Monday, February 8th, 2010 10:18 am
EDIT: People keep linking to this, as far as I can tell with the assumption that my meandering and ridiculously complex attempt to translate social justice concepts into something my mathematician's brain can understand is a set of rules I expect other people to follow, unless they want me and my fellow scary social justice types to come dogpile them or something. I am deliberately poking at ambiguous situations in order to understand them, not giving examples of blatant Fail! Overall I rather regret this post, it's so full of edits and addendums my original point is mostly lost :/

So, I've been thinking about the mechanics of derailing. I've developed a mental model and am curious to know what other people think. Note: My opinions are definitely not representative of anyone else's, and may well change after people comment and point out I'm wrong!

EDIT: Something that really doesn't seem to be clear: I am not trying to criticise other people's posts so much as figure out a set of mental rules to avoid derailing stuff myself. And while I think derailing as an overall effect is bad, some posts which contribute to a derail are valid despite this negative effect. In general this post has been edited here and there quite a bit.

The context: The ethics of off-topic posting on your own journal during a large scale discussion in your internet community about a social justice issue. The community under discussion is lj-centered metafandom-reading fanworks fandom.

Assumed context for this post (chosen for brevity not completeness, more at the end):
My thoughts from last June: The difference or lack thereof between a change of direction and a derail
Comment repost: How is posting to my own journal derailing

The way I see it there are two parts to a derail:
1)Avoidance: the motivation to shift the conversation away from oppression one is complicit in to a less confronting topic.
2)Direction change:the effect of the off topic post to shift the conversation away from the voices of the particular marginalised group currently under discussion.

Afaict a "derail" is defined to be any post/comment etc with both of these. But the way I see it we should avoid both, whether or not they happen simultaneously.

Imagine the following vastly simplified discussion:

Poster1: I just read this Bones fic "Someone loses an eye" and it's really ableist.
Poster2: I just read this great post by Poster1, it got me thinking about the portrayal of disability in Bones fic, and fic in general.
Poster3: I agree that disability is portrayed really badly in fic, but I think you can't judge "Someone loses an eye" without reading the prequel "Fun and Games".
Poster4a: (locked) These posts about disability got me thinking about how being overweight is portrayed in fic. I don't want to derail from the existing conversation, but also wanted to get my thoughts down.
Poster4b: (unlocked) These posts about disability got me thinking about how being overweight is portrayed in fic. I don't want to derail from the existing conversation, but also wanted to get my thoughts down.
Poster4c: (unlocked) I'd like to talk about the portrayal of overweight people in fic.
Poster5(has read previous posts and doesn't want to think about it): Who do people prefer, Bones/Booth or Bones/Angela?
Poster6: All these posts about disability are making me feel silenced. Don't they realise how that hurts my feelings as a woman? Our voices NEVER get to be heard, and now these oversensitive disabled people are telling ME what I can and cannot write! Helen Keller would be ashamed.
Poster7: So, apparently, it's impossible to be both disabled and a woman! You learn something new every day.
Poster8: (has been reading all the previous posts) I think it's really important that we focus on the way women's voices are silenced.
Poster9: (Has only read poster8) There's been some recent discussion of the way women's voices are silenced...

The way I see it:

Posters 1,2,3 and 7 are trying to have a conversation about disability in fanfic. You could argue that Poster3 is being ableist (depending on the nature of these hypothetical fics :)) but they're not derailing.

Posters 4,5,6 and 8 are knowingly not engaging with the topic. EDIT: It's plausible that they may be doing this to talk about something which places them at the centre and doesn't confront them, but they may have other motives.

Posters 6,8 and 9 are shifting the topic away from disability and onto gender.

The derailing is Posters 6 and 8.

So we should definitely try not to be Poster 6. Yes? Anyone disagree with that?

I think Posters 4a and 5 might want to question why they felt the need to talk about something else, but they're not actually doing any harm and maybe they really don't have anything to add to the conversation or whatever. EDIT: I am not saying these posts are inherently bad! They are examples of non derailing posts which are still tangential to the discussion they were inspired by.

I think Poster9 can't be held responsible for contributing to the derail, but that doesn't mean they didn't help inadvertently.

Where I think there's some ambiguity and disagreement is Posters 8, 4b and 4c.

Personally I think Poster 8 is knowingly contributing to the silencing of disabled fans, and unless they have a strong reason for commenting beyond supporting Poster 6 should not have made their post. EDIT: Even though it's an entirely valid topic! And if someone actually was trying to silence women in this conversation it would be on topic. But in this particular example, noone is. Where I think Poster 8 gets less ambiguous is when they say passive aggressive stuff that makes it clear they're talking about Poster 1 vs Poster 6 to anyone who's been paying attention.

I'm really ambivalent about 4b or 4c, and which of them is preferable, but I can see arguments for both sides.

I disagree with the idea that avoiding derailing is always easy or unambiguous. However that doesn't remove the harm done, or the responsibility to avoid that harm where possible, and it doesn't make the people pointing that harm out wrong or overly demanding. Doing the right thing usually is difficult and ambiguous.

Appendix 1: Valid digressions and intersectionality

Poster10: *discusses disability in fanfic in a way which DOES try to silence women's voices*
Poster11: I am in total agreement with the people criticising the portrayal of disability in fic. But I would like to take a moment to criticise the minority who are doing so in a sexist way.
Poster12: From what I've seen, Bones fans may write ableist fic but Castle fans never do, because we are just that awesome and they suck. So if you care about disabled people, watch Castle!
Poster13: Castle fans are not any better than Bones fans!

