Saturday, November 17, 2012

Internet antipathy, part 2....thousand

So, one of the people I was most looking forward to seeing (and talking with, if I could come up with something to talk about) at Skepticon was Matt Dillahunty, host of The Atheist Experience and president of the Atheist Community of Austin. As it was, I only got to see part of his talk on Sunday because I had to check out of my hotel and get out of town, and conversation was limited to Saturday night at Farmer's Gastropub where Ed Brayton suggested that I'd said something about Dillahunty being banned from Freethought Blogs (a joke stemming from this non-joke, which unfortunately many don't grasp as a joke and I didn't want to be mistaken for one of them-- clear as mud, right?).

Anyway. Dillahunty's house was burgled yesterday, and he posted about it on Facebook. The thief or thieves  made off with some valuable jewelry, electronics, and other things. JT Eberhard responded to this by posting on his blog at Patheos that he really is short on cash (boy, I get that) but he would be donating any revenue resulting from hits on that post to Matt Dillahunty and his wife Beth in order to replace some of what was lost. Since that includes Beth's wedding ring, not all of it is replaceable regardless of how much money is raised. But you get the intent of the gesture.  

Or at least, I got the intent of the gesture....some people on Reddit are having a hard time of it. The general thrust of their position is:
  1. Matt said on Facebook that he didn't require donations, therefore it's not just unnecessary but wrong and offensive to donate, 
  2. The stolen items were expensive, which means that Matt and Beth are filthy rich and it would be ridiculous to donate to replace such items when there are much needier people in the world,
  3. Matt and Beth's insurance should cover the full cost, and if they don't have insurance then this should just be a little lesson to them, and
  4. Who the hell is Matt Dillahunty, anyway?
These are reasons why Reddit has been labeled a "swirling pit of asshole." One such troglodyte even took the opportunity call Dillahunty fat. It wasn't enough to shrug and say "I'm not interested," or just pass over the thread completely in a non-vernal expression of that same sentiment....they had to play "Dear Muslima" about it and try to shame someone for trying to be charitable and help out a friend and good guy who experienced something really horrible. That's a serious case of empathy impairment, right there. 

Maybe it's particularly salient to me because I've experienced a very similar thing a few years ago-- some people broke into my apartment and stole things. And the things they stole were expensive-- two laptops. They didn't know that one of the laptops was completely non-functional, and had in fact been replaced by the other one but I couldn't bring myself to trash the old one. Maybe they told themselves that my ownership of such things meant I was wealthy, and that if I could afford such things, I could afford to replace them. Wrong. And no, I had no renter's insurance. And my MA dissertation was on the working laptop. 

But as with Matt and Beth, the worst thing about it was the feeling of violation-- the broken window, the door left open, the knowledge that someone has been in your space. The feeling that can't exactly be alleviated, but at least can be softened a bit by the knowledge that people care about you. And online, this is the form that care tends to take. 

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