The Curious Case of Dr. Bones

Dear reader,

This post is no longer relevant. I do not in any way support Dr. Bones in light of his actions. Thus I have struck-through the entire post.

I’ve read with a fond amusement the recent onslaught of criticism regarding the writing of Dr. Bones. Fondness, because each new accusation, each from a different angle, recalls to my mind all the previous times I was myself the subject of such mass disturbances; amusement, because each of the various essays and posts reveal more about the critics than those they would criticize.

Such crusades are predictable. I’ve been in some way or another involved in public political writing (and later providing a platform for other people’s political writing) long enough to see obvious patterns. They are inevitable, like the rising of the sun; as a writer’s voice ascends into influence, the attacks begin; when a writer gains enough influence to not only become widely-read but widely listened-to, the attacks become crusades.

The question is only ever whether a writer will continue to shine regardless.

It can be said with some degree of truth that I participated in the creation of Dr. Bones. He wrote for the platform I co-founded, and I edited and published his first (widely popular) book, Curse Your Boss, Hex The State, Take Back The World. The better way to put this is that Dr. Bones is a co-creation because no one ever creates themselves alone: every person who’s ever read his stuff was also a co-creator, whether they liked him or not.

And many people didn’t, even at the beginning, even before his sun rose into fuller view upon the land of internet anarchism. I dare say his critics have had as much of a hand in co-creating him as his friends, editors, co-writers, and fans. Like lifting weights, it’s not just the force of a muscle’s push against a resistance that makes you stronger; without resistance, nothing in the body changes.

A few months after he started writing with us, the criticisms began to fill my inbox. It was a soft trickle at first, words like “manarchist” and “egotistical” peppering the emails and messages. These came immediately after any essay in which he challenged some leftist dogma, be it participation in electoral politics or passive civil disobedience. The real criticisms, the real “resistance,” began after he dared complicate a then-popular piece by Johanna Hevda: “Sick Woman Theory,” published on Mask Magazine. Dr. Bones was a “manarchist who hates disabled women,” read one (now deleted) public criticism, for writing the following:

Society, itself a mental construct, has required the British “keep a stiff upper lip,” that Southern men fight over trivial issues to “preserve their honor,” and that honest discussions are shut down by online activists to demonstrate just how pure and forward thinking their politics are.

Every society, no matter how small, demands a norm of behavior built on an intangible spooky ideal, rather than on a sense of trust and reciprocity between real individuals. As such, every society will always seek to stamp out anything it considers unlike its self. The same damage I might cause to a woman like Johanna if I insisted every radical was a bomb-throwing, SKS firing, hard drinking brawler would be done to me under a “liberated” society that demanded I join in “sharing our stories of therapies and comforts, forming support groups, bearing witness to each other’s tales of trauma, prioritizing the care and love of our sick, pained, expensive, etc, etc”

Is she sick, or am I? Who can say?

The two months after he published that essay on our site were some of my least favorite as the editor of Gods&Radicals. I received an almost endless stream of emails and messages threatening to boycott us unless we issued a formal apology; several donors canceled their recurring donations after a public call demanding we fire Dr. Bones, and even several years later I come across random critics who claim that Gods&Radicals “hates disabled people” because of that essay.

That was hardly the end, unfortunately; it was the beginning. The more Dr. Bones complicated the simplistic narratives of leftist and anarchist politics to be found online, the more criticisms we received. Added to the usual labels used as weapons in social capital struggles, none of which actually applied to Dr. Bones (racist, transphobic, misogynist, homophobic) came the more…specious ones. I began to receive accusations that Dr. Bones was actually COINTELPRO or FBI, that he was actively plagiarizing rival root-workers, or that he was a fascist infiltrator. These often came from anonymous email addresses or as anonymous comments through our blog. The few who I could reply to never answered my request for more information, including as to whom precisely he was “plagiarizing.”

Though the most common target, Dr. Bones is not the only writer with whom I worked who was accused of such things. Quite a few of our writers over the years have been similarly attacked, and some of those criticisms are also ones lobbed clumsily at me. While sometimes different in substance, one obvious pattern is that accusations always occur within a few days of an essay by the writer being shared heavily, with many positive comments, across multiple social media platforms. This pattern repeats true enough that I’ve come to cringe when I see anything I’ve written become “popular” or go “viral.”

Understanding this mechanism is vital to understanding why the majority of these (baseless) criticisms happen in the first place. When it appears that “everyone” in the imaginal space of social media connections is reading something, there will always be an inevitable reaction against it by those who disagree with the essay, and most specifically the author or the platform where it was published. Someone, somewhere, will feel that the author doesn’t speak for them and will promptly make sure everyone knows it.

