a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

They Have To Be Monsters


Yup, that’s the one. Thanks for finding it. I’ve bookmarked it so I don’t forget it again.


Really? Even when in direct reply to a mother’s expression of grief on her dead son’s Facebook page?

As i said, I don’t think that a public, open page on Facebook is the right place to express those sentiments, especially if your son was a public figure and it’s clear that his death is related to substance abuse.
There are some reasons for this, and one, as wrong as I think it is, it’s that people normally think that substance abuse is different from another illness, it’s something you can control and it’s something which not only damages you but might end up damaging others. Think about anyone who lost a child because he was killed by someone driving under the influence of drugs, they might react bad when they see someone mourning a junkie child. They would probably not react in the same way if the boy had died of cancer.
I would simply not consider “junkie” an offence, because it’s just a condition, but it has no moral implication in my view, because addiction is a disease like others. You, your son, mostly nobody is at fault is someone is a junkie, it’s something that happens, like cancer, crash accidents, anorexia and so on. So being offended because someone calls you, your son or whoever a “junkie” perpetrates this “myth” that “junkie” is someone to be ashamed of having grown, or of being. My feeling is that she was hurt at the comment because somehow she thinks that if he was a junkie, deep down, it’s her fault.
I’ve never been good at explaining my thoughts, hope this is not too convoluted, I would want to write more but it would bee too long :smiley:


I already shared that I was beaten up in school, by a group of seven, and later by two older african-American girls. I didn’t even have any contact before the harassment started and no one cared then and it seems you don’t care now.

But your entire post is a screech.

There are two ways of handling lack of empathy, your touchy feely, walk on eggshells and be really, really careful not to do something that is a micro-aggression that will trigger the hurt feelings of someone who has only one layer of really thin and sensitive skin and has to stay in the dark lest they get instantly sunburned. So you can’t really say anything. They might be doing wrong things in their code or the workflow, but you have to spend 15 minutes calming and praising and awkwardly and indirectly suggest a better way of doing things lest they clutch their pearls and swoon onto the fainting couch.

The other way is to develop a thicker skin and let the insults, slights, annoyances, and even threats bounce off. That is what I had to learn and am better for it. Courage, fortitude, perseverance.

Do I have empathy? Yes, but it is for actual victims of real violence. Speakers are being shouted down. Right now in the EU there is too much empathy for Muslims when they actually are raping women (http://humanevents.com/2014/08/27/the-rotherham-horror/ - We can’t hurt the feeling of Muslim men so we must cover up rape; then there’s female genital mutilation, but we have to have empathy for those doing the mutilating).

It is a far greater defect today that someone can screech “Hurt Feelz” and cut off all debate and get someone who had no evil intent excommunicated (shirt-gate, Richard Dawkins and others v.s. Atheism Plus). I already mentioned Brendan Eich.

That is what is wrong with your post and entire line of thinking. Empathy can either conform with objective morality or reality, or contrary to it. Why do muslim rapists get empathy but there is none for their victims? Why do campus speakers of the alt-right get no empathy but those who interrupt and screech and even call in bomb threats do? Why does the fraternity who was the actual victim of vandalism in the “Rolling Stone Rape” article get no empathy yet the fraudulent “Jackie” must be empathized with?

The reason is because you and those like you are “Men without Chests” as CS Lewis used the term: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX5e6eSkaMc - Your post is “The Green Book”, but one step worse. You are trying to program empathy in a very specific direction and with a very specific end while hiding your call in general “lets be more empathetic”. It isn’t really what you want. If it were so, you would show me MORE, not less empathy than others.

This is my point - you are calling for the case we all have an inordinate and even poisonous empathy and in the direction of a set of selected victim classes, not to have both ordinate empathy and sensitivity directed at proper things.

The worse vices are the excess or corruption of a virtue. That is how I see your post. As another hammer trying to drive another crack in the wall of Western Civilization so we can all be “nice” barbarians. But barbarians aren’t nice and show no empathy. And I can simply point to what having “empathy” for refugees has wrought - Death. Even in San Bernadino, the deaths could have been averted if someone would have been willing to hurt the feelings of the terrorists by simply reporting the excess of guns and pipe-bombs. But maybe the “teach men not to rape” will work in Sweden and Germany.

