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Last night I was bemused to see some referrals to my cranky blog from a post on John C. Wright’s that I hadn’t linked to. Curious, I took a looksee, and lo and behold, I got name checked in the comments. Which is fair enough. (Gentlemen, I’m terribly sorry your delicate constitutions can’t handle some salty language, by the way. Kindly get the fuck over it.) And then there was this comment:

I found myself briefly regretting that duels of honour are illegal and, if to the death, immoral; but that is the level of anger I’d feel at being called a liar, multiple times.

Of course, the difficulty is when it’s a woman impugning your honour; it is dishonourable to strike a woman, but equally dishonourable to allow slights to your good name to stand. Never did figure a way out of that paradox.

Which honestly made me laugh, a lot. Seriously, how can you react to that other than by telling all your friends would you get a load of this fucking guy? Curse my ovaries for making it dishonorable to challenge me! Friends across various social media sites had a lot of fun laughing about it and there was a lot of “oh you’d totally kick that guy’s ass” chatter and that’s always pretty fun too in a sort of drinking beers and slapping each other on the back kind of way.

But now I want to get real about it.

This is not actually the first time I’ve had a random stranger on the internet publicly fantasize or imply how awesome it would be if he or someone else perpetrated an act of violence on my person. (About a year and a half ago it was someone making noise about taking a baseball bat to me because I had the [lady]stones to say I thought the president of the NRA is a terrible person.) Frankly, answering words with fantasies of violence is already a sign, at best, that someone needs to take a deep breath, count to ten, and remind themselves firmly that they are supposed to be an adult. That these notions–duels! baseball bats!–are immediately excused, often in the same metaphorical breath, with assurances of how that would totally never happen because it’s illegal, or they’re really a nice guy, or haha you’re a woman, is actually even more pathetic. It sure looks a lot like trying to have your cake and eat it, by being vaguely threatening at someone so you get to feel all big and tough, but then having the plausible deniability of no, seriously, I was only joking.

I do not care if you are my friend or my enemy. You are not tough or impressive when you do that. You are pitiable.

Because this is the thing. You may believe that violence or the “joking” threat of it will somehow end the argument, and in your favor because you’ve “won.” That is the magical thinking of a child. If the only way you can manage to respond to an argument is by puffing out your chest and waving your fists, you have lost, and profoundly. I don’t particularly want to have a baseball bat taken to me, or get cornered by someone wielding a pistol who desperately wishes it was the eighteenth century. But the fact of the matter is, no matter what could be physically done to my body, that does not actually prove me wrong.

I set down facts. I had an opinion. Even if someone found me in the parking lot tomorrow and beat me to death with a pipe wrench, that would not change any truth I’ve written. Climate change will still be real. Wayne LaPierre will still be a terrible person. Abiotic oil will still be horse shit. Powerforce bands would still be magical money wasters. John C. Wright will still be a disingenuous liar.

The truth doesn’t give a shit who hits harder or shoots faster. At best, maybe you get to be the last man standing who dictates his delusional vision of the world into a history book. But it’s just that: a delusion. Even if you could take every scientist who has ever researched sea level rise and threw us off a cliff, the sea level would still be going up. Even if you could duel everyone in the world who called someone you like a liar, that does not change the fact that he’s a fucking liar when he makes statements that are provably false.

You want to win? Then use your words. You don’t like statements I’ve made? Marshal your facts. Write a cogent argument. Prove your point in a substantive way. I’m a scientist. I might not like admitting when I’m wrong–seriously, who the fuck does?–but if I was incapable of doing so I never would have made it through graduate school.

But this “joking” about duels and baseball bats and the infinite number of nastier and more substantial threats that have been made against people far unluckier than me speaks not of the capacity for violence, but rather an ultimate lack of intellectual courage and a profound smallness of spirit. This is the ugliest possible version of a child sticking her fingers in her ears and shouting “Lalala I can’t hear you!”

And for that, anyone who practices this feeble tactic has my pity, whether they like it or not.

While I’m on a roll and talking about violence, and fights…

To my friends and loved ones: It is incredibly sweet that you have that kind of confidence in me, even if in a joking way. Yeah, it does feel good to be patted on the back and told I could totally kick someone’s ass, like I’m some kind of chubby, red-headed action star. That kind of thing can make a gal feel nine feet tall and fearless.

But let’s be real again.

I’ve practiced kung fu for twelve years now, and I’m still going strong. I’ve also been in precisely two fights in my entire life, both of which happened more than twelve years ago. What I learned about fights is that they’re terrifying, and chaotic, and painful, and then later sickening. They are not glorious, or cool, and anyone who claims they are probably hasn’t been in one, is dealing with it in the only way they can, or has bought into a mode of thought I’ve come to despise.

Practicing in the controlled environment of a school is not anything like being out in the real world; the closest you can ever get is sparring, and I’ve always avoided that because I don’t like it. I don’t like fighting. So I have no idea how I’d actually fare in a fight these days. And you know what? I’ll be overjoyed if I die at a ripe old age without ever finding out.

But let me tell you what I have learned, after twelve years of kung fu:

  • It’s okay for girls to hit.
  • Pain isn’t as painful as you think.
  • Practice is fun. Fighting is not.
  • It’s easier to train your fists than it is to train your will, or your temper, or your spirit.
  • Violence is the first resort of a bully and the last resort of a true disciple.
  • It takes the most strength to walk away.
  • You don’t ever, ever start fights, but you damn well finish them.

And yes, maybe there are situations where your back is to the wall and you or someone you love is in physical danger and then maybe, just maybe, you have no choice but to fight. But people seem to forget that often the quickest, most decisive way to end a fight is by choosing the most difficult path of all and walking away.

I won’t walk away from an argument, but I will walk away from a fight and consider myself the better person for it, always.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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