This is what happens on the internet

by Glenn on June 22, 2018

The U.S. Women’s National Volleyball team is one of 16 teams who are playing in the inaugural  Volleyball Nations League over five weeks this summer. (Preliminary rounds are over. Six teams, including the USA remain and are headed to China for the finals.) Part of my following their play is that I pay attention to a volleyball message board called Volleytalk.

With rare exceptions, people who engage with the site have user names that are anonymous, although many user names may indicate allegiance to a particular (usually NCAA) team, for example “sunsuphornsup” might be a Texas fan and “huskerjen” we may assume supports Nebraska volleyball.

Four weeks weeks ago, the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball team beat the team from Japan in a second round of matches in the Volleyball Nations League. Matches like this tend to get some discussion on Volleytalk, both in real time as people watching make comments and then after the fact, when further discussion continues as others watch replays and/or continue the discussion.

This match received its own thread: 2018 FIVB VNL: USA v. Japan – Tues, May 22, 6:10 AM EDT. I watched some of the match on a replay (the live stream was in the middle of the night here on the West Coast), then I went to the thread at Volleytalk to see what insights I might find. Japan is the sixth-ranked team in the world but lost in straight sets. My recollection is that the U.S. never trailed in the first two sets and came from behind in the third set to close out the match.

One poster, Akbar (now known as Original Questioner), asked,

“Is this a good Japan team? at least potentially?”

It seemed like a good question. Often, someone on Volleytalk will have a good answer. Many times someone will say such and such team is good but then another poster will say that under normal circumstances that’s true but that right now for various reasons ranging from injury to or resting major player(s) to trying out some younger players for a particular match or tournament, expectations about the team need to be tempered. You learn things. I suspect the Original Questioner was hoping to get some background like this. It’s the kind of thing I value in the site.

[1]

Ironhammer (First Responder) replied,

“They need to work out some chinks in their armor first.”

As I read that response, I thought I understood the metaphor. It made sense as a combat metaphor for a sport that tracks “kills” as one of its statistics, though, as someone would later point out, First Responder didn’t take time to articulate what the “chinks in their armor” were. Basically, their answer to the question of whether or not Japan was a good team was, “They need to address their weaknesses.” So, if I was going to criticize the response, I would say that it lacked detail and merely stated the obvious. In other words, it didn’t really answer the question.

Others took issue with the statement on racist grounds.

[2]

Sunsuphornsup (Objectioner 1) responded to First Responder with,

“Chinks? Poor word choice.”

I hadn’t made that connection.

If you want to use “Chinks” as a derogatory term, it seems like it refers to Chinese people, not Japanese, but I understand why someone would have a problem with it. Interesting, though, that they didn’t use the whole phrase, “chinks in their armor,” but took this one word in isolation, which is much more troubling when pulled out of that context.

Slate Magazine some years ago proposed pulling the whole expression from the English Lexicon because that one word can be used as an epithet.

[3]

Original Questioner replied with just an emoji, which I think indicates “Hmmmm.”:

🤔

At this point, if I am First Responder, I might have clarified my intentions. I might have offered another metaphor—”strengthen their weak links,” “plug the leaks,” “deal with their Achilles’ heal,” etc. First Responder took a different tack (just to get the metaphors completely mixed up).

This being a sports-focused (mostly, with occasional and usually disagreeable forays into politics) message board, it’s likely that many of the participants are sports people, therefore competitive. First Responder appears to fall into this group. Their response was to strike back.

[4]

First Responder reacted to “Chinks? Poor word choice” rather aggressively (and, perhaps hastily as indicated by the second sentence):

“Do you prefer dents? People needs to be stop being [sic] so hypersensitive and see [sic] racist comments in every posts. The proper usage of the term is indeed ‘chinks in their armor’. The racist term ‘chinks’ by contrast, is usually in reference to Chinese, not Japanese.”

“Dents” (in their armor) doesn’t make sense to me. Seems more like it describes an aesthetic issue about the armor than it denotes actual weakness in the armor. I don’t see a word that would substitute easily. Does “gaps,” perhaps, come closer to the original intent of the word? Everything that follows seems correct, but is not ameliorating.

