One last post

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

On being a writer as compared to being a community member.

Elizabeth Lane Lawley wrote tonight:

Shelley wrote “If community causes you to alter your writing—not to say something you think should be said, or to write a certain way to get attention—then you are betraying yourself as a writer.” And in a comment to one of Shelley’s posts, stavrosthewonderchicken wrote “It’s not about community any more, if it ever was, for some of the more visible amongst us, I don’t think. Unless by community they are referring to the intersection of their legions of acolytes and their semi-closed network of peers – the same people that they hang out with at these silly conferences that people talk so much about.”

That just makes me angry. How dare either one of these people pass judgment on the sense of community or friendship that’s developed among the people they’re criticizing? I have watched Joi reach out and befriend so many people—very few of them among the digerati that seem to irk Shelley and her readers so. But they don’t bother to look closely enough to see any of that. They paint anyone who counts themselves part of this growing community of people with an interest in the sociology and technology underlying new technologies with the same brush. And in the process, they diminish all of our voices. I fully expect that I’ll be dismissed by them as simply another acolyte—and that the irony of that dismissal will be completely incomprehensible to them.

How dare I write something like, “If community causes you to alter your writing—not to say something you think should be said, or to write a certain way to get attention—then you are betraying yourself as a writer”?

Easily. By being a writer, and not worrying about members of the community making remarks such as this.

She also wrote:

Not interested in the research and projects presented at conferences like ETech, or AoIR, or Media Ecology? Fine. Every academic and professional field has people who find it a waste of time or an orgy of navel-gazing. But the level of venom and animosity being directed at people who I’ve seen to be welcoming and encouraging to so many newcomers, and whose circles are so clearly inclusionary, indicates to me that this isn’t disinterest. It’s resentment. It’s entitlement. It’s a reverse form of exclusion—if you’re part of “them” you’re not part of “us,” and we’re the only ones who really understand the medium.

Venom and animosity. Huh.

Liz thinks I’ll just dismiss her. She said, I fully expect that I�ll be dismissed by them as simply another acolyte�and that the irony of that dismissal will be completely incomprehensible to them.

She does me a disservice, both in this assumption and in the accusation of writing about this issue with ‘venom and animosity’. But this will be the last time that I suffer her accusations.

I am gratefully reminded of the truth of my own words, and they will serve as my response:

The best damn thing that can happen to many of us is being cut adrift by our communities.


Rape of woman and other spoils of war

Sometimes when you’re going through Bloglines looking at the excerpts, it seems like so many variations on a common theme. But then you click to another and you’re faced with What Causes Rape? Anatomy of a Rape Culture and the shock is staggering.

Ampersand at Alas, a Blog wrote an essay on rape culture, giving, as opinion, three reasons why rape occurs:

  1. The Myth of Masculinity
  2. Low Regard of Women
  3. Sexuality is something possessed by women, given to (or taken) by men

When humanity first breathed war, rape followed on the exhalation.

In ancient times, women were taken by conquering soldiers as spoils of war, sometimes becoming the wives of the victors, whether they wanted this or not. In many ways the fate that met many of these women was no different than if their lands hadn’t been overrun, except that their fathers would have made the determination of which man would own them.

Up until the last century or so for most cultures women were literally considered property, so it’s not surprising that a winning army would take the horses, the gold, and the women, usually valued in that order. This fits with Ampersand’s assertion that rape is a result of women being seen as little value, except, of course, in those cases when women were of value – just like the horses and the gold.

There was an additional reason women were raped in war: to humiliate the men. However, rather than taking the women, they would be left, sometimes dead, sometimes alive, as soiled reminders of the men’s failure to succeed on the battlefield. Rather than sympathy from her family and friends, though, the woman would be driven out of her home in shame because she didn’t die rather than submit. Rape is seen as the fault of the woman, not the man.

However, humanity is more civilized today, isn’t it?

During World War II, Russian soldiers raped hundreds of thousands of women – I’ve even read esitmates of millions of women, some being their own country women freed from German camps. In China, an estimated 80,000 women were raped by Japanese soldiers during the war, which was bad enough but there was at least some familiarity with this type of rape – the women were victims of wartime behavior. However, the Japanese government also, calmly condoned the concept of jugan ianfu or comfort women – women from many different countries but primarily Korean, kidnapped and or sold to the Japanese military to provide sex for the soldiers.

