Living in Opposition

I've never been around an activist group that didn't turn into an endless series of petty purity tests. I was raised in a church where everyone was looking for more and more inconsequential things to judge each other by..  The natural evolution is toward tighter and tighter criteria for what behavior gets you shunned from the group. The end result is that the central cause can be as pure as the driven snow, and yet the tone will get more and more toxic over time, the members becoming less and less charitable with each other.

You hear experts talk about how extremists get "radicalized." But it really isn't a mystery, and we all form less-murderous versions of this. All it takes is a closed like-minded social circle in which it's considered unacceptable to disagree with the group, and then devote that group to hating something. It doesn't even matter if the thing truly deserves hating -- it still turns toxic. In fact, it works better if it does. "How can you criticize any flaw in our group's behavior when the other side is Nazis! That's literally saying that both sides are the same! The mere existence of pure evil on the other side mathematically means our side is pure good!"

At that point, no criticism is possible and there is nothing to moderate the rage. The rhetoric ratchets higher and higher as each member tries to top each other (to prove their own righteousness by demonstrating they hate the target most), and there is no method for reining it in. Anyone from the inside who takes a moderate tone can be shouted down with accusations of being an enemy sympathizer.

Living purely in opposition to something, rather than for something, hollows you out inside. To be a whole human being, you have to spend your life building something good. 

David Wong writing for Cracked

Policing people’s grammar online is never really about grammar

One of the many unexpected side effects of the internet is that it’s shown us just how many people appear to lose the capacity for emotional self-regulation when confronted with a misused semicolon. Scroll through the comments section of any publication or simply sign on to Twitter, and you’ll find plenty of examples of people who treat typos and grammatical errors not just as ordinary mistakes, but as a kind of moral offense.

When a grammar stickler obsesses over the proper placement of an apostrophe in a Facebook status or a blog post, they’re not engaging with the actual content. How many times have we seen an online commenter whose only remark on a post about the author’s struggles with body image is “It’s their not there,” or a Twitter acquaintance who proudly screenshots a typo in a New York Times article on science education? The instinct to publicly criticize and police linguistic errors is also a way to avoid wading into the muck of other people’s thoughts and feelings, and redirect the conversation back toward oneself.

Because young or poor or immigrant populations are often among those who may not conform to traditional English grammar and spelling and punctuation usage, focusing on linguistic deviations can reinforce the barriers of privilege.

Sarah Todd writing in Quartz