Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sarah Schulman On Communities And Conflict

NOTE:

Oh hey guys. if you're here from Tenkar's Tavern remember Greg C is mad because he's the guy who freaked out about sex in games and wrote FURRIES UNDERMINE LEGITIMATE COSPLAY!!! So if you trust his opinion....ok?




Anyway, the grown up way to have a problem with someone is, y'know, contact them about it, not call them names online ( zakzsmith AT hawy mayle, or anonymously: ask.fm/TheActualZakSmith ).

On to the article:

Some excerpts on community, intervention, conflict, etc that gamer communities might benefit from Sarah Schulman's book about internet-era fight escalation Conflict Is Not Abuse.

....

One problem here is how to intervene with a person who is overstating harm, hiding behind technology, shunning or otherwise escalating. In some cultures we are trained not to assist directly, saying we are “non-confrontational,” that indifference is polite. Instead we can learn to be accountable, to ask, “How can I help you and X to sit down and talk?” Perhaps the person invested in maintaining victimology in order to avoid their own issues will say, “No, I will “never talk to X again. In fact, I am terrified for my life. You should have nothing to do with her.” In other words, now that they are facing community responsibility, they escalate even further, their claims are even more inflated, and the cloak of self-righteousness is drawn even tighter. Unfortunately, at this point, most interveners will back off. Hey, I tried, they can tell themselves. In the end, it’s not their life being harmed by this escalating person. And if they engage any further, they could become a target too. So they call it quits. Almost nothing could be more painful to the person being projected onto. The only thing worse than not getting help is asking for it and still being denied. Now the stakes are even higher, the falsely accused is even more isolated, and the interveners feel self-satisfied while being entirely ineffective. The next step is to come as a group. “Hey, now there are five of us here together, with you. We want to help you and X sit down and talk. We find what you’re doing to be very disturbing. We won’t shun you, we won’t punish you, but we also “we won’t punish you, but we also won’t be co-opted into silence. How can we find an alternative?” This is the structure behind every successful piece of non-violent progressive political action:

1. Scapegoated people cannot be made to stand alone.
2. Community needs to move towards negotiation.
3. More and more people have to join in together to create change.
4. The conversation is not over just because an escalator insists that it is.

.....

Those seeking justice often have to organize allies in order to force contact and conversation, negotiation. Trying to create communication is almost always the uphill struggle of the falsely blamed. And entire movements are structured around the goal of forcing one party to face the reality of the other, and thereby face themselves. And of course this power struggle over whether or not opposing parties will speak is an enormous smokescreen covering up the real issue, the substance of what they need to speak about: namely, the nature of and resolution to the conflict.
....

“She yelled at me; she’s abusive.”

Is that an originating action? Or is that a response? Were you sitting innocently eating your breakfast and she yelled at you because there was no milk, and you are responsible for serving her at every turn, which would be Abuse? Or did she yell at you because you stole her milk money in order to buy drugs? Which would mean that you created the originating action and the yelling was a consequence of that action. So there is Conflict about your addiction, and the Abuse accusation is a smokescreen to avoid facing it. Or were you so traumatized from being demeaned constantly as a child that as an adult you can’t tolerate difference, and any normative challenge is perceived of as an assault or threat? Is it that, in fact, nothing really happened, and yet you feel terrible? And maybe, rather than face the betrayal of your parents, it’s a lot easier to put the whole thing on your partner?

Only by examining the details, asking interactive questions in person (and not by email), and understanding the order of events can we differentiate between these three possible interpretations of the same complaint “The most destructive answer, of course, is “She yelled at you? I will hurt her,” which is a shallow relationship manifested as bullying. The best answer is, “If you two can’t communicate right now, let me talk to her in person and see how she understands what is happening.” Or, “How can I help you sit down and talk this through with her?”
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33 comments:

  1. The internet is no longer safe for children. I say we install a laser grid that can project a socially adjusted AI into our bedroom to help guide discourse meaningfully. Truth 2.0 is here to stay folks.

