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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

October 25th, 2016 (02:39 pm)

So last night I got Capital-Letter Mysterious about a Thing that I might start using LiveJournal for. It's kind of laughable, because in a way it's the simplest thing in the world, and yet it's weighing on me. I am looking around at the world right now and I'm not liking what I see. This isn't terribly new, but the degree is new. Donald Trump honestly has ushered in what I think is a very, very scary trend of thought. He is fomenting a wave of hatred that is like nothing I've ever seen in my lifetime. Creating and spurring on paranoia, as well; λ and I were just having a discussion last night about what under the canopy you're supposed to do with people who believe that every single major news outlet in the country is in collusion with the Clinton campaign to hide the truth from the American people. You can't believe anything anyone except Trump and his surrogates tell you. Isn't that clinical paranoia? I have read about Trump supporters who have been sent to psych wards for homicidal ideation and been really pissed off about it because what they say and think is no different than what every Trump supporter says and thinks. What do you do with that? The paranoia, the fury, the hatred?

I am terrified of Trump supporters, but to be honest, I am almost entirely out of patience with the way that a lot of liberals, including myself sometimes, respond to them. Look at how stupid they are! we say. Look, look how ridiculous, look how dumb, look how offensive, these mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers left over from the Pleistocene era. They are racist to the rotten core, their hearts pump curdled blood spiked with venom, they are a shouting, cursing, scrabbling, red-faced horde of morons led on by their own personal orange-hued Pied Piper. If we interact with them at all, it's to score points off them. We make fun of them, point out how stupid they are, then high-five the people who agree with us. We’ve given up on thinking of them as fellow human beings with real concerns -- how can we focus on that when they are being so awful? Trump is the worst and his followers are the worst and we need to take the presidency and the House and the Senate and then they will be rendered effectively voiceless, which is good because they seem to be mainly using their voices to scream racial slurs and "#MAGA". The problem is with them, them and their hatefulness, them and their racism, them and their hero-worship of a monster.

I couldn't write this so passionately if I hadn't lived it. But I'm growing tired of it now, and frustrated. Something has been rising up in me over the last few months, a sense of -- this can't be all there is. We can't stay this polarized, this hateful, this dismissive of 40% of the country. Hillary is probably going to get elected but Trump's supporters will still be out there, probably watching Trump TV, cheering him on in bitter tones. Convinced the election was rigged. Convinced they have been shut out of the paradise whose doors Trump would have thrown open for them, if Killary hadn't stolen the election from him. Trump will not be as dangerous to the country on Trump TV as he would be as president, but what he has set in motion, this rolling boulder of hatred and divisiveness, is not going to go away if November 9th sees him writing the least gracious concession speech in US history.

I want to be kind.

That's what it's been coming down to for me lately. I want to choose a different path. I want to stop dehumanizing Trump supporters, stop reflexively dismissing people who disagree with me. I want to talk to those people like they're not idiots, even when they're talking like they are. I want to see how far kindness and openness and a nonjudgmental approach can take me. It might take me precisely nowhere. But I want to try. I don't think I've ever consciously tried that before, except in scattered bits and pieces here and there.

I like to start things with round numbers, with fresh page-turns, so that means I would like to start this on November 1st, about a week from now. And to be honest, there are a lot of directions I could take this in, but I'm kind of thinking the best test there could possibly be is comments sections. They are seething cesspits of the worst aspects of human nature, and I want to see what happens if I go in calm and assuming other people are arguing in good faith, attempting to change minds (and at least leaving open the possibility that my own mind will be changed) instead of taking out my resentments and aggressions on people who think Hillary Clinton has had 200 people killed. I've tried this a little in recent months, as I've been getting increasingly frustrated with the normal tenor of online conversation. I had a conversation with an "All Lives Matter" person that actually went pretty well. I got in a conversation about reproductive rights that ended up with each of us treating the other like a human being. That's mostly what I want anyway.

This isn't just about kindness, of course. I'm not that naïve. It's kindness and rationality (equally difficult to use effectively in these situations) and, crucially, psychology and guile. I have been reading articles about the best ways to convince people to listen to you when you're disagreeing with them, because we've all seen what happens when, to take a non-Trump example for a moment, you tell an anti-vaxxer that there's no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. They dig in harder. They believe it more. This has been shown in multiple studies. When you challenge someone's beliefs, you are challenging part of their self-image, their understanding of themselves and the world around them. You have to be incredibly careful how you do it, or you're going to make things worse. And most people don't have that kind of time or energy to spare on randos in comments sections. I get that.

But I look at discussions where people are saying, for instance, that 14 women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual abuse because they want attention. And I want to say -- what? Are you seeing the kind of attention they are getting? Why would anyone want that?! I see people who question why these women are just coming forward right now and the answer seems so clear to me and if I have the spoons for it, isn't it my duty to try to talk them around, try to make them understand, try to defuse this anger that's being channeled toward these women?

