Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Poison Girls

No, this post is not about the rock group from the 1980s that featured Joy Division producer Martin Hannett on bass, rather it is about a nasty blog based phenomenon.

For some time now, I have been following the blogs and comments of various bloggers. From time to time, when doing this, I will take a look at the blogs of people who post comments. Often this method will lead me to other interesting blogs. However, this is not always the case.

This is a post about four bloggers I have followed with a certain perverse fascination, due to their ideological engagement and hypocrisy. From their posts, comments and other actions, it is clear that these are people with a lot of 'issues'. It is also interesting that this quartet frequently comment upon one another, cite one another and link to one another, thereby forming a self-sustaining rhetorical circle of illusion. I will describe these folks here (though not in too much detail -- their anonymity will be respected) and try and draw some conclusions about the phenomenon that they manifest. I would be interested to know if anybody else has come across anything similar and to what extent the conclusions I draw appear to generalize.

Poison Girl 1
The first Poison Girl, hereafter PG 1, is interested in exposing racism and sexism. This she does to remarkable effect, albeit not quite in the manner she intends. The racism and sexism she best succeeds in exemplifying is her own. One of the features of PG 1 is that she cannot stand anybody to disagree with her. She even gets ugly when asked questions! She certainly has little or no time for most commentators, especially if they appear to be male. Here is an example of the purple prose of PG 1:

"...because you are so superior to little old amateur intellects like myself you had to go back to your blog and cry about it, cry about it like a little pussy bitch who cannot fist fuck at liberty. The problem is, I don’t like being fist fucked."

This is what she had to say to a commentator whose comments she deleted. Her focus is very much upon perceived abuse and abusers (more often imagined than real). Much of what she has to say is manipulative. Indeed, it appears to me that the passage quoted above, if it were articulated by a man and directed towards a women, or a minority, it would be an unequivocal case of abusive language. The venom and the terms here are prejudicial and inflammatory. They also misrepresent the facts. The person PG 1 is writing to only posted a comment that she disagreed with. The response it got, in addition to the comment being deleted, appear totally over the top. Despite these facts, PG 1 appears to have a number of regular fans and supporters. They will join with her to assault other commentators on her and other blogs, when the comments are not deemed 'on message', yet are not too far off to warrant being deleted. This seems to me to be neither conducive to furthering understanding, nor to offer a means of healing the ills that PG 1 so often detects. I'd really like to know what the real agenda is here. It is clearly not the agenda that PG 1 claims. If anything, it appears to be quite the opposite. PG 1 was the first blog that alerted me to the phenomenon under discussion here and represents possibly the most extreme case of the sickness.

Poison Girl 2
The second Poison Girl is a regular on the PG 1 blog. She claims to be interested in bringing about change. Her topic and focus, like PG 1, are racism and sexism. In her profile she asks "Why am I not surprised?". After reading her blog and comments, the answer is manifestly clear to the reader. PG 2 finds the ills she is looking for all around her. However, this is something akin to a self-fulfilling prophesy in this.

One of the more interesting features of PG 2 is that she believes herself to be gifted with some kind of special insight. She remarks that

"I don't argue with people who don't "get it" because it's a waste of everyone's time--mine and theirs."

We also learn the reason why some people fail to 'get it'. PG 2 writes about someone she wishes to complain about that they do not,

"...have the knowledge, the understanding, the empathy, the sense of perspective, or (apparently) the willingness to acquire any of these things that would make it possible for her to "get it.""

Fortunately, for all, PG 2 does 'get it' and is more than willing to share her insights with the ignorant masses.

PG 2 is rhetorically quite sophisticated. This is probably because she appear to be some kind of university person. However, the line that runs through her texts is similar to PG 1s -- if you ask questions, or disagree with PG 2, be prepared to be patronized, called a racist and/or sexist and generally brow beaten. Even simple questions, or requests for clarification, or heaven forbid, proposals of alternative explanations of alleged phenomenon can lead to the ideologically driven rantings of PG 2. A somewhat unique feature of PG 2s style is that she likes to back up her claims with 'facts' and statistics. In theory, this should be good and could make the claims advanced more plausible. Unfortunately, these putative facts and numbers appear out of the blue, with no attribution. Indeed, they are presented as widely known truths. However, the facts and numbers often suffer from a rather serious implausibility. As with our previous PG, PG 2 ends up alienating and frustrating people, far more than she succeeds in enlightening. Thus, she manifestly fails in her professed goals.

