Category: Personal

My 2009 essay kinda-sorta about an Anarchist “Internet of Things”

I wrote an essay in 2009 about the Internet of Things, before people were calling it “the Internet of Things.” When I re-read it this afternoon, in 2017, I noticed something rather queer. It wasn’t actually about the Internet of Things at all. It was actually a personal manifesto advocating Anarchism, and condemning techno-capitalist fascism.

Yes, really.

In 2009, despite having barely turned 25 years old, I had already been working as a professional web developer for a little over a decade. (That arithmetic is correct, I assure you.) At the time, I had some embarrassingly naïve ideas about Silicon Valley, capitalism, and neoliberalism. I also had no idea that less than two years later, I’d be homeless and sleeping in Occupy encampments, and that I’d remain (mostly) happily houseless and jobless for the next six years, up to and including the time of this writing.

The story of my life during those two years is a story worth telling…someday. Today, though, I want to remind myself of who I was before. I was a different person when 2009 began in some very important ways. I was so different that by the time it ended I began referring to my prior experiences as “my past life,” and I’ve used the same turn of phrase ever since. But I was also not so different that, looking back on myself with older eyes, I can clearly see the seeds of my anti-capitalist convictions had already begun to germinate and root themselves somewhere inside me.

Among the many other things that I was in my past life, I was an author. I’ve always loved the art of the written word. My affinity for the creativity I saw in and the pleasure I derived from written scripts drew me to my appreciation for computer programming. That is its own story, as well, but the climax of that trajectory—at least by 2009—is that I was employed as a technical writer. I blogged on a freelance basis for an online Web development magazine about Web development. I had already co-authored and published significant portions of my first technical book. And, in 2009, I had just completed co-authoring a second.

That second book was called, plainly enough, Advanced CSS, and was about the front-end Web development topic more formally known as Cascading Style Sheets. But that’s not interesting. At least, no more interesting than any other fleeting excitement over a given technical detail. What’s arguably most revealing about that book is the essay I contributed, which for all intents and purposes is the book’s opening.

My essay follows in its entirety:

User agents: our eyes and ears in cyberspace

A user agent is nothing more than some entity that acts on behalf of users themselves.1 What this means is that it’s important to understand these users as well as their user agents. User agents are the tools we use to interact with the wealth of possibilities that exists on the Internet. They are like extensions of ourselves. Indeed, they are (increasingly literally) our eyes and ears in cyberspace.

Understanding users and their agents

Web developers are already familiar with many common user agents: web browsers! We’re even notorious for sometimes bemoaning the sheer number of them that already exist. Maybe we need to reexamine why we do that.

There are many different kinds of users out there, each with potentially radically different needs. Therefore, to understand why there are so many user agents in existence we need to understand what the needs of all these different users are. This isn’t merely a theoretical exercise, either. The fact is that figuring out a user’s needs helps us to present our content to that user in the best possible way.

Presenting content to users and, by extension, their user agents appropriately goes beyond the typical accessibility argument that asserts the importance of making your content available to everyone (though we’ll certainly be making that argument, too). The principles behind understanding a user’s needs are much more important than that.

You’ll recall that the Web poses two fundamental challenges. One challenge is that any given piece of content, a single document, needs to be presented in multiple ways. This is the problem that CSS was designed to solve. The other challenge is the inverse: many different kinds of content need to be made available, each kind requiring a similar presentation. This is what XML (and its own accompanying “style sheet” language, XSLT) was designed to solve. Therefore, combining the powerful capabilities of CSS and XML is the path we should take to understanding, technically, how to solve this problem and present content to users and their user agents.

Since a specific user agent is just a tool for a specific user, the form the user agent takes depends on what the needs of the user are. In formal use case semantics, these users are called actors, and we can describe their needs by determining the steps they must take to accomplish some goal. Similarly, in each use case, a certain tool or tools used to accomplish these goals defines what the user agent is in that particular scenario.2

A simple example of this is that when Joe goes online to read the latest technology news from Slashdot, he uses a web browser to do this. Joe (our actor) is the user, his web browser (whichever one he chooses to use) is the user agent, and reading the latest technology news is the goal. That’s a very traditional interaction, and in such a scenario we can make some pretty safe assumptions about how Joe, being a human and all, reads news.

Now let’s envision a more outlandish scenario to challenge our understanding of the principle. Joe needs to go shopping to refill his refrigerator and he prefers to buy the items he needs with the least amount of required driving due to rising gas prices. This is why he owns the (fictional) Frigerator2000, a network-capable refrigerator that keeps tabs on the inventory levels of nearby grocery stores and supermarkets and helps Joe plan his route. This helps him avoid driving to a store where he won’t be able to purchase the items he needs.

If this sounds too much like science fiction to you, think again. This is a different application of the same principle used by feed readers, only instead of aggregating news articles from web sites we’re aggregating inventory levels from grocery stores. All that would be required to make this a reality is an XML format for describing a store’s inventory levels, a bit of embedded software, a network interface card on a refrigerator, and some tech-savvy grocery stores to publish such content on the Internet.

In this scenario, however, our user agent is radically different from the traditional web browser. It’s a refrigerator! Of course, there aren’t (yet) any such user agents out crawling the Web today, but there are a lot of user agents that aren’t web browsers doing exactly that.

Search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com are probably the most famous examples of users that aren’t people. These companies all have automated programs, called spiders, which “crawl” the Web indexing all the content they can find. Unlike humans and very much like our hypothetical refrigerator-based user agent, these spiders can’t look at content with their eyes or listen to audio with their ears, so their needs are very different from someone like Joe’s.

There are still other systems of various sorts that exist to let us interact with web sites and these, too, can be considered user agents. For example, many web sites provide an API that exposes some functionality as web services. Microsoft Word 2008 is an example of a desktop application that you can use to create blog posts in blogging software such as WordPress and MovableType because both of these blogging tools support the MetaWeblog API, an XML-RPC3 specification. In this case, Microsoft Word can be considered a user agent.

As mentioned earlier, the many incarnations of news readers that exist are another form of user agent. Many web browsers and email applications, such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Apple Mail, do this, too.4 Feed readers provide a particularly interesting way to examine the concept of user agents because there are many popular feed reading web sites today, such as Bloglines.com and Google Reader. If Joe opens his web browser and logs into his account at Bloglines, then Joe’s web browser is the user agent and Joe is the user. However, when Joe reads the news feeds he’s subscribed to in Bloglines, the Bloglines server goes to fetch the RSS- or Atom-formatted feed from the sourced site. What this means is that from the point of view of the sourced site, Bloglines.com is the user, and the Bloglines server process is the user agent.

Coming to this realization means that, as developers, we can understand user agents as an abstraction for a particular actor’s goals as well as their capabilities. This is, of course, an intentionally vague definition because it’s technically impossible for you, as the developer, to predict the features or capabilities present in any particular user agent. This is a challenge we’ll be talking about a lot in the remainder of this book because it is one of the defining characteristics of the Web as a publishing medium.

Rather than this lack of clairvoyance being a problem, however, the constraint of not knowing who or what will be accessing our published content is actually a good thing. It turns out that well-designed markup is also markup that is blissfully ignorant of its user, because it is solely focused on describing itself. You might even call it narcissistic.

Why giving the user control is not giving up

Talking about self-describing markup is just another way of talking about semantic markup. In this paradigm, the content in the fetched document is strictly segregated from its ultimate presentation. Nevertheless, the content must eventually be presented to the user somehow. If information for how to do this isn’t provided by the markup, then where is it, and who decides what it is?

At first you’ll no doubt be tempted to say that this information is in the document’s style sheet and that it is the document’s developer who decides what that is. As you’ll examine in detail in the next chapter, this answer is only mostly correct. In every case, it is ultimately the user agent that determines what styles (in which style sheets) get applied to the markup it fetches. Furthermore, many user agents (especially modern web browsers) allow the users themselves to further modify the style rules that get applied to content. In the end, you can only influence—not control—the final presentation.

Though surprising to some, this model actually makes perfect sense. Allowing the users ultimate control of the content’s presentation helps to ensure that you meet every possible need of each user. By using CSS, content authors, publishers, and developers—that is, you—can provide author style sheets that easily accommodate, say, 80 percent of the needs of 90 percent of the users. Even in the most optimistic scenario, edge cases that you may not ever be aware of will still escape you no matter how hard you try to accommodate everyone’s every need.5 Moreover, even if you had those kinds of unlimited resources, you may not know how best to improve the situation for that user. Given this, who better to determine the presentation of a given XML document that needs to be presented in some very specific way than the users with that very specific need themselves?