It’s challenging to understand intent, but it doesn’t seem like this response is going resolve anything to anyone’s satisfaction.

It’s also hard to know what different people want to get from their experience on Volleytalk, but virtues of forbearance, mutual understanding, respect, cooperation, assuming the best about and in others, etc. will soon seem in short supply.

The answer for Objectioner 1 will be an unstated no.

[5]

Objectioner 1 answers the question, “Do you prefer dents?”, with,

“Or maybe just quit being lazy with your words. And chinks as a derogatory term is not excluded [sic] to the Chinese 🙄.”

Since First Responder didn’t use the word “chink” by itself, it doesn’t seem quite fair to pull that word out (now for a second time) and use it in isolation, but they did.

[6]

Undeterred, First Responder hits back,

“Or maybe people need to stop with the political correctness madness and see [sic] racism in places where it doesn’t exist. ;-|

“‘Not excluded to the Chinese’? You mean, not exclusive to the Chinese? The ‘chink’ term was indeed targeted at Chinese. Only ignorant racists would then confuse a Chinese with a Japanese.  But it’s all off-topic issue for another day. Only someone intent on stirring the pot will insist this must be a racist post.”

Funny, First Responder is correcting Objectioner 1‘s grammar even as they committed their own error (“see” instead of “seeing” for the second time plus whatever was going on with “People needs to be stop being” in the earlier post.) I think First Responder might have said “seeing,” as in “stop seeing racism . . . ” The thing is, you can’t get too worked up about punctuation and grammar on Volleytalk, although some do.

“Ignorant racist” doesn’t seem like it’s going to generate positive discussion.

 

[7]

No surprise, Objectioner 1 was not satisfied with the response and fired back,

“It was a poor choice of words and lazy commentary. You literally said nothing useful in response to the person’s question. What armor? What chink?

“With your explanation above, your actions on this board make more sense in the context of your world view.”

When Objectioner 1 asks, “What armor? What chink?” it feels like they are either reading much too literally or not trying hard enough to read. It does seem like a fairly common expression. But their comment, “You literally said nothing useful in response to the person’s question,” is spot on.

Hard to know how much history these two combatants have on this message board. Objectioner 1 seems to indicate that this message from First Responder fits into an observable pattern and an identifiable world view. But there isn’t any sort of detail or evidence here to make their case.

One of the grammar-related things that happens on this message board is that if you post something, you can go back and edit it. However, if someone has already quoted your post, when you go back and make an edit, it only changes the original post. It does not change the post as it was quoted. Because of this you can see that Objectioner 1 used the word “excluded” and, then, when First Responder corrected (mocked?) them, they went back and edited their post so that it now reads, “exclusively.”

While editing, Objectioner 1 also added the following (perhaps as a result of the “ignorant racist” epithet):

“I don’t use the term faggot to describe a bundle of sticks because I’m not a douche bag.”

I have a couple of problems with Objectioner 1‘s addition here:

One, does anyone in this country (U.S.A.) use the word “faggot” to describe a stick? Isn’t kindling the more usual term for a bundle of sticks? Even in England, I think, the word is more commonly used as an alternate to cigarette rather than in the context of “throw another faggot on the fire.” At any rate, this expression doesn’t seem an even comparison.

Two, if you are trying to make the case that a certain person’s use of a term is derogatory, I’m not sure we need an analogy to understand. But then using an analogy that uses a derogatory term while trying to claim moral superiority sets off the irony alarm for me. (It will go off again in this stream of responses.) In other words, when you want to say you don’t use derogatory terms, but you use a derogatory term, aren’t you, in fact, using a derogatory term?

[8]

A new poster, hornshouse23 (Objectioner 2, perhaps another Texas fan) enters the discussion, taking on the role of lawyer for Objectioner 1:

“It would literally cost you nothing to edit the word. You got called out, maybe instead of jumping to a defensive place, just acknowledge the call out, make the edit, and move on. Getting SO defensive says a lot about your intent, to be honest. But that’s just my humble opinion.”

