Decorum is Optional? (Aka: Character assassination is bad, mmmkay?)

A while back, there was a big kerfluffle and it seemed like everybody and their brother on the internet was raining hate on people. Now, it’s going on again. I’m sitting here looking at this business and wondering how on Earth we can expect to be taken seriously when disagreements turn into screaming cat-fights (at best) or prolonged campaigns of (attempted) character assassination. Honestly, I don’t know why there is such a preponderance of individuals who feel that smearing their opponent’s good name with mud and essentially trying to convince everyone they should be hated via accusations that they do something heinous, like eat babies or something.

Look, folks, I understand the pagan community is a diverse place. I recognize that there is a wide range of educational levels and experience. I recognize that everyone communicates a bit differently from everyone else and that miscommunication is going to happen. I even understand that due to the nature of communication via the internet, there are going to be things that translate really poorly and quite likely will offend someone despite an earnest intent not to do so. I get all that. I understand that communication is shakey at best under those conditions sometimes, but is extremely poor when there is a lot of emotion involved.

I appreciate all of that. I really, really do. And I can accept that it happens. I’m a big girl with her big girl panties on. I question, however, just what these people who are out there trying to use character assassination are trying to do? What is the long term goals here? Let’s say that Zaphoid B. is a pro at this internet character assassination and he’s squared off at Ford P. Let’s say that our boy Zaphoid has managed to chase Ford off and reduce him to a psychologically scarred wreck that can’t even sit at a text prompt with out having some sort of PTSD flashback issues now. This doesn’t make Zaphoid the big dog or the king of the hill here. All it does is traumatizes Ford and demonstrate how much of a troglodyte Zaphoid is. (Actually, troglodyte isn’t the right word. That’s insulting the ancient critters, they evolved to higher life forms. Our guy Zaphoid doesn’t seem to have such redeeming qualities.)

Being the schoolyard bully doesn’t make you the better person. It marks you as an abusive creature that may be a sadist or perhaps someone sociopathic. No one wants to really be around Zaphoid. His hanger-ons are participating in some group-think nonsense and, on some level, they’re afraid that Z is going to turn that bit of monstrosity onto them. Zaphoid is someone that I would point at and say they are the dregs of society, regardless of where they pop up. We’ve got some version of ol’ Z in every social arena. We apparently can’t escape the bastard unless we go become hermits on the mountain. Even then, there’s a chance that Zaphoid is going to try to start something via carrier pigeon if he’s decided that we’re a fine target to vent his spleen on.

Now, why in the Nine worlds are we seeing people lining up to join Zaphoid’s cult? Because you disagree with something Ford said? Really? There’s far more civil ways to handle it than assaulting someone’s character. Hiding in the rank and file of Zaphoid’s cult and shouting out slurs doesn’t absolve you of the fact that you are making yourself into part of the problem of the internet culture. It is a sign of cowardice. For some odd reason, there appears to be an extra large heaping portion of that kind of behavior to go around in the pagan community right now.

I have this crazy idea. Someone tell me if I am way off in left field here. Sound off in the comments or something. But, my wild idea is that if you disagree with someone, propose a reasoned counter argument. Rather than attacking the person making the argument, go after the flaws in their argument and stick to the points of discussion rather than shady ad hominem nonsense. I know this is a revolutionary concept right now. If you feel strongly that someone is wrong about a major thing and you feel you must blog about it, sit right down and do so. And when you make that blog post, dismantle their argument and show all the reasons why it is incorrect.

It is possible to have an argument with someone and not have it turn into lobbing insults. It is possible to even have a HEATED argument with someone and still be respectful. Wild, isn’t it? I know, I am at times something of a Pollyanna. I don’t think, however, this is one of those cases. You see, I am living proof that it is possible to do so. I have very strong disagreements with Beloved on a regular basis. About once a year or so, we’ll get into an argument. There is no shouting. There is no name calling. There is no insulting another’s intelligence or otherwise being a right bastard about it.

Here’s our secret for how to not act like Zaphoid:

Treat each other how we would like for ourselves to be treated.

This is such a basic thing that even my six and eight year old boys get it. There is no reason for someone to be treating someone else like utter garbage. You can scorn someone. You can utterly despise them. It is still possible to treat them with respect. And the reason why you treat them with respect is not because you necessarily respect that person. It is because you respect yourself.

Because what does it say about your self respect when you lower yourself to behaving like Zaphoid? I don’t know about you, but from where I stand, treating people like they’re less than deserving of the barest minimum of respect you demand for yourself is telling the person you’re treating that way it is ok to turn around and do that to you. You’re setting up a silent social construct wherein you are giving permission to the scorned and insulted person to treat you in the same fashion. You are demonstrating how you prefer to be treated with this conduct.

I know that there are a lot of people in the pagan culture who hate the idea that we must all ‘play nice’ and somehow create a homogeneous cultural attitude. That is not what I am talking about. There are going to be people who are too ‘hard core’ for the social niceties that others would insist on. There are going to be people who have inherent fundamental disagreements over what is proper decorum in ninety percent of the settings where you can think of some sort of social interaction is going to happen. I accept this. I actually think that these sorts of things are good because they force us to stop and look at ourselves and how we are doing things. Self-reflection is part of the path to wisdom.

What I’m talking about is people deciding that anonymous satire is an excuse to attack the people they don’t like and accuse them of doing it, when there is literally no evidence for it. I’m talking about people parroting hate towards a person because it is the trending topic, never mind whatever the consequences of that will be. I’m talking about people who engage in harassment so severe that people come away from being the subject of it psychologically harmed. This stuff is not ok.

This is a problem. Whole swaths of people in the pagan community are quiet on this front. This is not acceptable. This type of behavior is what drives vulnerable people to suicide. You see it in young adults who are subjected to this from their peers. This type of behavior can lead to people losing the livelihood. This type of behavior is what will destroy us if we let it. At one point, someone told me that this type of bullying (which is a term for this, but no one really wants to say it is a real problem and wish to ignore that it happens outside of the schoolyard) was pack mentality. I was told that it was an attempt to enforce pack order and a natural result of pack dynamics.

If you want to take the pack behavior argument, that is fine. There is one problem with that. We are not like wolves. We have the capacity to transcend such things. If we didn’t we would have never created civilization. It took more than just opposable thumbs to make that happen. That same little nugget of brain-meat that allowed us to go from creatures of pure instinct to creatures of reason is what we need to apply in this case as well. Because, guess what, if we’re not applying it, then we are going to see things get ugly really, really fast.

Use your higher brain functions. Use your manners. Respect yourself. However you want to phrase it, start applying it. Psychological abuse is intolerable. We do not put up with people randomly beating each other in the street. We should not put up with people engaging in the same level of causing harm on the psychological level.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Yes, I referenced character names from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Given the level of absurdity of the entire mess, it seemed the only fitting choice.

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