Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me

Bettie Pager asks:

Generally, bullies bash people to get particular reactions — they want to shut down others’ voices or at least scare them. But, at least from the outside looking in, the only affect the Mewling Manlings/Rabidly Sad Puppies/etc. have on you is an occasional volley of very well-crafted snark. Given that they don’t seem to be getting what bullies generally want out of you, why do you think they keep at it?

Well, with regard to the Puppies specifically, I don’t think they’re trying to bully me. They just like to use a fictional version of me as a poster boy for Everything That’s Wrong With Science Fiction, and occasionally the poster boy for Sure We’re Doing a Shitty Thing But This Guy Kinda Did It First If You Squint Real Hard, and always as the poster boy for WAAAAAAAAAAAH SCALZI WE JUST HATE YOU SO MUCH AND WISH YOU WOULD DIE. Which is different than bullying. There’s not much to do but snark on that, honestly. They keep at it, I suppose, as a community-building activity. Which, you know. I guess is nice? None of their rationales for slating holds up to even casual scrutiny but at least they’re united in their dislike of me? Bless their little hearts. I wish them joy.

Which is not to say that occasionally someone on the Manly Men Who Manfully Man Mantastically spectrum won’t occasionally try to get in my face (online) in an attempt to intimidate me. In which case a little condescension followed by judicious application of the mute button is the usual order of things. I suspect some of them might consider ignoring them “running away,” but then they would, wouldn’t they, the dear, sweet lads. OH YOU CAN’T TAKE IT CAN YOU? Sure, I can take it. I just don’t have to take it, so I don’t. Life’s too short.

But note well that a) as a well-off straight white dude, I find it very easy to condescend to, and then ignore, all manner of schmuck, b) as a well-off straight white dude who can condescend and then ignore, I am a low-value target for bullies. The bully pathology is “punch down, suck up”; that is, harass and threaten people they believe are lower (or should be lower) on whatever fucked-up social hierarchy they subscribe to, and then run back to people they see higher up on the hierarchy for head pats (this is why bullies on Twitter often “@” who they see as higher-value bullies when they try to crap on someone).

For lack of a better way to put it, for their pathology, bullies get a lot more mileage out of other people than they do me. And alas for those other people, it is more difficult for them to wave off attempted bullying, both in terms of its seriousness, and its volume, than it is for me. My ability, and luxury, to point and laugh at, and then ignore, the sad little dudes who try to pull this crap on me, should not be construed as me suggesting this sort of nonsense is not a real problem for others. It is, and it needs to be dealt with.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

26 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me

  1. i think that i would say that you perform a similar function to the one that the lgbt community does for the tea party–you are a rallying cry. the enemy of my enemy is my friend, if that makes sense?

  2. Re: bullies in general, my 8 year old recently asked me why people are bullies and I think I may have one of my wisest moments as a parent. I said, “Some people think that pushing other people down raises themselves up. Your mom and I think that lifting up people who are weaker or have less than we do makes us all stronger and lifts up both us and them.”

  3. Hmmm. Being able to brush off and ignore those who attempt to bully you (or myself for that matter) seems to me that it might be a benefit of what you have termed here before as the totally unearned “white privilege” that our culture soaks those Caucasians of us from birth. It appears to me that when non-Caucasians are bullied that things escalate and are far less likely to be shrugged off by the targets. I could be all wet on this observation, but being “white” seems to have provided me a learned and cultural immunity from caring a flip if someone is bullying me; since adulthood of course. When a teen even us white kids would react when bullied. Though I quit reacting by the time I reached junior high. I figured, what-me-worry, the bullying was their problem not mine. Just saying.

  4. Gary Willis:

    I don’t think there’s a question that my unearned privileges play into it; there’s a reason why bullies online focus a lot on women, for example. Which is not to say that straight white dudes don’t get bullied. There are a lot of SWM nerds who will recount their humiliations to you. But it does factor in to the relatively and comparatively little attempted abuse I get (and also, what type of attempted abuse it is).

  5. Ryan Bruce (Fluff) on youtube recently replied to negative comments regarding his music, guitar playing, etc. Essentially he boiled it down as childish behavior, but also proof positive that he was reaching a much wider audience. Good perspective me thinks. Surely the bad attitudes are louder but nowhere nearly as numerous as the admirers.

