A wee while ago, I left a self-defence forum. To date, it is the only location in cyberspace where I’ve been threatened. Someone got all pissy at me (over a meme, of all things) and decided that it was ok to threaten me with serious physical violence. I didn’t leave because of the threat itself, which I found laughable. The thing that convinced me that I was in the wrong place was how people reacted to it.
A few of the forum users went all AWMYGAWD RUN RUN AWAY NOW COS THE NINJAS ARE COMING. They were seriously concerned about my welfare, because Mr Pissy is apparently a Super Ninja Power Ranger or some suchlike thing. They advised me to apologise, go into hiding, or do whatever it would take to prevent Mr Pissy from getting to me.
Now, while under normal circumstances I’m positive that a ninja, even a below-average one, could hurt me very badly indeed, I can’t see that happening while there’s an ocean between us. I’m in the UK, and Mr Pissy is in the US. The dude would have had to pick up his passport, get on a plane, and come find me. Turns out that “in the UK” is a slightly vague address. If he expected me to pick him up from the airport so we could duel to the death, he would be waiting a while. Even if he managed to find my address, there’s the inconvenient fact that threatening people with deadly force is a crime in many jurisdictions. Threatening someone and then chasing them halfway across the globe isn’t going to look good. I’m not entirely sure how successful he would have been at entering the country if I’d sent a screenshot of the conversation to the relevant authorities. Anyway, if I’m going to panic about something, it’s not going to be someone who’s some 7000 miles away and stupid enough to announce his intentions in advance. I mean, it’s all very epic and shit, but it’s not terribly clever. Overall, it seemed to me that for self-defence enthusiasts, those folks seemed to have a pretty loose understanding of IMOP.
The forum moderators, who were experts, took a completely different view of the subject. They did their very best to minimize the incident, and to make me feel comfortable and unthreatened. It’s just what he does. He gets like that all the time. It’s just one of those things. And this was the final straw that caused me to walk out of that door and never look back.
The forum had the customary set of rules typical of internet forums these days. Personally, I have a theory as to how well they can ever hope to work, but that’s another story someone else has already written. However, though the rules both clear and strict, their applications was, well, somewhat uneven. Certain persons, due to their status within the group, were treated as if above the rules. Mr Pissy enjoyed that protected status because of his superior ninja skillz and b̶r̶e̶e̶d̶ ̶r̶e̶g̶i̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ lineage . He could get away with doing things to lower status members that, if they’d dared retaliate in kind, would have gotten them barred straight away. Other forum members enjoyed the same protected status for a variety of reasons, such as being friends, collaborators, or bedfellows with the moderators.
I’ve always found double standards incredibly icky. I understand that sometimes genuinely ok people have unavoidable personality quirks they make up for in other ways. Hell, I have unavoidable (at present) personality quirks I constantly try to make up for. Nobody’s perfect. I also understand that people with specific skillsets may be highly useful to a group even though they have conspicuous failings. However, at times there’s a fine line between putting up with Joe because is really good at coding though he has the social skills of a potato, and “Uncle Joe is fine, really; just never, ever leave him alone with the kids…” At some point, a very rigid line HAS to be drawn, and the more lines have been deleted to accommodate people’s ‘quirks’ the more difficult it gets to pick that point. When I see that kind of attitude becoming the norm in a group, rather than the exception, I get worried; is that line going to be drawn before or after someone gets hurt? And when a group is asking people to tolerate the misbehaviours of those in power just because they are in power… no. Just no.
It’s infinitely too easy for a group to learn to tolerate the intolerable, learn to work around “missing stair people“:
“I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair. Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?” Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.
“Fixing” doesn’t always mean throwing someone out. (…) Sometimes a person can be “fixed” by talking with them bluntly about their behavior, giving them specific rules to follow, or putting them on notice that they have one strike left. You don’t always have to get rid of “missing stair” people, but you do have to work with the person, not around them.”
Missing stair people are a goddamn nightmare in everyday life. In the context of a self-defence environment, however, they are simply unacceptable. What the hell are these ‘experts’ teaching? That we do have a right to set and enforce reasonable boundaries, provided those boundaries are not inconvenient to their little friends? That powerful people have the right to victimise us, and we should go along with it?
There is, of course, another possibility. It could be that I was being the asshole, and the resulting threats, although against both the rules and the law, were somehow warranted. But even then, why sweep the incident under the carpet? How can anyone reconcile tolerating my aggravating behaviour and any half-decent self-defence teaching? If I’m doing stuff that could reasonably cause the average person to react violently, shouldn’t I be told? Giving me protected status within the forum not only would not help me develop my self-defence skills, but could actively put me in danger. If I became accustomed to treating people like heels online and getting away with it, I might find myself in a heap of trouble doing the same in real life.
I have no idea what kind of mental gymnastics that group went through in order to make protected statuses compatible with any kind of self-defence system. I have no idea how any group could do that, frankly. It just makes no sense to me. On either side of the equation, it looks like a bum deal.