Thursday, August 09, 2007

To Joshua James -- A Hatchet for Burial

I didn't feel it was appropriate to barge into a private conversation, but I wanted to offer this post in response to Joshua's soul searching, and the efforts of many fellow bloggers to offer advice. As one commenter noted, Joshua and I seem to push each other's buttons. It's true -- I know you're all surprised.


Let me offer what "buttons" you push for me, and I welcome the same from you, if you feel you haven't already said it.

There really are only three things, Joshua, but man they set me off. First, while I won't ask you to revisit our debate, I'd ask that you just read through your comments in the post I've linked to above. Here is a list of how you refer to me: "fool," "pig-headed prof," "bully," "thug," "dishonest," and "damn hypocrite." On one blog, you called me "crazy." These are personal insults, attached to me by name. While one might argue that I have insulted NY theatre people as a whole, I think you would be hard put to find anyplace where I have insulted personally any specific person (with the possible exception of you, and if I did, I apologize). But it is hard to maintain equanimity in the face of those words, which seem like "fighting words."

Second, it drives me crazy when you totally misrepresent or misinterpret what I have said, and then insist that I actually meant your intepretation even if that isn't what I said. During the discussion of "red state theatre," Theatre Forte tried to find out where I actually said the things I was being accused of, and you tried to help but couldn't really find anywhere I actually said it, so you just said I really meant it even if I didn't write it. That's not fair. We all cherry pick -- we're not writing a booklength study -- but shouldn't the evidence be representative, and fairly interpreted?

Third -- and for some reason, this one causes a really childish reaction in me -- you have a tendency to do what I call "pound the table." You will assert something and follow it by a variation on the phrase "it just is." Something like: "This is just wrong -- it just is." No argument, nor reason, just an assertion that it "just is." "Your arguments are specious -- they just are." "You're arguing in circles -- you just are."

OK, so those are my buttons. I'm sorry if I knocked you off your "no-Walters" diet, but I'm reaching out not to smack you down, but to see if there is a way to communicate without verbal fisticuffs. Maybe there isn't, and that's OK. Sometimes people aren't meant to talk.

About me. The fact is -- and someone else has already noted it -- about every six weeks or so I lose my cool about something. Whereas I am virtually ignored by the theatrosphere in between those six-week periods, those posts have come to form my blogging reputation, at least among the bloggers I have an on-going relationship with. I share the same feeling you mention in your post -- a sense that a reputation as a thug is undeserved. Nevertheless, in those six-week blowouts, I tend to write in impassioned generalizations that are based more on personal intuition than on hard evidence. It's a fault -- sometimes I just get pissed in a really irrational manner. Iowa 08 set me off more than a YouTube video and blog should have. I could probably go back and reconstruct what led to the explosion -- it probably connected to something else I was reading and thinking about -- but it wouldn't be interesting to do so. Anyway, I pound the table. And I insult huge swaths of humanity. And I make Big Ole Generalizations. And I feel bad about that -- I really do -- and at the same time, I feel a commitment to the kernel of the idea that lies at the center of the tirade: in this case, that there are stereotypes out there, and they are unrecognized and reinforced by people with the power to disseminate images. All of this leads to problems of my own making.

For the record, I don't think you're a thug. In fact, I think a couple hours over beer and pizza talking with you would be a pretty good time. But you are tenacious and stubborn, and so am I, and those characteristics prevent either one of us from walking away from an argument.

My preference would be that you and I share a virtual handshake and receive absolution from the rest of our acquaintances, who don't like it when we fight. From your perspective, it may be too soon or undesirable. But there it is. It's an offer.

If an apology is expected from either of us, then we're screwed. The agreement, I think, should be to go on. And maybe detonate a blogging version of the MIB memory erasers...


Don R. Hall said...

Scott's no thug.

I'm a thug.

Joshua James said...


That wasn't a private conversation on my blog, you're free to join in, if you wish. I didn't ban you, you banned me, remember?

