I read an article awhile back that resonated with me, because I think it helps explain why the majority of online debates over “deep issues” like religion, politics, and philosophy get so…nasty. (Don’t believe me? Just type the word “religion” into Youtube. Click on any video with 100,000+ views. Read the comments.)
“The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable…(continue)”
This problem is particularly bad online, when the “humanness” of one’s adversary is replaced with a keyboard, a computer monitor, and a half-eaten bag of Fritos.
I see the pattern all the time in those who initiate debates with me on this blog, and elsewhere. I see it in myself, at times (though I wouldn’t call myself a “smart person”). While I’d like to think I do a decent job of obeying the first half of 1 Peter 3:15-16, I often botch the second half. (So that’s my way of admitting that I’m not 100% qualified to be writing this post.)
I give you, then, Three Reasonable Tips for Debating Rude Persons on the Internet.
1. Don’t Debate Rude Persons on the Internet. Or at the very least, know when to call it quits. If the Rude Person ignores your well-crafted, novel-length rebuttals…don’t keep writing them.
If you’re anything like me, this has probably happened to you. Someone posts an inflammatory 5-sentence comment on an obscure news article, so you respond by pouring two hours into a 50-sentence essay (complete with a half-dozen documented sources) that matter-of-factly explains the problem with his initial comment (because let’s be honest…it’s a “him”). Your adversary then responds with an even more inflammatory 5-sentence comment – one which clearly shows that he didn’t read a word of that thesis you poured your sweat and blood into.
So it’s really tempting to respond like this:
Which brings me to…
2. Be Nice to Rude Persons on the Internet. Throwing a Wonka-tantrum might feel gratifying at the time, but it does nothing for the other guy…or your cause, for that matter. And it only turns you into a bitter person, in the long run.
Instead, if you REALLY want to shake your adversary to his core, try responding like this:
Now granted, it can sometimes be difficult to pull this off without your niceness sounding like tongue-in-cheek snarkiness. But once you’ve decided to be nice, the toughest part becomes choosing your words to avoid being misunderstood.
It’s hard to go wrong by just being nice. Ridiculously nice. Nauseatingly nice. When your adversary begins unloading his vilest insults on your intelligence, your character, your religion, and your pet hamster…just think of Mr. Rogers. Which brings me to…
3. Pause to Think Before Responding to Rude Persons on the Internet. If you find yourself getting angry, go spend a few hours doing something away from the computer.
Last weekend, in response to a post I made on Facebook, an anonymous individual took a swipe at me with a crude innuendo, then claimed that my entire post was “a ginormous example of the argument from ignorance fallacy”. (That’s another thing you’ll notice with Rude Persons on the Internet. They like to remain anonymous, and they like to accuse others (falsely, in most cases) of committing logical fallacies. But by pointing this out, they’ll probably say I’m committing an ad hominem.)
Anyway, my initial reaction was something like this:
Had I responded right away, I probably would have regretted it later. So instead, I grabbed some ice cream from the freezer and spent the rest of the evening watching the Oscars. When I logged on to Facebook the next day, my blood pressure was back down to 120/60. It still ended up turning into a lengthy debate…but by taking time to cool off, I was able to avoid responding to his insults.
So there you have it then.