Again, it’s not a word in isolation. It’s an expression. If you don’t like the expression, say you don’t like the expression, but “edit[ing] the word” won’t really solve anything.

I think there’s a legitimate question as to who is more defensive, here. And when you have to tell people you are humble, doesn’t that argue for the opposite? As far as intent, who knows?

[9]

huskerjen (a Nebraska fan?, Supporter 1) addresses First Responder as judge,

“You clearly did not intend to use that word as a racial pejorative. Righteous indignation as sport has gotten out of hand.

“The only thing that offends me is that you’re defending it at all instead of just telling people to f*ck off and find something better to do with their lives.”

One of the interesting things at this point is how much of this series of posts is based on people claiming to know other people’s intentions:

First Responder makes a statement.
Then Objectioner 1 and Objectioner 2 say that a word in the remark was intended as racist.
First Responder says, in effect, “No, it was not intended as racist.”
And now Supporter 1 comes in to arbitrate, “Of course it wasn’t intended as a racist remark.”

Who is right?

We’re nowhere. And more people will jump in.

[10]

Pittsburgh7717 (Objectioner 3) says,

“Pure laziness. Someone tells you that what you said might have been offensive to some (given the historical connotations that come with the word ‘think’, IT WAS) and your response is to quit being so politically correct? People like you don’t even know what political correctness is. You think being a douchebag and being called out for being a douchebag somehow makes us wrong? Or that seeing implicit racism makes us racebaiters because you didn’t come right out and say it? Trump has really poisoned the feeble minds of this country. Sad!”

A problem here is that no one has claimed that what was said “might have been offensive to some.” That actually might have been a nice place to start. (For example, one reply could have been, “What about a different metaphor that couldn’t be taken out of context and considered racist?”) Rather, people have taken offense to a word within an expression. The irony alarm goes off for the second time with the complaint about Trump followed by the familiar Trumpian Twitter rejoinder, “Sad!” (Be like Trump to criticize Trump-like behavior?)

[11]

(R)uffda! (Observer 1) said to no one in particular,

“Oh, boy.

“Never mind. Just dropped in to see what condition our condition was in. Same s***, different day.”

Hard not to commiserate with Observer 1. There are moderators on the site who try to keep things on topic—i.e. volleyball—and away from personal attacks, but we won’t seen one in this discussion.

[12]

Supporter 1 now has something to say to Objectioner 3:

“It’s not lazy at all. His words, his intent. If someone misconstrues his message, that is on them and not him. It’s just virtue-signalling b*ll%*$# and trying to imply racism where none was intended.

“If anyone really thought he was trying to use “chink” in a derogatory manner when it was clearly included in a colloquial phrase everyone has heard and predates the alternative, then they’re outright stupid.

“And yes, political correctness is bunk. Somehow popular society has evolved from caring about ethical or moral correctness, i.e. things that matter, to playing ‘gotcha’ word games.”

[13]

c4ndlelight (Arbitrator 1), states,

“..But his intent wasn’t really to comment on the match or a team but to bait someone into that discussion.”

Again, how does this individual or anyone know what First Responder’s intent was?

[14]

Another supporter, pdxcardfan (Supporter 2) will ask that question of Arbitrater 1:

“Honestly didn’t make the connection with the original post until others pointed it out. The metaphor made sense. In light of all the subsequent discussion I would choose another. But I am curious how you know the original poster’s intent?”

The question doesn’t get answered, though First Responder and another participant on the message board would both “like” the post.

[15]

pepperbrooks (Supporter 3) also responds to Objectioner 3,

“‘Chinks in the armor’ has nothing to do with the [racist] term, and as opposed to ‘faggots’ it’s not a British term. Are we upset by Spic and Span? Jackson Pollock? There’s no malicious intent with “chinks in the armor.”

[16]

duncaroo (Clarifier 1) addresses Supporter 1,

“Meh, I’d suggest you brush up on your intent vs. impact knowledge.  Intent is pretty much worthless when evaluating an action or discourse.  If you accidentally punch someone, you don’t not say sorry because you didn’t mean to, did you?  Just because he didn’t ‘intend’ to hurt anyone, doesn’t mean others don’t feel the consequences of his words.