If you are wondering why I bother to respond, I should note I consider you and many here a lost cause. You won’t deal with reality and nature has no empathy nor forgiveness. And there are far worse people than me that lack empathy and are going to do a great deal of harm to many people. Chamberlain had empathy for the Nazis. But there are others who may be on the edge, thinking “If I’m just nice to a snake it won’t bite me”, or worse, “If I wish hard enough, the snake will turn into a cuddly rabbit”. I am trying to help those reject your call for empathy regardless of the facts and situation, and rather have them form their passions so that they can be sensitive without experiencing pain, and be correctly empathetic to those who are really hurt by being real victims. I am arguing for men (and women) to keep or reinstall their chests, to have properly ordered passions so the emotion of pity will result in proper empathy instead of emotional blackmail. But equally that they should develop the courage and fortitude necessary to determine what is right and wrong, good and evil, and to eventually be able to fight real enemies instead of living in a pretend illusion.

Empathy is a female virtue, though men require it too. There are masculine virtues, and I advocate equally for them and one of them is true tolerance and thick skin - to not engage or complain or get upset over minutiae. It is a masculine virtue but women require it too. If you were to advocate for tolerance (not acceptance, but to say I disagree or am annoyed, but I will not try to change it), you would do better, but I’ve never seen it here. Yet if you could build more tolerance, your advocacy of empathy would then be proportional and meaningful.


I think this is a false binary decision – there is a third path here, the path of mutual respect.

Regardless, you should take a look at your behavior. You’re writing screeds of thousands of words, engaging in a lot of aggressive name calling, and citing dozens of strange, irrelevant links – how is half the stuff you cite related to this post in any way? If your actual position is this:

Then why are you replying here at such great length and monopolizing the discussion? Say your piece, and be done. Otherwise I think you’re demonstrating the opposite of a thicker skin – based on volume and intensity of response, you let this piece, and the responses, get to you.


For @asfd and @William_Lane more info on the Guardian methodology is here:

The data is quite clear, there is a huge difference in potential for abuse based on gender:

Stalking, off and online, is a crime in which men are the majority of perpetrators and women the targets. Justice Department records reveal that 70 percent of those stalked online are women. More than 80 percent of cyber-stalking defendants are male. Similarly, a study of 1,606 revenge porn cases showed that 90 percent of those whose photos were shared were women, targeted by men. In gaming, an industry known for endemic sexism, studies cited by Citron show that 70 percent of women in multiplayer games play as male characters in order to avoid abuse.

As far as “harmless threats” are concerned, the reality of rape and domestic violence qualitatively changes the meaning and effect of threats when leveled against women by men. Women have a 1 in 5 chance of actually being raped and a 1 in 4 chance of being physically assaulted by an intimate. For men, the chances of being raped are 1 in 71, and 1 in 7 for being physically abused, also an asymmetrical comparison.


Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

What an awesome idea.

We can say that if we believe the world is more chaos and more randomly, we’ll become clamer.


People say mean things online because they can’t in real life. We add more and more pressure to behave in a socially acceptable way then we up the ante on what that means. And we are not like that, we are critical, data gathering and categorization machines. You know AI works like that and it’s modeled by the brain. Any brain! So you gather frustration from the dichotomy between what happens inside you and what you can express outside. The Internet becomes an outlet for these horrors that we locked and scratch on the inside of skull to get out.

Oh, sure, these people are horrible, but the reason you are shocked by it is that in real life you don’t sense what they really are like and you give them the benefit of the doubt. Most people in the world are assholes. The fantasy that people are basically good fails when you see how uneducated children behave. I can’t think of them as monsters, because that implies some sort of uncommonness and they are all over the place.

I think the real issue here is not why people choose to express their grief on the public Facebook page of a dead person and then feel hurt by random people who join the conversation or why people somehow decide it’s a good idea to willfully hurt others when they don’t have to. I believe it is all about if you want to see the world as it is or live in a comfortable fantasy where you feel safe.


Jeff… Maybe I read it wrong but the individual Stephanie engaged with wasn’t the same as the “Junkie” commenter.


