Question: What's the difference between these two statements?
1) "I disagree with the point you're making here. The people who you talk about are dealing with the shock in the best way they know how. You might find it objectionable, but try to see the issue from their perspective; obviously, your side is going to differ from theirs."
2) "RAAAR FUCK YOU YOU FAT FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT HOW DARE YOU SAY THIS RAAAAAAAR"
For those of you playing along at home, here's the answer. The first statement is a rational response to a point, made from a perspective of disagreement. This response deals with the logic and ideas of the original point, and responds to them in a rational and polite manner. The second statement is a blatant personal attack, better known as an ad hominem fallacy. It does not respond to the issue at hand, but to the person writing the point instead.
Ad hominem attacks are by nature unfair. They are unfair because attacking a writer personally brings up things that have no bearing on the issue under discussion, and because they say "Your logic isn't important enough for me to respond to, so I'll just attack you personally instead." When I taught the rules of argument, I always mentioned this point; if you use ad hominem attacks in your argument, you don't deserve to have your words considered fairly.
(Tangent: Some might point out that using the ad hominem was exactly what I did in my last entry, so how dare I, etc. etc. etc. The difference here is two-fold. First, I admitted that I was being unfair. And second, I wasn't insulting a specific person. If you think about it, this does make a large difference.)
I've been doing some thinking about this lately, and about the response that got made to it-- I perceive that the idea driving all this is the idea that if you write things and put them where others can see them, then you automatically give up any right you have to respond to criticisms of it. In other words: If you put it online and you don't like what other people think about it, then fuck you---you deserve whatever bad things you get, because you dared other people to read it.
I don't think that's the right attitude to take. It's very similar to saying "Oh, you got raped? Well, it's your own fault for wearing pretty clothes like that." (I don't think this is an idle comparison. Because some of the comments that other people have made on her journal prior to this had almost the same emotional effect on her, and was one of the reasons she moved away.) And because this attitude deifies the reader unfairly---it assumes that writers only exist to provide things that readers will find interesting or entertaining. That it's the author's fault if s/he writes something you don't like. I don't buy that; unless it's a required assignment for school or work, the reader will make the choice to read what's written. So I think it's more than a little unfair to lay the onus on the writer.
This whole thing has made me think about why I keep an online journal in the first place. Recently, I got in a fair amount of trouble for doing just exactly this. Why do I want to write things that would be met with indifference at best and outright hostility at worst?
And I suppose the best answer I can come up with right now is--why not?
I have the freedom, the leisure, and the technology to write things and put them online for (theoretically) everyone to see. Why shouldn't I take advantage of these things? More to the point, why shouldn't anyone else? And still more to the point, why shouldn't a writer object to any unfair criticism of what s/he has written?
Because I think one of the most galling things about this whole incident is the comment "you're awfully thin-skinned [for someone who writes for others to see]." Tell me, is it "thin-skinned" to object to insults against your sexual orientation? Or insults against what you think makes a good writer? Or insults made for expressing opinions that go against those of others? I don't care how much you dress it up in "Aw, c'mon, can't you take a joke"--they're still insults and they still hurt.
In her essay "IBM and The X-Files," Susan Douglas makes the point that American consumer-culture makes people believe that unless something online has a tangible real-world effect (in other words, if it makes money for someone), it deserves to be laughed at and considered irrelevant. And I'd take that one step further--there's really not much difference, in the end, between a government prohibiting you from writing something, and you prohibiting yourself from writing something because you're afraid of the reaction you'll get.
I'll have to work on this some more, but I think the overall point I want to make here is: I refuse to be silenced. Whether people disagree with what I say, or whether they find it stupid, or whether they just don't care, expression is what I need.
And I think that everyone reading these words need to express themselves as well. Don't let that need be quashed because someone might insult for what you say.
And to readers in general--writers exist for their own purposes, not yours. If you don't like what they say, respond to the ideas, not the person.