She Said/He Said

I haven’t dusted off the blog for a while, perhaps largely because there hasn’t seem to be much worth commenting on, but Atomic Kristin is a wealth of interesting ideas, intelligently presented, and her latest post stimulated some thoughts that were too lengthy to dump (politely) into a comment section.

It’s been so long that I rather passively let WordPress’s new (alien and awful) “block editor” take over—they’ll pry the classic editor out of my cold dead hands before I switch on—so I don’t even know how to blog any more. But here goes:

Kristin raises a number of interesting points, as usual, and (as usual) they’re interesting to me in part because they reflect a world I don’t really participate in. So when she asks “must women read books about bastards?” my response is, “Wait, why does anyone have to read anything about anybody?” But that’s a little glib.

No Lists!

I hope we can agree on nobody should be telling anybody what fiction they should or shouldn’t read, at least not for pleasure. I think there are severe limits defining “well-read” as well—and I further think that the 20th century saw the systematic destruction of art in the West and that those lists are generally garbage as a result, and have been my dad was in school. (Perhaps I’ll use the blog to highlight my hilarious struggles to avoid reading Joyce’s Ulysses.)

There’s an associated article on I didn’t make it through because it brought in politics—and if you think penises are boring, try politics sometime. (Wait, what’s that about penises? Stay tuned!)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when people scold must-read lists, it’s very often because they want to replace the crap that’s on the list with their own crap. And that’s fine, I suppose, because the list they didn’t like (in this case from, of all places) was itself put together half-assedly (at best) and probably just to generate clicks. Later on, Kristin refers to important books and I hope she’s using the term as reservedly as I would for items on such lists.

I haven’t read most of the stuff she references. I haven’t read Lolita or Fight Club and only a little Bukowski. I know about the first, saw the movie about the second, and saw a documentary of the third. They all seemed pretty degenerate to me (though I like the Fincher film). But maybe that’s just my POV: One of my friends is related to Neil Gaiman and my response to that is always “Isn’t he kind of a degenerate?”

It’s a fair bet. We live in degenerate times. Degenerates are going to be the rich and famous ones, as a rule of thumb.

I’ve read one Updike book, and that was recently (“Witches of Eastwick”) and it was shortly after I read the one Tom Robbins book I’ve read (“Even Cowgirls Get The Blues”) and I was positively embarrassed by both. They both seemed like unsubtle courting of the “woke” ladies of the day—the wordier but not particularly more convincing version of the modern ally’s “I’m a male feminist” mating call (said call having the same effect on a savvy modern female as the sight of a sewer clown has on a Maine middle-schooler). These seem to fit neatly into Kristin’s concept of the penis-book-disguised-as-a-vagina-book.

I’ve also recently read “Portnoy’s Complaint” and I’m at an actual loss as to why anyone outside of a very narrow cohort of Boomer pseudo-Jews would pay any attention to it all. Modern “literature” is a minefield of awfulness and I can’t recommend it. I have on some level regretted every book that I have ever read on the basis of a Boomer recommendations of “literature”.

Women are not immune to the hyper-sexualized trash of modern literature, of course. Read “Fear of Flying”, e.g., which is all about a vagina’s miserable quest to live up to the penis’s worst traits. (Or don’t read it, because it’s as deathly dull as any penis book. It reminded me greatly of the abysmal “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”.)

Here’s where Kristin and I agree totally: Penis books are boring. I hope Kristin would join me in the assertion that vagina books are also boring.

I’m compelled to point out women often fail badly at writing men, too, e.g., “Frankenstein” where the young Baron Frankenstein’s behavior seems more like, oh, a 19-year-old girl than any kind of a man. (But we will cut the 19-year-old Mary some slack.) If there are more examples of men being spectacularly bad at writing women, then I suspect it is because men have had more opportunities to do so. But that is the price, as it were, of dominating literature and making it a more shameful practice for women. (Mrs. Radcliffe and Jane Austen’s struggles are interesting to reflect on in modern times.)

Seriously, No Lists!

At about the 2,000 word mark—the true sign that Atomic and I are literary soul mates—I almost want to trot out the Internet cliché and ask what list hurt you? But as I said above, that’s glib. Human beings make communities, and those communities have markers, and those markers are based on shared agreements. We have to agree, more-or-less what good books are—at least if we want to talk about them, and especially if we hope to write them.