A common real-life example of this situation might occur if Joe were colorblind. If he were and he wanted to visit some news site where the links in the article pullouts were too similar a color to the pullout’s background, he might not realize that those elements are actually links. Thankfully, because Joe’s browser allows him to set up a web site with his own user style sheet, he can change the color of these links to something that he can see more easily. If CSS were not designed with this in mind, it would be impossible for Joe to personalize the presentation of this news site so that it would be optimal for him.

To many designers coming from traditional industries such as print design, the fact that users can change the presentation of their content is an alarming concept. Nevertheless, this isn’t just the way the Web was made to work; this is the only way it could have worked. Philosophically, the Web is a technology that puts control into the hands of users. Therefore, our charge as web designers is to judge different people’s needs to be of equal importance, and we can’t do this if we treat every user exactly the same way.6

  1. This is purposefully a broad definition because we’re not just talking about web pages here, but rather all kinds of technology. The principles are universal. There are, however, more exacting definitions available. For instance, the W3C begins the HTML 4 specification with some formal definitions, including what a “user agent” is. See http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/conform.html. []
  2. In real use cases, technical jargon and specific tools like a web browser are omitted because such use cases are used to define a system’s requirements, not its implementation. Nevertheless, the notion of an actor and an actor’s goals are helpful in understanding the mysterious “user” and this user’s software. []
  3. XML-RPC is a term referring to the use of XML files describing method calls and data transmitted over HTTP, typically used by automated systems. It is thus a great example of a technology that takes advantage of XML’s data serialization capabilities, and is often thought of as a precursor to today’s Ajax techniques. []
  4. It was in fact the much older email technology from which the term user agent originated; an email client program is more technically called a mail user agent (MUA). []
  5. As it happens, this is the same argument open source software proponents make about why such open source software often succeeds in meeting the needs of more users than closed source, proprietary systems controlled solely by a single company with (by definition) relatively limited resources. []
  6. This philosophy is embodied in the formal study of ethics, which is a compelling topic for us as CSS developers, considering the vastness of the implications we describe here. []

In Memoriam

Today is the fourth anniversary of Len Sassaman‘s passing. Len was a gifted programmer, he was a passionate privacy advocate—Len pioneered and maintained the Mixmaster anonymous remailer software for many years—and he was a very, very kind person. He was also a friend.

Len was the first person to walk me through setting up OTR (encrypted chat), and one of the only people I have ever known of his awesome caliber who was nevertheless able to make you feel comfortable asking what were obviously “newbie” questions.

A lot has happened in the last four years. Len’s passing lit a fire under me, personally. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today, both in terms of practical skills and in terms of philosophical approach, without the brief but powerful influence Len had on me. I’m not the person who knew him best, but I miss him all the same.

I’ve got nowhere near the expertise he had, and if it weren’t for him, I might have let that stop me. Thanks to him, I’m not. It’s slow going, but I’m still moving forward.

Tonight, I’m publishing a small, simple utility script called remail.sh that makes it just a little bit easier to use an anonymous remailer system such as the kind he maintained. It’s not much, but hopefully it can serve as a reminder that privacy is a timeless human need, and that it needs people like Len to support it as much as people like Len need supporters like us.

Len Sassaman (b. 1980 d. July 3, 2011). I miss you.

Interviewer: I’d like to detour just a little bit[. A]s someone who’s gone from, y’know, the consulting world, or the for-profit world, and is doing real good things now[, …] what made you make that shift in your life and what you were doing?

Maymay: I started by doing good stuff that wasn’t for profit, when I was a kid. The detour was the for-profit, corporate stuff, as I think is the case for most people. And I think a lot of people simply get derailed on what they were already doing as young people and youth and children, which was good and helpful for their community and their family, [they get derailed] by things like school and jobs, and then they can’t ever seem to find the—like, they think a career or something is a path back, but they get stuck in the rat race. But that’s the detour for most people. That’s not where people start. That’s not where I started.

(via)

Dear Soycrates, you moralizing vegan blowhard, suck my big fat satirical cock

unquietpirate:

soycrates:

unquietpirate:

soycrates:

socialjusticevegan:

unquietpirate:

Maymay is hard at work on the next Predator Alert Tool!

Predator Alert Tool for Diaspora* will be the first truly unhosted PAT app, robustly designed to work across de-centralized, federated social networking plaforms, and with an even stronger focus on addressing cyberbullying and online harassment as well as offline violence.

However, as you can see above, they are also having some technical difficulties. Their laptop keyboard has stopped working. They’ve worked out a very temporary, clunky solution for now, in order to keep coding. But their real keyboard needs to be replaced — a repair that costs a little over $200.

If you’d like to support development of the Predator Alert Tools (or just want to support maymay in general), now is a great time to send them a donation. More information about how to do that here. Thanks!

Seriously, maymay has created an entire collection of tools to help and protect survivors, since the big names who run social media site can’t be bothered, and they do it completely for free and basically on their own. So yeah, if you can donate or signal boost so they could fix their keyboard, I think that’s the least we could do.

I’ve broken my laptop in the exact same way last week, and while I sympathize, I’m going to stress that this is no way gets in the way of coding. This does NOT make using any program harder. I’d love for someone to pay to fix my laptop so I can understand why they’d want someone to, especially when they provide a free service, but to say their keyboard “needs” to be replaced is kind of an overstatement, don’t you think? 

Hey there. I don’t know you, so I’m assuming that means you also don’t know me and don’t know much about Maymay. But, for what it’s worth, Maymay is homeless, lives on the road, and receives absolutely zero income except for donations of money and food. And the reason they live this way is largely so that they can focus 100% on helping solve serious but not lucrative social problems that more financially-motivated others with their type of technological expertise have chosen to ignore

If you’re interested, you can read a little bit more about what they’re doing here.

Having someone else pay to replace your keyboard might be unnecessary for someone in your position, since I assume you have a job and a house. I imagine it was unpleasant but not impossible to cover the cost of your own repair. But someone who has no income, has to carry everything they own around, and does a lot of their coding in places like bus terminals and other crowded public areas doesn’t have that luxury. $200 is several months of bills (phone, server), food, and transit costs for May. They can’t realistically blow that kind of money on a computer repair.

Obviously, everybody’s got their own financial situations they’re dealing with. There’s certainly no expectation on you or anyone else to help a stranger out. Hell, I already spent all the extra money I could afford this month (and more) donating to another friend who needs help hiring a trans*-friendly custody lawyer. But for those folks who do know Maymay, understand their situation, appreciate their work, and have some extra cash to spare, making a small donation would be appreciated and very sweet.

I’m sorry, I must have been unclear to warrant this response.

“Having someone else pay to replace your keyboard might be unnecessary for someone in your position, since I assume you have a job and a house. I imagine it was unpleasant but not impossible to cover the cost of your own repair.“

There’s no way in hell I could afford a $200 laptop repair. But I’m in the exact same boat:

image

I don’t have to pay to fix my entire laptop, as you can see, since I bought a keyboard for $20 dollars that works just fine. No, it doesn’t look fancy. But there’s nothing wrong with it!  And even though I could ask for help in getting my laptop fixed, I really feel there are better things people could be doing with $200 dollars than making my laptop look nice. $200 could buy a lot of food and blankets for a lot of people.

I think you thought I said that they should just suck it up and pay for their own laptop repairs, which is definitely not what I’m saying. I’m saying there laptop works fine, even if it doesn’t look great. I understand wanting to have a more aesthetically pleasing workplace and having the comfort of a laptop that doesn’t come in a bunch of pieces (I work from my laptop too, with probably about as much income as they receive – we’re probably very alike in the ways that we live!), but in no way does this make the laptop any less usable than a laptop with a normal keyboard.

I do suggest that, if enough donations are raised, it would be just as cost efficient to get a used or refurbished laptop altogether – unless they are using something like a mac (even then, it would be much more cost efficient to sell it and get a cheaper laptop). There are laptops in the 200-300 price range, which makes it pretty awkward to pay for repairs on a broken laptop for the same price.

I didn’t mean to cause any offense (and I certainly don’t think I meant to convey that they shouldn’t be asking for donations) but it did make me intensely curious as to how this situation could be a problem that was described as “needs fixing”. 

In the very least, consider this a signal boost to my 5,765 followers.

