Thursday, November 25, 2010

[Activist Modus Operandi] Methods of Communication

From Genderbitch

Clarifications: This post is only regarding tactics, not people. The Nuker is not an inherently angry person, just uses anger and harshness to get the job done. Most people blend these methods together into varying combinations and there are many people who are unable to use many of these methods for whatever reason. When I talk about blending these tactics together in balance, I don’t mean in one person. I mean in a group of people. I sure as hell can’t blend them in just me. ~Kinsey Hope

Activism is a fairly simple concept. You do stuff to make things better. Activism when it comes to marginalized populations is also relatively simple in concept. You do stuff to make things better, only you specifically have to stop marginalization, see past and slowly remove privilege and improve the lives of marginalized folk in order to make things better.

That’s where it stops being simple.

You see, there’s a lot of disagreement among activists about exactly how to achieve the conceptual goals above. And then you get into kyriarchy and intersection and you realize that it isn’t as simple as a binary of one privilege vs. one marginalization in a given context. It turns into a giant clusterfuck. And that’s where the arguments begin. You see, Activism is a thing you do. But the part that everyone gets hung up is… how do you do it? What is the Activist Modus Operandi? Well a big part of activism is, obviously, communication. One must get the word out there or one will be up shit creek without a paddle. And shit creek is a very inhospitable river (not actually made of shit but certainly filled with pollution). The reason for this is a minority population generally does not possess the social power to create change alone. This goes doubly so for a marginalized minority population (as marginalization by definition strips a group of power). So as sucky as that is, activism tends to largely be getting a stagnant, unthinking, privileged morass of majority folk in line with what you need. Often with many of them exhibiting some abhorrent tendencies towards bigotry. The stakes are high, so no wonder the arguments about how to pierce the stained glass window of privilege, battle the silencing, convince the naysayers and stop the hate are so intense.

These methods, of course, can be summarized under several easily remembered analogous categories (that actually act as two separate spectrums between opposing methods):

1: Nuker
Methods: Satire, rants, biting wit, clever trolling, griefer trolling, bluntness, calling out.

Description: The Nuker is the hardcore angry activist. If you’ve ever seen the radicals with their faces covered by handkerchiefs, spray paint cans in their hands, you would think of a Nuker. The Nuker methodology is one of attention grabbing. The idea is, privilege robs people of perspective. It makes it hard, sometimes impossible to see or hear what a marginalized group is saying. A Nuker doesn’t let that go. You will notice. You will hear. It doesn’t matter if your feelings are hurt to the Nuker, because the Nuker does not see activism as being a coddling mission. Slicing a small bit of skin off a privileged person in order to get them to actually hear us when we say, “hey, you have your knife buried in my chest up to the hilt! Ow my fucking organs!” is a ‘sacrifice’ the Nuker is not only willing but happy to make. Nukers are the embodiment of rage. The fury of the oppressed and the terror for the oppressor.

2: Appeaser
Methods: Negotiation, peacemaking, calming, soothing hurt feelings, passive resistance, leading by peaceful example.

Description: Appeasers are often seen as the polar opposite of the Nuker. They are your quiet softspoken, negotiating presence among activists. They give heartfelt speeches to appeal to the empathy of government as lobbyists. They are the ones who, when an oppressor doesn’t understand, will patiently and carefully explain things to them, calming themselves down so that the privileged person also remains calm. The Appeaser methodology is one of appealing. They seek to make themselves (and by consequence the movement) appealing to the majority oppressor population, currying their favor in order to get them to give progress on rights and needs with their higher levels of power. Appeasers always care what feelings they hurt and tread very carefully to avoid stepping on toes. They often feel that any approach that causes hurt of any level isn’t workable and that one must always hold the moral highground above the oppressor. An Appeaser works to passively resist everything around them, and I use the word passive not just in regards to violence but also in regards to stridency or harsh words. They choose their words carefully, taking the burden of pure educator onto themselves, in order to make all of the oppressor class see what’s going on.

3: Logic Bomber
Methods: Debate, fallacy calls, logical dissection of arguments, rationalist application of factual knowledge, scientific knowledge dropping, information overload.