All right, since you asked politely, I will respond in kind, politely.

This comment will have none of the noun modifiers you held up as an example as insulting . . . it will, however, challenge your argument, if that's okay.

1) Yes, I called you those things, yes, they were probably somewhat, if not more, personally insulting than you would like.

They were also in response to a post you admit that you wrote, a post which you admit (in this very post) was insulting, insulting to a community I belong to, am a part of. Insulting to the work I myself do.

Your defense is that, since you didn't insult me specifically as an individual, just the community / group I belonged to, why should I take it so personally?

I don't see why I shouldn't have to take it personally if I wish to.

I take the work I do personally, the insult was about where I lived and the work I do, why shouldn't I be insulted by that on a personal level?

My wife is Japanese, if someone says something insulting, generally, about the Japanese, but not about her specifically, why shouldn't she be insulted by such?

I get when some folks don't get that riled by what you've written on this subject, I do.

But I don't see how you don't understand that I, like many others, was personally insulted by your comments (and I'd say it was your defense and comments thereafter that made it worse).

So if you insult a group I'm a part of, I have a right to take that personally, if I wish, that's my response.

2) Scott, I linked to a comment string where you referred to the New York arts scene and said something to the effect that "bigotry is a terrible thing" -

First, you maintained you said no such thing, then when I point it out, you tell me that I don't know the definition of the word, you define it for me, then you say you meant it in the broadest sense possible.

It's a terrible comparision no matter the definition. Anyone would be upset to be called a bigot.

You also compared the New York aesthetic to a racist cultural hegemony.

Later you retracted the word "aesthetic".

And later still, you said in a comment string that NY'ers only liked THE COLOR PURPLE because it reinforces our own negative racial stereoptypes toward southern black people.

I'm paraphrasing, but that's what you said.

It was that comment, basically calling us up here bigots, that led to Mac leaving the discussion permanently.

In terms of this whole thing, I would say that my experience with you echoes Devore's, which I pointed out.

Respectfully, I'd say that my experience is that you don't listen to anyone else's points unless they reinforce your own, you simply dismiss, dismiss, dismiss. Or say we misunderstood you, it's our fault.

This got me worked up . . . because I'm sure, after discussing this at length with others, that I didn't misunderstand you.

I think you misunderstand you, that's really what I think it is.

We'll come back to this, but that's what gets me fired up.

3) Okay, you're upset with me because I "pound the table".

However, I'd note that later in this same post, you admit that YOU yourself POUND THE TABLE.

So basically, it's all right for you to do it, but not me?

That's a double standard, isn't it?

I would note that I didn't begin this adventure pounding any table.

I don't recall exactly, but I think my first comment was a bit of a wisecracking thing . . .

it was only when you kept digging your hole deeper, and blaming everyone else for not getting you, that I got fiesty.

I don't really have a personal issue with you, Scott. I don't know you, except from your blog.

I think you're very reckless with your words and and actions, and irresponsible with that, as well, I say that with much compassion.

There were times, during this thing, when I saw people dogpiling on you, that I actually worried for you.

That's why I kept saying, "I'm out of this" because I thought I'd say something far worse than I said, and I truly don't want people to feel bad if they don't deserve it.

And then you'd top yourself by accusing others of something even worse, blaming everyone else, saying something that, to me, was very terrible, and I'd jump on it.

And it made me angry, I will admit.

But not just me, dude . . . read all of these comments on your blog, you fought with a lot of people, and you didn't listen to many at all.

One person, Hilary, accused you of not listening and your response was, but what about all these other people, aren't they not listening?

I think the Devore comment string is very revealing.

There was one exchange you and I had, and I'm paraphrasing, where I said, "It's one thing to make wild accusations, we'll all free to say want we want, but if you can't back up your accusation, then you're just another crazy guy shouting on the corner."

Which is a valid point to this argument.

Your response?

"Takes one to know one."

That was your response. I

found it juvenile and more insulting than anything that I had said up to that point, and I responded in kind.