As a side note, this is why Ready Player One was so jarring to me. It’s so poorly written on every technical level. As someone who wishes to write and wishes to be read, I could not in good conscience write anything remotely that illiterate. But I know many smart, well-read people who love it. And my heart aches.

I will take Kristin’s word for it that the books on the list are phallocentric. (I mean, Vice, right? You might as well look at Hustler‘s literary picks.) The Updike and Robbins I read were as well, however poorly disguised as “feminist”. But I will object strenuously to any notion that I, as a male, wish to read these books any more than she does.

Less, in fact, because I can’t separate myself from the characters (or authors!) in the same way that she can. I don’t want to read about shitweasels because I, too, have more than enough coverage of the subject in both real life and literature. Furthermore, I have my own personally embarrassing experiences being a shitweasel. And not last of all, I don’t need more shitweasel role models. I, too, find my truest representations in—well, sometimes not even in YA novels, but straight up kidlit.

In short, I will unabashedly say: These lists suck. The prestigious people running literary communities are frauds. They endorse degenerate books the way the frauds running the visual arts endorse talentless, ugly, artless art. I will take up the banner for any celebration of good technique, art and beauty—or even highly compelling ugliness that also includes a good ethical base (as John Gardner would’ve referred to it, in a literary/artistic sense of ethics).

I don’t feel qualified to speak too directly on the whole Hemmingway thing except to say I’ve never bought into the idea that he was the Greatest Writer Of The 20th Century—an idea pushed around a lot when I was a kid. Sometimes spareness is sign of a great talent, like good haiku or Picasso’s bulls, and sometimes it’s just a reflection of an inability to write any other way. I suspect, in Papa‘s case, it was both.

In any event, as Gardner said: Literary trends are as much fad as anything, and no particular trend invalidates another trend. Hemmingway can’t disprove florid writing any more than H.P. Lovecraft could disprove Hemmingway.

Please Try To Understand. You’re A Man. I’m A Woman. We’re Just Too Different.

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the first thing that Kirstin talks about. Men are bastards and women should read about bastards as a form of self-defense. She writes:

And these delightful pursuits maybe made you think – as I did, with every fiber of my being, until life beat it out of me – that most men are looking for a special woman that suits them better than all the other ones, that he’ll love her for who she is even if she’s different from him or high maintenance and he would never expect her to change, and once he finds her he will be completely devoted to her forever and she won’t have to work slavishly at keeping him every second of the day and of the night.

And I’m so sorry (you have no idea how sorry I am) to report that this is completely bullshit. A woman being special and unique in the eyes of any man effortlessly and forever is a line of crap that people have sold us to get us to buy romance novels and to get us to behave ourselves, because if our man thinks we’re special just the way we are, what happens if we change, so we’d probably better not. 

Atomic Kristin, “On Glorious Bastards”

There’s a lot to unpack in this, not least of which is a heartbreaking view of the sexual dynamic from a good woman. And I hate intensely the idea that she (and many other women and men) have been pressured into unwanted sexual encounters.

And it would be (again) glib to point out that this is the product of second wave feminism; that in the name of “liberating” women sexually, they left women vulnerable and without the social support to say “no” and get polite society to back them up on that (with a fair amount of social risk to those who would do the pressuring). It’s glib, of course, because that feminism was part and parcel of the (largely successful) greater plan to destroy Western civilization—the very same philosophy that produced the lists she decries.

But like most such plots, no matter how clever or nefarious, it gained a foothold by addressing valid grievances. That’s important.

Sufficiently outlined, underscored, caveated—I still must protest.

It’s not completely bullshit. There are men who really are looking for that special someone. (This may, in fact, be most men. Even the Game guys talk about who they’ll settle down with.) Men who really will love her for that specialness. Who aren’t looking to “trade up” and don’t generally view romantic relationship as exchangeable commodities.

Now, those guys screw up from time to time—and sometimes badly, breaking the hearts of women they would die for, but still have trouble living for. Just as guys discover their princesses—the virtuous, pure-hearted, self-sacrificing heroines of their tales—also screw up, and end up broken-hearted and pursuing things like “Game”.

