BLOCKED

Drew Hays — Unsplash

The first thing I did on Medium was block someone.

It wasn’t like what happens on Facebook, at least in my experience, where when these things happen, it is because we have a personal relationship with someone who — for whatever reason — offends us, and who will then feel our wrath with the almighty BLOCK.

Or so we hope.

The truth is, though, the people we block on Facebook aren’t actually aware we’ve done it, and let’s face it, if you really think about the kind of person you might block (or have blocked), that person rarely cares.

I don’t know the person I blocked on Medium, but it still made me sad that, as one of my first acts as a Medium member, I chose to push this unknown person from my feed, and from my life.

It felt like I was choosing sides, but I wasn’t. I actually did not disagree with what they were saying in the story, nor did I agree with it. It was a post, like many I have read, that is written by someone with a lot of talent, a lot of anger, and a lot to say.

And all that added up to nothing. It was a political post, one filled with much of the vitriol we see pretty much everywhere these days, but I thought that, despite the lack of tangible evidence to back up the writer’s claims, it was very well thought out. The lack of evidence was not the reason I blocked them, however.

I’ve seen lots of such posts, on Medium and elsewhere, where the writer is passionate about their subject to the point of the piece bordering on a rant, but I’m a firm believer in the adage that if you don’t like it, don’t read it, or at least don’t read any more of it. It had an interesting thesis, and I wanted to explore it further.

And then I read the responses.

There was a part of me that was curious to see if any of the responses contained the detail I hoped had been in the original story. I was looking, specifically, for evidence of the claims made by the writer. I had a suspicion that, because it was a long post, perhaps I had missed something. I hoped to see some semblance of the evidence I thought I had missed.

But I didn’t. I saw a lot of pandering to the writer from those who agreed, and a lot of viciousness from those who disagreed. None of this is fun to read, and to me feels like pointless bickering, but that is the beauty of free speech — it is for all of us. I have the choice to stop reading at any time. So I skipped through the pandering and viciousness.

And then I saw something else.

In response to a comment the writer of the piece clearly didn’t like, instead of either ignoring the comment, or responding neutrally, the writer of the criticized article went for that last bastion of the defenseless argument: the ad hominem attack.

To those a few years past Latin and Logic classes like myself, the ad hominem attack is one where the character or some other aspect of a person’s being is criticized as a rebuttal to a statement or argument, rather than using evidence to rebut the claim. Wikipedia does a much better job of defining it here:

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is now usually understood as a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[2]

Or, to put it in playground language, it basically means calling a kid ugly when he disputes your claim that 2 plus 2 equal 5.

In this instance, the writer of the piece being criticized responded with an observation of the number of posts the “critic” had created in the past number of months, followed by an admonition to back off of any commentary because of the dearth of publications here on Medium.

In other words, the author of the piece basically said “you haven’t written enough on Medium to merit a response to my work.”

When I joined Medium, it was because I was tired of trying to find good writing in the bog of our current political state. Every newspaper, which used to be my favorite hunting ground for great opinion writing, is now tainted (for me at least) with more of the same kind of vitriol I found in this article — and while I agree it is important to discuss the current political atmosphere, I long for the days when a quick scan of the op-ed section would manifest the occasional non-political gem I could chew on for a bit until being blasted back to the reality of our news cycle.

And there is also nothing wrong with vitriol per se in articles I read. I get it — people are passionate, and write passionately, and I don’t feel I have the right to dismiss their writing because of negativity, but I do feel I have the right if there is, in fact, no evidence to back up the words.

I love finding new writers to follow. I love finding new topics to think about, and I especially love how here on Medium — at least to me — it appears that it is possible for anyone, regardless of credentials or lack of power-packed CV’s, to write a piece and post it, and if it is good, to find a following. It appeared to me to be a community of those who appreciate good writing and research, and not one where partisan feelings necessarily divide the ones who are read and followed from those who are never read or followed.

It was also because I, too, have a lot rattling around in my head that I have a strong urge to express, along with a healthy aversion to being trolled or panned because someone disagrees with what I say.