Alright, fine, I mean this is basically splitting hairs over semantics. Certainly, nobody absolutely “needs” to have a computer that works in a specific way, or to own a computer at all, or whatever. Arguably, nobody really “needs” anything except maybe food and, even then, endless debates rage about how much and what kind of food counts as “needed” vs. “wanted.” Whatever. I’m just trying to help my friend get their laptop fixed for christs’s sake.

Here’s the thing: In my experience, the distinction between “needs” and “wants” is a pretty abritrary one. They are hardly universalizable categories, for obvious reasons. I could get into some argument here trying to justify Maymay’s decisions about why they ask for crowdfunding support around certain things (like computer repairs) and not others (for example, I personally think they could really use a warm coat that fits and some gloves, rather than just wearing three layers of beat-up hoodies full of holes and shivering all the time — but they’re never in a million years going to ask anybody else to help them with that.) But I’m not going to.

Why? Because different people have different priorities about what things make their lives more worth living. When I have a little bit of extra money, I spent it on bodywork and psychotherapy, because that’s what I feel like I “need” — and I make other decisions in my life that allow me to prioritize that. Others might argue that getting regular massage is a luxury, but they spend money on videogames or eating out at lunch or they drive a new car or own a smartphone, all things which probably feel necessary to them for their well-being (and very well might be) but that I see as indulgent expenses that I could never countenance for myself. It’s not that the way a given individual spends their resources should never be subject to analysis. It’s that these kinds of decisions are so personal and contextual, there’s no point in arguing about them at such an oversimplified level of abstraction.

The point here is that I am not Maymay’s mom, and neither are you. Repairing your laptop isn’t a priority for you, fine, don’t repair your laptop. But lecturing total strangers about how they should spend their money is just rude — whether that be lecturing Maymay about how they should purchase a more “appropriate” computer for a homeless person, or lecturing Maymay’s supporters for sending them donations instead of using that money to buy people blankets, or whatever. Come on. Nobody’s asking you to fund a financial decision you consider irresponsible. But this is the beauty of crowdfunding. If you don’t want to support the thing, don’t.

Meanwhile, there are other people for whom it feels good to have an opportunity to help out someone whose work they appreciate in a way that is directly related to the continuuance of that work. And, if there are enough of those people to raise $200, Maymay will use it to get their laptop fixed. And, if there aren’t, they’ll figure out some other way to cope. Because that’s how crowdfunding works. We’re not talking about how the government allocates our tax money, here. We’re talking about how relative strangers on Tumblr decide to spend $10.

Anyway, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to tear into you personally. I just have a lot of loved ones who are or have been homeless, and so I hear this kind of shit constantly and it drives me crazy. Homeless and poor folks are entitled to just as much agency around how they spend their income as anybody else. If you, for whatever personal reasons you have, don’t want that income to include money you gave them, don’t give them money. But suggesting that other people who do want to donate shouldn’t, because you think the person asking doesn’t really deserve the kind of support they’ve requested, is fucked up.

TBQH: My personal opinion is that, if you’d like to have a working keyboard and you can’t afford to get your laptop fixed right now, you should try asking your friends and family (or some of your 5,765 followers) for support. Why haven’t you? I bet some of them would be genuinely happy to help you out.

Thank you for the signalboost. Sincerely.

Dear Soycrates, esteemed Philosophy BA from McMaster University,

How many blankets or how much food could you have bought for homeless people with the money you spent on your tuition?

If you’re truly concerned with efficient use of money, why did you choose to major in philosophy instead of, say, business or accounting?

If you don’t want to donate money, have you considered sending me some food instead, or would you first want to know whether I eat vegan, like you and your well-cared for Vegan High Horse, or if I eat the cheaper mass-produced poison that’s actually what I can afford without stealing?

Meanwhile you think your college degree is an effective use of your money to change the world or something? Shit son, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Speaking of bridges, would you like to join me for a sleepover under a highway overpass while we hide from cops? I know of a number of really good ones with relatively spacious cavities and a few even have nice views of nearby cities. Bring everything you own, including your sleeping bag, your clothes, food and water enough for three or four days, your laptop, and don’t forget your bulky external keyboard, which I’m sure you use to type out philosophical masterpieces about ethics that literally no one else on the planet can type, especially not the University Ivory Tower professors who you paid how much money to study under, again? I mean, why do either of us even bother with keyboards at all, we should just use pencils and paper, especially given that neither of us are writing computer code. Oh wait.

No but seriously, we should just use pencils. Certainly that’s a more efficient use of our money than typing code for anti-rape software that no one else is writing, anyway. But if you are gonna bring your keyboard to the sleepover, I hope the keyboard isn’t too heavy or hard to carry, because when you carry everything that you own with you wherever you go, every ounce matters, which I trust you already know because apparently our lifestyle is pretty similar, according to you and your extensive personal knowlege of my life that you acquired as a BA in Philosophy. Silly me.

Anyway, obviously you are spot-on about my main concern about my broken keyboard is how my laptop looks, because aesthetics is definitely the only thing I’ve been talking about here, unlike your morally superior focus on utility and efficiency. I’m so glad you’re here to keep me focused with your incredibly perceptive Tumblr blog!

You’ve convinced me. What I was asking for help with was stupid and entitled of me. I’m a bad, bad greedy person. So you can forget about the keyboard, and I’d be very appreciative of any donations of food you can offer instead, because then I’ll have to spend less money on food and can save more of it for other, more discretionary spending that isn’t morally approvee by esteemed ethicists like you, which of course I will check in with you about first to make sure it meets your standards of efficiency and necessity for what things my poor dirty hands touch.

But I also understand if you choose not to donate to help me out. Hell, everyone knows we homeless people are just gonna spend our money on keyboard repairs anyway. Next time when I ask for financial help, I’ll be less honest and just tell you I’m gonna buy a 40 and a dime bag, a’ight?

See also: How to patronize homeless people with a morally superior attitude that reeks of liberal judgment 101, a new McMaster University course taught by Soycrates. Tuition cost: free!

No one understands what censorship even means, because they are being censored

I’ve been enjoying my brief but focused time in The Federation and away from corporate social media so far. (“The Federation” is what we nerds who love freedom and, by extension, free software, call the distributed social network outside corporate-controlled filter bubble prisons like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.) Oh sure, there’s the usual Internet asshole with a dick pic, and I expect there will be more of them as the Federation grows in number. But for now it feels like a much earlier Internet where people generally do not speak without thinking first, are reading what others write with the intention to understand instead of the intention to respond, and best of all, are posting links to tons of stuff I have never even seen before.

Partly, this is because of the inherently international flavor of the Federation. English speakers have not yet reached such numbers that English is assumed to be the default language. Half of my “timeline” is in Spanish, German, French, or some other language. And it’s an absolute joy merely to be exposed to these other languages instead of the monotonous drawl of only one of anything, be it one and only one language, one and only one news source, and so on. Plus, my Spanish and German have been getting better, so while I still need the help of a translator to engage in any sustained way, I feel myself needing it less and less to read other’s comments. Which is awesome! :D

But what’s really noteworthy about this experience is simply the vast chasm between exposure and censorship. I don’t mean censorship in the harsh sense of an iron fist where a block screen comes up as you try to access a blog post, warning you that this content is restricted by order of the government. I mean censorship in the social sense where unquestioned assumptions and complacency are left to fester like boils in our collective minds, or where outright bullying creates fascistic ideological borders that leave emotional wounds whose scars build up like walls against other people and ideas. That kind of sustained psychosomatic injury is also censorship.

But no one recognizes it as such because no one understands what censorship even means anymore, because they are being censored. After all, as the saying goes, the worst thing about censorship is [CENSORED].

This came to the fore on my stream the other day—a stream is kind of like a “Twitter timeline” or a Tumblr “dashboard” or a Facebook “newsfeed,” but without the ads or the prompted posts or the social media gerrymandering that you don’t even know is happening, but it is, and it’s affecting what you can see without your consent—when a new friend posted about her own attempts to articulate the nuances between things like “an echo chamber,” versus “silencing people” and healthy dialogue. Having just made a significant switch in where I placed my social media energies, this was very relevant to my thoughts of the day, so I ended up writing a bit of an essay in response without really meaning to.

I wanted to share that response here. So, here goes:

I have written about this topic a lot so I don’t actually want to repeat myself again from scratch here. However, I will summarize some of my previous thoughts and then share links to my writings elsewhere so you can evaluate them at your leisure. The main points that I feel are most important to bring up in any conversation like this one are as follows:

1. Tactics versus principles

There is a difference between a tactic and a principle. A tactic is a certain action taken for a certain purpose in a certain context. This is different from a principle, which is a general guiding philosophy used to inform a given person’s choice of what action (tactic) to take, when, and why.

