Given recent events, it’s no wonder that so many in-depth examinations of toxic spaces and attitudes are being published these days. I guess they are necessary and important? Maybe? Or on the other hand, maybe they’re all a waste of time? Perhaps? I don’t know. I will say that these articles look as if they want to provoke a productive discussion of some sort. But that can never happen. No productive discussion is possible.
For as long as evil people have been doing evil things, humanity has been trying to figure out the evil people’s motivations. That’s what those articles are trying to do. But there’s a problem.
Examining historical examples of groups that the majority of us generally agree are evil is generally safe on a moral level.Examining an active, currently extant group is often not. Genghis Khan is not currently trying to spread his philosophy to impressionable youths, or garner support for his murderous policies, so it doesn’t much matter if we give him attention, or “air”, or “free advertising” or whatever. On the other hand, any mention of neo-n*z*s, or alt-whatevers might give them those things. Do articles that examine the motivations of evil actors shed light, or do they feed an already out of control fire? Either way, that question tends to be what gets discussed, rather than whatever the author was hoping for.
But there’s more to it than that.
Some people do not believe that it is worthwhile to examine the motivations of evil people. Evil is evil. Evil can’t be changed or reformed, which leaves us with one option: evil must be fought. What then is the point of humanizing its perpetrators, or understanding their perspective? Humanizing your enemy only makes them harder to fight. And you don’t care about their perspective, only their goals; but you don’t need a 10,000 word thinkpiece to know what those are — they will flat out tell you, most of the time. What’s important is that you frustrate their actions, in the end.
But that’s not all.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion around what looking for explanations actually is. This seems especially true when it comes to political stuff. Some see these examinations as tactical — know your enemy and all that. Others see them as attempts to justify the bad people’s actions, and to perhaps even forgive them — which lots of people find extremely fucking gross and awful. And the problem is you never know! Sometimes the piece you’re reading is tactical, and sometimes it’s apologia, and sometimes it’s something else entirely! You have to be on your guard, you have to be on the lookout for propaganda! And then you have to argue about what the piece you just read is!
I’m never going to tell people what they should or shouldn’t write about. But I really, really question the necessity of examining the motivations of bad actors because, in the end, nothing productive comes out of it. People would rather argue over the existence and shape of the piece than they would over its contents. So what’s the point? Other than feeding the web’s constant craving for material that people will angrily link to when they discuss it on social medi–oh wait, nevermind.