The struggle in terms of the strange

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. jane
    November 9, 2013 @ 4:44 am

    Sunlight is indeed the greatest check on the abuse of power. On the other hand, privacy is something to be cherished. A tidy compromise, it seems to me, would be that anyone seeking power at Wikipedia — beyond the level of a basic editor — should be out. Such as everyone on anything resembling an Arbitration Committee. If one's privacy is too cherished, don't seek a position of power. Only in this way can conflicts of interest (and other abuses of power) be truly avoided.

    It'd be nice to say that the power games at Wikipedia are on the same level as junior high school cliques. They certainly share a family resemblance. But Wikipedia has a much bigger impact than a back-water middle school. As such, it should be held to same standards as any major social institution, not a seedy chat room.

    It's tempting to just leave it at that, but the fact that this fiasco erupted over trans issues, and specifically around a now-banned editor with a distinctly vigorous political rhetoric, begs the drawing of certain connections. At the heart of transphobia is the desire to exercise power over others. The ability to transition from one gender to another is a hugely powerful act. It is in complete defiance of the conditions of one's birth, and all the social conditions that accompany said birth. These conditions are precisely the same from which class systems typically derive. Furthermore, successful transitions challenge certain paradigmatic views of the social construction of reality itself — that gender is bestowed solely from without, via genetics and birth assignment, as opposed to interior subjective experience. Given that most people do not want to relinquish their class privilege, let alone adjust their cognitive frameworks for identifying people, it's not surprising that transphobia and reactionary politics go hand-in-hand. The ability to define people is a huge form of exercising power, because it frames the very nature of the debate regarding our social relations.

    So really, this isn't just about meting out punishment for criticizing an arbitration committee. It's about shutting down a challenge to the construction of our social relations, from which the ability to exercise power over others accrues.


  2. chris the cynic
    November 9, 2013 @ 5:02 am

    Quite some time ago you were contacted to ask if you had any objections to being included in a weekly post linking to updates of a handful of analyses like those you do of Doctor Who. You didn't express any an thus have been included in that post.

    You were not asked, because no one really considered the possibility, whether you'd mind having other posts you made linked to. I have linked to both this and the other post on your post on your wikipedia banning in this post. If you would not like them to be linked to say so and I will immediately remove the links.


  3. Ross
    November 9, 2013 @ 5:15 am

    Shucks. Here I was planning to link to the 10-part blog series I just did speculating about what's gonna be in The Day of the Doctor when you posted about the trailer. Feels kinda cheap doing it now. (I'm still gonna do it. I just feel cheap about it.)
    Man. WHy are wikipedia such a bunch of jerks about this?


  4. Aaron
    November 9, 2013 @ 6:25 am

    I know it's off topic, but I waited for the weekend to ask you about this Phil. I saw that G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) is writing a comic series following a Muslim girl who has super powers. Since this seems to be right up your alley, I wanted to know your thoughts on this project? Is it going to be the best thing ever?

    (I read Alif the Unseen on your recommendation, by the way, and while I wasn't in love with it, I could see what you admired in the book).


  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 9, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    There's been some desire expressed to see my reply to Risker's e-mail. It is below:

    I think your memory may be fuzzy about what distressed me; it was not personal information being pulled up, but the fact that users on another site spoke actively of trying to force me out of my PhD program and called my local police to falsely accuse me of murdering people.

    I thus fail to see the similarities between this and exposing Ainstworth’s rank hypocrisy, and your own failure to do anything about it.

    Phil Sandifer

    I received no further communication from Risker following this.


  6. Adam Riggio
    November 10, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    As usual, Jane makes a huge pile of perfect sense, but I think in addition to her very accurate insights about the links of transphobia and reactionary politics, there might be another dynamic at work. If anything, I consider it an even worse dynamic on the part of the ArbCom folks. They're scared shitless.

    I'm not nearly the ninja you've been over the years from active involvement in message boards and the earliest versions of social media. But I've gotten into my share of fights with politically disagreeable people on the internet. And I hate it. Now imagine the ArbCom of Wikipedia, people who've volunteered to wade through the pettiest behaviour on the internet, pettiness exacerbated by privacy rules that not only protect your person, but protect your anonymity. They've devoted their lives to fighting the internet's worst trolls: the battle scars must be immense.

    Then you shine light on the ArbCom fucking up one of the most intensely controversial events of the century: Manning is sentenced and simultaneously becomes Chelsea. The Christian fundamentalist culture war and the ongoing catastrophe of the War on Terror converge in one hearing room. The most deadly trolls would emerge from the depths of socially conservative America. Or so went their imaginations, perhaps.

    They weren't up to the task. Weak. Pitiable. Pathetic. They turned and caved on any point where a determined troll with right-wing beliefs could have challenged them. The ArbCom essentially imagined looking an army of Daleks in the face and got on their knees pleading for their lives before the battle fleets even had a chance to show up.


  7. Sean Daugherty
    November 11, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    To clarify: the Wikipedia user in question (whom I won't name since this blog post is being discussed over on ArbCom) was not an arbitrator, or even an administrator. He's not, in other words, operating "beyond the level of a basic editor." This isn't an example of ArbCom circling the wagons to protect their own.

    I don't know that requiring arbitrators to disclose their identities would have avoided this mess. They've doubling down, I suspect, because the one thing that ArbCom has historically resisted with every fiber of its being is admitting its cases were mishandled or that they acted in error. Exactly as Phil said, in other words, though ArbCom will never admit it. Even if the desysopping and banning can be justified citing Wikipedia policy, the decision to pursue it as aggressively as was done cannot be.

    That said, there are very good reasons for not allowing arbitrators or administrators to hide behind a mask of anonymity. And that's without even needing to get into delicate political subjects like trans issues. For a project that places as much emphasis on proper sourcing and attribution, there's a curious hostility to ensuring that Wikipedia itself can be properly sourced.


  8. Ross
    November 11, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    It sounds a lot like classic bully-enabling behavior, the sort you see out of, say, schoolteachers: The bullies aren't their problem. you making a fuss about the bullies is their problem. So the solution is to make you stop making a fuss and take your wedgies quietly. From their point of view, the transphobes are only hurting trans folks, whereas the advocates are kicking up a big fuss, and all they really want is there to not be a big fuss


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    August 15, 2015 @ 9:39 pm

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