Things can get confusing when the same word is used to refer to a tactic and a principle. One very common example of this is the word “violence.” There are strong and compelling arguments to be made that “violent” actions are often necessary to effect the kind of political and social changes that are desirable for all humanity, and it is in fact a form of oppression on the part of people who hold the guns to insist that all actions on the part of the people who the guns are pointed at remain non-violent. Therefore, “violence” is both a tactic (the act of militant resistance against violent killers) and also a principle (the act of forbidding a group to use violence to resist violence).

The opposite is true, too: non-violence can be used as an effective tactic (see, for instance, the Civil Rights marches, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and so on in the US 1960’s for a few famous example), but it can also be a principle, in the form of political ideologies such as pacifism. These distinction is very important because there are situations in which a violent tactic is used as part of a non-violent principle. See, for instance, Nelson Mandela’s famously advocating the use of guns in the fight against South African Apartheid.

In your case, the question is “censorship,” but I think you are having trouble articulating your thoughts in part because you are not yet clear about the difference between censorship as a tactic versus censorship as a principle.

Second: Power always has a context

Another key point to always be aware of is the idea that “oppression” is not the same as “expression” because the former (“oppression”) always carries with it a contextual power, whereas expression does not. This makes oppression a type of expression, but it does not mean that all expressions are also forms of oppression. (This is analogous to “a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.”)

As a contrived example, imagine for a moment a child alone in their room, shouting, “I hate grown ups!” This is certainly an expression of something, but is it oppression? No, because a child alone in their room has no meaningful coercive power over adults. (That is, no significant ability to force adults to do what they demand.) The inverse, however, is not true: adults do have demonstrably strong coercive power over the child. (That is, the adult can force a child to do almost anything the adult demands.) Therefore, we say that when the child expresses hatred for adults, this is not oppression, but when we say that adults force children to do things they do not consent to doing, it is oppression, even if the adult’s actions are also well-meaning. For example, it is oppressive to force children to go to school, even though the adult who forces their child to go to school believes such force is in the best interest of the child. Another, less controversial example: it is oppressive to hit children in order to make them behave as instructed, even if the adult believes such force to be in the best interests of the child. Both forceful acts are expressions of oppression, by definition.

The reason this contextualization matters so much is because it explains why “freedom of oppression” is not a meaningful statement (it is an oxymoron) but “freedom of expression” is meaningful, and important. This also explains why there are so many disagreements about what the difference between “oppression” and “expression” actually is in a given context, and I argue that this confusion is largely an intentional effort on the part of oppressors (i.e., on the part of people in power) to muddy the waters by ignoring or discarding important historical, individual, and other contexts. In fact, if you look at history, you will often see groups who take power violently also simultaneously try to destroy historical artifacts, records, and other evidence of a given context. This is not an accident, they know exactly what they are doing: they are creating an environment in which they can control and define what the context is. If they succeed, they can argue that something which was empirically not true is true, such as parents who argue that “my child can force me to do all sorts of stuff!” This is just nonsense, but if people believe it, it does not matter that it is not true, because they collectively act as if it is true. That collective delusion is therefore also an oppressive expression.

This action of rewriting history is called “erasure,” and if you look carefully for it, you will find it all over the Internet, especially (because digital conversations are so easy to erase, and censor). Erasure is a classic pattern of bullying. What you should watch out for is when Person A says something that causes hurt to Person B, and then Person B says something that hurts person A. Person A then typically responds as if the start of the conversation was when Person B said the thing that insulted them, and disregards the fact that Person B was responding to something that they, themselves, said or did that was hurtful.

So, actually, it really matters “who started it,” because that history is part of the context that informs the judgement about whether an act was oppressive or merely expressive.

Third: Words are defined by people’s reaction to them, not by the dictionary

Finally, it’s also important to realize that the single most powerful weapon that oppression has at its disposal, the tool every oppressive act must use in order to sustain itself, is the re-definition of a word or idea to mean something that it originally did not. This is technically called “appropriation” or, sometimes, “assimilation,” and it is a very nasty thing because it is so hard to untangle after it has happened. This can also be understood as a form of erasure (see above), because the point is to re-write the history of how the word or idea came to be in such a way as to make the original meaning or context hard to know.

One very common example of this is the word “censorship” itself. You are using “censorship” to mean a specific thing: the silencing of some voices and opinions in a given space. But that is not the original meaning of censorship at all. Your first clue that this was not the original meaning of censorship is that it is a different word than silencing. ;) Why have two words that mean the exact same thing, if there is not some important distinction or motivation to create the second word?

Censorship actually means “the active suppression of points of view to such a degree that those points of view do not have the ability to influence anyone who might, nevertheless, encounter them.” This is very different from silencing. It is very different from moderating comments on forums. It is a definition that acknowledges the ways in which censorship can be more than just pressing the “delete” button on a comment. For example, by this definition, censorship can also include purposefully slowing down Internet connections (“bandwidth throttling” is a form of censorship).

What’s important to realize here is that people who want to retain power they already have almost always use that power to redefine and narrow the definitions of words that were originally used to resist that power. Another good example of this is “consent,” which many people now treat as “the same thing as” the word “permission.” But these two words are not the same and, again, your first clue that they are not the same should be that they are two different words. Consent is not permission, and permission is not consent, but you can rest assured that most people (especially men) will tell you that they are, in fact, the same.

Okay, that was actually a lot longer than I had intended to write, but it was still just a summary of my many other writings on the topic. You can find a lot of my further writings about this topic by accessing the following websites, and then following links to even more of my writings if they are of interest to you. Some good places to start are:

There are actually a lot more posts than just these. For instance, you already read my “Complicity with Abuse: 101-level information social justice hobbyists are dangerously ignorant of” essay, which has a similar theme to this post. My point is simply that most of the people who are talking about these issues do not do so with much education about the topic, nor with any genuine interest to actually acquire any deep knowledge of it. The ones that do desire this are often frustrated by attempts to prevent them from gaining that knowledge (they are censored), but because these self-motivated learners are starting from a disadvantage, they inevitably believe some of the propaganda and lies that the censors supply. The most dangerous and insidious of these beliefs is that censorship (or oppression) itself is limited only to what the censors or oppressors themselves define as censorship or oppression.

I’m sure you can understand why that is a very clever way to enact censorship. ;)

HowTo: Make an archival copy of every page, image, video, and audio file on an entire website using wget

I recently announced that my blog archives will no longer be publicly available for long:

Let me repeat that: while I am still “on Tumblr” and so on for now, my archives will not remain available for very long. If you find something of mine useful, you will need to make a copy of it and host it yourself.

[…]

The errors you see when you just punch in my web address in your browser or follow a link from Google are not happening because my blogs “broke.” The errors are intentional; my blogs have simply become invisible to some while still being easily accessible to others. […] Think of my web presence like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley; so hidden from Muggles that they don’t even know what they’re missing, but if you know which brick to tap, a whole world of exciting new things awaits you….

As a result, a number of you have already asked the logical question: “Is there some easy way to automatically download your archives, instead of manually copy-and-pasting almost a decade of your posts? That would take forever!”

The answer, of course, is yes. This post is a short tutorial that I hope gives you the knowledge you need to download an entire website for offline viewing. This will work for any simple website like most blogs and personal sites, including mine. Archival geeks, this one’s for you. ;)

Preparation

A sculptor must understand stone: Know thy materials

A website is just a bunch of files. On a server, it usually looks exactly like your own computer’s desktop. A page is a file. A slash (/) indicates a folder.

Let’s say you have a website called “my-blog.com.” When you go to this website in a Web browser, the address bar says: http://my-blog.com/ What that address bar is saying, in oversimplified English, is something like, “Hey, Web browser, connect to the computer at my-blog.com and open the first file in the first folder you find for me.” That file is usually the home page. On a blog, this is usually the list of recent posts.

Then, to continue the example, let’s say you click on a blog post’s title, which is a link to a page that only contains that one blog post. This is often called a “permalink.” When the page loads, the address bar changes to something like http://my-blog.com/posts/123456. Again, in oversimplified English, what the address bar is saying is something like, “Hey, Web browser, make another connection to the computer at my-blog.com and open up the file called 123456 inside that computer’s posts folder.”

And that’s how Web browsing works, in a nutshell. Since websites are just files inside folders, the same basic rules apply to webpages as the ones that apply to files and folders on your own laptop. To save a file, you give it a name, and put it a folder. When you move a file from one folder to another, it stops being available at the old location and becomes available at the new location. You can copy a file from one folder as a new file in another folder, and now you have two copies of that file.