Supposedly these women were paid a small sum for each man they had sex with; I’ve read that they received 2 yen per man. Also supposedly after 500 or so men, they could buy their way to freedom. These women, many in their early teens, had to service so many men that sometimes they would fall sleep while the men were still using them.

Of course, the details were hushed up and the few photographs of the practice in the time showed Geisha-like girls winking at the camera, or signs showing:

`We welcome with our hearts and bodies the brave soldiers of Japan.’

US soldiers don’t escape the stigma of rape. The worst forms of rape can occur during civil war, and our own Civil War was rife with assault and abuse of women. As for modern times, you don’t have to look too far back to find an example in Tailhook, but even in Iraq, female soldiers not only have to duck bullets and bombs, they have to duck their comrades in arms.

But this is all war, and we know that in war behavior changes. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told. But what about rape in a peaceful society?

Rape is used to punish women who go against the norms of society. “She’s a slut”, the kid says on the streets of Bloomington, as if this is all the justification that’s necessary. Even now with high profile cases, the rape victim is treated as if it were her behavior that led to the rape, rather than the lack of control, or even interest in control, of the man.

In other countries, rape is used to enforce religious dictates. “She’s immodest,”, the kids say in Baghdad, as they kidnap 13 year old girls and gang rape them until they’re half dead. But this type of rape isn’t to punish the women as much as it is to punish the men. It sends a message: control your women or we’ll ruin their value to you.

Rape is also crime of poverty. This weekend, Jane Fonda and Sally Fields helped to publicize the mass rape, torture, and murder of young women in Juarez, Mexico, most of whom worked at maquiladoras, or border factories. Rather than go after the real criminals, most likely organized crime, the authorities are instead going after bus drivers and farmers, too poor to defend themselves.

While I find Fonda’s ‘vagina warrier’ rhetoric and decision to produce and star in the play “Vagina Monologues” to be inappropriate to the event, I can still appreciate what they’ve done. Unfortunately, though, the balloons will soon pop, the pink paint fade. Where will Fonda be tomorrow?

But let’s focus on the more personal forms of rape. Ampersand talks about rape as a way of men asserting their masculinity, but I’m not sure if that’s a reason for rape. Rape in schools or in frat houses seems to me to be more pack behavior than assertion of male dominance. Men have raped as a group, where they won’t rape as an individual.

I do agree with Ampersand’s belief that rape is at least partially based on viewing women as an object of gratification. And you don’t have to look further than something like the hip Fleshbot to see women treated as objects: nude women as art, women pictured in cartoons being raped, women in bonds, women as nothing more than vagina, ass, mouth, and breasts.

Fleshbot may represent the mainstreaming of porn, but oddly enough, there is no clear correlation between pornography and rape. In fact, I found a fascinating study that shows there may be more of a correlation between a magazine like Field & Stream and rape. In other words, between a heavily masculine environment and rape.

Rather than rape being a reaffirmation of masculinity, masculinity becomes a affirmation of rape.

Still, what about rape porn. Feministe wrote about rape pornography, and whether this can desensitize the act of rape. In her view, if there is no acceptable forms of rape, then there should be no acceptable form of rape pornography (sharing the same view on child pornography).

Ampersand lists as one reason that men rape is that women have sexuality and men want it – rape for pleasure. According to an FBI Study of serial rapists, though, most did not experience any significant pleasure from the act. In fact, many of the rapists were dysfunctional during the act.

However, I believe that Ampersand may be focusing more on so-called date rape with his essay. And with date rape, all the rules about serial rapists or wartime rape goes out the door. Except for one common point shared by all, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The date rapist takes advantage of circumstances, such as the victim being incompacitated. Usually the rapist is himself drunk or stoned on drugs. In addition, date rapists are aggressive in other interactions with the woman, and tend to see women more as sexual conquests and objects of gratification; even more so than the serial rapists.

Acquaintance rape is the most common rape in this country, and in most other countries. It is also the one least prosecuted and most tolerated by society; more likely to be blamed on the victim than any other form of rape – leaving the woman to be victimized twice: once by the rape, and the second time by society.

In fact, that is the common shared aspect of all rapes – a belief that if only the victim had changed their behavior (dressed differently, behaved differently, not stayed poor, not joined the military, fought back) the rape wouldn’t have happened.

Rape is the only crime where the victim is held partially, or wholly, accountable.


Second star on the right

This is my last posting related to community member or writer, because if I’m a writer than I should be writing about something other than community. Or at least, I think I should be writing about something other than community, because I’m getting that feeling about this topic that tells me to move on.