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  2. I have such mixed feels about this book; but the second quote viz contextless statements is kinda the most fucking real thing about how conflict escalation is a smokescreen tactic...

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  3. There are two things I would like to point out: firstly, there is a general opinion within the social justice community that the responsibility of the abused is not to educate the abuser. This general opinion, insofar as I can tell, is a meme-ification of the original message, but it's relevant here because it is a justification to stop conversations.

    If we hold that self-care is in fact promoted by stopped conversations, then Sarah's perspective that a person intervening is being "entirely ineffective" is false.

    Is self-care promoted by ending conversations? I don't have objective answers. I think this is an interesting question to ask. In my personal life and in the lives of my friends, ending conversations has been helpful to them. Some of those conversations restart after long periods of cessation. Some never restart. This is anecdotal. What are your experiences with this?

    Secondly, I would like to point out that large-scale movements and the management of individuals should not be conflated. Sarah Schulman talks about seeking justice, but when dealing with individuals, I have almost never sought justice. Sometimes I seek understanding. Sometimes I seek compromise. Sometimes I seek precision. Sometimes I seek a source to vent at. I do not think I have ever sought justice.

    Comparatively, when there are movements, such as conspiracy-forming groups, seeking justice seems more appropriate than seeking individual communication. After all, groups can do more harm, and organized groups are often no longer driven by individual psychologies but a sort of tribal groupthink which can be harder and less effectively targeted by strategies which work for individuals.

    Sarah's address of community negotiation is insightful, her talk of gathering allies and preparing to counteract opposing parties, her talk of a power struggle...those are all insightful.

    But I'm skeptical that they are useful on the individual level. I have found in personal conflict resolution that if I'm mentally framing things as a power struggle, I've already given up on some of my principal goals in reconciling with a given individual.

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    Replies
    1. So as not to derail:

      The rationale behind bringing up point 1 is to straight up question if Sarah is wrong, which I believe she is, about interveners backing off as being "entirely ineffective".

      The rationale behind bringing up point 2 is just that I want to caution gaming communities who follow this advice that all community curation strategies don't exactly map well onto interpersonal resolution strategies.

      Delete
    2. The problem with
      "
      that the responsibility of the abused is not to educate the abuser.
      "
      is that inevitably both parties claim to be the abused.

      Like it's a great _slogan_ but in practice it's just a recipe for never addressing the conflict.

      It's also a handy excuse for escalators and abusers:

      1. MAke an attack on a victim

      2. When the victim complains this is injustice (asks for evidence, points out inconsistencies, etc) the attacker claims their Mental Health will not allow them to continue the conversation and flees

      3. Perfect sniping-from-cover formula.

      Also:

      The parties don't have to talk to each other directly. They can easily talk to 3rd parties (and always do) at first and stories can be compared.

      The overall important message is:

      If nobody is talking about

      order

      of

      events

      and


      what

      happened

      to whom


      then they can't remotely be considered to be helping or addressing the problem, just expressing polemical positions.

      Individually or in groups, fact-finding is 100% key and has no downside so long as people grasp the limits of documentation.

      As for the fine details of differences btwn individuals and groups: she does go into that in the book if you wanna read it.

      Delete
    3. "in practice it's just"

      This is not true. In practice, it has allowed folks, to end conversations that Sarah claims must happen, to the mutual better-feeling of both people.

      In terms of individuals and groups, I agree fact-finding has no downside. Surely you can see that fact-finding is not the only thing you are doing by forcing accountability on everyone who feels victimized, though.

      I'm sure you're familiar with friends who let go of a fact for the maintenance of a friendship. Fact-finding has multiple downsides depending on how found facts are conveyed. If no skillful conveyance can be found, many opt to lessen accountability to maintain the friendship. Organizations do this too.

