Monday, May 9, 2011

Why I Stopped Contributing to Rabble

During the federal election campaign, I contributed several piece to Rabble under my user id AppalledBC, all of which but one are reproduced here on my blog. (I also wrote a piece under my own name on invitation from a Rabble editor.) Some disturbing responses to the one that I chose not to republish prompted me to to abandon writing for the site.

I wrote a piece innocently defending Elizabeth May's choice of ridings in which to run in 2008 and 2011. Naively taking her at her word in public interviews, I argued that she ran in these ridings because she lived there. I was severely criticized for the error of my ways when respondents KenS and Northern Shoveler pointed out in no uncertain terms that I was dead wrong: she and the Green Party brain trust chose the ridings first, and she then moved to them in order to run. I was suitably chasten, though I did quibble about the accusation of obfuscation on May's exclusion from mainline national media discourse once she was out of the debates for good, arguing that it was still a form of political exclusion by Big Media. Those contributors were harsh but respectful for the most part and not really unfair, and for that I am grateful. I was dead wrong because of my ignorance about the matter. Many lessons learned.

But then along came two respondents who chose to make ad hominem attacks against Elizabeth May and, in particular, her physical attributes. That kind of discursive abuse is profoundly disturbing. It shuts down meaningful discussion and leaves a bitter taste about the site that would include among its contributors people with such textual assault weapons – not that I expect Rabble to exercise any sort of censorship nor should they. People should be free to express themselves, and people should likewise be free to react to those expressions. One can write passionately and forcefully but still be respectful. That was pretty clearly not the case with these two respondents, who I'm sure thought they were being merely clever and witty.

I thought briefly of writing the Rabble administration, but I had written to them twice before on other matters and never received a response. So I had little reason to travel that route. Besides, that would have been a little bit like telling the teacher on Johnny. I suppose I could have answered back, challenging them about their abuse, but that would have merely extended an already awkward and fundamentally useless discussion already going nowhere.

There are many intelligent, insightful, and worthy contributors on Rabble, most of whom are civil and respectful in their discourse. I wish them all well. But I simply cannot contribute to a site where I would be looking over my shoulder in fear of another such vitriolic assault and probably, as a result, pulling my punches because of that implicit intimidation. I feel the chill. I have not been to the site since then.

Note: I am not a member of any federal or provincial party. I've said good things about the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens, and I've taken shots at all of them too. I have of course taken multiple whacks at the Harperites over the years, but now that they have some Red Tories from Ontario in the caucus, who may modified the destructive ideology of the far right elements in the party, I might be able to say something good about them too. I'm not holding my breath.

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