In my dreams, there is only smoke and fear.

[Disclaimer: This is long, and you probably won’t like what I have to say.]

Mostly, I try to stay ‘impartial’ in online conversations, unless I’m involved directly. This is done for several reasons, all of which I’ve decided upon over the last fifteen years of communicating via computers.

You see, back in the days of echo-mail and Usenet, there was a very real sense of etiquette. Flame wars were rare, and usually taken off-channel. When people spoke, they did so reasonably, and took the time to listen to what everyone else was saying, even if they didn’t agree with it. There were no ‘sides’, only a bunch of nerds trying to communicate. Respect was implicit, as everyone treated the medium as a blessing — we all knew that the conversations we were having were a lot more reasoned than we could expect to have outside of the community, and everyone held up their end of the bargain.

As a result, I try to stay out of conversations I’m not already part of, in the hopes that when I do have something to say, people know I’m not saying it lightly.

However.

In this, the September That Never Ended, I’m starting to find my methods archaic, and made largely irrelevant in the face of the larger segment of internet users; people who don’t have a history with computers, and who treat the medium cheaply.

As more and more people use the internet as a way of communicating without accountability for what they say, I feel more and more like a dinosaur. I hold up my end of the bargain, but it seems like I’m the only one who knows the rules. This is, in all likelihood, the case, and I think LiveJournal is in no small part responsible.

I remember when LiveJournal was created. Some friends and I had just finished working on a similar project, Diary-X. We felt our product was superior to LJ, because ours was community-oriented, and not post-oriented. People want community, right?

It turns out that they don’t. People want to say things, and have as many people as possible read them. People don’t want conversations, they want comments. People don’t care what happens to their words after they click submit, nor do they take any responsibility for them. Get over it, it’s only LiveJournal.

I am constantly amazed by the human capacity for distance. What you feel isn’t relevant. The emotions and years of experience behind your words, irrelevant. You, the sum of your person, the good that you’ve contributed to the world — irrelevant. Now, your feelings have been reduced to “LJ Drama”. And, if you dare to express your frustration with the imposed imitations of the medium, you’re a drama queen.

I have a game I play.

When I get into a debate with someone online, and I know that my points are researched and well-spoken, that my logic is valid, and my language simple, I like to try to guess what angle the other person in the conversation will take to avoid addressing what I’ve said. Will they cherry-pick words from my argument for the sake of pedantry? Will they focus on my spelling? Personal Attack? Straw man?

It’s not a fun game, but it takes away from the frustration of dealing with idiots. I’ve gotten very good at it, over the years.

In any case, I’ve remained mostly silent when Leslie gets into arguments with people online, having learned something about people who haven’t grown up with the internet: You will never change their mind about anything. A casual internet user who goes into an argument with one opinion and leaves with another is a freak occurrence on the scale of virgin birth, or a forward-thinking record label. LiveJournal is proof positive of this.

With that said, I have to say something about this ‘drama’.

Although many of you are divorced from your online activities, not all of us are so blase. I treat online conversations with the same emotional investment that I would give to an offline conversation. The medium is irrelevant, what matters is what it is that people have to say. And while (sadly) I understand that other people treat this as a throwaway medium, I would ask you to take the time to think about what it is you’re saying, and who you’re saying it to. I would also ask you to approach someone if you have a problem with what it is they’re saying, and not let it fester for a year before you bring it up to them. At that point, your hurt has grown into something beyond the original slight. A simple miscommunication or difference of opinion can be easy to resolve, but less so when you’ve been carrying bruised feelings around for a while.

More specifically, hold up your end of the bargain. If you can’t be bothered to fairly respond to other people’s points, don’t respond at all. There is a social contract at work.

And if you do respond unfairly, and there’s a shitstorm of people calling you out on your prejudices, maybe they see something you don’t. Take the opportunity to examine what it is they’re saying, and see if you can learn from it. No one will fault you for bettering yourself.

But if you’re determined to be a stubborn, arrogant jerk about it, find someone else to play with. I’m tired of watching my partner feel like shit because of assholes and bitches. She’s not DJ Leslie, she’s not what other people have told you about her (ie: some chick who’s meth lab exploded), she’s a person. A wicked, brilliant and loving one who has taken the time to listen to and try to understand what other people are saying, even if it’s mean-spirited accusations about the motivations behind her own actions. I’ve spent every day with her for two years, and I’ve seen her every day dedicated to doing what she can to help others, regardless of how they’ve treated her — and I’m tired of watching someone so beautiful and rare edge closer and closer to self-loathing because of ugly people who can’t keep their own issues to themselves.

