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Online Self-Defense

On Monday, I was called an antisemitic whore. Yesterday, I was told twice to go f*** myself. It’s turning into an eventful week, and I can’t wait to see what today brings.

I’ve written before about trying to apply Sanchin-Ryu (karate) to other areas of my life, particularly my writing. Some of my interactions this month have gotten me thinking about how those principles of self-defense might apply online.

Take yesterday as an example. Over on Twitter, I posted, “Dear white folks trying to defend, justify, or minimize the shooting of an unarmed black kid. Please just shut the hell up already.”

I knew perfectly well that this will piss some people off. (I’m amazed I haven’t yet been accused of censoring or hating free speech.) “Please shut the hell up” is an aggressive statement, and given the public nature of the internet and the number of people following me online, I know some will get angry and tell me to go f*** myself. The question is what I do next.

Walk away. It is really hard to walk away from someone being wrong on the internet. It’s hard to recognize that I have a choice about whether to give someone my time and energy. I’ve only got so much; why should I spend it on this clown?

There’s a part of me that wants to DEFEAT ALL THE OPPONENTS, but that’s just ego:

“Hines, you’re nothing but a punk, and I should kick your ass!”

“Avast, random internet person! You smell like goblin farts, and I shall pwn you like Éowyn pwned the Witch-king of Angmar!”1

What’s the point? Is my ego so insecure that I can’t tolerate one person hating on me? If so, I probably ought to get out of the writing biz. Or am I worried my readers will see this person’s Frothing Tweets of Hines-Hate and say, “By the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s meaty balls, he’s right! Jim C. Hines is a punk with a highly kickable ass! I bite my thumbs at him, and shall never read his books again!”

If the only reason to engage is to soothe my injured ego, then I need to walk away. If I have so little faith in my friends and readers, then that’s my problem, one I have to work on.

But sometimes walking away doesn’t work. Sometimes people bring the fight to you, whether it’s a bully who follows you after school or a troll who comes to your site to attack you and others.

Everything begins with stance and breathing. If someone hits me, I can’t strike back effectively until I regain my balance. If I try, I’m going to end up flailing around like a Muppet gone wild.

In a real fight, I’ll have little time to take a breath, settle into a stance, and take control of the situation. I train so that this will become automatic. Online, I usually have more time to regain my balance. The trick — the thing I always struggle with — is remembering to take that time, to just breathe and get past the initial HULK SMASH adrenaline rush.

Don’t react. Act. Monday night, I was working with a sensei who talked about controlling the pace of a fight by deliberately slowing your strikes. The opponent will follow suit to match your speed, and you can start to speed the other person up or slow them down with your own actions.

If I swear and yell and go ALL-CAPS on someone just because that’s how they wrote to me, then they’re controlling the interaction. The hell with that. If I choose to respond in kind, that’s one thing. But I’ve also had success online by responding in different ways, at which point the other person changes their replies to match mine. Suddenly I’m controlling the interaction and determining how things will go.

It’s hard. When someone punches me, I want to punch back twice as hard. But I think back to another sensei describing an interaction where the other person threw the first punch. The sensei howled, “I think you broke my ribs!” and hobbled away, hamming up his injury for the whole crowd.

He was fine. He knew how to take a punch. He could have broken his opponent into bite-sized snacks. But he didn’t have to. Instead, he took his opponent’s mental balance and ended the fight just like that.


Confronting is not the same as fighting. Speaking out is a form of confrontation, and I think it’s important. And sometimes, confrontation does lead to fighting. But if that happens, I want it to be my choice, and I want to make that choice for (in my opinion) the right reasons.

If someone is abusive to me or others on my blog, I’ll step in to end that behavior. If a stranger talks crap at or about me on Twitter, I need to recognize that they’re probably not worth my time or energy.

These are all things I’m struggling with, and posting these ideas  doesn’t mean I’ve learned to live them yet.

Thoughts and comments are welcome, as usual.

  1. Yeah, I really need to work on my trash talk. But at least I’m using pwned correctly!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 79 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 28th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
Always remember that the intertubes provide a form of anonymity and, more importantly, distance. People say shit online they'd never think of saying aloud. Not to mention the current socio-political climate encourages people, whether it means to or not, to let all their feelings loose. When done for the sake of purging the nastiness from one's soul, this is an excellent thing. When done for the sake of bludgeoning someone else with your obviously more-correct opinion (and especially when done with malice), this does nothing more than piss people off and reinforce their opinions.

