Reflections on the “resentful” stalker mindset

As some of you know, a loony has occasionally made my life “interesting” off and on through the past two decades with various harassment attempts, with a recent uptick. A number of websites describe the “resentful stalker,” and they fit this person perfectly:

Resentful stalkers intend to frighten and distress the victim. Many have paranoid personalities or delusional disorders. They may pursue a vendetta against a specific victim or feel generally aggrieved and randomly choose a victim. They often feel persecuted and may go about stalking with an attitude of righteous indignation.

Resentful stalkers who suffer from mental illness generally require court-ordered psychiatric treatment but are difficult to engage in therapy. Legal sanctions may inflame this type of stalker.

Gollum fits the picture. He resents not having the Ring, and this turns into a fixation on Frodo. Without the Ring, he’s nothing. You can almost feel sorry for him, but if you extend a hand to him, he’ll bite your finger off. Some resentful stalkers, such as John Lennon’s murderer, turn violent.

A page on how to stop resentful stalkers basically says not to react to them. They want attention of any kind, and discussion with them is useless. They believe lying gives them power, so it’s impossible to communicate with them. However, being ignored increases their resentment. There aren’t a lot of useful options.

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Talking about mass deportation

A lot of people have only one thought about mass deportation: “These people are here illegally, so they must be removed.” The reasons their presence is illegal or the consequences of removing them apparently don’t concern them. They’ll gladly help with any program of removal. Finding a way to discourage them, at least to reduce their enthusiasm, could save lives.

The left’s favored approach is to yell “Racist!” at them repeatedly. No doubt people think this ought to work, but so far its effectiveness has been limited. The election itself shows that.
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How to respond to bicycle haters

A few people out there really hate bicycles. It’s just one more manifestation of tribalism; people need something different from themselves to despise. Their vehicles have four wheels and a motor. I have a vehicle with two wheels and no motor.
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Trumpism as alternate reality

Trump can tell the most absurd lies without suffering in the polls. When he declared that “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” it was obvious that he is a totally dishonest person. No one who had followed the news or Trump’s campaign at all could believe it.

Or could they? It depends on what you mean by “believe.” To a rational or mostly rational person, belief means regarding a claim as conforming to reality. If a friend says, “I went shopping yesterday,” I believe her if I think she went shopping yesterday. My only evidence may be that she’s honest and has no motive to lie, but it’s still the reality that counts.

But there’s another kind of belief, where it’s not reality but the authority making the statement that governs. If there’s a disagreement between the authority and reality, it’s reality that’s wrong. This is the belief of the “true believer.”
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How to deal with “hater” haters

“I’m right, because my feelings say so!” is passé. The new, “progressive” argument is “You’re wrong, because I say so about your feelings!” Their opponents are wrong because they’re motivated by “hate.” The people who try to shout Trump down don’t say he’s trying to gain absolute power, or that he’d take away our liberties; they say he’s motivated by “hate.” As they’re screaming to drown him out, of course, they have no hostile feelings at all in their own minds. By claiming emotional superiority, they try to convince us their opposition to free speech is good and his is bad.

The classic argument from emotion is about the speaker’s own emotions: “I feel very strongly about this, so it must be true.” “Let your heart be your guide.” The argument from “hate” uses projection. When its users say, “You’re a hater,” they mean “I hate you.” When they say “Hate speech should be banned,” they mean “Speech which I hate should be banned.” Projecting the negative emotion onto their target lets them feel superior.
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The careless use of “triggering”

It’s become an obligation in some circles to to give “trigger warnings” when writing about anything vaguely unpleasant. Let’s think about what sort of view of the audience this presents and whether it’s really appropriate in so many situations.

Triggering implies the setting off of some kind of serious reaction, which might be anything from a panic attack to road rage. Traditionally it implies the triggering of a PTSD response. It suggests that some members of the audience are incapable of dealing with the topic. In severe cases, such as portrayals of graphic violence, this can be appropriate. With audiences that are particularly sensitive, such as a mailing list for abuse survivors, it’s reasonable to be generous with warnings. But it’s often overdone, and an overdose of warnings can be insulting to the people they’re supposed to protect.
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Rage as a political philosophy

A lot of progressives uphold the following positions:

  • Doing business only with people whose views you approve is evil.
  • Refusing to do business with people who want to do business only with people whose views they approve is good.
  • Refusing to do business with people because of the state they live in is good.
  • Pushing out employees whom you disagree with is good, and it contributes to diversity in the workplace.
  • People accused of crimes should have the full benefit of the doubt.
  • People accused of rape on thin evidence should be presumed guilty.
  • Racial insults are among the most disgusting things people can do,
  • Calling a black person a “clown in blackface” is merely “not carefully considered.”

