Monday, August 13, 2012

How I deal with trolls

Slightlymetaphysical mentioned that he likes the way I handle trolls on this blog.  Well, I don't usually give advice, because I tend to think that my advice is no better than what you can come up with on your own.  But I thought I would try to describe the way I handle trolls, and commenters who disagree with me in general.  I do not claim that this is the best way to handle them, it's just the habits I've formed based on years of experience in whatever corners of the internet I spend my time on.

I don't get angry.  I just don't have the temper for it.  I sometimes attack people, but this is actually completely different from being angry, even if they're hard to distinguish.

I let go of (some of) my desire to be right.  And I replace it with the desire to stop being wrong.  I concede small points on a regular basis.

I set very modest goals of persuasion.  I only expect to persuade people on very narrow points.  Or if even that seems unlikely, I just present arguments to be seen by hypothetical third parties. 

I think an awful lot about the pathology of disagreement.  Sure, lots of disagreement is substantive, but some of it is pointless.  I've blogged about things like the failure to cite opponents,  the relativity of opinions, and generalizing anecdotes.  We also tend to pigeonhole opponents before they explain their position.  And many of us get really interested in one particular nuance, and tend to play it up at the expense of other nuances.  Sometimes, I play up a different nuance than a commenter does, leading them to "disagree" with me.  But it's cool, because more nuance is better.

Are they arguing or asserting?  Most people don't know how to argue, and instead they simply state their position (often unclearly at that).  For example, one person said, "stop bashing religions. It's just ignorant. Take the high road."  If they don't present an argument, I don't need to either.  Would a hypothetical third party be convinced by their non-argument?

Are they self-evidently ridiculous?  If it's so self-evident, I don't need to argue against it.  I can just leave it be... or quote it for my own devious purposes!  This is the lesson I have learned from The Barefoot Bum's "The Stupid, it Burns" series.  It's my source of peace of mind on the internet.

I know when to let go.  Comments take a long time and I have better things to do.  If a comment argument goes on for more than a few days, it stops being fun and I tell them I'm dropping out.  I have a policy of giving other people the last word, because I'd rather control when we stop than have the last word.


Larry Hamelin said...

This is the lesson I have learned from The Barefoot Bum's "The Stupid, it Burns" series. It's my source of peace of mind on the internet.

I'm pleased to be of some small service. <bows>

Anonymous said...

I learned that on the internet I was not the self righteous harbringer of Truth after finding out that usually my Messages were not semantically disambiguous even to myself after one day.

That ambiguity was in addition to the inherent vagueness of natural language. Now, given the prevalence of semantic discussions over actually constructive ones, we can wonder why we argue so much as a species when it is so ineffective. I think that we do because it is the way in which natural language is being calibrated in a community. Individual enthusiasm and motivation for argument is selfish, but its purpose is largely a social one.

On the internet it is wise to not always act on impuls and invest in semantic agreement, because generally it will never be reached. Thus arguing with 'idiots' on the web is actually a waste of time.

You give a good guide. I like the "whatever corners of the internet" comment, because it implies that people argue in the same manner no matter the subject.