In the case of the web, a “file” is just a “page,” so “copying webpages” is the exact same thing as “copying files.”

Now, as many of you already surmised, you could manually go to a website, open the File menu in your Web browser, choose the Save option, give the file a name, put it in a folder, then click the link to the first entry on the web page to load that post, open the File menu in your Web browser, choose the Save option, give the file another name, put it in a folder, and so on and so on until your eyes bled and you went insane from treating yourself in the same dehumanizing way your bosses already treat you at work. Or you could realize that doing the same basic operation many times in quick succession is what computers were invented to do, and you could automate the process of downloading websites like this by using a software program (a tool) designed to do exactly that.

It just so happens that this kind of task is so common that there are dozens of software programs that do exactly this thing.

A sculptor must understand a chisel: Know thy toolbox

I’m not going to go through the many dozens if not hundreds of tools available to automatically download things from the Web. There is almost certainly an “auto-downloader” plugin available for your favorite Web browser. Feel free to find one and give it a try. Instead, I’m going to walk you through how to use simply the best, most efficient, and most powerful of these tools. It’s called wget. It stands for “Web get” and, as the name implies, it “gets stuff from the Web.”

If you’re on Windows, the easiest way to use wget is by using a program called WinWGet, which is actually two programs: it’s the wget program itself, and a point-and-click graphical user interface that gives you a way to use it with your mouse instead of only your keyboard. There’s a good article on Lifehacker about how to use WinWGet to copy an entire website (an act commonly called “mirroring”). If you’re intimidated by a command line, go get WinWGet, because the wget program itself doesn’t have a point-and-click user interface so you’ll want the extra window dressing WinWGet provides.

If you’re not on Windows, or if you just want to learn how to use wget to copy a website directly, then read on. You may also want to read on to learn more about the relevant options you can enable in wget so it works even under the most hostile conditions (like a flaky Wi-Fi connection).

Relevant wget options

While there are dozens upon dozens of wget options to the point that I know of no one who has read the entire wget manual from front to back, there are only three options that really matter for our purposes. These are:

-m or --mirror
This options turns on options suitable for mirroring. In other words, with this option enabled, wget will look at the URL you gave it, and then copy the page at that URL and all pages that first page links to which also start with the same URL as the URL of the first page until there are no more links to follow. How handy! ;)
-k or --convert-links
The manual describes this option better than I could. It reads:

After the download is complete, convert the links in the document to make them suitable for local viewing. This affects not only the visible hyperlinks, but any part of the document that links to external content, such as embedded images, links to style sheets, hyperlinks to non-HTML content, etc.

So in other words, after the download finishes, all links that originally pointed to “the computer at my-blog.com” will now point to the archived copy of the file wget downloaded for you, so you can click links in your archived copy and they will work just as they did on the original site. Woot!

--retry-connrefused
This option isn’t strictly necessary, but if you’re on a flaky Wi-Fi network or the server hosting the website you’re trying to download is itself kind of flaky (that is, maybe it goes down every once in a while and you don’t always know when that will be), then adding this option makes wget keep trying to download the pages you’ve told it are there even if it’s not able to make a connection to the website. Basically, this option makes wget totally trust you when you tell it to go download some stuff, even if it tries to do that and isn’t able to get it when it tries to. I strongly suggest using this option to get archives of my sites.

Okay, with that necessary background explained, let’s move on to actually using wget to copy whole websites.

Preparation: Get wget if you don’t already have it

If you don’t already have wget, download and install it. For Mac OS X users, the simplest wget installation option are the installer packages made available by the folks at Rudix. For Windows users, again, you probably want WinWGet. Linux users probably already have wget installed. ;)

Step 1: Make a new folder to keep all the stuff you’re about to download

This is easy. Just make a new folder to keep all the pages you’re going to copy. Yup, that’s it. :)

Step 2: Run wget with its mirroring options enabled

Now that we have a place to keep all the stuff we’re about to download, we need to let wget do its work for us. So, first, go to the folder you made. If you’ve made a folder called “Mirror of my-blog.com” on your Desktop, then you can go into that folder by typing cd "~/Desktop/Mirror of my-blog.com" at a command prompt.

Next, run wget:

wget --mirror --convert-links --retry-connrefused http://my-blog.com/

Windows users will have to dig around the WinWGet options panes and make sure the “mirror” and “convert-links” checkboxes are enabled, rather than just typing those options out on the command line. Obviously, replace http://my-blog.com/ with whatever website you want to copy. For instance, replace it with http://days.maybemaimed.com/ to download everything I’ve ever posted to my Tumblr blog. You’ll immediately see a lot of output from your terminal that looks like this:

wget --mirror --convert-links --retry-connrefused http://days.maybemaimed.com/

--2015-02-27 15:08:06--  http://days.maybemaimed.com/
Resolving days.maybemaimed.com (days.maybemaimed.com)... 66.6.42.22, 66.6.43.22
Connecting to days.maybemaimed.com (days.maybemaimed.com)|66.6.42.22|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: unspecified [text/html]
Saving to: ‘days.maybemaimed.com/index.html’

    [ <=>                                                       ] 188,514     --.-K/s   in 0.1s    

Last-modified header missing -- time-stamps turned off.
2015-02-27 15:08:08 (1.47 MB/s) - ‘days.maybemaimed.com/index.html’ saved [188514]

Now just sit back, relax, let wget work for as long as it needs to (which could take hours, depending on the quality of your Internet connection). Meanwhile, rejoice in the knowledge that you never need to treat yourself like a piece of dehumanized machinery ever again because, y’know, we actually have machines for that.

Even before wget finishes its work, though, you’ll see files start appearing inside the folder you made. You can now drag-and-drop one of those files into your Web browser window to open that file. It will look exactly like the blog web page from which it was downloaded. Voila! Archive successfully made!

Special secret bonuses

The above easily works on any publicly accessible website. These are websites that you don’t need to log into to see. But you can also do the same thing on websites that do require you to log into them, though I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. All you have to do is learn a few different wget options, which are all explained in the wget manual. (Hint: The option you want to read up on is the --load-cookies option.)

What I do want to explain, however, is that the above procedure won’t currently work on some of my other blogs because of additional techno-trickery I’m doing to keep the Muggles out, as I mentioned at the start of this post. However, I’ve already created an archive copy of my other (non-Tumblr) sites, so you don’t have to.1 Still, though, if you can figure out which bricks to tap, you can still create your own archive of my proverbial Diagon Alley.

Anyway, I’m making that other archive available on BitTorrent. Here’s the torrent metafile for an archive of maybemaimed.com. If you don’t already know how to use BitTorrent, this might be a good time to read through my BitTorrent howto guide.

Finally, if data archival and preservation is something that really spins your propeller and you don’t already know about it, consider browsing on over to The Internet Archive at Archive.org. If you live in San Francisco, they offer free lunches to the public every Friday (which are FUCKING CATERED AND DELICIOUS, I’VE BEEN), and they always have need of volunteers.

  1. If you’re just curious, the archive contains every conference presentation I’ve ever given, including video recordings, presentation slides, and so on, as well as audio files of some podcasts and interviews I’ve given, transcripts of every one of these, all pictures uploaded to my site, etc., and weighs in at approximately 1 gigabyte, uncompressed. []

The mystery of the disappearing horizontal scrollbar

A classic exchange from the WordPress Support Forum for one of my plugins:

Them:

Hi,

When I first installed this plugin, there was an automatic horizontal scrollbar so that users could move to see all of the columns. However, it has now disappeared which means one of the columns is not fully readable.

Can you help?

Thanks.

Me:

Right above the button you clicked to post this question there is a line of text that reads:

Did you include a link to your site, so that others can see the problem?

Given that you didn’t notice this, I am going to suggest that you slow down and think about what was different on your site from when you installed the plugin (and experienced it working as expected) and now (when it’s not). If you still need help after that, I suggest you first think more about the answer to the question quoted above before you post again.

Them:

I apologise, it was an oversight on my behalf, as you have pointed out. Put it down to Friday ‘end of the week’ fuzzy head, if you like.

The pages where we are currently using the plugin are [here and here].

To clarify, if you hover around the rows and columns, it appears you can swipe and move it around, but the visible arrows and scrollbar is not visible. We have a lot of not very IT-literate people who use our website for support so it would be handy to make it like a visible scrollbar to click on again, if possible.

Thanks for your patience.

Me:

A clarifying question: you want a scrollbar to appear but one does not exist even when the browser window is too narrow to fit the whole table?