Why is the data so contradictory between the Pew Research Group and the Guardian Research methodology? That’s my point. Were sample sizes distributed about the mean? Were sample ranges controlled? How old are justice department records compared to the 2014 Pew Research poll here? I am assuming you are using the controversial report from 2007 but I am uncertain. Pew Source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

Again their is no question that women receive more cases of sexual harassment and internet stalking but the most recent data seems to suggest that men are the largest receivers of all other forms of internet abuse. Everyone on the internet is realistically shitty to everyone else. Also that 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 statistic is sketchy at best, it was based of a survey of undergraduates at two unnamed large public universities (one in the Midwest and one in the South) and received approx. 5,446 Web-based responses from women ages 18 to 25 which was around a 19% response rate, I am not saying it is false, as I have not really seen many reputable counter studies (although there are several critics that are found as valid), but that would mean sexual assault rates in the United States campuses alone are comparable to that of the War torn Congo where sexual assault is common and used extensively as a tool of war. Don’t get me wrong, any percentage of rape or sexual assault is too much, but that study has been seen by many experts as somewhat nebulous.

Politifacts also had a decent article on this topic.


I don’t buy the “fear” argument. From my point of view, it’s more a question of outrage, if I had to choose a single word. People are sick of bad news: mothers who kill their children, psychotic gunmen who take out their impotence on the work around them, thugs who go on crime sprees, politicians who lie, cheat, and misappropriate. Being angry at the injustices of the world doesn’t imply fear; rather, it is its own response, which is only partially based on logic and facts.


She engaged with two people, a man on the Junkie comment, a woman on the parenting screen time. Here’s what was said about the Junkie commenter:

Let’s give this whole thing some context: this one word was posted in response to a comment posted by my mother on the Facebook page of her only son on his would-be birthday had he not died at thirty years old of a heroin overdose less than two years ago.

I replied to his comment that it was a rather insensitive thing to say given the circumstances. My husband posted something similar. Others were equally disturbed. They told him how fucked up he was. They called on him to apologize.

I believe the second paragraph covers it. That is clearly engagement, versus block and walk away.

I agree that particular stat has always seemed extreme, but look at the relative difference between men and women: 1/5 vs 1/71 for rape. That’s over an order of magnitude already; even if you halve or quarter the number for women, the vast difference is still there. On the other hand it is true that there is one surprising exception in the data:

Indeed, investigators have consistently found that short of criminal activity, men exhibit more frequent and more extreme levels of physical aggression with one exception: in domestic disputes, as we will see, the tables are often turned.


This is human nature it seems. It isn’t just some people of some particular type. What comes out as freedom to abuse anonymity in some, comes out in a variety of other ways for the rest of us. We are one trauma away from barbarism at any one time, and lack of accountability brings out the worst in a society that has had its underlying moral compasses de-magnetized. The way we treat each other in social media is a revealer of the fact that in general we have nothing solid internally governing our behavior.

That’s America and a good part of the world right now. Right and wrong are not based in anything real, permanent, or objective/external, but are merely products of “what we as a group think is best” and as soon as that starts sinking in, anything goes.

I really appreciated the “Existential Dread” illustration because that really describes the cliff that we’re sitting on. The problem has always existed, but it is urgent and palpable today. Who wants to look into the void of what the consequences of what we believe about life really are? It’s terrifying if you believe in “social convention” as the arbiter of right and wrong. You have to pick up the vacuum before the “truth” of that bleakness settles in.

And if all we are is random atoms that happened to bump into each other and learned how to “survive” then ultimately none of it means anything. That’s a black abyss.


Jeff, I have to disagree with your assertion that women are the primary targets of harassment on the internet, just based on the actual facts.

From what I’ve seen, women get FAR more empathy. Despite receiving far less harassment, women still get advocates sent to the UN to discuss the issue of women receiving online abuse.

They only face more in 2 of the lowest categories. And you are getting your info from the guardian, which are getting their info from their OWN comments sections. The problem is Trolls pick their harassment based on what the target is sensitive on, and on a site like The Guardian, this is mostly going to be feminist and women’s issues, so of course most of the harassment is going to be against women there, and it’s going to be about gender, as that’s what those people on that site are most sensitive about.

But if you want to talk about a lack of empathy, men are 80% of suicide victims as well as 80% of the homeless, are under represented in college, and have whole social movements (“progressives”) portraying them as the devil, yet women get far better accommodations and attention for dealing with these things; therapy is designed to work with women, women get far more shelters, 56% collage admittance in women’s favor (and just last year when you like this “coding school” in New York, litterally there at the bottom of the application was a checkbox disqualifying men from being given a grant just for being men), domestic violence advocacy groups uses the “Duluth” model of domestic abuse, which assumes females are the victims and males are the perpetrators which you will see in the story below. Yet here you are writing about mean words on the internet while there are boys out there paying child support to there middle aged female rapist. Yea, society is extremely empathetic to men, as shown in this example: http://imgur.com/itKxVBF

If you really want to see a clear-cut case of harassment, I direct you to: http://www.avoiceformen.com/mens-rights/domestic-violence-industry/seven-years-in-hell/

But I bet you won’t read it due to the site it’s on, because you (along with a great deal of society) are so fixated on seeing women as victims and men as privileged you won’t take the time to consider that men can and do face systemic discrimination by (in this instance) the justice system.