Description: The Logic Bomber is the information missile, descending on the head of the unwary privileged folk. They are a veritable arsenal of facts, figures, statistics and studies on the functionality of privilege, marginalization and oppression. They know all the math and they know how logic works. Rationalization will always fail when they find it, because they will pick apart any argument to its finest shreds and then label every single fallacy in triplicate. The so called rationalist bigots fear the Logic Bomber the most, because they completely lose the ability to claim that a marginalized group is crazy, delusional or wrong when that much factual information is dropped on their heads stating otherwise. Logic Bombers are highly effective info overloaders too. They bog down trolls with links to 101 posts and dissertations on privilege, they crush apologists under the weight of counter reasoning in giant, verbose, well thought out prose and they utterly destroy any attempt by bigots to look logical, intelligent or rational. Their methods arise from the comprehension that many people will hide from the reasons or quite truly don’t know what’s actually going on. Logic Bombers provide this information, clean and easy to read, and are quite willing to defend the info from every ill conceived attempt to derail or rationalize around it. They are relentless and intense in their knowledge.

4: Emoter
Methods: Emotional arguments/manipulation, appeals to empathy, personal narrative, analogies to the pain of others, emotional overload, sympathy accumulation.

Description: Emoters are often regarded as the polar opposite of the Logic Bombers. They speak from the gut, operating on one’s empathy, love and caring and if such is lacking, they seek to create it by sharing the horrors that a marginalized class faces. Emoters, much like the rest of them, involve a certain level of social engineering. For Emoters, it’s a bit more obvious. They seek to peak people’s emotions and manipulate how one feels about a given situation. Most privileged folk literally do not give a shit (and don’t even know what it’s like). It’s why idiots in America think we live in a post racial country. An Emoter not only presents personal narratives of horrible things but puts them in such a way that even privileged folk can connect to them and then start feeling horrible that such things happen. Emoters don’t depend on logical arguments or scientific material and operate almost entirely on the way people feel. They seek to literally create the empathy necessary to have lasting allies for a movement through more subtle means than the standard appeaser does. They also aren’t necessarily above using Nuker tactics (just very emotional ones). Emoters aren’t necessarily nice and cuddly or angry and super upset. They merely use emotional arguments and play on the heartstrings of others. Emoters believe that bringing someone emotionally on board means they can’t be convinced away and can’t fall to apathy, being the soundest win for an activist.



I’ve taken on the apparent sheen of neutrality for the descriptions themselves. Each of them are described as they would be by their proponents and not necessarily by reality. Because in reality, all of these methodologies have some serious disadvantages at their binary edges. Analysis time.

People are not inherently the same. If you look at things like the Meyers Briggs Personality Archetypes and other psychological realms of study, you’ll find that there are multiple formulations of mindset, stimuli response and communication approach. I’m not going to get into the nature vs. nurture debate about how these mindsets are gained, all that is important is that they are present and people vary in how they handle things. This, of course, includes communication styles, receptiveness to certain approaches and an overall capacity to do things a certain way or not.

In a relatively recent discussion with someone about street and phone harassment, we found out that for both of us, the methods the other used weren’t viable because the functionality of our responses to stress and stimuli were different. She could and had to ignore things and let them roll off her. I could and had to respond to things. In both of our cases, the methodology of one would drive the other up a wall and increase the stress of the encounter in question. This not only applies to what methods you can use as an activist, it also applies to what methods will work for a given person.

For instance, I know someone with an anxiety disorder. It isn’t necessarily privilege or bigotry that causes her to respond badly to Nuker tactics but literally being triggered by those tactics.

Without taking into account unusual cases like the above and just taking into account the base differences in personality types there are given contexts where a given methodology will simply not work. And they have specific advantages and disadvantages that have nothing to do with personality type and everything to do with privileged people trying to spin shit and manipulate things to their own advantage.

Nukers are, by far, the most argued against in most progressive activist movements. They’re widely viewed as dangerous, counterproductive, irrational, ally alienating and ridiculous. Some folk think they’re only really good for clearing a room or fighting off trolls and nothing else. This is largely because Appeaser methodology has become the norm for most activist groups in much of the primarily English Speaking Western World (United States, Canada, UK, etc).