  6. I have a guy doing this to me—-as he has to other women—–right now. My crime? He thinks that a bad review is a terrible thing and should not be allowed. And women he has stalked and threatened are NOT allowed to use his name or talk about his threats, stalking, and doxxing. “Punch down, suck up” sums up this guy’s philosophy perfectly, because he has been kissing a certain vampire-novel-writing authoress’ butt so vigorously he could put a patent on the tongue colonoscopy.

    I can hardly wait to share that delightful phrase with his other targets.

  7. Yeah, I’d hardly call the dudebro attempts to annoy OGH (long may he reign) bullying. What they do to random women on the Internet and quite possibly in real life is bullying. OGH is kind of too successful and aware of it to really bully, as bullying implies not only systematic nastiness but also that the target is actually really hurt by it; otherwise it’s just pathetic assholes being pathetic assholes.

    The difference between bullying and sad little man-boys desperate for attention is that bullying HURTS. Doesn’t matter if you’re a woman being slut-shamed or a gay man being called a f*g. Doesn’t matter if the bully’s an angry misogynistic loser in his mom’s basement or the self-proclaimed “Tumblr activist” who’s trying to get you kicked out of your favorite club on campus because I sat in his seat by accident at dinner and didn’t notice him standing there huffing and looking down his nose at me because I was busy talking to a friend about European politics. It’s only bullying if it hurts you and leaves you crying yourself to sleep in your bed for multiple days on end so that your roommate has to comfort me instead of studying for his exam, which just made my guilt and hence misery worse. Otherwise it’s just assholes being assholes.

    I was going to say more, but…bullying is what hurts you, leaves you curled up sad and alone on your bed crying into a pillow because you hate yourself because of what somebody said about you. It’s not bullying if your only response is a laugh, a few snarky articles, and a hilariously awesome fundraiser drive.

  8. As someone who’s been reading SF and F all my life, but has only been following SFF writers on social media for the past few years, I’ll admit to a certain morbid curiosity as to how you managed to get on the “everything that’s wrong with SF” list with certain people (which as far as I’m concerned says you’re doing something right). From what I can tell, you write pretty middle-of-the-road stuff in terms of politics, and it’s definitely what I’d call space opera or traditional, fun SF that appeals to a wide base of readers. I discovered your first novel when my father in law mentioned it to my husband and me a few years ago and said he’d enjoyed it and we might too (he’s on the moderate Dem side of the political spectrum, but not exactly one who seeks out SF novels with strong social justice or literary themes).

    I’ve poked back through archived threads here on your blog, but I’m curious if there’s anyplace that comprehensively explains how this all came to be. When you were president of the SFWA or before?

  9. Very good reply. My view with regard to bullies (at least with me as the target) is that I’ve heard so much aimed at me in my life that nothing anyone can say at this point is as bad or worse than I’ve already heard. I have the hide of a rhino and it’s been hard-won. Say whatever you like. Lay hands on me and then there’s a problem.

    You can be measured not only by the company you choose to keep, but by those who choose to take a dislike to you. To judge by the RPs, that appears to be a mark in your favor.

  10. Both white/male privilege and your awareness of said privilege and how it helps you is why the VDs of this world focus so much energy on you. They cannot figure out why you aren’t on their side, especially given the sort of mil-sf you made your rep with, nor can they ever understand that their opponents do not have a central committee like the Puppies have orchestrating anti-Puppy actions. And clearly, if there is a SJW ringleader, it has to be the most prominent white male…

  11. I think our culture tends to hide that bullying is fundamentally political. It establishes and enforces social norms which are absolutely laden with value judgments. Think how often high school bullies use gender or sexual norms against their targets.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Mr. Scalzi (is that too formal? What honorific do you use to comment on a stranger’s blog? John seems way too friendly and Scalzi makes me feel like a gym teacher) can brush it off, both for his own sake and because it probably does make jerks mad, but to simplify the goals of bullying to ‘getting a rise out of people’ is to let reactionary politics practice themselves unopposed.

  12. Oh whoops, I forgot to mention why that’s relevant: it explains why this kind of bullying continues irrespective of the emotional reaction of its (professed) target.

  13. Punch down, suck up. Nice and so true. On line bullies can be dealt with through condescension (and you make masterful sport of it). For anyone in high school or younger, on line bullying almost always carries the risk of physical bullying.

