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Niche Fame and Online Feuds

A seemingly unavoidable hazard of internet celebrity, no matter how minor, is the argument that spills out into the public view, attracts gawkers and commentators and makes you known not for any cause you advocate or topic that inspires you, but for being so-and-so's enemy. How tedious.

Given that I've been podcasting for more than a decade, I think my total feud-count is pretty low: well below one a year. Some feuds are like herpes. They flare up again out of the blue for no detectable reason after a long period of dormancy. There's this one character who seems to still be re-hashing a disagreement we had four years ago and who will occasionally tag me in a Facebook post and challenge me to a public debate or cast me as the champion of some position which I have no particular stake in. I've learned to ignore these provocations. There is no prize money awarded to the winner of such fights. A marketing guru might tell me that no press is bad press and that it's good to "get your name out there" by whatever mechanism presents itself. To which I say, no effing way. Life is way too short to focus on such nonsense, and the last thing I need is to have crazies fixate on me. That's happened as well, but far less often for me than for other podcasters I know of. That is one upside to having a smaller audience; fewer crazies.

To avoid getting entangled in old and useless public feuds I avoid ever mentioning my fuedmates by name. I may describe an altercation or allude to a type of unpleasantness that I associate with certain people on my personal blacklist, but I avoid mentioning them by name so that no late-night, drunken vanity-Google brings me back into their sights. The problem with this approach is that people I wasn't thinking about and have no beef with mistakenly conclude that I'm talking about them. If they complain, I can explain, via private channels, that I was really talking about so-and-so and not them. I'm glad when someone gets in touch with me about a misperceived slight because it gives me the opportunity to smooth ruffled feathers. The ones who take offense and don't let me know are like lit cigarettes between the couch cushions. There's no telling how long their hurt feelings will smolder before either extinguishing themselves or setting the couch on fire.

It could be that not naming names isn't good enough. Even mentioning unpleasant interactions focuses attention, mine and that of the audience, on an unworthy topic. The things we focus our consciousness on tend to grow. If I keep my gaze consistently skyward, or on the distant horizon, I might discover that I attract only angels and bold explorers to my side.  Keeping a tight reign on my thoughts and words might not only produce better results, it might be a moral or ethical duty. Unfortunately, if keeping my mental gaze permanently and exclusively fixated on "the positive" is an ethical duty of some sort, I don't understand the source of the duty. What's more, I'd like to engage in less self-censorship, not more.

Will Durant advised, "To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism. If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say."

Will Durant's advice becomes an obstacle when combined with regular production deadlines and daily word counts, but obstacle courses are a time-honored way of developing endurance, dexterity, and strength. That said, when running an obstacle course, we do not avoid every obstacle. We climb them, crawl under them, and swing accross them. In macho terms, we conquer the obstacles. In less confrontational language, we navigate them. How much trust would you place in a navigator who made a policy of systematically ignoring a known category of hazard? Successful navigation involves rules of thumb, charts and compendiums handed down from forebearers, and sensitivity to changing conditions. I can't commit to systematic ignorance, but I can commit to cultivating sensitivity to changing conditions. In fact, I'm making that commitment right now.

Care to join me?


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2017 07:33 pm (UTC)
I am not a fan of the Durant advice. It seems to assume there are no actively destructive people in the world, people who (like your cyber-botherer) pop up every once and a while hoping to inflict not debate, but do damage. Perhaps their motivation is Durant's "such transparent egotism;" but that neither matters, nor mitigates the threat they pose.

And as to navigating hazards, I would suggest another analogy. Hazards are stuff in the way. People who present active thwarts* to progress must be dealt with, somehow. If your aim is to be less confrontational, less cage match, perhaps ju jitsu would be a better metaphor; one sidesteps, dodges, deflects, and uses the opponents' own charge against them, all without aggressively landing blows yourself.

*I guess nautical analogies are hard to avoid after all.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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