Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What To Do When Someone Says Something You Don't Like

For a variety of reasons, Calvin & Hobbes was a huge part of my childhood.  If any piece of fiction can define me, it's Calvin & Hobbes.  I identified with Calvin in ways I didn't fully appreciate until years after Bill Watterson stopped writing it.  Calvin's a loner, primarily preferring to spend his play time alone.  He's misunderstood.  But he's still happy, because he knows what he wants and what he likes.

If you saw Firefly during its first run and were mortified at its premature cancellation, then you know a sliver of what I felt when I learned Calvin & Hobbes was ending.  I still had the books, but I knew it meant no more new Calvin & Hobbes.  And even with how I felt, I understood and agreed.  Even the end of Calvin & Hobbes is part of who I am today.

Bill Watterson was sick of the corporate pressure to sell out[1].  He was being pressured to do merchandising, but he felt that would take away from the art.  Everyone involved, from the syndicators to Watterson, to the readers knew how much money he was walking away from.  It would have easily been millions.  Personally, I thought then, and still do, that Calvin & Hobbes merchandise would have dwarfed Garfield[2], which was everywhere at the time.  For Bill Watterson, his artistic integrity meant more than money.  It was inspiring, and it may be the single biggest influence on the way I view money today.

I'm so into Calvin & Hobbes that when a friend shared this[3] today, I immediately recognized the drawing style.  The message wasn't unfamiliar to me either.  I suppose you could say that Calvin & Hobbes defines my childhood, and its absence defines my adulthood.

So, when I saw that the Onion took a shot at Bill Watterson[4], I didn't like it.  The fact that the article is 2 years old is irrelevant, because it was new to me.

I typically enjoy The Onion.  One of my favorite things is still their bit about the trailer for Iron Man[5].  But the post about Watterson felt almost like an attack on a big part of my identity.  I had 2 choices in how to react.

I could take that post as representative of The Onion's entire character, take it personally offensive, completely write off The Onion, and begin telling people how evil The Onion is.

Or I could realize that not everyone is me.  Not everyone shares my opinions on everyone, so they might be offended by different things.  I could understand that my perception of this one post is not representative of the whole Onion.  I could understand that my perception of that one post isn't even representative of that one post.

I chose the latter.  It is the reasonable of the 2 choices, after all.  But too often, when presented with a similar situation, I see people choosing the former.

Ron Lindsay says something offensive, so people call for boycotts[6].  He did later apologize, which was accepted[8] by many.  But the damage to CFI will continue[8] because so much of the initial reaction wasn't to say he'd done something wrong.  Much of the initial reaction was to completely write him off.

JT Eberhard said something some feminists didn't like[9], so they lose their shit[10] and vilify him[11].  Some people declared JT dead to them, while others did the same to Jen & Greta.  JT & Jen McCreight eventually made up, but neither blogged about it.  So many who blindly wrote off either of them probably still hate whichever one they decided was the devil.

Rebecca Watson suggests guys shouldn't creepily corner women in elevators[11] and the Internet loses their goddamn minds and is STILL freaking the fuck out[12] on her[13].

On Twitter, people of all ideologies block at the drop of a hat.  There's enough willing to block unknown masses that the Block Bot[14] was popular enough to get the attention of the BBC[15].

Heads of national organizations make one mistake, and people call for their heads.  Popular bloggers get into one disagreement and their readers take sides as if a full on civil war is happening.  Complete strangers block each other on a whim.

This won't solve our problems.

If we don't argue, we don't learn.  If we don't argue, we don't teach.  If we don't deal with people who we disagree with, we don't have our ideas challenged.  And all ideas should be challenged.  It's how we figure out which ideas are good and which ideas should be shed.  It's how we are able to abandon bad ideas, even when they've been held dear for two thousand years.

If you're too eager to get rid of people over one disagreement, you'll end up with an ever shrinking circle jerk of people more and more less likely to ever challenge you.  You end up building an echo chamber.  All you get from an echo chamber is the reinforcement of bad ideas.  Even if the people challenging us are assholes about it, they're still giving us the opportunity for your ideas to be improved.

Don't put yourself in an echo chamber.  Have the courage to let your ideas be challenged.

You'll be better for it.

1.  http://www.chron.com/life/books/article/Why-Bill-Watterson-quit-Calvin-and-Hobbes-1952901.php
2.  http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/
3.  http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/browbeat/2013/08/27/watterson_advice_large.jpg
4.  http://www.theonion.com/articles/bill-watterson-writes-illustrates-shreds-new-calvi,21240/
5.  http://youtu.be/YBM3j7x4Lcw
6.  http://skepchick.org/2013/06/so-much-for-center-for-inquiry/
7.  http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/06/24/accepting-ron-lindsays-apology/
8.  http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/06/24/accepting-ron-lindsays-apology/#comment-103522
9.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/08/on-the-bria-crutchfield-outburst-at-the-great-lakes-atheist-convention/
10.  http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2013/08/on-silencing-anger-to-silence-minority-voices/
11.  http://youtu.be/QqU9JFbtucU
12.  http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=QqU9JFbtucU
13.  http://skepchick.org/page-o-hate/
14.  https://twitter.com/The_Block_Bot
15.  http://youtu.be/R0UqtZMqxT8


  1. Re the block bot: It does solve the problem, just a different one from the problem you have in mind. It isn't used because of disagreement--it's used because it keeps people who are being nasty to you and your friends out of your Twitter feed as much as possible. If only this were simply a disagreement, we'd never have a use for something like that.

    1. What I referred to here was more about the very existence of it. People are quite willing to sign up for it, thus shutting out a lot of the discussion. All it does is reinforce the echo chamber.

      Your statement might be accurate if we're just talking about the "Level 1" people and if there's a decent process for adding people to that list that makes it hard to get on the list. But that's not what's happening.

      I don't think it's a secret how easy it is for people to get added to the list, which creates more problems than it solves.

  2. I mostly agree with this... but I have to make one counterpoint about Greta. After a year and a half of telling myself, "don't let this make you forget about all the great stuff Greta's done," there was a final straw for me when she declared she wanted nothing to do with anyone who even hinted at slightly disagreeing with her on the George Zimmerman case. My reaction to that is to think, "okay, cool, I won't have anything to do with you."