The “Game” community reduces this to “everyone has a sexual market value and everyone is looking to trade up and that woman who says she loves you will throw you over for someone with a bigger wallet (etc)”. That’s called being “red-pilled” and the passage above reads like Kristin buys into that—at least from the standpoint of men being like that.

You know what happens when you reduce human beings to stimulus-response machines and—worst of all—have some “success” at it? You end up a soulless, nihilist husk—or, weirdly enough, a 19th century evangelist preacher.

So, it’s not surprising that 60 years of undermining male/female relationships results in this sort of ennui, but it isn’t the only possible way. There was a time when men and women were building a family (before the world and even before God). And it meant you recognized that your partner stumbled, and you forgave and went on. And when you yourself stumbled, you could be forgiven—especially if you did better.

And hardest of all, it meant you saw the Prince Charming/Princess Buttercup in them even when they could no longer see it in themselves and basically dared you to see it. Obviously I’m talking ideals here—but without those ideals, we’re left with a dog-eat-dog world which leads to broken homes, promiscuity, unhappy children and the breakdown of society

It’s an oddity, and a very hard-to-believe thing until you get the hang of it: You do no one any favors—least of all yourself—by expecting the worst of others. It’s easy to get into a tit-for-tat situation and there are even some experiments with game theory (not Game, but the real, economic/mathematical study) that suggest that it’s necessary in certain political/economic situations. But you do not want to be in a relationship like that.

The sexual dynamic is supposed to create and support a team. Sometimes that means carrying the other person. In some cases, the carrying may be nearly literal, as when a woman has a difficult or dangerous pregnancy. In most cases, it is a much more challenging metaphorical carriage, as when a man suffers a long depression and loss of esteem.

Kristin is absolutely right that the literature is designed to make a person buy into the notion presented. But it’s not to make us buy romance novels, or to make women, specifically, behave. It’s to make everyone behave, because what we have now is what happens when no one behaves.

Literature was quite consciously set up this way to encourage good behavior, to promote understanding the foibles of others, and even to show a way to better living. Furthermore, these penis-based lists (and their vagina-based sistren) were equally consciously designed to destroy that.

And now, we’re all basically a bunch of dicks.

On Girls and Perfection

Via Instapundit and ESR, this TED talk on how girls are too “perfectionist”—read “cautious”—to code.

My response:

Isn’t this Althouse’s law? Stories must be framed in ways that compliment women? “Women are too concerned with being perfect to code.”


First, coders are often perfectionists—perfectionism is where you work until something is perfect (or never stop, because it never is). That’s not at all the same as “I can’t ever make a mistake or be wrong or admit I don’t know everything.”

Second, failure lies along the path of all learning. The very point of learning is that you don’t know. Therefore you err. If girls are able to reach 5th grade with some illusion of perfection, it’s because nobody’s ever asked them to do anything—or nobody’s ever corrected them.

How is coding different from any of the art fields, in this regard? Learning to draw, you make mountains of crap. Learning to play music, you make constant mistakes. Sports? Even the most natural athlete fails more than he succeeds. Any sort of craft? Knitting, quilting, sewing, woodworking? It’s pretty easy to make edible food with cooking, but if you’re going to be a chef, there’s a lot of trial and error.

So what, exactly, are these girls doing where they’re perfect? Memorizing the nonsense their teachers feed them and regurgitating it on tests?

Maybe that’s the damn problem.

As a side-note, my momma was a coder. In the early ’60s. I told her about that recent study that showed women don’t get into STEM fields because they’re not interested in the sorts of MEN who are in STEM fields. Her exact words: “You got that right.”

Girls don’t like to code, by and large. Some do, and God bless. I’ve worked with a few females over the decades, and I can only think of one who was a true hacker, in the classical sense. The rest were largely into the social roles—project managers and QAs—that are peripheral to development, and for the ones who were actually twiddling bits, they were largely into data. Making sense out of data, graphing, reporting, charting, etc. Almost all of them had coded at one time or another.

But unending hours or days or weeks or months of exclusively interacting with a machine? Not really a chick thing.

You can see it in gaming, too. Girl gamers are more into the casual, the group, the social—the sorts of things that hardcore gamers mock. Hardcore gamers are about beating or breaking the game, or their opponent.