Or they could all just be buttheads.
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm going with the butthead theory this week :-)
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC)
My sister (the Buddhist) and I were discussing something similar, about a month ago, and she sent me this quote, which I am trying to internalize....


When you’re like a keg of dynamite about to go off, patience means just slowing down at that point—just pausing—instead of immediately acting on your usual, habitual response. You refrain from acting, you stop talking to yourself, and then you connect with the soft spot. But at the same time you are completely and totally honest with yourself about what you are feeling. You’re not suppressing anything; patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself.

- Pema Chodron
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
A good quote, though definitely one of those "easier said than done" things :-)

Do you know what it means by "the soft spot"?
(no subject) - suricattus - Mar. 28th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathellisen - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
Okay, Jim. I'm biting my thumb at you. Now what are you going to do? Huh? Huh? Quote more Shakespeare at me?

*runs away snickering*
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
::Runs up and wipes a booger on Deborah's monitor::
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Mar. 28th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 28th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - filkertom - Mar. 28th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Mar. 28th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 28th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
"Anti-semetic Whore"? There's a trick for you... good heavens, what did I miss? Sounds like a really good blog post!
Mar. 28th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)
I pointed out that someone's photo of Trayvon Martin posing like a gangster (to prove that he was a dangerous kid and justify the shooting) was, in fact, a photo of the wrong freaking person.

I also grumbled about the fact that all black kids do not, in fact, look alike.

Apparently this makes me an anti-semetic whore, among other things. I don't follow the logic, but didn't stick around to ask for clarification.
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Mar. 28th, 2012 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 28th, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - misslynx - Mar. 28th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cepetit.myopenid.com - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 28th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - amberite - Mar. 29th, 2012 09:19 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - misslynx - Mar. 28th, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
I usually deploy these strategies, too, although sometimes I just deploy "Imagine harmless cartoon violence." I call that my Wile E. Coyote Gambit.
Mar. 28th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
I like this gambit, and intend to add it to my mental arsenal.
(no subject) - pretzelcoatl - Mar. 28th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
Take a deep breath
Jim, remember this first and foremost: when responding/reacting to events you are hearing about in the media ... pause. wait. be patient.

There is nothing more dangerous than reacting to the "court of public opinion.*" Lots of the press attention is generated *because* these are hot (emotional) items that sell press. The press is pushing our buttons (no political agenda in my mind, but there is an economic one). We don't have all the facts, we need to wait for those facts to be presented. (This does not mean our radar shouldn't be tuned in, just be patient.)

[Case in point, that kid recently tried in Jersey for the internet posting of his roommates personal life. He was found guilty and he was indeed guilty of violating the roommate's rights to privacy. However, that posting did not cause the roommate to jump. Apparently, what the press neither knew, or didn't release, was that the roommate's lover had just dumped him prior to the suicide. That is the most probable cause.]

*A whole lot of innocent black men were tried and convicted because of the "court of public opinion".
Mar. 28th, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Take a deep breath
There is nothing more dangerous than reacting to the "court of public opinion.*"

I can think of a few things more dangerous. Walking around in a hoodie while black, for example...

I understand what you're saying here. I really do. On the other hand, there are facts out there. The police report is public information. The 911 call is public information. And while gathering more facts is a good thing, the facts suggest that the police department was ready to sweep this under the rug and not bother to investigate or gather more information ... up until people started paying attention and talking about the case.
Mar. 28th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
When someone online really pushes my button, I find it helps to write an immediate, capslocky, no-holds-barred response... and then save it to a text file and leave it for a day or so.

They say it's best to wait a full 24 hours before actually responding. I don't always manage to do this, but boy, wht a difference it makes. By then I've had enough time to cool down and (occasionally) see something of the other person's POV. Which is still rubbish, sometimes, but at least it's possible to respond more skilfully when I'm calm... or to see clearly when the most skilful answer is not to respond at all.

Which, I suppose, is equivalent to re-establishing stance and breathing :-)
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
Okay, you're someone whom I respect a great deal, and you are pretty sensible, and this is generally on-topic, so let me ask you this: what would you do if it was not merely a random one-time hater on twitter or facebook or wherever, but someone doing a directed, malicious attack and spreading it around?
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
First off, thank you :-)

I think it depends. I've seen where I've inspired the occasional hate-filled screed, but I don't think I've ever run into an active campaign of Jim-hate. So, hypothetically speaking, I'd probably start by assessing how much of an audience this person has.