      Also, you have the case where both individuals *stop* fact-finding about each other and are more or less happy with the result. This applies to groups too, but in this specific context of maintaining a community, it would be a net loss cuz the community would fragment (oh no, failure at 'maintaining').

      In the case of individuals, deciding to live and let live could be the most amenable result. This specific last case is what I was addressing with my point 2.

      Delete
    4. Also, I still think my original diagnosis is correct -

      "that the responsibility of the abused is not to educate the abuser" is problematic because it is an imprecise memification/sloganification of a longer message.

      "Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future."

      I think the original quote is *far* more encompassing than the meme, because it emphasizes responsibility (accountability by a different name) and because it again is specifically talking about groups and organizations, and is specifically not talking about individuals.

      Using Audre Lorde's commentary as a justification for removing your own accountability in a situation where there is nothing systemic or organizational, merely a one-on-one disagreement, is just a weird meme-adjustment of the original quote.

      You claim it's problematic because in practice it just serves one purpose and that purpose it's a bad one.

      But in practice of course it can serve a variety of purposes and some of those are good ones, so that is not a good critique.

      Rather, my critique is that it's a misuse of the quote - it's using a boarspear to hunt fish. It can work out for you, but it indicates a little bit of a paradigm shift that maybe with more research the fisherman will recognize is silly.

      Delete
    5. Ant, you're not addressing 2 massive questions and instead saying obvious things about the NONcontroversial part of your assertion.

      Please answer them:

      1. What do you actually do when BOTH parties claim to be abused?

      Not "What do you do in an imaginary idealized situation where who is victim and victimizer is clear"?


      2. "I'm sure you're familiar with friends who let go of a fact for the maintenance of a friendship. "

      That isn't what we're discussing here though: this isn't about 2 friends who can talk. This is about people having conflict and what _the community around them can do to help_.

      .......


      So: please address both of these issues (and not less complex, simpler ones that have obvious solutions) in your next comment.

      Delete
    6. 1. There's not one solution.

      Actual cases:

      Breakup sitch. Both parties claim to be abused. I'm a mutual friend. I acknowledge to both sides that there was some shitty behavior that was done to them. I make some sounds about reconciliation, this is refused for the expected reason (abuse). I say "okay, what else do you need right now?" One person got hugs and check-in phone calls. One person got me to make them some food and then wanted me to stay away for a while. Two months later we grabbed lunch and life continued as normal. Both became happier and appreciated help. Conflict was never addressed.

      Friendship betrayal sitch. Friend A attempted to help set Friend B up for success, in process embarrassed them. Refusal to mutually talk. I am mutual friend. Same rough scenario as breakup sitch with me listening and accepting they wouldn't talk again, but after a few months they talked and worked out differences. I was curious if they could have talked sooner if I had acted differently, they said no. I have reasons to believe good faith with that.

      Friendship betrayal sitch. Friend A runs away from all things in life and Friend B freaks out due to Friend A being a big touchstone. Year later Friend A appears somewhere and they talk. Friend A turns out left due to pressure they perceived from Friend B, while Friend B spiraled without Friend A. In the resulting conversation they more or less avoided critical parts of their conflict as "taboo" areas, and over the course of other convos these continued to be "taboo". They became close friends again and are happy with friendship.

      Near-breakup-sitch. Some relationship experimentation testing goes sour, girl/guy angry. Different political views fuel fire. Huge swathes of conversation topics become taboo - I know this cuz when I hung out with them some topics I straight up couldn't talk about. They decided to cease a ton of conversations to smooth the relationship over. Both used the term "abusive" to describe how those conversations would go, but cited "commitment" as a reason to keep trying at the relationship. Over four years, a lot of their political/personal views have harmonized.

      So I'm not intervening in all 4 of these, but in the three (1st 2nd 4th) where I had a say, I always allowed the abused to not confront the abuser rather than made them personally accountable. The end results show this is a valid way of dealing with problems.