(Or perhaps it’s the flu. You, and you know who you are, did you send me the flu through the wires? I demand words in recompense.)

However, a conversation did start that opened a new angle on the discussion, and I wanted to point it out, if for no other reason than it crosses weblog borders, without knowing it has done so.

Joi Ito did respond to Community Member or Writer post with Communities and Echo Chambers. He presumes a question on my part:

Shelly asks the question “What part of you, the writer, is part of a community? Where, within yourself, does community leave off and you begin?” and says, “But I guess we’re accountable to each other, and that’s the most dangerous censorship of all – it’s the censorship of the commons.” This is an interesting question that Shelley has pointed out to me and I have been thinking about. In the comments on Shelley’s blog, Doc ties it to the notion of the “echo chamber,” the effect where we’re all just talking to each other oblivious to the outside world.

In some ways this reminds me of the six blind men and the elephant, each describing the same thing, but the descriptions drastically vary because of their differening perceptions. One feels the trunk and describes the elephant as snakelike; another holds the legs, and describes the elephant as like a tree.

But Joi also wrote:

I think the key is to understand that it’s not just like a high school. In high school, there is group of friends and everyone spends all of their time concerned about being in that group or not in that group. My life is a jumble of relationships and memberships in a great variety of sometimes conflicting communities of all different sizes and doesn’t feel like high school to me. As Ross has pointed out, these can be roughly grouped into three sizes. Big power-law shaped groupings, which are political, medium sized groupings which are social, and smaller groups which are strong-tie/family/close-friend groups. My sister used the word, “Full-Time Intimate Community”.

The behavior at each of these levels is quite different and it is when we collapse the context that we get in trouble. Comments made between intimate friends are different from the comments that are suitable for a discussion at a cocktail party. Comments made at a cocktail party are often not suitable for a public speech. One of the problems we have on blogs is that all three of these contexts are often collapsed into one blog.

Dave Rogerswrote on this theme in response to a comment by Joi:

I’d like to point out a few things as well. Given that your comments about Marc’s behavior being tasteless are _not_ going to change his behavior, then why offer them? There is a reason. What is it? It is in the nature of community, and the relationships between members of the community, and the beliefs that bind communities together. I submit you did not offer the comments to change Marc’s behavior, but to exploit Marc’s behavior to strengthen your own relationships within the community and to convey to other members of the community what the norms of belief are within “the community.” (A frustratingly difficult to define, if nevertheless very real entity. Complicated by the fact that there are communities within communities and communities of communities. It’s so, so…emergent!)

So Marc’s tasteless behavior is not allowed to go unremarked because it represents an opportunity for those who would presume to be authorities within a community to identify and proscribe types of behavior which are presumably outside the norms of the community. Joi strengthens his relationship within the community to Danah, presumably because at some point a stronger relationship with Danah will support Joi’s claim to authority within the community.

This was also picked up by Warren Ellis in Joi’s comments:

If the person(s) we’re addressing is sitting across from us in a bar, we don’t necessarily immediately shut up. What we do is moderate our tone. Or possibly not, if we’re trying to get through to someone. … It doesn’t stop you saying what you want to say. It just necessitates you put it in human terms.

Basic social skill tests go like this: your friendly acquaintance Fred Z has for some reason shown you a photo of a crack whore being anally raped with a corncob. Do you a) privately tell him he’s a weird little bastard and you’d rather he didn’t get within a meter of you again or, b) put the picture in the window and stand next to it pointing at it and saying “this really is appalling!”

You can substitute b) with “Blog it”, obviously.

In another related comment on this theme, Dave Rogers also wrote:

These (“push-back”) are observations, assertions and arguments that counter the observations, assertions and arguments of the conventional authorities. The effect, when the two camps are in balance, is to allow a community to give enough “space” to community members to allow the numbers and kinds of social interactions that define a successful community. Absent that balancing force, the force of authority shrinks the space of “acceptable” behaviors until they become so small that other social forces, likely the psychological forces of individual members’ needs, causes the members to abandon the community and, in effect, “fly apart” in a kind of psycho-social nova. Alternatively, if the force of authority is so strong and compelling, we get a very closed community that is not what we would call a “healthy” community. This might be analogous to a neutron start – itself often the product of a nova where most of the stellar mass is blown off in a violent explosion, leaving only a dense, presumably inert core.