(Okay, realistically I'd start by getting pissed off, but assuming I followed my own advice, remembered to breathe, and got my balance back, I'd start with the assessment.)

If there's no real audience, I'd probably ignore it. If they had a larger presence and could reach a significant number of people ... my first thought would be to write a single blog post addressing what's going on, and leave it at that. At that point, I don't know if there'd be any point in directly addressing the person spreading the hate around, but that would give me something to point to when folks said, "Hey Jim, did you hear what this other person's been saying about you?" And presumably anyone who didn't know me but came to the site as a result of the attacks could read my response and come to their own decisions.
(no subject) - coppervale - Mar. 28th, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 22nd, 2012 12:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
I really liked your tweet, so much so I retweeted it. The inate racism this case has brought out of a lot of people is pretty astounding... and from a British perspective the whole thing is bug-nuts. Citizens are allowed to walk around with a gun, shoot someone and NOT get arrested? Here, we leave the shooting of young black (and Brazilian) men to the police, which is then investigated and the officers involved inevitably cleared of any wrong doing. That's the British way.

Wait... maybe we're ALL crazy!

I'm a great believer in confronting unacceptable behaviour, online or elsewhere. But there's a point where I just have to walk away and tell myself "Haters gotta hate - and one day get hit by a bus." Then I feel much better.
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
But there's a point where I just have to walk away and tell myself "Haters gotta hate - and one day get hit by a bus."

Okay, the rest of your comment was depressing, but this part made me laugh. Thank you.
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
Well, I got a chuckle out of “By the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s meaty balls, he’s right!

More on point, having been called a "lying bullshit artist" on an online argument recently regarding the Martin shooting, I feel your pain. At some point, you (I, the not-royal we) need to recognize that facts don't matter and just walk away.

I like to comfort myself, though, that although I haven't changed my opponent's mind, I may have changed the minds of people reading the posts. In that case, making your opponent look like a shit-flinging monkey can't hurt. It's the aikido method of Internet combat.
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
I definitely try to keep in mind that the internet is a public place, and the audience is much larger than the individual you're arguing with. I hadn't thought of it in such colorful aikido/monkey terms, though. I like that!
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
If I swear and yell and go ALL-CAPS on someone just because that’s how they wrote to me, then they’re controlling the interaction. The hell with that. If I choose to respond in kind, that’s one thing. But I’ve also had success online by responding in different ways, at which point the other person changes their replies to match mine. Suddenly I’m controlling the interaction and determining how things will go.

This rings so true to me. I used to hang out on rpanoncomm a lot (and LJ roleplayers are a pretty dramastic bunch as it is, so throw anonymity in the mix and...), and I saw this happen so many times. Somebody would make a reasonable comment, somebody else would respond antagonistically, and the whole thing would unravel into a huge fight.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of times where I'd comment, get an antagonistic reaction, and respond calmly to clarify my point, and the discussion turned out perfectly civil.

It's a really fascinating social phenomenon to me, and I think you hit the nail on the head about people wanting to match what they're given.
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
You could also consider that if you aren't getting people upset, shaking things up, challenging their comfortable ideas, you aren't doing your job.

Nevertheless, it's irksome. But it's the internet, and somewhere, someone is always wrong.
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
True enough.
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
This is a tangent, but now I shall declare "By the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s meaty balls!" whenever appropriate. Thank you!
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yay! :-)
Mar. 28th, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
I can ignore the name-calling, most of the time (unless it gets into sex-related territory, which is scary). What I can't handle is the people who pull the 'you hurt my feeeelings' card, when I've spoken out about something they have a connexion with. This happens most especially when I criticise some aspect of the US in public. You are descended from us, so it's all my fault, apparently, and I have no right to mind current US anything.
I don't like hurting people, so I let these people silence me -- and my culture and my culture's problems with US culture -- because, well, they have feeeeelings. I need to be tougher over this, I know, because sometimes I have good points and good reasons, but... Sigh. I walk away, because that's the way to calm it down, but what I'm really doing is letting myself be silenced and that hurts.
No easy answers.
Mar. 28th, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
What kind of wings do you think a Flying Spaghetti Monster has? Presumably they're made of noodles, or is it chop-meat? Sausage? Pizza crust? Hey, Pizza Hut experimented with spaghetti pizza, though I don't know if they still have it. I think they probably do still have chocolate pudding pizza.
Mar. 28th, 2012 07:03 pm (UTC)
I think FSM does more of a hovery thing, but I confess I haven't done a full analysis of the physics of flying spaghetti.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Mar. 28th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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