There’s no way to find any consistency in these claims, but if you look at the beneficiaries, there’s no problem detecting the pattern. People will pull out wildly inconsistent principles as long as they produce the immediate outcome they want. When the outcome is inconvenient — for instance, if someone sues a business for refusing to bake a cake with an anti-gay message — they just pretend it isn’t happening.

This would make a kind of sense if progressives had absolute control. Then they could decree any actions they wanted and not care whether they followed any coherent principle or not. But in practice, conservatives are often able to pass laws, not necessarily with any more consistency, which progressives don’t like. What objection can the progressives raise? That those laws benefit the wrong people? Then there’s no issue of right vs. wrong, just “us” winning vs. “them” winning.

Once you’ve decided to base your principles on which side you’re backing, all that’s left is a struggle for power. The moral high ground belongs to whoever can express the greatest rage. Debate is impossible; offering debate concedes that you aren’t enraged enough to talk to your opponents. A striking example was the boycott campaign by some gays against gay-friendly Fire Island Pines Establishments for engaging in dialogue with Ted Cruz.

Another example is the following tweet by someone I don’t know, saying, “my vote is that none of the GOP candidates are allowed to run and the election can just be between Hillary and Bernie.” You can call it an isolated nutcase, but it got five retweets and four favorites. When you can get points for sufficient rage, even advocacy of replacing free elections with one-party rule becomes acceptable.
Tweet calling for no GOP candidates to be allowed to run

When people adopt rage as their standard, they have no business talking about justice, with or without adjectives, and no reason to expect any if they win. Take Judge Lisa Gorcya, who sent a nine-year-old to jail, comparing him to Charles Manson’s followers, for refusing to talk with his abusive father. If being angry constitutes justification, her decision was totally sound.

Look at some history to see what happens to countries where rage, not reason, is the driving force behind change. It isn’t pretty. Don’t think you’ll win by out-snarling your opponents.

Pinker’s “The Psychology of Pessimism”

Being pessimistic by inclination, I find Steven Pinker’s “The Psychology of Pessimism” a valuable corrective. He notes that violence is at historically low levels, yet many people think the world is going to hell. He mentions three emotional reasons for pessimism: that more different bad things could happen than good ones, that people become more dissatisfied as they grow older, and that criticism of wrongs is seen as a virtue. In addition, bad things are more newsworthy and memorable, creating a cognitive bias toward pessimism.

When I’m convinced that the future of the world is one of constant surveillance, censorship, and nominally elected dictators, it’s good to remember that things have often been worse in the past. Two hundred years ago, the US had widespread slavery. A little less than a century ago, Americans were thrown in jail for opposing the war and the draft. Fifty years ago there were state laws against interracial marriage. Has the tendency toward freedom stopped and reversed itself? Maybe, but I might just not have the necessary perspective. There are still good things happening, such as rapidly growing awareness of the injustice of civil forfeiture.

I can think of another reason for pessimism. We can change the future but not the past. We need to think about bad things that could happen in order to prevent them; when looking back, though, we might as well remember the good and let the bad go. Planning against disaster should make us more optimistic, since we’re prepared, but it can turn into worry and expectations of doom.

Murphy’s law was originally a reminder that the way to make a reliable product is to make as sure as possible that nothing can go wrong. In popular culture, it’s turned into the idea that the universe conspires against us. It’s important to remember the difference betwen preparedness and pessimism.

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Urban legends are contagious

A couple of days ago I saw a tweet claiming that people in California are throwing “measles parties” to deliberately expose their children to measles. It linked to a story on the LA Times website. All the responses that I saw to the tweet were about how dumb those people are.

There’s only one problem: The article actually says there have been no reports of measles parties. The article presents a warning by state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez, but states:

Chavez issued the statement after KQED reported that a Marin County mother had been invited to expose her two young children to a child who had contracted measles. The mother, [redacted], whose 6- and 8-year-olds are not vaccinated, told KQED that she declined the offer.

The Times was not able to reach [redacted] on Monday and has not been able to confirm that any measles parties have taken place.

The added emphasis is mine, and I’ve redacted the mother’s name since I don’t want to add to the wave of harassment she’s undoubtedly going to get from morons.

How can anyone read that article and think that people are actually holding measles parties? Credulous people read not the words in the article, but what they want to believe. A lot of people want to think (not entirely without reason) that the anti-vaccination crowd is stupid, so they’ll look at an article and see only the warning against “measles parties,” possibly not even reading past that sentence, and invent the rest in their heads.

(People did once deliberately expose their children to measles, chicken pox, and the like, figuring they’d get those diseases anyway, and it might as well be at a planned time. That was a different time, though, when vaccines weren’t widely available or didn’t exist at all. It also doesn’t help that in some cases, the site throws a pop-up in front of the story saying it doesn’t like your browser.)