      2. I mean to say that when 2 folks are in conflict, that whether a community should even be involved or not is something worth questioning. Sarah suggests "here are things the community can do" and I suggest "maybe the community can sit this one out".

      I sit out cases and I participate in cases when 2 folks are in conflict, and I think both are strategies worth considering. Oftentimes, I may mention reconciliation, but I would not put fact-checking as my first or even top three priorities. I may mention reconciliation, but I would not put maintaining accountability as my first or even top three priorities.

      Delete
    7. 1. "I always allowed the abused to not confront the abuser rather than made them personally accountable."

      You still are discussing a situation where "abused" and "abuser" are clear, however. so that's not relevant.

      Please discuss the actual kind of situations we're discussing in the OP, not one that is simpler than that.


      This is the 3rd time I am asking you this question.

      Please address this difficult question, not something _like it but easier_


      2. Yes, inaction is an extremely popular and ineffective.

      Let me put it like this:

      IF (and perhaps only if) a 3rd party is going to complain about the outcome of a conflict, or regret it, THEN they should at the minimum know what's going on before complaining.

      Once they know what's going on, THEN the decisions of how or if to intervene can be made.

      Otherwise: don't complain if things don't go your way.

      Delete
    8. 1. Wait, to clarify - do you see a situation where both people call the other person "abuser" as still a clear situation? I genuinely thought that was an unclear situation.

      If that is *clear* to you, I need to listen more: what are we talking about?

      2. Everything you've written here completely confuses me and doesn't mesh with the reality I know.

      I have seen folks continue to intervene when told to stop in what you call "simple" situations - where only one side claims abuse and the other does not.

      I have watched those situations become worse. Either the abuser is antagonized into more escalatory behavior, the abused is antagonized into more escalatory behavior, or miscommunication increases.

      Inaction (as I've listed examples of, albeit possibly off-topic examples, see #1) on the other hand is something that I've seen which is effective. Laying out a space for a story to be told, backing off when told to do so...these supposedly "useless" things Sarah talks about, have in my life been actually useful.

      I'm not sure what the 3rd party complaint has to do with anything, since in none of the examples where I was a 3rd party was I attempting to complain. Nor was I assuming that a 3rd party intervener was a complainer. I thought they were helping a problem, not adding their own to the mix.

      Delete
    9. 1. I said:

      "What do you actually do when BOTH parties claim to be abused?"

      You said:

      "I always allowed the abused to not confront the abuser rather than made them personally accountable."

      ...which isn't helpful as you're describing a situation unlike the one I'm describing.

      In the one I'm describing: it is unclear whether there even is an abuser, much less who it is.

      In the one you describe, you are saying there is clearly an "abused" and an "abuser".

      Advice about that situation is not german to the question "What do you do if you don't know?"


      2.
      'I have seen folks continue to intervene when told to stop in what you call "simple" situations - where only one side claims abuse and the other does not."


      Ignore those situations, they are not the topic here.


      Can you do that?

      Delete
  4. 1. The examples had cases where both parties claimed to be abused. I'm very confused. I applied the unhelpful thing to those situations.

    2. I can, but it doesn't resolve my confusion, thus I can't continue in a way that is helpful or useful to either you or me: what does a 3rd party complaint have to do with anything?

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    Replies
    1. 1. Well which is it?

      "Both parties claimed to be abused" (your words)

      or

      ""I always allowed the abused to not confront the abuser rather than made them personally accountable.""

      (ie a situation where there is definitely an abuser and an abused)

      Those are 2 different situations.

      2. What's a 3rd party complaint have to do?

      If I see 2 random ppl fighting on 12th Ave, I usually don't involve myself. If I see 2 friends fighting , I might. I fI see 2 community members fighting I might

      Whether I'll complain is a measure of
      _how invested I am (or claim to be) in the outcome of the conflict_ .

      So: the invested person has a different path than the not-invested person

      Delete
    2. 1. No they're not.

      First example: breakup sitch. Both parties feel abused.