I wish I could be more sanguine and heart-warmed, like ESR was, but I think the conclusion to this line of thinking will be “We must add/alter this field women do not excel at,” and you end up with feminist interpretations of glaciology.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 36: But what about all the GOOD things Hitler did?

“One day, all these books will be yours.”
“I’d like to burn them. ”
“Not because I’m against learning!”
“No, I get it: You love fire.”
“It would send the wrong message.”
“The Nazis ruined a lot of things, dad.”

Wansee on Sepulveda

In 1942, 15 high German official met in secret to craft what would become known as “The Final Solution”, a plan to wipe out 11 million Jews. There are two very good dramatizations of this, a German film in 1984 (The Wansee Conference), and an HBO production in 2001 with Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci (Conspiracy). Although I say “dramatized”, they’re minimally dramatic, both hewing to the actual minutes of the conference, the impact of the re-enactment coming largely from a shared understanding that genocide is wrong.

That said, if you think Jews are the problem, the men at Wansee are heroes.

And this is why it’s impossible to talk about the recent Center for Medical Progress videos where Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior medical director, and Dr. Mary Gatter, PP’s Medical Director Council President, discuss abortion.

If you think that babies are the problem, Nucatola and Gatter are heroes. Nucatola even has a heroic backstory where she fell into being an abortionist because as an intern she had a patient who had a botched abortion die on her.

To a pro-lifer, this is like a German becoming outraged that a Jew had the audacity to fight back, and becoming Reynhard Heydrick or Adolf Eichmann. (And, of course, the German papers were full of outrage against Jews.) I think it’s safe to say that no productive discussion begins with “You’re just like the Nazis, and here’s why.” Even if you follow with “Hitler did nothing wrong.

Ace talks here about “honest discussion”.

“The babies were ripped apart, obviously, and we spared you this truth, which you did not wish to confront; and now that we have dead baby organs on our hands, which are, sorry to discomfort you non-thinking two-legged animals again, valuable to biotech corporations, what should we do? Just burn them? Well, America is about making a buck, and we’re not making our salaries based on giving out free cancer screening, idiots.

“All of this would have been obvious to you if you just bothered to think about it, but you didn’t want to, so we protected you from ugly reality.

Of course, that’s not exactly honest. As Ace points out, the real danger for Planned Parenthood is that people will start thinking about it. And there’s no Theresienstadt they can put together to show otherwise. One of the big “point-scoring” aspects of this video is that PP has equated mandated ultrasounds during abortions to rape, but they’re perfectly sanguine about ultrasounds to improve their cash flows.

Which brings up the second reason we can’t talk: We don’t really want to talk. We treat communication as a team sport, with the goal being to advance some state of general alignment with our ideas among people who aren’t really paying attention. In short, we want to win.

As such the first reactions out of anyone when something like this comes up is to scrimmage over yards gained and lost. So, when Donald Trump says something stupid about POWs in reference to John McCain, the left starts talking about how anti-military the GOP is while conservatives array themselves along a series of positions from pointing out that Trump doesn’t represent them, that he was a Democrat, that McCain was a traitor for some or other legislation, that Al Franken and Chris Rock said it first—and whether or not Trump actually said the things in question is barely a footnote.

So, too, here, we see all of the various positions being staked out: The tape is doctored, the motives of the recorders is impure, baby organs are not being sold (it’s tissue, and anyway they aren’t babies), it’s perfectly legal to sell baby organs, it’s heroic to sell baby organs—basically, the idea is to find the position you can make stick while giving as little as possible on your desired outcome.

It’s fundamentally dishonest, but we are a dishonest people. Our constant outrage is a testament to that. You can’t really be outraged all the time if you’re honestly looking at things, and assessing them realistically. One must suspect that the pro-life groups are less outraged by this—for they, above everyone else must be among the most aware of what’s going on—and more opportunistically seeking an advantage against their rivals.

There are some facts, however, that probably could be agreed upon, were we interested in advancing the discussion and not just point-scoring.

  • A life comes into being when sperm meet egg. This is true of all animals (that reproduce in this fashion), including humans.
  • The life is, biologically speaking, of roughly the same character as the life that made it. Donkeys make donkeys. Horses make horses. Donkeys with horses make mules. Homo sapiens make homo sapiens, or as we generally call it, humans.
  • So, an abortion or a miscarriage ends a human life, in the strictest sense of the word.

