Surly Amy, Skepticism, and Satire

Above is the profile picture for the Twitter account -- marked as a 'parody
on the internet'-- Angry Skepchick Woman (@AngrySkepchick)

In this post, I will recount a Twitter conversation I had with "Surly" Amy Davis Roth following her rebuke of Sharon Hill for following and re-tweeting a parody account on Twitter. Surly Amy and I engaged in a discussion concerning taking offense, satire, and much more. The discussion ended -- after I was told that I don't care about her feelings following my telling her I find what she finds hateful to be funny -- with me being blocked and branded as a troll. After recounting the discussion, I talk about parody, differing tastes, and how to handle disagreement arguing that one should tolerate differences and not create moral impositions on others because absurd consequences would follow if a mere claiming of offense were grounds for a person to cease certain behaviors.

Yesterday, on Twitter, "Surly" Amy [Davis Roth] of Skepchick.org -- @surlyamy -- rebuked Sharon Hill of DoubtfulNews.com -- @idoubtit -- for following, at the very least, one account on Twitter, @AngrySkepchick, with the profile description of
"Easily pissed off by the internets. You're a misogynist and bully for disagreeing with me. About anything. Parodies on the internet are no laughing matter!Teh Internets · http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody"
Here are some of the intial Tweets by Surly Amy - some sent to Sharon Hill and some not:

Following these Tweets, Sharon Hill responded:

I was curious. Why would someone be rebuking another person for the accounts she follows on Twitter? Why would someone unfollow someone just because she follows an account on Twitter? Why should a parody/satire account constitute bullying or hate? Why is Surly Amy telling Sharon Hill that she should "be embarrassed" for following a Twitter account...and then bringing the fact that Sharon Hill's upcoming appearance at The Amazing Meeting?

[To note: Sharon Hill does not necessarily agree with anything in this post. In fact, I believe she spoke with Surly Amy -- outside of Twitter -- following the disagreement. I simply include her Tweets here to make sense of how the discussion started.]

...so I stepped in:

One of the first responses from Surly Amy was as follows:

Surly Amy, knowing nothing of my history, assumes 'I don't know what it is like.' Therefore, then, as it seems, I can't have an informed position on this issue for some reason because -- as it seems -- I have not "dealt w/ trolls daily and everywhere." I responded to the Tweet saying, "Actually, I've received much worse" providing a link to a recent blog post in which I detailed the consequences and repercussions I have dealt with because I am an out atheist and an atheist activist including threats from county employees, threats from fellow college students, being called 'the third most hated person in Luzerne County,' hate mail from family members, living in a location with [heightened] security, and much more.

Suprisingly, Surly Amy responded saying, "if you think that is worse we are done here."

Apparently the nonsense I have dealt with pales in comparison to what Surly Amy deals with? Regardless of whether that is the case, it is quite interesting that Surly Amy -- soon after responding to my rebuttal of 'not knowing what it is like' -- completely dismisses my 'knowing what it is like' and this is grounds, for some reason, for ending the conversation. I suppose my experiences simply don't matter...even though having the experience -- 'knowing what it is like' -- seemed to be a prerequisite for having an informed opinion or participating in a discussion.

Surly Amy then said, "This isn't a competition."

Who is talking about a competition? I merely responded following her 'you don't know what it is like' assertion with evidence showing that I do 'know what it is like.'

Following this, and responding to Surly Amy's assertion about @AngrySkepchick is 'mocking in any angry way:

I responded saying I don't see @AngrySkepchick as mocking in any angry way, but rather see it as light-hearted, obvious satire/parody. The account is clearly marked as such, too, as I noted. Surly Amy then responded saying "Well, you can pick your online friends and I will pick mine. To each their own." This seemed odd considering that Surly Amy was rebuking Sharon Hill and making character evaluations about her for following the parody account. Apparently, those 'to each their own' standards don't seem to be the case?

Next, I told Surly Amy that nastiness will happen given a large audience for public figures, bloggers, podcasters, etc. and that most of it is harmless, from trolls.

Following that Surly Amy responded,

I'm honestly perplexed by public figures who seem to equate people saying nasty things about them online with harassment - or otherwise being surprised by it. In this case, what Surly Amy sees to be nastiness is clearly marked as a satire/parody account and should, for perhaps for lack of a better term, be considered a trolling account. Is there really legitimate harm involved here? Is this something really uncalled for...or even uncalled for at all? Comments like these, accounts like these, and comments indistinguishable from Youtube comments by random trolls on the internet are quite likely - it is 'part of the game' of being a public figure - people are going to disagree with you and make snide comments in doing so.

