[Activist Modus Operandi] Anger Toxicity And Collateral Damage

03Jun10

Welcome once again to the Activist Modus Operandi Series. I’m sure you all remember the first AMO post I wrote, with its overall summary of the methods of communication. (If not, you should definitely read it. This material is not 101 and it expands off of the previous.)

This particular post will go more in depth on the Nuker archetype of AMO communication. Specifically some of the more serious pitfalls a Nuker can run into as they nuke.

As a bit of rehash, the Nuker archetype is the Angry Activist, the Satirist, the Radical Battle Monger. Nukers are the fire of a movement. They burn trolls, leeches, lip service fakers and exploiters out of the movement and they have the heat to take on those who would easily entrap Appeasers and the other types of communicators. Nukers are impossible to ignore because they smack you in the face with your own privilege, refuse to relent and largely make a ridiculous painful nuisance of themselves for anyone trying to hide their privilege and bigotry. Most of the time, opponents are hard pressed to silence them, as claiming that a Nuker is “too angry” or “being mean” tends to not really pull much pity for the opponent in question unless the Nuker is particularly hardcore. Most of the time, the only way to successfully silence a Nuker is with Appeasers turned into Double Agents and playing them off on each other a la good/bad activist/minority. Seems almost too good, no? Highly effective, easy to pull off, tough to block or derail, just add rage and tenacity. Well there are disadvantages to Nuker methodology too. And they can be rough to deal with and avoid.

Most of the Nuker pitfalls are internally caused. Where the issues that a Logic Bomber and an Appeaser have are usually caused by the efforts of the privileged majority, almost all of the issues a Nuker can face from Nuking come entirely from the activist’s own activities. Very much like the nuclear weapon its archetype nickname comes from, it can just as easily hurt you and innocent bystanders if you or they get caught in the blast. The two biggest of these pitfalls are collateral damage and anger toxicity. I will concentrate on these for you, since they are the most prominent and the most harmful. The concept of harming folks who didn’t deserve it (or causing harm in a way that goes beyond what was necessary, which is less common) usually shows itself in three ways. Bad Intel, Overzealous Strike and Hypocritical Privilege Invocation. The concept of your own anger harming you or your activism usually shows itself in two ways: Thought Disruption and Rage Poison

1: Collateral Damage: Bad Intel

Let’s face facts, sometimes we’re wrong. No, not about being oppressed and about the shit we face. About whether or not someone actually did something oppressive. I’m not talking about the people who argue that their oppressive actions weren’t oppressive. I mean us literally having the wrong idea of what happened, either because someone lied or because we assumed what was going on without finding out first. This is the literal “shoot first, ask questions later, oh shit this guy wasn’t a bandit” situation. You find someone who someone else says was saying something privileged. Or you assume that they’re doing something oppressive because everyone else does it in their same situation and/or someone has some poor information or a poor impression about their activities. So you go in hot, nukes blazing and you glass em from orbit. The smoke clears, the ground cools and the person you just nuked looks up at you and goes, “what in the goddamn fuck was that about?” Turns out they hadn’t done a damn thing. You just came in and went full guns on auto and you went after an innocent bystander. This is almost always an “oh shit” moment. Because at that point, you really have no excuse. They were doing everything right, they were being a good supporter, checking their privilege and keeping an eye out for -ism related behaviors to quash and you went in half cocked and blew their damn head off for absolutely nothing. When someone is being privileged or engaging in oppressive behaviors we have our justification to go in hot with the idea that oppression is upsetting, stressful and horrible and we don’t have to be polite about it to people who are never polite to us. That basis evaporates when you’re dealing with someone who didn’t do anything to you.