This is probably more ground than the average abortion advocate would care to give, and they seem to have settled on a narrower definition of “human”, which excludes “fetuses”. You’d think this would have the advantage of clarity: You could say “For legal purposes, humans only have rights when they’re born.”

But “partial birth abortions” (which Dr. Nucatola claims do not exist or do not have a precise medical meaning) complicate that by birthing the baby except for the last few centimeters—a technique which, ghoulishly or heroically, depending on your point of view, preserves the organs.

Abortion prohibitionists have a difficult argument as well. If you argue that all human life is equally sacred and worthy of protection under the law, how do you escape an obligation to track women’s periods? This argument solicits eye rolls and “Oh, come on!” from pro-lifers, but how do you know without constant monitoring that women aren’t terminating pregnancies by any means available to them? (Hint: They are.)

You can argue that such a thing would be impractical, but it was done in Romania (and tends to have to be done in repressive regimes, since population collapse seems to be the inevitable consequence of totalitarianism). The real question, though, is how do you argue, morally, that it shouldn’t be done?

One thing honest men should agree upon, however: All the information should be publicly available; it should not be hidden. This, and all debates, doesn’t require—doesn’t even allow—making the arguments in inoffensive, comfortable terms. Abortion videos should be as prominent as videos of other surgical procedures, statistics about long-term effects on health, on emotional state, on fertility, etc., should be collected and published.

The media hegemony that presents one side of an argument while hiding other things that might work against their preferred politics is really the enemy, regardless of where you stand. On any issue.

Letter to the Tooth Fairy

Remember this?

The Fearless Vampire Tooth Fairy Killer

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the Tooth Fairy, but The Flower lost a tooth, and scrawled a letter to her, folded it up tight, and wrote a bunch of little notes on the flaps. See what you think.
Front flap:

My first real friend

Already choked up. Here’s the main body:

Dear TF,
I know we haven’t talked in a while. I am 12 now. I know that I am getting older and that means we won’t talk as much if at all. But I want you to know that you have made my life better and made me happier and helped me keep believing. I wish that I could find the words to tell you [what you] mean to me.
I hope this is not our last [letter] because I still have so many unanswered questions and I value our friendship. If this is our last letter please tell me.
You have helped me so much.
[The Flower]
Please answer

Then on the back flaps:

Will my tooth grow back?
You do not have to give me any money
I’d rather have a letter
Sorry my room is messy

No words.

It’s Like Poetry. It Rhymes.

The Boy and I watched the Plinkett reviews of the Star Wars prequels, where they kept showing a clip of Rick McCallum saying something like “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.” whenever the prequels lamely ripped off an idea from the first (better) movies. By the end, Plinkett is interjecting “SHUT UP!!” after saying it.

It’s kinda funny.

But we had our own little rhyming poetry moment this week as signs went up proclaiming “If You See A Downed Power Line Don’t Wrap It Around Your Testicles As A Party Joke!”

That wasn’t precisely it. The message is something about staying away and calling 911. This reminds me of the reckless driving ads a few years ago. The Powers That Be have now decided people need to be warned away from power lines.

Which is probably true.

But what are the odds the people who most need to be warned can actually read?

Age of Affluence, Part I

As bad as things are—and that’s pretty bad, for sure—we still live an amazing age of affluence.

I mention this, specifically, in the context of diet and exercise. In 2010, when I was working away from home, I put on some weight. A lot of weight. Thirty or forty pounds. I have a reasonably large frame so I can put on some weight without it being too noticeable, but not that much. I was also far away from my treadmill desk.

My dad was deteriorating severely over this year, ultimately leading to a severe drop in my BTA (bullshit tolerance ability) and a permanent departure from this remote work location, but his impending demise dramatically underscored the options available to me: continue to take a lackadaisical (or no) approach to my physical fitness and be victim to an irreversible deterioration exacerbated by advancing age—or don’t. That is, do. Something. About it.