Carefully. So, so carefully.

When I came up with this idea one night last week -- I couldn't sleep, was stewing over this, and slowly something began to cohere in my mind -- I thought I would engage in one discussion per day that I would normally roll my eyes and use the block key on. I thought I would try to ramp up slowly, first on conversations like the "All Lives Matter" one -- where I was pretty sure from the start that I could talk her around if I worked at it because she didn't seem like an unkind person herself, just an oblivious one -- and then, as I figured out by trial and error what the best ways are of talking with people who disagree with you, talking to people who are angrier or meaner or more set in their ways. I have to admit I'm kind of quailing as I think of that later stage. How do you talk to hardcore white supremacists? What happens if you try to bring a breath of fresh air into the fetid wankfests on 4chan?

I don't know. I just know I want to try. It may not be all one-comment-discussion-per-day; there are lots of real-life things I'd like to talk about that fit within the theme of being kinder and reaching out more to people I would normally laugh at. But this is where I'm at right now, and this is what I want to try to do. And one comment-discussion-per-day seems like a good attainable goal, so, I guess, stay tuned. I'll probably be sharing commentary and screenshots. At minimum I hope to gain some insight into the best ways of talking with people who disagree with you. At maximum... well, maybe some people will be different at the end of this. Me, at least.

I wish I were certain that everyone reading this isn't laughing at me.


Posted by: it's not a big problem i'm just socially slow (bubblesbrnaid)
Posted at: October 25th, 2016 09:53 pm (UTC)
bubbles thoughtful


In a lot of ways, I'm caught in the middle; I'm a college-educated liberal...with a white trash background, currently living in a trailer, squarely in a usually red state. It's my relatives and neighbors falling for the Trump bullshit. And yeah, some of them *are* fucking idiots...but they were idiots *before* this.

The extremists are getting the headlines and the camera time, because that's what extremists *do*, but the vast majority of these people are (I hope) fairly decent, they're just used to living comfy, unquestioned lives and can't handle being forced to question all the assumptions that have made their lives comfy. Because they've been taught all their lives that Questioning Is Not Done and Change Is Always Bad. It's interpreted as an attack, and they react accordingly--and poorly. It's not helped when some parties actually *do* blame them for everything. (Did you know there was no racism anywhere outside the South? Trufax. *eyeroll*)

But comment sections... you're a braver woman than I. :)

Posted by: Megan // Mikkel (mahmfic)
Posted at: October 25th, 2016 10:05 pm (UTC)

He hasnt made this way of thinking new. Where I grew up, all of his ideals/thoughts/etc was the norm. He is only pandering to that section of repubs. Honestly, it is the repubs fault for trump. For what over a decade their side has literally been what trump's core points are. They put ideas in people's heads that was just bullshit. *Sighs* just argh. All of this sucks. I made a post a while ago 'bout how my mom is supporting trump. If you want you can take a look.

Posted by: law_nerd (law_nerd)
Posted at: October 25th, 2016 10:19 pm (UTC)

Not laughing at all. There have been a couple of recent articles that indicate kindness may actually work... or at least does actually work sometimes. Specifically for Megan Phelps (one of the Westboro Baptist Phelps clan) decided that perhaps god doesn't hate fags, or anyone else: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/23/conversion-via-twitter-westboro-baptist-church-megan-phelps-roper

and Derek Black (son of Stormfront white nationalists) decided that racism and white supremacy don't make any sense after some of the people at the university he was going to decided to try being nice: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-white-flight-of-derek-black/2016/10/15/ed5f906a-8f3b-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html

So strength and good luck to you, and I hope that if laughter happens it'll be with you, not at.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 01:53 am (UTC)

Thank you so much for this comment. I knew Megan Phelps-Roper's story, but not Derek Black's, and this gives me so much hope.

Posted by: PolyDad (polydad)
Posted at: October 25th, 2016 10:49 pm (UTC)
Laughing, but with you rather than at you

Oh, ye of noble, pure heart. Best of luck to you, and do please vent about it here to help get it out of your system. When cleaning out cesspits, fingers are better implements than tongues, but you might also want to invest in a good long-handled shovel.

Posted by: Hello. (bbsy)
Posted at: October 26th, 2016 12:27 pm (UTC)

Wow. I guess I'm glad I haven't visited 4chan in a while.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 01:52 am (UTC)

I haven't been to the actual site in forever (I was never there much) but they've apparently gone insane. They keep organizing attacks on sites whose politics they don't like, Tumblr being the main one -- they'd spam all the tags related to feminism with horrifying gory pornography, for instance. They also were behind stupid Twitter trolling things where they'd pretend to be black feminists and try to get ludicrous tags like #EndFathersDay and #WhitesCantBeRaped trending so that black feminists in general would lose credibility with the mainstream. They also try to get trans teens to commit suicide for fun and... sorry. I get worked up about how horrible people can be when given anonymity.

