Soooo much loaded language in this ask.
Let’s review. I’ll go slowly so you can keep up. Plus, I won’t even use any links, since apparently links are just tooooo hard for some people. (Wondering what I’m referencing by that? Huh, sure would be nice to have a link for that, right? Okay, okay, here it is, but NO MORE.)
Going slowly and omitting links means that this is going to be very long. Skip to the end for a TL;DR.
First of all, some definitions, so that they’re fresh in our minds and we can all get on the same page.
A “tone argument” is any response to the tone rather than the content of an argument. For instance, when someone says “two plus two is five,” and someone else says, “two plus two is four, moron,” and the first person says, “how dare you call me a moron!” what they’re doing is making a tone argument. The reason it’s a tone argument is because two plus two is actually four regardless of whether the second person corrected them politely or not. The addition of the word “moron” to the phrase “two plus two is four” does not in fact change reality in such a way as to make two plus two not equal four.
This is just as true for the very trite example of “two plus two is four, moron,” as it is for more complex arguments, or even subjective assertions like people’s feelings. If someone says, “I don’t like it when you call me ‘chief,’ asshole,” and the person they said that to responds with something like, “I was being friendly, you’re the asshole for calling me an asshole!” that response is a tone argument.
Now, you might have been told (or gotten the impression from certain high-profile social justice buzzword aficionados who like to blog about their big, important social justice clicktivism!) that “tone arguments” are categorically “bad,” and that using them makes you AN OPPRESSIVE MONSTER. *scary-boo-ghost-hands.*
Thing is, there is no such thing as “categorically bad,” and so sometimes it’s extremely useful and I dare say even important to use tone arguments. That doesn’t make them not tone arguments, obviously. They are still arguments about tone and do not address or materially affect the central point of the argument being made.
One reason you might want to use tone arguments is because you feel personally hurt by the way someone says something, and you want them to know that this hurts you. That’s legit. It’s also perfectly valid to use tone arguments in an effort to shut down conversation about whether or not two plus two actually equals four if what you really care about is something entirely different, such as trying to make people think using the word “moron” in any context for any reason is not okay.
But when you do that, it’s still a tone argument. And since everything anyone ever says has a tone of one kind of another, tone arguments can be levied against anything and everything anyone says, ever, no matter the actual tone of what they are saying. Since tone is how you say something, saying anything at all inherently makes what you say susceptible to tone arguments. This is because there is no way to say a thing without saying that thing in some way. (Duh.)
Given this, one of the reasons tone arguments are so widely used is because they are widely applicable and incredibly effective. That’s also why it’s very difficult for people (like, say, “social justice warriors”) who categorically define a “tone argument” as “invalid” or otherwise “oppressive” to feel comfortable defining the tone arguments they do make as tone arguments; they’d obviously still like to have access to the tool of tone argumentation, and use it. Why give up a frightfully effective tool, after all? But they don’t want to deal with the feelings and cognitive dissonance using such arguments gives them.
I think that’s cowardly. If you’re going to use tone arguments, don’t deny that you’re using tone arguments. If you’re not going to use tone arguments, don’t police other people’s tone. The only reason I can imagine that this is a complicated thing for people like you to actually understand, or a controversial stance for people like you to accept as valid, is because it effectively calls out the glaring fucking hypocrisy in your own “anti-oppressive” lingo.
Anyone want to try shooting a counter-point my way? Give it a go, if you think you can, but if you really want to get into this with me, don’t expect me to be nice to you. And don’t expect me to engage with any tone arguments you make. ;)
Now, relatedly, a derail is an attempt to turn a conversation about a given topic (X) into a conversation about a different given topic (Y), which creates difficulty in understanding X or distraction from X to continue. Derails come in many forms, and one of the most common forms they come in are (unsurprisingly) tone arguments. The reason the tone argument is a derail is because it turns a given conversation, such as one about whether or not two plus two equals four, into a different conversation, such as one about whether or not it is appropriate, useful, ethical, valid, wrong, hurtful, etc. for someone to call someone else a “moron.”
Those are two separate and totally valid conversations to have, but they are not the same thing. A conversation about whether it’s appropriate to call someone a moron is a perfectly reasonable, interesting, and potentially useful conversation. However, when people start talking about that while other people are trying to talk about whether two plus two equals four, and they forcibly interject themselves into the spaces where these people are trying to have a mathematical conversation about two plus two and what that equation results in, what they are doing is derailing.
