Note to Self: Block More People on Social Media
Over the past few months I’ve been involved in discussion of hate speech laws in Ireland, meaning a lot of time on daily political discussion on twitter. This has crystallised feelings I’ve been having for a while on how best to interact with malign political and philosophical opponents, and the way in which activists not just entertain themselves, but make their livelihood by monopolising the attention of their opponents. I’m starting to resent the feeling that I am keeping the people I dislike in a position of cultural dominance with my antipathy and am wondering what I can do about that. My thoughts on this have been prompted by two further things.
The first was reading David Swift’s book “A left to Itself”. Swift is a left-wing writer who thinks that effective left-wing activism is being frustrated by “hobbyists”, people voluntarily who adopt extravagantly enlightened poses to enable their own social elevation. His description:
“Recent years have seen the emergence of a type of left-wing politics that is not primarily motivated by effecting real change, and is better understood as less of a political movement and more as a form of identity or enjoyable past-time… there is an unmistakable growth of a trend on the left which sees hardship and deprivation as status symbols to be desired rather than limitations to be fought against.”
Swift’s use of this term “hobbyist” certainly captures something — that some activism is about social positioning and not achieving anything important or good. But there’s something missing from the term “Hobbyist” that is also missing from “Virtue Signalling”. Both imply something recreational, and that doesn’t reflect my experiences with the hobbyists and the virtue-signallers. I’m talking about people who will say purposely outrageous (false, cruel, crazy, obnoxious) things in order to elevate themselves amongst their compatriots. That’s their first audience, and their first purpose. The second audience is you — the person who notices how false or cruel or crazy what they’re saying and calls them out on it. They are not doing this to pass the time. The social positioning has materially positive outcomes for the people who do it.
The second thing is that over Christmas, on Irish Twitter, a local racial entrepreneur caused two-day outrage cycle by claiming to have been targeted for racial harassment when a waiter in a hotel restaurant gave her fruit juice instead of wine. I’m not going to name the individual or link to the tweets — it happened. It’s not hard to believe — even if you’re not familiar with the story you will be familiar with others like it; as a I write this an equivalent figure in the UK has done something similar by appearing on national breakfast TV programme to accuse all white people of racism and refusing point-blank to provide examples of racism when asked.
In the Irish case, the activist managed to get a public apology from the hotel for the presumed poor conduct of their staff. Pause and imagine the buzz of the grift: how sweet it would be if you could get your own back on everyone who had arrived at your table late, or brought you the wrong dish or the or short changed you in a restaurant. It must be so satisfying to call a crazy tune and have everyone jump. So that’s one reason people behave this way.
But there’s more than the personal satisfaction of the grifter. By creating this kind of stir this person maintains their media profile, so that the next time the establishment national media need to platform to someone to talk about the racism of Irish people, this name is on the tip of their tongue. The person in question has appeared on the national broadcaster in this capacity in the past. The number and nature of some of the replies to her story gives her something to point to as evidence she is under attack, and that what she is saying is therefore true. Evidence is important because in a verifiably non-racist society she doesn’t get paid — so whatever receipts she can produce are of value. Every tweet telling her to shut up may as well be a donation in the bank.
An activist, signaller, hobbyist (whatever) of this type truly embodies the Alinskyian principle that “the true action is in the enemy reaction.” “Action” in this case means media exposure, private and public funding, sympathy, and career success. I am (and you are) funding this scam with my attention, and my reaction.
You are on social media to talk about culture and politics and to have fun.
It’s fun to dunk on someone who believes they are tweeting at the plebs from on high. It’s also fun to watch someone obnoxiously dangle a piece of bait in the water and get swarmed by piranhas. It’s fun to watch accounts to get hit with a ban-hammer and pop back up doing exactly the same thing like nothing happened. If you have fun trolling, that’s fine, but a troll is someone who “makes a deliberately offensive or provocative post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them” (by one definition I found). In the example above, the hobbyist is the troll, and you’re the sucker. The next time she’s on TV it will be because you put her there. That isn’t fun.
What’s the alternative to being a career-enabling customer of someone else’s outrage? Tactics and approaches:
1) The key operating principle must be that “I will never interact with my philosophical opponents in a way that makes them stronger.”
2) Block and blocklist people who are constantly trying to use your attention for their own gain. Not everyone is worth interacting with; sometimes the best way of countering someone is making them irrelevant, impotent and excluded. Doing this has the added bonus of meaning you’re less likely to get banned.
3) Choose not to say anything. Again — not everything is worth responding to. If you don’t respond to the (say) Salon article about drag queen story-time, someone else will. It’s OK.
4) “I see what you’re doing” — where someone is using supposed allyship as a social positioning, point out directly that’s what they’re doing.
5) If you have the platform, ask that they formally defend their beliefs in a neutral setting, and if they can’t, put them in the rear view mirror (Gearoid Murphy explains better than I can from about 45:30 here).
6) Be an effective opponent by creating content for them to react to rather than reacting to theirs.
Responding to every irritation that catches your attention is like popping pimples. It’s satisfying, but it’s monotonous and pointless and you risk spreading the disease.
BAP has in the past quoted Nietzsche’s phrase that a philosopher should seek to embody the characteristics most absent from his time. The behaviour of some activists embodies much of what is worst about our world — petty, devious, underhanded, insincere, valorising weakness and ugliness. Aside from anything else, limiting interactions with these people is a way of rejecting all these things. Existing as part of a community of creators, and looking past rather than at your opponent, has the added benefit of allowing you to focus on solving a problem, rather than scratching at the symptoms in a way that makes you sicker.