Thursday 17 May 2018

Ways To Separate The Malicious From the Ignorant

I was raised to believe that progress had eradicated prejudice and hatred, aside from a few small brush fires from those who really should be pitied for their pathetic, hateful lives.  But those teaching me were confident that humanity had collectively progressed and that as we gained access to more and more information, cultures, and knowledge, then we would get closer and closer to the Star Trek ideal of many groups working together without any one claiming to be superior to the others.

Not pictured: people

The last few years have buried the remaining shreds of that belief.  As much as I (and I'm sure many others) would like to believe that any remaining horridness is merely an education issue (i.e. show them in a constructive way why they are mistaken and everything will be better), the truth is that there are many who cling to their hatred and enjoy attacking others.

But here's the thing that keeps me going: it's not all of them.

There are still many people who spout or support prejudice and hateful ideas because they have been taken in by malicious individuals who use their audience's limited experience to present things in a way which seems plausible and then fans the flames of outrage.  It's effectively a magic trick in that it only works from very precise angles.  Step even an inch either way, and it's revealed as a complete fraud.

I still believe it is possible to reach many of those people through education and exposure.  However, there's a challenge in that many of the malicious will hide their attacks behind a pose of ignorance and use it as a shield for micro-aggressions and outright lies.  This gets exhausting for the targets of their anger and often provokes them into justified anger, which then gets interpreted as "oversensitivity" and "irrationality" by their attackers.

So here's the second thing: how is anyone supposed to be able to separate out those malicious attackers from those who can be educated?  There are actually some very consistent cues that I've found can help.

Is the information they present factual?

This is the basic line of defense.  When someone claims that 95% of all rape cases are dismissed because the police discover the victim is lying, that's an easy number to check.  Even a basic google search can reveal the common lies told by the various hate groups as part of their recruitment and justification strategies.  And most of them have clearly defined and researched debunkings.  This research is dismissed by these groups as part of a wide-spread conspiracy to keep them oppressed and people fooled.  That's a very simple litmus test: if someone's "truth" requires that large segments of the population be actively lying and withholding accurate information, then it's probably less truthy than they'd like to accept.

The ignorant can usually accept education (even if it is painfully slow sometimes).  There is a challenge in that many malicious attackers use a technique called sea lioning, where they will insist on endlessly cited sources but then refuse to accept any of them.

It can be tiring to have to constantly research to make certain that you're not falling for false facts, but if it means that you're also not supporting a hate group, I personally feel it's worth the effort.

Do they constantly change the topic?  

"Drunk driving is bad."  
"But what about people who drive while high?"  
"That's bad, too."
"But what about cultures where refusing hospitality is seen as rude?"

There can't be a discussion if the other party insists on either dragging in a lot of false equivalencies (like driving high) or completely unrelated topics (hospitality culture).  While discussions do naturally tend to follow tangents, if you constantly find yourself having to present more and more information on a wider and wider net, without the other person ever acknowledging the previous points you've made, that person is likely unwilling to be educated and is attempting to wear you down.

Do they use a lot of "But ...."?

You may have noticed that a lot of the previous examples start with the word "but" which is one of those critical words that can tell you what someone really thinks.  If a lot of statements start with but, then it's a deflection strategy.  If the but is in the middle of the sentence it can be a little trickier to figure out.  Generally, a person feels stronger about whatever is presented after the but; i.e., I think that restaurant is good but the waiters are really surly.  Most people understand that the surly waiters outweigh the goodness of the restaurant.  And most people saying that would be using "I think that the restaurant is good" as a social soothing technique to soften the upcoming criticism.

The other technique is to look at which side of the sentence has more detailed information.  If someone says "The last time I was at the restaurant, the waiter made a rude comment and they messed up my order, but I'm sure it's a perfectly good place most of the time."  then the specific complaints outweigh the generic reassurance.  This kind of sentence structure is usually a sign that the person realizes they may have gone too far and is trying to back-pedal to prevent exposure.

Sometimes people have mixed feelings or an issue is genuinely complicated and then they have to use a but to accurately express herself.  However, if there are a lot of buts and the emphasis is continually on a hateful point of view, then there is likely an element of maliciousness behind them.

Do they deflect, claiming to be joking or just asking questions?

Claiming to be joking and deriding the other person for not having a sense of humour is one of the oldest tools in the bully's tool kit, but it continues to be surprisingly effective.  It falls apart on closer view though.  Why is it funny that someone is hurt or upset?  Even common jokes lose their humor when viewed with empathy and separated from surprise: eg: A man and his wife are in the hospital and he's dying.  He tells her: "Before I go, I need to tell you that I had an affair."  She replies: "I know, that's why I poisoned you."  

When someone thinks about it, that's not terribly funny.  Murder, affairs, and painful deaths are sad, not funny.  And I say this as someone who constantly needs to double check my own gallows humour.  But I would be horribly hurt and embarrassed if I realized a joke of mine had hurt someone else, not dismissive of their pain.

A variant on the "I was just joking" is the "I'm just asking questions" technique, but too often it's a deflection from sea lioning.  If someone has indicated questions are intrusive, or have already been answered, or that the questioner is not acknowledging the information already presented, then they cannot hide behind "just asking."

The joking/question approach is often used as a silencing attack.  The attacker causes harm to the victim and when the victim tries to raise awareness or seek reparations, the secondary attack is intended to keep them from doing so again.  

Are there logic gaps in their position?

Dumb solutions follow nearly every exposure of hatred.  "If they just <blank> then it wouldn't have happened" is the time-honoured formula.  It's presented as simplistic and obvious and for those who have not been exposed to underlying issues, it can seem plausible.  But those simplistic solutions usually have some serious logic gaps.

Recently, an author has been attacking other authors for using a common English word in their book titles which she has also used in her titles.  She has defended her actions, claiming that there is no cost or penalty if those authors just retitle their books so that they cannot be confused with their own.  However, if she truly believed there was no penalty to retitling, why did she not retitle her own books with something unique?  Why attack other authors with threats of legal action if there's an easier solution that is entirely within her control and which she believes is harmless?

Or what about those who claim the men arrested at Starbucks should have ordered something before waiting or that the boys questioned by police during a campus tour should have worn a lanyard to identify themselves as legitimate prospective students?  They overlook the fact that minorities face much more frequent harassment and focus attention on those who were victims rather than on those who acted inappropriately by calling police.

It can be hard to pick up on the logic gaps sometimes, particularly if a person only has limited experience.  The best way to overcome that limited experience is to seek out alternate points of view from those who directly experience these issues.  It can be hard to listen without being defensive, but it can also be rewarding.

There's so much out there these days that it can be hard to know what's truth and what's not sometimes.  But we can't allow the malicious to be the only ones still talking.  I hope that some of you find this post helpful because I think we all need to work together.  And then maybe we can make the vision of a respectful and supportive society into a reality.

Book 4 of my Lalassu series: Judgment is now out!  And Book 1: Revelations is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

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