The other day, I decided that I’m a social anarchist. As far as I can tell, social anarchy isn’t a defined thing, but I ran it past the Professor, who laughed and told me to go reread Mill, and she seemed to buy it.
This came up, in part, because I broke my stupid rule about reading Pith comments and, in the middle of being insulted, I started to get fascinated. The dynamic is, somewhat, that commenters feel free to say terrible things about me, justified by the fact that they think I’m terrible. But the funny part is that they then are limited themselves to terrible me, because no woman who fit their definition of nice would read those comments and want to subject herself to them.
But that’s not the whole of it. There’s also the way the comments lay bear people’s social hierarchy expectations. It’s in part because people are anonymous that it’s easier to see, I think. When you’re face to face with an older white guy, for instance, and he kind of naturally takes the dominant role in the situation, it’s sometimes hard to tell if that’s just because of confidence, expertise, or whether it’s just the belief that, in any given social situation, it’s his job to be the leader.
But when those cues are missing–in other words, when you can’t tell he’s a white dude because it’s the internet–the presumption of being the social top dog stands out. And the anger at not being properly recognized as social top dog also stands out. Seriously, the next time you’re tempted into a long raucous comment thread, check out how many comments are “I’m always an asshole, but I am very, very upset about you being an asshole and I am, in fact, going to call you on being an asshole and then, be an even bigger asshole when you don’t shape up.”
We probably establish social hierarchy all the time by sorting out who gets to speak the most and who gets the most attention, but because in person it feels more natural, it’s not as easy to see it happening.
And, weirdly enough, I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible social anarchist in many ways, but I do believe in the knocking down and poking fun at of those social hierarchies. Even at the same time that I reinforce a lot of them, all the time.
But there’s something funny to me about being a terrible social anarchist, so I’m sticking with it.