What was I thinking?!?

One of the reasons it took me so long to start a blog is that I’d heard from my friends who write them that they can take up huge amounts of time and energy.  Although I don’t mind spending some time with it (I teach courses primarily in public rhetoric and discourse, so it’s kind of professional practice for me to write public documents), the recent set of exchanges about CCPM, CCVM, the Sheepdogs, etc has demonstrated to me what the limits of such public discourse are.  At least one of the limits, anyway.

I’ve known since late January 2005 that making yourself a public target of angry people can be a little frightening.  When three very angry people mailed anonymous death threats to my house in response to arguments I didn’t make in a Philly Inquirer op-ed, I was nervous.  For about 10 minutes, until I got mad, that is.  I was, and still am, mad that people would lecture me about accountability in letters they wouldn’t even sign.  Of course, if I were inclined to threaten other people’s lives, I probably wouldn’t sign those threats either.  Good thing I’m a pacifist.

Since then, I’ve had the friend of a supposed Navy Seal tell me that his friend wanted to drag me outside the back of Ryan’s Pub in WC and kill me.  My office-mate, who’s a Navy retiree, tells me that no real Seal would ever say such a thing, but still.  I’ve heard a counter-protester lean up against me and say to his friend, “Let’s beat the sh*t out of one of these hippies and see what happens.”

Let’s just say that while these kinds of threats aren’t pleasant, I’ve learned a few things from them.  First, the likelihood that anybody will come through on one of those threats is low.  I have to believe that anybody who’s really been trained to kill and has been disciplined into military service simply wouldn’t do this.  As much as I disagree with the counter-protesters about politics, military policy, philosophy and so on, I don’t think they’re insane.  When they say they’ve had to commit acts of violence and therefore hate them more than we do, I actually believe them.

Second, I’ve learned that anybody who would make that kind of threat (or who would be happy that somebody did) is simply incorrigible.  There’s nothing I can say that’s going to change the way they think about anything.  For somebody who believes (almost religiously) in the possibilities of rhetoric and persuasion, this is a hard lesson to take.

Third, although I’m firmly committed to democracy as the practice of freedom (rather than as some abstraction that we “fight for” in hopes that we might “protect it” as if it were a thing), that doesn’t mean I’m willing to be a martyr while people whose inclination is to attack throw ad hominems around.

Somebody on one of the threads over the last week or so made the claim that “can” and “should” don’t mean the same thing.  Yup.  And that cuts both ways.  Just because you can lob accusations around without knowing or caring whether they’re true, that doesn’t mean you should.  I realize that’s part of the strategy–throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks–but that doesn’t make it OK.  If you’re committed to the truth like you say you are, then don’t just make stuff up.

A final note for the day…  As I say on the “About Seth” page, this is my blog and I get to decide what goes on it and what doesn’t.  Sheepdogs already have their own blog where they can say whatever they want.  Skye has her blog where she can say whatever she wants.  And having scanned through both, I can say that they take this liberty very seriously.  That’s their business.  I don’t intend to read any more of their blogs.

But I will not tolerate baseless personal attacks against me or anybody else (even people who are on my “side”) any more.  In fact, I won’t tolerate personal attacks of any kind any more.  And before anybody sets off on a lecture about my hypocrisy in being “intolerant,” let me be very clear about one thing.  There are some folks for whom tolerance is the highest priority (anarchists and Libertarians are very closely aligned on this, even though they say they reject each other’s philosophies).  I’m certainly committed to tolerance, but only to a point.  I have no interest in serving as a conduit for disrespect.  Take it somewhere else until you show some basic respect for people who aren’t you.

21 Responses to What was I thinking?!?

  1. armyanimaldoc says:

