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The Self-Righteous Sea Lion
Self-righteous counter-productive harassment is often fueled by "sea lion" mentalities.
A couple of weeks ago, I attracted controversy on Twitter for standing up for a non-binary person of color friend being dogpiled by a big, blue check account for resisting climate doomerism. This led to my mentions and DMs being flooded for several days, the first of which was the worst. Towards the tail end of it, a former friend and fairly successful author I looked up to tried to critique my actions, and I tried to disengage. This led her to block me and to go on a public tirade against me. This is behavior is Self-Righteous Sea Lion, and it is abusive.
If one is speaking directly to their own marginalizations, they should be exempted from such considerations. Here, though, after a day of being yelled at for daring up to stand up for a friend who is a person of color, a white person demanded that I talk to her about the supposed racism of criticizing doomerist mentalities. After she wouldn’t leave me alone, I made it clear that I considered her part of the, at that point, day-long harassment wave I endured.
This prompted her to block me and go on a tirade that framed her, a white person, as a supposed victim of racism in this situation, where she was being labeled a harasser simply for trying to engage in some gentle discussions about the situation — of which I apparently was not capable. Rather than respect that I was trying to avoid further public drama over the situation, she acted personally attacked.
We recognize “sea lioning” — a reference to this comic — as a tactic used extensively by reactionaries, where individuals show up demanding your time and acting offended that you will not make it for them personally, acting as if it is your duty to talk to them. What happened to me demonstrates how people can delude themselves into thinking they are not engaging in sea lioning when discussing issues of social justice.
When one self-appoints themselves as the one to whom people must talk about an issue that does not directly involve them, they are centering themselves in the situation. In this case, I had repeatedly made it clear on Twitter I did not wish to be caught up in this drama and wanted to move on, yet the harassment continued unabated. To insert yourself into such a situation as someone who is Just Having a Friendly Chat without considering how your actions are a part of a wider trend might make it unintentional harassment, but it is harassment all the same.
When someone who is a friend and mutual does so publicly rather than taking it to DMs, it also comes across especially combative and performative — not as someone who genuinely wants to have a heart-to-heart with me but rather as clout-chasing, wanting to be on the public record as calling out the problematic stuff. In this case, the fact my former friend’s reaction was to immediately write a tirade centering herself and her own frustrations with my unwillingness to engage her demonstrates this mindset.
The Self-Righteous Sea Lioner might tell themselves that they are fighting for social justice, but it is just another way for people to take out their frustrations on other people over the internet. I am not saying I am immune to or above this behavior myself. Furthermore, you strive to be anything but a stellar ally to those with marginalizations you do not suffer yourself. However, you are not the protagonist in some other group’s marginalization.