      So I talk to one person right and they're like "oh this abuse occurred to me" so I'm like "I see wow that sucks" and then they're like "I don't want to even talk to him fuck him" and I'm like "I see okay power to you".

      Then I talk to another person and they're like "oh this abuse occurred to me" and it repeats except with "I don't even want to talk to her fuck her" and I do the exact same thing.

      a.k.a. "i allow the abused to not confront the abuser"

      Sitch two. Friend A feels they did good but it was an accident and Friend B is abusive by escalating shit out of proportion. Friend B feels like Friend A sabotaged them and ruined them.

      They both refuse to talk. So I'm like "okay that's fair" alongside what I talked about above.

      a.k.a. "i allow the abused to not confront the abuser"

      Could you clarify why initially you didn't understand this is what I did? You said that I didn't cover cases where two folks were abused but if you read the words, I'm confused how you could not get that impression I guess.

      2. Oh okay.

      It's a phrasing issue. I've never felt like as a third party I had a right to complain. The fact that you feel like you are complaining is the most alien thing in the world to me. To use your turn of phrase, it is an utter disaster to me if two of my friends are fighting and I *complain*.

      My view of my job is to help resolve whatever complaint they have, not to add my own. Hence my inability to understand you for two posts in a row.

      Delete
    3. 1. FIrst example:

      So far as I can tell you totally did what the op said to do.

      You established what happened. Acted on it.

      In the second you only talk about how the 2 people "feel" so I have no idea whether you established who was the abuser or not.

      2. "
      To use your turn of phrase, it is an utter disaster to me if two of my friends are fighting and I *complain*.
      "

      As soon as you say to anyone that one of the people involved is an "abuser" you have complained.

      This is legit to do. Complaints can be valid.

      Delete
  5. 1. The OP said this:

    "Perhaps the person invested in maintaining victimology in order to avoid their own issues will say, “No, I will “never talk to X again. In fact, I am terrified for my life. You should have nothing to do with her.” In other words, now that they are facing community responsibility, they escalate even further, their claims are even more inflated, and the cloak of self-righteousness is drawn even tighter. Unfortunately, at this point, most interveners will back off. Hey, I tried, they can tell themselves."

    While this scenario did not literally involve that degree of escalation, both people refused to talk to the other person. I said okay and let them do this. According to OP:

    "Now the stakes are even higher, the falsely accused is even more isolated, and the interveners feel self-satisfied while being entirely ineffective."

    This did not happen and is a faulty account of what would happen. What actually happened was that they appreciated the help refused to talk to one another and thus got happier.

    Even in the very first case I did not establish who was the abuser. Your priorities, as I've said, are not mine. You think that I established what happened and acted on it in a certain way. I did not. I do not believe utter fact-manifestation and forced mutual conversation is necessary for "being effective" or "preventing abused folks from feeling isolated".

    2. I do not and did not in any of the four examples say that.

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    Replies
    1. Er, caveat. I still DO believe that the act of getting facts straight has no downsides.

      Delete
    2. 1. The OP concerns someone

      "
      maintaining victimology in order to avoid their own issues
      "
      ...were the people in your examples doing that?

      If not: those examples are not relevant here.


      2. Are any of the people in your examples abusers?

      Delete
    3. 1. I think all were to some extent, yes.

      2. That fundamentally isn't interesting to me. I say to folks "if you want a second opinion on whether something is abusive, tell me" and I say to folks "if you feel in danger from someone, I can help". I don't go around finding out if people are abusers.

      Delete
    4. 1. So you are saying:
      a) you didn't try to figure out what happened BUT
      b) also came to the conclusion that they were all
      "
      maintaining victimology in order to avoid their own issues
      "

      2. Then you are not doing the right thing.

      Especially if you accuse your friends of "maintaining victimology to avoid their own issues" while never even trying to see if they were actually abused

      Delete
  6. 1. I did not try to figure out, to completion, what happened and who was ultimately responsible. That was indeed not my priority. I certainly figured out some of what happened, and I think my judgment/conclusion was sound given how much I figured out.