That is to say, I am confused by the statement “the visible arrows and scrollbar is not visible.” :/

Them:

Yes, we want a scrollbar and the arrows that go either end of said scrollbar to display because the browser window is too narrow to fit the whole table.

We feel that people would prefer to have the arrows on the scrollbar visible to encourage them to click them so that they can see the columns that go off of the screen.

Me:

So, when I go to your pages they both show scroll bars just as you say you want them. :\ I’m afraid whatever you’re seeing is specific to your combination of computer and browser.

It’s very likely that users who browse to your site are seeing the scroll bars show automatically. At least, that’s what happens when I load the site.

The beauty of the Web is that users are able to define their experience so it suits them best. Users whose browsers and operating systems are set to show scroll bars are showing scroll bars. This is good news, because it means you do not need to worry about your site malfunctioning: it is not malfunctioning and, as you say, nothing about it has changed.

There’s a world of difference between “taking drugs” and “drugging people.” Best know which one you’re doing.

unquietpirate:

ritavonbees:

unquietpirate:

maymay:

A comment of mine, cross-posted from Facebook, replying to a friend who shared a link to this HealthyPlace.com article about Bipolar Disorder:

So, as a person diagnosed first with unipolar depression, then a slew of “social anxiety” labels, and finally bipolar disorder, first at the age of 12 and then continually for the rest of my young adult life, and for whom the uncritical belief in the utility of these “treatments” had disastrous, near-suicidal consequences, the information presented here strikes me as an incredibly damaging taxonomical justification for the mortal sin many humans commit called “having feelings.” I don’t mean to imply here that the taxonomic framework is useless. Obviously, naming a thing that is hurting people can begin to offer pathways to recovering from the hurt a previously unidentifiable thing has caused. What I am suggesting, however, is that this information is presented in a way that is incomplete, irresponsible, and ultimately hurtful. It is an uncritically authoritative narrative about this particular mental illness that is dangerously misleading.

The fact of the matter is that Western medicine has no theory with a shred of consistent internal logic that even approaches an explanation for what the fuck bipolar disorder even is. You can see this immediately in their taxonomy of “types” of bipolar disorder, in which they describe “type I,” “type II,” “cyclothymia,” and then the magic catch-all “unspecified.” They also have prefix modifiers, such as “atypical,” which is just psychopharmocologists’ fancy way of saying “well it SEEMS like MAYBE it’s THIS type of bipolar disorder but it’s not really matching up with all our measurements and we have no idea why so we’ll just say it’s an ATYPICAL CASE of that thing.”

Look, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that if your categorization scheme includes a “miscellaneous” category, then it’s a pretty shitty categorization scheme. And if what your shitty categorization scheme is categorizing is OTHER HUMAN BEINGS, and then you are using that categorization scheme to justify forcibly drugging children (like me), then you are a piece of shit doctor and you should die in a fire for knowingly violating the Hippocratic oath you purport to care so much about.

Now, zooming out a little bit, the “theory” Western medicine proposes to “explain” these disorders—which, if you’ll notice, have gone from non-existent to UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING WIDESPREAD in the population at the same time as the boom of the pharmaceutical industry, what a coincidence—is that people diagnosed with these disorders have “chemical imbalances” in their brains. That is to say, they either “lack” or “have too much” of one kind of neurotransmitter or another. Neurotransmitters are the physical molecules used to jump-start electrical impulses in nerve cells and hop over the gaps between nerve cells called synapses. The theory goes that certain amounts of neurotransmitters (most commonly either serotonin or dopamine or both) are required for “happiness,” and thus if there is not enough of these chemicals swishing about in the pool of chemical jelly that is your brain, you are sad.

To resolve this “problem,” Big Pharma funded the development of a whole class of drugs they term SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which is a fancy name for “stuff that clogs up your brain cells so that they can’t absorb serotonin and thus leaves more of the serotonin floating around in your brain bath.”

Here’s the problem with the whole SSRI drug racket: it doesn’t actually work. There is literally more scientific evidence to support the idea that PLACEBOS are more effective at treating mental illness than actual chemicals. And, likewise, those actual chemicals come with a HUGE range of really terrifying side effects. To take just one extreme example, have you ever walked into the sunlight and felt like everywhere the sun was touching your skin, your skin was BURNING? Because that’s what the tiny fine print “may cause sensitivity to light” was like for me, and no one told me that until after they started noticing me hopping from tree-covered shadow to tree-covered shadow and were like, “Dude, why is maymay avoiding the sun?”

Here’s a recent take-down of the “chemical imbalance” theory that I read the other day and think is really great, sourced from The New Yorker.

TL;DR: This is some seriously abusive bullshit, more often used to justify chemically controlling people who behave in ways undesirable to authority figures like parents and schools than it is used to help people. DO NOT. BELIEVE. THEIR LIES.

omgyes

I’m sorry that happened to you, and I fully agree with the whole bit about using pharma to sedate people whose behaviour is undesirable instead of trying to help people, but I’m pretty sure there is a difference between “mental health isn’t a virus and you can’t fix it with a pill, especially when applied non-consensually” and “antidepressants don’t do shit.”

You may as well suggest that nicotine or alcohol doesn’t really do anything Because Placebo Effect and Marketing. Yeah, we don’t understand the processes by which drugs affect our brains. They still clearly have an effect, and that effect should be judged on its own merits. I decided to try SSRIs because I tried MDMA and, despite years and years of cognitive-behavioural therapy-based incremental improvements, realised that I was still fucking terrified of humans when sober. Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain, but I figured that meant serotonin manipulation might help me, so SSRIs it was. You know what? It does help. I don’t know whose idea it was to assume that “more serotonin helps” = “not enough serotonin was the problem in the first place”, that’s a fairly simple correlation v causation thing, but it still does help. I’ve made fucking leaps and bounds this year, because I’ve been able to work on my issues without the constant distortion and distraction of my fight-or-flight response kicking in at the slightest provocation. If it was legal to just take MDMA and do a few solid hours of therapy on it every month or two, I’m sure that would have had a similar effect. But we’re not toppling the legal system any time in the next couple years, so fuck it, I’m taking what I can get.

It’s completely understandable that having such awful experiences with pharma has given you a strong negative reaction to the entire concept. And yeah, bipolar diagnostics are pretty obviously fucked. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – drugs aren’t the problem.

Lack of patient autonomy in the medical system is the problem. If you’ve read any of realsocialskills‘ stuff on ABA, you know people can be fucked over just as badly by non-chemical attempts to “fix them” without understanding them. Saying stuff like “antidepressants don’t do shit” is stealing focus from the real problem and incidentally potentially alienating exactly the people you’d need on your side if you wanted to pull apart the psychiatric system and put it back together in a way that’s a net positive to humanity.

“Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain…”

FWIW, I actually have a friend who does take MDMA, at an extremely low dose, on pretty much a daily basis to manage his social anxiety and PTSD. His brain seems fine.

He’s also a psychiatric survivor who’s worked with radical community mental health care advocacy groups for years and studied pharmacology and neurobiology extensively. (And he’s a drug dealer, so he has more ready access re: self-medication than is available to most people.) TL;DR: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

But my point is that drugs are tools. Prescription and “non-prescription” brain drugs alike have potentials both to help and to harm. But the people who are paid to “push” prescription psychiatric medication are, to my mind, significantly more malicious and less trustworthy than people who encourage the careful and conscientious use of other, arguably less harmful and side-effect-riddled substances to self-medicate. (Although, to be fair, those people often have an agenda too — especially if they’re the ones selling the drugs. So it’s always good to approach anything of this nature with caution and do a lot of research.)

Beyond that, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. First and foremost, non-consensually manipulating other peoples’ brain chemistry is fucked up bullshit, no matter how you’re doing it or what substances you’re using. Anyway. I’m glad to hear you found something that works well for you. :)

I’m not sure I ever said “drugs are the problem”?

Most of you probably don’t know this about me, because Tumblr didn’t exist when I was 14 in 1996, when I started my first website, but the very first web site I ever made was about bipolar disorder. It was a blog before blogs were called blogs. It was about my diagnosis and my struggles in school, and it was the first web site about bipolar disorder to be made by a teen designed to be read by other teens on the whole Internet (which was much smaller back then).

