Do we need more direct action than debate on inclusive spaces?

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As the recent /r/anarchism drama slowly dies down, we keep having discussions on the merits of the various courses of action we’re considering. I just wrote a lengthy reply on the issue of “aggressive censorship” on the subreddit that I thought was interesting enough to share1.

The background here is the ban of a Men’s Rights Advocate (MRA) who started hanging out in /r/anarchism making civil but strictly anti-feminist comments. He continued doing this for a while and many people expressed how annoyed they were by his presence, especially since it coincided with the subreddit being linked from others ones, and thus waves of the classic redditor (which takes casual sexism to new heights) started coming in and upvoting this MRA’s comments. His multiple derailments led me to give him a warning and after discussion among the regular members of the reddit once he outright refused to stop this behaviour, we decided to ban him.

The following is one of the discussions that followed

db0: The problem is not that he’s wrong, but that he’s derailing discussions left and right and is unwilling to stop. I had no problem with him being wrong. I have a problem with him being disruptive. And even though it doesn’t bother me especially, I’m a privileged person in this situation so this doesn’t mean much. His attitude is still creating an atmosphere which is alienating to the people we’re trying to attract, such as women.

humanerror: Personally, I’m highly distrustful of aggressive censorship in the name of attracting alienated persons. I recognize that the intentions behind it are good, but I think it’s essentially wrongheaded and counterproductive. I don’t think making this place into a walled garden where everyone has to walk around on tippy toes for fear of giving offense will succeed in attracting anyone. If an alienated person comes and encounters alienating speech, I trust they will also find that speech downvoted to hell, and probably a dozen other users calling the speaker an asshole. If anything, I expect that that’s the kind of display that would make an alienated person feel welcome. Because they really are welcome, and we don’t need moderator action to make that true.

db0: I was on the same boat, but by reading more about it and talking to such oppressed classes, I can now understand their view better. While it’s OK for us to ignore such comments until they are downvoted, or to rationally argue against them; for such oppressed classes, every instance of casual misogyny hurts and every instance of a privileged comrade treating it as if it’s worthy of a rational response, is giving it credence, and hurts.

We don’t rationally debate things such as holocaust denial (unless we’re just looking to waste time) for example, because to do so would assume that they are not ridiculous to begin with. Of course, we don’t feel the need to ban holocaust denialists (anymore) because everyone knows they are ridiculous and laughs or insults them out of the room. Same with monarchists or pro-slavery people. But sexism, racism and others like them, are still very much accepted and preserved by a large number of people, who are actively maintaining oppression through them to this day. This sheer amount of conscious or casual support means that those ideologies get some serious backup always, and unless we act to marginalize them, this place will not be an inclusive space. The oppressed classes will feel as oppressed here as they do elsewhere. Perhaps marginally less so because there’s more outspoken critics of oppression here, but as we get more and more lurkers who skew votes and swamp us with comments, this organic anti-oppression cannot keep up.

humanerror: I think as a general rule we should be extremely tolerant of sincere dumbasses. Participation in this community is an ongoing learning experience for all of us, and some of us are always going to be further along than others.

db0: Again, I agree, but only as long as those dumbasses are not stubborn. People should understand that this is an inclusive space and act accordingly, by accepting some of the same premises we all do. To give you an extreme example to signify what this means: An accepted premise is equal voting rights for all. If one were to come here, being a sincere dumbass, and ask, “but why do women deserve to vote?” and keep asking this on every democratic decision we’re making and refusing to drop it, then this is derailment.

You may think that they would obviously be ignored which is true in this example, because those premises are now widely accepted. But there’s other premises, such as those of modern feminism, that aren’t, and for feminists, challenging them is as frustrating as the above question. And yet non-feminists do no see this because of their privilege. The extreme question I posted above was considered a “valid” one a 150 years ago or so and this is what made it frustrating to first-wave feminists of that time.

This discussion is still ongoing along with many others like it. What is your perspective on this issue?

  1. I think I’ll start doing this more. My blog remains silent while I write essays over in reddit. Perhaps I can hit two birds with one stone []