To further expand on my thoughts here, I wrote the following in a recent post titled "Stephanie Zvan doesn't understand cyberstalking" in which blogger Stephanie Zvan posed what I understand as an untenable definition of cyberstalking and equated it with abuse. While Surly Amy isn't using the word 'cyberstalking, this comment of mine seems most appropriate here:
Some people at this point may be thinking, "well, you're blaming the victim!" Before a glib dismissal would take place -- and perhaps in anticipation of it in the comment section or related comments -- it is important to consider some points. As a blogger [on a popular blog network], people should expect [if they garner a large enough audience] to receive criticism in many forms including personal attacks, strawmans, discourse similar to that of or otherwise indistinguishable from YouTube comments, and more. While this behavior might not be the nicest thing for one to do (rather than, for example, taking the person's argument, being charitable, avoiding personal attacks, etc) and I don't condone it, it will happen - and should be expected. A person who enters the blogosphere and then complains (or, perhaps, to stay in tune of being charitable, is expressing dissatisfaction with) about criticism while calling it cyberstalking, harassment, etc. seems to be in an awkward place and -- as others might say -- making a mountain out of a molehill.

Next, Surly Amy says she is "not going to pal around with people who think the angry trolls are funny."

I responded as is seen above (and Melody Hensley, for whatever reason, chimed in saying she blocked me long ago - [for what I do not know]).

Here is an important part of the discussion. Certain forms of satire, humor, and parody are funny to some and not funny to others. Surly Amy seems to realize this, but apparently, she can't tolerate [respect may be the better word] others' different tastes - subjective matters that are facts about individuals. Why should different tastes between people -- at least in the case of what one thinks is funny and what one thinks is not funny -- be grounds for termination of friendships, 'palling around,' or whatever else?

Is it fair, then, to judge one's character because one sees something to be funny while another does not even when it is quite obvious that people have different tastes? Surly Amy thinks so:

...and it's much worse that that,

Seeing things in a different way, Surly Amy says, even thought is it "fine," "means we will probably never be friends." What a shame, really.

So, with that, and after Surly Amy acknowledges people see things in different ways and that that is "fine,"

Surly Amy asserts I am "trying to tell [her] it is not" hurtful...even though that was never the case. I said that I saw something as satire/parody and not hurtful.


Surly Amy then seems to translate my disagreement with her -- for whatever reason -- into "You don't care about me or the feeling of the women who write for Skepchick" even though she acknowledged that people see things in different ways and that that is "fine." Disagreement, though, shouldn't be construed as disrespect.

...and apparently, if one says one is hurt by something, "the debate over whether something is hurtful is moot."

On another person's account, as it seems, a satirist who continues to satirize after someone asks to stop is an "ass." It's also "not hard to understand," this person says, that if "the target of a joke says they are hurt, then it's hurtful. By definition."

Finally -- as far as the Surly Amy discussion was concerned -- I was branded as a troll. Surly Amy then asked me to leave her alone.

This is very odd considering I was having a conversation with Surly Amy -- the result of Tweets directed at me -- that she willfully continued for quite some time. ...and I was blocked.

This was followed by several general tweets of her own that I presume were in regards to my blocking including name-calling and interesting generalizations:

Surly Amy notes, "I guess a lot of people were attracted to the movement so they could be right all the time and never learned how to be wrong" following with "Sad rally. It takes empathy, listening skills and the ability to make mistakes and admit them to gain wisdom." Apparently, though, Surly Amy can't possibly be wrong? Apparently, she couldn't use listening skills, etc. to gain wisdom from those who happen to disagree with her?

A major part of being a skeptic is the willingness to reconsider and and all ideas. Surly Amy, in this case, doesn't seem to want to do this. If she believes something is true or feels a certain way, on her account, at least in this situation, there is "no debate."

It is also important to recognize that people -- with varying values, tastes, and experiences -- can disagree and still remain (or be) friends. For Surly Amy, disagreement on this matter ends any possibility of a friendship; she apparently can't tolerate a difference of opinion (or perception, perhaps more accurately) in this case.

