Sunday, September 21, 2014

Culture of Terror

  • Video blogger Anita Sarkesian leaves her home after threats are made against her and members of her family by someone who knows where she lives.
  • Rebecca Watson is threatened with being sexually assaulted after disputing the idea that male circumcision is just as harmful as female circumcision.
  • Rhode Island student Jessica Ahlquist receives death threats after filing a lawsuit to have an overtly Christian "banner" removed from the wall of her public high school.
  • San Fransisco technology worker Kevin Rose is threatened with mutilation by people outside his home protesting housing, transportation and income disparities.
  • Members the United States House of Representatives who voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are harassed. While there are few outright threats of violence (after all, threatening a member of Congress, as opposed to an everyday citizen, carries the threat of prison time), the implication is often there. Angry people also target the siblings of lawmakers.
  • Snohomish, Washington high school student Brett Karch is badly injured firing a cannon at a school function, nearly requiring amputation of his leg. Fearful that the cannonade tradition would be abolished, schoolmates and parents phone the hospital to threaten him with further harm, including the loss of his other leg, if he or his family cooperate with the investigation into the accident.
As I've noted before:
There's some broken bit of the American psyche that revels in the fear and stress caused by threatening to murder those one disagrees with. [...] We, as a nation, have become host to legions of craven bullies, seeking to frighten one another into conformity from the safety of anonymity.
Launching anonymous death threats at people who threaten something that one feels entitled to - or simply make one angry about something, is such a common activity in the modern United States that, in all honestly, it seems that they're hardly worth taking seriously. If the consequences for someone actually deciding to follow through were not so dire, it seems likely that we would simply ignore them entirely, especially given the fact that despite their apparent frequency, it's likely that most threats are made by a relatively small number of people. I, for my part, agree with Josef Joffe when he observes that: "Real terrorists don't write letters; they just kill you."

While the threats against Ms. Sarkesian have captured the attention of the circles that I move in, the fact of the matter remains that being on the receiving end of threats (of assault, rape or murder) is nearly par for the course for anyone with any level of public notoriety. Ms. Sarkesian's problem is not that there is a culture of threats directed at women in technology. Instead, she, along with Assemblyman Adams, Rebecca Watson, Jessica Ahlquist, Kevin Rose, Brett Karch and several members of the United States House of Representatives all have the same problem - that there is a culture of treating the making of serious threats against other people as trivial to everyone but the person(s) on the receiving end.
On one point Thursday, there was bipartisan agreement: No act of Congress - health care reform or anything else - merits threats of violence against lawmakers or their families.
The Seattle Times "Threats against lawmakers spread after health vote"
What we need is a national agreement: that no act of public life - being critical of the content of video games, voting for tax increases as a Republican, disagreeing with a member of one's own "tribe," insisting that the First Amendment be enacted in accordance with one's own interpretation of it, making significantly more than low income people who want to live in your neighborhood, being injured by a cannon made by students or anything else - merits anonymous attempts to cause feelings of fear, stress and helplessness in anyone, regardless of how seriously we consider the actual threat being made. For a time it was fashionable to sneer down our collective noses at the Moslem world for their rage, than the threats that it engendered, at the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. The incident was treated in many circles as proof of the backwardness and barbarism of Islam.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

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