Not to say my dad was ever fat. He got a little paunch from time-to-time, but in his last ten years he grew increasingly skinny. He was stubbornly sedentary, a fact that distressed my mom no end while they were together. He would walk, that was about it. And unfortunately, his physical state would’ve required considerable effort to sustain, and (even knowing that) he chose to do nothing.

So, there’s a stark choice for you.

I decided to exploit my absence by bringing all my own food and counting calories. This was pretty easy with Trader Joe’s prepared salads and snacks. Without putting any kind of hard limit, I ate about 1,200-1,400 calories a day, Monday through Thursday. I brought the Wii and did a little bit of exercise with that every day.

By the time I left 4-5 months later, I had lost about 25 pounds. The bulk of what I’d put on.

‘course, I also no longer had the same kind of strict calorie control, and back at the old job, I ended up putting them right back on the first three months I was back. I stumbled across a recommendation for a book by Rob Faigin called Natural Hormonal Enhancement in some dark corner of the Internet and decided it sounded interesting.

NHE is a very wonky book. It’s barely padded at all with the sort of philosophical advice that dominates most diet books. Basically, it’s a series of recommendations, succinctly stated, and footnoted out the wazoo with the studies that are being used to come to those recommendations. (I think the book has a serious cult following, since it’s out of print and costs at least $40-$50 on You can get it for $30 from the author’s website,

Anyway, I knew my friend, Darcy was distressed that she had put on a few pounds when she was suffering back problems, so I talked over Faigin’s recommendations with her. Nothing tests your understanding of a subject like trying to explain it to someone else, and Darcy had a lot of good questions. (Not that I could find always find the answers, but the book does a very good job of prioritizing what you need to do.)

We both lost quite a bit of weight quickly, too, which was cool. I got down below my pre-2010 weight. Ultimately we modified our diets to fit our lifestyles, and Darcy has done amazingly well in losing the weight. (I plateaued in terms of numbers on the scale, but my body fat has gone down, meaning the extra weight is muscle. But more on that in Part II.)

But I can’t help but marvel at the situation: One of the biggest (heh) problems we have in the developed world today is too much food. Now, it’s true that it’s really the kind of food we have been told we should eat that causes the problem, but it’s still an astounding luxury.

We can pick over our food in ways that would make kings of yore blush with its profligacy. Low carb? No problem. Low fat? No problem. Lacto-ovo vegetarian? OK. Vegan? Fine. Gluten-free? Can do! Allergic to shellfish? Peanuts? Soy? It’s there on the label! Lactose intolerant? Anti-dairy? Done and done!

Of course, a segment of society hates on the fast food industry, but I note that when low-fat was big, they offered low-fat food. When they were accused of not offering healthy alternatives, they put salads, baked potatoes, fruit on the menu. These days you can get low-carb and gluten-free stuff from Wendy’s for cryin’ out loud.

All they wanna do is sell us a dazzling variety of foods we like and get it into our faces in less time than it takes for our credit cards to process, while being in constant price wars with each other.

That’s pretty amazing, I’d say.

Nobody’s Innocent

Have you ever heard that phrase, like from a super-villain in a movie, “Nobody’s innocent”? It’s usually the sort of thing that the villain says right before doing something really horrible to a lot of people, and the distressed protagonist points out that he’ll be harming a lot of people who have never done anything to him.

“Nobody’s innocent.”

As a digression, it’s interesting to note that Christians believe, on a theological level, anyway, that that statement is true: Nobody is innocent. Man is born in sin. This is widely not seen as an excuse to treat people badly, of course.

There’s another phrase, however, that’s actually worse, and I’ve heard it expressed, not in so many words but veiled in angry tirades and teary pseudo-confessions and even coldly logical-sounding (but always wildly illogical) lectures:

“Nobody’s innocent except me.”

This is an inversion of, I think, an ordinary person. Most people are very harsh on themselves. They wouldn’t stand for people talking about their friends the way they think about themselves. Sure, they sin, and in sinning, look for ways to justify it, but that itself only feeds into their own debased notions of themselves.

But the person who walks around thinking “Nobody’s innocent except me” is a horror to be around. Literally without compunction, the only restraint on their actions are physical limitations, law enforcement and fear.

My sister is like this. I actually have a six-page (both sides) closely handwritten letter from her that contains the phrase, “I don’t blame you for being born but…”. It then goes on to detail how I am responsible for all the terrible things in her life.