    2. This is weird to me. I didn't make that accusation. Your model of me is still wrong. I see them as maintaining victimology, to varying extents, in the moment, to avoid their own issues, yes.

    ...

    this is a revelation being drummed out elsewhere too. I'm beginning to realize that what I fail to see as accusations, you see as accusations. This is troubling, since in communities I'm in nobody makes that particular attribution.

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    Replies
    1. How could you be sure you were " maintaining victimology, to varying extents, in the moment, to avoid their own issues,." if you never bothered to find out all of what happened?

      And, again:

      If you're going to accuse them of that deceptive practice, then you are "complaining" (ie saying they did something bad) and therefore you have a moral obligation to investigate.

      Delete
    2. 1. Without knowing all of what happened, I can recognize that they avoid certain issues for personal reasons, and don't critically examine those personal reasons. For example, I know that talking about certain subjects stresses out a friend, but I also know it isn't to the extent that she would lose her ability to talk about it. Those subjects were the cause of part of the near-breakup, and in her shoes I would deal with those subjects rather than treat them as taboo and go on with the relationship.

      And, again: I didn't accuse them of anything, or complain to them. Nor do I have the same views on moral obligations as you. I'm beginning to understand the disconnect, at least.

      Basically, I wanted to maintain their well-being insofar as they desired to be well. I did not want to maintain their well-being as close to that standard as possible, rather than to my own standards. Being precise is impossible - for example, I made some suggestions which they did not want to pursue. However, when they did not want to pursue, I indeed backed down because it was not in line with my goals.

      I don't ever investigate my friends or really anyone as a goal. I may in the future, but I do not currently and have no plans to.

      Delete
    3. Then how do you know there was an "abuser"?

      Delete
    4. I have covered this, already, Zak.

      Are any of the people in your examples abusers?

      That fundamentally isn't interesting to me. I say to folks "if you want a second opinion on whether something is abusive, tell me" and I say to folks "if you feel in danger from someone, I can help". I don't go around finding out if people are abusers.

      Delete
    5. Then why would you say this (nonsensical in that case) sentence:

      "
      "I always allowed the abused to not confront the abuser rather than made them personally accountable."
      "

      You don't even know if there's an abuser, so howdoes that make sense?

      Delete
    6. They made the claim. I didn't investigate it.

      It occurs to me that you might think I did make the claim anyway, given the other patterns of this conversation, but like.

      To me, when a person I care about says "oh I suffered abuse from an abuser" I focus on events they feel comfortable describing, and express (if I believe them to be acting in good faith) sympathy or empathy as appropriate for those events.

      I don't typically say "yes, this person is an abuser", I typically say "yes, the behavior you described is indeed very abusive" and proceed from there.

      I don't bother with investigation unless they ask me to proceed with it, and you'll recall that I don't consider behavior identification as equivalent to an accusation of a human (though now that I understand you do, I'll avoid that here).

      Delete
    7. If the "identification" isn't an accusation, what's the difference?

      If I assess you as a raccoon, I am accusing you of being a raccoon.

      they are the same thing.

      Anyway: your initial comment wayyyyyyyyy back at the beginning is therefore invalidated here--

      you can't say you don't make them confront the abuser as you don't even know if there's an abuser.

      Delete
    8. i'm confused about why i need to know.

      the abused reports there is an abuser. i ask if they would like to reconcile. they don't. i accede. things turn out in a way which they find and i find amenable.

      i don't understand the raccoon example. it is true that a raccoon is a raccoon.

      it is not true that i assess anybody in the way you are saying.

      it is also not true that a person who swings a bat once is a baseball player.

      i'm *very* confused and email is better i think.

      Delete
    9. To anyone reading down this far:

      Me and Ant talked in a hangout and now we get what's up here.

      We're fine--anyone curious can just ask

      --Zak

      Delete