Some Thoughts on the Verge’s “The End of Kindness”

September 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

why can't i hold all these feels

Greg Sandoval’s article about weev and the cult of the angry young man has me juggling a lot of feels. First and most importantly, I’m relieved to see this article in print; as I discussed way back in March, I was dismayed to see the outpouring of support for weev post-conviction. Not because I agreed with the charges, they were clearly bullshit, but because the magical reframing of weev as American free speech hero was an even more insidious flavor of bullshit.

Sandoval’s article calls attention to this fact, and challenges the impulse to adopt as a martyr for FREE SPEECH (I have expressed my attitudes towards FREE SPEECH of the all-caps internet eye-roll variety here) the same guy who has for years stomped all over the speech of others, particularly women, and even more particularly Kathy Sierra. This is a weird, offensive, and ultimately counterproductive impulse — I can’t think of a better way to undermine arguments for a free and unregulated internet than by rallying behind a self-proclaimed anti-Semitic racist who likes to terrorize women on the internet. From a purely PR perspective, that seems like an odd move.

But maybe not so odd, given recent conversations about the cult of the bro within the tech space, summarized nicely by Nitasha Tiku in this Valleywag article. Maybe the reason weev is regarded by so many people as an American treasure is because so many people have internalized the idea that violence towards women, whether symbolic or directly physical, isn’t that big of a deal, a point Sierra reiterated in her interview with Sandoval. “His rise as a folk hero is a sign of how desensitized to the abuse of women online people have become,” she stated.

Just as importantly, weev’s case shows the gendered and raced one-sidedness of so many conversations about FREE SPEECH — I can’t remember a time I have ever heard a woman (qualification: who isn’t a bigoted Ann Coulter white lady type) or person of color hide behind the First Amendment to justify their speech. Much more frequently (and/or much more always, since I can’t for the life of me think of a counterexample) FREE SPEECH, at least the kind weev is celebrated for helping protect, is almost always deployed by precisely the people  whose speech has always been the most free to silence those whose speech has always been the most precarious.

So maybe, in the end, weev IS a free speech hero —  in which case, we had better rethink the politics behind that term. Because if Andrew Auernheimer is what we mean when we talk about FREE SPEECH  — well, I’ll let you fill in that blank for yourself. Personally I am inclined to say no thank you.

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