22 May 2022

Overthinking Tweets

I wanted to respond to a tweet, but didn't have anything useful to contribute to the discussion of what the tweet was actually about, so I'm writing this post to discuss the tweet itself, my reaction to it, other people's reactions to it, and and my reaction to other people's reactions to it. No normal conversation can ever hope to stand up under this sort over-analysis. While most people don't write posts like this, some people (like me) often go through similar thought processes. The worry that other people might be doing this same thing to my daily conversation (either on or off twitter) is a source of anxiety that I suppress with the hope that most people have better control of their own thoughts to avoid wasting their own time and energy like I sometimes do.

With no further ado:

I. The Tweet

As I said, I don't have much to say about the tweet itself. That hasn't been my experience with "many mormon women," but also I don't have a large enough sample of most other people's relationships to really opine much. That's partly because I don't pay much attention to other people's lives, except where they intersect with my own. Even in a house I lived in for 18 years, I'm not sure I could tell you much about the distribution of responsibilities in my parent's marriage to opine reliably on a percentage breakdown.

I sympathize with the original tweeter though, as having unclear or perceived unfairness in contributions to a relationship is distressing, and it seems reasonable to assume that this is at least partly coming from his own experience. It also seems like he has observed the same dynamic in other relationships (not everyone is as unobservant as I am), which is why he broadened his observation to "many" women.

If he had written "most mormon women" or just "mormon women" my nerd senses would have tingled, and I would have been tempted to ask for justification (how do you know "most?"), or plead for qualification ("surely you can't mean ALL Mormon women"). If we were talking in person I might have even said one of those things in response. However, on twitter there's no social expectation that I say anything, so I almost certainly wouldn't have actually responded to even this counterfactual tweet without the appropriate qualifications. Considering the tweet as written with appropriate specificity, and considering my lack of interest in the topic, the clear move is to scroll on by.

II. The Reaction

So why didn't I scroll on by? Why did I click to read the comments?

If I'm honest with myself, I expected people replying to be upset. Specifically, I expected that people would call RecessionCone a misogynist, and I was not disappointed. Or rather, I was disappointed, but in exactly the way I expected to be.

To highlight why I expected this, I'm going to focus for a bit on something completely different: people who play video games, aka gamers.

Many people have bad opinions of gamers, often informed by bad experiences with self-identified gamers. Rather than misremember or make up some criticism, I searched for "The trouble with gamers," clicked the first hit, and here's what I get when I check out the first chapter description:

This chapter argues that gamers, including academic gamers, use the angry feminist as an abject figure to reinforce gamer identity and impose politically-motivated limitations on what constitutes an “expert” of video games.

OK, this doesn't seem true to me in general, as my friends who do call themselves gamers don't "use the angry feminist as an abject figure to reinforce gamer identity." Some gamers are feminists themselves. However, not all gamers are like my friends. Anti-feminist gamers definitely exist, and bonding over disparaging another group works just as well for Army vs Navy, Yankees vs Red Sox, Republicans vs Democrats, or Gamers vs Feminists.

How many people who get upset by that claim would be mollified if it said "many gamers" instead of just "gamers?" Clearly it's still criticizing the group, and criticism of the group from somebody outside the group tends to be perceived as an attack on the group. They hate us 'cause they ain't us. In general, people don't strictly parse qualifications like "many" or "some" when hearing criticism directed towards a group they want to protect.

(It's worth noting that this is just a chapter summary from a book I haven't read, and you would expect that brevity matters more than fully explaining the chapter, which presumably has an entire chapter to explain exactly what it means. This isn't intended to be a condemnation of a book I haven't read.) 

Clever provocateurs can exploit qualifying statements to justify their actual statements as true ("I didn't say all gamers") while still levying disproportionate criticism towards their target group. Selective criticism can always find someone in the targeted group doing something worth criticizing, and repeating that process over and over builds an impression of the group itself being bad. People who recognize this game being played pushback early, not necessarily against the strict content of the statement, but the perceived connotation and the perceived ulterior motives of the statement.

