Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Everyone I Don't Like is SJW: a Stroppy Teenager's Guide to Political Discussion

The True Story of How Several People Were Rather Rude to Me On Twitter

Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.
                       The Screwtape Letters

Earlier this year, I came to the attention of one of the very minor fascist groups on the Internet. I don’t know why they selected me. They didn’t seem to have read any of my essays, and they certainly weren't interested in talking about (or even taking the mickey out of) any of my opinions. It was art for art's sake.

I initially thought that I was encountering the unacceptable face of the new atheism. I had at that time an advertisement for my book, Where Dawkins Went Wrong , pinned to the top of my Twitter page, with the comment I was saying that Richard Dawkins was a whey-face coxcomb before it was cool. So I sort of assumed that I had insulted their guru so they were insulting me back.

I now think that the Dawkins angle was incidental to what happened. I had recently made some remarks about Dawkins' shameful trolling of feminist academic Anna Hickey-Moody. I said that his tactics resembled those of Gamergate and the Sad Puppies, and that both groups resembled nothing so much as schoolyard bullies. (Comments I fully stand by.) I think that my use of the words Puppy and Gamergate attracted the attention of some right-wing Twitterati. Although there is evidence that the extreme misogynist right are statistically likely to be new atheists, I don't any longer think that this particular group were in Dawkins' orbit. I think they were using him as a stick to bait me with. Had they become aware of my existence during a different Twitter-cycle they might have said that Stan Lee or Giles Coren were twice the man I was.

If I describe the little old ladies who decorate the church as the flower mafia then you know what I'm saying: they are a closed circle who are very territorial about their hobby. If I refer to the freemasonry of parents with disabled children, you know exactly what I mean: they mutually support each other and some of what they say is incomprehensible to outsiders. I am obviously not saying that everyone on the flower rota comes from Sicily, or that members of the disability support group wear aprons and role up their trouser legs at meetings. If I describe a political group as fascists then it is pretty clear that I mean they are militaristic, authoritarian racists. Only a colossal bore would say "Huh, huh, they can't be fascists because they're not Italians and this is not the 1940s." I don't think that fascist is a particularly good term for the Twitter trolls who targeted me: I don't think they are a group and I doubt that they have anything as sophisticated as an ideology. I was going to call then small-f fascists but have decided to go with little fascists which is less of a mouthful.

The vector of the infection was Alpha, a journalist or intern who writes bog-standard political-correctness-gone-mad essays for on line publications. (I am not going to use actual names or Twitter handles here. These are, after all, the kinds of people who think it is funny to make death threats. Not serious or credible death threats, but death threats nonetheless.) Alpha's initial tweet, immediately liked and re-tweeted by about twenty little fascists went: 

SJW's are the saddest, most bitter creatures 1 RichardDawkins is worth a billion AndrewRilstone/PhilSandifer's 

This was attached to some screen shots of Tweets by me and Phil commenting on the Hickey-Moody affair. I am deeply chuffed that my name was linked with as learned and witty a critic as Phil Sandifer. I assume you've all read his Doctor Who essays? His ongoing series about Alan Moore and Grant Morrison includes the second best commentary on Watchmen ever written. I do wonder what an a marxist/post-modernist/occultist like him makes of being associated with a C.S Lewis worshiping reformist [1] like moi.

Alpha's first tweet tells you a great tell about the little fascists' thought patterns. They don’t think in terms of wrong opinions to be refuted; they think in terms of enemies to be squashed. Not Andrew Rilstone is totally wrong about the feminist academic, and here's why... but Andrew Rilstone, by virtue of his support of a feminist academic, can be given the label SJW and as such, barely even qualifies as a person. They don't say that someone is wrong: they say that he is sad or bitter or pathetic or ugly or deformed or smelly or weak or childish or mad or scruffy looking.

What followed was a barrage of playground level name-calling which revealed a fairly consistent set of preoccupations: 
  • Belief that anyone with mainstream political opinions is part of worldwide conspiracy called the SJW.
  • Overwhelming concern with physical appearance, and, curiously, with personal hygiene. ("Christ, maybe they're right about keeping the public baths open".) [2]
  • Fascination with military imagery, especially Warhammer 40,000.
  • Hatred and contempt for weakness of any kind ("He’s a bit delicate, this one. Talk about a manchild. Lunatic".) If a person responds in any way to an insult, this is taken as evidence that they are weak; the fact that they are weak shows that they deserved to be insulted. (An example of the Scotsman Tactic, (q.v.)) "Suck it up!" is their favourite response when challenged. 
  • Use of extreme right-wing imagery, such as swastikas and confederate flags. When they are called out on this they say that the SJW see fascism everywhere and that in any case the fascist imagery was only intended ironically. Readers may like to try imagining how the little fascists would react if one of us put an ironic image of Karl Marx on their website. (Claiming that the SJW think everyone is a fascist; and then claiming that since you accused someone of being a fascist, you must be one of the SJW is another good example of the Scotsman Tactic.)
  • Use of  homophobic and anti-semitic language while simultaneously denying that they are homophobic or anti-semitic.  
  • Hatred of what-they-call feminism and what-they-call-diversity. 
Journalists who have interviewed Katie Hopkins sometimes say that they have found her to be a likable, damaged woman who admits that she doesn't mean half of it. I have heard credible reports of pleasant pints of beer shared with Nigel Farage and Margaret Thatcher. I suppose at some level I believe that if we could have sat down over some beer and bratwurst after a long Bavarian evening listening to Parsifal, Mr Hitler would have admitted to me that he sometimes went a bit too far. I happily throw up my hands and say that I made the schoolboy error of attempting to engage Alpha and some of his little fascists in rational conversation. If I had taken my mother's advise and ignored them, they would probably have gone away. It turns out that rational conversation is not something they really do.