My point, if I have one, is that much of what we do as people is the product of evolutionary psychology that has made us especially fit to affiliate in groups, and that much of our behavior is unconsciously designed to serve the needs of groups. When the values of the group are congruent with the needs of individuals, and there are always differences and therefore tensions, communities probably remain healthy. That’s not to say that individual members of communities necessarily treat each other as humanely as we would like to believe we do.

In this context, it was “safe” for Danah to assert that Marc’s invitation was offensive in a public forum. She had a somewhat reasonable argument to offer, and can be relied upon to be something of an authority on that particular issue. Her message was not to Marc, it was to “the community,” and it was intended to help proscribe certain forms of expression. If Danah was merely unhappy with Marc, she, as well as any of the people who offered their short, quick, effortless validations of her sanction, could have simply written an e-mail to Marc and expressed her feelings regarding the invitation. But that’s not what occurred.

Dave also mentions the concept of ’smart mobs’, saying:

This, in part, is why I have little faith in “smart mobs,” and regard the very notion as somewhat frightening. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “smart” mob, we just have mobs that can act more quickly, more ruthlessly and less humanely than the already ugly things do in “meat-space.” Whatever hope we have of exploiting the technology of digital information networks to the betterment of our social interactions will only be realized by an attendant, thorough insight into our own nature.

Lago also writes about this in a related post, stating emphatically:

Excluding people and reinforcing local hegemony may be part of the �emergent� natural order, but the bulk of that behavior is still morally impoverished. Claiming �emergence� as justification for such behavior is irresponsible and cowardly, and it is especially so when used as a rhetorical device to claim that people who are excluded are responsible for their own exclusion because that�s how it goes in �nature.� Listen up, because I�m going to put it in a cute little quotable quote to increase the chances that readers will remember it.

Lynch mobs are just as emergent as smart mobs.

And he references Stavros in my comments who writes:

Not to insult the intelligence or the writing of any of my recent high-profile targets (all of whom, in contrast to times past when I sucked up to them, have responded with resounding silence to my shit-disturbing (but do I give a flying fuck? nah, not really…)), all of whom are also talented and capable to varying degrees, of course. But it seems to me that many are becoming famous for *being famous*, in true, hideously American fashion, and these folks, showing up at conferences and so on, the usual suspects in the usual line-up, begin to set up a cycle of feedback where the actual weblog, the actual writing (which this is supposedly all about, right?) becomes less the focus of the whole thing than the writer and his (or her, rarely) paid-for opinions.

It’s not about community any more, if it ever was, for some of the more visible amongst us, I don’t think. Unless by community they are referring to the intersection of their legions of acolytes and their semi-closed network of peers – the same people that they hang out with at these silly conferences that people talk so much about.

Reading all of this I am struck by a revelation (literally hit over the head with it by Dave): that my personal epiphany about wanting to return to being first and foremost a writer, without the weight of expectation from the community is neither that personal, nor that much of an epiphany. That if I hadn’t written a post on this subject, someone else would have (or already has).

Could it possibly be that the very voices for social software and emergent democracy and new forms of Internet communities and ’smart mobs’ are the very people destroying the foundation underneath them; spinning so tightly about the topic that we’re being forced into pulling away by the sheer mass of the support?

Dave used an analogy to astrophysics to discuss online communties:

I think an analogy from astrophysics may be in order, although I’m a little rusty on my stellar mechanics. Let’s say a “healthy” (i.e. vibrant, successful) community is a star. There are two forces at work in the star (there are more than two, but bear with me), the force of gravity, which keeps the mass of fuel together to support sustaining the fusion reactions that make a star as star (analogous to the psychological forces that compel us to affiliate in groups and the shared belief systems that make those groups possible), and the interior radiation pressure generated as a result of those fusion reactions that prevent the mass of stellar fuel from collapsing in on itself yielding a violent explosion in the form of a nova, or completely collapsing into a black hole, a singularity, a gravity well so deep that nothing, not even hope can escape. (That’s not exactly true either, but I like it as a turn of phrase, and it does say something about the nature of oppressive communities.)

Following from Dave’s analogy, is the social software phenomena, and its associated emergent democracy, ready to implode under its own weight?

I don’t know about the phenomena, by I just imploded under the discussion.

What say for cure for what ails me: tea and lemonade? or whisky and lemonade? Or a good walk in the fresh air?

(Or, as my friend Head Lemur gleefully points out, in our shared longtime joke – It’s all about me.)