So, in my opinion:

P10 is being sexist, but not derailing.
P11 is making a valid and necessary criticism. This may end up helping the ongoing shift from disability to gender, but that's P10's fault for being sexist.
P12 is being derailing
P13...I really don't know.

And once people are talking about (say) gender rather than disability, is it wrong to engage in that topic and not try to shift things back if you know the history? I also really don't know, I think it depends a lot on the situation. I think it's worth considering at least.

Appendix 2: The boundaries of "the conversation"

The point of this post is for me (and those in a similar boat to me) to figure out how I can avoid derailing. There is no ambiguity about me being in lj/metafandom/fanwork fandom since I read metafandom and linkspam and am on the flist/dwircles of mods for both. Thus I have not addressed the ambiguity of whether or not someone is "in the conversation"

But it is a valid question, and I think people who are not as unambiguously jacked into the matrix as me might legitimately protest at their posts being labelled as derailing when they had no idea there was a rail in the first place.

Further discussion:
Reaction against an early version of these ideas: comment thread, and post "Meta: Derailing, Linking, Labelling, and the Internet"

(nb I used disability and gender as the examples because I am a disabled woman. I don't feel comfortable making up examples using oppressions I don't suffer from!)

Also note! I will consider anyone who focusses on the ambiguities without acknowledging the less ambiguous issues with Poster 6 to be derailing :P

Oh! And please don't link this on metafandom. I am spoon deficient and couldn't cope with the comments.
Monday, February 8th, 2010 10:01 am (UTC)
I agree with what Zvi said about opening one's post with an invocation of topic X and then carrying on with topic Y: if there is no solid reason to mention X and thus link the post with the greater discussion that is actually about X, why bring it up?

What if the solid reason is "this is what made me start thinking about the topic." My brain works in a "reference everything" mode - part of going from being a lawyer to a librarian, I suspect. (I note that [personal profile] wistfuljane is now putting "breadcrumb" links at the bottom of her posts, although notably only those posts on the topic where the OP agrees with her.)

The example that is foremost in my mind as part of this conversation - post-RaceFail round #1 last year (which did my head in in numerous ways), I started thinking about just *why* that discussion had upset me so much. I came to certain conclusions, some of which question the orthodoxy of the Tone Argument as applied throughout that conversation. I have not yet been game to write and post said post, because I suspected at the time that it would be derailing, and I have suspected ever since that it would not be appreciated by certain vocal members of the broader LJ community. (Indeed, I was dissuaded by making a "this is my context" post by a (very sensible) friend of mine because she thought it would be seen as provocative. So as a result, some thought processes that might have actually gotten me around to Jane and perhaps even Zvi's way of thinking eventually, have been cut off by a sense that I'm not "allowed" to work through these things constructively.

I have to admit I rather doubt that I'm making any sort of helpful sense at the moment.
Monday, February 8th, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
What if the solid reason is "this is what made me start thinking about the topic."

This is a good point. I would say that the power of drawing everything into the same string of conversations still lies with the external linker, and that they should question their motives at least as much as any of Sbqr's hypothetical posters.
Monday, February 8th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Agh, mea culpa! I keep reading it as SPQR with one letter changed. Tells you I read Rome-related stuff too much. :/
Monday, February 8th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
" I have suspected ever since that it would not be appreciated by certain vocal members of the broader LJ community. "

And this, also, is silencing, and it's a kind of silencing that is not being acknowledged in the wider debate. You aren't being silent because you're afraid of doing something biased; you're being silent because you're afraid of fifty strangers showing up in your journal and berating you.

I saw it referred to in another friend's journal as the "heckler's veto", which pretty much sums it up.
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
I did my best to frame the comments on the gay/slash debate with "to take my own issues"; I was attempting to illustrate a recent case of intersectionality, not to criticize you for your (hypothetical) position in that debate, which I don't know.

"The fifty hypothetical people berating her would be doing so because they thought she was being racist, and maybe they'd be right"

You're only addressing half the case. The other half is equally important. Suppose that Adelheid says something she thinks is intelligent and interesting, it is linked to from metaquotes with a dismissive note (say Warning:Privilege), and the hypothetical fifty strangers show up to yell *even though the post was in fact intelligent and interesting.*

That's a genuine loss. False positives are as bad as false negatives.

"I knew any post on this subject was going to get lots of defensive people taking what I said personally"

Your original post, before you edited it, was a general statement not about your own personal behavior but about right behavior in the context of the ongoing social-justice debate. When you make a general statement and people say "I don't think this is actually correct", they aren't necessarily being defensive -- they are addressing a categorical imperative.

Finally, as to this: " So while your actions are justified, they are also part of the dynamic silencing me. "

I don't see how I can be silencing you when you specifically asked for feedback. If you meant "I want to hear what other people think of these ideas", then you aren't being silenced if people disagree, surely?

I'm sorry you're out of spoons; I'll happily stop commenting if it distresses you. Sometimes the best thing one can do for one's own sanity is to snail-shell.
Monday, February 8th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
I note that wistfuljane is now putting "breadcrumb" links at the bottom of her posts, although notably only those posts on the topic where the OP agrees with her.

Hi [personal profile] adelheid, the reason I haven't explicitly linked to [personal profile] phoebe_zeitgeist's post in my bread crumbs can be summed up in this exchange:
Edited 2010-02-08 06:42 pm (UTC)
Monday, February 8th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, of course. Noted.

I keep forgetting that's how the discussion (which seems to me to be more on topic) started off.