The deeply pathetic intimation of violence 19

Last night I was bemused to see some referrals to my cranky blog from a post on John C. Wright’s that I hadn’t linked to. Curious, I took a looksee, and lo and behold, I got name checked in the comments. Which is fair enough. (Gentlemen, I’m terribly sorry your delicate constitutions can’t handle some salty language, by the way. Kindly get the fuck over it.) And then there was this comment:

I found myself briefly regretting that duels of honour are illegal and, if to the death, immoral; but that is the level of anger I’d feel at being called a liar, multiple times.

Of course, the difficulty is when it’s a woman impugning your honour; it is dishonourable to strike a woman, but equally dishonourable to allow slights to your good name to stand. Never did figure a way out of that paradox.

Which honestly made me laugh, a lot. Seriously, how can you react to that other than by telling all your friends would you get a load of this fucking guy? Curse my ovaries for making it dishonorable to challenge me! Friends across various social media sites had a lot of fun laughing about it and there was a lot of “oh you’d totally kick that guy’s ass” chatter and that’s always pretty fun too in a sort of drinking beers and slapping each other on the back kind of way.

But now I want to get real about it.

This is not actually the first time I’ve had a random stranger on the internet publicly fantasize or imply how awesome it would be if he or someone else perpetrated an act of violence on my person. (About a year and a half ago it was someone making noise about taking a baseball bat to me because I had the [lady]stones to say I thought the president of the NRA is a terrible person.) Frankly, answering words with fantasies of violence is already a sign, at best, that someone needs to take a deep breath, count to ten, and remind themselves firmly that they are supposed to be an adult. That these notions–duels! baseball bats!–are immediately excused, often in the same metaphorical breath, with assurances of how that would totally never happen because it’s illegal, or they’re really a nice guy, or haha you’re a woman, is actually even more pathetic. It sure looks a lot like trying to have your cake and eat it, by being vaguely threatening at someone so you get to feel all big and tough, but then having the plausible deniability of no, seriously, I was only joking.

I do not care if you are my friend or my enemy. You are not tough or impressive when you do that. You are pitiable.

Because this is the thing. You may believe that violence or the “joking” threat of it will somehow end the argument, and in your favor because you’ve “won.” That is the magical thinking of a child. If the only way you can manage to respond to an argument is by puffing out your chest and waving your fists, you have lost, and profoundly. I don’t particularly want to have a baseball bat taken to me, or get cornered by someone wielding a pistol who desperately wishes it was the eighteenth century. But the fact of the matter is, no matter what could be physically done to my body, that does not actually prove me wrong.

I set down facts. I had an opinion. Even if someone found me in the parking lot tomorrow and beat me to death with a pipe wrench, that would not change any truth I’ve written. Climate change will still be real. Wayne LaPierre will still be a terrible person. Abiotic oil will still be horse shit. Powerforce bands would still be magical money wasters. John C. Wright will still be a disingenuous liar.

The truth doesn’t give a shit who hits harder or shoots faster. At best, maybe you get to be the last man standing who dictates his delusional vision of the world into a history book. But it’s just that: a delusion. Even if you could take every scientist who has ever researched sea level rise and threw us off a cliff, the sea level would still be going up. Even if you could duel everyone in the world who called someone you like a liar, that does not change the fact that he’s a fucking liar when he makes statements that are provably false.

You want to win? Then use your words. You don’t like statements I’ve made? Marshal your facts. Write a cogent argument. Prove your point in a substantive way. I’m a scientist. I might not like admitting when I’m wrong–seriously, who the fuck does?–but if I was incapable of doing so I never would have made it through graduate school.

But this “joking” about duels and baseball bats and the infinite number of nastier and more substantial threats that have been made against people far unluckier than me speaks not of the capacity for violence, but rather an ultimate lack of intellectual courage and a profound smallness of spirit. This is the ugliest possible version of a child sticking her fingers in her ears and shouting “Lalala I can’t hear you!”

And for that, anyone who practices this feeble tactic has my pity, whether they like it or not.

