More on Internet debates, the tone argument and issues of power and privilege

Cheryl Morgan has a great response to my post about internet debates and the tone argument.

In her post, Cheryl points out two different ways in which such internet debates progress. The first one goes as follows:

Privileged person posts something clueless → Less privileged people disagree, sometimes loudly or snarkily → Friends of the original poster and bystanders complain about the toxic atmosphere on the internet.

The second one goes as follows:

Marginalized posts about asking for more representation of themselves → More privileged people have a fit and feel that their freedom of speech is endangered → Marginalized person receives rape and death threats for their trouble → There are comparatively few complaints about the toxic atmosphere on the internet.

Of the debates raging currently in the SFF community, the debate about “masculine” writing and the debate about awards eligibility lists are examples of No. 1, while the debate about post-binary gender in SFF is an example of No. 2.

Though I found it striking that the most vehement objections to the Alex Dally McFarlane’s post about post-binary gender all seemed to originate with members of the same religious community, which suggests that a certain religious denomination really seems to have issues with the idea of post-binary gender. Meanwhile, debates about the irrelevance of genre awards and the fact that the wrong works and artists tend to get nominated usually originate with male British writers, critics and fans (quite often the same people, too, year after year), which suggests that a certain group of male British writers and critics is really at odds with the rest of the genre.

Though the two different modes of internet debates aren’t just confined to the online SFF community and related geek communities either. For example, I hang out quite a bit in the online community for self-published writers and we get the same type of debates with the same dynamics there, including complaints from the privileged (i.e. big sellers and some trad-published authors) about the toxic atmosphere on the internet, when they’re just trying to be helpful by telling everybody else how they are just hobbyists and will never be successful, because they are doing it wrong, i.e. not the way the successful person offering advice is doing things.

So this seems to be a universal thing.


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2 Responses to More on Internet debates, the tone argument and issues of power and privilege

  1. Mark says:

    I don’t think that the problem in these discussions is the tone or the toxic atmosphere. In my opinion, the problems are the binary thinking (good/bad, privileged/less privileged, rich/poor, left/right) and the extremely predictable dynamics. And that’s frustrating, and at least in my case, yes, it leads to a form of self-censoring, but not because of some kind of “group-think” pressure (if at all, there is a both a right and a left “group think”). It’s because it will not lead to anything anyway.

    My own socialization in Internet discussions included one or two years of participating in discussions on the Asimov’s message forum (that was a couple of years back). I just couldn’t resist responding to comments by some idiots who were whining about being rejected by progressive editors, leftist agendas and the death of the true blue kind of SF or in one case even wished the editor of Asimov’s a horrible death.

    Now a couple of years later I’m reading that article by Alex Dally McFarlane, which I think is excellent and very relevant, but I only agree with about 95% of it. I guess I’m just too slow, but because before there is even a chance to respond there are already the predictable kind of comments, some from the very same people from Asimov’s message forum a couple of years ago. Do I want to side with them? No. Do I think that people will already be programmed to automatically put you either in the 100% friend or 100% enemy category? Yes.

    These discussions are 100% deterministic. Instead of just providing the original content the authors of an article or a blog post could just as easily also add the commentary in advance.

    • Cora says:

      I totally agree that these discussions can be frustrating, especially since they tend to go around in circles with always the same outcome. And while I never participated in the old Asimov’s forums, I did see some of the discussions there and some of the same names are resurfacing here.

      I think the problem is that the US in general is divided into two political camps with set opinions and that spills over into discussions in the SFF community. Since you and I are not Americans, we don’t neatly fit into those patterns and indeed I’ve gotten the “But you’re not one of those people, so how can you have this opinion on this issue” reaction whenever I expressed an opinion that does not match the US left/right divide.

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