A Call for Input: Responding to “You Think Too Hard” and Other Forms of Online Bullying

Dear Readers,

This is another one of those postings that I’ve wanted to write for a good year or more. During the process of running this blog (which started in May 2013!), I have encountered a variety of online bullying. Nothing too severe. Here is one of many comments that was left for me: 

Andrew, I just want you to tone down your anti white male rhetoric and take off your white guilt glasses. Are you that hung up on a movie like world war z to bash everything White male !!! When there are more deserving stances to spend your drivel on,,,, for instance The Kurds being wiped out thanks to our prez !!! The innocent children being butchered by radical Muslims infront of their parents then the raping of the wife while the husband is forced to watch, then the husband is killed infront of the wife, the bastards get off on this a lot !!!! So why don’t you spend your time with a worthy cause and write your prez to voice a real complaint. I’m out

For comments like this, I just delete them and don’t respond (and I could spend hours responding to all of the problems in this comment). But the “stop thinking” and “stop writing” underlining message hurts.

I am especially bothered by and/or (depending on my mood) puzzled by all the comments I get from people all the time that specifically say “can’t you enjoy anything” or “stop thinking so hard” or “you’re racist!” How do we respond to such comments? This article offers some ideas, and I have shared it many times, but it has not “silenced” such unfounded non-criticism. (This article also offers a nice overview of how writing in a public forum does not give consent to be bullied.)

If you have any suggestions, I’d enjoy hearing them. Hopefully, there will be a “Part II” to this article at some point with some of your ideas and how they worked out.

I’d love to live in a world where all sincere thoughts are valued, recognized, and rigorously considered and honestly debated.   




Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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15 replies

  1. Andrew,
    I sympathize with your (and Alpers’s) frustration and have been hit with similar comments, especially from colleagues (older and younger) and family. As you say, ultimately, this can be a non-issue. If someone doesn’t want to engage, and simply throws non sequiturs at you, then that’s their privilege and it’s your privilege to delete the comment and go on. Sometimes, however, conversion happens.

    I used to go to the cinema much more than I do now. I would go with friends, and as soon as we hit the lobby doors on our exit, we would start critiquing the film — setting, plot, character, acting, photography — everything. One friend eventually became frustrated with our critique and explained why he was exasperated. He just wanted to enjoy a film for two and a half (3?!) hours, and then go on with his life. I get that.

    A few years later, however, I noticed that he started to engage in the conversation as enthusiastically as any of us did. He had been converted to film critique because of socialization. I’m not claiming that everyone can or should be converted, nor am I claiming that sometimes a film is just fun without the critique. But sometimes by observation and socialization, even the “you’re thinking too hard crowd” … starts to think.

    I get this very often from my rhetoric students. More times than I can count, I’ve had former students come by, e-mail, or tweet how they can’t look at an advertisement, listen to a song, watch a show, without doing multiple forms of discourse analysis, especially deconstructing portrayals of race, gender, and class. They roll their eyes and laugh and claim that I’ve taken all the fun out of their lives, but they really seem to be enjoying the analysis on some level. I’m sure they don’t feel obligated to go the whole nine yards and write up an academic paper, but it’s one more thing to think about and talk about for them. So again, some become converted.

    But I’m not fully answering your question here, and perhaps it can’t be answered to our satisfaction. I mean, what if everyone who read your posts were to hearken to your “anti white male rhetoric and […] your white guilt glasses” and changed? Kurds aside — and I’m concerned about Kurds and Uyghers and the Sentinelese and destruction of the rain forests, too — we have our own causes and we have our own limited spheres of existence. Your commenting friend aside, a call to the Prez re: the Kurds is not going to change US foreign policy, I’m sorry. It just doesn’t happen that way. We do what we can do. And writing matters. It really does. Your writing matters; at the very least, it sharpens your own mind for future work and future discussions with folks who will disagree with you for strong and supported reasons and people who will agree with you for strong and supported reasons, and especially for future discussions with people who have questions and need answers. Writing matters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts, own experience, and reassurance, Bruce. Your comments about your students remind me that my students regularly comment that by the end of the semester they see/hear/look at movies, music, and images differently and more critically. It takes time I suppose!


  2. The blog idea is good and the article is great, plus the conversation about the article. It answered a lot of questions/issues I had.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a broad streak of anti-intellectualism out there, and the Internet is now its home territory. Any glance at YouTube comments will show instantly that people who are educated, well-spoken, reasonable in their opinions and generally deferential toward others, even those with whom they disagree, are a decided minority here.

