On the Issues of Disagreement Becoming Censorship

The conversation I had one night and into the next morning with the GamerGate supporter (i.e. a ProGGer) was long. It started off with my comments on Twitter about the need to not censor texts and instead use them to create dialogue. But the problem is that people too often don’t want to talk about things they disagree with, and thus would rather censor a text than engage in a painful discussion.

This was a year ago. I was afraid to post this back then. I am less afraid now because I see what I have here as being helpful to work being done by myself and others.

So I tagged ‪#‎GamerGate with this. And as always seems to happen when I do so, I get a response from one ProGGer who seems to need to defend the movement. He suggested that I was acting all superior by insinuating myself in something that was none of my business.

So that lead to an immensely long conversation — about five hours — over Twitter. The conversation ranged from how to do dialogue to what is empiricism to the nature of harassment to the problem with with AntiGGers and so on and so forth. At one point, he even brought in Arthur Chu to the conversation, and he seemed hurt when I asked Chu to ignore us because Chu was not relevant to the conversation. So I brought Chu back in, and, it just went on.

Parts of the conversation (it was a lot of try to record) can be found in this Storify: Another GamerGate Conversation with Depth and Breadth

Now, I think in doing all of this, I still don’t understand everything that is going on, other than the need for people with far more conflict resolution training than I have (which is none) getting involved in this debate.

What I think I do understand is the following;

1) ProGGers may not see online trolling, bullying as harassment. This man said that death threats and doxing is harassment, but calling people names and attacking them in Twitter and forums is not harassment, because they need to learn to toughen up and not be delicate flowers. He also said he has been bullied himself, and did not seem to think it was possible to to stop bullies, and so not worth trying.

2) That the issue is not just journalistic ethics; it is about people making claims about the meanings of texts that suggest meanings they do not agree with, and then the perception that those people making such claims are trying to impose their meanings on everyone else. So the whole issue of journalism ethics is because of their perception that SJWs — read liberals, as is often the “slander” used against me in these conversations — are trying to change the these texts against their will.

3) ProGGers apparently see themselves as the true fans of games, and antiGGers, SJWs, and so forth are not true fans. This came up when I mentioned fractured fandom, and he positioned ProGGers this way. So the idea of identity being wrapped up in these games does seem to be at work here.

4) There seems to be a sense that they are not doing anything wrong. Often he mentioned that there is no evidence that any “real” harassment was done by ProGGers, and that even if there was, there was no way to police it because they are not a true cohesive entity. So if you are able to position yourself by saying there is no harassment occurring, and even if there was, it does not reflect on yourself, then you are able to ignore all of the horrible things being done in your name, and focus instead on those you see as doing horrible things against you — although those horrible things seem to be classified as harassment and you do not seem to need to grow that tough skin. Unless ProGGers think they all already have tough skins, and it is only liberals who need to grow them.

5) There is a tendency to say that they base their behaviors on assumptions based on patterns they have observed, saying that the patterns overwhelmingly prove that they are being ignored, not being treated well, being harassed. So he would often say that he does not need to give individuals the benefit of the doubt and engage with them as individuals, using the empathy he says he gained from his mother. Instead, he would see them as representations of the pattern, assume that he knew what they would do/say, and act accordingly (i.e. attack, try to win, not talk to understand). But then they will focus on specific cases, and not patterns, to prove their points that SJWs are attacking them. So I could bring up the empirical research of content analysis of video games, and he would focus on Anita getting one thing “wrong” as he case for why SJWs are out to attack video games.

6) I’m not sure there is listening occurring. He started with what he called a “mild rebuke” of my comments on censorship and dialogue, and then he would vacillate between wanting to understand me, to wanting to prove his point, to wanting to attack me (calling me condescending, a leftie, not understanding reality, an AntiGGer, and so forth). I would ask him questions, but he would not answer my questions, and he would make assumptions about me without asking me questions, even when I asked him to. I gave him my entire stance on GG, and he seemingly ignored it because it did not fight into his assumptions of what I am.

I wish I had friends who were on this side. I wish I had not given up on people I so fundamentally disagree with. But it is psychically taxing to deal with people who only want to attack you because you think something different than they do. For me I do not care if you do not like me, but if you misunderstand or mischaracterize my ideas, then I will work to rectify that situation.

So much of fractured fandom simply appears to be people unable or unwilling to engage in open honest dialogue online and elsewhere. Such a waste. Is there no way to create dialogue when all people want to do is win an argument or censor someone’s voice?

The problem is, people who disagree about such texts often cannot discuss them in respectful, dialogic ways that do not devolve into abuse. If you are offended by a pop cultural text, do not shut it down — open up a conversation about it. But that means it must be respectful.

Censoring a pop cultural text is ridiculous. Use it instead as conversation starter for honest and respectful dialogue.

7 thoughts on “On the Issues of Disagreement Becoming Censorship

  1. Hmm.

    One of the main and most important lessons I learned in becoming a fan (after having been a professor for more than a decade at that point) is that the rest of the world does not obey the rhetorical rules of the academy. I may be able to impose the “no ad hominem, no informal fallacies rule” in my classroom successfully and with some success but not complete success on my blog, but I don’t get to make that rule for the rest of the world. So even though I hate personal attacks in Cyberworld, I tend suspect that your interlocutor has a more realistic assessment of the world of discourse elsewhere, which really does follow the “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” rule. It’s condescending to tell people they need to toughen up but it is a lesson that one can learn on the right playground.