If you have an issue with her, state it fairly and come to the table with an open mind. Our door is open, and we have really good coffee.

If you don’t want to bring it up, and you’d rather let sleeping dogs lie, that’s your choice. Live your life, and leave her out of it.

If you insist on being an cunt, I’m not going to just sit back and watch anymore. I’m not above kicking people in the teeth. Or if my leg’s acting up that day, emptying bank accounts.

I’m done trying to be reasonable to unreasonable people.

(Of course, I really don’t have high expectations about people paying attention to this post. Even if they do, I expect people to sidestep. Play along at home! My money’s on a Circumstantial ad Hominem!)

18 thoughts on “In my dreams, there is only smoke and fear.

  1. very eloquent
    and i think you’ve made a point
    those you can’t at least see that, are those who are too closed minded to even bother reading…

    well put

  2. holy shit!
    it’s you who’s responsible for diary-x?
    i had one of those, back when i was 14 or 15 and verrrrry teenybopperish and silly.
    it was fun. i got almost my entire high school into it.
    that was some crazy program-writing skills.
    wow. i am rendered even further in awe.

    btw, in regards to everything else, you are so on the ball it’s insane. w0rd, and stuff.

  3. As much as you would like to stay aside from this, you are being affected directly. I am terribly sorry that shit like this happens. Leslie is too nice to have shit like this happen to her.

    Take care. Give her kisses.

  4. i hate to be an arrogant jerk, but i think the issue is that, too few people take responsibility for their *own* reactions to conversations/debates/etc., online or off. if someone is being a dick and verbally abuses you [i mean a general “you” here], despite your efforts to reason, why get upset about it? stand your ground and let the fire die out on its own. it’s not your responsibility to make the other person see the error of his/her ways [it never happens anyway; adults rarely make a 180-turn on their behaviours or comments]. these kind of ppl are usually easy to spot early on, and they aren’t worth the attention. personally, i still don’t “get” why people get offended by mere words. maybe i’ve just been lucky enough to develop a thick skin and an effective “asshole filter”. your feelings and experiences may in fact be irrelevant to the ppl “out there”, but so what? the only thing that matters is if they are relevant to you and those close to you, no?

    of course it is ideal that we consider each other’s feelings before speaking, but given that there is *no way* to determine what those feelings are ahead of time, it is an impossibility to execute a non-offensive statement each and every time we make one. we can all sit around nodding our heads in agreement that we should respect each other, but everyone’s definition of “respect” is different.

    reading this post reminded me of a comment you made in another post of mine: I think that to everyone in any online community, they see a ‘golden age’ as having taken place shortly after they became involved, and this follows directly into a view of degradation/etc… we will never return to the golden age where ppl “lurked” on usenet before posting something, or read the FAQ before joining a forum out of respect for the existing members. it is unfortunate, but it is the ebb and flow of internet dynamics. what is “right”, “true” or “better” is subjective; we can only have preferences and act according them.

    i think everyone deserves a chance to participate in the online world, even the assholes and bitches. sooner or later, they end up eating their words anyway, or write off the whole experience and “disappear” when they don’t get the attention they wanted.

  5. First, I’d just like to say I appreciate your comment.

    i hate to be an arrogant jerk, but i think the issue is that, too few people take responsibility for their *own* reactions to conversations/debates/etc., online or off. if someone is being a dick and verbally abuses you [i mean a general “you” here], despite your efforts to reason, why get upset about it?

    If emotion followed directly from logic, there would be a lot more good in the world, I think. The problem is, getting upset isn’t a choice I make. It happens, regardless of my own wants. By definition, my reaction is going to be an immediate response, not an emotion I can choose to feel or not.

    stand your ground and let the fire die out on its own. it’s not your responsibility to make the other person see the error of his/her ways [it never happens anyway; adults rarely make a 180-turn on their behaviours or comments].

    I think we might have a difference of opinion, here. I think that people have a social responsibility to others — I welcome others when they try to show me where I’m making mistakes, because I’m better for it; and although I don’t expect to be welcomed by others, I do think that there is an element of responsibility.

    Agreed about people who don’t see their own errors, though. It’s just the nature of the beast.

    these kind of ppl are usually easy to spot early on, and they aren’t worth the attention. personally, i still don’t “get” why people get offended by mere words. maybe i’ve just been lucky enough to develop a thick skin and an effective “asshole filter”. your feelings and experiences may in fact be irrelevant to the ppl “out there”, but so what? the only thing that matters is if they are relevant to you and those close to you, no?

