Pandemic Diary 11: Bite-sized Insults

“You aren’t worth the breath you use.” I tweeted that to some Twitter account today, some individual or individuals hidden behind an American flag and a pro-Trump phrase in place of a person’s name. (“Something Deplorables Something,” written in the Fraktur typeface favored by neo-Nazis or those who think it is cute to be thought of as a neo-Nazi. The account spent the morning tweeting GIFs at me happy to think that it had “owned” me, a Lib.)

This particular account had defended … oh, who cares about the controversy du jour of April 11, 2020? It is so small that I can imagine future me perplexed by it were I to supply the details here. But I had replied, and then I had insulted it, so I suppose the “deplorable” hidden behind the Nazi typeface had earned what it wanted: me to show a temper.

No, the bigger issue for me today is the effect of insults on me, both received and given, because I am curious as to why I tossed some insults out there into a world full of insults to begin with and why I subsequently deleted them. Neither act impresses me much.

I have long envied the great literary insult artists and the many anecdotes of their endeavors to cut others down when others require a place to be shown. Sometimes other people are wrong, you see, and the height, depth, and breadth of their incorrectness requires attention. This is a skill I lack, as a part of my brain will chime in with the thought, “Well, part of what they are saying is true.” Or even, “It’s true for them.”

Thus, the harshest thing most people will hear me utter, even when faced with a statement of record-setting doltishness, is a variation of this: “Well, those are words.” If you ever hear me say this, just know that I think what I just heard spoken was vapid, but that I can not bring myself to say so. I believe too strongly, out of a boundless codependency, that I have the power to injure others with words, even if I register somewhere in my brain that they have attempted to injure me.

This is because I do not enjoy the experience of being insulted myself. Rational teasing is fine among friends. An insult from someone I do not know well, or at all? Some naive part of me simply does not allow me to perceive insults. This is my typical first reaction in my mind to an insult: “That was an odd point to make.”

Then, “I wonder if it had anything to do with me.” At this point, my brow knits. My brain throws a lot of possible retorts at me from the inside, but my inner editor nixes them all, en masse, with the thought, “Why bother?” Why escalate matters? Is it worth it?

A few years ago, a person looked at me and said, “Are you gay?” (I do not remember what I did—hence my general attitude of “Why bother?” If the incident does not feel like it will be worth the effort to remember it, do I need to escalate?—but this gentleman thought that “gay” is an insult, and thought it was worth leveling at me.)

I had enough presence of mind to simply reply, “The last time I checked, I’m not. Hope that’s helpful.” And I walked away.

Twitter is nothing but that moment, thousands of times a day. Perhaps millions. My account is a small one.

My usual practice is to ignore, or when I see abuse, report the abuse to the Twitter authorities. There are a lot of Nazis (why call them “neo Nazis” anymore? They’re just Nazis or “wannabe Nazis”) and white nationalists and people who love to hate out there in TwitterLand. And for any reader who wants to reply to me with a “what about” that concerns the racism that they may want to claim comes from other groups against them, the white people, please stop. Through the years, some people have taken precious time out of their day to write to this web site to explain to me how: 1. I demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of Hitler. (This was in response to a column that was about cupcakes!) 2. My type (Jewish Americans) need to be incinerated. 3. Trump is going to take care of people like me (and not, I guess, in the way one might typically understand the word, “care”). 4. If I don’t like it here, I should go back where I came from. (I replied that I was born less than ten miles from where I now sit.) The only abuse is from members of the majority (white, male) against minority groups. The amazing thing is the members of the majority always appear to think that they were attacked first.

We have seen for several years now what it looks like when the majority that thinks it is perpetually under attack holds power and uses that power in a perpetual attack.

But something inside me after two-plus weeks of confinement wanted to be heard today. I baited a Nazi. The Nazi took the bait and tried to GIF me into tears or a further reaction, to “own the Lib.” I wrote back something abut him not employing words but attacking with cartoons, GIFs. And then I added that he is not worth whatever breath he uses.

I hated the entire exchange. There was no thrill of the chase, only an ashamed blush—because I am not a f*cking Nazi—so why engage with one? There is no sentence I can write that will get a Nazi to look inward and see the wrong that hate always is, there is no hatred I can show that will elicit love or compassion, there is no act I can engage in to build partnership. Partnership and love is what we need in the world, and someday—soon I hope—Nazis and racists and male supremacists alike will notice backs turned against them, silence in reply to their verbal hate-farts, and see that fewer and fewer have joined in their lockstep march.

Something inside me today wanted to start in with one of those anonymous Nazis, though. That account had not come looking for me to attack me. I had written something snarky (“Well, those are words”) in reply to something dumb that a politician had said, and the Nazi then came after me.

I have seen individuals come to a deeper understanding of each other over issues here and there on social media, but it has been truly a rare event. We suffer from a deep need to misunderstand one another right now, to take that misunderstanding as evidence of correctness, and then to encourage misunderstanding as a political philosophy.

On the one hand, I am grateful the Nazis have been so willing to identify themselves so that I know who not to ask for help, ever; on the other hand, there are so many of them right now that I feel outnumbered. I feel tired. To paraphrase Mugatu in Zoolander: Hate is so hot right now.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 11 asks us to reflect on the word, “Bite.”

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