In this way, a “derail” is definitionally coupled to a larger context. That, in turn, requires an awareness of history. Sometimes really long-ago history, such as the history of slavery in discussions of racism. For other things, you don’t have to go back that far in history to get the context related to whether some interjection in a conversation is a derail or not. The Internet, in particular, makes it easy to scour for references and historical context, and lets you piece it all together all on your own. (WOW MAGIC.)
There are two classic tactics people use to obscure or deny that what they are doing is derailing. One is a common debate technique, something you can learn by watching politicians answer questions from talking head interviewers on mainstream TV news: they reframe the question. Reframing the question changes the context such that the original context is sufficiently obscured, offering them an opening to change the subject of conversation. When the subject of conversation changes to what the politico wants to talk about instead, what they’ve successfully accomplished is a derail.
Seriously, watch some mainstream TV news shows and look for the following behavioral pattern:
This is also the general template for how to shut activists down in conversations online: find an opportunity to ask a question (or answer one a fellow derailer interjected), describe a historical context that contains totally unverifiable or untrue information and present that history as The Truth, take a stand that is incredibly mainstream or otherwise supportive of whatever the current status-quo happens to be (i.e., “BDSM is not abuse!” or “BDSM is abuse!” depending on which blog’s comment section you’re at), then make some general statements about or suggestions for future activity on the part of other people (never yourself).
If the person you’re debating doesn’t immediately reject your premise, if they respond in any way that gives people the impression that your reframing is a truthful and accurate account of the events leading up to the current situation, voila, you’ve successfully reframed the question, and your derail is successful.
A variant of this tactic that’s actually way simpler is called erasure. In this case, you don’t actually have to provide an alternate history or present any FEAR, which stands for (False Evidence Appearing Real). All you have to do is respond as if the thing you’re objecting to was the start of the conversation. This also creates a totally new context, one that makes the other person appear completely insane.
Hmm…where have we seen that before? (DAMNIT, another link. Not actually sorry.)
Okay, have you got all that? I’ll wait for you to re-read it as many times as you want. (I can do that extremely patiently because this is actually the textual Internet. WOW MAGIC.) When you feel like this all makes sense to you, read on, where I’ve actually addressed your points, below.
With all that said, we can use your ask as a FANTASTIC case study of the above tone argumentation and derailing tactics. In your ask, you said:
Do you think that if I had some delusions of a “pseudo relationship” with you I would be contacting you via ask? It’s not a tone argument to point out that it’s completely counterproductive for you to victimize the same people that PAT is designed to empower. Considering that the success of PAT-FB is contingent on the development of a wide base of users who are willing to report predators, I would think you’d give a shit about whether or not you’re alienating the people you’re marketing it to.
Let’s unpack your extremely loaded language step by excruciating fucking step.
You start by asking me a question: do I think you’d contact me via Tumblr ask if you felt you had some kind of pseudo-relationship with me?
Well, first of all, let’s recall what the topic of your prior ask (okay, sorry that was another link) actually was. You said:
your continued use of the phrase “kill yourself” IS abusive, a-b-u-s-i-v-e, not only to the person you’re talking to but to anyone else who happens to stumble onto the conversation and read that (incredibly triggering) phrase.
What relationship does that argument have to the subject of contact methods? I’ll give you a hint: the answer starts with “no” and ends with “ne.” So why ask me this question in the first place? You’re trying to derail from the meat of my answer, quoted below, sans links to make reading easier for you:
This is what I think your ask clearly shows that you don’t understand about the Internet: you tried to like me for a long time and I never even knew you existed, but you don’t seem to consider that part. You’re ready to judge my behavior as if we have some kind of pseudo-friendship. We don’t. We never did.
And I’m not going to let you make me feel sorry or guilty or ashamed just because you’ve been engaging with me through my writing and my work under the delusion that this engagement grants you some kind of right to be free from being triggered by said work. Especially when I didn’t even know you existed. Especially when your very first interaction with me is to tell me that I’m abusive.