    I think you might indeed have an asshole filter. Some days, I have one. Others, not so much. Again, i think being bothered by what someone else is saying/writing/spraypainting is less of a choice, and more dependent on the way you’ve been socialized. Some people were raised in a tight-knit community, and are a lot more sensitive (in the classical sense of the word) to what people say, because they’ve been brought up to hear the opinions of everyone around them. While you (and a lot of other people I know) can ignore, it’s not a trait that everyone has, and I don’t think the lack of it is necessarily a weakness.

    of course it is ideal that we consider each other’s feelings before speaking, but given that there is *no way* to determine what those feelings are ahead of time, it is an impossibility to execute a non-offensive statement each and every time we make one. we can all sit around nodding our heads in agreement that we should respect each other, but everyone’s definition of “respect” is different.

    I’m not suggesting everyone goes all PC in fear of hurting someone’s feelings, or the possibility that someone, somewhere might get offended — my comments are in regards to deliberately offensive statements.

    reading this post reminded me of a comment you made in another post of mine: I think that to everyone in any online community, they see a ‘golden age’ as having taken place shortly after they became involved, and this follows directly into a view of degradation/etc… we will never return to the golden age where ppl “lurked” on usenet before posting something, or read the FAQ before joining a forum out of respect for the existing members. it is unfortunate, but it is the ebb and flow of internet dynamics. what is “right”, “true” or “better” is subjective; we can only have preferences and act according them.

    Agreed.

    i think everyone deserves a chance to participate in the online world, even the assholes and bitches. sooner or later, they end up eating their words anyway, or write off the whole experience and “disappear” when they don’t get the attention they wanted.

    You think? I’m finding them to be an frustratingly persistent phenomenon.

  6. Good post. I just feel that the internet is a reflection of the real world, with one difference, the anonymity makes people less responsible for their actions. I love the good in people and hate the bad, it really is a dualist thing – we recognise the one because of the other. Sadly I feel us humans are a long way away from acheiving the perfectability of the human spirit, and our flaws are bound to show themselves most clearly when we communicate with each other. And more so online than in the real world where people feel most at ease venting their prejudices.

  7. I’m obviously missing something while i’m away in england, is somebody having a go at leslie???

    hope everything is ok.

  8. interestin read :)

    myself..
    i refuse to get into any type of debate online..
    if its something that you feel so strongly about, lets grab a pint and talk it over
    its too easy to take something out of context online.. you miss so much.. body language.. tone.. etc

  9. I payed attention to this post, because I remember those days. I have had my opinions but I have stayed out of the conversation because I am not directly involved, and there is no need for another “me too”. Everything else I could add here is redundant but I really wish the norms had never been allowed to share in this medium, they changed it into something that I hate, were the real communities and aspects I loved are nearly impossible to find anymore and I don’t have the patience to seek them out.

  10. thank you for being brilliant Jairus;
    I’m glad to see there are some of the old guard left with internet honor.
    I remember before the web, when BBSs and Fidonet carried our sigs
    and a discussion board was a place where intellegent people had discussions. Freenet carried usenet, and that was my first exposure to alt.anything. BBSs were a little more private, except for fido/echo.
    Anyway, yeah, noone who wasn’t online then understands or respects the medium. And the original rules of nettiquette. Anonymity has freed morons to be anonymous morons, just as it freed geniuses to be anonymous geniuses back in the day.
    Thanks Jai, you just about made me cry… to mourn intellegent discourse.
    … But I may have already been a little bit tender about BD loosing his helmet. ( doonesbury reference )
    Take care brother

  11. Some fairly good points, bud.

    I don’t often encounter people attacking those I love in these online forums, so the few times I have felt the need to defend it has been in person. Much different. (I prefer people fight their own battles, and avoid stepping in, plus: they might not want me to speak up). Really, i’m rather glad i’ve NOT ever had to deal with this kind of thing you speak of, from huge flame wars, to stalking, or whatever else.

    Now while I THINK I understand your need to defend, the only point I would think is needed comment on was the threat right near the end: “emptying bank accounts”. Not only do I think its over the top (subjective), but I also think it shouldn’t be publicized. It would be different if say I said that.. as I have no such experience. But you… you’re a different story. If someone DID suddenly lose the cash.. it wouldn’t be hard to trace back to this quote. While not proof, it is still something to ‘go’ on.

    Bah. I’m prolly nit-picking.. and worrying about your rep/legal safety unduly.

  12. What a great post, I hope you don’t mind if I share it with ohters.

    I use to get really worked up about what people said about me our my journal online….fuck I have had people create journals for the soul purpose of basing my freinds and I.
    I use to actually indulge these assholes in their little self righteous flame wars.