“For the record, I don’t think he intended to be hurtful either, but 1) I’m also not of asian descent, so that word is not going to be a trigger for me and 2) see above.  You have no idea what anyone’s background’s are on this forum, and that fact that multiple people responded primarily in a defensive manner means you should humble yourself (and the OP) into reconsidering using that phrase (especially in the context of this thread), and adjusting your language.  What is so hard about that?

“And your last paragraph is annoying.  The only people who continuously use the term ‘political correctness’ are conservatives who have coined it as negative, and use it as a shield to bolster their stubbornness in changing and evolving into a more caring and thoughtful global society.  You obviously don’t understand the power of language and microaggressions if you think they’re just ‘”gotcha” word games.’

“BTW my main issue with the original post was that it offered no analysis, content, or value to the thread.  But I’m not particularly surprised.”

Not sure I agree with Clarifier 1 that intentions don’t matter. Isn’t there a difference between, say, murder and manslaughter that has something to do with intentions? And isn’t the set of laws under “hate speech” and “hate crimes” based on the idea that someone was motivated by racist intentions.

I believe someone can hurt another person by accident. They didn’t intend to do it. I also believe in evil, where people intend to hurt others, sometimes for the sake of hurting them. Clarifier 1 is correct in that in both cases someone gets hurt. But I think being hurt on accident and hurt willfully both feel and are quite a bit different. The difference between getting hurt on accident and hurt by someone intent on doing evil to you adds a whole layer to the pain and suffering.

The opening of this post doesn’t work for me. The example of “accidentally” punching someone doesn’t make sense. How about knocking into someone on a busy sidewalk instead? This can be accidental—not paying attention because you’re distracted by architecture or conversation—and you hit someone. Compare that to a professional pick pocket who runs into you as a means of distraction. I do think intentions matter.

There are a number of points in the middle of this post worth considering. Clarifier 1 is advocating for a sensitivity to the backgrounds and ideas of others. When someone does react negatively to something we say, there may be legitimate reasons for that reaction and we do have choices to respond in ways that create a better situation for all concerned.

The weakness to this post is that it posits that conservatives use the expression “political correctness” because of “stubbornness” about “changing and evolving into a more caring and thoughtful global society.” It doesn’t seem right to to suggest that conservatives who use the term aren’t interested in improving the world. “More caring and thoughtful” are excellent aims, but I want to consider whether there isn’t work to be done on both sides. One side can be “more caring and thoughtful” in their choice of words but is it possible that some on the other side are actually looking to take offense? My argument would be that in many ways we are much more sensitive around race and ethnicity than we were years ago. It feels like the pendulum is swinging and, as is often true when the pendulum swings, things can go too far in another direction, from “people are insensitive” to we can no longer communicate because others are looking for any opportunity to take offense.

The best part of Clarifier 1‘s post is the last paragraph, where I find myself in complete agreement (“no analysis, content, or value to the thread,” the second time this has been pointed out), although I am wondering why this person isn’t “particularly surprised.” You get the idea that there is some history between these individuals, but it’s hard to know what it is. If you want to criticize First Responder, this seems like the best place to start.

[17]

Supporter 3 replies to Clarifier 1,

If I’m punching a punching bag, kneading dough, and someone sticks their face in front of my fist, how is that my fault?

True. But we are drifting afield, now. And farther we will go.

[18]

Gilmoy (Tangent 1) replies to Supporter 3‘s question [15], “Are we upset by … Jackson Pollock?”

As an Impressionist (with dots) and Kandinsky-ist (Deluge) … yes, I am upset by Pollock. P-) I’ve stood in the Art Institute of Chicago in front of Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” (yes, they have it — it’s huge).

