Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Internet is Annoying Me

You would think that the Internet would, at this point, merely be a digital representation of society at large. It is, after all, comprised of the same people you interact with at work, at the grocery store, at Home Depot and the local Thai eatery.  And yet the Internet is filled to overflowing with ignorance, mindless idiocy, conspiracy theories, thoughtless tribal partisanship, magical thinking, easily debunked beliefs and assumptions and Cubs fans.  It is deeply ironic that the very medium that provides access to the collected knowledge and wisdom of mankind should also be populated by so many whose lack of knowledge, illogic and utter inability to think critically makes one despair for the public schools system.

You see this in any discussion on any topic on the Web - there are always people who simultaneously hold strong opinions and minimal expertise.  There are others who are deeply invested in a single topic, point or position, and refuse to allow any discussion to drift away from their well cared for pet peeve.  I have no doubt that you will find the same kind of belligerent idiocy on knitting and furniture making forums that you find in science, firearms or literature threads, but there is one area that stands above all others for the mindless anger and tribal partisanship of it's denizens - politics.  Public policy, economics, international affairs - here it seems that for every couple of thoughtful, well-meaning people who have put in the time and effort to educate themselves and understand both the primary issues and the second - order questions that arise, from unintended consequences to ethical considerations, there is a snarling hater, a bloviating oaf or a Rah Rah cheerleader to whom "our" side represents goodness and light and can do no wrong and "their" side, an abyss of evil and foul intentions that must never be given a drop of credit.  And despite their willful, even joyful parade of ignorance and blinkered vision, there is no point, absolutely zero, in confronting them.  With the inexplicable exception of Bruce Bartlett, nobody on the Internet ever changed their mind about anything.

These tireless characters can take many forms, and even shift between them at will.  But there are a few that I find particularly trying:

1.  Conspiracy Theorists
I've always been fascinated by people, and man, there are a LOT of them, who will tell you of dark plots and deeply - held secrets, so foul and dangerous that people have disappeared just for discussing them.  But they never seem to notice the odd contradiction that THEY know all about these world-changing secrets and, in fact, anyone who doesn't is a "sheep", falling for 'their' patently ridiculous cover stories.  If you ask them how they know these things that are supposed to be the well-kept secrets of governments, they will, at best, refer you to a website, often one that lists links to other websites - none of the operators of which, sadly, have yet disappeared.

2.  Motivation Matters
When someone tells me that Barack Obama is helping the terrorists, or that the Department of the Interior is in league with the Muslim Brotherhood to implement Shari'a law in the US, or that various political, judicial, government and military leaders are working with our enemies to bring down the United States, or that lifelong Climate scientists are actively involved in a far-reaching hoax, I tend to ask them "why".  What is their motivation?  Why would someone who has risen to a leadership position in America be working to destroy it all?  Why is a Cabinet secretary from the Midwest so invested in Islamic law?  Why would ANYONE assist terrorists?  Why would someone put their career, their family, their community, their reputation and their nation at risk?  Now there might actually BE reasons, from money to blackmail, but if you can't provide a plausible explanation for this kind of massive betrayal you're just a crank.

3.  Repeaters
These are truly a blight on my bandwidth.  People who are too lazy and/or stupid to form their own arguments, they arrive at nebulous, ill formed and often incoherent conclusions and merely repeat other people's arguments to support them.  Talking points, quotes, historical anecdotes, they typically are not familiar with their own arguments, and often do not even understand them.  They are usually seen falling victim to some kind of correlation/causality fallacy, which, when it's pointed out to them, only confuses them more, or they are caught depending upon a historical event that never happened, or using a famous individual's words stripped of context so they appear to be saying precisely the opposite of what was originally intended.

4.  Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
You know the ones.  They haven't learned a single new thing since high school.  They don't read, and critical thinking skills have never been part of their repertoire.  They know only one thing: Which "side" they're on.  That leads them to a simple, black and white conclusion in every event.  You can usually identify them on the Internet for their use of less-than-clever slurs, such as Demoncraps or Rethuglicans. To them it's no different than Cardinals/Phillies or Patriots/Colts.  There is nothing "our" team can do wrong except lose, and there is no possibility that "their" team can mean well, or do good.  And if one of 'our' guys does something that DOES disappoint them, well, that's easily explained - deep down, he was one of 'their' guys all along.  It is the simplistic case of our tribe good/their tribe bad, and while this is often a wingnut position I am often disappointed by how many self-identified "liberals" do precisely the same thing.

Seriously.  If you want to have an intelligent and productive discussion about anything, at least take the time and put in the effort to understand it at some reasonable level.  At the very least read through the
Wikipedia treatment on a given topic or event before invoking it as some kind of persuasive touchstone, OK?



  1. I recently read one person who thought that the only way the internet has changed these things is given you more exposure to people who think these ways.

    also, I suppose it has given the loosely-screwed-together more access to crazy ideas, but like they ever needed it before.

  2. I recently read one person
    That's certainly enough evidence to convince me!

  3. What concerns me the most is how the comments section for anything can turn into a hate-filled slime wrestle. Now I'm not as even-handed as Mikey as I think the majority of it and the absolute worst of it comes from the right and i think the solution is the same as child rearing, praise the good and ignore the bad.
    I would continue to slag off Bloggers whom I don't like at Sadly No since the blogs are intended for public consumption. I don't want to add to their comments section so I will do it at SN.

  4. Yet all these people are still preferable to YouTube commenters.

  5. Sure, mikey, I knew you'd say this.

    Creatures from the Crab Nebula always do.

  6. Crab Nebula's about 6000 Light years away. So I must have left about fifteen thousand years ago to get here by now.

    Did I miss anything?

  7. TLDR. I got to "digital representation" and immediately saw that the entire post is wrnog. Gang hand symbols are about as current as legwarmers.

    Obv. your intention in writing this piece is to help Obama and his East Side Illuminati terrarists. Wait here while I Google a five thousand word essay on teh topic to copypasta.

    This is just liek teh time back when that bully stole my milk before nap time. Hahaha, joke's on him - I backwashed!

  8. amen amen and amen
    I loved the "and Cubs fans" line too.

  9. We did arrive at the same terminal fellow traveller. Although I am more prickly about the know-nothing amateur scientists. But that is circumstance specific.

  10. wv was prove. I shit you not.

  11. I hope you saw this link via CT in which comic fans parody their own stupid arguments about nothing very effectively.