    I don’t think it would be noteworthy to anyone BUT an academic that identity battles would be caught up in talking about fandom. To make a parallel — I taught about the history of religion to people who practiced those religions and tension or anger was often the result when I said something that I believed to be historically true but which was less integratable in the world of identity of the religious people who were my students. For me, the religion I studied is a TEXT, but that’s not what it is for practitioners, and the acafan straddles an uncomfortable divide here and should not think of herself as somehow free from parti pris. When I write analytically about my fanness, I am straddling an uncomfortable line — insofar as I can still think on some level analytically about the subject, or try to, but am speaking to people who don’t make that distinction and are aware that my emotional investment in the topic means that my perspective is not as “clean” as I would represent it as being. (Hence the frequent comment within a fandom that you’re ‘not a good fan’ if you don’t love everything about the object, or that if you don’t like something, you should “just go away; why do you stick around if you don’t like it?”). I eventually concluded (after writing repeatedly about identity battles) that the very act of fandom involves making a construction that is somehow central to identity (I would call this a “tulpa”), and so asking people not trained in this technique of making a distinction between their emotional or personal reactions to something and their rational reactions to it was pointless if I was asking people who were not trained in this technique. In short — academics are trained from the very beginning to set aside their emotional reactions to anything as one of many readings. That rule does not apply outside our world. The fan themself is engaging in the work of being a fan precisely by creating the object that speaks to them or with which they identify. Along these lines, one could argue that those fans are most successful who cling most fervently to their vision of something — which may mean defending it against challenges. In other words, most people outside the academy aren’t willing to or at least experienced in relativizing their identities (or what we would call their thinking about them). And since they haven’t signed up for my class, they haven’t asked me to teach them about how to do it, either.

    In light of these two circumstances (the rules of discourse are different, and the act of relativizing identity is not customary) among fans who are not academics, the assumption of a potential shared rationality or common ground (you call this “not listening” and “ignoring my stance”) that allows people to listen to each other is probably a faulty one. If I wanted to make this point about politics, I might say, the problem with Trump voters is not that they have a capacity to listen to rational arguments but choose not to employ it. It’s something else entirely. Or if I wanted to make a parallel to the modern day, I would make an analogy between the assumptions of certain political positions (“those women want to ruin games for us”) and things like our perception of the “laws” of gravity. No one ever asks if gravity is operating — we don’t have debates about what will happen if we drop babies off buildings. No ProGGer asks *whether* gaming women are asking for something reasonable/unreasonable when they ask for certain behaviors to end or games to change to be more equitable. That they are making an unreasonable request is more or less an axiom of the position, an identity element.

    In this sense, the demand for “listening” and “respect” is unintelligible. Would you respect me if I denied the law of gravity? In fact, people who deny gravity are dangerous — they might drop their babies off of buildings and expect them to bounce. They need to be stopped because they explode the boundaries of reason in our constituted world. I think this is what is happening for ProGGers. Whether that’s fair or not from an academic or even an outsider non-academic perspective is another question, but I submit that the world outside academia employs the entire notion of fairness quite differently than either (say) professors or lawyers, and that I am not sure that we have a right to insist that our rules of rationality apply universally.


    1. All very good points, but it is not going to stop me from trying to work on communication skills and situations that would help people help themselves and each other. I am a communication scholar; it’s what I do.


      1. Hmm. You wrote: “But the problem is that people too often don’t want to talk about things they disagree with, and thus would rather censor a text than engage in a painful discussion,” thus arguing that disagreement with an approach did *not* constitute an attempt to censor a discussion, or foreclose a line of inquiry. So I would ask you, “which people” don’t want to talk? My notes on your post did not, from my perspective, constitute me telling you what to do or not do; you were expressing frustration with the inability of certain groups of people to engage in conversation according to your rules. Pointing out that it may not be possible to enforce a particular group of discursive rules in a particular setting is not saying that no one should do so; it was a gentle attempt to point out that discursive rules are not absolute and so insistence on one set of these rules may blind to us a more efficacious path through the thicket.

        I agree that the whole question of “why can’t opponents talk to each other productively at all at the moment” is a meaningful question, but I think one reason (apart from the medium itself, which I think is restrictive to the employment of empathy in a lot of situations) we see so little interesting or useful output on it is that the categories we use to understand it are useless. Our rhetorical assumptions about how best to communicate are so rigid that we can no longer understand each other, and that goes for both sides.

        On a rhetorical level, you might consider comparing fan communication over conflict issues to religious communication over conflicted matters, because there are some remarkable similarities.


      2. I see the problem of not walking to talk coming from all kinds of people. In simplistic terms, from the left and the right. But people seem to not have the patience and listening skills they need to engage with those they disagree with, and so much has been done to polarize people so that they do not see the “other side” – whatever it may be – as having any worthwhile ideas to listen to because they are the other side. And of course this relates to religious fractions, because those fractions are caused by the same type of tribalistic psychology as the other fractions.


      3. Ouch. Well, if religious disagreement is “caused by tribalistic psychology” for you, you will certainly have a hard time parsing the subtleties of religious communication. Isn’t part of what is supposed to happen in communication studies that ones tries to understand what people say and why they say it from their own perspective? That question was rhetorical.


      4. Yes, of course, and part of it is due to the tribalism that lingers in humanity. And it is what I am trying to do with all the work I am doing. But the reason I am coming across as cross in these responses to you is because I perceive you as saying my work is for no good because I am an academic. To me, you seem to be saying that I shouldn’t bother. This isn’t like a finished project. This is a work in progress. But you seem to be responding to my work as if I have already decided my mind. In fact, you seem to be responding in the way that I see as one of the ways leading to fractures: already having decided that I am right or wrong. So let me ask you this: are you doing that? Do you see any value in what I am trying to do? Or do you think I should just stop, given the comments you have made? Or do you think I should continue, and, if so, what research/scholarship would you suggest I consider to do so?


      5. And I am sorry if I sound cross, but I am tired of seeing these types of conversations seemingly everywhere I look. If you have any suggestions for how to improve my work, then I welcome those.


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