Arguing on the Internet is like having your knees bitten off by a T-Rex with an erection: surreal, agonising and why the fuck does it have an erection?
An extension to the Never Read The Comments rule: never write them, either.
When I was young and foolish and new to the Internet, I got into an online argument over the merits of Joel Schumacher as a director (I was of the opinion that they are slight). It wasn’t a pretty sight – I made what I thought were persuasive points and then got more and more annoyed when the other guy ignored everything I wrote and talked about how Falling Down wasn’t bad. Eventually I went off at him and got told that I’d “lost it”, at which point I realised there was no pulling out of the death-spiral our interaction had become and abandoned it. Never again, I said. Never again.
Well, when I say “never”…
It still happens every now and then that I find myself in an Argument on the Internet. I say “find myself” because that’s how it always feels – I don’t try to start them, but it happens and once I realise where I am, I just stop. Say my piece, leave and never look back. Yeah, it’s a bit rude to just disappear without even reading the other side’s reaction to what I wrote, but to do otherwise is to risk that absolute nadir of the Internet argument: saying “right, I’m done”, reading the replies to your “final” word and then jumping right back in. You just have to get out before the inevitable slide into the petty, the personal and the pedantic.
Even in the rare cases when arguments don’t go in this direction, they’re still usually a waste of time. Take this video, for example (which I came across just after writing this post, to which it makes an interesting postscript):
This isn’t what you might expect from such a discussion – both sides are well spoken, level-headed, and never descend into the personal. There’s a little slip right at the end when they both revert to type – him the comedian being a dick to get a reaction, her the eye-rolling humourless feminist – but it manages to stay away from any real unpleasantness.
Even though, listen to what they’re actually saying: for the most part, Jim Norton is defending the notion that rape (and indeed any subject) can be used in comedy, while Lindy West is largely attacking specific types of rape joke (those that make fun at the expense of the victim, or simply use “rape” as a buzzword to get a reaction) and in some cases one specific instance of a rape joke (the Daniel Tosh thing). I’m pretty sure they’d both actually agree with each other’s position, and yet they spend most of the time talking past each other – one defending the aspect of the issue that’s easy to defend, one attacking the aspect that’s easy to attack, neither saying anything that impacts on the other’s point. Even the good arguments achieve nothing.
Perhaps the cleverest thing I have ever written or will ever write was this reaction to an argument I was following (but not, thankfully, participating in):
“The sky is blue!”
“Yeah, but grass is green!”
“No, the SKY is BLUE!”
“God damn it, GRASS IS GREEN!!”
“BLUE! BLUE, I TELL YOU!”
“GREEN! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!”
I think I’ve got the hang of this – can I play, too?
Because that was what was happening – the specifics aren’t important, but both sides were arguing heatedly for separate points that didn’t actually contradict each other. (See also: arguments involving two parties that are 99% in agreement tearing each other’s throats out over the 1% where they differ.)
In writing this comment, it was claimed that I “summarised the Internet”, which is A) true, B) heart-crushingly depressing and C) more than enough reason to stay away from arguments online. Think of it as an extension to the Never Read The Comments rule: never write them, either.