Again, why does it matter what I think about how you contacted me? The actual answer I gave you would not be any different whether you contacted me via email, or by blog comment, or by tweeting at me, or by leaving a comment on my Facebook wall, or calling me up on the phone. In every single one of those communication mediums, we would still have only had one interaction, ever, and I would not have known you existed until you chose one of those communication mechanisms. Moreover, regardless of the communication mechanism you chose to use, you’d still be initiating an engagement with me in which you brought all the history of your prior readings of my blog to the engagement.
Hate to break it to you, hun, but that’s called a relationship. In this case, it’s a “writer/reader relationship.” Or perhaps “blogger/subscriber.” It doesn’t actually matter what words you use to describe the relationship, we had a lowercase-r relationship that, between the two of us, only you had any knowledge of. Does that disturb you? Tough.
So, let me throw the question back at you: why did you choose to send me a Tumblr ask? You can answer or not, and I can take any number of guesses, but my point is it doesn’t matter because how you chose to contact me is a fucking derail and I won’t entertain it.
So, that’s your first sentence, and I’m just getting warmed up. Let’s move on to your terrific second sentence, where you condense a bunch of wrongheaded ideas in an impressively small amount of space.
The most glaring ones are the first words, “It’s not a tone argument to point out that [the phrase ‘kill yourself’ hurts people].” Um. Yes, actually, that’s exactly what a tone argument is, because what you’re responding so strongly to is how I’m telling people to go fuck off and leave me alone. Sorry, but you can’t squirm your way out of that.
When I tell people to fuck off and die, the content of my message is “get the fuck away from me.” By the way, I’ve tried “get the fuck away from me,” right after I tried “leave me the hell alone,” which I tried after I gave “go away” a shot, which I tried after “you’re not helping, please stop interacting with me” didn’t work. Notice a pattern?
Moving on, when you next write “victimize” in this sentence what you’re referring to is my use of the phrase “kill yourself” as an (often intentional) triggering reply in response to people whose first interaction with me is a derail or a tone argument, or just flat out verbal abuse like telling me I’m “garbage,” which I’d offer you a link for but ho hum I promised not to. And since, in your prior ask, you said you’ve read “all my diatribes,” I assume I don’t have to link you to the overwhelming amount of derails, such as the “false accusations,” “but what about the PAT-OKC ‘choking question’ and why don’t the questions use gender neutral language,” etc. that people have been making about the Predator Alert Tools. I’ll just assume you have the capacity for using your biological memory accurately. Which, bluntly, I don’t have a lot of good evidence for people actually being able to do, but I’ll risk it this time.
This, too, is an attempt to reframe the question, this time through erasure. I’ve been trying to get people to seriously consider the ideas and methodologies encoded in the Predator Alert Tools for well over a year, now. Did you ever bother to stop and think about why it is that only now, well over a year later, I’m using the phrase “kill yourself” so intensely? If I’d used “kill yourself” from the very beginning, your point would at least have a leg to stand on, but that’s not what happened—and since you mentioned before you’ve been defending Predator Alert Tool to people for a while, you know this to be true.
Given that, why do you suddenly behave as though that history doesn’t factor into the present?
Maybe you’re triggered. Legit; I trigger people, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. People get triggered by all sorts of stuff that comes up for them through the course of their daily lives, especially when they live in an oppression culture like this; that’s called living in reality, and like it or not, we have to either get used to that or fucking do something to make it less triggering.
But you’re not going to make reality less triggering by socially policing people so that they’re afraid to break some social norm just because it might, one day, sometime in the future, trigger someone else. What such policing does accomplish is perpetuating the current hostile, triggering status quo. OB. VI. OUS. LY.
On that note, I’ll tell you what I told Cliff pervocracy about this whole “maymay is victimizing people” lunacy:
People don’t just go around killing themselves because someone they’ve engaged first replies that way to the insult they’ve hurled across the Internet. People kill themselves because the totality of the pain they’re experiencing in their lives dramatically outpaces their ability to process and cope with it.
When you try to shame me for saying “kill yourself” in these contexts, one thing you’re doing is imparting unrealistic power to the words of strangers to affect your own life, which is a fundamentally disempowering thing to model for people. You’re also seriously trivializing all the other influences in the circumstances in which real people actually commit suicide.
