Monday, July 10, 2006

Escalation of hostilities

Anyone out there doing the same blog macarena that I do (DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda InstaPUNdit, DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda Protein WISdom, DUM dadaDAdadadaDAda FallbackBELmont...) will have seen the Frisch situation arise and quickly spiral out of control on Protein Wisdom - and I should note that this will be a link-free post, because there's altogether too much heat surrounding the exchanges already. Here's the background for interested parties who follow other blogs:

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom is an expert in hermaneutics. He's also a stay-at-home dad of a toddler. He's also multiply employed in academia and the World o' Blogs. He writes frequently about the cost to society of identity politics and the importance, in critique, of authorial intent, and believe me, these subjects are highly relevant in the world of politics-politics today. He's loathed by the Left generally, as far as I can tell from my seat in the Right's bleachers (though, to extend the metaphor beyond its logical limits, I'm more along the first-base line than way out in right field). He has a few intrepid dissenting commenters, who suffer a certain amount of verbal "abuse" (quotation marks because this post is about actual verbal abuse) and mocking from his more generally concurring commenters, plus he gets pretty regular influxes of ill-tempered and intemperate trolls from Glen Greenwald's site and elsewhere.

One such intemperate person was a woman named Deb Frisch, a psychology professor on the staff at the University of Arizona. She had some strongly dissenting comments to make about a post I can't even recall at the moment - strongly dissenting but presented in such uncivil terms that I, who avoid the term "troll" almost all the time, can find no other word for her. Jeff's regulars piled on her with the mockery, which she took relatively well for a little while. That's kind of the price you pay when you're working a hostile room, it seems to me.

Then she stopped taking it well. She decided, according to her later comments, that she felt "threatened" by some of the comments directed at her (she hasn't specified which ones, and although I was following the conversation at the time, I can't think of any that struck me as over the line - I remember insults but no threats, overt or implied), and she responded "in kind," also according to her own comments, by starting to say some very ugly, very scary things about Jeff's child, and some very insulting things about his wife. I'm not going to repeat what she said except this far: noting that Jeff lives in Colorado, she several times brought up Jon Benet Ramsey in a context involving Jeff's son that would give any parent (and ought to give any non-parent) pause.

Jeff, never one to recede meekly into the background, posted directly about her comments, and his commenters, some of them currently or formerly in law enforcement, urged him to contact the FBI and, themselves, contacted the UofA about Frisch's giant leap over the line. The comments, which started out in dogpile mode, rapidly progressed to a realization that this woman might be mentally ill; upon that realization, the comments stayed strongly critical of her words but at least started to involve calls for her to get help and calls for other commenters to lay off her personally because she might not be compos mentis. Problem being, of course, that she might read comments encouraging her to seek help as some kind of dismissive mockery rather than sincere wishes, which I believe almost all of them were, based on the people commenting. (No doubt a few were intended otherwise. Jeff's minions aren't all sweetness and light, though most of them are, between the lines.)

Cutting to the chase, she resigned her (temporary) post there and blogged a non-apology apology at her own blog. Meanwhile, in a possibly related incident (it's happened to him before, so it's unclear whether he ticked off someone else besides Frisch's supporters at the same time), Jeff's site was brought down by a DOS (denial-of-service) attack that, as far as I can tell, continues for some of us, at least; Instapundit and others report that the site's back up, but I can't get there yet.

I'm terribly troubled by it all. Stepping way back from the situation, I'm troubled by the fact that Jeff's often bitingly on-point critiques of matters on the Left are bringing about actual livelihood-threatening actions from his enemies such as this DOS attack. There's a difference between, say, boycotting a newspaper because you disagree with a columnist or the paper's editorial stance, and sabotaging the presses so that the paper can't be printed, which is the analogy that applies here. (Talk about your chilling effect...) I'm troubled that dissenting rhetoric so easily segued from simple rudeness to actively threatening a blogger's child because the blogger's commenters were rude back. But even more than these, I'm troubled by Frisch.

I read the non-apology she posted. Only two comments, at the time that I read it, supported her, which, this being the internet and all, is about the best I could've hoped for; even most of her ideological allies couldn't get behind her "tactic." But she herself ought to be frightened by the fact that she even had these thoughts, much less that she then made the decision, such as it was, to go public with them. As a psychologist, she ought to be terrified about what they reveal about her mental state. But that's the rub with mental states, isn't it: she may not be able to step way back, as I can. She may not see, even now, how dangerous she's been accurately perceived to be. I feel as if I've witnessed a full-blown break with reality, and it gives me renewed respect for those in the mental health field who see this kind of thing daily and do their best to help those going through it. On top of that, although my sympathies are almost all with Jeff here (I reserve some sympathy for Frisch if she is indeed over the edge - but I do not in any way condone any of her horrible comments about Jeff's family), it appears to me that Jeff's post may have been the factor that pushed her over. Now, as with the total engine failure of our recent houseguests' car upon their return to their home airport, it was going to happen regardless; if not this trigger, another one. But I wouldn't want it to happen on my watch.

Phew.

1 comment:

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