Sunday, October 24, 2010

Something Missed in All the Assholery

I'm no Pollyanna, but there is something that I think should be pointed out in the midst of all the idiocy that's gripped the comments section at CM lately: The posts this week seem to have been our more diverse and interesting than usual, with a good variety of contributors. I certainly have been entertained.

We've had a good mix of entries on the usual student-induced misery -- plagiarism, gradflakes, feedback on essays, emailus incompetus, the student-centered universe -- plus a good number of posts on how academic culture itself makes us miserable.

In addition to all of that, though, we've had posts that have made me think about how life's tragedies can be worsened by the academic misery we inhabit (and my sincerest condolences, BlackDog), about the interpretation of cultural norms (hat memes, etc.), about career/teaching options (getting certified), about incompetence (history textbooks, anyone?), and a post that made me nearly spit-take about how college students struggle with alphabetical order (thank you, WhatLadder).

There's lots of other good stuff, too, that I haven't mentioned.

The assholery in the comments sections is unfortunate, but inevitable, I think -- and evidence of the growing readership/awareness of our humble little blog.

I'm a big proponent of playing nice while growing a thick skin. If someone's being a total tool -- and, let's face it, CM is about academics -- just walk away for a moment and take a deep breath.

If you're the target of the tool's venom, walk away knowing that you've made someone think (or at least react) and that there are plenty of other people here who value you. Just be sure to come back after walking away, please.

Great week, CM. Seriously.


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  2. Dear Greta,

    Please don't feed the trolls. I liked it better when CM had reasoned, intelligent, nuanced venting, not discourse not much better than "You're an asshole, if you ain't part of the problem you're part of the solution, huh-huh-huh." I can get that from my undergraduates.

  3. I've also been enjoying the variety of posts and am glad people are reading and posting. But there is still no excuse for incivility or personal insults, and I am glad that we are not going to tolerate such behaviour in future.

    A friend of mine points out that the advice "just be quiet and ignore the bullies" is routinely given to girls, gays, non-whites, and the disabled, but is not given to heterosexual white boys, who are advised to "man up" and confront their tormentors. Following that advice just silences the voices of all the marginalized groups who have been told, in effect, that no one will stand up for them and that their best bet is to avoid drawing attention, because speaking will make them targets.

    In fact ignoring bullies doesn't work; they just take heart, realise they're in a community that will tolerate them, and get worse. The solution is rather to make clear that the community will not tolerate bullying of anyone; that personal insults and attacks will be deleted and will not form part of the ongoing discussion. I'm glad that's what Fab is doing. And that is what will keep this community as diverse as it is, and keep the posts, and the comments, various and interesting.

  4. I've been resisting a growing desire of late to write a love letter to CM. I love how our anonymity has made us a bit more responsible for our words -- still anonymous, yes, but with a handle to trace our comments. And, so, we create a demon handle with an evil personality (Jim) or we are the creative muse (Folkchurch) or the experienced advice columnist (Archie) or we form teams (Humanities v Science).

    I think this is why CM has become so much richer than RYS (with all love and due respect to Ex-compounders). There, the crass comment and rude smackdown was entirely short, sweet, and bitchy. And encouraged through the Thirsty format. Here, I gather less bitchy antagonism and more collective dyad.

    And as a result, I rarely check the blog and leave thinking "maybe I should stop coming..." as I used to when I struggled with my RYS addiction.

    Ok, love-fest over. (not really: LOVING CM!)

  5. Merely, I think ignoring bullies on the interwebs does work. It doesn't in real life, sorta hard to pay no attention to physical action. But there are also real consequences that can be levied against someone in real life. Here, there is no real action that can be taken.

    Deleting posts is a forced ignore, but it is a visible response, and a response is exactly what a bully wants. Something that works well is an individual level ignore button. This prevents a visible response, and prevents people who don't wish to see the comments from stumbling across them. Not having one here, the next best option is a mental ignore. Don't read a users post.

    But any escalation of response is providing exactly the encouragement a bully wants. A bully does not wish to be liked, they wish to be notorious, known, feared. And if you have any doubts about how well our response has worked, look at the notorious name(s) that keep coming into our conversation.

  6. Deleting a post (or comment) works fine on other blogs I've attended. It works because when anyone sees an abusive comment they are not tempted to answer it because they know it's going to get deleted anyway, as soon as the blog owner gets to it. So abusive swill doesn't divert the discussion. People don't get riled; they just ignore, and the thread doesn't get hijacked.

    So I'm very much in favour of ignoring the abusive stuff, so as to avoid hijacking the discussion. But knowing that those comments will be deleted within the day is an enormous help to that strategy.

  7. I agree, Greta. I wish the explosion of bad behavior hadn't happened, mostly because dealing with it wasted Fab's and others' valuable time, but I value the variety of topics and viewpoints that show up here, and this has been a very good week from that point of view.

  8. "A friend of mine points out that the advice "just be quiet and ignore the bullies" is routinely given to girls, gays, non-whites, and the disabled, but is not given to heterosexual white boys, who are advised to "man up" and confront their tormentors."

    Hey, Merely? If your friend had something on the order of a sociology manuscript in his or her back pocket statistically proving the above, then so be it, and I have no right to dispute those findings without statistical evidence of my own. But a little bit of critical thinking on my part has turned up some disturbing inconsistencies in your friend's assertion that I thought I'd share.

    First of all, at the age when bullying is commonly a problem, children are not gay or straight, and arguably are not truly sexual at all. Even were a child to be somehow empirically "gay" at that stage, it would likely be unknown to his or her parents/counselors/whoever else is giving advice on bullies. Therefore I am not sure it makes sense to assert that gays are advised to deal with bullying differently from heterosexuals.

    Secondarily, direct confrontation of perceived aggressors as embodied by "manning up" - ie fighting - in schools is more common among blacks and Hispanics than among white students. This is not an attempt to call certain groups out; those are the two largest minority groups in American schools, and third is a very, very, very distant third. (A caveat; my data on that subject is not limited to any particular age group and encompasses all school-age students).

    Tertiarily (and I'm afraid I tread on somewhat subjective ground here), is it really consistent to assert, in the name of political correctness, that white males are advantaged by parents belonging to minority racial groups' comparative failure to advise their children to "man up", while it is also frequently asserted in the name of political correctness that the androcentric practices, such as promotion of strength, power, violent confrontation, and other manly virtues, of said minority racial groups is harmful to women? To rephrase, does your friend really think anyone's going to believe white fathers are significantly more (or less, really) likely to tell their sons to go punch a bully in the nose than Hispanic fathers? Does your friend also think the word "Macho" originates in Old English?

    I know, I know - Making Serious Points On The Internet. Sorry for wasting your time.


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