Do people being evil know they are being evil?

A colleague of mine, a brilliant high powered and accomplished professional, took the brave step this last weekend of questioning an egregious case of gender inequality. And promptly got slammed for it.

I forced myself to read some of the chains of on-line attack comments, and they made my skin crawl. Those of you who have been following recent events around computer games know that this has become standard practice: A woman dares to point out the obvious fact of a “boys only” club in high technology, and then the attacks start.

And they never attack her ideas — they attack her in a sexually suggestive, degrading, highly physical way, as though simply being a woman is some sort of crime.

It’s an age old story, and we’ve seen it all before: White people in 19th century America incensed by the idea of black people learning to read and write, straight people offended by gays for the crime of not being straight, or all sorts of people denouncing Jews because — well, because they’re Jews.

This is how evil operates. Somebody is condemned not because of their ideas, but because they happen to inhabit a body of the wrong kind.

So all those creepy teenage fanboys making lewd on-line comments about my colleague, commenting on her breasts or publicly fantasizing about raping her — I wonder whether they understand that they are getting into bed with Adolph Hitler, and with every white supremacist with a coiled rope and a murderous gleam in his eye.

Do they know they are being evil?

2 Responses to “Do people being evil know they are being evil?”

  1. CC says:

    Could you post a link to the original post and comments? Until then, unfortunately, I can only speak to the general case and hope it’s relevant to your colleague’s specific experience:

    It sounds like your colleague made a post open to comment by the anonymous web, and her opinions were unpopular. It should go without saying that unlike Hitler and KKK members, these commenters wouldn’t actually act on the ideas they put into their comments. Doing so would necessitate actual conviction that these commenters lack. They don’t actually hate your colleague, and they don’t actually hate women. In a way that only an anonymous internet allows, they’re retaliating because they’re uncomfortable with the themes in your colleague’s message.

    The reasons why they’re uncomfortable with those themes (they may not have actually read the message itself) vary, but the most common reason is that they don’t spend much time reading or thinking about gender equality because of the messages they’ve received from misguided proponents of gender equality. “Feminists” who post a picture of period blood and say only chauvinists would think it’s gross, others who call a gamer misogynist because his favorite games don’t have woman playable characters, these people have poisoned the well of gender equality discussion. They’ve made Feminism associated with chastising and blaming every man for their perceived problems in society, even when individual men had nothing to do with those problems. If a post seems to align with that message, even in a subtler way, it’s easy to lump it in with the other garbage and respond to it in the same way.

    People reading just enough of her post to bring back the bad taste of misguided attempts at feminism don’t feel like compiling actual arguments to generate a discussion and potentially change your colleague’s mind. Unless a person, situation, and community are all known to be a safe place for discussion, one of the greatest follies you can perform on the internet is to argue. So, the majority of people are already disinclined to discuss gender equality with a stranger. But what people can do easily, without much thought at all, is try to make someone angry.

    Angry people make fools of themselves and thus make their own ideas seem foolish. The easiest way to make someone angry is to personally insult them, and the best subjects of an insult are those that make that person different, or ones that that person takes seriously. By making her post, your colleague revealed that she is a woman, and takes gender equality seriously. So, the people trying to make her mad used that information to inform the insults they slung at her. If she had instead talked about racial inequality, those same people would have thrown around racial slurs and insulted her race as well as they could. Because, these people don’t actually care about what they’re insulting, nor do they believe it. Their only goal is to upset your colleague and anyone who agrees with her.

    There are some things your colleague should do. The first one is to ignore the trolls who are only saying things to upset her. Since they don’t actually believe the things they say, they’re not going to have any problem shouting the same things all the more loudly if she tried to actually engage them specifically in conversation. In the same vein, she should never indicate that what those people said hurt her feelings. They are actually fishing for angry or hurt responses. If no one bites, they’ll move on to see if they can’t piss off some other person.

    Unfortunately, if your colleague has people in her comment section trying to defend her, these people will be the bites the trolls were looking for. Even if your colleague ignores the trolls well, they’ve already found people who will respond to their insults. I think her best option in that case would be to moderate her comments, removing arguments, with some statement like, “While I encourage discussion about the posts on this site, arguments devolving into personal insults will be removed.” Something like that, maybe less inflammatory. It’s important that she’d then only remove people being insulting to each other, not just any insulting post. In this way, she’d show a good example of gracefully ignoring insults directed at her, and encourage others like her to do the same, without appearing to retaliate against anyone who has negative things to say about her.

    Finally, to sift the trolls from the legitimately misguided, and to foster relevant discussion on a real issue, she should follow up acknowledging that she received a lot of feedback on her last post, and that “if you’d like to legitimately discuss the things I said last post, feel free to leave a comment below.” A post like this will also attract hopeful trolls, but it’d encourage people to post actual thoughts they have on the actual things she said, and she’d be able to discuss the contents of her posts with people who might respectfully disagree.

    All of this is said under the assumption that your colleague is emotionally able to handle the dynamics of an open internet community. Although the people themselves are not necessarily hateful, they will say very hateful and hurtful things. And, while ignoring them may help by boring them away, others may take their place. It’s unlikely that she’ll ever have any sizable community without some amount of trolling happening. If she doesn’t feel like she can handle that kind of interaction, she might want to switch to a whitelisted system like you have here, or simply disable comments if she doesn’t even want to read hate mail at all.

    Aaaand that’s a two-page essay… I guess I felt the need to defend people being called “Hitler” and “white supremacist” unduly.

  2. Adam Gravois says:

    Great question, Ken. Why do people behave like this? I couldn’t say.

    I do know that anonymity isn’t to blame, as cc suggests. Many of these people comment with their real names, via Facebook and Twitter. Nor is this the fault of “misguided feminists”, that favorite bogeywoman of sophisticated misogynists everywhere. Violence against women long, long predates the existence of feminists.
    If anyone needs evidence, they should read the comments on literally any article about misogyny in gaming culture. Or try this: https://mobile.twitter.com/femfreq/status/504718160902492160

    While “Internet death threat” isn’t quantitatively equivalent to “systematic murder of millions” it is absolutely on the same continuum of evil.

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