This Column Is Troll Proof
In these times of sharp political disagreements, Professor Elemental asks steampunks to get along
Monday, February 24, 2020
I’ve been thinking a lot about villains. The next Professor album will feature a new bad guy and it’s coincidently tied in with me doing personal work on researching the kind of groups that I usually steer clear of. Groups that I have, in the past, considered to be so far on the wrong side of the tracks that they’d have to get a lift to the nearest station: Internet Trolls, Men’s rights activists, T.E.R.F.s* and so forth.
This is dark territory, filled with sharp rocks and red flags. On the outskirts are people I would consider nasty racists, or who would infringe the rights of my friends in the Trans community. In usual circumstances, I would blow a hearty raspberry at them and then slam the door in their silly faces. In the past, I’ve talked on stage about the joys of blocking people you disagree with and the importance of not feeding the trolls.
“Nobody ever had their mind changed in a debate on the Internet,” I bellowed to an audience of people who largely agreed with me, or if not, were too polite to say otherwise. Well except in Whitby obviously.
But we live, as the old Chinese curse goes, in interesting times. The sands are shifting and I’ve come to realise that this approach of blocking out anyone who disagrees with you is not working.
Much to my dismay, it’s even starting to damage the steampunk community. I’ve met a couple of people who have said they are leaving the scene because of political rifts. Friends have debated whether to ask people to leave a steampunk group due to disagreements about politics. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like a mouthful of rotten marzipan. Or marmite.
I’m all for chucking proper racists out of steampunk. I’ve merrily dissed another steampunk group because of racist political views. After all, freedom of speech isn’t freedom of consequence. And if you don’t believe me, try wearing a jacket with a swastika to a Men Who Won’t Be Blamed For Nothing concert.**
But what about the grey area? No longer talking to someone because they voted to Leave the EU? Assuming that, because someone used the wrong term on Twitter, they are a TERF or deserve to be subjected to online abuse? Not wondering why ‘men’s rights’ activists have decided that their movement is necessary, beyond the assumption that they hate women? Or that all feminists want to outlaw men and are just a bunch of ‘feminazis’?*** Or even not letting Uncle Alan come over last Christmas because he thought Romanian refugees stole and ate the swans from the village pond?
This is some ugly business and it’s our collective responsibility to make our corner of the Internet a bit better.
Here’s what I’ve learned from listening to these opposing groups.**** Everyone feels under threat and everyone wants to be heard. It’s a universal truth, amplified by the fiendish algorithms of social media, which tell us that in fact, we have a RIGHT to be heard. We have a right to add to every conversation, every argument, every opinion. It does this while also purposefully exposing us to content that will enrage us, making it feel like our way of life is under threat by enemies from all sides.
Most of all though, I think grouping people together in easy-to-abuse lumps is incredibly dangerous. Here in the UK, we’re calling each other names that arose during our recent and futile split from Europe. “Remoaners” are the cous-cous and lentil munching left-wing snowflakes wouldn’t stop whinging about the democratic result. “Gammons” are the angry middle-aged white men on the far right who are said to resemble lumps of angry ham. But as soon as we place someone in an opposing group, we can dehumanise them, shout at them, make jokes at their expense, and forget that they are people exactly the same as us.
It’s not a binary choice as to whether someone agrees with you on a subject. If they disagree, it doesn’t mean that they are deserving of hate and everything they do henceforth is without merit. There is a whole spectrum of messy and sometimes even contradictory opinions in all of us. Not only that, but vitally, those people who feel slighted, wronged and rejected from other subcultures will soon find other tribes. There are always groups willing to take on those with outrageous views and there are always others manipulating those groups to nefarious ends.
I still don’t think it’s a good idea to argue on the Internet. You might as well try to jump on a trampoline to punch the clouds out of the sky. But don’t walk away from steampunk or exclude people just because of the odd wrong opinion. You can always agree to disagree and decide not to talk to them about it. Or, if you think it’s safe, engage with them in person and ask some questions about why they think that way. (But for god’s sake do it in person and not on Twitter.)
Steampunk is and should be for everyone***** and if we want our little subculture to thrive in these ever changing and dangerous times, we need to work hard to bring people together wherever we can.
Let’s prove that we can make the Internet, steampunk, and the real actual world, a nicer place.
Good day to you,
* Trans Exclusionary Reactionary Feminists, which is a really rubbish acronym and not a patch on S.H.I.E.L.D.
** And then let us know how you got on, when you wake up in the hospital.
*** I’m aware that even the very mention of these more contentious groups will be wrongly taken by some as tacit approval. It might even tempt some people to leave a comment saying so, even though to do so would be to prove my point. Don’t be one of those people.
**** It’s also true that, as I am a straight(ish), white, middle aged, middle class male, I hold all the privilege cards available, in my big white hand. It’s quite likely easier for me to feel safely distanced and not as offended by many of these opposing arguments as I am never the one being oppressed. I have so much privilege, that as Robin Ince put it, if I needed to check it, I will need substantial extra baggage allowance.
***** Except proper actual racists, obviously.