I’ve recently read a book which opened my eyes, and impressed me with a level of enlightenment and self-awareness I haven’t seen since I watched the film “Gandhi” (I’ve watched it at least 20 times). The book is Crash Override by Zoë Quinn. I recommend you buy it and read it.
She tells the story of suffering through online abuse, which was perpetrated by an angry ex but also helped launch the “gamergate” crusade of online abuse against women in the gaming industry. She not only survived the abuse, she not only recovered her “muse” as a game developer, she has started an organization to help victims of online abuse, the “Crash Override Network.”
Many things about her story struck me. Most immediate was the similarity between the online behavior of abusers, and of the climate denier community. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have it anywhere near as bad as abuse victims, but the similarities of tactics and techniques is compelling. Climate deniers regularly emply the strategy of “DARVO” — deny, attack, reverse victim and offender.
It’s telling, I believe, that claims from deniers to be “only interested in the science” are so regularly accompanied by (surprisingly often dominated by) character assassination. Attempts to discredit the temperature record don’t stop with claiming errors or sloppy science, they almost inevitably descend to accusations of outright fraud. As Quinn points out, transforming something from “the scientists totally got it wrong” to “they’re lying to get money/power” will get readers “riled up,” get them angry, which is a potent technique to transform a large group into an angry mob.
There’s much to be learned from this book. If you sincerely want to help end online abuse, it’s a must read. A key point, which can’t be overemphasized, is that honest attempts to help can all too easily backfire and end up making things worse. Before you do anything to “help” such victims, get permission first. And, learn more about it. Don’t shoot from the hip with righteous indignation — that’s not helping, it only serves your own righteous indignation.
What’s most impressive is the amazing degree of perspective she shows. She constantly points out that claims should be checked, that we shouldn’t assume the worst about a possible abuser without actual evidence.
The most important part might be chapter 13, in which she shines a light on the fact that all of us are liable to become abusive when we’re absolutely convinced that we’re “good and right” while the opposition is “bad and wrong.” That’s how the mob itself gets so fired up they can do such horrible things — they think they’re the “good guys” and their victims deserve worse than they get.
Consider Anthony Watts. In my opinion, he’s not only completely wrong about climate change and astoundingly incompetent as an analyst, he has also done many things I regard as reprehensible. And he doesn’t seem to like me either!
But, as Zoë points out, he is a human being. He’s susceptible to the same emotional outrage that we all feel when we’re sure we’re right and our adversary is wrong wrong wrong. It’s the kind of outrage that enables people to do things that, in the light of day, they’d be ashamed of.
I am hardly a saint. I’d guess that among climate bloggers I’m known for three things: skill with statistics, love of graphs, and a real talent for snark. I’m hardly James McNeill Whistler or Oscar Wilde, but I am pretty good at it.
I’m not feeling especially good about that right now. I wonder, how many opportunities have I missed? How many outside observers see only snark on both sides, so the factual rebuttal of nonsense gets lost in the hatefulness of the argument? I can at least take credit for an unshakeable dedication to non-violence.
Gandhi said of the British, “I want to change their minds, not punish them for weaknesses we all possess.” He also said, “I’ve found that we’re all such sinners, it’s best if punishment is left up to God.”
I also remember quite recently a reader asking a simple question, who was nearly rebuffed. I know as well as you do that “trolls” often impersonate such people to derail discussion and/or start an argument. But which is more important: a speedy put-down of the troll, or genuine help to those who seek it? Helping one person learn more about how and why climate is really changing, is worth putting up with a thousand trolls. And, trolls can’t keep up the pretense for very long. On this blog, we’ll know soon enough and then they’ll simply not appear on this blog.
I want this blog to be a safe space to ask honest questions. I want an environment where those who sincerely want help to feel welcome.
And, I want to reach, actually to reach, some of the deniers. There’s not one among us (unless there’s another Gandhi out there) who can’t say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” So let’s start listening to them. We often do so in a particuar “listening mode” where we’re not trying to understand them, we’re just probing for weaknesses. Try just listening — and keeping your mouth shut — and we might find some enlightenment worth having. I doubt we’ll learn anything about climate science from them, but we could learn a lot about how and why people become so fervent about false ideas.
Perhaps most important, let’s stop heaping hatred on them so much. Even I am weak enough that I’ll make exceptions for that — I wouldn’t ask you to stop heaping abuse on Marc Morano — but I fear I’m wrong about even him. As for Anthony Watts, he’s a guy, he wants a good life for himself and his family, he does NOT beat his wife or abuse his dog. He’s misguided, and if he’s nasty about it, don’t forget we can be nasty too. Before we even consider any attempt personally to hurt him or anyone else, remember these wise words: let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.
I doubt I’ll be able to live up to the lofty ideals I’m spouting. But I’ll try. The more of you who try, the more we will all succeed.
And by all means, buy Zoë Quinn’s book Crash Override and read it. Perhaps she too is a “mahatma” — a great soul.
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