However, despite this great deal of bad press about Nukers, they are surprisingly effective. Nukers are loud. They are direct. They are exceedingly hard to ignore and that is essentially the modus operandi prime of privileged folk after all: Ignoring. That first obstacle in reaching the oppressor class is breaking through the apathy, antipathy and lack of interest that privileged folk tend to show as a result of having privilege. Nukers pierce that veil like a fourteen inch rapier-esque short sword and jab right to the privileged person. They are literally the single most effective technique for overcoming the apathy and ignoring of privilege.

Unfortunately, engaging a bigot, privileged person or ally is only the beginning. The mid zone, where one must make one’s case and draw support for change, is where the Nuker falters. The rage and harsh presentation that was so successful in engaging people often pushes them away during midzone. Part of this is the personality differences above. Some people are intensely conflict shy by nature and will just *piff* disappear or shut down when in serious conflict. Part of this is also privilege. Privileged folk generally can’t see what’s up and often feel like the reaction vastly outweighs the need. They are, obviously, completely wrong but that privilege keeps them from knowing it by default.

Not all people are lost to the Nuker rage. Losses to conflict aversion and fear are actually a fairly small number of the population that are initially reached by Nukers. And Nukers are also fairly good at getting around passive aggressive and misleading and dishonest bullshit from the privileged “allies” that hampers the Appeasers. After all, lip service is another fan favorite from priv folk and a Nuker will call one out for it. This prevents fake progressives from getting their Liberal Reputation PointsTM on the backs of the activists and marginalized people they claim (but fail) to help.

Depending on the person getting called out, it’ll either shave deadwood that would do nothing to actually aid a group off or it will force people to self analyze and realize they were being sucky allies. Nukers unfortunately have their strongest disadvantages in how people view anger in Western Society as a whole. It tends to be viewed as irrational, unthinking and violent. So Nukers are often subjected to silencing techniques drawing directly from the fact that they are angry or harsh. These silencing techniques are many times accentuated by co opting and weaponizing the Appeasers, who tend to be quite ready to criticize the Nukers in vastly inappropriate contexts. This divide and conquer strategy is dangerously effective as a means of detoothing Nukers, because it’s a lot harder to rage at your own people who betray you.

Appeasers are the primary modus operandi out there in the English Speaking West right now. They make up a large majority of feminists, GLB activists, Trans activists (I separate GLB and T because GLB tends to completely ignore T. Shittiest coalition I have ever seen), class activists (mid class mostly, the poor are a lot angrier, for good reasons) and quite possibly maybe even womanism and POC activism (although I’m not in a good position to know, so let’s say no on that one for that until some POC folk can weigh in on the distributions). Appeasers are regarded pretty harshly by the Nuker set although it certainly seems as though most of the criticism from Nukers for Appeasers is along the lines of, “seriously, stop fucking turning on us, you sell outs”.

Appeaser methodology is a massive extension of several philosophies, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi’s Passive Resistance systems. I say a massive extension because for the most part, passive in those philosophies meant, “don’t beat the shit out of people or kill them”, not “make it so everyone’s feelings are unhurt”. Which is why I don’t refer to Appeasers as Pacifists, because it goes much further than that. Appeasers play the middleman/middlewoman/middleandrogyne/mi
ddleetc (lol gendered terms) game, standing between arguments and moderating or trying to convince people with gentle methods. Often Appeasers will be operating from a standpoint of moral highground. The idea that we must fight the monster without becoming it. This is understandable and due to this Appeasers are also fairly good at handling their own screw ups with intersectionality in the kyriarchy. Coming in soft and being gentle about your words means if you do fuck up on another privilege zone, you won’t be in a maelstrom of shit like a Nuker will (and trust me, it’s happened to me and lots others before).

Appeasers tend to have the advantage of very wide audiences. Because they tend to be more softspoken and more acceptable to the majority oppressor class, they also tend to be given more pulpits to speak from, more press and more notice. Unfortunately this notice tends to translate to personal notice, not conceptual notice. In fact, the single most frequent disadvantage an Appeaser faces is the fact that they are so very easily ignored and paid lip service to. Most Appeasers won’t call someone out who presents a positive front on activism for their group, even if that positive front is nothing more than a smokescreen to make one look good and backed up by no action. This is largely because doing so would hurt feelings and make the Appeaser seem angry or harmful.

