolation is inevitable.

That so many PTSD sufferers remain isolated and alienated, it’s on us. We remain beholden to bad ideas, and forget that ideas can be altered. New information and research breakthroughs are happening all the time. Our unwillingness to adapt to newer ideas is rooted in a fear of looking like we’re weak, or wrong. But putting our own stupid pride ahead of the legitimate needs of others is what makes us weak.

In an interview with MSNBC, Junger went off on the social and political polarity that impedes progress on veterans’ care: “To sustain a national conversation we have to see ourselves as a unity. We don’t. The political parties are at each others’ throats, we live in racially segregated communities, economically segregated communities. There are politicians and leaders in media who literally talk about some fellow citizens as if they are traitors…As if they are rivals who actively want to hurt the country. They talk about [the] president that way, they talk about members of Congress, elements of the population, as if they are actually trying to harm their own country. When you talk like that, you are talking non-tribally. When you use that about people inside your own camp, you are dividing a society. And interestingly, it is a very deeply unpatriotic thing to do. If that is the norm, if that is acceptable to voters, to have people talk like that, you are never going to have a national conversation about anything.”

Categories: Books, Guy Stuff, Lady Issues, Politics & Society | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

On Grief and Writer’s Block

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Even the great ones are plagued with self-doubt

 

It’s been about a year since my best friend took his life, and in the past year, my writing productivity has largely dried up. At best I could write in my journal, but mostly I looked at the blank page with contempt. When that happens, anguish wins.

I’ve come to realize that I really wasn’t dealing with my grief at all, or even acknowledging it. It eventually manifested into a kind of paralysis that spread to other areas of my life—I wasn’t exercising, I was eating badly, and just going through the motions of daily life, finding it impossible to really enjoy anything. I’m sure that I wasn’t much fun to be around, and I’m impressed as hell that I have any friends left.

The catalyst for change came in November when I hurt my back. After a long weekend at work, working two 10-hour days in a row, I dove into a mindless day of running around, and after getting in and out of the car a dozen times, my lower back just locked.

So here it was, I reached the point where my body was following my mind down the path of non-function. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I could feel myself shutting down, but I knew I had reached the precipice. I could either figure out how to fight back, or give up. This was the point where I had to put my big stupid ego aside and ask for help.

I’m very fortunate that I found a very nice physical therapist who was very patient with my moody and cantankerous bitching. I’ve also found a very nice brain therapist who has been excellent at letting me vent about a lot things that I’ve allowed to build up. Through this process, I started to look forward to writing again. I finally finished a piece that took me out of my comfort zone, which made me take a long look at my goals as writer.

I’ve written in the past about the threats women writers face on the Internet. With my friend’s death happening on the heels of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, in addition to the fallout from Rolling Stone’s campus rape story, I think some of my grief wandered into a paranoia about what kind of consequences I might face for my words. I’ve largely viewed my writing as a kind of commentary, but I’ve become increasingly frustrated with that role. The source of my frustration is really in how dogmatic a lot of feminist discourse has gotten.

In my view, the Rolling Stone story fell apart because the author allowed herself to put her agenda ahead of getting her facts straight, and the magazine enabled her. Realizing I didn’t want to ever find myself in the same position, I started getting reacquainted with some basics of journalism. Even commentary is supposed to have its information together to make a solid argument. What’s bothered me in the past year is that I haven’t seen enough soul-searching. In fact, I feel as though I’ve seen a deliberate unwillingness to not learn the lessons of what happened at Rolling Stone. When I read some articles, it kills me to see how some authors are contorting information to fit their world view instead of building conclusions based on the information at hand. So I’ve often felt like I don’t fit into a lot of feminist writing—I’m not a socialist, I don’t see every man as a potential rapist; I think feminism should really focus more on policy failures than policing behavior. As I’ve looked at some of my work, I fully realize that I’m guilty of the very same things I’ve just criticized. So if I’m going to gripe about feminist writers not holding themselves to an especially high standard, then I need to start with myself.

I’m at a place where I feel like I’m starting over. It’s both very liberating and incredibly frightening. But for the first time in a long time, I feel some real optimism about my life and my work.

I still miss my friend something awful. I always will. What initially brought us together was a mutual appreciation for old school punk rock, but what made us friends was that we both looked for life off the beaten path. He had a generous spirit, and was probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. I wish he made it.

May the road rise with you…

 

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How I learned to exile the Kardashians/Jenners from my Facebook feed (Well, mostly)

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“Thumbs Down” by Jaz Jacobi

 

I hate the Kardashians. I hate all of the reality shows. I hate most of what’s on TV, on the radio, and at the multiplex. It’s not that I’m especially negative, I’m just a snob. I don’t just want art, I want good art. When I watch or read the news, I don’t just want to be informed, I want to be enlightened. In short, I’m a very demanding consumer. I demand more than the media wants to give me.

The Kardashian/Jenner clan makes the news a lot, so in my list of news sites on Facebook that I like to read, those people pop up a lot. More than I’d like to see. Far more than is ever relevant to most of my interests. So the question became: how can I read the news I want from sites I like without swimming through Kardashian/Jenner sludge?

With the shared links, there’s a little arrow to the side of them with a dropdown list. In that dropdown list, there is the option to “hide post.” When I found that, I started to “hide post” to every Kardashian/Jenner post in my feed. After a couple days of this, they started to disappear.

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However, all is not well. Sometimes an article about pregnancy risks would feature a picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian, or an article about transgender rights or health issues would use a picture of Caitlyn Jenner. Then the articles actually about the Kardashian/Jenner tribe would slowly start to creep back. So, it’s something of a cycle, but it is an interesting insight into how the Facebook feed functions.

What I’ve come to resent is that the algorithms Facebook uses to “feed” me articles act like they know what I want to read more than I do. I also dislike how most of what’s being pushed the hardest seems to be the most stupid, or maybe my taste isn’t as discriminating as I like to think. Either way, I’ve found that “hiding” the stuff* that I think is a waste of time has made my social media time more useful. I think if more people were to make use of this function in the same way, it would be interesting to see how the news is tailored in response.

 

*In addition to the Kardashian/Jenner family, I’ve also started to use the function on other corners of pop culture I despise as well—those awful Real Housewives of Bravo, or anything pertaining to Victoria’s Secret.

 

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