Tag Archives: Passive Aggression

Wildly Failing to Make an Assertion

I asserted in my previous post that I found it unclear whether the contributors and commentators on the anti-liberal blog the Othosphere all defined liberalism in the same way. Terry Morris (a regular commentator on the Orthosphere and of late my blog), claims I “wildly failed” (somehow) to make this assertion. He expressed this in a brief exchange of comments following my previous post. I found this exchange interesting because it illustrates an unfortunate, adversarial dynamic I have experienced repeatedly in the comment sections of many blogs. This dynamic is characterized by two commentators ostensibly arguing the merits of a disagreement when they are actually (typically by means of passive aggression) trying to humiliate the other person because they feel the other person has offended them in some way.

Terry Morris began this exchange by taking issue with a passage from my post. In this passage I referenced a post entitled The Sexual Left Devours Itself made by Othosphere contributor Kristor. Specifically, I wrote:

If [Kristor] is talking about political liberalism then the counter example of myself refutes his assertion that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time.

Terry Morris reacted to this passage by exclaiming:

That isn’t Kristor’s assertion; it’s *your* assertion about what he wrote.

I can see why Terry Morris reacted this way although I think he misunderstood the point I attempted to make. It is true that a plain reading of my comment could lead one to believe I asserted that Kristor asserted “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all of the time.” To clarify, (1) the word “If” which begins my statement should have keyed Terry Morris into the fact that I did not know whether Kristor was in fact making this assertion and (2) the whole point of my post was that I found it unclear what exactly Kristor was asserting because I did not know what definition of liberalism he was using. Terry Morris is right, however, that I could have worded this specific sentence with greater clarity.

Proceeding with his misunderstanding Terry went on to say:

Having followed Kristor’s posts for years, dating back to our old VFR days, I can assure you that Kristor would *never* assert that “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time,” your counter-example and any number of others you might cite (or the lack thereof) notwithstanding.

Two things are interesting here. First, we see Terry Morris speaking for Kristor based on reading his prior posts. I find this interesting because it demonstrates Terry Morris’s readiness to speak with authority as to the mental states of others. Another example of this behavior that readily comes to mind comes from a comment from another post where Terry Morris asserted with (apparent) authority that God could not get bored. Putting aside the question as to why Terry feels the need to speak for other people, I get the sense that he is motivated not so much out of a desire to set the record straight but rather to put me in what he perceives to be my place because what I have written has offended him in some way. Second, notice the passive-aggressive parenthetical phrase “or lack there of” he uses to describe my counter-examples. This reinforces the sense of offense I perceive as to his motivation.

Terry Morris goes on to say:

Concerning what definition of liberalism Kristor is working off of, yes, he would agree with Zippy’s definition. He would also agree with Zippy’s definition of what a liberal is further down Zippy’s post.

Again we see Terry Morris speaking on behalf of Kristor by stating with authority the definition of liberalism that Kristor would use. I admit that I have not been reading Kristor’s posts for as long as Terry Morris claims to have read them. I can only state that based upon my own experience have have not seen convincing evidence that Kristor  agrees with Zippy’s definition as Terry Morris asserts.

I then asked Terry Morris what I thought to be a reasonable question based on his comment.

So you are saying that Kristor’s post is discussing sexual liberalism only and that sexual liberalism is not necessarily related to political liberalism?

I thought this question to be reasonable because if political liberalism did not necessarily lead to sexual liberalism all of the time then it makes sense that they would not necessarily be related. That is, political liberalism could lead to sexual liberalism but not necessarily. Terry Morris apparently did not agree that this was a reasonable question to ask as indicated by his response.

Umm, no, that’s not what I’m saying and you know it. I’m merely pointing out that Kristor isn’t saying (in the post you cite) what you claim he said. Namely that political liberalism *necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time*. And I’m working off of your (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism at that. Hint: that you (or I, or anyone else for that matter) haven’t groped another woman in the 20 odd years you’ve been married does not make you a sexual conservative, or non-sexual-liberal if you like.

The phrase “and you known it” suggests to me that Terry Morris thinks I was being willfully ignorant or perhaps intellectually dishonest. This further reinforces my suspicion that my original post offended him in some way and that he sees our interaction as adversarial. He then goes back to the claim (I did not intentionally make) in my previous post as to what Kristor asserted. This is a great example of how adversarial comment section exchanges can easily go off the rails as both sides do not fully understand each other and are not motivated to do so. Rather, the primary motivation seems to be to punish the other either by demonstrating to them they are wrong or by making them look foolish to the viewing audience.