Poison Girl 3
It is necessary to be a little circumspect when discussing PG 3, as this is a person I have known for quite a while, outside the blog arena. She too is heavily invested in matters of race and gender politics and like PG 2, likes to claim academic credentials. Although these matters are not always the main focus of the blog, as with our previous PGs, race and gender comments of the 'Ooooh, I so agree!' kind are a frequent theme to her comments on other blogs (especially PG 1 and 2s).

Often, PG 3s blog is filled with observations about columns in leftie magazines, or radio stations, accompanied by plagiarized texts. However, every now and again, there are posts that deal with race and gender matters. This PG is especially fond of, like PG 2, claiming that she has a magical insight on these matters, although the positions articulated are predictable and unsophisticated. A feature which is especially odd is the tendency to speak about books on these topics that she has only read reviews of, rather than reading the texts themselves. However, perhaps the oddest feature of the PG 3 blog is her propensity to claim that, on the basis that she has occasionally been mistaken for a non-white American, that she actually is of other ethnicities. Now, I was under the impression that this is what is termed 'racial appropriation' and is often considered a pernicious activity. However, PG 3 is under the impression that behaving in this way is ok in her case.

PG 3 has admitted to me in person that the reason she reads and comments on many blogs is to get more people to read her blog. There is a crucial insight here; PG 3 just wants to be the center of attention. By identifying with oppressed groups and emphasizing her role as an oppressed women (a claim of questionable plausibility, given a background of privilege), this enables PG 3 to play the role of victim, that she appears addicted to playing. There are elements of this in the previous two blogs also. To me, it seems odd that a person who is an academic should spend so much time reading blogs and magazines. I was under the impression that papers in refereed journals would be a better reading diet and publishing papers in refereed journals is a better use of academic time, than posting on blogs. Oh well.

PG 3 also shares another feature with the previous PGs in so much as she is a very aggressive deleter of any comments that might question her wisdom, consistency, or 'insight'. In this, PG 3 has already so disheartened one earnest blogger, that they quit blogging! This too appears to work against the furtherance of the professed goals, as well as what should be PG 3's professional goals, rather than help.

Poison Girl 4
Poison Girl 4, like 2 and 3, is also an academic. She appears to have been inspired to enter blogging by PG 3, with whom she is a friend. She spends a good deal of her comment time telling PG 3 how clever and politically correct she is. Her blog is a rather weak attempt at emulating PG 3s style. This does not work too well though. After all, who really cares about someone's visit to the State fair? Occasionally, there are attempts at erudition and direct addressing of gender and race issues, but these are infrequent and confused. It is in her comments that PG 4 earns her inclusion in the group of poison girls.

Discussion
These individuals have a number of features that they have in common. At least two-thirds of them are white academics. They also share certain rhetorical tropes. For instance, they commonly like to talk about 'white/male entitlement'. Whilst this may be a real phenomenon in certain cases, it is a diagnosis of dubious merit in others. For instance, if a colleague has a successful career, then it is at least as possible that this is due to their hard work and productivity, as it is due to their race and gender. Without these considerations being taken into account, a simple cry of 'white male entitlement' should not be taken too seriously. Of course, this is especially the case when such a cry is issued in conjunction with claims of victimhood. It would have been much more helpful if a detailed and careful debate was engaged in, rather than one sided diatribes, even if there are several distinct authors on this single side.

However, in order to get a better perspective on the Poison Girls, I asked a number of individuals from historically disadvantaged ethnic backgrounds to take a look at their writings and give me feedback. This group consisted of both genders (thanks folks, you know who you are). Perhaps the most telling comment came from a neighbor who said "Well, if these are the people who are 'friends', who needs enemies?".

Although the opinions expressed were quite diverse, there were certain clear trends. First off, a number of individuals observed that the Poison Girls spouted a lot of words, but showed little evidence of doing anything concrete to assist the groups they claimed to support. One person suggested that each of the Poison Girls should look out the front of their houses three times for a half hour, on different days and at different times and observe the ethnicity of those people walking and driving past. This individual conjectured that the result would be mostly whites. As none of the individuals discussed here, is likely to read this, it is unlikely they will ever be able to take this test. I bet that the results would be interesting though.

The consensus of those whose opinions I sought was that the PGs either had no effect at all on real matters of race and gender, or possibly had the effect of desensitizing people. This last conclusion appears a little sad, given the highly earnest tones of the PGs. My group also wondered a little about the motivations of the PGs. Why so much heat and anger, if this is just venting, without even a pretense of debate (the group was especially concerned about the propensity to delete posts)? I think that this is an especially important point too. Any view point, no matter how intrinsically virtuous, which cannot be subject to scrutiny has to be considered suspicious. What is also sad is the lack of humor that appears to pervade the writings of these individuals. It seems to me that chilling is good and that a sense of fun can be important in explaining important concepts. However, as a guy and thus an a priori sexist (at least to the PGs), who cares about my view?

