While it is still fresh in my head – the dissection of how arguments sometimes go awfully wrong, I make a humble attempt at checking out at which exact point it start getting personal.
Right now I can think of several occasions on which two people disagree on:
- One person thinks the other is out to get him or her (problem: beliefs and wild assumptions about a class of humans or specific persons cloud judgement)
- Someone says something I think is stupid (problem: someone is being dumb).
- Someone says something but I misunderstand what was said and think what was said is stupid (problem: imprecision)
- Someone says something to get my attention to irritate me (problem: they have a problem with me, I guess?)
- Someone says something stupid just to troll (problem: someone is too bored)
I like to think of myself of someone who looks at the argument, not the person who says it – on most days, anyway. Of course, if there has been some problem with a person, everything he or she says will get a certain seasoned filter before accepting it at face value. But hey, I do my best to be fair – and if that problem with that person was not the type in which they were seemingly trying to get a rise out of me, I forgive easy and continue to look at the words, and not at the person.
Now, imagine I hold a very shitty belief very close to the engine of my soul: nobody can ever love me (I do not believe that, this is a thought experiment); every interaction I have with other humans then will have this assumption attached to it – every thing other people say to me is there only to confirm that they can never love me. It’s what the people with fancy papers say “confirmation bias” – you hold a belief, and automatically you seek to confirm it every day. Now, if it is a belief such as “everybody loves me” or “god is a bearded guy sitting on a cloud” – it might cause SOME wild dissonance – as sometimes there will be people who are incapable of loving you, and they might get irritated of you suggesting otherwise; or whatever point I was trying to make with the bearded cloud sitter – but now imagine yourself – when one of your very dearest beliefs is “nobody can ever love me” – you believe it, you are dedicated to it, you confirm it every day… How fucking dark that gets!
Now, it is one thing, and it may be the worse thing to believe – to believe things about yourself – but a belief about yourself is not just a belief about yourself – it is also a belief about the world. What does it say about other people if they are incapable of loving you? That they are bitter selfish motherfuckers with no empathy! Right? So, at some point you might stop seeing yourself as the problem – that means, you’re not doing anything to cause everyone to not love you, but the problem must be the other people. So, every interaction you have with them comes with the assumption that they are evil, insensitive, mean people, and everything that comes out from their mouth is deception and concentrated evil (aka shit).
Even less radically so – it doesn’t have to be the whole human kind that is despicable and irredeemable – you can done down your belief, maybe you love yourself, and your children love you and your friends – but those guys. Men! Men – these guys are never good! There’s no point in even trying – they are mean bitter selfish motherfuckers…
So, here is what a little belief about yourself, the world, specific class of people or a specific person can do – they paint your world in colours that you do not particularly enjoy – but have become very accustomed to. So much that you even might miss out on something that would constitute as a miracle in your world – a man being heroic, a man being thoughtful, a man being funny.
There is so much to this whole believing and deluding thing – and it’s fascinating to me, and I might come back to it at another time (what if you start believing ridiculously positive things? Of course – getting manic to the point of taking million dollar loans to establish a museum of plastic toy dinosaurs – and believing that it will be a great success is a whole other real problem on its own, but you get me!)
Now, the most usual kind is that someone makes a really stupid, uninformed, naive statement, you say it’s wrong or point out why it falls short – nothing personal. Doesn’t matter who says it.
Other times people are not very accurate with their words, so what they say could mean different things, and if you somehow manage to be unbiased by WHICH person says it (or simply just don’t care, haven’t invested yourself in that person neither to the light or dark) – by random chance you pick up the wrong intent in it, and you start arguing against something that was never said. I’ve done that. Scott Adams dunked me for it (no block!), and today there was a similar exchange. I simply misunderstood what it was the person was talking about. And hands down – NOTHING PERSONAL.
Where it gets personal
Sometimes we misunderstand what was said because we have some presuppositions about the person who said it. We’ve used a label on them – he’s dramatic, he’s always trolling, he’s an idiot, he doesn’t have a sense of humour, he has such and such beliefs, so he probably meant that by saying this. That’s where you’re biasing yourself, you stop reading the argument and start pulling things out of your ass. That’s interpreting an argument in bad faith.
Dirty Trolls and Adhominems
But it’s not always at the interpretation phase that things can be taken in bad faith – arguments can also be made in bad faith. There are people in the world, who for whatever reason (maybe they believe no one will ever love them?) assume that you are a shitty person and anything that comes out of you is concentrated evil. So they take it upon themselves to try and defeat you or expose you or whatever it is that they want to do – maybe they are just some wankers who get a hard on for it? Who knows – I can’t really know, and it is a little difficult to believe such people exist, because I’ve not really set myself on such journeys (or maybe I have, but it’s so mean that I’d rather delete it from my memory – I can’t recall having any subjects of hate perse, that’s that);
So, some people just come around, dig for your attention and try to fuck with you.
Some people just can’t tell the difference
It could also be that most people don’t ever think about what is personal and what is impersonal. Where the person ends and an argument or statement starts. Everything that comes in and out of their senses is personal; You might – successful to yourself – completely ignore the face behind the avatar and with complete precision dissect the stupid argument the person made – nothing personal – yet that person doesn’t see it that way. To them it was personal, to them you must hate them from the bottom of your heart. They are just incapable of seeing the in-betweens, the impersonality if the semi-anonymous exchanges over the webs and forums. Do they imagine you KNOW them? Who knows…
And some people can’t help it but make everything personal. You may have stuck to the arguments like a pro, but at one point it all comes crashing down, with no graceful way out (other than silence, in more confusing cases – why not a block) – they’ll kick off an ad hominem or accuse you of “getting mad”.
They WANT this to be personal at this point huh? Are we really so hungry for human touch 🙂
Kill the anons in their eggs
Most arguments on the web simply are not worth having – especially as MOST of them are noise you generate mistakenly engaging with strangers, especially when they do it under an anonymous account while you have put yourself out there with your full face and name. When this happens, there is no real payoff for really keeping the conversation going – it’s not like it’s making you stronger in any way (as NNT points out, unlike in street fights – where you actually get stronger). So, when someone you don’t know, without a face or a pronouncible name starts fucking around – “I block idiots, nothing personal.”
With people I have had more interactions with the protocol is a little different. I actually care to see where things went wrong and on better days I look for faults where I went wrong, even; leave the friend a graceful way out and make no big deal of it. If a fight ends in a block or unfollow on either side, I guess it wasn’t meant to be – not everyone will be compatible (and some people are straight out fucking psychoes).
Even with friends I try to stick to what was said and not who said it – I don’t know my internet friends well enough to make any assumptions about their knowledge or feelings towards me. And I’m not going to assume they are out to get me or fuck with me – I might have dissolved the crippling belief near the engine to prevent those hallucinations from happening; which isn’t to say I don’t get irritated when said friends start using their hallucinated moods and emotions on me as arguments – because I find that a mean way to frame a situation in their favour without leaving their good friend (me) a graceful way out. But hey, that happens even with closer people, I guess it’s just something people do without giving it much thought. Maybe I’m the dumb one trying to avoid framing situations with imagined irritations and emotions in these ways? Thoughtfulness has value, I think – I’ll be extremely happy and surprised the day someone will pull it off in an argument (or maybe they have but I have just been too enraged to see it? I can’t recall!)
Love you wankers o/ XOXO