Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Vitriol Part 4

My last post on this topic elicited this response from JB over at B/X Blackrazor:
I haven't thought too much about the relationships that this corner o the blog-o-sphere creates, but I think you're right...the interaction that takes place within "blog space" is just as important (if not more so) than in having a pulpit from which to shout our ideas. And with that in mind, it certainly does behoove us to "just get along" and rise above the petty squabbles.

I say that...but then there are folks that I've simply divorced myself from who might otherwise be part of my communal community. Folks who have beliefs that I can't (in good conscious) support, and who I don't want to publicize...not by talking about them, not by creating links from my blog. For me, these are folks who have consistently put out really hateful shit (NOT "game related"), and while we may share a love of gaming (regardless of system or edition), they're beliefs are such that I don't find "value added" by including them in the conversation.

Is that un-Christian of me?

This is a very important question that needs its own post.

Let me begin by saying that when James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flaming Princess made the business decision to start using graphic images and nudity in both his products and his blog banner, I removed his link from my own blog. I also did not purchase the Grindhouse Edition of LotFP because of that artwork.

At the time, I explained that I disagreed with his choice. Personally, I think the artwork that has real staying power is that that which does not titillate. I also have two daughters and I certainly did not feel comfortable linking to or looking at a website or reading game material with those images when my girls are often in the same room when I am using my computer or looking at my games.

However, one of the purposes of relationship is to follow the command of Christ to love — not just your neighbor who looks and thinks like you, but the radical other and your enemy.

One could quote Matthew 7:6, “Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you.” But this is specifically in context of preaching the Gospel — holy things. This does not excuse completely cutting off a relationship.

This is where it is very important to understand two axioms that are commonly forgotten in an era where the rational mind is overemphasized:

  • Emotions are not Ideas
  • Ideas are not People

When confronted by an idea that elicits a negative emotional response, we often reject the idea as bad because of that emotional response. Therefore, we often mistake a negative emotional response as an idea and therefore a legitimate argument. Thus, one might be tempted to say that James Raggi is wrong for using the artwork he does because it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Emotional responses, however, are not a legitimate counter-argument against ideas. For example, Raggi’s business model has been successful. Therefore his idea has some merit (at least in terms of using that artwork as a tool for selling his product). For a less controversial example, Gallileo’s hypothesis of the sun being the center of the solar system probably created a lot of negative emotional responses. I hope we all realize how illegitimate those emotions are for arguing against the make-up of the solar system.

We also like to use all kinds of labels in order to categorize things and people into easily digestible nuggets of information: Democrat, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Tea Party, Libertarian, Fascist, Nazi, Communist, etc. The vast majority of these labels encompass an idea or a set of ideas. We cannot make the mistake, however, of confusing that idea with a person.

Let me give you two examples:

St. Justin Martyr was a millennialist. This is a belief that Christ will reign for a thousand years on earth after His second coming. This was rejected by the Church. Yet, Justin is still revered as a saint. Thus, St. Justin is more than merely a millennialist — more than just an idea.

I have a painting hanging next to my computer by a man who volunteered to fight with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. I could very easily dismiss him and his art because he is a Nazi-sympathizer. To do so, however, would ignore and miss out on a great story, a good man and a great artist. He was an Estonian national who saw the Nazis as liberators and ended up having to flee his homeland until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I use these illustrations to point out that it is not only possible to have relationships with people who hold to ideas we disagree with, but to have fruitful relationships. Thus, if we dismiss people because they are associated with an idea, or are labelled because they hold to that idea, we are doing ourselves and them a disservice for not looking beyond that idea to find common ground, to find relationship, to find something worth while and fruitful.

Thus, my answer to JB is this:

Is it okay to have a negative emotional response? Absolutely.
Is it okay to give yourself space in order to minimize the occurrence of those negative emotions? Yes.
Is it okay to cut off any possible interaction or relationship with the person who is the source of those negative emotions? I am inclined to say no, with a caveat. I’ve dealt with enough domestic violence to know that severing all contact can be the only really healthy solution; however, I want to challenge everybody who has encountered what generally gets labelled as HATE on the internet:

Go back and look at it again. Wrestle with it. Does your problem with the person stem from ideas or emotional responses? If it is from emotional responses, why are you or they having those responses? This is a really important question, because emotions need to be dealt with in a fundamentally different manner than ideas.

Here is another axiom that I find really useful when dealing with people of all stripes in any situation: if you are involved in an argument, especially when there is a strong emotional response, it is your fault. I will grant that the other party has also contributed to the damage, but the only person you have control over is you. In order to get past that argument and to move beyond that emotional response you need to take responsibility for what you did in order to contribute to the situation — even if that contribution was .0001% of the problem.

At the very least, you can be confident that you have left the door open and done what you needed to do to help the other party — even if they never decide to go through that door.

It also gives us the ability to say: the manner in which you expressed that idea made me feel [insert emotion here]. If you don’t want me or others to feel that way, please express yourself differently. As to the merits of the idea itself…

I will grant that this is not a foolproof method. Again, the only person you can control is yourself; however, it is an approach that helps differentiate emotions and ideas so that both can be dealt with in an appropriate manner. In the end, even if the people with whom we disagree or have strong emotional responses toward never change, we have at the very least given them the opportunity.

From personal experience, the gift of that opportunity has resulted in far more fruit than I ever considered possible.


Geoffrey McKinney said...

"[I]t is not only possible to have relationships with people who hold to ideas we disagree with, but to have fruitful relationships."

That's right. With the exception of my wife, I do not know a single person who does not hold at least one opinion that I find horrible. Imagine if I holed myself up in my house and refused to talk with anyone but my wife!

JB said...

@ Fr. Dave:

Hmm...when I said "hateful shit," I may not have been explicit enough. I'm talking about folks who are expressing the idea "we should hate this [insert class/culture] of person." There's nothing in their idea (that we should hate someone for happening to be, say, Muslim) that I can support in the slightest...because I'm not about encouraging hatred.

So rather than give such individual's publicity (even negative publicity), I excise them from my corner of the 'net. With some (who I thought might be open to conversation), I first attempted a dialogue (not an argument, per se..,they're certainly entitled to an opinion). With others I've seen how they respond to folks who disagreed with their opinion, and I simply choose not to engage. I don't have time to "troll" people.

Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to address this, and I'm not dismissing your points. I'll certainly ruminate on 'em.

Peter Fröhlich said...

Just got back to reading blogs after a break of a few weeks and I have to say that this is an amazingly "grown-up" perspective on some of the negativity that can pop up here and there. Kudos!

FrDave said...

Hate is an emotion and cannot be reasoned with. It can be forgiven and one can love the hater, but the internet is an extremely limited form of communication that hampers our ability to convey that forgiveness and that love. Thus I would concur with your approach, as long as that door is open.

Of course part of my job description requires me to take hate head on, and it is best dealt with face to face.