Terry Morris then asserts that he “is working off of [my] (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism.” This further illustrates that we are not really communicating because to my knowledge I never attempted to define “sexual liberalism” anywhere in my post. My point (once again) always was that I did not know what definition for liberalism Kristor was using in his post and I attempted to articulate this in my response:

I don’t use these terms. There does not seem to be an agreed upon definition which was the point of my post.

To which he replied:

Agreed upon definition of what? Liberalism, Political Liberalism, Sexual Liberalism, Moral Liberalism? What? You’ve made distinctions that certainly exist on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis, but what has that to do with anything Kristor said in his post?

I am not sure what he is accusing me of here. In my mind I have been clear that I do not know if the writers on the Orthosphere are using a common definition of liberalism. As such, I cannot be sure which definition Kristor is using. In my analysis of Kristor’s post I attempted to document my thought process as I parsed what he had written.

Interestingly, Terry Morris followed with this comment:

I don’t presume to understand what your overall point in the post was/is, but I’ll take you at your word and also say you’ve wildly failed to make it!

This statement leads me to believe that when Terry Morris’s emotions got the better of him. He was obviously attempting to be insulting. But even more interestingly, he immediately refuted his own assertion that he did not “presume to understand [my] overall point” in his next statement.

That *you* don’t see general agreement amongst traditionalists about what constitutes liberalism, is a failure on your part. 

If Terry Morris really did not understand my point then how could he clearly articulate my point in his next sentence? As to the failure on my part to discern a general agreement amongst traditionalists I can only say that this agreement Terry Morris asserts to exist is not apparent in the posts that I have read. Perhaps he can point me in the right direction.

In the final comment I wrote:

I think my point was clear but I take you at your word that you don’t understand it.

Obviously (to me anyway), this was a bit passive aggressive on my part. I do not take Terry Morris at his word (i.e., that he does not understand my point) based on his own articulation of my point. But whether we understand each other was not really the point of this exchange especially as it reached its conclusion.

I cannot speak with authority as to Terry Morris’s mental state (as he can apparently do of others). I can only say that the tone of his comments suggests to me that my post has offended him in some way. Of course, interpreting motivation and mood behind writing (especially in internet comment sections) is always an inexact science. This is why I always couched my interpretations as to his mental state by saying “I suspect” and the like. In some ways it is a shame that most adversarial exchanges in internet comment sections devolve in this way. On the other hand there is a certain joy that one experiences in doing it even if he refuses to admit it to others or to himself.

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Passive Aggressive Behavior is an Insurance Policy

When I act passive aggressively I am hedging my bets. I am lashing out with the thin veneer of not lashing out. Everyone knows I am lashing out (or at least can feel it) but if accused I can deny it. This behavior comes from a place of both anger and fear. I am angry. That is the reason I lash out in the first place. I am afraid of the consequences of lashing out. That is why I strive to maintain deniability. The reason I choose not to outright display my anger and fear honestly is because of shame. Shame tells me I am not entitled to display my true emotions because to do so would break the rules and defy a social hierarchy. In this hierarchy shame tells me I occupy a very low rung. I am allowed to look down upon those who occupy a lower rung but I am not allowed to impose upon those who occupy the higher rungs. Shame tells me that displaying my true emotions is an imposition upon those who occupy higher rungs than me. But that anger (being a true emotion) still exists and wants to come out of me. And so I buy an insurance policy of passive aggression. My anger comes out of me cloaked in deniability. It is not as authentic or cathartic as a true expression of anger would be but it acts as a release valve and lowers the pressure of the simmering volcano that is my bottled up anger.

Of course the recipient of my passive aggression feels the true emotion behind it. Because it was expressed passive aggressively the recipient experiences a certain disgust in reaction to my cowardice and subsequent dishonest denial of my true emotions. This disgust is palpable and I agree with it for I disgust myself (when I act with passive aggression). This increases my anger and my shame. I am angry with the world for putting me in this position. I am angry with myself for not rising above it. I am ashamed of myself for not rising above it and resorting to passive aggression as the only means of expressing my anger. The more I persist in this state of affairs the higher I raise the cost of pulling it all down. The more I persist with passive aggression the more I fear expressing my true emotions and bearing my hypocrisy to the world. They will see the truth and judge me. I will see the truth and judge myself. Maintaining deniability not only means I can deny my true emotions and intentions to the world but it also means I can deny them to myself.

And so I have purchased this insurance policy of passive aggression. It saves me from experiencing the full weight of the tragedy of my shame. Never fully experiencing it will also insure that I never rise above it. But rising above it requires that I feel its full weight. That is too scary a proposition.

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