Appeasers can be highly effective in dealing with certain personality types. Conflict shy, anxious folk or people with communication styles that may not actually be showing privilege but would still set off warning flags for a Nuker. Appeasers are also intensely useful for misunderstandings. When something goes wrong, Appeasers tend to have the negotiation skills to keep it from having a severe effect on things. Many of them tend to be the most effective in lobbying for legal actions, as our legal system tends to reject things that don’t follow certain rules of decorum. They’re also usually placed into leadership roles in an activist movement that follows the Vanguard Paradigm because they present the least scary front to outsiders.

This can backfire severely though, because Appeasers are also the easiest to manipulate and co opt by outsiders. Due to the fact that an Appeaser feels it necessary to protect the feelings of everyone, try to make things work for all and present a peaceful front, they’ll often let things go or be unable to deal with certain forms of manipulation without losing those things that they regard as necessary. It’s the Appeaser’s trap: invariably, someone will try to use an Appeaser as a silencing tool, figurehead or lip service backup in order to avoid being seen as bigoted, privileged or be seen as more progressive, without actually changing behaviors or doing anything positive. Oftentimes also to try to conceal or escape from the (usually small and insignificant) consequences for being bigoted.

What this does, unfortunately, is reroutes the Appeaser’s efforts, carefully cultivated image and sometimes even actions into silencing and marginalizing the very people the Appeaser is seeking to protect (usually their own people too). This is a fairly classic part of the divide and conquer strategy and it also works because Nukers will descend on a co opted Appeaser like a swarm of enraged hornets, effectively yanking the attentions of most of the activists in play off of the priv folk and onto each other.

As a note: Much like with Nukers and being silenced due to anger and perceived irrationality, the Appeaser’s Trap is a component of the oppressor class’s contributions to the kyriarchy. Appeasers do not seek to become entrapped or used, and rarely seek to sell out. Nukers do not seek to chase folk away. These are elements of privilege and oppression, used to strip the power of these methods. So these disadvantages are from the opposition’s privilege and power, not from flaws with the Nukers or Appeasers themselves.

The second spectrum is between Logic Bomber and Emoter. Note that one can be both a Nuker and a Logic Bomber or both a Nuker and an Emoter (and the same for Appeasers). However one does not necessarily need to be both. In fact there’s quite a few dispassionate Logic Bombers who upset people and don’t care, but don’t particularly show any anger either. It’s all about the facts for them (my partner is one such activist).

The advantages and disadvantages for Logic Bomber and Emoter tend to be orientated more towards communication styles and less towards privileged behavior. Emoters seek to socially engineer the emotions of the oppressor class and allies and Logic Bombers seek to convince rational minds with the power of facts and science. It’s difficult to co opt or silence either one because they’re fairly neutral things. The worst you get for silencing is that the Emoters are “making appeals to emotion” or “being manipulative” and Logic Bombers are “too academic” or “hard to comprehend”. Logic Bombers are the best for countering rationalizers, apologists, pseudoscience peddlers and anyone who tries to claim that a marginalized group is crazy for believing they’re marginalized.

However they tend to fail to make emotional leeway with such arguments. And when they’re dealing with people who think more emotionally then they do logically, the facts and figures and reasons can be overwhelming and cause the listener to shut down or tune it out. Emoters on the other hand are brill at getting the folk that think from the gut to feel it. They put forward personal narrative, analogies between situations of pain with pain that the listener can comprehend and are often the best counter to bigots that try to play off of the fears of the oppressor class, because they edge the emotions of the audience back towards the activist’s needs.

Unfortunately for Emoters, not everyone is easily emotionally led. Logic minded folk especially will be mostly unimpressed by stories of personal distress and will often attribute such to just the experiences of one person, which while tragic, don’t indicate a serious problem with the entire world. Emoters have also been accused of being manipulative, using emotional devices and in trying to lead people a certain way without actually having any kind of real backing.

