Monday, January 19, 2009

I Love It When You Call Me Names, um Not

Why do some people, especially bloggers and commenters, write the things that they do?

Are they trying to advance a dialog where people might come to a genuine consensus of some issues or at least a better understanding of their fundamental differences? Or are they writing in a way that effectively tries to shut off debate?

You can tell that writers have settled for the latter course when they can't offer anything but insults for people who hold different opinions.

Thoughtful people read, listen to, and evaluate different views. If they disagree, they try to come up with facts and arguments that address the disputed points. If they disagree and are motivated enough, they might actually write something along these lines.

You seldom, however, see thoughtful people do the following in discussions and in their writing.

Name-calling. People who regularly address or categorize their opponents as idiots, morons, brats, liars, zealots, bigots, cowards, or even more colorfully as baby-killers, Nazis, fascists, flat-earthers, etc. have already lost the argument. More to the point, it says something about people's value of time if they spend time engaging people who actually fit these descriptions.

As George Carlin observed years ago,

There are a lot of little phrases and expressions too, language items that occur in your childhood that you don't get to use when you grow up. Things you leave behind. Stuff you don't say anymore. Like NYAHH NAH NAH NYAHH NAH! I have an awful time working that in.
George might have had problems working that in, but many bloggers don't.

Arguing with the insane. Along the same lines, you really have to wonder about people who see everyone who holds a different opinion as being crazy. If someone other than a psychological professional regularly uses the words like Bush Derangement Syndrome, Obama Syndrome, wingnuts, moonbats, whackos, delusional, fanatic, lunatic, pathalogical, etc., he or she has many more issues to deal with than his or her opponents. Yes, there are kooks, nuts, and fringe elements on both sides, but these people are the exception, rather than the rule.

Questioning other people's motives. Thoughtful people can not only disagree but can also have valid reasons for those disagreements. It's easy to assign bad motives to a disagreement; it's harder to figure out how someone with reasonable or even similar values found a way to a different conclusion. You don't have to be a war-mongerer or traitor to differ on military policy, a bigot, racist (of either the regular or reverse varieties), or an advocate of victimhood to differ on race relations, or greedy or a bleeding-heart to differ on social policy.


Jeffrey Sykes said...

Great post, Dave. Well thought out with, well, applied rationality.

Tony Wilkins said...

Enjoyed this post Dave.
I don't want to get into a habit of agreeing with you.

Brenda Bowers said...

I have been blogging since 2005 and truly can say the bad manners have lessened considerably. Or at least this is true on sites I visit.

It still happens and that is sad. I think a good many of us have written on the subject at one time or another.

Have you noticed that when nasty name calling happens the guilty one usually does not use his own name?

Just ignore it and sometimes they go away. Or if they don't go away perhaps you will have to use the tactic I used with two well known bloggers in Greensboro who were riding me; attack back and go for the jugular with no holds barred and get rid of them for good. Of course one did a fake swan song and got all the friends to beg her to stay around and the other tried to get me ostracized, but neither trick worked. I am still around and more popular than every and they are just holding on.

Oh, and along those lines: you once attacked Joe and I went after you. Like No One attacks Joe! He is one of the most respectful of others bloggers on line, and even when he disagrees most vehemently he remains respectful. His friends expect the same treatment given to him. BB

Dave Ribar said...

Thanks all.


I wish that I consistently practiced what I preached :)

There is a difference between disagreeing and personal attacks. I don't recall criticizing Joe personally, although I've written very critical comments at his blog. Maybe you could remind me of the comment.

There is also a difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. Writing a snarky "you-don't-know-the-data" comment on Tony's first blog entry definitely falls into the disagreeable category.

Brenda Bowers said...

Dave I really don't have the time to take to go back over all Joe's posts and comments to remind you. However you were angry and two of us let you know we didn't like how you made your remark to Joe so I imagine it gave you pause. I can't say I ever noticed you being out of line except that one time with Tony and the one time with Joe. (tho I certainly don't go looking for others remarks since I am as abrasive as all Hell sometimes, but I try not to be to other blogger---just elected officials!) At any rate Tony has a "sweet way" of handling the jerky comments, whereas Joe just continues to treat them with respect.

Anyhow, this is a good post as it reminds us again to respect others even when we hide behind the anonymity of the keyboard and sometimes a moniker rather than a given name. BB

Anonymous said...

One problem is the mass of people that fall for obvious wrongs. You can only explain something to so many people (many of which are the same ones) with the facts and evidence staring them right in the face before you just lose it and start with the insults because some people just choose to be wrong.

I have to admit that with much going on lately with religion, politics, and especially this last election I'm convinced that the majority of the US are complete idiots. I used to be involved with several online discussion groups but have recently stopped participating because its always the same people arguing the same disproved nonsense, like Obama is a terrorist, Bush was right about WMDs', evolution is a hoax, etc.

I guess, to a point, with me they've won, because I just don't have the energy to tackle these people any longer. About the only thing I can manage anymore is "You are an idiot" and go my way. And lately I'm not even bothering with that. I truly fear that so many clueless have so much voice.

I've never commented here before ... this specific entry just caught my attention and focused what I'd been feeling lately.

-Beaten Down

Dave Ribar said...


Thanks for the note and for reading.

You're right that some of the constant and utterly predictable back and forth can get tiresome. However, there are lots of thoughtful places to go. Many of the on-line magazine blogs and columns, like Slate and Salon, are great.

If you are into economic discussions, the Becker-Posner blog is excellent. Both are conservative Chicago economists but provide first-rate discussions. They are currently debating the value of the new administration's stimulus package.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the fact that the non-marginal opinions are so easily identified by poor etiquette or argumentative skills. If I want to persuade someone, I want to speak to the marginal person, generally able to see rationale on both sides of any argument worth debating. By identifying the non-marginal opinions, I immediately know where to withdraw my effort.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons we see (and engage in) so much character assassination on blogs and other interactive media is because of the nature of the people involved.

I'm not referring to political/religious/cultural ideology; people who engage in public discussion are strong-willed, whatever their beliefs may be. When someone opposes our stated opinions, which can sometimes come in the form of innocent dialogue, our minds translate that into a genuine threat of a primal nature, and anger is not far away when that happens.

Sometimes we act on that anger in a cold, clinical, innuendo-riddled attack, and sometimes the anger is red-hot and unrefined. But they both come from the same place, and it's not a healthy place, either. While that anger may be unavoidable, feeding it and helping it grow is avoidable, and should be on our minds.

There are a couple of folks on this thread who I have attacked personally and very publicly. But they have shown a level of restraint in their subsequent dealings with me, and that is admirable. It has also helped me deal with my anger in a healthy fashion, and for this I thank you guys.


chuckatkinson said...

tony: youre a stupid jerk to agree with the liberal lizard ribar. is that the stuff youre talking about? dave, most of your posts require no comment and are interesting to read. i can see your slant a mile away but it hits you like a loofla instead of a brick. I enjoy your posts and your site.

Anonymous said...

People who comment on blogs get back exactly the respect they deserve.

It works both ways, regardless of your worldview.

If you deal in snark, overblown ego, and undeserved arrogance when you express your point of view, don't cry "foul" when it's returned in kind to you.