I called this website “Ups and Downs: The Personal Story of a Bipolar Teen,” which later evolved to “Ups and Downs and Everything In Between” when I started using blogging software to blog instead of just putting reverse-chronologically ordered HTML pages up online, hence the name of my current blog, “Everything In Between”. The original site received a lot of attention, no small feat in the age before Google. Within a few years I had amassed several dozen thousands letters of correspondence and was so totally overwhelmed by the attention and my own life that I shut the whole thing down and retreated away from having a public personae on the Internet at all.

Then I re-emerged on the Internet as a public figure through a sex blog called “Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed” and the rest, as they say, is history. But I didn’t really provide this personal history just to invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me. A lot of the writing and correspondence I had with readers of “Ups and Downs” was about medications. And some of it is still online.

Here’s a link to a personal archive I keep of that site. Peruse at your leisure. There’s a link titled “Email Pool” at the top which was something of an advice column that I didn’t maintain for long, mostly because I hate giving people advice. I just like telling them when they’re wrong about something. Click on “Medications” and you’ll find this “not really an email response, more like a short essay,” that past!me wrote in 2002:

Nobody likes medicine, but here’s the bottom line: in my opinion, if you are prescribed medication by your licensed psychiatrist you must take that medication because your life does, indeed, depend on it.

I was first prescribed medications for the treatment of bipolar disorder when I was at the tender age of twelve. Ever since then, I have hated my medication with a passion rivaling my personal beliefs and convictions. There was even a time, two years after I started taking the medicine, when I fell into a common place trap and stopped taking it because I felt like I didn’t need them; I felt “better.” Two weeks later I attempted suicide, spiraled into a pit of depression, and faced one of the darkest periods in my life. Looking back on the experience with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I felt better because I was taking the medication.

My point in all this is that medications are a valuable tool for you to use to help make your life livable. Implicit in that belief is the assumption that you are taking the correct medicine for you, at the correct dosage. When I say “correct” I mean whatever makes you a functioning entity in your life. It took me a good full year to find the correct dosage of lithium that I am on now, and from the many people I have spoken with, my understanding is that one year is an awfully quick time. I was lucky. Patience is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity. But once you’ve found a working treatment, it’s helpful to understand these are variables in an equation designed to help you function in your life. If at any point things aren’t working, discuss altering your medications with your doctor.

Your treatment is just that — your’s, and you’ll find that it is both more effective and easier to handle emotionally if you’re the one behind the steering wheel.

This mirror’s what unquietpirate said, above, and I agree with her. And I agree with you, that it’s obvious pumping bodies full of chemicals does shit. What I’m trying to explain is that what it does is fuck shit up.

Maybe that’s something you want. Maybe those drugs are fucking shit up for you in a way that jostles you out of whatever destructive pattern you were in before long enough to grab onto a lifeline or fall into a different pit. Maybe you’re meaningfully consenting to something you know will fuck you up in some way. I’m not you. I don’t know.

But I’ll tell you what I do know:

  • I know that there is a world of difference between approaching medications the way you did, paraphrased as, “I tried MDMA once, so I figured I’d give legal SSRIs a shot” and the way I did, paraphrased as, “I hated school so they forcibly drugged me for most of my teenage life.”
  • I know that this approach alone accounts for a huge part of the differences in our experiences.
  • I know that SSRIs aren’t just legal but encouraged for children, despite the known risks and side effects, while MDMA, a drug that is in its purest form essentially the same drug concentrated so it actually has a marked (and temporary) effect is illegal to make, use, possess, sell, and so on, and only very recently are people even beginning to question why that might be.
  • I know that drug classifications are political bullshit because SSRIs are handed out like candy by teachers and doctors while MDMA is criminalized to the point of sending police on no-knock, unconstitutional raids in efforts to cage, shoot, and kill people, usually poor people and Black and Brown people, and especially poor Black people.
    image

So I take it very personally when you say that dissing antidepressants is like “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” There is no baby here and the bathwater is actually Drano. “Taking drugs” is one thing. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about drugging people.

By way of analogy, hammers can be used to kill people. I wouldn’t suggest someone who wants to put a nail into a wall not use a hammer. But I also wouldn’t suggest that someone who picks up a hammer to put a nail in the wall is doing the same thing or even using the same kind of object as someone who picks up a hammer to kill someone with. One’s a carpentry tool and the other is a weapon, even though they’re the same hammer.

Finally, I think it’s worth explicitly pointing to two points cognitivedefusion made in the piece I linked in the original post where they respond to a defense of antidepressants:

2) “In fact, since there is no theory to replace it as of yet, continuing to use and refine drug therapies is probably the best option.” – Why? Why is it best to continue refining therapies which are inferior to other working treatments? When you look at the long-term data, behavioral treatments surpass medicinal treatments. This has been verified in anxiety, depression, even ADHD, which many people assume requires pharmacotherapy.

3) Interestingly much of the dysfunction associated with psychosis stems from the persistent attempts to reduce said symptoms. This finding is transdiagnostic, in that all distress from mental illness stems at least partly from attempts to avoid or escape. Teaching functionality at an earlier place in time (i.e., during prodromal phase) yields better outcomes than trying to reduce symptomatology. And interestingly, antipsychotics are not found to be too effective either. They reduce some positive symptoms (sometimes), but do nothing for negative symptoms, and will bring on some of their own symptoms as well. It’s really not a particularly sound treatment when looking at the data.

So that being said, I don’t think our opinions are actually that different. But I’m not going to entertain the idea that antidepressants are in any way a reasonable, safe, or even preferable first, second, or third resort for people suffering with bipolar disorder. If someone can acquire and use it safely, and if they have the appropriate social support structures to self-medicate with it (a thing that most people who are seeing doctors are actually trying to seek but have to pay for Because Capitalism Destroys Relationships) I would suggest illegal MDMA before I would suggest seeing a clinical psychopharmacologist.

That is, unless someone is in a situation so dire that they are already trapped inside of the medical industrial complex for one reason or another, like I was because I was not an emancipated child and I was going to school, so I had no legal power of my own. Similarly, I would never suggest someone seek the “help” of a lawyer unless they were in such dire straights that they were already ensnared by the legal system. Eschewing antidepressants and prescriptions for such versus mindfully self-medicating just seem like such vastly different spheres of concern to me that the distinctions between them seemed obvious.

I hope this makes my position more clear.

Dear friends, please help. I am asking you for help.

Yesterday I posted Professor Kevin Westhues’ “Checklist of Mobbing Indicators,” and, as if by clockwork today I was mobbed on Twitter in a thread that matched 13 of the 16 indicators, point for point.

I’ve been the target of what Westhues describes as mobbing, which is evidently a sociological term that sometimes also goes by various other terms in other contexts like “bullying,” “group think,” “epistemic violence,” “gaslighting” and so on, for going on 3 years, now. As others & I have stated time & again, these mobbers’ unwillingness to examine history, and to re-write history so it begins at whatever most recent retaliation or refutation I make, is a constant theme. I’ve been discussing this on-and-off for as long as it’s been happening, but mostly in a detached, academic way. Others, notably unquietpirate​, have written much more deeply personal accounts of the impact this has had on them, as well as on me.

Reading Westhues’ descriptions of the traumatic effects mobbing behaviors have on targets resounds very deeply and very painfully. But it is also an enormous relief. Finally, I can name this specific abuse I’m enduring with terms endowed with the magic cultural legitimacy of the academe, and even though I think academics are classist hogwash, I’m hopeful using the sociological term and framework may convince more people to step outside their “not my problem” bubble and pro-actively support me against this rather than remain uninvolved bystanders.

So, I am asking you for help.

  1. Please read about mobbing. I’ve just begun to do this, too. Maybe we can help educate each other. I’m currently going over the “Virtual Mobbing” article. It’s long and dense but obviously specifically relevant to my “workplace,” the Internet.
  2. Help me find answers to “What to do about it”, which is a topic I’ve found mentioned but only briefly at the end of, “At the Mercy of the Mob.” If there are no solutions provided by the texts, help me imagine possible countermeasures and think through potential solutions, mitigations, harm reduction tactics, and so on.
  3. Send me notes of encouragement, tell me what you like about my work, about me, speak kindly to me, and perhaps even more importantly, speak kindly about me and do so in public. Here’s a simple example of how to do this.

I want to highlight number 3, in the list above, because this is one the things that people still don’t seem to understand about the Internet. One of the unique characteristics about “Virtual Mobbing” is that the Internet enables a kind of plausibly deniable stage whisper. This kind of talking about someone but not necessarily to them is one of the most pernicious and common tactics of cyberbullies and virtual mobbers, because of the scale, speed, and confusion at which the Internet amplifies fearmongering.