So, it’s fairly clear that all of the methods involved have their problems and their advantages. One person asked me, while I was discussing this elsewhere, why not a middle ground? A middle path? Well that’s a great question. All of these methods lie on spectrums. Logic Bomber vs. Emoter, Nuker vs. Appeaser. One can easily walk between them all. One can also switch from an extreme to another extreme when the situation calls for it. It isn’t possible for all people to switch fluidly between methods. Some may be completely incompatible with one’s philosophy or may be incompatible with one’s personality type (Philosophy based Appeasers often can’t do Nuker methods because it feels too harsh to them). Sometimes the context and situation have such a serious effect on the activist in question that switching methods may simply be impossible (like the rage of being outright betrayed and silenced by an ally makes it impossible to do Appeaser methods and not blow a gasket). Ideally, well ideally we wouldn’t have to be activists at all, but semi ideally switching would be usable everywhere. But it isn’t.

So what should a person do? No matter what method you take, there will be certain contexts in which your method will cause problems. Well, here are some good ways to account for these disadvantages.

1: Keep Your Group Mixed: Have Nukers, Appeasers, Logic Bombers and Emoters present within your activist network, working for the needs of your group. Make sure you have at least some switchers around and people who walk middle lines. Having someone for every context is always a good idea and will maximize your success.

2: Be Mindful Of Flaws: Make sure you are self aware and externally aware about the disadvantages of your methodology. Specifically Appeasers, who are in the most dangerous position of all. Nukers, Logic Bombers and Emoters can’t effectively be turned against their own as weaponized tools but Appeasers can. If you practice Appeaser methods, be extraordinarily careful that what you see as progress isn’t just you being co opted and used to silence Nukers and others or used to conceal other problems through lip service progressivism. Nukers clearly have to be mindful of intersectionality and their own privilege as well as allies with anxiety or conflict issues. And the other two need to be mindful of who they’re speaking to and whether they’re wasting energy.

3: Don’t Infight Over AMO’s: Seriously, this is a huge fucking one. The biggest advantage the oppressors have over you (no matter what group you’re in) is numbers. They don’t have to all agree and they can infight all they want. There’s more of them and they already have more power. We can not afford to. Now if someone is failing at 2 above, then yes, criticize them. But keep it in house. Don’t make public spectacles of it, don’t silence, don’t attack. The bigots eat that shit up. And more often than not, such infighting isn’t even in the presence of a fuck up on rule 2 but simply philosophical disagreements. Quite frankly, philosophical disagreements are a shit poor reason to engage in energy sapping infighting. If your philosophy does not connect with someone’s methods, well that’s something to discuss on down time, civilly and without argument. Jabbing at people because you think their Nuking is violent and wrong or because you think their Appeasement is an utter useless waste is not acceptable. The infighting divides us and it’s part of why we’re staying conquered.

4: Tag Team: Using multiple methods of communication in your AMO or having different AMO Communicators to back you up when you’re in the field or on the front lines maximizes your potential. If you do a little bit of Nuking and the person is getting pissy and whiny or seems to be withdrawing, call in an Appeaser to put it in gentle terms. If you’re getting ignored completely as an Appeaser, call in an air strike from the Nukers to get the attention centered on your movement’s needs. Logic Bombers and Emoters working together are especially invincible, because what works better than rational arguments mixed with things that tug your heartstrings? Remember, the stakes are intensely high. It is worth it to manipulate the majority, because chances are that’s the only way we’re going to get what we need.

5: Always Have Substance: This I can’t stress enough. It doesn’t matter how much attention you get as a Nuker, or how well you can string together an argument and logic as a Logic Bomber if you aren’t right and you don’t have content within your method. It’s irrelevant how gentle and caring you are as an Appeaser or how well you can play the heartstring violin as an Emoter if you’re wrong or don’t have anything useful to say on your group’s needs. Always make sure you know what you’re talking about, don’t speak for those with different experiences and make sure you actually have something to say. Communication methods won’t save you if you don’t have anything to communicate or you’re dead wrong about something.

And that concludes this bit of meta activism. Understanding how our (and their) methods work is the best way to maximize our power, reach and effect. Never forget that.

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