I don’t venture into other blogs as much as I used to, mostly because of time. Lately, however, either I have been procrastinating a bit more than usual, or there is a uptick in the kinds of posts that I am interested in, so I have been following a few more blogs. One of the things that I have noticed is that there seem to be new bullies that weren’t there before. Of course, there have always been bloggernacle bullies, but some come and go. What I am interested in is some sense of how these bullies are treated by the bloggernacle.
In my not-so-scientific first stab at this, I think that there are three kinds of bullies. The first are bullies of orthodoxy, ready to sniff out heresy, criticism of the brethren, and failure to have remembered that some GA at some point already definitely spoke on whatever this topic is. These bullies berate the posters or other commenters, attempting to assert their own authority on doctrinal matters. The second are bullies of liberal orthodoxy, who basically do the same thing, but take all the opposite positions. The third are just straight bullies who just want to be contrarian. This last type will often pick up on tangential issues and attempt to blow it out of proportion, such a sa perceived insult, usually in an attempt to avoid a losing argument.
Now of course, not all “orthodox” and “liberal” bloggers and commenters are bullies. Bullying is a specific way of engaging others. This is the part that I am having a hard time putting my finger on. It is more than just taking strong positions or having pointed criticisms. People should be able to openly discuss serious disagreements, and I am the first to raise a critical point. Bullying is not just disagreeing, but a specific type of disagreeing. For me, I think the thing that gets on my nerves the most when I see these bullies is that they simultaneously take strong positions, but then refuse to actually engage the arguments, or at least restrict themselves to the arguments. They often level backhanded personal attacks, treat their opponents’ arguments dismissively, and generally are as disrespectful as they can be within the socially accepted confines of whatever blog they happen to be on.
What annoys me the most about these bullies is their implicit (but sometimes explicit) claim to intellectual superiority who can’t see that they are complete hacks who have simply learned how to speak authoritatively, no matter how thin their actual expertise is in the relevant field. Maybe they went to a “good” school, or maybe they have obtained a certain amount of “success” in the world, or maybe they have held “important” callings. Whatever the reason for their bloated self-importance, they don’t miss an opportunity to let everyone know just what they think and why some poor sap is wrong.
Bullies often get away with their posing because most of their interlocutors are just as ignorant as they are. These bullies dare to speak authoritatively on other churches, feminism, questions of sociology, complex theological matters, historiographical methods, hermeneutics, biblical studies, scientific matters, and ethics without an ounce of awareness of the complex scholarly discussions of these issues. Now, I am not saying that people without actual expertise on these topics should not be allowed to express opinions, only that there should be a certain self-reflexivity and a lot less rigidity than bullies are willing to show when they offer authoritative statements on these topics.
The final issue to consider is why some bullies thrive and others are bullied back, often eventually leaving. Of course, some thrive because they are major players on certain blogs. They can be rude and disrespectful because they are in their sandbox, and their fellow-bloggers are uninterested or unwilling to reign them in. Others thrive because they bully on the side of those who run the blog. Even if their methods are harsh, the administrators agree with their ideological stance, so they are tolerated. The bullies who seem to be less successful are those who take on the blog administrators personally, and who end up getting banned. They fail to recognize where the real bullying power lies.
What have I missed in this analysis?
NB: I want to specify that this post is not about naming specific bullies or ranting about other blogs. I will moderate these kinds of comments. Please keep the discussion to the nature and types of bullying.