So yeah, great job “empowering” people. *eyeroll* But more to the point, given that I’ve been doing my damnedest to keep this conversation focused on creating and improving tools to resist rape culture, when you try to make the conversation about “maymay is victimizing people by telling them to kill themselves,” that’s a subject matter change, which is a derail.
Lastly, still in your second sentence, you assert that my behavior is “completely counterproductive” because it “victimizes the same people PAT is designed to empower.” Well, I told what I think about this “victimize” word you used, but I have some opinions about the rest, too.
Firstly, it’s only if you understand my goal solely be “make PAT popular” that you would come to the conclusion my behavior is “completely counterproductive.” But that’s not actually my goal. If PAT became popular, we would no longer need it. (We said this in the Predator Alert Tool for Facebook FAQ, which maybe you didn’t read because it’s not on my blog.)
The reason we would no longer need something like PAT if something like PAT became popular is because the only thing PAT actually does is flip people’s paradigms around. In the case of PAT-Facebook, for example, the technology is mundane. Its technology is truly boring. Technologically speaking, all PAT-Facebook is is an ugly Facebook wall that isn’t controlled by the Facebook user it’s attached to. That’s it.
The power in that comes from the fact that the context is different. When you go to post on your Facebook wall, Facebook literally prompts you with, “What’s happening?” When you go to write a statement about a Facebook user on PAT-Facebook, PAT-Facebook is metaphorically asking you, “What experiences have you had that involve this person?”
And that’s what people freak out about: the ability to have other people actually share experiences they’ve had with them in a venue they don’t control. Well, guess what, that’s no different from the rest of the Internet. So why aren’t people objecting to Tumblr or Twitter or WordPress or Facebook itself in the same way?
And if PAT-Facebook became popular, one thing that would happen is that people would more or less understand that they actually can speak out about their experiences. They don’t need PAT-Facebook for that. The technology is just a vehicle. What I’m actually hacking on is cultural social norms.
So if you can understand that as my goal, if you can understand that my entire purpose in this is to change what people think is appropriate behavior, then my breaking all sorts of social justice holy laws like “don’t trigger people, tone arguments are always bad, etc.” might make a lot more sense to you, and suddenly my behavior won’t look so “completely counterproductive” as it once did.
And fuck, watching social justice bloggers police one another is like watching cats arguing with toddlers. I’m almost embarrassed for you people. That’s why I’m not interested in following any Holy Commandments for being “an ally” or the right kind of “social justice.” (Again, links omitted for your reading bemusement.)
The number of times I’ve made this utterly clear, and the number of times these predictable social justice automatons try making the same failed argument at me for why I should be X or why I shouldn’t do Y is ridiculous. I’m not interested in your rules. Your model of reality is flawed. You have a glaring error in your discourse. In no uncertain terms, you are corrupt.
How much clearer must I be about this before you stop believing that just one more Tumblr ask, just one more tweet @-me, just one more piece of hate mail, just one more gentle nudge, just one more person sharing their sob story of the big, bad, evil evil who evils, somebody known as maymay, will convince me that you’re right and I’m wrong?
All right, now for the third and final sentence. I’ll be briefer about this because it’s got nothing new in it to address. You wrote:
Considering that the success of PAT-FB is contingent on the development of a wide base of users who are willing to report predators, I would think you’d give a shit about whether or not you’re alienating the people you’re marketing it to.
You’re wrong, point by point:
Here’s the bottom line.
I’m not trying to tell you (or anyone) that what you believe to be good is wrong. I’m not telling you not to think badly of me, or that you have no right to use the language you’re using. It’s you and others like you who are policing other people’s belief systems, other people’s use of language, by trying to coercively impose your standards, your rules of conduct, on them.
What I’m doing in response to that is making myself totally ungovernable by your social norms. I’m intentionally breaking the rules that you’ve placed yourself under.
Maybe part of why I’m triggering to some people is because when they see someone breaking rules they still hold themselves to, it’s confusing at best and downright terrifying at worst. Well, tough shit. You don’t get to determine the rules other people have to live by.
And if that’s a problem for you, then you actually do have the power to leave those people the fuck alone, especially when those people’s primary influence in your life is by BEING A BLOG YOU CHOSE TO FOLLOW.
But that’s not actually what you chose to do, is it? You chose to engage me. So don’t act all surprised when your utter stupidity earns you a verbal smackdown, capisce?