    But physical bullying doesn’t work the same way. You have to be able to fight off one or more kids who will react to being verbally disrespected by hitting you harder. And, there’s often no record of the bullying, aside from your injuries. I wish there were as effective a way to deal with physical bullies as condescending to them. As far as I can tell, about the only thing that works is taking away their opportunities, and that is often impossible without letting them “win” a little bit.

  14. Since the start of this Puppy thing, I looked at Sad Puppy Brad Torgersen’s blog or FB page or comments online once in a while. And it seems that =every time= I do, Torgersen is complaining about Scalzi, insulting Scalzi, trying to insist to others that Scalzi isn’t nearly as successful as people think, accusing Scalzi of… whatever, yada yada. Oh, the other thing Torgersen’s always talking about is how he really pays no attention to Scalzi and hardly ever thinks about him. (snarf!) Uh, maybe it’s JUST ME… but don’t you think that claim might be more convincing if he could manage to STOP TALKING about Scalzi?

    But I wouldn’t call all that nastiness that Torgersen, his friend Larry Correia, and their online pals aim at Scalzi “bullying.” It’s really toxic, and I think it must be pretty unpleasant (or at least tiresome) to be the target of it… But it always comes across as a poisonous combination of crippling envy and pathetic attention-seeking, and anger over the attention-seeking not producing the desired results.

    With regard to John, Torgersen mostly comes across to me a lot like Vox Day. That is, he seems like he’s dying for John Scalzi to NOTICE him, to see him as an equal, to debate him, to regularly tag-team with him in a bunch of public adversarial exchanges on Twitter or someplace, exchanges that fandom and their fellow writers will watch with awe and gossip about with breathless admiration, arguments that will be widely admired for their devastating wit and give everyone who watches the feeling that, underneath the mutually clever comebacks, Scalzi has a grudging respect and admiration for Brad Torgersen and will probably seek out his company at the WorldCon bar…. yada yada.

    “Bullying,” I thought, was what Brad Torgersen tried (and spectacularly failed) to do to Juliette Wade on File 770, when he kept putting words in her mouth, belitting her as fearful and confused, and then denigrated and dismissed her for refusing to let him get away with that.

    By contrast, his toxic comments and silly claims about Scalzi always comes across to me as someone anxious to be noticed by Scalzi and seen as his admired equal, and really, really angry and resentful that this keeps not happening.

  15. It does raise the point, who would be the Scalzi if there was no Scalzi? If Scalzi didn’t exist, would the Puppies have to invent him?

  16. @Jack Lint: I bet they would, since they seem to have invented this “Scalzi” character they’re always on about.

    @Dela: Hence Scalzi’s frequent use of the term “adorable man-crush”. It really is, isn’t it? Notice meeeeeee! Why, he insults John all the time, and John won’t even be mean back to him! Waaaaahhh!

  17. @khju – bullying in that form basically acts like a sort of “corrective abuse” – ie, conform and it will stop. This is probably why in schools, so many admins/teachers let it go unchecked – bullying is used to coerce “normal” behavior. This often leads to victim-blaming when the victim can’t/won’t conform. I was a gender nonconforming queer girl in a small HS – if I had a nickel for every time I had teachers/administrators tell me if I acted more normal, I wouldn’t get bullied, I’d be a lot better off financially.

  18. @Jack Lint: They’d probably have found some other relatively socially progressive author to blame all there problems on. Most likely whoever Vox Day had his latest hate-crush on.

  19. @Dela: If Scalzi had pigtails, Teddy and Brad would be dipping them in the inkwell.

    *(and let us thank all benevolent deities that he doesn’t)

  20. @ Floored

    You don’t know me (because mostly I lurk), but I just wanted to say I’m sorry you’ve been feeling bullied. As my favorite college mentor said to me once in a similar situation, “people can be real jerks sometimes” — and I’ll add that in my experience, the jerkiest ones tend to be excellent at guessing their targets’ self-doubts and hitting right where it hurts. Just because they’re good at making us feel awful doesn’t mean anything they say is true. It feels like maybe it does, because omg “outside confirmation” of what I always feared about myself! But that there is the game, and it’s bullshit. Even so, wow it can still hurt like hell.

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