The fact of the matter is, I can hear anything and I do in fact hear everything that is said about me (or my work) on the Internet, if it’s said in a public venue. A Twitter conversation from an unlocked account is not private. A public Tumblr post is not private. If people are talking about me, I know about it, usually within a few days.

Most of the time, when people speak ill of me to others, they are doing so under the false belief that these other people who don’t know or even care who I am are “lauding” me, and this makes the mobbers feel “uncomfortable” because they, personally, believe that I am only worth contempt and must be punished for my many mortal sins. A perfect example of this from just the other day is @cythesomething here on Tumblr.

I responded on Twitter:

As I’ve said numerous times before, turning discussions of survivor support tools and other such anti-abuse technology that I work on into a discussion about me, personally, is harmful to survivors—it is most harmful to one survivor in particular (guess which one), but it is also harmful to all other survivors. Taking actions motivated by the impulse to get helpful information to survivors is one thing. Taking actions motivated by your discomfort at seeing the work of someone you dislike welcomed by others who say that work is valuable to them is quite another.

It is no coincidence that this mobbing behavior intensifies at the very same time as the Predator Alert Tool is signal boosted. This has always been the pattern, from the very beginning. Had it happened only once, I might have called it a misunderstanding. Had it happened twice, maybe I could have dismissed it as a mistake. That it has happened more than three times makes clear, these are intentional mob assaults.

This got long, but I hope you’ve taken the time to read it anyway. For now, if you don’t have it in you to slog through academic material (it’s time consuming and exhausting, I know), then consider simply reblogging this. Maybe add a nice thing about me or, even better, the work I’ve been doing lately. Then, some time from now, please don’t forget that this is still happening, like a slow-motion bashing, and remember that this is the context of what’s happening when you see me bashing back.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this mob’s hatred for more than 3 years. I don’t expect it will stop anytime in the next 3 months just because I asked for help. In fact, it’s likely going to get worse. (See Westhues’ checklist, item number 15, “Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.”)

So, if all you can do is send me a nice ask once in a while, I will really appreciate you for that, too. Thanks.

A case study in cyberbullying using Tumblr’s broken “Report Abuse” feature

Earlier this week, I wrote “Tumblr is not a safe place for me,” in which I make the claim that the “report abuse” feature on corporate-controlled social networks fundamentally empowers cyberbullies, not their targets. (Here’s an archived copy in case it gets taken down.) Predictably, I just received a vaguely threatening email from Tumblr Support warning me of unspecified action against one of my posts. To demonstrate how this type of abuse of these “report abuse” systems work, and showcase yet again why that feature is so fundamentally broken right now, I’m going to be liveblogging my interactions with Tumblr Support across three different blogs: maymay.net, days.maybemaimed.com, and maybemaimed.wordpress.com (a backup auto-crossposting blog).

So without further ado, their email to me:

From: Tumblr Support <abuse@tumblr.com>
To: maymay <bitetheappleback@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2014 20:40:54 +0000

##- Please type your reply above this line -##

Hello,

We are writing regarding your post located here: http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101074626300/on-rolequeerness-sharpening-the-blade

As there are a few privacy concerns regarding this post, we are requesting that you remove the full name and link to their LinkedIn profile from the text within 24 hours. If you do not remove the information, we may take action against your entire post.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.

Thank you,

Tumblr Trust & Safety
abuse@tumblr.com

This email is a service from Tumblr Support.
(#GLOAP3DKZB4J8CMQRSCM)

And my reply:

To: Tumblr Support <abuse@tumblr.com>
From: maymay <bitetheappleback@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:23:19 -0500

Hello,

I understand that you are concerned about my post located here: http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101074626300/on-rolequeerness-sharpening-the-blade and also available here http://freze.it/onrolequeernesssharpeningtheblade and https://archive.today/HsMBK and http://pages.citebite.com/m3c8j6p6e3xwb at the moment.

I do have a few questions and some concerns. Please address them promptly so that we may move towards resolution of this issue within the 24 hour deadline you imposed on us. Here is a list of my questions:

1. What “action against [my] entire post” are you implying you will take, specifically?
2. What action, if any, are you willing and able to take against Sara D. Luterman’s own post that, I understand, also violate Tumblr content guidelines by comparing me to a pedophile, located here: http://beyondthevalleyofthefemdoms.tumblr.com/post/100914743747/on-rolequeerness and also available here http://freze.it/saradlutermanonrolequeerness and http://pages.citebite.com/k3a8l6n6v1qui and https://archive.today/2Xerq?

Also, not that I have much trust in your concern for safety, dear “Tumblr Trust and Safety” admins, I will nevertheless remind you of the context of these posts, which you can read at http://maybemaimed.com/2014/10/27/rolequeer-thoughts-a-reply-to-princess-poopheads-concerns-about-current-public-conflicts/ and which I’ve excerpted here:

This conflict largely began when, again, to repeat unquietpirate’s words[0] in case you missed them:

On this episode, Crosswords compares Maymay to pedophiles and racists for having the temerity to say mean things on the Internet about people who violated their consent — and to yell at those peoples’ friends and supporters when they try to shoehorn their way into our conversations about consent and identity so they can tell us how wrong we are and then play “trendy rolequeer dress-up” back at the BDSM club.

Crosswords, meanwhile, decided it was a good idea to start a discussion group in which to dissect, discuss, and debate the ideas in work such as Consent as a Felt Sense,[1] which had come directly out of months and months of Maymay and I helping each other process trauma and grief related to past abusive relationships and having our consent violated by people and in communities that told us we weren’t being abused. Crosswords made it very clear that Maymay was not welcome to participate in this academic discussion of their own rape (‘cause, y’know, they’re too angry about it), but DID very publicly invite Maymay’s former Dominant partner to join in the fun!

So again, the point here is not to say that I do not behave viciously to some people. I do. The point is that I behave viciously to some people—and it is your responsibility as readers, not mine as the writer, to do your own work putting my actions in whatever context you wish to draw meaning from them.

I don’t have any objections to being called vicious, or an abuser, or disagreed with. I have an objection to seeing Crosswords and others who have been victim blaming me for my own rapes for years using the work that has come directly out of my own painful, personal healing work with UnquietPirate for ill-informed reformist wedge politics and for armoring their own reputation[2] while at the same time comparing me to pedophiles as they do it.

So, Tumblr Trust and Safety, my third question:

3. Given this context, how would you propose I handle the continued and years-long use of your publishing platform by Sara D. Luterman to discuss me and my personal traumatic experiences as though I am an abusive pedophile?

If you have functions beyond merely “Ignore” (which does not actually help protect people who care about me, as described here)[3] or your own “Report Abuse” feature, which only seems to be effectively used by bullies themselves, I would like to know about them.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my questions and concerns.

Sincerely,
-maymay

EXTERNAL REFERENCES:

[0] http://unquietpirate.tumblr.com/post/100967967978/on-rolequeerness
[1] http://bandanablog.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/you-can-take-it-back-consent-as-a-felt-sense/
[2] http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101072050885/on-rolequeerness-blunting-the-tip
[3] http://unquietpirate.tumblr.com/post/59321895608/community-fuck-the-community-this-isnt-for-them

My third question is the really important one, of course. The problem with current “Report Abuse” systems and the whole reason they ultimately benefit cyberbullies is that current “Report Abuse” systems are an appeal to authority, and authorities are often the most egregious bullies and abusers. Here’s how the introduction to the Predator Alert Tool for Twitter describes the problem:

Despite many “anti-bullying” campaigns, online harassment and cyberbullying are prevalent behaviors. Most anti-abuse efforts fail because they tend to focus on appeals to authority. The now-ubiquitous “Report Abuse” buttons on social networking websites like Twitter are one such example, yet their ubiquity have not curbed the behaviors or harm they purport to address or mitigate.

We believe these efforts have failed because cyberbullying and online harassment are cultural, not technological, problems inherited from a society where coercion and abusive behavior offline are normalized. Abusive behavior is no more successfully mitigated in the physical world through appeals to authority than it is likely to be mitigated in the online world through the same sorts of appeals. This is doubly true in an environment where the biggest “bullies” are the authorities themselves[.]

What to do in the face of deliberate provocation is a very tricky one; expert abusers know that in order to continue bullying others with impunity, they need to create provocations that authority figures will not interpret as provocations, and they are very skilled at doing this. The single most powerful tool in their toolbox is the erasure of context; they rewrite history to ensure the authorities to whom they eventually appeal treat the moment the target retaliated as the start of the story.

Anyway, I will either publish this post anew or edit it with updates as the conversation progresses. Watch this space. :)