George Tierney, Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina, who finds himself abruptly infamous for sending crass tweets to Sandra Fluke and then making legal threats to people who wrote about him, raises a series of questions in my addled mind.
Before we get to the questions, let's have a bit of background. Ostensibly, George Tierney, Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina is a man who, using the twitter handle @geotie2323, wrote crass and contemptible tweets to Sandra Fluke when he disagreed with a political point she was making. When his comments were featured on the blog Tbogg, he reacted with silly legal threats:
Whoever runs this site needs to take my damn comments off of it. I did not give you permission, nor did you ask me for it. It shows up on google and I will see a lawyer if this doesnt disappear. Ask me before posting bullshit about me. You fuckers had no right.
George Tierney Jr
. . .
You dont get to make the rules. I am the george tierney that made the comments to sandra fluke, not to you..take it off google. If it goes to a lawyer, it will be settled in court, with me getting paid.
George Tierney Jr
(Incidentally, the "take it off google" immediately made me remember the magnificent ""Remove me from your Rooster!", a collection of anti-gay tirades to a writer.)
This series of events went viral, and George Tierney, Jr. is now internet-infamous, with long-term consequences for himself and for anyone unfortunate enough to share his name.
Now, the questions.
First, a question that annoying people would call epistemological: how do we know what people on the internet are, or are not? Is it possible to know whether George Tierney, Jr. is (a) a genuine asshole, as he seems upon the face of it, (b) a troll, either named George Tierney, Jr. or posing as him for some nefarious purpose, or (c) genuinely mentally ill, like other people who have become abruptly internet famous for ranting? (This interview inclines me strongly towards either the "very skillful troll" or "regrettably mentally ill" interpretations, though admittedly in the modern political climate is is difficult to distinguish either from common rhetoric.)
Second, do we care? How many people who write about the Freak of the Week actually care whether he or she is genuine/trolling/crazy? How many people, by contrast, simply care that the Freak of the Week serves their narrative about how terrible the Other Side is, whether the Other Side is conservatives, liberals, or (in my case) censors?
Third, taking George Tierney, Jr. at face value for the sake of argument, my question, offered in the context of American thought about freedom of expression, is this: what the fucking fuck? Seriously? From whence comes this all-to-common sentiment that you can act any damnfool way you like in public, but people can't comment on it? Where do nominal adults get the idea that it's somehow actionable to be quoted? Is this a signifier of culture shock — a sign that we haven't worked out, in our own minds, whether the internet is public or private? Is it the incoherent grumble of a populace instructed that self-esteem is paramount, and raised to feel entitled to respect whether or not their conduct is respectable? Or is it simply a sign of atrocious civic education?
Fourth, again taking George Tierney, Jr. at face value: does he genuinely not understand the degree to which he will get curb-stomped in court if he tries to sue someone for making fun of him for saying "when are you going to shut your god damn dick sucker" to someone? Really? I'd take that case for free, get anti-SLAPP fees or sanctions, and wind up taking his debtor exam and taking him through a painstaking catalog of the value of his lawn jockey collection and mullet glamor-shots. (For the record, I wrote to Mr. Tierney asking him to comment on the legal theory on which he might pursue Tbogg and others, and did not receive a response.)
Fifth: wouldn't it be nice if we could lay down our arms for a sort of Christmas Day truce between the trenches, and join together in calling out, ridiculing, and opposing the censorious assholes and psychopaths of the world? I don't think that the vast majority of conservatives — even those who despise what Sanda Fluke stands for — approve of either George Tierney, Jr.'s language or his censorious threats. Yet most of the criticism I see is from the left — I suspect that people on the right feel that calling out the likes of Tierney would mean supporting Fluke, or supporting Tbogg, or something. Yet it doesn't mean that, by any reasonable measure. On a different scale, I'd like to see leftists condemn scary censorious psychopath Brett Kimberlin, and recognize that they can do so without endorsing the politics of those whom Kimberlin pursues. Political differences are meaningful, and should not be disregarded, but recognition of mutual humanity is often productive, and there are few more common human experiences than encountering crazy douchebags on the internet. In addition, we all have a stake in calling out, and opposing, censorship.