A few examples should give a flavour of how their minds, or at any rate their typing arms, work. 


Several months before all this, I had tweeted: 

I agree about fires in crowded theaters but anyone using the phrase "freeze peach" will still get slapped

Beta found this in my twitter history, and responded: 

Freeze Peach? Seriously, how pathetic are you people you can't say "Free Speech"?...Not afraid of free speech but call it Freeze Peach?

Beta could not possible have supposed that I actually advocated calling free speech freeze peach. It was absolutely clear from the message he had quoted that I was deprecating the expression; saying that it was silly, and, indeed, threatening to slap anyone I caught using it. (I followed it up with a second message saying that I didn't really approve of slapping people, and it would be better to give them a time out or put them on the naughty step.) However, Beta invoked the Midas Stratagem (q.v) and pretended that Andrew says "freeze peach" is a silly phrase and Andrew uses the phrase "freeze peach" are equivalent. Had the feud continued, "Andrew calls free speech freeze peach'" would have become something all the little fascists believed. Had I pointed out that this was not the case, they would have told me to suck it up, called me a crybaby, and invoked the Ricardian Device. (q.v)  [3]


Alpha had found a picture of me looking drunk at a Christmas party and reposted it to his Twitter friends. In itself this is well within the bounds of legitimate internet mockery, although it says something fairly unpleasant about the little fascists' modus operandi.

This yielded the following deathless bon mot from Gamma: 

He looks like the kinda guy who gargles kosher sausage

I took this to mean he looks like the sort of person who sucks Jewish dick. I still think this is what it means, particularly given that Gamma had a swastika on his Twitter profile.

I responded:

That awkward moment when you don’t know if a Dawkins minion is being homophobic or anti-Semitic

(I still thought, incorrectly, that I was being target by militant atheists. I don't now think that the little fascists were in fact anything to do with Richard Dawkins.)

Alpha chimed back: 

He's literally making things up too. Nobody was anti-Semitic.

Note the use of the Coventry Technique (q.v): he doesn't speak to me; he speaks about me. When I asked him directly what else "you suck Jewish dick" meant  he executed the Ricardian Device (q.v):

He said it over 12 hours ago and you're still banging on about it. Seems desperate for victimhood to me.

It doesn't matter that you were insulted, or what the insult meant, because it happened yesterday. 

NOTE: It has subsequently been pointed out to me that he gargles kosher sausage could be taken to mean he has bad breath. This would represent a particular bizarre from of political argument: We can tell from a photograph that your breath smells of garlic, therefore, your views on feminism are nonsense.


I attempted to pursue this further. I entirely agree that this was a completely insane thing to do:

Andrew Rilstone: ‏May I once again ask what you intended by this remark? Are you saying I am Jewish, or Gay, or something else?

Gamma: You got a problem with jews and gays, bub?? 

Andrew Rilstone: if someone would explain what it actually meant, I could go to sleep happy.

Gamma: Guess who's not sleeping tonight, jew homo hater? 

This doesn't extend far beyond "I am rubber, you are glue". If someone accuses one of the little fascists of using anti-semitic language, they simply double-down ("jew hater!") and reflect the accusation back at them.

I had another go, for some reason:

Andrew Rilstone: In what way do you think that sending abuse to strangers furthers your cause?

Delta: You imply we have a cause, you amuse me greatly. Please continue 

Andrew Rilstone: You just simply think it's funny to post random words to strangers?

Gamma: There is nothing funny about anti semetism

Andrew Rilstone Well, I have obviously misunderstood what's going on here. I thought you didn't agree with something I'd said. you are evidently playing some kind of game involving saying random words, like Mornington Crescent. Have fun.

Delta: So first you tag us in order to get some obtuse satisfaction from talking to us, and then when we do you step away? How rude are you? Were you raised among bears in the wilderness or what? 

Andrew Rilstone: I am sorry to have wasted your time.

Delta: Well that makes two of us... Now please stop stalking me, I am shaking and hyperventilating here already God what a fucking monsters. I' hope youre happy Andrew.

Gamma: I think that qualifies as harassment if you ask me. He's abusively attacking us. 

Delta: ‏I would even go so far as to call AndrewRilstone one of the most creepy cyberstalkers I ever had the displeasure to meet

We are now into the realms of heads-I-win, tales you lose anti-logic. (see The Calvin Gambit). If you continue the conversation, then you are "stalking" and "harassing" them; but if you end the conversation, then you are being rude and uncivilized.