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: October 26th, 2016 05:50 pm (UTC)

I hope you're not biting off more than you can chew here, I mean, there's a reason people say not to read the comments! I wonder if you might be better aiming for those who are a bit more on the fence, they tend to be more easily swayed than the hardcore types. But I hope you have lots of success and not too much hurt and frustration.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 01:46 am (UTC)

Yeah, I know what you mean, and I should clarify -- at least for the beginning I am planning on sticking with talking to people who seem to be more on the fence. It's just that I'm better at talking to people online than in person and I wouldn't know where to look for people to talk to about political things IRL, so it's going to be a matter of looking through comments sections to find people who I think I can talk with profitably. I'm not going to jump on Stormfront with "#BlackLivesMatter" comments. But I do want to test the limits, over time, of who you can talk around if you're open and friendly and nonjudgmental, and how you can tell. Starting slow though.

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: October 27th, 2016 06:33 pm (UTC)

I'm glad for the clarification. I greatly admire what you're wanting to do and I was concerned that it might backfire on you. I didn't want you to get hurt and suffer for your good intentions, that's all.

Posted by: Jessica Allan Schmidt (jpallan)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 02:32 pm (UTC)

Of course I'm not laughing at you. I'm pre-occupied and self-centered right now, unfortunately, but I'm not laughing. Being kind is an admirable life goal.

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 03:52 pm (UTC)

I suspect the trick will be telling the true believers apart from the trolls (the latter, of course, are not going to be convinced because they didn't believe their crap in the first place), but I genuinely admire this. I also think it really can make a difference, when you have the patience and persistence to sincerely reach out.

(Definitely not laughing at you!)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 04:14 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that is DEFINITELY a concern. I tend to be good at spotting trolling and satire, but I'm going to have to be very very attuned to that. I think context will help; there are situations that favor provocateurs, in which trolling is likely to get some good mileage because there are a lot of sincere and therefore easily outraged people talking about their beliefs (or, less commonly, situations where trolls egg borderline radicals on to say super-radical things), and then there are situations that seem less calculated to provoke. I *think* content plus context will help me avoid most of the trolls. But we'll see. I definitely do not feel like spending a month fighting with trolls. LOL

Also I'm really glad you see the point of this and are not laughing or thinking I'm an idiot. That matters to me. Thanks. :)

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 04:19 pm (UTC)

You do have a good sense of these things - and I suppose trolls might actually be good for "luring" out people who are well-meaning and easily outraged, which will give you some other opportunities to talk to them.

I should have added that I have actually had this work personally. It took a lot of patience and effort, and periodically it backfired (person who seemed reasonable and then turned out to be a TERF who said outright "I am not trying to be inclusive" and believed "female-bodied men" are just super-butch women, ugh to you!), but I have had the same result you have where sometimes someone responds to kindness and a good-faith effort to engage. So I am not only not laughing at you, I admire you for this, because I simply don't have the energy or patience to try most of the time even when I have direct evidence that it *does* work.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 28th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I think compartmentalizing this as "This is a thing I am doing one time a day and I am treating it as a job and deliberately bringing all my patience to bear" is going to work for me better than "I'm going to be kind all the time! I'm going to engage with hateful/angry/defensive people wherever I find them!" I definitely can't just spend my life trying to get people in comments sections to have reasonable conversations. But I want to see what happens if I try to engage once per day. I mean, I'd also like to try to be more kind in general, but I like having a carefully delineated plan in this particular aspect of that. If I go into comments sections and try to change people's minds without having prepped myself for it I often come out very, very frustrated and depressed. And it's gotten so much worse in the last year, since Trump's popularity has spiked. Blergh.

I am also sorry that TERFs seem to haunt your life so much. Their framework of thinking is so different from mine and they are so little interested in hassling cis little me that when I scroll through their sites and their Twitters I feel like I'm on safari, watching them through glass. It would not be fun if the glass went away.

Posted by: Tasha Rebekah Martin (lietya)
Posted at: October 29th, 2016 03:20 am (UTC)

Your approach absolutely makes sense, and it should help preserve your sanity while allowing you to accomplish something worthwhile. You have a concrete and achievable goal (once per day with one hopefully non-troll) that ought to be a workable plan.

The weird thing is, I don't actually find myself engaging with TERFs that often - this was an unpleasant surprise, and it also happened to be the most recent time I lived to regret the effort. (I was led astray by her declaration that [paraphrased] "we all should be called on our bullshit and learn from our mistakes"... turns out that she meant people who were NOT her.) I think the last time before that was someone who started off reasonable and ended in Hillary conspiracy theory territory with an efficiency that left me literally muttering "that escalated quickly." :) On the other hand, I've also had decent people pause, genuinely listen, and come back and apologize for saying something thoughtless/ignorant/insulting in the heat of the moment, which restores my faith in humanity and supports your theory.

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