Monday, June 03, 2013

The high road, less traveled

As you can tell from the two posts underneath this one, I engaged last night in what could be broadly considered trolling. Over time, I've learned to temper the urge to counter every stupid thing I read on the Internet. Similarly, I've banned a few people from engaging on this blog because their trolling capabilities outweighed their coherence. I struggled with that decision, because I don't like suppressing speech. At the same time, overwhelmingly negative energy in the form of trolling made me wonder if I shouldn't just pack up my fighting gear for good.

But at times I'm still drawn to arguing — such as if the person is otherwise amenable to reason, or if they're a high-profile jackass who deserves to be called out. Lately I've been combing political Twitter hashtags and doing just that. And yes, I'm conflicted about it, because I never like to stir up hostility — but I also don't necessarily find it civil to let falsehoods and bad comments fester untouched. To the extent that 21st-century digital technology can do so, such words spark a primal urge.

Jessica Valenti, with an astounding sense of timing for my purposes, says that's OK in her piece out today. As a feminist, she argues that if being classy means allowing misogynist rhetoric to go unpunished, then class is overrated.

At first she thought she was doing her readers a favor by ignoring mountains of illiterate and sexist hate mail. But at some point, the hate became too massive and pertinent to ignore. Some might have objected to this approach under the "don't feed the trolls" trope, but Valenti simply couldn't anymore. She decided she needed a detour from the much-touted "high road."

I've said as much before in sports terms — that while taunting a defender after a touchdown is obnoxious, its classy opposite is not stoic silence. My barometer of class is a complex instinct; I know when to hold and when to fold, so to speak. That instinct is sometimes at odds with how others define class, granted. Some people will tell you I'm an intense fireball of indignity; others will tell you I'm the quietest introvert they know, and still others will say I'm an ideal, level-headed employee. One thing I'm not is someone who tolerates abuse in the name of being classy. Sometimes "showing class" is nothing of the sort.

I like to think that if you're assured in who you are, then you're generally doing the right thing. The best you can do in an argument is trust your instinct and — this is a big one — be the better person. I suppose that's what I want most when primally drawn to the meaner strain of commentary: to steer the discussion back on the high road.

And sometimes that means not taking the high road.

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