While I’m on a roll and talking about violence, and fights…

To my friends and loved ones: It is incredibly sweet that you have that kind of confidence in me, even if in a joking way. Yeah, it does feel good to be patted on the back and told I could totally kick someone’s ass, like I’m some kind of chubby, red-headed action star. That kind of thing can make a gal feel nine feet tall and fearless.

But let’s be real again.

I’ve practiced kung fu for twelve years now, and I’m still going strong. I’ve also been in precisely two fights in my entire life, both of which happened more than twelve years ago. What I learned about fights is that they’re terrifying, and chaotic, and painful, and then later sickening. They are not glorious, or cool, and anyone who claims they are probably hasn’t been in one, is dealing with it in the only way they can, or has bought into a mode of thought I’ve come to despise.

Practicing in the controlled environment of a school is not anything like being out in the real world; the closest you can ever get is sparring, and I’ve always avoided that because I don’t like it. I don’t like fighting. So I have no idea how I’d actually fare in a fight these days. And you know what? I’ll be overjoyed if I die at a ripe old age without ever finding out.

But let me tell you what I have learned, after twelve years of kung fu:

  • It’s okay for girls to hit.
  • Pain isn’t as painful as you think.
  • Practice is fun. Fighting is not.
  • It’s easier to train your fists than it is to train your will, or your temper, or your spirit.
  • Violence is the first resort of a bully and the last resort of a true disciple.
  • It takes the most strength to walk away.
  • You don’t ever, ever start fights, but you damn well finish them.

And yes, maybe there are situations where your back is to the wall and you or someone you love is in physical danger and then maybe, just maybe, you have no choice but to fight. But people seem to forget that often the quickest, most decisive way to end a fight is by choosing the most difficult path of all and walking away.

I won’t walk away from an argument, but I will walk away from a fight and consider myself the better person for it, always.

19 thoughts on “The deeply pathetic intimation of violence

  1. Reply Kathryn Ohnaka May 8,2014 19:25

    In regards to the “joking” violence, this reminds me of when I was teaching, and we had a particularly violent, disturbed batch of kids. One of my coworkers was repeatedly told by a student that he was going to bring a knife to school and slit her throat, that he would shoot her, etc. Because he was a primary student, she was repeatedly told, “He doesn’t mean it, and you shouldn’t be scared of a kid,” etc. Finally, she’d had it. She stood up at a meeting and said, “It doesn’t matter whether the person threatening you is six or sixty; the words cause a visceral reaction. It causes you distress and fear. Could he really do it? Probably not. But hearing it over and over, hearing how someone wants to hurt me and thinks it would be fun, it causes this same distress whether he ever does it or not.” The implied threats are similar in tone. Having also been on the receiving end of a great many threats, some more direct than others, I make jokes but I know exactly how much impact they have.

    • Reply Rachael May 8,2014 19:28

      This is a very, very good point.

      I still remember the thing with Baseball Bat Guy very vividly. It actually made me feel scared, even though I was in freaking England at the time. It is just this very visceral reaction, just knowing someone *thinks* that. Which really made me reexamine what I say because I was like… holy shit have I made someone else feel like this?

      • Reply Kathryn Ohnaka May 8,2014 21:26

        Exactly. I’ve been much more careful with my language too since then.

        I meant to add to my previous post, this feeling was not unique to women. My male coworkers said they too had a strong visceral reaction to those types of statements, and it made them afraid to come to work.

    • Reply Angie Pugh May 9,2014 14:24

      That right there describes how I was feeling from January through March. No one should have to experience that every day.

  2. Reply Thomas Pluck May 9,2014 12:14

    If a person, regardless of gender, says something to which your only retort is to say that you wish to harm or kill them, no matter how obfuscated your threat may be, you have nothing of value to say.
    The monkey brain is doing the talking.

  3. Reply Rob Chansky May 9,2014 12:54

    That was very well said, Rachael.

