The #TeamHarpy Affair – My Comments a Bit Too Late

The #teamharpy result ended exactly as I feared, but also as I hoped, but then again as I feared it would.

I feared that the people accused of libel could not prove their statements are true. I feared that they based their claims on hearsay and innuendo, but, egged on by people who should have had IANAL pasted on their foreheads with super glue, would continue to make the claims because they appeared true, or ought to be true, or had a vague air of truthiness to them. I feared that they treated the justice system in spiritual or normative terms when all of my knowledge and experience reminded me that the justice system is not a spiritual system, but a cold, hard materialist system. “Ought to be true” does not stand up in court.

I hoped that the plaintiff would understand just how stupid the world has gotten with communities and friends and followers. I hoped he would use that knowledge to compromise and negotiate with the defendants. I am not particularly fond of people who think that complete annihilation of their opponent is a virtue. It appears that the plaintiff has gone in that direction, and for that he’s gained a good amount of my respect. I learned from restorative processes that when harm is done, the person harmed most wants to be believed.  I don’t know him personally, but his (still alleged) choice to look for an apology instead of a big cash reward is magnanimous — empirically magnanimous. Everyone is not an angel, but occasionally people show flashes of moral brilliance. This seems like one of those cases. It’s better than I hoped.

Before I get to the final fear I had, I kept holding Don Quixote in my head as a mantra. Don Quixote. Don Quixote. Don Quixote. But the reality is that this was not like Don Quixote. Don Quixote had a Sancho Panza who tried to tell him to look ahead and see what was real. The defendants in this case, were spurred on by an army of Don Quixotes – all “fighting” symbolic ideas of … well, no need to go into that. Anyone who has read a really great book understands that sometimes symbols have a truth of their own. Don Quixote is a likeable character, probably because he has read too many books about chivalry and knighthood. The only problem he had was that he became so lost in the symbolic battle (there are plenty of abstract giants to overcome in our world) that he broke his lance. In fact, he was lucky that he didn’t all break the windmill, otherwise he may find a miller coming after him for restitution.

In short, the #teamharpy fiasco reminded me of this wrestling moment (be sure to start from 7 minutes):

I wonder what people really meant when they said “I support #teamharpy.” Was it real support or was it using the defendants’ reputations and livelihoods as a means to support their own foolish self-interest? Then again, what *is* real support? We all find ourselves throwing a little bit of money towards causes that inspire us, assuming that it actually helps.

This leads me to my last fear. The librarians I thought I knew claimed that their role was, at least in part, a way of improving information literacy. A big part of that was promoting critical thinking, evaluation of sources and better understanding of materials. This year it seemed that these ideas were all thrown out the window by some. The concept of professional librarianship took a big hit this past year.

I can hear a small band of Twitterites making the irrelevant claim that we should believe women, because harassment is a real issue and it needs to be addressed. And moreover that the only reason I am speaking out now is because I am a cis-gendered white male who is invested in this patriarchial system that oppresses men.

My reply rhymes with “duck shoes,” not because it is an absolutely false claim (the idea is so general, that is has to be at least partially true) but because it assumes that I do not have real life experiences that can inform the experience of the defendants here. I have had my own Don Quixote moments, and I am extremely thankful to the kind and supportive _female_ librarians who reminded me to pay attention to what is really important, and think hard about what hills are really the sort to die on. I got through my Don Quixote situations, not because I am special or heroic, but because people cared about me and helped me tell the difference between a crusade that was truly principled and one that was a sham.

I’ll also say that a good number of the #teamharpy Andy Kaufmans on my feed were white cis-gendered men. Consider King Lear, but reverse the genders. Those who disagree are not necessarily your enemies, and those who agree are not necessarily your friends.

My last fear was that we now live in a society that finds it nearly impossible to learn from the experience of others, and where diversity somehow became a “fight” instead of a set of values that lead us to make the world just a little bit better. And when we speak of a “fight” we usually mean one where other people pay the physical costs while the rest of us sit at home clicking stupid stuff, perhaps forgoing the occasional Starbucks so we can pretend we are changing the world.

This fear is in parallel with the loss of the principle that ideas should be judged on their merits rather than from their source.

It also suggests that the values of library 2.0 that i held in such high regard not too long ago, may have made our society worse off than better.

And as I watch people using the #teamharpy tag to continue to bully people from stupid anti and pro camps, largely to support their own ideological beliefs rather than the actual people involved, I cannot say that my last fear has not come true.