I remember standing in front of a Pollock (in a museum in LA) that literally looked like he threw a rag and a bucket of paint onto a canvas from 3m away in 1 single day.  And he charged about $100k for it.  He could get away with that because he completely destroyed the notion that the monetary value of art was in any way tied to the effort involved in producing it.  (That’s a very nice racket if you can get rich collectors to agree with you)

But it’s not even pronounced like “POE-lock”, so I never in 51 years even made the connection (and neither did any of my childhood peers, nor my art class peers in college).  He’s a species of cod (Gadus chalcogrammus) more than an ethnicity.

Now we are talking art criticism on a volleyball website in a thread focused on a recent match between the national teams of Japan and the U.S.A. But I like the response. A nice distraction.

Tangent 1, in addition to being erudite, is pretty funny. Indeed, Pollock is different from Polack (or Polak). Nice catch, so to speak.

They go on to reply to Supporter 3‘s statement, “If I’m punching a punching bag, kneading dough, and someone sticks their face in front of my fist, how is that my fault?” with,

“Because this is a volleyball forum.

“If you’re spiking a ball and someone sticks two hands in front of the ball, that is your error x_x

I think this is the most clever thing anyone says in this chain of comments. I enjoy people who can think like this. (In volleyball scoring, when you spike a ball and it’s blocked for a point, it’s scored as an “attack error” for the offensive player as well as a “block” for the defensive player.) So, in other words, you are responsible for your actions. (Not sure that’s always fair or possible in the world of normal daily life, but this is a volleyball forum and I love how this person thinks.)

[19]

A new person, volleyguy (Tangent 2) tells Tangent 1,

“You totally missed the point with regard to Jackson Pollock. SMH”

Unfortunately, Tangent 2 will never say what the point was. That would have been helpful.

[20] pacnbig (Tangent 3) chimes in, also to Tangent 1,

“There would have never been Jackson Pollack without Lee Krasner.  For such a drunk he was very efficient in upward mobility.”

I’m loving just how far afield we are getting.

[21]

Supporter 1 responds to Clarifier 1:

The power of language only gains its power when the receiver chooses to feel belittled. I am half-Asian and it didn’t offend me at all. The idea that a punch, i.e. physical contact, is similar to a word is a poor analogy. However, if I chose to accept that analogy then I’d still argue that intent matters. Denying intent means only results matter. I’ll assume you don’t believe that. And no, someone doesn’t need to change their language when someone else chooses to escalate the meaning beyond what was intended. Lastly, I do understand microagressions and they’re complete nonsense created by those that need the world nerf’d for them because they can’t be an adult and let words and behavior they disagree with roll off their back. Sorry, the world isn’t evolving into a more thoughtful and caring global society. It’s the same as it’s always been, adversarial and selfish. Don’t be fooled just because people are now better at hiding it.

There’s a lot there. It would be interesting to sit down with Supporter 1 and Clarifier 1 to hear more from them. Could we get to any sort of agreement? At the very least, we would understand the issues better. As it is, we don’t really resolve anything. Positions are put out there, but we don’t really spend any time testing them.

This exchange is almost over, but First Responder has apparently been offline for a while and now has some things to say to some people.

[22]

First Responder tells Objectioner 2,

It would literally cost you people nothing to be less politically sensitive. And in case you are wondering, I minored in Asian studies back in college. I have lived, worked and traveled extensively in Asia. It’s not being defensive, I just don’t need anyone telling me what is a racist term or not, thank you.

[23]

Objectioner 2 hits back,

You’ve really got to get over yourself. You’re still triggered about being called out as a scumbag days ago. Breaking: no one is spending a second’s thought on you or what you minored in. We’ve all moved on and see you for who you are. Your red hat seems to be wound very tight this morning. I suggest you loosen it, pack up that Asian studies minor, and move on.

Objectioner 2 clearly was not wondering if First Responder had “minored in Asian studies back in college”. But this means, however, saying “no one is spending a second’s thought on you or what you minored in” isn’t exactly true, is it?

I do seem some dialing back of heat in this post. I think it is fair to say that “scumbag” (a word that no one has used in this discussion up to now) somehow is less offensive, certainly less graphic, than “douche bag.”

[24]

First Responder to Objectioner 2:

Who are “we”? I am not the one having trouble with myself. I am merely stating my position. The fact you have this reaction shows you seem to have difficulty accepting my post as nothing more than a mere post. I suggest YOU get over yourself being such a sensitive wallflower.

