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The Bloggernacle is for the Privileged

October 20, 2011

A while ago, Stephen M (Ethesis) got into a discussion with some people on a “popular” (really, how would I even know?) closed LDS Facebook group about a Doves and Serpents blog post that he considered to be “fairly hostile” (and whose author he believed to be advertising this post too much). At that point, the response was:

 I agree–it was pretty hostile.

But is there ever a place for hostility? I’m asking sincerely–not to pick a fight.

…To which Stephen replied that hostility often fails to work and often offends neutral observers as well. This effectively means that if one wants to be heard, and one feels that the only way they can be heard is through a more hostile or strident message, then sure, they’ll be heard…but they will actually be hurting their cause.

One thing that became clear through this discussion is how it’s a discussion Stephen discusses a lot (probably because it’s highly relevant to his profession as a litigator and mediator.) And while Stephen’s posts at Wheat & Tares or elsewhere aren’t the flashiest, they have a quiet sense to them that I know I’ve been slow to appreciate. (If my father were to read some of Stephen’s posts, he would probably say I should start living the advice in them.)

And so, while I’m not as familiar with his posts as I should be (and I’ll have to go through them and re-read some of his posts in depth), it seems like when he was having his discussion, he could’ve said at many points: “Clearly, you did not read my series on this.” 

Of course, he didn’t do that. That’s just not his style. But I found myself having a similar kind of thought process…

Fast forward to today. MikeinWeHo posted a link to Joanna Brooks’ latest beatdown: this time, of Christopher Hitchens, who has written yet another sloppy article about Mormons. Jeff Spector posted in response:

What interesting is that Hitchens sentiments are shared with many in the Bloggernacle. But yet, they do not think it is prejudice. Why do we think that Hitchens is?

I knew this would get good, so I subscribed to the topic and grabbed for my popcorn.

Eventually, MikeinWeHo suggested:

I think maybe you’re confusing the Bloggernacle with Outer Blogness.

To which Jeff responded:

I didn’t differentiate. I didn’t know there is much of a difference. So the Bloggernacle is only TBMs?

IF ONLY ANYONE READ MY SERIES. If only I had completed my series.

MikeinWeHo gave a SeriousResponse though:

No not at all. There are also plenty of unorthodox members, non-members, and even ex-members in the Bloggernacle. The difference is primarily one of tone and direction. The Bloggernacle is a place for people who feel that the LDS church and other branches of Mormonism represents something good in the world, whereas Outer Blogness is for individuals who feel they or their friends have been victimized by Mormonism and should therefore oppose it. I don’t know much about Outer Blogness but my sense is that the tone and content of the discussions are very different. Does that make sense?

I guess, if you can’t make sense of it all, and you haven’t read my series, then you can see Kiley’s summary picture.

Mormon factions

…Now, the interesting thing about Wheat & Tares is that of its readership and commenters…as others have remarked, our bloggers are great…our commenters? They don’t impress others. I think that one could certainly say that W&T’s open policy definitely allows for “individuals who feel they or their friends have been victimized by Mormonism and should therefore oppose it.”

So…does that make W&T an Outer Blogness site? I sense that in many ways, W&T is seen as a red-headed stepchild of the Nacle anyway. We have to walk around on egg shells to avoid being cut off completely (this post really isn’t helping, unfortunately)…

But going deeper into the message, the dichotomy provided is interesting. The Outer Blogness is for individuals who feel they have been victimized. The Bloggernacle is a place for people who feel that the LDS church and other branches of Mormonism represents something good in the world.

The two statements aren’t quite parallel yet.

Outer Blogness is for individuals who have been victimized. The Bloggernacle is for individuals who have been privileged.

I think that for many, the system works and is uplifting. And if I were in such a situation of privilege, perhaps I’d fit right in and uphold and perpetuate the system…and wonder too why there were all of these angry ex-mos trying to derail my quaint conversation zone.

But I’m not there.

Fortunately, I don’t have a particularly rough situation either. I did have a relatively easy life. I have privilege of my own. And so, I feel like I have a position in the middle.

This middle position urges me to take a calling…to point out that for the privileged to sequester themselves from the plight of their victims, the oppressed, in perfect bonsai gardens is a manifestation of their privilege. A calling to encourage the oppressed to speak their stories.

…and so, I have to appreciate the environment that W&T has. It is one where “victims” can speak, and through speaking, perhaps, can move to healing.

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16 Comments
  1. I think your assessment is pretty right on to be honest.

    I really think that we are all Mormons still… We are all just approaching the church from a different angle and others just don’t see what we see from the side of the box that they are on…

    I think there is definitely a place for hostility. Should we dwell there? No. But the church has done as much bad as it has done good… It should get called out once in awhile.