    Then I became a cam girl and while working for a site, we would be subjected constently to flamers who would just come in to insult the girls…the best and only way to get rid of these loosers would be to completely ignore them. They get off on getting a reaction out of you and nothing reasonable or logical is going to change that.

    I continued that to my livejournal and other online forums. Now I will only engage in a debate or battle of the wits with someone who is properly armed…otherwise it is jsut a waste of my precious energy.
    They are easy to spot…right off the bat and I am constently amazed when strong intellegent people I know still get caught up in childess battles that boil down to little more than …”fuck you” …”no no fuck you”

    it still hurts though. everytime i get a purposely it is like a smack in the face and sometimes it is hard to just shake off. It doesn’t make me sad personally…it just makes me really sad for society…doesn’t make me hatemyself anymore…just makes me hate the world

  13. I agree that there should be ettiquette in internet forums.

    And I love the idea of you not getting involved in Leslie’s debates.

    However, I distinctly remember several occasions on which you and Leslie came to one-another’s defence in livejournal debates, echoing each other’s points. I also remember you calling people ugly, stupid, and cunts. And where in the social contract does it say that sending a bunch of people to someone’s journal to call her a bitch is okay?

    Not to mention the fact that to assume that Kira or I have “not grown up with computers” is a pretty grand step in logic.

    You’ve written a very good argument here for netiquette. I only wish you abided by it.

  14. I’d appreciate it if you paid very, very close attention to what it is I’m writing here. Please pay attention to what I’m saying, and not any interpreted or imagined subtext.

    I agree that there should be ettiquette in internet forums. And I love the idea of you not getting involved in Leslie’s debates.

    Thanks.

    However, I distinctly remember several occasions on which you and Leslie came to one-another’s defence in livejournal debates, echoing each other’s points.

    Certainly. We see eye-to-eye on a lot of subjects, and while I try to stay impartial, I never claimed any absolute standard of impartiality. As I said, I try, and I mostly stay out of it.

    I also remember you calling people ugly, stupid, and cunts.

    True, for the most part. I’m pretty sure I’ve never called anyone ugly. I’ve called people and humanity as a whole ugly, because it is.

    I called Annette a stupid cunt because I felt she was acting like a stupid cunt. So much so, in fact, that I felt I had to say it. It is however, the only time in my life I’ve ever done so, which should speak volumes about how strongly I felt about the issue at hand. If you feel that this somehow constitutes a pattern that’s contradictory to the code of conduct I’m writing about, I’m afraid I can’t agree with you. A sample size of one does not make good statistics.

    And where in the social contract does it say that sending a bunch of people to someone’s journal to call her a bitch is okay?

    In what conversation is this rhetorical question relevant? If you think we’re funnelling people to someone’s journal, just say so, there’s no need for backhanded questions.

    For the record: no-one has ‘sent people’ anywhere. There’s no campaign to spam anyone’s journal — if people are posting, it’s because they choose to post.

    Not to mention the fact that to assume that Kira or I have “not grown up with computers” is a pretty grand step in logic.

    I know you have a history with computers, Matt, we’ve discussed the history of trackers. It seems much more of a grand step to assume that my frustration with the internet medium is directed specifically and soley at you. Certainly, it’s a catalyst — but I’m speaking to a larger audience than you two. I would hope the fact that what I know about you is at odds with the groups I’m writing about is proof of that.

    You’ve written a very good argument here for netiquette. I only wish you abided by it.

    I do my best, and I work to improve myself daily by acknowledging my mistakes, and learning from them. I can find no fault in that.

  15. “And where in the social contract does it say that sending a bunch of people to someone’s journal to call her a bitch is okay?”

    i said before in my email to you and i will say again, nobody was sent anywhere…please try to allow for the possibility that people responded not because they were sent but because they felt strongly about what was written, and if you should have questions of these people, i encourage you to ask them, to actually hear their motivations by going to them, directly.

  16. i would appreciate the opportunity to explain why i called her a bitch.

    of course, i have done so already in response to another thread between her and i:

    “you may not have intended to say she [Leslie] was a bad person – but you did. and that is what *i’ve* responded to. the vehemence of my responses, particularly calling you a bitch, stems from the fact that i’ve watched a good friend be repeatedly slammed, for simply being herself, by people who don’t take the time to get to know her.”

    contrary to popular opinion, many of my actions are of my own devising. by accusing Jairus of “sending a bunch of people to someone’s journal to call her a bitch” you not only demean Jairus – you insult me.

    why did you choose to “blame” Jairus for the actions of his friends instead of speaking with the source of your contention?

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