Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Vitriol Revisited

A few years ago, I blogged about a conflict that arose in our little corner of the internet. I called it On Vitriol and those posts can be found here. Fair warning: I don’t know how successful those posts were. While they did provoke some thought, they also offended people.

Recently, there has been another conflict in our space that folks are concerned enough about that they’ve publicly blogged about conflict resolution and how to get through this most resent clash with as little damage as possible. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to revisit some of the ideas that I tried to communicate with my posts On Vitriol.

Before I go further, I need to make this clear: I have no real skin in this game. I am not active on G+ (where, evidently this conflict has had the most impact) and besides a couple of posts on blogs I frequent, I would have lived life without being aware of this conflict and it would likely have had (or even have) little effect on my gaming life (such as it is). Therefore, I am not particularly interested in the personalities involved and I don’t intend to impugn or defend anyone.

This post is intended to be about ideas, not the specific people directly involved in the current conflict (although, ultimately, this is about people in general). I will be linking to some posts where these ideas happen to appear, but this is to give folks an opportunity to see these ideas in context not an endorsement or condemnation of the people who posted these ideas.

Having said that, I want to pull three quotes that I find particularly interesting:
Those seeking justice often have to organize allies in order to force contact and conversation, negotiation. Trying to create communication is almost always the uphill struggle of the falsely blamed. And entire movements are structured around the goal of forcing one party to face the reality of the other, and thereby face themselves. — Sarah Schulman (link here)
What we need now, in our political leaders, in our communities, in our lives is humility. Have the humility to know that you don't have all the answers. Have the humility to know when to stop obsessing about something. — Greg C. (Link here)
The content objectives followed one rule: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Post what you're working on already, not something designed specifically for posting, and don't worry about whether it's perfect. — Matt Finch (Link here)
Assuming that these three ideas exist in a post-Christian/secular/ atheist context, the only one that has any legs is Sarah’s. Notice that her’s is the only one that deals with power structures and the force necessary to move power. In the face of power and force, humility and the concept of good have no real use or value.

This exposes one of the great weaknesses of a post-Christian/ secular/atheist society: it is very vulnerable to authoritarian and totalitarian impulses. While Sarah couches her argument in justice, the defense of those who are falsely accused and those who are outside of power structures, this model ignores the possibility of those in power framing themselves as the falsely accused and framing those outside of power as the ones making the false accusations and the injustice of it all. This strategy has been used multiple times throughout history to solidify extant power structures. For example: Stalin and the bourgeoisie, Mao and Western cultural influences, Pol Pot and the intelligentsia and Hitler and the Jews.

Within the space that we occupy in communities on the internet, power is not primarily derived from physical force as it is in the (admittedly) extreme examples I mentioned above. Rather, we deal in reputation and influence. One has power based on the number of followers/readers/clicks they have and the number of ups/retweets/shares they get. Thus, when there is conflict it targets these power structures. As a consequence, it can get very nasty indeed. The most effective means of reducing someone’s power on the internet is to destroy their reputation and/or destroy their influence.

Internet fights usually involve exposing nasty details of an opponent’s personality to ruin reputations and bullying and harassing to reduce the amount of time and energy the opponent actually spends on-line. I don’t think anyone can disagree that this is the world we live in. Indeed, I would argue that we got Trump because the folks who had put so much value in humility and in the concept of good realized that these had no value in our post-Christian/secular/atheist world and so turned to someone who knows how to wield power in the Twitter-verse. As a consequence, our society is in process of shedding any vestige of civility.

If we are interested in placing value on humility, goodness or anything other than power then we need to start acknowledging the value of a Christian culture. Please note: I am not advocating for people to become Christians (although that would be nice), just that they acknowledge that having the idea of a Christian God is important, even vital, to a free and functioning society. I am also aware that Christians are just as capable as anyone else of abusing power; however, even just having the notion that the Christian God is a good idea helps place value on things like humility and goodness.

The Trinitarian God of Christianity is a relational being (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who loves human beings to such an extent that, in the person of the Son, He willingly became a human being in order to be tortured and killed so that He could share Himself with us. Since this same God created us according to His image and likeness, there is intrinsic value (goodness) in imitating Him in order to become like Him and fulfill the potential of that image and likeness. Thus, even in the face of power, standards like humility and goodness still have value because these things not only come from God, but are demonstrated by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, within the context of our own online community, the most important implication of the Trinitarian image and likeness is that of relationship. If God is a relational being and we are made according to His image and likeness, than we are also meant to be relational beings. This also goes beyond merely being friends with those with whom we agree. God is a radical other. His being is so different from ours that we cannot hope to be able to ever comprehend it. Yet, He took on our humanity to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thus, if we are to strive to fulfill God’s image and likeness in ourselves, we must strive to be in fruitful relationships with those who are radically different than us: not only those who look and act differently than we do, but those with whom we disagree.

In this context, power becomes largely meaningless and values like humility and goodness not only become important but manifest in us.

Thus, I humbly ask, that we allow God back in, even if only as an idea.

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