One of the barbs does strike home. I was indeed getting an obtuse satisfaction in talking to them.

The final exchange is so stupid it's almost clever: 

Andrew Rilstone:‏ I thought you were cross because I had satirized Richard Dawkins. That was where this started,

Gamma:‏"Cross" are you implying that the Jews killed Jesus? It's been proven already that's anti semetism. [4]

Delta: ‏Woah there, my granduncle was injured by a crossbow once, so that 4 letter c word triggers me greatly 

Gamma: ‏Do you mind putting a trigger warning on that?! 

Delta: I would, if I could look at the thing. all wooden, crossed and bowey... soo much PTSD 

It scarcely seems worth typing that none of the people involved could possibly have believed a single word that they were typing. It is impossible that they actually thought that the word cross (as in annoyed) had something to do with the Crucifixion; or that referring to the Crucifixion (in any context) was anti-semitic; or that asking someone what they meant by an insult amounts to "harassment". I think that these people are human beings with interior lives, even if they don't believe the same of me. They could not conceivably have thought that anything they were saying was true, or even meaningful.

So why were they saying it?

Once a thing is seen it cannot be unseen. I have descended into the abyss of the minds, or at any rate Twitter feeds, of these extremely minor-league web-fascists, and I have returned with the boon by which we shall understand all web-fascists. 

What are they doing?

Two words: performance art.


[1] Reformist: I think that the rich should be a bit poorer and the poor should be a bit richer.
Socialist: I think that everyone should be as rich as everyone else.
Communist: I think we should abolish money and possessions and share everything.

[2] Who are "they"? Where is this debate about keeping public baths open happening? Unless you count shower cubicles in the public toilets on larger railway stations, is there in fact a single public bath house in the country which could be kept open? Is anything these people say anything more than word salad?

[3] I was under the impression that the term freeze peach was used by people who disproved of free speech, to disparage it, in the way that little fascists talk about numan rites and elf and safety. It transpires that it's more often used by people who take freedom of speech very seriously indeed, to disparage those who invoke it frivolously. So if a person was banned from Facebook for using racial slurs and tried to claim that this violated the First Amendment, someone might says "He thinks that freeze peach means he can go around calling strangers the n-word." 

[4] A priest and a nun were driving through Transylvania in an open top wagon. Suddenly, Dracula leaps out and threatens them. "Quick" says the nun, "Show him your cross". "Cross?" replies the Priest "I'm absolutely livid."

If you would like to contribute to the cost of placing an armed guard outside Andrew's house, please consider supporting his patreon (i.e pledging $1 each time he publishes an essay.)

Where Dawkins Went wrong is still available.


SK said...

I think I've played that kind of 'Yes, and…' free association game in an improvisational theatre class.

Sam Dodsworth said...

My sympathies - it's horrid to deal with, however petty the wannabe bullies are.

(If you ever need it, I've found asking "why are you upset?" is a good derailing move - it's not a question they can answer without losing face. Not a panacea, but it can sometimes feel good to know you got a hit in before you blocked them.)

And if you or anyone reading this needs practical resources...

ggautoblocker for Twitter will pre-emptively block a good 99% of Alpha's mates, for most likely identities of Alpha.

And if it blows up again and/or starts to escalate, then Crash Override can provide advice, help, and support.

I. Dall said...

The word you are looking for is "troll" - there are a multitude of guides on how to pursue such non-debates online. Thanks for the "reform" term, nice to have a word for oneself.

Jacob said...

Is Giles Coran a typo for Giles Fraser (the only person called Giles I think I've ever seen you deprecating)? If not, who is he, please?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Giles Coren is a British journalist and restaurant reviewer, son of the more famous Alan Coren. I haven't written about him hear and am not likely to, but I've made a few comments about him on Twitter. (He seems to be the kind of food writers who spends 1000 words moaning about his guests, the waiter's tie, and the fact that someone used their mobiles phone, and adds at the end that the meal was okay.) He put up a particularly helpful Tweet complaining that "virgins" were pretending to be interested in something called The Force Awakens.

I did attempt a script for The Two Gileses, but it wasn't very funny:

"It's wonderful to be back with you again, isn't it Giles?"

"Indeed it is Giles. And in a packed programme tonight, I'll be going out to dinner and calling the other customers fat, common and ugly"

"And I'll be going to church and calling the other worshipers evil constantinian death cultists."

"Then I'll go out to dinner again, and call menus that list too many ingredients vulgar'"

"And I'll go to church again, and call Vicars who believe too much of the Bible 'fundamentalists'."

"But first a sketch, in which I play a man who thinks that people who like modern science fiction movies are not having enough sex."

"And I play a man who thinks that people who make modern science fiction movies haven't thought through the Marxist-Augustinian definition of evil."

It would have helped if I'd spelled his bloody name right. :(

Jacob said...

I think you did the Two Rowans better.

Andrew Rilstone said...

So do I :) (Thank you.)

Steven said...

Presently, you may believe I'm 123movies joking. I'm definitely not. I see this sort of conduct frequently when I watch video secret shops.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Well, quite.