  2. I really think that we are all Mormons still… We are all just approaching the church from a different angle and others just don’t see what we see from the side of the box that they are on…

    That reminds me of something someone said to me on Wheat and Tares, actually. (I alluded to it a bit a couple of posts back.) They were uncomfortable with me posting about Mormonism, Christianity, cults, etc., because they saw me as an “outsider,” but I said…I still consider myself an insider! Even if I don’t go to church or believe the church is right, I don’t think that’s the outsider/insider boundary.

    But it seems like some people would like to say just that: if you’re hostile, you’re an outsider. If you don’t believe, you’re an outsider.

  3. It has to do with where each group is coming from. From a believing, orthodox, TBM standpoint there is no legitimacy in being a non-believer or apostate from the church… I find myself more and more leaning towards “big tent” ideas of insider/outsider definitions but your average church attending Mormon who avoids internet Mormonism is not even aware that other larger definitions of “Mormon” could and should exist…

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about the dispossessed after interacting with Annegb. Nothing I’ve said helps someone in her position.

    I like your reflections about

    Outer Blogness is for individuals who have been marginalized or who are dispossessed. The Bloggernacle is for individuals who have been privileged.

  5. BTW, I love that illustration, I’d like to use it in my next post on utopias.

  6. Dispossessed. I like that word.

  7. Outer Blogness is for individuals who have been victimized. The Bloggernacle is for individuals who have been privileged.

    I don’t think this is quite right. I do know a number of aggrieved ex-Mo’s, but I don’t think victimisation is their signature quality.

    As for my own anecdata, I had a reasonably good experience in the LDS Church, but I left because I realised there was no way it could be true with the evidence we have, and it was important for my beliefs to be true. After leaving, I was able to see ways in which my interests had been poorly served by the church. My life goals had been subverted by the church’s goals. I was taught a phony method for finding truth. I was taught to trust in magical thinking and superstition.

    All of this sorting-out was upsetting and time-consuming. But was I victimised? Not really — while in the church, I was quite privileged, really. I just don’t think falsehoods should be taught to people, and I want it to stop.

    It’s less about my own feelings of personal aggrievement, and more about what kind of future is best for people. Should it be the one where the interests of the Church prevail? or should it be one where individuals stand up against dogma and unreason? I am an ex-Mormon because I unhesitatingly choose the latter.

    • Good points. I guess this also provides some distinction from and counterargument to those people who would say, “Well, the church isn’t true, but there’s so much good to be found within it.”

  8. I’m not sure talking to Mormons really helped me heal. More like leaving them behind did, and finding people who valued me for who I was instead of for our shared privilege. Actually talking to Mormons takes a lot out of me, because they’re privileged to believe that the person I am can’t or shouldn’t exist.

    • Good point.

      However, I do think there are many for whom it’s not really plausible to “leave behind” Mormons, even if/when it DOES take a lot out of them.

      • Agreed.

  9. I’m not at all sure what you mean by privilege. Could you expand on that?

  10. John,

    I guess first, I’ll explain how privilege generally works in the church: it means that, for various reasons, the church “works” for an individual and favors the individual and his/her circumstances. For example, if you are straight, you have a particular privilege in the church. If you are married with children, you have an additional privilege in the church. If you believe, you have privilege.

    At the very least, if some of these things don’t apply, but you are fortunate to have a progressive/liberal/accepting ward, then even that can count as privilege.

    Privilege plays into how power is employed with respect to people in a particular space. Obviously, if you’re a straight married man, then you are “ideal” in the church’s position, eligible for callings, authority, etc., You always have the privilege of the Priesthood over even, say, a straight married woman. But a straight married woman, through her privilege, will always have the privilege of never being looked at funny or talked about awkwardly like a straight unmarried woman in the church would.

    Anyway, that was just for the church. The Bloggernacle has privileges certain circumstances as well, but it’s a little bit different than the church in general. Privilege is more about overall comfort level with the church — if in general you’ve had a comfortable life in the church, then you have privilege in the Bloggernacle. Even if you have some aspects that dispossess/oppress you in the church (most notably some kind of faith crisis, for example), then as long as you haven’t something truly discomforting that you need to work through, you’re a good fit for the Bloggernacle. But if you have, then not only will the Bloggernacle not help you, but it will shun you.

    And in this case too, privilege plays into how power is employed with respect to people in a particular space. In this case, dispossessed/oppressed/unprivileged people will be ignored/joked about (on the informal side of things), or mod queued/banned/etc. (on the formal side of things), And there’s not really a thing they can do about it because they don’t have power and privilege.

  11. Andrew,
    Part of my problem is that there seems like a lot of space between privilieged and victimized that this dichotomy doesn’t account for. Also, it seems weird to argue that belief shouldn’t create privilege within a church (since the organization is, presumably, for believers).

    That said, I’m still not certain that I understand what you are getting at. Certainly some groups are seen as more normative; you are arguing that these groups are the privileged, yes? And that, because they are the privileged (or the normative) it is initially difficult for them to comprehend the non-normative? How does that make the church different from any other social organization? Or are you arguing that the church is typical, but that it shouldn’t be, because if it truly represented God’s will it wouldn’t be?