    Many people are threatened by intellectuals on a number of levels. I guess in many such instances they’re afraid of a threat to privilege, which seems to be what was bothering your “tone down your anti white male rhetoric” troll. The best thing you can do is just ignore them. On my blog I make no pretense of having any egalitarian comments policy whatsoever. If I don’t like a comment that’s posted, I’ll just delete it before it ever appears, and I feel perfectly justified in doing so for any reason, or for no reason. My website is sort of my cyber living room. I can invite people to visit, but just as I would in my home, I have the right to tell them to get lost if I don’t like what they say. Most negative comments are “hit and run” people anyway, meaning, they won’t ever try to post again and probably will never click on your site again after trying to drop whatever negativity they’ve decided to unload on you. Thus, they just don’t matter. If they have something constructive to say or add, even if they disagree, chances are good I’ll engage in conversation on a reasoned basis.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly. 95% of the criticism (or attacks) I get is from hit and run people or people who phrase their comments in such a way any conversation would not be productive. The comment from WordPress uses requires an email. I’ve had people put things like none@none.com so it is impossible to know more of who they are. They don’t know the computer records the IP address! lol 🙂

      Thanks for commenting. I’m still really interested, even if just for myself, in developing an academic, philosophical response to “you think too hard.”


  4. From my experience in two very different areas of sociology (Foucaultian post-structural discursive criticism vs. Durkheimian theorizing of morality and community), I have noticed a very different public response to my work. In the former case, I found many people outside academia had a difficulty connecting to what I was talking about and did not see the relevance of what I was doing. In the latter case, I found a great deal of positive public reception and many people connecting to it.

    My hypothesis is that the key difference is the balance of criticism vs. offering solutions. I think discursive criticism (often of race, class, gender, or ability) is relevant but fails to connect with the general public because it leaves us with a bunch more problems without solutions in a world that already has so many problems. With a Durkheimian approach to morality and community, I have been able to balance criticism with solutions and offer insight into the subjective lives of a specific group of people who are often not understood.

    I think discursive criticism has its place, but I also think academics need to take responsibility for the way their research is perceived rather than just blaming an anti-intellectual culture. Where there is smoke, there is fire. Although often anti-intellectual, comments like this from the general public have some truth to them. In my opinion, it is our job to find that kernel of truth and let it benefit our work rather than discourage us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts. I really like the idea of having something positive or some kind of hope in postings to get a broader audience. Never real thought of that – I’ve always been the “content depressed academic.” lol 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think if people say you “think too hard” or whatever, many might be getting at “you’re on a different level intellectually and I can’t keep up.” No, this of course does not apply to everyone, but some people will definitely be jealous of your intellect, while others simply may not understand the words you’re using, which makes them feel inferior. I consider this the main problem many people have with academics. They see academics as believing/talking as if they are above everyone. In that respect, I think there is a time and place for how one talks. I save the perfect grammar and hoity toity words for academic papers. But that’s just me. I’m more comfortable being “unperfect” in my non-academic life. (Not sure if this makes sense, but basically I’m saying that if you didn’t know me, you wouldn’t think I have a lot of college because what I choose to discuss, or things I post on FB, etc.) Again, that’s just me. Just go on being you, Andrew. You CAN change the way people think in your classes, which is wonderful. You can inspire them to notice things. But all this takes an open mind on their part and requires them to work which is a different experience than many have ever had. You require people to think about things they had never thought of before, or things they may not be comfortable with. That’s OK. That’s how we all learn. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve gotten the “lighten up” and “how do you enjoy *anything*” kinds of comments before. I tell myself that I can’t afford to be ignorant and silent because so many other people have those covered. In a way, it does sound as though the person is telling you that your perspective or view of the world is wrong, perhaps even irrational; this implies that they have the correct and objective view, the one you should adopt. I’ve written about some of this in my own experience before: http://conditionallyaccepted.com/2010/03/20/there-is-white-mens-truth-and-then-there-are-opinions/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Eric. Your comment reminds me of one of bell hooks’s talk (I think it was the one with Melissa Harris-Perry) where she said she would be sitting at her computer crying as she prepared to write a critique because it was so upsetting to think about/writing about but that she knew no one else would do it. I like your example of that there are plenty of people who just sit back and enjoy things. I try to tell students and others that when we are most relaxed / most entertained is when we need to be most alert.

      I like the article of yours you linked. Thanks. I think it is a wonderful thing that you directly acknowledged that you too are racist, sexist, etc and part of the on-going problems. Given the power of the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy – we can’t help but “give in” and think it is “good” and “be blinded” at times. People are never sure how to respond when they ask me “are you also racist’ and I say “yes” – I try to explain that we are in such a racist/sexist/etc society that it’s unavoidable and given that I am White Man I have privilege such that I benefit from racism/sexism/etc that is beyond my control. At times, I even have a bit of internalized homophobia.

      All of this (^^) makes “thinking too hard” vital for survival and teaching and learning and overcoming the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy as much as possible. 🙂



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