    Nobody made death threats to you in the last week. Don’t draw a moral equivalence there. You are intolerant of the Campus Republicans. You are intolerant of CCVM. You are intolerant of those in the military (whether it’s that Seal you claim threatened you and was somehow stripped of his Seal status by another unnamed Seal you work with, or me). You are intolerant of anyone who isn’t you. Your attempted suppression of others is not baseless. It’s verified. I don’t think tolerance is the highest priority. I don’t tolerate Islamofacists, and I have little tolerance for those who don’t believe in the term itself. I also don’t have tolerance for intolerant hypocrites and you will continue to read those other blogs because it eats at you, not to mention that it’s human nature. These aren’t angry people. You think that anyone who is justifiably pissed off at you because you bait them or because they see you for the typical liberal academian that you are (and that you CLAIM to be in your own words) is an “angry person”. Well, to reiterate Skye’s point, the only folks who have acted on anger with violence were members of CCPM, and it was a CCPM member who hatefully called me a baby killer. You’re a fraud, not in the least as an academian. I have a right to be angry about that, about your group, and about you, without being an “angry person driven to act on anger”. Your group is angry with Bush, you’re angry with Republicans and conservatives, you’re angry at the majority of military for calling you on the carpet for not “supporting the troops” as THEY see it (an importance you neglect), you’re angry about the environment, you’re angry about lack of amnesty for illegals, you’re angry about animal experimentation, you’re angry about heterosexuality and Christianity, you’re angry about Israel and Jews, and you’re angry at your fellow Americans while legitimizing the aims of and actions of the enemy. In the words of Michael Savage, you truly are “The Enemy Within”, cloaked in discretionary tolerance as Timmerman describes as Shadow Warriors. Congratulations!

  2. armyanimaldoc says:

    Technically, you’ve slapped the hand that reached out to meet with you and John and to BE tolerant. That’s on the record now for all half dozen of your regular guests and other assorted opposition viewers to see.

  3. Deanya says:

    Wow, armyanimaldoc, if that is what you think tolerance on your own part looks like, you might want to take a second look.

  4. armyanimaldoc says:

    You might want to take a second look at the thread titled “I must have hit a nerve” before you make broad sweeping assumptions about me, as you’ve done before. This thread is not the whole story. Then again, being one of the folks who thinks (and has stated before) that any military member who is angry with your group and disagrees with you must be an angry person. Come back when you have something of substance to say, instead of conjecture, speculation, and obvious bias. Bye.

  5. sethkahn says:

    Enough, Scott. I asked as nicely as I could for you to back off, and instead you post several new messages including an attack on somebody else you don’t know. I’d prefer not to have to actually block your name and address and IP, but if you post here again I will. And I’m posting this publicly so that it’s date and time stamped. If you want to keep yapping, go start your own blog. Enough.

  6. BobSacamano says:

    Seth – it sounds to me like you are losing the argument so you are ending it.

  7. sethkahn says:

    No, Bob. Scott said some things that were over the line, so I cut him off. As I’ve said time and again on this blog, the argument that we were having was clearly not a win/lose argument because neither side was going to give an inch. I got tired of dancing. I realize you’ve drifted toward conservative positions, but that doesn’t put you in a position to evaluate my motives, just the same as I don’t have the grounds on which to evaluate yours.

  8. Marcia says:

    Hi Seth,

    Not my business but I really think you should allow all the posts from this group to appear here, regardless of content. I think it would be good for people to know how they really feel and what they really think instead of carefully worded letters to the editor or censored versions that you will allow here. Not that I am faulting you as I did read that your family reads this blog but given that some folks won’t ever stumble across any of their web sites, I think it might behoove you to let them speak for themselves, so to speak. One thing I have noticed in checking out pictures on their web sites is this: it seems the majority of their signs have little to do with their support of troops but more to do with personal attacks on what they consider the other side. I’m curious, are they there to support the troops or make fun of people who don’t think the same way they do?

  9. sethkahn says:

    Hi Marcia: I have struggled with the issue of what to approve and what not to. The family is one. There’s also an issue of civility that’s important to me. At any rate, let’s just say it wasn’t a decision made lightly. And as I’ve said a couple of times, in the name of access, anybody can start their own blog and say whatever they want there; it’s not my responsibility to provide a venue for everyone. I will consider, perhaps, filtering somewhat less.

    As for the CCVM signs, I don’t want to speak for them, but I imagine they might say these things: (1) CCPM attacks the war and the President on their signs, so why are ours worse? (2) We’re just telling people the truth about them. They may well be having some fun among themselves at our expense (the sign somebody carries saying “Hippies Smell” can’t really be all that serious, y’know?). I do think that our sides have very different perceptions of what counts as aggressive, and that’s one of the major sources of tension among us.

    Make sense?

  10. Bob Sacamano says:

    Scott certainly didn’t cross any lines that you and John didn’t cross first. I think he’s clearly emerged as the more articulate and educated on said topics and he’s boxed you into a corner, so you are calling time out. Nice move. It’s usually what liberals do when they can’t win.

  11. sethkahn says:

    Hooray, more empty partisan snippiness! We haven’t had enough of that around here recently. OK, I get snippy too.