Further, disagreement -- as Surly Amy sees it -- constitutes not caring about the feelings of people. Why should this be the case? Why can't people disagree and still care about others' feelings? This seems to be nothing more than a personal attack and what seems to be 'mind reading' on behalf of Surly Amy. How can she possibly know if I care or do not care about her feelings? What good reason does she have to suggest that I do not. Does agreement with the way she feels allow for the only possibility of caring about her feelings? I disagree with many friends of mine on similar matters. I even have a specific Catholic friend who was really angry following my complaint regarding a county courthouse nativity scene in 2009. He felt, just to note one thing, that I was a bad person for filing the complaint. I thought his appraisal was unreasonable. I disagreed and remain friends. This doesn't mean that I didn't care about his feelings...and it doesn't stop us from being friends with one another. Hell, I even disagree with Surly Amy on many issues and have purchased her jewelry (see picture).

Many others in the community complained that they were 'offended' and had 'hurt feelings' following my 2009 activism. Clearly, we disagree. Does this mean that I should have stopped my activism [or never have complained in the first place] because they claim offense? Following Surly Amy's logic would seem to lead us to this conclusion. Because she feels hurt, and feels that a Twitter account is hateful, on her account, persons who voice dissent with her position and/or disagree don't care about her feelings. If feelings of one who views something as hurtful are more important than -- or otherwise outweigh -- the thoughts or feelings of another, does the one who claims offense automatically 'win out?' After all, on Surly Amy's account, there is "no debate." Further, should this then serve as an imposition on another's behavior - to say that a person is wrong for continuing a particular behavior and should cease activity?

Initially, remember, Surly Amy said that people should be "embarrassed" for following the parody account saying "It's also really sad" that speakers at The Amazing Meeting follow and re-tweet the parody account "and think it is acceptable." Surly Amy said it is "ridiculous" for Sharon Hill to "promote and endors[e]" what Surly Amy called "a hate account." ...and, to Sharon Hill, You can't think it's all in good fun. It's hurtful and rude to say the least." It seems, then, that consider these Tweets and various others by Surly Amy, that there is a moral demand (in addition to a character evaluation) for people to cease following Twitter accounts they find funny by Surly Amy finds to be hurtful and not funny.

This standard would have serious implications for skeptics, blasphemers, and practically anyone. If someone claims offense to one's behavior -- whether the intentions of a person are well-meaning or not -- and there is "no debate" about the situation because one is offended, the person would or should feel morally obligated to cease a certain behavior. Obviously, this would be most unreasonable - and goes to show why Surly Amy's reasoning on this matter seems to be most unreasonable. Satirists, including those of The Onion, would be immoral monsters.

Surly Amy might feel offended by something. Fine, as she says. This, though, should not create demands on others or justify a character evaluation of someone as a 'bad person' for not sharing her feelings on the matter. The appropriate response to a difference in comedical taste, then, ought to be -- in most cases -- tolerance or, perhaps better, a recognition that others will feel differently and a disagreement with the person.

In April of 2012, in a post titled "A response to those who claim offense," I wrote some words which seem quite fitting in this situation that I will end this post with:
In a 'marketplace of ideas' and a pluralistic society that is not filled with 'yes men' or 'yes woman,' some people will feel offended or provoked by certain content because people regard their beliefs as important self-identifying characteristics and view 'threats' to their beliefs as character attacks. Someone is bound to claim offense when issues such as worldviews and religions are being scrutinized. Before claiming offense, though, or acting in an immature fashion -- especially when content with quite a mild tone is being considered -- people ought to realize that disagreement is inevitable. Just about anyone can claim to be offended by just about anything, so the questions that should be considered are "Is it reasonable for me to claim offense?" and "What should the response be to content I consider offensive?" before people jump to unreasonable conclusions and make unreasonable demands for others to cease expressing their ideas. 
One person's 'offensive content' is the next person's 'telling it like it is' that is, as some may see it, quite uncontroversial. With a sea of differing value judgments and barometers as to what is appropriate and inappropriate, it seems futile to protest to anything and everything out there. While there may be no objective standard for what can be considered offensive (mainly, perhaps, because this is an issue of personal taste and there is no quick-and-dirty way to distinguish 'offensive' from 'not offensive'), we shouldn't despair. The proper reaction to what one considers to be offensive, then, considering mentioned issues, is a mature attitude in which one realizes that people will happen to disagree - and disagreement shouldn't force or otherwise demand people to cease from publishing 'any old content.'