P.S-Days ago? You do realize there is something call “real life”, don’t you? Work? Family? Paying the bills? The fact that I can’t always respond immediately means I have to attend to real life first. Surely you know that, don’t you?

Isn’t it true that First Responder is doing more than “merely stating [their] position”.

[25]

First Responder clarifies some things with Supporter 1‘s comment [9] “you clearly …”

I’m not defending the term, I am reacting to the political correctness response.

[26]

First Responder tells Objectioner 3,

No darling, the douchebaggery is on you, not me. You are the ones who leap to wrong conclusion with my term because of political correctness. Don’t deny it.  I am not being defensive, just calling out misconstrue [sic] political correctness.

 

[27]

First Responder tells Arbitrater 1,

No, I never left any bait. If I wanted to bait, I would have left a much larger red meat. ;)

At this point, I have more or less taken the side of First Responder. I think they could have responded differently, less antagonistically, along the way, but without evidence, I don’t think it’s fair to take a word out of context and then use that as your evidence to prove racism.

But, now, where the previous comment could be defended as having nothing to do with race, this comment seems to have everything to do with race. First Responder has said that “chinks in the armor” had nothing to do with Asian people, but telling us that if he wanted to incite people he would have used “red meat” seems exactly like a reference, and an objectionable one, to mainland Chinese people. As an observer of this melée, now I find myself questioning my alliances in this discussion.

 

[28]

Clarifier 1 offers a one-word response to First Responder:

“Gross.”

I have to agree.

[29]

Regarding Supporter 1‘s statement that “The power of language only gains its power when the receiver chooses to feel belittled,” a new participant, shhh (Observer 2) offers,

“It seems quite unfair to ask the receiver to consider the context of the user’s intent, but not expect the user to ever consider the reception.”

I agree with this as well.

[30]

But First Responder believes,

“You can’t control the reception. It is what it is.”

If Tangent 2 would re-engage, they might point out that the main point of volleyball is to control the reception. The serving team hopes to serve in such a way that it can’t be controlled. The receiving team hopes to take whatever comes and control it in such a way that they can score. So with a nod to volleyball, a server (in this case a server of words) does actually have something to do with how the reception is controlled. You can serve underhanded or use some goofy jump float that throws people off or give your opponent a lot of heat, but in each case the type of serve will, at least potentially, influence how the other will (or will not) control the reception.

[31]

Supporter 2 tells First Responder regarding their “red meat” comment,

“Clever, but inflammatory because there’s nothing ambiguous here. Further it argues against those of us who didn’t see any intent in the original post. I found myself annoyed by those who were reading so much into the original metaphor, but this seems to make their case.”

[32]

First Responder replies,

Does it? I said I never left any bait in that post. Someone choose [sic] to be offended by it because they are just a little too politically correct and hypersensitive, that’s their problem. If I had really wanted to bait, I would have chosen something far more apparent.

And that’s where the discussion ended.

The exchange is over and the thread is now buried on Page 6 of the Volleytalk site. It has lost its currency.

*  *  *

I’ve taken some time to document and map this exchange not because it is so exceptional, but because it is so ordinary. Exchanges like this are going on everywhere online, though often with more participants and greater invective. (Check out the comments section of any writer with a point-of-view.) By internet standards, nothing is particularly extreme here.

The language certainly isn’t the worst I’ve experienced. On this message board (and perhaps it’s a rule of the board—I’m not sure), people, when cursing, disguise it so you mentally have to fill it in. You don’t have to actually read the obscenity though you can understand what it is.

The personal attacks here aren’t that personal. (Well, I thought “ignorant racist” was pretty strong.) Some of that is due to the anonymous nature of the whole thing. It’s hard to attack someone personally when you don’t know who they are. Attacking what we imagine someone might be seems like a significantly less precise endeavor. And perhaps when people criticize our post in a message board like this, we can distance ourselves from our user name.

Along the way, some posters suggest familiarity with other posters, so that in spite of the anonymity, they act like they know others—at least in the sense that the words of various people appear to be predictable to them.

