to the horde

So I wanted to wait a day or two to say this, because it’s never a good idea to try and get distance when I’m in the middle of one of these internet scrums. I’m still close enough to it that a bunch of people are yelling at me to behave, which is pretty much asking me to do the opposite of what they want — I tend to dig in that way. And, indeed, Twitter writ large can continue to jump in a lake; I don’t want to be cool with you. But there’s a much more specific, limited group of people who I owe an apology to.

My random contribution to that profile of Ta-Nehisi Coates was not actually about him and was instead about his commenters. That’s never a good look, to begin with. In my defense, it was taken from a February blog post on media sameness and was part of a series of jokey riffs on prominent publications. But the fact is, I have in the past talked junk about Coates’s commenters, who he affectionately refers to as his horde. I have accused them of sycophancy and self-regard. After a day of reading, and of talking to a few members of that group that very patiently explained why I was wrong, I’ve come to regret that a lot.

Communities have secret languages; they have private vocabularies; they have codes. They also have to have certain self-regulatory functions if they’re to work — they have to have ways to enforce internally-generated rules. In my haste, and my efforts to be cute, I misrepresented some of those rules without a real grasp of what they were or why they were felt necessary by the people within the community. Worse, I didn’t adequately recognize that they were attempting to build something, that they had a particular project, or be generous in understanding that this kind of work never goes off without some difficulty or excess. In other words, I was cheap, because of a failure of empathy.

That comments section would never be for me; I like sharper elbows, a little more wildness. But that’s just it: it’s not for me. I should have taken my own advice and let taste be taste, and not try to mine other people’s communities for derision. The fact is, I was glib and callous with an enterprise that a lot of people were very invested in, and in so doing, I insulted them. For that they deservedly got mad at me. I sincerely regret having said those things. It was wrong of me to insult them in that way, and I am sorry.