As best as I can understand, this is a natural phenomena exacerbated greatly by social media, a space in which thought and opinion are fully separated and disconnected from the bodies who think and opine. Public social acclaim granted to someone we don’t know or like will always feel a little alienating and bitter, especially if we ourselves do not feel adequately acclaimed and recognized. Watch any parent with two or more children and you can see the roots of this clearly, especially when it’s one child’s birthday and another child feels “left out,” begins sulking in a corner, begins attention-seeking, or even actively tries to sabotage the celebrated child’s experience until they are recognized, too.

The more vulgar name for this is envy, but unlike in the Christian conceptions of human emotions, envy is not innately bad. Of course, envy can destroy a human, causing them to obsess unduly with the object, or possessor of the object, they feel they lack. Yet envy is at its core desire—desire for something that we wish to obtain or to become. Envy of another athlete’s prowess, another musician’s skill, another writer’s art: when these things lead us to lift harder, practice more diligently, read more attentively, envy increases the overall beauty in the world. And even envy’s more violent aspect has a role in the creation of beauty. The poor envy the ease of the rich and want that ease as well, the enslaved envy the freedom of the masters and want also to be free, the powerless envy the power of their rulers and want also power: envy is a core emotional drive in revolution.

Envy is powerful, but in its degraded form it becomes resentment, desire festering and rotting. This is unavoidably a core mechanism in many criticisms of Dr. Bones, at least of the written criticisms. Writers who aren’t writing, or spend rather embarrassing amounts of time writing about how Dr. Bones (or others) are wrong, reveal to anyone giving attention that they aren’t doing their own work. Their sense of lack bleeds through the pixels on the screen, and the more they fixate, the more the rest of us uncomfortably watch their envy fester into resentment.

This is not to say that Dr. Bones is unique as an object of such resentment; any other writer rising to such prominence experiences the same thing, regardless of what they were saying or how they said it. It’s part of the life cycle of internet writing, and probably of any other venture into the realms of the social. The moment people decide you have something profound to say? That moment births the eventual time when lots of people will later decide what you have to say is dangerous, or wrong, or at the very least unrepresentative of their lives and experiences.

At such a point, whether one is a good writer or not has little to do with whether or not one survives in the public sphere. I’ve witnessed several writers become the object of collective social resentment and crumple under its weight. Some were brilliant women, deftly skilled with words, enchantresses in their own right. However, their skill could not help them endure the smears, accusations, willful misunderstandings, and rather malicious harassment when the internet “turned against them.” They do not write publicly any longer. Other writers I’ve known and witnessed severely curtailed their public writing, deleting social media accounts, or stopped writing with their own voice.

What is unfortunate in such moments, besides the loss of profound voices in an otherwise flat and dull intellectual landscape, is that for each silenced writer, many more would-be writers put down their pens. It is the same for leaders, as well—whenever someone with significant influence steps back from pointing the masses away from their fates as “worker” or “citizen,” others who might have done the same shudder and turn away, too.

Because though there are absolutely authentic criticisms to be levied against any writer, the curious case of Dr. Bones reminds us that the problem isn’t that he so recklessly dares to speak, but that so few others also dare. Within American leftism or anarchism, where are the other voices like his? Look and you will find the same answer I have found: they are mostly silent, or otherwise restrained. Too few dare like he does, and too many are too aware of what such daring might cost them.

We do not yet know what it might look like to have more such reckless fools speaking with their magician’s voices into the disenchanted landscape of leftist politics. We may never get to see, especially since Capitalism has disciplined too many of us into becoming consumers of ideas and writing, rather than liberated agents of our own fates and desires. I’ve done what I could to encourage those I could, withstanding rather than withering under the harassment so to give others the hope that it’s even possible. Fortunately, I suspect Dr. Bones won’t shut up any time soon, either.

But in the end, it’s really only the internet. There’s no revolution to be found sitting before a glowing screen, resenting those who dare to speak. At best there are only ever ideas that hopefully convince you one day to stop looking at others for your liberation and start looking at yourself.

2 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Dr. Bones

  1. Gee while I don’t always fully understand him and don’t consider myself to be particularly radical, he is one of the reasons I support Gods and Radicals. Are we supposed to limit the radical to some sort of official party line? Why?A shame to see some of the so-called leftists get their panties in a bind so easily. Is the left now beyond handling a bit of criticism.

  2. I think diversity and honest respectful discussion are so much more important than following a party line. I enjoy many of the different writers on Gods and Radicals. I may not agree with them all on every point but it’s good to hear where different people are coming from. I hope none shut up any time soon!

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