I don’t think the anonymity is always helpful, though it is the one essential that makes this board even possible. I think some posters only participate because it’s not clear who they are.  But once you’ve assumed an alter ego, it would be easy to live apart from your own best intentions—to behave differently than you would normally behave, for example to be more aggressive or provocative than normal (or necessary).

I think about these 15 individuals. (I assume 15. I’ve seen people accused on other threads of having two user names, heightening drama and adding disingenuousness.) 15 people participated directly in this exchange but what has been accomplished? Not much. An accusation made and defended with an ounce of reason and a pound of fury. Has anyone changed in the process? Was anyone persuaded. Did we find common ground or places to agree to disagree? And did we come to any conclusions about anything? (I could have used some closure on the question of whether or not intentions matter when another person has been hurt in some way.)

In its ordinariness, this exchange is useful as a kind of test case that can be examined. You can identify a list of ways that people can and do make things worse on the internet:

1. Assume the worst about people, especially their intentions.

The thing I like least in this exchange is all the assuming of the worst about people, particularly assuming the worst of intentions in each other. I’m struck by the willingness of people to imagine and state what is in the heart of another person without some sort of clarifying process. I’m all for intuition and the ability to read between the lines, but how can you definitively say what another person’s intent is? It’s hard enough in person and in real life, but you add this layer of anonymity and it all seems much more complicated.

At the same time, it could be that I simply don’t feel confident trying to read the motivations of others on a message board like this. Clearly, there were many along the way who said they understood what another poster had intended, the problem being that they understood things to be exactly opposite of one another and we don’t usually hold to the idea that a thing can both be and not be at the same time.

I did hear a psychotherapist say, quoting (he thought) Jung, that if you don’t understand why someone did something, then you can look at the consequences of their behavior and infer the motivation. You may not understand precisely, but you might have an idea. One way to look at this sequence of posts is to say that First Responder created a lot of chaos. They must have, on some level, wanted that chaos.

As I observe this sequence of posts, I initially thought the Objectioners had over-reacted. By the end, when First Responder added his “red meat” comment, I wasn’t so sure.

2. When meaning is unclear, decide the meaning must be whatever would be most offensive.

I wonder what might have happened if Objectioner 1 could have asked a clarifying question, “Were you wanting to use a metaphor that could be potentially offensive to Asians?”

The clarification would have given First Responder an opportunity to reveal more of their intentions. If they, indeed, were not wanting to be offensive, they could have substituted another metaphor. We would have learned more about First Responder. They might have gone with the non-apology apology (“I’m sorry you were offended.”), which would have told us something, too. They could have taken a moment to clarify what they were trying to communicate.

3. To strengthen your moral authority and sense of indignation, take the words of others out of context.

If you don’t like the expression, “Chinks in their armor,” especially when applied to the Japanese national team, say so. But when you say that First Responder said “chinks,” you aren’t being  fair. Truncating the statement means the word loses its context and you are now saying they said something they didn’t say. It makes it sound like you have the moral high ground, when it’s not clear you do.

4. When confronted, react more aggressively in response.

First Responder’s reaction to being confronted may be telling. If they were trying to communicate something, the fact that people were objecting to a single word could have been followed up with a simple, “You miss my point. I was saying …” But as near as I can tell First Responder wasn’t saying anything of substance. It’s unknown if they were posting with a wink to see what would happen or expressing what appears to be an ill-formed opinion.

5. Choose provocation over understanding.

When entering a discussion (and, it can be said, you don’t actually have to enter the discussion—you can stay away—you can also, I’ve learned, block posters on this message board so you don’t have to read what they write), you have many options: You can agree, disagree, question, offer a non sequitur to distract. But accusations don’t seem particularly helpful.

6. Dial up the stakes of an argument by making things personal.

Calling people names doesn’t get you good outcomes in elementary school. It doesn’t get any better for adults.

Anonymity is a tough thing. It feels as though there aren’t really any consequences when it’s an unreal world. A little bit like killing people in a video game—when you’ve insulted a user name, you haven’t really done any real damage to a real person have you?