    “if in general you’ve had a comfortable life in the church, then you have privilege in the Bloggernacle”

    Why do you say that? Annegb, for instance, is well beloved in the bloggernacle, but she certainly has not led a life of comfort with the church. Other folks like Thomas Parkin or Dan Weston also come to mind.

    “as long as you haven’t something truly discomforting that you need to work through, you’re a good fit for the Bloggernacle”

    Would you say that RfM, FLAK, PostMormon.org, or some such is a universal good fit for someone in that situation? It may be that we aren’t the right place for some people’s faith crisis, but I can confidently say that we have been for some. And I wouldn’t draw that line in a way that excludes us from helping people with real crises. But, then again, I’m talking from a place of privilege, so what do I know?

  12. John,

    Part of my problem is that there seems like a lot of space between privilieged and victimized that this dichotomy doesn’t account for.

    That’s ok. In any given sphere, there are plenty of “neutral” traits and gray areas.

    Also, it seems weird to argue that belief shouldn’t create privilege within a church (since the organization is, presumably, for believers).

    I think it would be fine if the church were only an organization of converts and had an accepted process for those who don’t believe to easily disassociate from the church, without being disconnected from people in other ways. But as it is, the church is a way of life, and a culture. It’s something you can be raised in and with. So in this way, like race or gender or something like that, it’s not something that we choose to put ourselves into. So it seems weird to say, “Something you didn’t choose will be a source of privilege or a source of victimization for you.” I dunno. That’s life.

    Alternatively, the church could look at itself as a place for the “sick” rather than as a place for the “well” (so to speak). So, if you believe, good for you (you’re “well” on that dimension), but really, the church isn’t about people who already have no problems with believing, just like the church isn’t about people who already follow all the commandments all the time. It’s about everyone else.

    And of course, there’s another option (I mean, there are of course more than I’ve mentioned.) You can just say that you’re ok with the system of privileges and oppression. This seems to be a popular option.

    How does that make the church different from any other social organization? Or are you arguing that the church is typical, but that it shouldn’t be, because if it truly represented God’s will it wouldn’t be?

    The second line there is basically what I would say. But with a few caveats, maybe. (such as, so maybe God’s organization wouldn’t be different from typical in *outcome*…but I would expect it at least to be trying to move in a better direction…in other words, have a different *goal* or *intent*….rather than saying, “Actually, this is how things should be.”

    “if in general you’ve had a comfortable life in the church, then you have privilege in the Bloggernacle”

    Why do you say that? Annegb, for instance, is well beloved in the bloggernacle, but she certainly has not led a life of comfort with the church. Other folks like Thomas Parkin or Dan Weston also come to mind.

    It’s difficult for me to answer this in a more general, theoretical way other than to say this sounds like when people say, “I have black friends…” or “I have gay friends…” That doubtlessly won’t be satisfying to you. I feel similarly when people point to John Hamer and say, “See, non-believers/former members are accepted in the Bloggernacle,” when they know or should know just as well that “there are no awards to be given to Chanson or Chino Blanco in the Bloggernacle.”

    “as long as you haven’t something truly discomforting that you need to work through, you’re a good fit for the Bloggernacle”

    Would you say that RfM, FLAK, PostMormon.org, or some such is a universal good fit for someone in that situation? It may be that we aren’t the right place for some people’s faith crisis, but I can confidently say that we have been for some. And I wouldn’t draw that line in a way that excludes us from helping people with real crises. But, then again, I’m talking from a place of privilege, so what do I know?

    I think in many respects that RfM, FLAK, PostMormon.org, etc., are what you get when the faithful system fails. No offense to those sites, but that’s what I think. Obviously, it’s not all the bloggernacle’s fault; a lot of it’s the church in general. But I think that when people have problems, they first seek to try to make church work out. If they don’t get answers (or even worse, are mistreated for their questions), then they are going to make these sites. (Now, there are going to be a lot of people who will insist that since “the church isn’t true,” there is nothing that could’ve kept them in, nothing that could’ve convinced them to stay, nothing that can convince them to return, but I think that people don’t often get this polarized unless the system truly fails to give them a way to stay in when they need it.)

    You say you wouldn’t draw the line in a way that excludes you from helping people with real crises, but it seems as if you do. You hear/read what someone has to say and then based on what they say or how they say it, you write them off as hopelessly critical or whatever. So then, after the doubter/questioner has been ignored or shunned or mistreated in whatever venue, these people go off to RfM to rant about it, you will say that they “self-selected” and that that was a “good fit” for them.

    I dunno. I say these things because I think that the Nacle and the church could be better. But maybe my problem is having too high of expectations all along. Maybe I just need to recognize these groups are going to be as is, and people shouldn’t think they will be anything nicer than they are…

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