You deleted the comments and claimed I was attacking you.

That's part of how we ended up here, Scott. Cause and effect.

The only reason I'm listed in name, in this post of yours, is simply because I'm more stubborn and have a slightly bigger chip on my shoulder than some of my brethern, but I don't believe my experience with you was that different than Devore or Mac or Mark.

I reacted differently than they did, but I'd say their experience with you was similar to mine.

I leave you with two comments about this experience, and I urge you to read them, more than once . . .

The first is from Mac, from my site, and I found I agreed with it muchly:

"That’s a totally legit use of the form, I know, but for me I make an exception when a blogger is preparing to write something that insults a number of people.

If you have any doubt that the insult you’re preparing to deploy is actually accurate, shouldn’t you take a step back, take a deep breath, and go back over everything in your head? Is that hard, that kind of impulse control? I don’t think of myself as a particularly mature guy, but somehow I’m able to do it. And if you do insult someone, and then your thoughts on the subject evolve to the point where you no longer believe your own insult, aren’t you then obligated by the core intellectual virtue of transparency to acknowledge the evolution and provide - not an apology, who needs apologies? none of us are dating each other, for pete’s sake - but a *retraction.*:

Those are strong, smart words, and they're not mine.

If you don't respect me, cool, but I hope you respect Mac, he's worthy of it.

The second comment came from Mark, on your site, and for me it sums up how tough this was for your readers, because he exactly nails why people are upset with you.

Please read this over and over.


With due respect, it is disinegenous to claim that there was just some sort of semantic mistake with regard to your comments about the NYC theater aesthetic. You have made standard practice of showing your disdain for New York theater practitioners, especially those who blog, using heated rhetoric in a variety of forums.

The fact that others have sometimes responded in kind does not negate the fact that you have said provocative, inflammatory, largely unsourced things about New York theater artists for some time now. These discussions follow a pattern where you then try to walk back your rhetoric and claim that there was some sort of misunderstanding about this word choice or that one, which is what has happened again. I can see why people get frustrated with this.

You said those things. Repeatedly. You meant them. They are in black and white all over the internet. The reason you keep getting the same questions over and over again is because you can't back up your claims and you can't bring yourself to apologize for making them.

And all of this linguistic slight-of-hand is insulting everyone's intelligence."

Guys, I hope it was okay that I used your quotes, but they are public and I wanted point them out to underline something.

Which is thus: This isn't really a personal issue between you and I, Scott.

I mean, I've responded personally, and you've reacted personally, but this isn't a thing that started because you bumped into me in a bar, or made eyes at my wife.

It's really not about a personal conflict.

This is about something you wrote, and expounded upon, which upset people, of which I was one, and how you dealt with it upset more people.

Not all people, but not just me.

I wrote my post because the issues, ideas, accountability, civility, they're things I'm thinking about, I like my community and I want to be a positive part of it.

And I know I'm not perfect and I want to grow to be a better person within.

And when people came by and left a comment on my post, I listened to them, I really did.

I would urge you to do the same.

I'm sure you were upset that I called you "intellectually dishonest", but I don't feel I can apologize for that, not yet. I still feel that's a valid tag . . .

And I should probably go back to my Walters-free diet, prescribed by Freeman, because I have a new deadline and also, if your reaction to this is to arbritarily disagree and dismiss with all that is written here, then there is little hope for any real positive finish.


Joshua James

Joshua James said...

I forgot to add, and I apologize for forgetting, regarding what you asked at the end of your post.

I accept your virtual handshake, I will go my way, you go yours, and I wish you peace . . .

As has been pointed out ad nauseum, it seems we only but fight (which is on me equally), and there's been enough of that, hasn't there?

Joshua James said...

Scott Walters said...

Don, you're a thug. You could whoop my ass. No question.

Joshua -- I think that's about the best we can do, and I willingly take your hand and wish you the best. And I hope the next time we cross swords, we can do so in a way that allows us both to come away better human beings. Thanks for the blog post.