Should anyone wish to comment on this post, either in support or disagreement, I give my word that no comments will be deleted. In this, I hope to lead by example.

The CP

Update: Someone was kind enough to draw my attention to the following comment,

" Great link - and note, there is an odd thread on race at [PG 1's] blog. Intervention of some sort could be helpful."

The amazing thing is that this remark was left by PG 3, in a comment on PG 2s blog. This seems to amount to concrete evidence of collusion. Amazing.

The CP

8 Comments:

Anonymous James Dupree said...

Random thoughts:
It is an interesting situation you have laid out in your post. It is interesting, primarily, to me because I'm rather intrigued by how differing groups produce inner "cliques". Blogging seems to be a comparable case where these small groups emerge. I've observed this personally, and seen how it can get malicious rather quickly. Those outside the clique are those who don't "get it." Even if you wanted to "get it", you cannot because you are perpetually listed under the category of "them", instead of us. Like a poorly run cult, it is isolationist
It seems that a clique is a marginalized micro-group within the larger group, society, et cetera. ( Although not necessarily true in all cases) They, being perpetual outsiders, turn the metaphoric tables where they are the elect, the ones who know. It could be argued that every group, from nations to grade schools, suffers from this type of elitism. While I basically agree with the premise, the internet seems to have magnified the problem . Everyone can be kingfish, real or imagined, because everyone has their own electronic pond.

[quote=CP]These individuals have a number of features that they have in common. At least two-thirds of them are white academics. They also share certain rhetorical tropes.[/quote]
This is what I found to be amazing. One would think that academics would have better things to do. One would also hope that they could come up with more entertaining arguments.
Lastly, the seeking to be part of, or identify with, another ethnic group is frankly absurd. To seek to understand others is admirable, but to act, as if you are of that group, seems criminal. The point that I found rather stereotypical is how little, if anything, they do for the ethnic or gender groups they supposedly support. Words are rather cheap, actions are what count.

Interesting article CP.

5:14 AM  
Blogger ToastedSuzy said...

My experience with race "debates" on white "ally" sites has been frustrating and stupid. In preparing to respond here, I revisited this idiotic exchange on Changeseekers site:

http://whyaminotsurprised.blogspot.com/2006/08/required-reading-for-beginner-allies.html

and now I'm angry all over again.

These people try to claim to be other races, or they claim to have some special insight into other races because the alternative is to be the object of their own scorn. They have to adopt these false personas so that they can verbally punish white people for being white (or men for being men, or women for being stupid and weak victims of men). There is no other place to stand in a "discussion" with these people. You are either completely ignorant and a racist, or you are one of the white people who accuses other white people of being ignorant and racist. How infuriating!

These people have no interest in changing anything for the better.

They are idiots.

Damn. See what you made me do?!

Anyway, ultimately I believe they are harmless and should just be ignored by people who are not just spoiling for a fight. There is no way to engage in conversation with these people that is not yesmanship or victimization. Those are your only options.

These people do nothing but talk around in big circles congratulating themselves and each other for saying the same things over and over.

The violence they do to language and intellectual debate is almost blasphemous to me. It enrages me. So, yeah, I can really understand your feelings toward them.

Just ignore them. They will never change. Or, at least, you and I will not be the ones to change them. And ultimately they are no more dangerous than a soap opera or The View or any other stupid, cliched, over-simplified world view portraying tripe you see on the telly.

Bah.

TS

10:39 AM  
Blogger ToastedSuzy said...

God I wish I hadn't gone back to read that stuff.

You're right, CP. They are poison.

Get to work on your World of Words post and quit messing around with assholes.

They are not worthy.

TS

10:45 AM  
Blogger ToastedSuzy said...

Ps. James and CP,

I agree that elitism is especially visible and, perhaps, ugly on the internet, but I still argue that the "ally" brand of elitism--which is really just misplaced snobbery and absurdly inappropriate arrogance, is very much preferable to the elitism of those who equate a college education with a superior intellect and bar those whose economic status has not granted them access to such an education from discussions of scholarly matters.

In the past, this latter version of elitism has been a real, nearly insurmountable barrier for those who really sought to learn.

I think the internet can work to eliminate that barrier. And if the elitism of the poison girls -- which amounts to a popularity contest--is erected in its place, so be it.

Every man is my teacher.

Some teach me what not to do.

Peace Out, Homies!

TS

10:58 AM  
Blogger sonia said...

Interesting analysis, except...

You should have had identified the 'Poison Girls' and link to them. Otherwise, your assertions cannot be verified. And Internet is all about linking...

