So a few weeks ago I posted some shit, and let’s just call it that because that’s what it is. I responded with a twitter post some time ago saying I take it all back, but in truth that doesn’t make up for the shit I spewed. If I’m going to leave something like that on the internet I might as well have the cojones to be willing to go through and show that I realize that I’m wrong. Beyond that, I need to show why I am wrong. Without that acknowledgement or demonstration, I am doing little more then being a flagrant dick and then trying to “I’m sorry” my way out of it without much thought on the matter. If I truly want to consider myself some kind of progressive individual then I need to learn from my mistakes and hopefully express them to others so that just maybe they can learn from them as well.
FIRST, and let’s get this out of the way. What I said about trigger words and warnings was said irrationally and in poor judgement. It lacked empathy on a level about events that are beyond shameful, they are disgusting. There’s something disturbing about the internet, the feel of anonymity that allows you to become a different person. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t distinctly aware of the Greater Internet Dickwad theory, but I suppose to some degree I never took into consideration that actual repercussions of it all. You grow up as a kid who gets picked on and suddenly you have this awesome outlet where your physical strength is irrelevant, it’s all about mental prowess. And so this feeds into some kind of ego, and low and behold the internet becomes this wonderful echo chamber where you can bask in your own glory and never really think about your actions.
For years, I visited sites like 4chan, Newgrounds, Something Awful, etc. and had this odd sort of pride that there were things that should have phased me in the real world but didn’t phase me because I had some kind of magical shield separating me from them. That somehow my actions of being an asshole, or making a racist avatar in Habbo hotel didn’t hurt anyone. You evolve this into the later years and you see the jokes you had discussed, the memes you had beaten like a dead horse, and you look back and all I can think now is “God what a petulant child”.
My friend Brendan once made the comment “You will look at yourself 2 years ago, and I guarantee that you will hate some element of that person”. As I have grown older, and I hope to some degree, wiser, the comment reflects more and more each time I look at who I was versus who I am today. You see aspects of yourself that these days you despise. You see a child who lashed out at things he found enjoyable to fit in, a person who lacked the confidence or mental… understanding to deal with actual relationships. You can’t help but look back and think “Jesus, was that me?”.
So now, I look back at the dead and beaten horses, the stupid shit, and I cringe. I’m reminded specifically of a conversation I had with a friend at Purdue whom I have a great deal of respect for (but likely showed it in a poor manner). The topic of furries had come up and I remember that my first instinct was to react with that very same vitriol and hate that I had in all of those lovely online communities. To take that internet tough guy persona and drag him into real life, so that I could feel that same rush of confidence, that same glee of being part of the in group. Only, the conversation didn’t turn as I had thought, and suddenly the “in idea” wasn’t to scream “Yiff in Hell Furfags” at the top of our lungs but to have a thoughtful conversation that actually evoked a real range of human emotions. And I think to some degree I didn’t know how to deal with it. It shattered that world view that everyone was in on this joke about Furries. That at the very core I had sacrificed my empathetic side for the part of my brain that got satisfaction for making fun of the group. The worst thing of all was that I never really agreed with the whole nature of “Haha Furries are terrible”, I had just found it funny and it was easy to fit in.
And here I am today, doing the very same thing and clapping myself on the back, as if I had done a good job. Claiming that people with legitimate psychological horrors inflicted upon them should just suck it up and move on. What the hell do you say to yourself when you realize what it is that stares back at you in the mirror? Who the hell is this online persona and what does it really represent? Is it me? God I hope not. Is it some envisioned super hero, confident version of myself? Jesus let’s hope no that either. I had let the internet become more then a shield, I had let it become a weapon; because, whenever I had an idea challenged or a thought disassembled, I could just climb into an echo chamber and be told I was in the right over and over again, ignoring legitimate fallacy in order to make myself feel better.
I want to give you a quote; because, shortly after I posted this bullshit I received a phone call from a friend (I want to make it clear to all of my friends that I am incredibly grateful not just because you were there by my side when I needed a shoulder to lean on, but also because you’re willing to call me on my bullshit). In this case, that bullshit was over the nature of privilege, safe space, trigger warnings, the words, the whole range of emotions it evokes in people, and I remember something very specifically from the conversation that struck a chord with me, and I hope maybe to some of my readers it will to you as well
But when you went home, at the end of the day could they pick on you for who you were there? Did you have one place you could retreat to? That’s it right there, you had a place you could feel safe. The beatings about who you were stopped there.
Obviously I’m paraphrasing a bit, but I hope the core message remains intact. For me, even though I got picked on at school, got made fun of, got called all sorts of names. At the end of the day I had somewhere I could go back to. I had somewhere that the very makeup of who I was wouldn’t negatively effect my encounters in that area. It made me think about things a little differently. About the whole nature of a safe space vs. an echo chamber and the difference the two can really have. And while my views regarding specific elements of manipulation and poor use of the word (notable examples include reddit’s /r/lgbt and /r/srs) have remained largely unphased, my understanding of the true nature of the word has not.
I’d like to pretend that this isn’t some kind of grandiose apology, but at the end of the day, it is. My hope is that it can be more then that. I hope that beyond an apology it can be a lesson that we must remember that we are all human, and that there are subtle and powerful human emotions at play. Even if I have become apathetic to those things, others have not; that my tolerance and thick skin do not give me an excuse to bring emotional harm to those without. I am being no less a bully then what happened to me and that isn’t right.
I had originally waned on writing this, but a post an old friend reminded me of why I should. I wanted to get roweled up, to disagree, to say something, but the truth? She’s right. If the atheist movement wants to truly pride itself on morality and ethics then we have to be willing to fight back the casual misogyny and racism. Social Justice beyond the scope of religion, race, creed, sex, gender, all of it has to be taken with the same skeptical and rational approach. We have to fight for humanity, not just for those causes which affect us.
The endless circle jerks have to stop if we want to move forward. I realize that we aren’t going to change the whole of human society in a matter of years, but you have to start somewhere and turning Social Injustices into nothing more then jokes is not the way to go about doing so.
I will probably slip up again, say something terribly racist, casually homophobic, or terribly sexist in the future, and it is at those times that I hope one of my friends slaps me again. I and those like me have to grow up and evolve even if change is something we’re afraid of. We’ve got to be willing to get out there and mingle with the different opinions; because, without them we are no less shallow then those we belittle.