  4. Reply emily May 9,2014 16:15

    can i threaten you? i think i could take you. i’m sure you’re wrong about SOMETHING! i got that AZN-FU to back me up! did i mention that i’m going to start a line of politically incorrect shirts called The Yellow Menace line of clothing? first shirt is gonna say, “i’m not racist, i’m azn, i’m RICIST!”

    srsly, the whole threatening over the interbutts. it’s so…twee, and soooo…1999 dark night of AOL. like, “aww, look at the funny widdle baybee throw a tantrum! isn’t that pweshus!” at least that’s my reaction. but, i have been in fights, real fights, and rather too many of them. i’ve fought, and taken down, men triple my size, so i’m not particularly afraid of much. roger’s afraid i’m going to get shot one of these days cos i’m the person that will push some asshole off a girl he’s abusing.

    so, that’s my reaction to creatures like that: sad, pathetic little bullies, in their sad, pathetic little worlds. you shouldn’t fear them; you shouldn’t even pity them. ignoring them is really the best option cos they’re not worth your time.

    • Reply Rachael May 9,2014 16:29


      • Reply emily May 9,2014 16:35

        “mah mahstah says mah kung fu is better than yours!”

        i gotta put that on a shirt. with bruce lee’s silhouette >=)

  5. Reply Peter May 11,2014 14:10

    Well said, rachael.
    Well said rachael

  6. Reply April May 11,2014 16:38

    “It was a SLIGHT TO MY HONOR! By jove, I say! Harumph harumph harumph!”

  7. Reply Lou May 15,2014 13:26

    You have threatened ME, repeatedly, with kicking my ass and showing me how pathetic I am…in Cards Against Humanity. In weight-lifting (which you rock at!).

    I understand the visceral “fight or flight” limbic response, I do. For reals. But when you say you’re gonna whomp me, you’re always smiling.

    It’s hard to see smiling through text on phosphor screens. I assume that the men lamenting about the lack of dueling being proper anymore are, as you assume, merely venting. They probably don’t actually consider harming you, and think that their words are only words.

    As writers, however, we are intimately familiar with how powerful words actually are.

    • Reply Rachael May 15,2014 13:31

      Yeah. It’s always one thing when it’s your friends. You know them. There is context. When it’s a bunch of random dudes…yep.

  8. Reply delagar Jun 22,2015 02:49

    This is an excellent post. I especially like this part: “What I learned about fights is that they’re terrifying, and chaotic, and painful, and then later sickening. They are not glorious, or cool, and anyone who claims they are probably hasn’t been in one…”

    Yes. Absolutely.

  9. Reply John Seavey Jun 22,2015 09:54

    Amen to all of this. (Came here from File 770, by the way. Someone in the comments linked your post as very insightful, which it is.) I’ve always felt like threatening violence against someone in an argument is an admission that you have no case to be made and that all you can do is try to shut the other person up, and it’s especially sad in an Internet discussion where the chances of you actually being able to back your threats up is pretty low.

    • Reply Rachael Jun 22,2015 11:27

      Pretty much. I think it’s the even less mature version of nitpicking someone’s grammar because you have nothing cogent to say about their position. But with the added “fun” of being a bully and potentially frightening them into silence. What scares me about the bullshit tough talk isn’t the cowards writing the words, but the people in one’s neighborhood that might be agreeing them and nodding along.

      I’d only been out of high school for a few months when Matthew Shepherd was murdered, less than an hour drive from where I lived at the time. I still remember very keenly how people “joked” about doing violence to lgbt people at the time. (And still do now, though it’s less socially acceptable in many sectors.) It’s questionable to make direct correlations between a particular event and the poisonous environment in which it occurred, but it’s not something to be dismissed, either.

  10. Reply steve davidson Jun 22,2015 10:28

    came here from a recent File 770 Puppies roundup. Excellent piece.
    In re your summation, I wanted to pass on what a Karate instructor explained to me regarding the use of force:

    If you do not have to kill, maim;
    If you do not have to maim, injure;
    If you do not have to injure, defend;
    if you do not have to defend, walk away.

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