People can even be credulous about unsupported claims of the existence of unsupported claims. Recently on Google+ I saw a post whose headline said that somebody was asserting that there are 300 million 5-year-old prostitutes in the US. It linked to an article that didn’t cite anything close to that claim being made by anyone. The author might have intended the headline as obvious hyperbole, but commenters accepted that someone was making that claim, and the Google+ poster didn’t bother to correct them.

When a story is in line with people’s prior assumptions, they’ll very often swallow it without any critical thought. It fits their narrative, so it must be true. I have to watch out that I’m not doing the same thing. At first I though that Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson was a typical case of unjustified police violence, but the evidence I’ve read about since then clearly discredits the story of an unresisting Brown saying “Don’t shoot!” The story was plausible, because of irregularities in the police investigation and the Ferguson police’s horrible record, but it wasn’t true. It took me a while to realize that, and many people are still convinced it’s true in spite of the forensic evidence.

Perhaps we need to be especially careful when our first reaction to a report is “Just as I expected!” What we expect isn’t always true.

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Opposing the tribalist mindset

Events in the past couple of weeks ought to have disgusted most of the people reading this blog, whatever we may disagree on. A cop choked Eric Garner to death for selling cigarettes, he was caught on video, and no charges were brought against him. It’s official now that the CIA has been torturing people, stumbling into the policy rather than having a real purpose, and not even accomplishing anything, and no charges are being brought against anyone. Obama is being True Neutral on torture, showing himself more than ever as a slimy creature with no principles. At least Cheney stands for something, even if it’s vile.

Outside the US, there are the ongoing atrocities by the Islamic State and Boko Haram. The majority of their victims are other Muslims. Lately the loudspeakers on the mosques in Kabul have been urging people to stay inside instead of calling them to prayer.

All these events are manifestations of the collectivist, tribalist impulse to divide the world into “us” and “our enemies.” It seems to be a path of least resistance in human psychology. In primitive societies, there must be a value in making snap judgments about whether someone is friend or foe. The Bible, which is part of our culture whether we grant it religious significance or not, is full of horrible deeds which are supposedly good because their targets have a different religion. It presents the child-butcher Joshua as a hero because the children lived in a Canaanite city.

Science fiction fans aren’t completely free of the impulse. While the division between fans and “mundanes” is usually expressed in a good-humored way, I’ve heard “mundane” used as an expression of contempt often enough and may have used it that way myself. This is especially likely to happen when a convention is sharing a hotel with a group that includes some obnoxious people. All mundanes get painted with the same brush. I’ve heard annoyingly often, among filkers, that people speaking German always sound angry. Perhaps a good reply would be, “If you’d stop saying that, they might sound less angry.”

Uglier than either of those is the “race identity” mindset that’s taken hold in some parts of fandom. This is the notion that we’re supposed to think of people not as people, but as members of racial groups. There was a post I encountered on Tumblr a long time ago, which I’d meant to work into a blog post but never did. The text was in pictures, and I couldn’t figure out how to link to it, but here’s the relevant part:

I kind of just spontaneously groaned and put my head in my hand and someone said, “Well, what was THAT reaction?” And I said, “Well, when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror I see a human being.” I’m kind of a generic person, y’know, I’m a middle class, white, man. I have no [visible] class, no race, no gender, I’m universally generalizable. So I like to think that that was the moment that I became a[n aware] middle class, white, man. That class and race and gender weren’t about other people but they were about me and I had to start thinking about them and it had been privilege that had kept it invisible to me for so long.

The brackets were in the original, if my recollection is correct.

The KKK couldn’t have put it better: Stop thinking of yourself as a human being and start thinking of yourself as a privileged white (or as whatever group has been assigned to you). People of other skin colors are different. I don’t have any reason to think this person (yes, person, however how much he objects) was in fandom, but the expression is a particularly clear form of the rhetoric I’ve seen from people trying to promote race identity on convention programs. As far as I know, no con has yet put “Your race:” on its registration form; I hope none ever do.

There’s a large difference, of course, between mocking mundanes and torturing prisoners, but the motivation is the same in kind. The same kind of motivation has muted the response to the torturers — excuse me, the politically correct term is “enhanced interrogators” — and their defenders. We’re Americans. They’re “terrorists,” whether anything has been proven against them or not. So we can regret that “we tortured some folks,” but let’s not be vindictive against people who approved or committed war crimes “in the past.” Let’s “look forward, not backward,” unless we’re talking about Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, or Chelsea Manning.

If we’re ever going to reach a society that isn’t ruled by tribal hostilities, we have to learn to be aware of those impulses, control them in ourselves, and point them out in others. That requires a culture with an ethic of individualism, the treatment of people according to their personal merits rather than their group membership. Today that’s an unpopular idea, and we’re paying a high price for its lack.

We can’t change the world, but we can each speak as the opportunity arises. We can be careful to check our premises every time we start to think “All of those ___ are scumbags.” Any degree of honest effort helps.

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