My mother and father are also both 100% responsible for all the terrible things in her life, too. That’s 300% responsibility altogether, that I know of, and none of it belonging to her.

Fortunately for me, she’s very bad at this; It’s so over-the-top, it’s absurd. Generally, people who operate on this principle are much subtler. Confusion, provocation, repeated until someone strikes back usually mildly, and then it’s “How could you!” My sister’s version of this was—I’m not making this up—to provoke people into physically hitting her.

It’s a weird dynamic.

You can spot it by the person who (almost happily) recounts all the sins committed against him while having a complete ignorance of having done any wrong doing. And much like our “virtual traitors” the dead giveaway is a complete inability to receive communication.

I’ve caught my sister in numerous fabrications, where I can demonstrate factually that what she says could not possibly be true. She “concedes” (because she’s not quite insane) but it never sticks or deters her from fabricating future truths.

I’ve been able to find other people out the same way. It’s not that they disagree. It’s not that they’re not listening, it’s that they can’t.

Virtual Treason

Almost every online community I’ve ever been a part of, or even examined in retrospect for historical purposes, has ultimately dissolved. Of those that are still around, most are spiraling the drain. As someone who’s been online now for over 20 years(!), it’s kind of interesting to me to examine why, and also why there are a few that persist.

The simplest answer to why could probably be reduced to: It’s just too big a pain in the ass to maintain. There’s not a lot of money in it most of the time. Most of the time, there’s no money at all. But I’ve seen this happen on CompuServe in the pre-web days, too, where genuine income streams were given up rather than put up with the hassle.

But hassles—serious ones, anyway—don’t just arise. They’re created.

And it always unfolds the same way. There is always (at least) one person who is at cross-purposes with the community. You could call them “trolls” but that’s not really comprehensive enough a word. “Traitor” would be a good word, even though they often wouldn’t see themselves that way, like Benedict Arnold, or someone who’s trying to save the community from itself.

I was in one community where a person like that came in with about five others and systematically and cruelly mocked the regulars. The owner decided “free speech” and those people managed to drive off almost everyone who had made that place their home for years. Most of the locusts, as I envisioned them, left pretty soon after that, including the main troll who managed to offend the owner. trounce the rules, etc., enough to be ejected.

That was a particularly dramatic example. Usually, the treasonous ones are subtler, because in most cases the person who owns the community will defend overt attacks, and people will naturally bind together and fight off interlopers. So, they’re covert.

The most insidious ones can foment trouble without ever being fingered. Or even better, for a community’s destruction, they can become a bone of contention around which people side. Best of all is if they can fracture a community along principled lines. “Free speech” is a popular one. “I don’t want to hang out in a place where we aren’t free to post pictures of dismembered babies!”

The people who are like this can be hard to spot, especially if you’re guileless. They present a picture of trammeled innocence. They were just minding their own business when baseless attacks were suddenly leveled.

It’s never a regular dispute, where people blow up, and then they either get over it (or they leave): A slight is never forgotten, and is always repaid, and repaid, and repaid. Slowly but surely the troll drains the fun out of the community while increasing the burden on the community owner. It’s not a wonder that online communities eventually dissolve, but they stay together for any length of time.

Probably the key characteristic of community traitor is a complete inability to communicate. Nothing ever, ever gets in. And they’re good at faking it—pretending to respond, like a super-advanced Eliza program—but there’s never any real indication that anything ever permeates to their being. (The essence of receiving communication is to be changed by it, after all.)

This isn’t true just for online communities of course.

Which brings me to the ones that I’ve seen thrive: They’re all united around a real world purpose. Technical matters, religion, a genuine craft, something that both requires an effort to be a part of and has a put-up-or-shut-up aspect.

In the purely virtual, we hang to imagined threads. No exactly imagined, but really co-created. The community exists because we say it does. We have shared values in some fashion. But our understanding of those values is imperfect, and all it takes to shred a virtual community is someone to come in and push the boundaries of that understanding, to point out the weaknesses, and to drive people to those corners.

It’s a shame but I’ve seen it happen so many times over the years I’m practically inured to it. I think if I were going to start an online community now, I’d do it around an activity. Like, I don’t know, bowling.