    I’m sure Scott will be pleased that you think he’s more articulate. If we were having a public speaking contest, that would mean something. And if people who aren’t already entrenched in their positions read through those threads, they may decide they agree with him. So be it. You can’t decide that in advance, and neither can I.

    Seems like you’ve taken on the role of my dyspeptic guardian angel, telling me (for the, what, 3rd time?) that I’m losing debates with people I’m not really trying to beat. I get your point and am not sure why you keep reading the blog if that’s all you have to say about it. You seem to have decided what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it, and that I’m going to lose arguments about it. Why bother?

  12. Skye says:

    I’ve known since late January 2005 that making yourself a public target of angry people can be a little frightening.

    I’ve known since March 22, 2008 that making yourself a public target of angry people makes then reach out and strike you. The video evidence of the first strike by a CCPM ‘pacifist’ is quite chilling.

    I’ve heard a counter-protester lean up against me and say to his friend, “Let’s beat the sh*t out of one of these hippies and see what happens.”

    Any evidence to support this allegation? Or is this an example of creative fiction?

  13. sethkahn says:

    Ah, the dance continues…

    Skye: First things first. What happened to you sucks. Nobody in CCPM is happy or proud about it. It’s been through due process; a judge has spoken; punishment has been allotted. But let’s be clear about what happened. It wasn’t an attempt to injure you. You–actually your camera–got pushed out of somebody’s face. I wish it had never happened, for whatever that’s worth, and not just because of the extent to which you’ve been able to capitalize on it.

    As for my report about being harassed, no there’s no documentary evidence of it that would hold up in court. Good thing I’m not trying to develop a legal case. I’m just telling people what I think happened. You, I’m guessing, will keep challenging it until I recant or admit that I can never “prove” it. So you “win” the argument that there’s no documentation. That doesn’t mean I’m making it up, either. As a writer yourself, you should know better. Readers have the option to believe me, or not, as they decide. Because this isn’t a legal issue, the stakes aren’t very high–for either of us. Yours was a legal issue, you got your video, you won.

    If you’re going to accuse me of lying, do it. Don’t insinuate that I must be making this up because I don’t have video to prove it. You can’t prove it didn’t happen. So here we are.

    Like I said before, it was Donald Rumsfeld who said “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” If that’s the litmus test for accepting arguments, I’d gladly agree that I can’t prove what happened if you war supporters would agree that nearly the entire rationale for our invasion of Iraq was similarly unwarranted. Actually, that analogy doesn’t work. We know now that there was compelling evidence to counter the administration’s claims. No more “absence of evidence” for you to hide behind.

  14. Lee Waters says:

    Greetings Seth! As one who has served in Iraq (and now currently in Afghanistan), I disagree with much of what I’ve read on the blog. That being said, I do find the angst on both sides quite entertaining. As someone who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, I consider it my honor to serve the U.S. in my military capacity to protect your right to speak. While we may disagree about politics, I’m glad you have a forum that stimulates thought (even though we may reach opposite conclusions) and passions. People should be passionate about their government. Unfortunately, many on both sides often let passion get in the way of rational thought. We must remember that we are Americans and the enemy is not us. Best of luck on the blog!

  15. sethkahn says:

    Lee! How’d you find me here?

    I appreciate the sentiment you’re expressing. I agree that the enemy is not us (all of us, taken together); I just wish the Sheepdogs recognized that as well. They do, however, position our peace activist group as an enemy. We are simply trying to do what we think is right, within the limits of the law (with one unfortunate exception, a member of our group who lost his temper and pushed a camera out of his face), and with an eye towards making our country better. People who think we’re “anti-American” aren’t recognizing what we’re about. Whether that’s on purpose or not I can’t say; I’m not a mindreader.

    As for passion and reason, I don’t find them as neatly separable as you seem to. It should be obvious that “the facts” aren’t especially clear here. Lots of really smart and well-informed people disagree about them. And lots of less smart and less well-informed people disagree about them. And lots of people in between disagree about them. I do agree with you that sometimes we (on both sides) shout a lot, which is more polarizing than productive.

    One of the reasons I started writing about peace activism on the blog, knowing the Sheepdogs would participate, is that I wanted to see what our voices looked like side-by-side. On the street corners where we gather on Saturdays, it’s hard to gauge. Now we have archives of those discussions, and readers can decide for themselves how reasonable anybody sounds. Of course, it’s pretty obvious that their side thinks they sound smarter and more patriotic than us and vice versa. It’s all the people in between I’m interested in.