If someone disagrees with me, on any topic, I find it to be a good thing, a helpful thing, when they respond with opinion based on evidence rather than on emotion and, well, hatred. I find this writer’s reaction to their critic to be childish, visceral, and dripping with disdain. The writer of this piece spent a lot of time on their article (and yes, I am purposely neutralizing the sex of this writer). It defies logic, therefore, that, in response to someone making an observation of the quality of the article in a normal way (there was no hatred in the comment I read), the writer of the article chose to attack the prolificacy — or lack thereof — of the critic as a disqualifier to that critic making any comments at all.

This is not why I joined Medium. This is the kind of thing I see on Facebook — attacking the person making an argument because you don’t like what he has to say. I hate it, and I have been thrilled to see polite commentary here on Medium, and gentle criticism of honest efforts by those who are not professional writers, but who — like all of us — have something to say, and would just like to have a safe place to say it.

This is something we are seeing more and more today, and I believe it is also what is making everyone so screaming mad. It seems that the days of honest debate, sans personal attack, are gone, only to be replaced with brutal name-calling and lie-telling in order to whip up one’s audience. It is also the stuff of elementary school playgrounds, yet somehow it is now in our mainstream (See Donald Trump and the “Failing New York Times”).

And in this deluge of negativity, it is easy to start to feel helpless. But I don’t, and this is why: they only have power if you give them a platform.

Easier said than done, right? You may ask, why did I block this writer, why not leave an equally snarky comment and move on? Well, full disclosure from this Medium Newbie, I was on my iPad, but was not using the app, and, well, I just couldn’t figure it out. And then I thought the better of it anyway.

I thought about what might happen if, in every playground, office, conference room or other gathering place in the world we all just collectively called out with our silence the ones whose comments to others we find offensive. What if, as a group, we all stood up and said that it is not okay to attack an individual’s person or character just because you object to their opinion?

What if every schoolyard bully was told unequivocally by his peers that his taunting of the little kid he’s got pinned to the wall is NOT OKAY. What if, when the bully starts speaking with hateful words, we all just turned our backs?

This is not a new idea, the symbolic withdrawal of approval from one whom we feel is behaving badly. The shunning of an individual from the group is a practice that is documented to biblical times and before. It is the thing we all fear on a primal level — ejection from the group, which, in earlier times, would have meant starvation.

Of course that is not what I am suggesting here, nor is it even an appropriate reaction for this kind of offense. But it is a practical solution for those writers who spend more time pandering to their fans than they do performing honest and complete research to back up their claims, especially the ones who then turn to the ad hominem attack in place of rebuttal when their cover is blown.

Perhaps you feel that blocking is not an appropriate reaction to this incident, but I submit this idea to you: what if, as a matter of course, instead of railing against those who spout the nonsense we are trying so hard to dispute every day in our daily news cycle, we just stopped listening?

What if, suddenly, the bully — whoever that may be in your calculations — has no audience? What then? I am hoping it means my Medium feed will contain more of the kind of writing I appreciate, from writers I feel I can form a relationship with and respect, rather than someone who is making hay on stirring the same old hatred and the same old pain we are all desperate to stop.

I have no issue with disagreement. I have a problem with people being crappy to one another for no reason other than the feeding of ones own ego, or — worse yet — to feed someone’s political hunger at the expense of people who just want to participate in honest discourse.

So I blocked them. I will never have to see this writer’s work again, until I choose to do so. I know this action can be used to isolate myself in my own bubble, which in politics is a dangerous idea, but I am hoping it will place me comfortably in a bubble of quality writing here on Medium, devoid of people who attack one another because they can’t think of anything better to say when criticized.

So more full disclosure. It is not true that the very first thing I did on Medium was block this person. The first several things I did on Medium were read, and share, and bookmark, several great pieces, and I even left a few comments. It was only after about a month of lurking, and finding this person’s comment, that I finally felt it was time to dip my toe in the writing pool. And risk the revulsion of a hostile comments section.

Or perhaps I will hear nothing at all, this being my first post ever on Medium. In fact, the odds are very good that no one will read this at all.

Or maybe I will be blocked.