Every now and then, someone says something online that upsets me or hurts my feelings, because I am a delicate flower. (I say that like it's a joke, but honestly, as y'all probably know by now, I'm much too thin-skinned about a lot of things.) Sometimes it's something about me, sometimes it's something about a work we published, sometimes it's about a friend or something they wrote; there are lots of options.
And often, my first reaction is to look at the place or context or manner in which they said whatever it was, and to respond by posting, or at least thinking, something like whichever of the following can be applied to what they wrote (note that each of these applies to a different situation):
- You wrote that message anonymously 'cause you're afraid to stand behind your opinions. Can't you at least use a pseudonym so we can tell you apart from the other anonymous commenters?
- You used a pseudonym 'cause you're afraid to stand behind your opinions. I won't pay any attention unless you use your real name.
- Why would anyone come to my blog just to insult me?
- Why did you post that insult over in some other place where I was unlikely to see it? Were you afraid to let me see it?
- Why did you post that insult publicly? You could at least have friendslocked your post.
- Why are you saying negative things about [whatever] in a locked post where the people you're talking about can't see it and respond to it?
- Why would anyone write something so strongly negative? If you don't like [whatever], why can't you just say so briefly and move on?
- If you don't like [whatever], why don't you just not read it?
- People shouldn't say negative things about a work they haven't read.
And so on. There are several other common responses along similar lines; several of them contradict each other.
The thing is, I don't really mean any of them.
What I really mean is: "What you wrote hurt my feelings, and I'm upset about it, and so I'm lashing out with a metacomment about your comment, a metacomment that tries to make it sound like I'm being reasonable rather than defensive."
In some cases, I don't even normally believe or support the thing that I'm saying. For example, though I know some of you disagree with me on this, in most contexts I actually think that anonymous writing can be a really good thing--among other things, it makes it a lot easier to speak truth to power. And if someone's going to insult me, sure, I would rather they not do it on my blog, but really I'd rather they not do it at all.
So most of the time, when I say something on the above list, what's really going on is that I'm feeling hurt and am lashing out. It doesn't really have anything to do with reasoned argument, or with deeply held beliefs about propriety.
And I have a feeling that sometimes when other people use lines like the ones on the above list, they're having the same kind of gut defensive reaction. Not always; I know there are plenty of people, for example, who are consistent in their opposition to online anonymity. But I do sometimes see people take contradictory stances, with the common element being opposition to comments that hurt them.
I've been meaning to write this entry for years; what finally sparked me to write it (back in early February; took me a while to post this) was reading Scalzi's January 2007 comments on the Laurell K. Hamilton rant. I think Scalzi and Hal and various commenters all made good points, but I think it's possible that, at a gut level, what Hamilton was really saying was: "You people said mean things about books that I care deeply about, and about me personally, and that hurt."
Anyway. I still have the impulse to say things like the stuff on the above list, but I'm trying these days not to post such statements; if I'm feeling hurt by something someone said, I'm trying to get myself to be honest about it and say so rather than attacking their approach. But it's tough; it requires admitting vulnerability (which may result in further attacks), and it requires me to set aside the impulse toward hurting back, and it puts the issue on a personal and emotional level rather than a distanced and (allegedly) rational level. Still, I think it's a goal worth aiming for. For me, that is; you don't have to agree with me.