7. Talk past each other.

The best way to make sure you understand a person is to try and present their argument to them in such a way that they can say, “Yes, that is what I’m saying.” That might lead to better outcome. Or you can, instead, focus on the things you are trying to say.

*  *  *

What I see lacking from many in this exchange is a basic level of respect, not just for what is being said but the person saying it. The idea is that we’re all here in this place, virtual though it may be, and we need to figure out how we are to be together in this place in a way that is good for all. It’s like being trapped in an elevator. We all chose to get in. Then something happened. Now there are plenty of ways to make it worse. (The metaphor, along with the elevator, breaks down in that people seem to be coming and going freely from it.)

Internet discussions feel like a game where the rules aren’t evident. A game where either the different players have their own rules or perhaps a single game board where all the different players are playing a different game.

One of the problems in playing whatever game you’re playing is that it’s hard to know what games other people are playing. Are we playing the same game? If not, how do we know who’s won or winning? (Or if that’s even the point.) In this exchange it doesn’t feel like anyone has really won. It feels like a victory for chaos.

I’m struck by the desire we all seem to have to want to set the rules and have people play by our rules. We are intolerant of people who either don’t or won’t follow those rules. We’re the arbiter of what those rules are.

Person A says, “Don’t be inappropriate.”

Person B replies, “Who are you to tell me what’s inappropriate.”

Also problematic is our tendency to want to control the behavior of others while remaining un-scrutinized ourselves. We want to hold others accountable to standards that we may or may not, ourselves, keep. We don’t always follow our own rules. Self-moderation is difficult. We want to moderate others, but find it hard to corral ourselves.

And we’re so sure we know what the truth is. How are you so sure about others, especially when the anonymity of the site brings a basic sort of dishonesty to the situation from the get-go. What can you say about people who aren’t honest about themselves demanding that others be honest? It’s a strange dynamic.

So, the message board begins with a basic deceit. And then you add the competitive nature that accompanies athletic endeavors and conversations and things can go downhill very fast.

This is the age of the hair-trigger response and the scorched earth ethos. Add anonymity to the mix and it’s a marvel that things are as civil as they are.

What do you do when you don’t like what someone else has done? Be silent. Or speak up. If you speak up, ask for what you want. The other party may or may not give it to you. Or, for that matter, may or may not be able to give it to you. But it’s an equalizing event. You’re saying, in effect, “You’re a person. I’m a person, too. What you did affects me this way. Here’s what I’d like from you.” This is a way to keep from acting in a superior manner to the other person, or from acting in a way (e.g. sarcasm) that makes you a lesser person.

In this exchange, people have spoken up. But did they do it in a way that they can be heard?

As I think about my own involvement on the internet, I need to be clear about my intentions. What am I after?

I want to learn. That means asking as many questions as I make pronouncements.

I want to engage with others in a friendly and upbeat manner. That means no snark, particularly when, with the written word (and anonymity) it’s tough to understand humor and we cannot, as communicators, know how our humor is being received.

I want to encourage others.

One of the things that is fascinating about this exchange is to see how quickly things go awry in communication. How do I do better on the internet? After being clear about my intentions, then it follows to engage in a positive practice, the opposite of the “how to make things worse” list above:

1. Assume the best of intentions in others at least until proved otherwise.

2. When you don’t understand what something means, assume the least offensive thing (unless proven wrong).

3. Quote people exactly. (Be precise about what people have said.)

4. Don’t react defensively or aggressively.

5. Look to add something meaningful to a discussion.

6. Don’t call people names.

7. Address the central concerns of others.

 

 

One comment

[…] I discussed a thread on a volleyball message board that turned into an unresolved argument about what is and is not racist language and what constitutes basic respect for others vs. what is political correctness.I think it all began with a simple question of whether or not the Japanese Women’s National Volleyball team is good, at least potentially. Eventually, the President’s name was mentioned and the argument became thoroughly politicized. […]

by Munk Debate on Political Correctness « glennaustin.com on 25 June 2018 at 11:40 am. Reply #

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