Sometimes people tuned into this sort of manipulation catch false positives from speakers who really actually only mean the explicit content of their statement, and aren't intent on using it to build up a condemnation of the entire group. Sometimes they don't even care about the speakers intentions, as a bunch of separate well-intentioned statements can have the same impact on societal views, regardless of the intent of the speakers.

While this can be frustrating if you want to use your words to convey specific meaning, this is how much interpersonal communication works. The actual words often matter less than how they are conveyed.

III. Men's Rights Vibes

OK, so what's the problem with men's rights? Doesn't it matter that men commit suicide at a much high rate than women? Doesn't it matter that many family courts have officially codified bias against fathers? Doesn't it matter that men underperform academically compared to women?

Yes, clearly those things matter. So what's the problem with men's rights? Simply put: the men involved.

Try hanging around men's rights folks for a while and you'll likely see what I mean. There are many men with axes to grind against specific women that they have expanded to blame women in general. It gets weird and gross.

So do I find myself agreeing with at least those three issues that men's rights activists (MRA's) also complain about? Yes, and two have direct relevance to my own life.

Do I ever want to call myself a men's rights activist? No, a thousand times, no. First, I don't spend much time doing anything about it, so activist would be a stretch. But also, the group I would be lumping myself in with is not a group I want to be a part of.

It's kind of like why I don't call myself a Brony. Yes, I'm a man who has watched various forms of My Little Pony shows and I enjoy them. But I don't want to group myself with the people who make it an important part of their identity, because it's not accurate to me, and it gets weird.

Quick note that should be a footnote but I'm not going to figure out how to do that right now.

If you followed some of the previous links, you might have found that the family court one is actually an article about bias in family courts being a myth:

Why do people perceive a bias in family court?

There are a few reasons why people believe that there is a bias against fathers in family court, even though that is rarely true. These may include that:

  • Some fathers are absent or choose to spend little time with their children.
  • The courts weigh custody based on who takes care of the children more often and who has a stronger bond. More women are stay-at-home parents, which would mean that they had more time to bond with their children and may have a stronger case for primary custody.
  • Fathers may be the breadwinners, so they are outside the home more often and cannot take on as much custody as a result.

The article claims that there is no bias against fathers, while outlining the precise mechanisms by which the biased outcomes are achieved: because father's tend to work more, and mother's tend to be stay-at-home parents more, you end up with clear disparate impact in terms of assigning custody in contentious divorces. Men's rights advocates use similar arguments to explain why the disparity in pay isn't actually biased: if you adjust for education, experience, age, location, job title, industry and even company" the pay gap mostly disappears. (That link argues why that justification also isn't convincing)

IV. Why did I write this?

The equitable distribution of household responsibilities in other people's households was not on my list of things I needed to spend time thinking about prior to reading the tweet. I'm still not terribly interested in it. And yet I've spent the time to write this blog post. Why?

Blame the Boston Celtics. They were losing badly to a much less talented Miami Heat team in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Championship Series, and I wanted to think about something else.

But also, I hope that by writing this I've sufficiently shamed myself for the amount of mental effort I expend thinking through this sort of thing from everyday interactions. It's not wasted, exactly, but it's definitely far from an optimal use of my time and energy. Twitter makes this worse, in that I can always find this sort of thing at the swipe of a finger, and written down it's harder to dismiss or misremember compared to normal conversation. Maybe next time I'm tempted to spend a lot of mental energy thinking through tweet conversations I didn't even participate in, I'll remember this blog post, and go do something else.

If anyone I've mentioned is bothered by this post, please feel free to block me on any and all social networks; it might even be good for me if it saves me from similar future mental exercises. I was iffy on whether I should post this or add it to my list of things-I-should-never-share-because-they-would-make-the-world-worse, so if you ask me to take it down, I probably will. Pre-publication I already removed a whole section breaking down additional twitter replies which at very least made an already too-long post shorter.

And hey, it could be worse. I could be a journalist at a major news outlet.

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