I wrote the following this morning in response to a discussion about rape culture amongst my Burner friends in California. This is something I have had a chance to contemplate, deeply, over the past 10 or so years. I think it is an elegant, simple solution to dealing with predators and bullies. I hope you find it useful.
It is no secret that our members tend to hate rules and boundaries. With that in mind, I would like to make a very modest proposal.
“I would like to propose (what seems to be) an unpopular opinion. There is nothing at all wrong with making people feel uncomfortable. In fact, I think it is impossible to *make* anybody feel anything at all.
I propose that comfort breeds complacency, stagnancy and other nouns which cause my heart of hearts make a noise that sounds like “Blech!” Pushing buttons is fine. Boundaries cannot be breached if they are not tested. Boundary crossing is bound to happen. Continuing to cross a boundary after someone has asked you to stop can range from impolite to jail-worthy. But suggesting that boundaries ought not be crossed at all is unreasonable.”
Apparently what the people being made to feel uncomfortable wanted or needed didn’t factor into the equation. At all. I know for a fact that these people were not bothered in the slightest that I was physically ill for a year because of their radical self-expression; after all I “didn’t take personal responsibility for myself” and remove myself from the situation. This attitude was defended, glorified and excused so many times that I ended up leaving the group, permanently. I know this is an extreme example, but I see people doing crap like this in ways large and small, and those who dare to speak up are shamed, mocked and attacked for not being hardcore enough. Put up or shut up is not a good way to run a community, and smacks greatly of the claim of censorship that people use to justify exercising their freedom at all costs, regardless of the effect it might have on others. If people want to play on the edge that’s fine, but we need to make sure that there is room in the spectrum for those who seek a different experience that might be considered more traditional, quiet, introverted, etc.
My boyfriend is often fond of saying that we claim we want to live in a free society, but what we really want is to live in a narcissistic society where we can do whatever the fuck we want and there are no consequences for our actions. I have seen a lot of that sort of behavior in the nearly 20 years I’ve been involved with Burner culture. At its mildest, it can be merely annoying, but at its most extreme, it can destroy someone’s life. It certainly isn’t practiced by everyone – I do believe that most burners are good people who want to connect, belong and take care of their fellow freaks – but our continued tolerance for the bad apples simply cannot continue.
I know I have just opened a huge can of worms, but as a friend said, it’s like the Berlin Wall of rape culture is currently coming down in our society. It is time to address this stuff head on in our own circles, especially since we tend to think of ourselves as cultural pioneers who are forming new ways of relating to each other. I have conversations about this stuff all the time with my women friends, but I also know none of it will change until men start standing up and speaking out as well. This group is filled with men I love, admire and respect, men who are thoughtful, respectful and protective of their friends. If you are one of those men, please add your voice and thoughts to this conversation.