“Bad faith is the condition of the modern internet, and shitposting is its lingua franca. On—yes—both sides. Look: A professional Twitter troll is president. Trolling won. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that despite their centrality, online platforms aren’t suited to the earnest exchange of big ideas.”—Lili Loofbourow, “Illiberalism Isn’t to Blame for the Death of Good-Faith Debate.” Slate. July 12, 2020.
The playbook is: Attack, reframe, normalize and politicize. The goal is not rational discussion but repetition. I could write a bot to make far right political comments in Internet forums, and people do. Which leaves the question: how should we respond to people whose ideas could algorithmically programmed and whose goal is repetition? One place to start is simply pointing out what is going on. There’s no point engaging with the content of what is being said because it’s being offered in bad faith.
tl;dr: Discussions with people with love and respect done in the spirit of discovery of truth can be a powerful force for personal change. Without love, respect and a concern for truth, discussions devolve into signalling group allegiances and programming / deprogramming The Others and is best avoided.
“Anti-idiotarianism: Opposition to idiots of all political stripes. First coined in the blog named Little Green Footballs as part of a post expressing disgust with inane responses to post-9/11 Islamic terrorism. Anti-idiotarian wrath has focused on Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers in the Western political left, but also routinely excoriated right-wing politicians backing repressive ’anti-terror‘ legislation and Christian religious figures who (in the blogosphere’s view of the matter) have descended nearly to the level of jihad themselves.”-The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.4.7, October 30, 2019
“But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.”-Adam Hughes, “A small group of prolific users account for a majority of political tweets sent by U.S. adults.” Pew Research Center. October 23, 2019.
Let’s start with the obvious. The baseline is that no one cares what you think, about anything. People don’t want to read your “hot take” about the news of the day. They don’t want to hear about how the world would be so much better, if only you were installed as Emperor of the World. You’re not going to be Emperor of the World.
Even if Emperor of the World were a position for which they were hiring, if you were picked, it’s a certainty you’d fuck it up, as would anyone. Socrates, Buddha, or Jesus might be able to pull it off, but they wouldn’t want the job. You cannot liberate people and rule them at the same time.
For any discussion, this is the central question. Is it going to be an open ended process of discovery searching for truth? Or does it serve some other purpose, like binding a group together around an established ideology? The answer, at least 1 out of a 1000 times, is the latter.
There are people that want, more than anything, to be part of a group, to share in a collective power, even if it is a small share of that power. Discussion, in this context, is programming. With one side trying to program or deprogram the other.
But, people following a program are idiots. Merriam-Webster defines “idiot” as a foolish or stupid person. In this context, I think a better definition of idiot is: a person that subscribes to a particular ideology in order to be accepted as part of a group, thinks their opinions are correct (though they are idiosyncratic reflections of the opinion of their group), other people are wrong, and other people desperately need to hear what they think, whether they want to or not. There’s little point in talking to idiots, or people acting like an idiot.
Everyone acts like an idiot, every now and again. But, for many, being an idiot is a calling. The goal is promotion of the partisan, whether it is true or not. Although, many of these partisans are true believers, even if what they believe isn’t true.
The sanest strategy is not to get in the business of programming others and to try to avoid other people programming you. Avoid discussions of this sort, unless you deeply care for someone and feel an obligation to help pull them from the path they have chosen. Just be careful to give higher regard for your relationship rather than to your ideas.
If you eliminate those types of discussions, what’s left? Let’s assume we are contemplating an open ended discussion as a process for the discovery of the truth.
- Why engage in a process like this one?
- Who should we have these discussion with?
- How should we do it?
Sometimes talking our ideas through with someone else helps us to develop them, particularly if that person disagrees with us. It allow us to confront problems or aspects of a problem we might not have considered otherwise.
But, our feelings about the other person are key. While it is possible to have civil discourse with people we don’t like, it’s best to have these discussions with people we know and like. If you don’t know or like someone, you are going to be less open to what they are saying. It becomes easier to become partisan or be contrary in a way that blocks a useful exchange of ideas.
What is useful discourse? Paul Graham has a helpful essay, “How to Disagree,” that talks about a hierarchy of disagreement:
- DH0: Name-calling
- DH1: Ad hominem, personal attacks.
- DH2: Responding to tone
- DH3: Contradiction
- DH4: Counterargument
- DH5: Refutation
- DH6: Refuting the central point
If most of the discussion is equal to or less than DH3, it probably indicates that it isn’t useful. We can safely avoid conversations that drop down to these levels or we believe will quickly devolve into them.
In sum, we know what good discussions look like. If you don’t care for the person and there’s no forward progress to be made, end it. As an act of kindness, let them have the last word. It’s trying to get the last word the prolongs conversations that are better off dead.
“‘Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears say ‘Let’s discuss this.’ Discussion, they claimed ‘are fine for roundabout talks, but philosophy throws its dice on another table. The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing.’”
—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari quoted in Richard Marshall, “HowTheLightGetsIn Festival, London 2018,” 3:AM Magazine. October 14, 2018.
Discussion is about building relationships and expressing our feelings. A discussion creates the bonds that bind a social set or tribe. It’s expressing an agreed upon shared truth and signals belonging, or not.
Even if we are expressing a personal truth, it is a small part of it. The personal truth worth hearing is often the secret we keep to ourselves. Speaking it to another would wound our self-conception and social standing. Typically, we only share the part that enhances those things.
We are rarely interested in hearing another’s truth, much less be changed by it because the truth shared by “discussion” is rarely worth hearing.