This one sucks from a guilt perspective. You might feel like you really fucked things up and feel bad for hurting someone who didn’t even do anything wrong. And if you’re a soulless scumhole and can’t feel guilt, well then, you actually just hurt a real ally, someone who there was no basis at all to go after. Which means they’re gonna have a tough time dealing with us. If they’re a true ally and don’t have any particular disabilities that would cause a health protection response, they won’t leave. But they will be more hesitant to do visible activism or draw any attention to themselves inadvertently from us. Which means less help from them. Not a good outcome. And if they have any disabilities that would make your doomstrike on their heads unhealthy for them to be around, then you just chased off a good ally. I’ve been in this situation exactly once. I had crappy intel on someone’s initiative about women’s stories regarding either sexual health or something else (this was a long while ago). I assumed, based on how the people who mentioned it said it, that this particular activist had left out trans women (namely by not specifically mentioning us, since we get silently excluded so often, you kind of have to explicitly say, “yeah trans women welcome”). I also didn’t read the website, like a complete ignorant asshole and rushed in guns blazing. She was not amused. In the subsequent argument, I discovered I was dead wrong. She not only had welcomed trans women from the start, she had explicitly mentioned we were welcome on her website in a highly accessible and easily seen place on the front page. I had made a complete ass of myself and luckily, I had enough knowledge of Appeaser archetype to smooth things over when I apologized.

Solutions: This is one you mostly deal with through avoidance. Always always always, figure out what’s going on for yourself. If someone claims a website is mocking PWD, making racist claims or using a slur for trans women, go to that website and find out. Do a little intel and make sure the people you find out things from are trustworthy. Let’s face it, even activist groups have their liars and attention mongers and many of us have been fooled. In the age of twitter and rapid information, it can be easy to fail to do any background research and source checking. That is always a shame on you and never a shame on the target you wrongfully hit. In the event you do jump the wrong target, apologize immediately. Don’t make excuses, don’t say “well so many of you privileged folk do it how could I not assume?” the fact is, that person didn’t do it. They did the work, they did what we wanted, hitting them was wrong. You were wrong. Own it and don’t whine about it. If you apologize immediately then you assure that ally that it was just an isolated mistake and keep them confident in their ability to work with us instead of avoiding us out of fear of fucking up or getting hit regardless of fucking up. You also help make up for being a painfully wrong asshole.

2: Collateral Damage: Overzealous Strike

I’ll make this one short since it’s fairly rare. Generally, the amount of fire we bring to the battle isn’t ever too much. Very very rarely however, we cross lines and do things that go outside of acceptable against someone who’s done something privileged or problematic. I won’t say if I completely agree with the post I’m linking as related reading but it does touch mildly on the idea that sometimes we overshoot in our actions by doing things that are just simply not justified, at all, ever, no matter how privileged someone is. A fairly simple analogy is shooting someone for insulting you. That’s a grievous overstep and killing someone for words is simply not acceptable in this culture, under any circumstances. A less extreme example from the actual field is using personal harm methods as a sort of vengeance on someone who’s privileged. Spreading malicious rumors about them, using personal info about them that would hurt them during an argument regarding their privilege is the sort of dirty fighting that isn’t really justified at all. You don’t bring up how someone’s kid was horribly mauled by a bear and killed or make jokes about that kid dying when you do a privilege callout, just to shake them up. That’s not justified, ever. Generally, when this one shows up, it shows up as more of a personal malicious thing then it does simply being overzealous and while rare, it can and does happen as people get heated and personal dislike comes into the mix. And there are really rare cases where someone just overdoes it completely. Goes on a giant rant about how the person did it on purpose and hates everyone of Type A when the other person simply slipped on a word. This is generally because we’ve made assumptions regarding intent. This is a problem for two reasons. Namely that A: You never really know what someone’s intent is and B: when you bring intent into the mix you not only open for derails you also can get even more heated about the situation when there’s no reason to because you’re assuming maliciousness. Which also makes you easier to derail.

Solutions: This one is really simple to avoid. Don’t be a horrific scumfuck and keep on task. If you’re no longer talking about the privileged mistake or oppressive actions of the person and why they’re a problem, you’re doing it wrong. Stick with that and the chances you get ragefully personal with them (and derailed like nobody’s business) are far lower. As for the whole intent issue, NEVER and I mean never, make it about intent. Don’t tell someone they’re doing it maliciously or purposefully. Don’t even touch on intent. When or if they touch on intent, take them away from their derail. Because intent is a derail. Intent is what you bring up after the privilege callout is accepted by the callee and the callee apologizes. Then intent comes up to figure out how to deal for the future. And you don’t know their intent. You aren’t a magical psychic fairy that can see into minds. And if you get caught up in the idea that this privileged person is being an oppressive ass because they hate your people and they’re out to get you, you’re going to get wound up in ways that will make you lose all semblance of reason. That and you’ll enable ten billion derails of your point.