3:11 PM  
Blogger The Combat Philosopher said...

Folks,
Thanks for your comments. I will respond, though not in the correct order, for reasons that will become clear.

Sonia,
I did consider posting links, but decided against it. My reasons for this were, (1) they do not need any more attention for their poison, and (2) they would probably detect the links and flood this place with their poison. I instead choose to quote from two of the poison girls at length. By using Google, or the Blogger search function, it is pretty easy to find these fools. Then, by looking at the comments on these blogs, along with the information provided here, it becomes possible to identify the other two poison girls, and others of their kind.

James,
Yes, it is shocking that alleged academics would behave in this manner. My suspicion is that this behavior comes about due to these folks not being too successful in their careers, or other aspects of their lives. Your observation about words being cheap, but actions counting more, is also very well taken. This was why one of my informants asked the question about looking out the window. Her guess was that these were little white-bread girls, who were just seeking attention.

TS,
First off, I am really sorry to have lead you into such distress. However, thanks for your excellent and utterly sane comments none the less.

There is possibly one point on which I may disagree with you though. I do not believe that these people are quite as harmless as you suggest. For some of them, their goal appears to be self-publicity. This means that many are potentially lured into their warped world view. When this happens, harm can be done. Consider the case of Clampett. He let himself get lured in and was then so traumatised by what followed that he quit blogging altogether.

Part of the problem here is that, at times, some of the poison girls can present in a vaguely rational and attractive manner. This is especially the case if they pass their days looking for 'interesting' things to cite in their blogs. I have actually seen a case where a creative use of Google has formed the basis of faux erudition. This makes these people especially dangerous, as they lure in victims, who can then get mislead. For instance (and it is not a PG, in this case), I know of a case where the whole blog persona is a fiction. Now, this would not matter, in most cases. However, if someone with an ersatz persona then uses that persona to offer sagely advice, then the effects can be highly detrimental. Imagine if someone claimed to be an oncologyst what kind of mayhem they could cause. See for instance the problems caused by Indian impersonators, such as Nasdijj.

This leads me to wonder about the true virtues of open access. In most traditional media, there is at least some attempt at quality control by editors. Although this is a system that can be subject to dreadful abuses, as sometimes happens in popular magazines, there seem to be less problematic cases. I have in mind the blind refereeing system of academic journals. In theory, this should be a system open to all.

I edit a journal. From time to time I get submissions that appear to come from folks who forgot their lithium. I still send the papers out to referees (assuming that the papers are not too nutty to make finding a referee impossible). Everyone is treated equally. Conversely, whilst acting as a referee I have bounced papers that (I later discovered) came from very senior people at Harvard. In that case, the use of ad hominems as a major argumentative strategy was enough to have me tick the 'reject' box.

The curious story behind John Kennedy Toole's "Confederacy of Dunces" also provide reasons to trust the traditional system, despite all the flaws.

I guess at root here, there may be a difference in disciplines. In philosophy, there are always 'enthusiastic amateurs' who feel that they have something to contribute. Occasionally, they do (the cases of Kripke, and perhaps Wittgenstein come to mind). However, in the bulk of cases, people just repeat well-known errors.

I am not sure what the correct answers on these issues are though. It maybe some new system will evolve, that will bring some 'quality control' to blogs. In the meantime though, I believe that it is important that folks realise the need to keep their bullshit detectors on high gain. After all, based on the Greek origins of the word, 'Philosophy' is the 'love of wisdom'. One important tool in finding wisdom, is to know when to resist stupidity, no matter how superficially plausible it may seem.

The CP

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

Unfortunately the idea of some kind of quality control of the blogosphere is at best more hopeful than acheiveable and then there is the question of who polices the police? Who decides whats rubbish... and if any governing body does, who makes sure that the body doesnt get taken over by"interest groups" who are just as sinister as the original problem. We have to rely on peoples own common sense to eventually figure out the empty shells from those with a strong basis in fact. LOL sorry couldnt get away from my cynical nature there.

7:09 PM  
Blogger The Combat Philosopher said...

There is a very interesting thread over at Slashdot that addresses the issues of quality control on the web. It is really quite relevant to the issues discussed here, should any one be interested.

Whilst attempting some kind of quality control in the blog arena is problematic, so far the wider solutions on the web seem to offer some promise. The Slashdot system has a lot of virtues. I know of one individual who failed to ever 'make the cut' there, but then later became a popular blogger. Of course, slashdot is a quite technical site and thus is not focussed upon the idelogically engaged topics of the poison girls. However, this slashdot thread is still worth reading, by any body who is seriously interested in these matters.

The CP

2:13 AM  

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