  16. Lee Waters says:

    I found you through Google, of course! Regarding the separation between passion and reason, it might be my legal training that allows me to divide the two, but I understand your point. Perhaps I should have used blind emotion rather than passion. I’ve found that quite often when two parties get all riled up and emotionally involved, the facts become irrelevant. This applies even the simple ones about which there should be no conflict and it becomes a shouting match (I’ve seen two grown adults arguing over a $10 toaster).

    On the whole, regarding political speech, my personal view is that when people disagree with you (and if you find their views offensive), the best answer is more speech, not less. This can and should be done in a respectful manner, not shouting down speakers on campus, blocking doors, etc… This applies whether the speaker is Ann Coulter or Al Gore (both of which I find a bit nutty).

  17. sethkahn says:

    Lee: Agreed that “blind emotion” makes more sense. Figuring out the difference between emotion that’s motivating/productive and emotion that’s blinding/inhibiting can be difficult.

    I think in this case the problem is that the sides are arguing from two different sets of “facts,” not necessarily that the facts themselves are contested. Armyanimaldoc certainly has facts, from serving in Iraq, that those of us who didn’t serve don’t have. At the same time, John Grant, from being in Iraq working on documentary films, has some facts that Doc doesn’t have. At the same time, those of us Stateside who are arguing about the big political picture are talking about facts that don’t depend, directly, on conditions specifically in Iraq, even if those conditions were consistent all over the country. So we have a two/three ships passing in the night situation, where none of the evidence really overrides any other, but because of our beliefs, we keep believing it does.

    For the most part, I agree that more speech is better than less. In some instances, however, there’s a limit. On the blog, I put that limit at demonstrable disrespect. I didn’t block anybody until they crossed that line. And, probably more important, this venue is hardly the only one for people to express their positions. Even as a staunch free-speech advocate, I’m not responsible for creating venues for everybody. I set this blog up in less than 5 minutes, and anybody else could do the same.

    About “shouting down”: yes, in general, I’m with you on this. But it’s hard to reconcile the call for civility with the call for more free speech. Hard to have it both ways, right? If people are free to talk, then putting restrictions on what they say is inconsistent with that freedom. On the blog, my solution is to encourage people who don’t like my guidelines to take that speech elsewhere. But when the disagreement is in real time in a real place, that solution doesn’t work so well. And, finally, there are times when shouting somebody down is the right thing to do. A friend of mine named Dana Cloud wrote an essay a few years ago called “In Defense of Unruliness,” in which she argues that civility has its limits. She uses examples like the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and Rosa Parks to demonstrate that some situations warrant more aggressive tactics.

    I would expect that in the case of the Chester County Peace and Victory Movements, the CCVM might (MIGHT–again, I can’t speak for them) argue that they’re shouting us down because what we’re doing is so wrong that they’re warranted in doing so. Obviously we disagree. And that’s a case where the “facts” don’t match up. And that’s why much of the “dialogue” on the blog isn’t getting anywhere–because neither side wants to give an inch to the other’s interpretation.

    Keep in mind, although the debate here on the blog has only been happening for a couple of weeks, the actual argument has been happening pretty steadily since last September, in the local press, on their websites, over e-mail, and on the streets. So what you’re seeing here is only a small slice of things.

  18. Lee Waters says:


    I’m back after a few weeks down in the SE portion of Afghanistan. I agree that the balance between civility and call for more speech seems difficult to reach. However, as recognized under the Constitution, the right to free speech is not absolute. There can be reasonable restrictitons placed (time, place, manner, etc…). Further, some of the “Unruliness” can have the opposite result of what the speaker intended, casting themselves as the unreasonable party rather than the object of their displeasure.

    I must claim ignorance of the internal workings of the local issues (CCVM vs CCPM, “sheepdogs,” etc..) as I’ve been kind of busy here and not been able to get to all the postings. I did get a kick out of the recent Metallica item. I remember that episode well! Take care, my friend!

  19. sethkahn says:

    Lee, glad you’re back safe and sound. These issues are very complicated. And aside from their internal complexity, the stakes are so high that it’s hard to resolve them without risking serious damage to lots of people. For me the goal is always to be as careful as possible about how I talk and to who and under what circumstances, but that’s not always failsafe.

    Anyway, good to have you home.

  20. Lee Waters says:

    Not home yet. Have another 2 months in Afghanistan. Just moved to another location. Concur with the complexity of the issues. The goal you stated is also very admirable. Will touch base with you more after I get back to the States. Go Deacs!

  21. sethkahn says:

    Oops, sorry. Thought you meant you were back here. Be safe and well.

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