The King of Straw
Think about it like this.
If I wrote literary fiction, this encounter would have never happened. Rather than engaging – and yes, even learning from – people with genuinely contrary views, I would have been stranded with this cartoon in my head, probably used some particularly clownish example like Sarah Palin as my anchoring token. I would have simply lampooned and dismissed their contrary views, made in-group jokes about how obviously idiotic they were. My ideas would be king in a land of strawmen…
Starting to sound familiar, yet?
As it stands, I think I’ve learned a couple of important lessons. First, if you’re going to provoke, keep it simple. They scan everything you say, ignoring everything but what they perceive to be your rhetorically weakest point, and no matter how irrelevant, they hoist it and wave it around as though it’s the only thing you said.
Second, and I have Roger to thank for this one, not only stick to second-order claims (claims about claims), but be clear about it.
And third, and perhaps most importantly, bite the bullet. When they call you an idiot, say, “Yes! That’s my point!” I’m not sure why, and I would certainly welcome speculation on this point, but this seems to make them itchy. I agree with James: the comments on Theo’s site are actually quite atypical. You get the feeling that they’re standing on marbles over there.
Ideologues can be dangerous. Oslo is just the most recent example. My fear, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned far too many times, is that the internet is facilitating human communication, not communication more generally. And human communication is flawed through and through, saddled with all kinds of tendencies that may have been adaptive back in the stone age, but are now problematic in the extreme. If we do destroy ourselves, dollars to doughnuts coalition psychology will have something to do with it.
Let’s call it Group Crashing: drawing out various groupthink communities, not only to prevent groupthink within your own cohort, but to jam, as much as possible, the groupthink of others.
Maybe we should form a… ah… er… group. A Group Crashing Group. We could gather together as many argumentative, contrarian assholes as possible, put together a list of targets from across the political and cultural spectrum, then provoke as much rational debate as possible, all the while working the main message: “You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about!”
Sounds foofy, I know… But interesting all the same.
I’ve already decided I’m going to try this again, only this time with someone on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. Does anyone know of any particularly obnoxious, liberal, literary-minded site?