3: Collateral Damage: Hypocritical Privilege Invocation

I saved the worst form of Collateral Damage for last. Let’s say you go in hot on someone who said something horribly racist or transphobic. Or you’re taking on someone for their ableism. You’re blazing like a missile through their towns and suddenly you spout off, in a forgetful moment, a psychophobic ableist slur as a mentally abled individual. Maybe you call that person “crazy”, a slur for the mentally ill. Or you say a phrase that comes off as misgendering or sexist, like “man the fuck up”. When we get pissed, we often lose a little bit of self control and that means that internalized -isms and our own privileged bigotries (and if you are reading this, you do have privilege and at least one ism, yes, even you) can come to the forefront in what we say. Often we’re so pissed off, on the rage high so far that we don’t even notice we just fucked up terribly. And sometimes we’ll perceive us being called out for our fuckup a derail of our call out when it most assuredly is not. Let’s face it, you are never ever excused to say anything bigoted when you’re doing a callout. Ever. You misgender someone, even if you’re trans yourself, during a callout and you have crossed the fucking line. Use a slur, invoke an -ism, say something privileged, no matter what it is that you did of the problematic type during your callout, it is not only unjustified, it is also entirely and completely your fault and your bad. If you gender/race/disability/body/culture police, slur, “priv it up” or whatever during your rage strike, you’ve pretty much destroyed your credibility in that instance. No one likes a hypocrite and being hypocritical during a call out is the quickest way to get outright ignored and derailed, or just regarded as a useless and terrible activist. This happens the most often with highly privileged activists. You’ll see it the most with cis abled white middle class thin feminist women and cis abled white middle class thin gay men but it can literally happen to anyone who has even one type of privilege (and trust me, you do have at least one if you can read this)

Solutions: Let’s face facts, we’ve all done this once. Yes, even you. Yes, even if you don’t remember. If you are a Nuker, you have done this, unless you’ve only started nuking very recently and then it’s only just slightly less likely. And whether you’ve done it in the past, if you’re a Nuker it will invariably happen in the future. The sad part is that this is the easiest of all of the pitfalls of Nuking to deal with. The key is to handle it like you should any other time you fuck up. Apologize immediately and without excuse. That’s it. That’s all. Apologize and don’t rationalize it. You fucked up, your rageful callout does not justify it and your callee’s mistakes does not reduce the wrongness of your screw up. And then, after you apologize, return to your callout to avoid being derailed. See? Simple. It’s a shame so few of us just take that simple solution. Too many activists have lost credibility and been derailed due to this. I can not even count how many times I’ve see abled Nukers toss around the slur “crazy” during a callout and then try to justify it when called out in return. It just makes me want to throat kick them.

4: Anger Toxicity: Thought Disruption

Thought disruption is more how your anger can hurt how you operate as an activist and less about your health. Let’s face it, a frenzied berserker isn’t exactly a strategic warrior and when you use rage to operate it can, more often than not, lead to a bit of disruption of your own operations, arguments and logic. We’ve probably all had times when we’ve gotten really really angry and became somewhat incoherent. Or made logical mistakes and used flimsy or poor reasoning. Or hell, just got so mad that all we could do was sputter and make noises. When your rage gets too hot you can lose control of your thoughts, lose your strategy to deal with privileged people and become less able to recognize when you’re being trolled or fucked with. This is obviously not a good thing. It’s the only weakness Nukers really have to trolls. It is also the primary issue that keeps a nuker from disengaging when their health is badly impacted by a triggery situation. The rage keeps you in until serious damage is done and you’re simply unable to keep yourself running. So thought disruption has a lot of really bad consequences to it, that really outpaces much of the other issues faced by Nukers. That’s why prevention is usually the best call with Thought Disruption.

