Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Arguing

I moved a couple of months ago, very several time zones away from my friends and family. The foreseeable result of this is that significantly more of my communication goes on through the internet. What I didn't anticipate was how much higher this would render the percentage of my interactions with people that ended up hostile and defensive.

That sounds naive to anybody who's been on the internet more than a few minutes, I'm sure, but I just didn't realize how skewed this was going to be.

For example, before I moved, here is a random sampling of conversations I might have with my stepmother in a face to face interaction:

"Hey, how's the baby doing?"
"What have you cooked recently?"
"Omg republicans are lying liars whose flaming pants could be used to heat the entire northern hemisphere, they're so on fire."
(half hour conversation about a book we've both recently read)
"That Stephen Colbert's a really funny guy, isn't he?"
"Hey, don't forget it's your sister's birthday soon."
"You know, you really should call and thank them for that."
"Hey, I've lost my shirt with the marxist marx brothers joke on it, have you seen it around your place?"
"Let me tell you about my day..."

If it's a day where the main interaction I get with her is on facebook, I get the following:

(Pictures of the baby)
"Omg republicans are lying liars whose flaming pants could be used to heat the entire northern hemisphere, they're so on fire."

Which... I mean, I love pictures of the baby, but even the people I agree with, it's either this constant stream of meaningless noise, or it's a constant agitation, either offensive (here's how republicans are always lying and oppressing women) or defensive (Omg, chill the fuck out christians, I just said happy holidays, don't turn me being nice into an excuse to get all pissy (incidentally, as an aside, isn't it funny how we've flipped dialogues on these? You keep hearing straight white men talking about how they're victims whose unique natures have to be respected, and politically correct people telling conservative folk to chill out on their particularness about language.)).

It makes me tired, and it's worse with the folks I don't agree with.

One of my favorite guys to ride out with when I was with the ambulance company was a dyed in the wool fox news listening conservative. We spent about half our time geeking out about science fiction and video games, and the other half having relatively reasoned discussions about taxes, labor rights, and gun control, and I loved both of those. We both had a couple of points where we would sloganeer to our respective sides, but we listened to the other enough that you could go "Now, really, Ed, is Obama actually the most radically liberal president in the last fifty years?" or "What about sarbanes oxley regulations, those are nothing but a stranglehold on business, and you have to admit it". And we'd grumble, but we'd concede reasonable points.

I hate the thought of turning people off in my feed because I don't agree with them politically or religiously. I genuinely believe the majority of people, if they make an effort not to be dicks, can get along with a wide range of people, and some of my very dearest friends have never shared a ballot choice with me in our lives.

But then you get into this venue where everything is graphics and 200 words or less, and everything gets ugly and reductionist.

I try, or at least I feel like I try, to respect the people with different opinions in my circle of friends by not wasting their time and not putting up stuff that's stringent, especially in a way that would be disrespectful or in poor taste. I make sure I don't post anything I can't source. I don't post things that call people evil or stupid. I do post political stuff, but I tend to think of it as very mild like "Yay! I really love being an atheist" or "I don't understand why the church of England is okay with women vicars but not women bishops" or "here's a link to a study about how women who seek abortions but are denied them have measurably worse economic and lifestyle outcomes than women who seek abortions and receive them" or "hey, if you don't like billionaires X and Y, here is a list of products that are linked to their industries that you can boycott if you want".

I say I try to be respectful. That's part of it. Part of it is that I don't like fighting with people and I try not to go out of my way to poke them.

Lately the internet, the main way I communicate with people currently, has been stressing me the fuck out, for all of the reasons listed above. All these "you're a moron if you don't believe this" and "this single, conceivably fictional individual is why massive government programs are evil" or shit that celebrates people getting shot. I've been arguing more on the internet. I've been up past midnight reading statistics because damnit, I'm not going to just argue on gut and hypotheticals. I've been offering critiques of people's graphics. I've been typing out my experience under these awful "please read this" posts that I suspect are made up. I've been coming here and doing stuff like that feminism list because I had been reading up on an awful lot of hateful shit of the type you get on the internet and I wanted to be positive.

Here's the thing about arguing- the thing I hate when someone pulls it on me, and the thing I hate when I catch myself doing it to other people:

I can guarantee you, you're almost never arguing with what the other person actually said.

Everyone does this. We do shit like assume that if we oppose abortion because it kills babies, obviously people who are pro abortion have feelings which are equally rooted in the deaths of unborn fetuses, as opposed to, say, the health and well being of the mother. We carry around a dozen previous conversations that have pissed us the fuck off with people who made ludicrous points and refused to concede when we were goddamn right, and without even thinking about it we treat people who share that position as if they also said every backwards ass thing the people before them did. We're deliberately obtuse and we seek refuge in ridiculous hyperbole.

And of course on the net this is all magnified by the fact that it's not just you, it's everyone you know as well.

I know some people who seem to thrive on strong negative emotion. It motivates and animates them. They're used to it. It almost seems nourishing. That's not me. I like quiet, I like peace. I like intellectual discussion, and I don't mind not winning if all parties come out of it with a better understanding of things. Getting all worked up is generally the opposite of helpful. It makes you say stupid shit you're going to regret. It makes you make emotional arguments and stupid, irrational appeals.

Arguing, when it really gets going, makes me a person I neither like nor respect.

I've stopped following some very nice people. I just couldn't deal with the negativity and the misinformation (that's not political: genuinely and demonstrably false statements. I don't believe they passed them on maliciously, but they were ready to go to the mat for them when challenged). If that was all I was getting from them, I just couldn't do it. I don't like fighting with people, and honestly, I've operated most of my life on the policy that I'd rather just not be around specific people if being around them makes me feel worse than being alone.

And the other problem is that this makes me feel like a coward.

Because the other thing I get in my feed is people pointing out injustice, and ways that the world is hurting the people least able to fight back, while I sit here comfy on my couch and don't even raise my metaphorical voice.

I try to be positive. I try to give a little money, link people here to ways they can help if it has to do with writing. Where I know someone who could help with a thing, or someone who might be interested, I try to bring their attention to it directly. When I can actually have a conversation with one person where we can listen and exchange ideas, I try to do that. I'm aware this is not much. I'm not doing near what I should.

There's so much I don't know how to fix, and it's overwhelming. And I don't feel like just taking care of my own is good enough.

So, yeah, that's that. 

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