A long, long time ago–1997?–I was walking down Broadway on my way to work. At 8th street, I encountered a very angry woman in front of a science-fair-type posterboard covered in pictures of suffering domestic animals. They were horrible, and compelling, and I was young and easily swayed, and curious.
This woman (short, aggressively blond hair; long black overcoat over a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled and pushed up; jeans) was yelling:
I can still hear her voice in my head, all these years later, Janis-Joplin, smoke-and-whiskey frayed: “Animal RIGHTS! Animal RIGHTS!” She was trying to get everyone to sign a petition.
At the time I worked for a nature magazine of some repute. What I learned there made it obvious to me that I shouldn’t sign anything unless I knew for sure what I was signing. But I didn’t know much about these extreme animal rights groups, so I approached her to learn more.
I can’t remember exactly what I asked her. Probably something like, “Can you tell me more about what this is about?”
She immediately shot back, “I don’t have time to explain it to you,” and went on shouting, right in my ear, since I was close enough to ask her a question. “Animal RIGHTS!”
Fast forward, yesterday morning. My friend Jamie gets a comment on a blog post she wrote about themes in writing. I won’t reproduce the full comment here, because it is so very, very tiresome. It is a couple hundred words and involves Dante, Aristotle, praxis, and lumps novelists and contract writers with “and such” and sets us apart from “true writers and artists.”
Jamie posted this
blowhard jerkface dimwit obfuscating badger guy’s comment to a braintrust we’re both involved in, with a call for help: How do I respond to this guy? The answers she got from our co-hort were, nearly unanimously, thus: Ignore him. You don’t have time to spend on this jerk. There were accusations of mansplaining, which were spot-on.
Me? I spewed a bunch of eff-bombs, did the requisite pushups, and then went for a walk with my Fuzz. Seeing Jamie, an educated, sensitive, generous whip-smart writer of her own credentials, getting schooled by this guy–THIS GUY THIS GUY THIS POOPTACULAR–was beyond the pale.
(I have been mansplained to, and I have done my own mansplaining. It’s not uniquely a male problem, although it does seem to happen a lot in one direction.)
In the end, I wrote to Jamie, “I’d reply to him in public, telling him everything that’s wrong. If we’re lucky, we might have converted a wanker asshat into just an asshat.” Jamie was much more elegant. She thanked him for his reply and said she’d try to reply in full later. She did the right thing, I believe.
More broadly, I’m thinking that there is enough anger in this world. I’m thinking that, if the woman on the corner of 8th and Broadway had taken the time to educate me, instead of brushing me off and making me feel like an ignoramus, I’d have walked away better educated, knowing more, at least maybe understanding why she was so passionate about this issue. And maybe I’d have cared to find out more.
Fervently hoping that Mr. Dusty-Library-for-Brains disappears into a deep pit of…uh, dusty library books isn’t going to actually make that happen. Screaming the same slogan over and over again at people you can’t be bothered to educate, I think, isn’t that far from just ignoring someone, and the issue, and losing out on a chance to help them see another side.
In fact, I’m reminded of the way my father once described the arguments he heard between me and my mom [paraphrased, obviously]: “It’s like the two of you are wearing suits of armor, okay? Big medieval things. And you’re just whaling away at each other with those big weapons–those big spiky balls. It’s a lot of noise. And no real progress on either side.”
I don’t hold out much hope that Dingleberries McRealWriter will actually take what Jamie eventually has to say on board. But at least she can say she tried, which at least allows for some possibility of that thing we call Hope. For discourse, for civilised conversation, for a world where we can read things and comment thoughtfully on them and then have further conversations that we can all learn from. That is something Angry Animal RIGHTS lady will never have.
Some days, though, we are just too damn tired to deal. That’s okay, too.
NB: Holy buckets: tracked down a story about ANIMAL RIGHTS lady. I guess, if you were just out to scam people, that’d be a reason for brushing off anyone who asked.