Solutions: This depends pretty strongly on your personality and what ways you have to deal with and control your own emotional state. Someone who’s a very cold rage type, who goes very logical when they’re pissed, is the least likely to get thought disruption because they can identify when they’re in a bad spot with the anger. Hotter fury is a bit tougher. Generally the best way to handle it is to prevent it. Figure out what your worst triggers are, the things that truly just set you right the fuck off, and either avoid them or figure out ways to reduce their impact on you. Various calming techniques are a good way to cool down a little when you get too lit. All of this depends on the Nuker recognizing when they are getting too angry. One good way to handle that is to make a habit to check yourself periodically. After a few minutes take a few seconds and go, “am I really in control right now?” Doing this is a good way to get yourself out of the bloodlust for a little while and figure out if you need to take a few minutes to calm down. It’s also good to have a few Appeasers around to cool you down when you’re getting too hot, since they can keep an eye on you independently. Teamwork is a big one for this.

4: Anger Toxicity: Rage Poison

This one is, with the exception of Collateral Damage’s Hypocritical Privilege Invocation, the worst pitfall a Nuker will face. We’re not activists for no reason. Activism is done to stop people from hurting other people and more often than not, you’re one of the people getting hurt. Fighting that sort of thing, trying to stop folks from hurting you, should really not involve harming yourself. Which is why Nukers invoke the most risk on themselves out of all of the archetypes. Medically, being steeped in undying rage isn’t exactly the healthiest state. It can hurt you pretty bad and mess up a lot of really important things, like your immune system, heart health, mental state, etc. But it can also screw up how you deal with people. It can poison your relationships, hurt your ability to trust and wipe out much of your enjoyment with life. And a loss like that is a complete causality in this war on bigotry, one that simply isn’t acceptable. I’ve edged the lines of extreme bitterness at times and I’ve gotten close to going over the brink. I’ve lost dearly loved friends to it, when their bitterness had gone so deep that they stopped trusting anyone around them. Nukers are the only archetype at risk for this and no doubt a lot of that can come from the extreme trauma that many Nukers, myself included, have experienced from the privileged majority. It’s a risk any of us can face, even if you haven’t faced horrid things and just get really into Nuking. Rage is always a two edged sword when it comes to your health and rage poison is the strongest example of this.

Solutions: Self Aware and Self Care. I can not stress these even close to enough. Always be self aware of your health and mental state when doing activism. If you are hurting, figure out why. If you are feeling paranoid, pushing people away, having stress attacks, getting sick more and more, that should be a red flag. Keep an eye on yourself at all times to keep from becoming yet another causality of this war (and make no mistake, it is a war). Self care is the other half of the equation. This other half is of the highest importance for anyone in any activist group but for rage poison especially, it’s really the only solution when things are getting out of hand. Simply recognizing that you’re hurting yourself isn’t enough, you need to heal yourself and get out of the bad situation too. When you’re poisoning yourself, disengage. Find a safe, calm place to get back to a better state. Take breaks, relax, get plenty of rest. And most of all, during these times of disengagement, surround yourself with positive, affirming, loving people who will help that damage to heal. Knowing when to retreat and then actually retreating is one of the best skills a nuker can have. It’s what keeps us fighting and it’s what keeps us alive.

So, that concludes this installment of Activist Modus Operandi. The next installment will deal with the pitfalls of the Appeaser Archetype.



19 Responses to “[Activist Modus Operandi] Anger Toxicity And Collateral Damage”

  1. 1 Jemima Aslana

    I think you just won the internet. Where do I go to worship at your feet?

    I knew I’d be following this series, when you started it. And I was waiting for the installment on Nukers, because, oh boy, am I ever one of those. And, oh boy, have I ever lost friends because of it. Mind, a few of them weren’t worth keeping as it turned out some months later, but still. Better that decision be made when clear-headed and non-ragey.

    This is incredibly well thought-through and I have to say that adopting military-esque expressions to describe the Nuker’s strengths and pitfalls is so very fitting indeed.

    And you write so well. It’s a joy to read. (Of course it helps that I agree with your content, also, but still.) Would you mind terribly if I develop a bit of a crush on you, or should I keep that to myself? :-P

  2. Crushes are quite welcome. XD

  3. Hey, RP,

    Great post, as usual. Yours are words to think long on and ponder deeply.

