I read an amusing list online a few days ago. It was a list of how not to be “creepy.” It was all the usual things, such as “don’t touch people without their permission,” and “don’t corner people when they’re alone,” and “pay attention to subtle little things like how we lift our pinkies on Thursday nights when the buffalo calls out to determine whether or not we might or might not be approachable,” and so forth.

Bah!

Now first off, I don’t like the word “creepy.” I think it’s too close to being a sexual slur and I’m not overly fond of sex-based slurs. I understand it’s out there, but I think its use is… excessive. It’s great when it’s used to indicate a person who acts in such a way that they appear dangerous or mentally unstable, but not so great when it’s applied to a guy being labeled as sexually uninteresting or clueless. It’s like calling out “frigid bitch” to a woman who isn’t sexually interesting. Or calling anyone a “mother fucker” or a “cocksucker.” I think it would be good if we found ways to insult others than weren’t associated with sexual acts. I think it would be even better if we stopped insulting other people, but I know I’m swimming against the stream on that one, because there’s a lot of people who feel better after they insult someone.

You wanna know who’s creepy? Fritz Haarmaan. I think unless the person is actually representing a physical threat to life and limb, then calling them “creepy” is exaggerating.

It’s also sexist, and I’m not overly fond of that. I mean, that should be a no-brainer.

But that’s not really the problem I wanted to bring up.

The problem is with this and other lists like it.

First, they don’t work.

Strike One: Such lists don’t exhibit an effect. Evidence: there is still a perception that they are needed. If they worked, then people would read such lists and knock themselves on the head and say “Oh, jinkies, now I get it!” and I’m just not seeing that happening. I’m not seeing the social change needed to produce the desired effect.

Strike Two: Exacerbating the issue is the fact that such lists offer us the illusion that something’s being done, which allows us to stop actually working on the problem. In this respect, I think the lists are counterproductive.

It’s like passing a law saying that you have to obey laws. It feels as if something is being done, but nothing really is being done. The problem continues and now people are frustrated because they thought something was being done.

That is to say, energy expended on compiling and writing such lists is wasted, basically, where it could be spent on actually improving the problem.

Strike Three: They are horribly mis-targeted. This, I think, is something that a lot of us understand somewhat, but we haven’t exactly glued into our brains, because when we write these lists, we think of ourselves as devastatingly clever.

Visualize the typical person who’s thought of as “creepy.” Chances are, 2% of those folks might be actual predators. The other 98% we might classify as socially awkward, or, if you prefer, “clueless.” Feel free to adjust those percentages based on your appetite for fear.

The articles and lists are directed toward the “culprits.” So, consider the following: 2% of the people reading the lists simply don’t care, and 98% are absolutely sure the articles and lists are directed toward someone else, because surely it can’t be them!

To add delicious topping to this Cake of Confusion, I’d bet cash (and probably offer odds) that most of the people reading such articles and lists firmly believe that these articles and lists aren’t applicable to them.

So, the target audience either doesn’t care, doesn’t realize who they are, or simply aren’t being reached (instead, oddly, these articles and social rules lists are only being read by people who don’t do those things). Are these really the kind of people a reasonable person can expect to integrate a whole list of rules into their social toolbox? That seems a horribly unwise expectation.

That’s three strikes. That’s a failure condition.

(plus, don’t forget all the people who think that the articles apply to them and then fall apart in despair. That takes effort to fix, too!)

But, there’s a solution. It’s simple and effective.

Police your own social group.

It’s a subtle change, but one I think pushes all of us above the passive-aggressive level and into a place where the changes we claim we want can actually happen.

These lists are fun, but I think they would be more useful if they targeted the audience who was reading them, and offered action plans that audience can achieve.

“Don’t be creepy” shifts and becomes “Don’t allow this behavior in your social group. It’s your group and that means that it’s your job (as well the jobs of everyone else in the group) to not allow the behavior you find undesirable. It’s your job to stop it. The people who are doing it might be clueless, or they might be malevolent, and I guess you are going to have to make that call, but the bottom line is that you are responsible for policing yourself and those around you. If you see something, then speak up. Right then. Act. And if part of that behavior is some form of isolating people, then circulate and keep an eye on those isolated places. Take your share of responsibility for the enforcement of the rules of your social group.”

I’ve met a few people on and off who seem offended by this idea, as if this isn’t their job because they’re not doing anything wrong. I suggest that deciding it isn’t their job is doing something wrong — it’s abdicating responsibility for their group. I suppose if the group was the “Let’s all refuse to take responsibility” group, then that would be different, but somehow I don’t think that’s on the charter.

When we were children, other people looked after us and made sure we didn’t do stupid shit like stick forks into our eyes, or uncoil our genital stems into light sockets. Becoming adults means it’s time to step up our game and police ourselves. It’s time to step up and police our own social group.

Doesn’t matter what that social group is, either. Maybe it’s just a single party one weekend. Maybe it’s a multimillion dollar mega-church. It’s your job to keep it on the straight and narrow.

And that includes me, too!

So, fair warning.

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