If you aren’t up on internet slang, let me fill you in on this little gem: White Knighting. Essentially, it is when someone on the internet (or in real life) comes sweeping in to someone else’s defense. Usually this term is reserved for guys who come to the aid of chicks, but it can be applied across gender lines.
There was a time when a white knight was seen as someone who was universally regarded as the good guy. These days, however, it can be used as a derogatory term. Someone who is accused of white knighting is often being accused of simply supporting someone because they are too twitterpated to see how stupid the person they are defending is being.
It’s gotten to the point where people who would normally have no problem coming to someone else’s defense are not getting involved for the fear of being labeled a White Knight.
It was such a person who messaged me privately to ask my thoughts on the term and practice.
For purposes of this piece, a Damsel is whoever you want to defend. It doesn’t matter to me the gender or your relationship to that individual. This Damsel could be your friend, your guru, your spouse, your child, your lover, a celebrity, or just some random dude or dudette you happen to like and feel compelled to speak up for. It is a condensed way to label “someone you want to protect from other people saying bad things,” without having to list the million different relationships that might qualify. This is not meant as a derogatory term. Damsels are awesome. They can also kickass. They probably don’t even need you, yet here we are.
Coming To Someone’s Defense Is Still Kind
First, I want to be clear. The desire to come to a Damsel’s defense is still a good thing. It is a good thing that people feel emotionally invested in one another that they will actually stand up for each other, even if it is just virtually.
We need friends. We need people we care about. We need to feel like we belong. And it’s okay to want to defend the people you have an emotional investment in.
People who would try to make attempts to devalue an attempt to protect and defend those you have an investment in are trying to use your own humanity against you and, frankly, they are assholes.
Is Your Damsel Worthy of Defense?
In self-defense, we talk about being judged on the totality of the circumstances when it comes to third-party self-defense. That means you don’t get a pass for using unlawful force based on your limited knowledge of the situation.
Let’s say you came around the corner on day and saw a man struggling with a woman. She’s screaming rape. You pull out your mega-blaster 5000 and dispatch the dude to the afterlife. Afterward you find out that he was police officer enacting a legal arrest of a criminal. You do not get to claim ignorance of totality of the circumstances as a defense.
This principle can easily be applied to defending someone in other contexts–even online.
You get word that your Damsel is getting bashed on another forum. You ride in with your comment-section keyboard blazing, ready to fight the good fight only to find out later that your damsel (be she a she, or he a he, or someone in between) instigated the whole thing.
Find out what is going on before you jump into the fray.
If you care about that kind of thing, that is.
Can Your Damsel Defend Himself?
I once got tagged in a an online argument discussing a friend of mine who had previously passed away. The attacks on this individual were unfounded and he was no longer alive to defend himself. You better believe I white knighted! And I would hope anyone who called me a friend would do the same for me.
What I was defending was my friend. His memory.
Had the argument been about something he had posted or discussed while he was alive I might not have been so inclined to get involved, but what was under attack wasn’t an argument, it was my dead friend. He couldn’t defend himself. And people who go after dead people are pretty cowardly.
But dead people aren’t the only ones who can’t defend themselves virtually. Any attacks that happen in private groups where the Damsel in question is not a member are indefensible by that individual.
Whether or not you want to get involved may depend largely on how well you feel you know that person and the type of discussion that evolves with respect to people’s differing opinions and history.
What Are We Defending Anyway And Is It Worth Defending?
Defining what you are defending can be really helpful in determining whether or not you want to get involved in a Damsel’s virtual defense.
Are we defending the individual; an argument that was made; a rumor; an action?
This is where things can get pretty sticky for the white knight. If it was just learned that your Damsel was accused of a crime, how well you know this person or the situation might determine how much of your neck you’re willing to stick over the line in their defense.
But if the argument is on a thought, idea, technique, or opinion then you might be more inclined to give your own opinions based on your experience and knowledge of the original argument.
And here is where white knights usually get the bad rap. They will defend the Damsel when what is actually being discussed is an idea. Or they will misinterpret an attack on an idea as an attack on an individual.
Ideas should be challenged. They should be questioned and they should be tried by civil arguments, relevant tests and fire if need be. If the idea, theory or opinion is sound it will hold up the scrutiny. If it’s not. It will fail.
And it should fail. My bad ideas should fail. Your bad ideas should fail. So should your damsel’s.
The world has enough bad ideas. It doesn’t need anymore.
So if your Damsel has a shitty idea that is failing. You shouldn’t defend it. You shouldn’t feel like you have to defend it. Not should you feel like you are betraying that person if you say, “Hey, yeah, that was dumb. I disagree with them here. I like the guy. I generally agree with him, but not on this.”
Where the line gets blurred is when someone interprets a bad idea as evidence that a person should be wholey discredited. One bad idea, thought, post should rarely be the basis for total dismissal–though I can think of at least a few exceptions I’m willing to entertain.
And, yes! There are people who do nothing but put out bad ideas or demonstrate an extreme lack of understanding and knowledge that should disqualify them from having any opinion on a topic. Yet civil discourse should still apply. Attacking the argument over the person is always the higher road to take.
Are You Qualified to Defend Them?
I got a lot of people I respect in the firearms industry. Many of them are far more experienced and knowledgeable than I will ever be. If I ever run across two of them arguing about the best techniques for a SWAT team to employ for ending a hostage situation in a bank I’m going to grab my popcorn, settle in with a comfy blanket and stay the hell out of it.
I have no training, experience or knowledge that qualifies me to know who is right and who is wrong in this discussion. I can make assumptions based upon certain factors like the knowledge, training and experience of the people arguing, but, for the most part, my opinion in such an argument is utterly worthless.
If what is being discussed is a tactic used in a particular class that you haven’t taken or seen a clear demonstration of you probably don’t have enough knowledge or understanding to give much of an opinion one way or the other, either–at least not without a disclaimer that you have no first-hand experience.
Without any knowledge or experience in the topic being discussed, any attempt to pick sides could potentially backfire. Which leads me to my last point.
Are You Helping or Hurting?
If your Damsel’s argument is worth defending and you defend it with your own applicable knowledge, training and experience then you really can’t do a whole lot of harm. At that point you are part of an exchange of knowledge and experience.
If you start to interject or intercede with limited knowledge, no clear idea of what is being discussed or why, it’s really easy to be seen as a naive white knight who has little value to add to the conversation.
Don’t be the latter.
It’s entirely understandable to decide not to get involved in any kind of online discourse. It can take away vital time that could be spent doing more important things. So if your choice is to stick to your corner of the world and stay out of everyone else’s way, you have my blessing.
If you do choose to get involved, know who you are defending, what, and why before you blaze in on your polished office chair. Be honest about your qualifications to get involved and try to keep the argument on track. If you do those things and people accuse you of white knighting you can probably chalk it up to the death rattle of a failing argument. You won’t hurt anything and I don’t know a single person who doesn’t appreciate it when someone else with knowledge and experience steps up and says, “You are right. I agree with you. And here’s why.”