I spend a significant amount of time on online forums and social networking sites like Facebook, and it’s hard to escape the impression that people are either becoming bigger assholes as time goes by, or are arguing increasingly over differences of opinion. Respectful debate seems to be much rarer than in the past, and I’m always shocked and dismayed at just how quickly a lot of people will take the low road, or allow themselves to become the online equivalent of a screaming psycho just because someone has dared to challenge their opinion about something.
Almost daily I see people go for each other’s throats on sites like Facebook, over politics or disagreements on social issues more often than not. Many of these scuffles seem to be between intelligent, if emotionally immature people.
I find myself disliking these folks even when I share their basic values, or agree with their opinions.
Sometimes, they are an example of “the smartest kids in the room” – a person who is intelligent, but also arrogant, and in love with their own viewpoint. They have little to no room in their life for any opinion that runs counter to their own. You’ll see these folks on both sides of the political spectrum, often at the farthest extremes. They’ve figured it all out, and will gladly tell you how the world should be. Any opinion slightly divergent from theirs is a sign that the person with that opinion is not enlightened or is some sort of nutty Libtard or a throwback Conservanazi.
When these folks are challenged, rather than relying on the evidence to make their case, they will instead castigate the person that they’re arguing with, throwing out insults or using terminology meant to rob their foil of value. It’s a cheap way to reduce that person’s credibility. A person that feels their point of view is the better one should be prepared to defend it in a rational non-emotional manner. It is a strategy of the weak to just try to shame or shout down another person, unless that person is obviously a racist or something equally horrible.
Yet people throw around terms like “racist” too readily and easily in these arguments. That is an effective way of devaluing an opposing viewpoint, but unless the person you’re speaking to really IS a racist, then it’s a cheap shot.
That’s the thing. Trying to pigeonhole an opponent as being a member of some very broad and disparaged group is a shitty attempt to depersonalize them, and that’s the case whether they are liberal, conservative, or a member by default of some broad group. “Gun Owners” or “Pot Smokers.” Whatever.
Just because a person has a loose affiliation with some huge population of people, it’s rarely accurate to assume that they feel like the rest of that group. “You just feel that way because you’re a Conservanazi gun licker!” Or “Well, you’re a libtard, of course you believe that.” They’re fairly sad attempts to win an argument, and at best, simplify very complicated human behavioral patterns.
So why do otherwise nice and intelligent people fall into these unpleasant interaction patterns?
Because it feels good. Being self righteous about anything feels great, and appeals to the selfish, ego-driven desire to always be “right,” even when most issues are a lot more complicated than simply being right all of the time.
Most people are insecure on some basic level, and forcefully imposing their opinion, which can come across as bullying, feels good to that ego feed.
Throw into the mix an increasingly polarized nation where entertainment and opinion pieces are portrayed as “News,” and people are just itching to fight. And that’s another issue. Yes, some of these folks are unpleasant types that are confrontational bullies in person. But most aren’t. It’s a unique and sad side effect of interacting with each other on the Internet. The fact that we don’t see each other face to face makes us more willing to be mean to each other. It also robs of us some very primal visual cues that have shaped human interactions since day one. We’re more willing to virtually yell at someone online than most of us would ever do in person. We also are less likely to perceive some stranger online as a real person, and to act as if they are just an enemy that disagrees and should be punished.
The thing is, even when a person has the evidence to prove to most of us that their view is a better one, or at least deserves serious consideration, it’s difficult or impossible to take them seriously when they pepper that opinion with rude assumptions about others, or start throwing around terminology like “redneck” or “libtard.” At that point, the person acting in that manner might as well be an angry baboon throwing feces.
Finally, there comes a point where a wise person just walks away – There’s nothing to be gained by freaking out, or by going round after round with someone that resorts to cheap bickering or abusive language. What’s the point in that? The chances are that most online arguments aren’t going to change anyone’s mind. Maintaining a certain calm while outlining one’s position might get the opponent thinking. But if that’s not possible, there is no shame to just leave the conversation. It’s probably healthier for you, and if your position is a good one, outlined civilly, then it will be read later and evaluated against the person that was acting badly.
It’s pretty obvious when some boor derives pleasure in imposing their opinion upon others, but it only works if a person allows them to do it. Just leaving the conversation often leaves the bully with little to say.