Violence, death threats and unsolicited opinion: The folly of believing your own judgements

Write not lest ye be judged. An essay on threats and opinions thrown towards writers, and the bare reality of judgement.

If you are a publishing writer and you’ve never received a threat of violence or death, then I would like to extend to you my sincere congratulations.

If you are a publishing writer and you’ve never received other people’s unsolicited opinions about you or your morals, then you’re a rare beast. May I buy your golden poo?

As much as people go on about it, I think that receiving death threats as a result of your work is a sign of an impactful writer.

That’s unhelpful, Leticia, you’re grumbling to yourself right now. You’re a fucking weirdo and should really shut the fuck up. Women are abused and raped and —

Calm down.

Every single death threat I have ever received came from a woman.

Threats of violence are a little more distributed. Most of them come from women; rarely have I gotten one from a man. There’s only one serious troll I’ve ever had to dodge around.

Only once have I had someone phone me and threaten to rape me. That was a man. That was terrifying. And, in retrospect, it was probably someone I knew. That’s a story for another time, or never.

The death threats, and threats of violence, that I have received online have always been a result of something I wrote that provoked someone to an extreme reaction.

I see that as an absolute win.

It’s the same trait in me that causes me to be divisive in my keynotes and locknotes at conferences.

If you don’t force people to take a side, you’re not making any impact.

And without impact then you, as a creator, may as well be dead.

Fascinatingly, the emails that I receive these days that are the most disturbing are from people who question my morals, sense, and sensibilities. I had one recently by way of a comment, which told me that “it was wrong” to write about people in a way of which they didn’t approve.

Perhaps I see myself as an honest and transparent person, and that’s why it ruffles my feathers.

Writing about people is always a sensitive subject.

So is writing about people’s creations.

In a strange way, many creatives view themselves as being inextricable from their works, and thus any criticism of the works is a criticism of themselves.

It’s a view that I don’t subscribe to: Artists are not their works (nor vice versa), and judging a person by his or her creative output is appalling, especially if you are judging them personally, in terms of their views of the world. Art is something that is created; it is not something that is an extension of a person in the same way as a hand, or a hair. Many artists explain the output of their works as merely facilitating the flow of something else, and that they are simply gatekeepers who represent it to the best of their abilities.

Critics can’t afford to mistake the art for the artist.

There are thousands of examples of artworks that emerge from people whose attitudes, political alignments, or morals, are distasteful. They’re people who have written phenomenal works; if we were to judge the works on the basis of the person, we would lose the ability to be enriched by art.

It’s true that I have been guilty of doing it myself, as a critic. I have definitely commented on personal things, because I knew someone personally, rather than sticking to the art.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Yes it is a sin.

And yes, I have done it.

But I would never do it again.

If you’re a critic, there’s a good chance that you have done it at some point, too, especially when you were just finding your feet. Or, if you’re a political activist, you’ll have made a point of not reviewing XYZ band because of their apparent political views.

How ridiculous, right? How fascist of us, to judge others on the basis of their creative outputs, their artworks, and to expect them to conform to Our rigid views of the world.

The trouble is, humans spend their entire time in judgement.

They assume that their own experiences of a person are everyone’s experiences of a person.

They assume that this is the Correct Way to write about them. That this is the Correct View of the world.

And when someone is dead, it becomes an issue of moral superiority. Yet that moral superiority is Spartan. The saying “do not speak ill of the dead” is attributed to Chilon of Sparta, one of the 7 Sages of Greece, in 600 BC. In the West, people hold fast to such traditions without even understanding them.

Humans are not all light, and not all shade. If you are to write about someone from your own purview, and you are to represent your own image of that person (for that’s really what’s in your head), then expect others to dislike it, to dislike you, to judge you, and to give you unsolicited advice.

the person you think of as you exists only for you, and even you, yourself don’t really know who that is.

Every person you meet, have a relationship with or even make eye contact with on the street creates another version of you inside their head that you don’t know. there are billions of versions of you out there in the minds of everyone. a you exists in each version. and none of them are really you.

Source: https://help-qa.com/posts/591-a-different-version-of-you-exists-in-everyone-who-knows-you

You can’t have light without darkness; and in the same way, your experience of one person is not the same experience that other people have of the same person. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known them for, either.

You can never really know someone completely. That’s why it’s the most terrifying thing in the world, really—taking someone on faith, hoping they’ll take you on faith too. It’s such a precarious balance, It’s a wonder we do it at all. 

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/2286-you-can-never-really-know-someone-completely-that-s-why-it-s

Casting a judgement on anyone who writes about people, or creatives, or creations, is a waste of your precious breath. More to the point, if we all wrote simply about the nice things that people do, humans would fast lose their dimensionality.

For example, I have one friend who loves blow; who indulges her desire for drugs in all kinds of ways. But most people that we both know don’t know her that way.

I have a friend who loves fucking Latino men so much that she’s compiling a book about her experiences with Latino lovers. But most people she knows don’t know her that way.

I know a woman whose life as a prostitute is totally unknown to her friends and family. I worked with her brother many years ago, and he believes that she is a much more innocent lady than she actually is.

I have a friend whose attitudes about business and government would destroy his reputation if his very influential connections learned what he really thought.

And I also know someone who defrauded some friends of mine, and nobody in his well-connected business community is aware of it.

My point is that the version of the person that you have in your mind is rarely the entirety of a person. You can’t know anyone even when you live your life with them. Inside you, and them, and me, is another reality; a series of thoughts that you can’t see or hear or touch or feel; a perspective of the world that is completely hidden; and even if you were with someone 24/7 (may the gods help the both of you), you will never cease to be surprised by them unless you take everything about them for granted. Yes, even if you’re their mother. Yes, even if you’re their son. Yes, even if you’re their therapist. You can never assume you ever know anybody.

Which means that you (and me, and all of us) are profoundly alone.

We’re just very good at disregarding the discomfort that that reality creates.

The internet is a place in which unsolicited opinions and advice are offered all the time. It is a place in which you talk to yourself, while believing erroneously that you talk to others. And because you talk to yourself poorly, you end up talking to others that way. And suddenly, your judgement is inflicted onto someone else.

Simply because you or I can judge someone, it doesn’t mean you or I ought to do it.

And in the same way, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a threat of violence, or death, or even an unsolicited opinion, take the time to step back. Work out whether it’s actually a threat, or whether you’ve just done your job so well that someone else had a visceral reaction to you. Your fear reaction may be warranted; it may not. You might simply have done some fantastic work.

But take my writing with a pinch of salt, rather than advice, lest you find yourself in a position to sorely judge me.

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