    I have a question: should bigotry be considered a mental disorder? I am keying off of the word “crazy” as it relates to the erasure of the mentally ill. I was having an online conversation with a friend recently about the the incident in Arizona where they are repainting a school mural to erase the Black and Hispanic kids there due to the rampant racist attacks there. She said it was crazy — and then I began to wonder if it really was?

    Anyway, love your stuff! Keep on fighting.

  4. Bigotry is a social state brought on by learned behaviors. It isn’t a disorder and comparing it to disorders, even if you avoid the word crazy, is still pretty ableist.

  5. Are disorders only considered be such if they are unlearned? I suffer from a few mental disorders, but I’m not sure they were entirely unlearned. Certainly there is a basis in chemical, hormonal and genetic makeup, but I also have some from some traumatizing experiences, and those I would considered learned, albeit not self-induced.

  6. (Sorry for the followup to my own response)

    I can cop to some amount of ableist thinking, in spite of my own disabilities, as I can cop to some amount of other -ist thinking, in spite of my own knowledge and experience of those areas.

    But if one is to be considered an -ist by merely inquiring, then it seems that one must require complete information about something before all -ist thoughts can be abandoned. There is no hope for anyone to avoid such labeling because complete knowledge will never be possible, even if one has experience in the area.

    Even the labeling of someone’s thoughts puts one into an -ist category of some sort, because you’ll never have complete knowledge of the other’s thought process and experience that led them up to that point. Labeling is an othering, and somewhat of an erasure. It sets up boundaries, and boundaries are where the battles are fought.

    And even then, labeling is something humans naturally do, we’re creatures of categorization, so very difficult to avoid. We constantly delete and distort information, and delude ourselves. Even for myself, labeling of bigotry as a mental disorder in my speculation, leads to a boundary-creating scenario, and thus battle lines are drawn, so I know I’m not immune to it.

  7. Disorders are functional states of the neurology and psychology induced by either biological or environmental factors that cause distress and a loss of functionality as characteristic of the disorder. I don’t consider traumatizing experiences to be learned.

  8. Yanno, I didn’t actually say you were ableist. I said the statement was. I was educating you so that you could have the knowledge necessary to avoid that.

    Oh also, claiming that labeling based on internalized bigotry is bad robs us and everyone else of our only tool against the majority. It’s a necessity to track the problem, without it anyone can get away with anything.

  9. re: Ableist: ok, fair point. I was copping to ablelist thought. I have many thoughts, often paradoxical, and not always in line with my desired beliefs.

    re: Labeling: I do think that labeling is a useful tool. I think one should be aware of the implications of using that tool, too.

  10. 10 xMech

    What I find increasingly frustrating is the perception that Nukers are not vital to an activist community/movement/group/etc. With Nukers in tow, the Appeasers suddenly seem a lot more appealing, and a lot more stuff actually gets called out and dealt with instead of being left to fester.

    Yet, despite how important and useful Nukers are, they are not only left out but left to take care of themselves. Which as you point out, can be very destructive for the Nukers.

  11. Yeah, I almost never apply a word as a direct label for people. I label actions, because the actions are the issue.

  12. Yeah, definitely. Out of all of the archetypes, we get left high and dry by our activist siblings the most.

  13. Welcome back to the bloggosphere, we missed you.

    Love the icon by the way ^_~

  14. Thanks much for this post. I totally needed the advice for the rage poison in a way that isn’t telling me, “If you have a problem then just don’t read what I say and GTFO.” Your retreat method is not permanent, but a respite from inevitably coming back to keep fighting.

  15. Holy shit, you are a deity among activists. This post and the one it builds on are some of the most enlightening essays on this topic that I’ve read. Given some pretty heavy infighting that we’ve had in my own community, I hope what you said here can really help.

    I hope to see similar articles about the other archetypes (although from what I understand you personal experience is mostly as a nuker(?))

    Truly great stuff here.

  16. Augh. Oh my god. THIS IS MY LIIIIIIFE.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  17. this is awesome. I cosign comment #1. You won the internets!!!

  18. 19 kinkylittlegirl

    Brilliant, simply brilliant. And needed, on so many levels, by so many people, myself included, regardless of the nature of the causes involved. I’d link to it, except that for various reasons I won’t go into, I don’t have the right. But thank you.


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