I am sorry, but race and gender are not how you determine someones privilege; individual circumstances are, which for the most part in this society scales directly with income/ class, not physical features about you.


As someone who tends to be very opposed to social justice, reading @tomz’s posts made me cringe pretty hard.

Something else that bothers me: your website is hijacking my CMD-F keyboard shortcut and redirecting it to your own search bar instead of my browser’s. What’s up with that??


Jeff, reading through the responses to your post, I couldn’t help thinking about a writing exercise I’d done in school. We had record and transcribe a conversation. The point of the exercise was later revealed to us which the basic idea of was this: people are constantly giving you information about themselves despite the conversation topic whether they mean to or not. They’re illuminating their character, telling you what they care about and what they’re afraid of. It was in this mindset that I read the replies to your post.

I do think that you’re on to something in you analysis that the lack of empathy is related to fear.

As I read specific replies, the words were saying they’d dealt with or are dealing with difficult situations by growing a thicker skin, toughening up, or some such behavior. But, I couldn’t help feeling, and ‘feeling’ is the correct word, that they really hadn’t gotten over the situation as they’d claimed because their words betrayed them. I sensed pain, anger, fear and confusion - all very normal human stuff.

One other thing I noted was that some expressed the belief that empathy was an emotional response to a situation - and by extension was not logical or to be trusted. That’s very telling too.

Actually, there’s some research that empathy and altruism is genetic and genetic imperative for the survival of any species - and therefore it’s logical and necessary.

And, Jeff - thanks for the great post.


This is only somewhat related, but in Germany there’s similar sentiments regarding racism & the third Reich.

Even while uttering the most horrible racist opinions and hate speech, posters will deny being a Nazi or racist because the Nazis were “obviously” monsters.

And this is why it’s so important to make jokes about Nazis, to even humanize Hitler himself - because they were just human. They were not monsters, but people are afraid they have the ability to become the same kind of person.


Man this was so on point. @codinghorror I’m a fan!!


I am thankful for this open and honest post.

And I agree to most of what you write – I just think there’s more. More different kinds of people, more personal reasons and stories (some of which are mentioned in some comments) and more psychological effects at work (interwoven, on different levels). I just stumbled upon this nice summary of deindividuation, and I think it adds another interesting aspect to the phenomenon: Quora-Deindividuation


I agree with your message, but why in the world would you want to trivialize bullying of straight white men? Privilege?
Isn´t our pain worth as much?
Are we not worthy of empathy?

Talking about privilege and trying to trivialize problems for “straight white men” is regular feminist hate speech. Because we are not as prevalent in statistics we obviously deserve to get hit, just for the equality of it.

I was bullied as a child, white and straight and still could not walk away. Online I get a lot of hatred for whatever reason, mostly for being a christian. Tell me, how I am I immune? How can I walk away that non-privileged can not?

One argument would be to not be so loud, not steal the attention. If I don’t post things or comment on things I won’t get in trouble. Yes, a mayor in the Swedish city of Malmö said to the jewish population that was suffering from attacks that if they only hid any jewishness they would be mostly fine. See the problem here?

Hatred is hatred, and it hits everyone, women, men, children. Some get it more and some less, but it is always wrong no matter who it hits.

You disappoint me, but I guess it won’t matter much, I am just a middle-aged straight “white” christian man.


I’m glad to have read this and think it’s important to have these conversations. I kind of wish I’d seen it a week ago.

I think one thing you don’t take into account is that sociopaths and sadists (and sadistic sociopaths) really do exist. Most people can be engaged by appealing to empathy and maybe making them think about the impact they have on others. Some people, as they say, just want to watch the world burn.

One commenter above mentioned real world verification as a means to combat abuse. It’s funny, some of the people I know most opposed to Google+'s real names policy were women afraid of online abuse entering the offline world.