Online Argument Fatigue

If you’re not familiar with this XKCD strip, then you’re probably not geeky enough to be in my target audience. 😉

Just tonight* I was having a “Someone is wrong on the internet!” moment of my own. It was all I could do not to reach through Twitter and bop that person with the Mallet of Truth, but I held off for a variety of reasons.

One is I didn’t get on Twitter to get into fights or to stop people from being Wrong. People are Wrong much closer to home, and I really don’t need to pay for a fast internet connection to find them.

Another is I seem to have Online Argument Fatigue (OAF). As I noted elsewhere, I was on the internet way earlier than most people. (Dammit, where’d I leave my can of Pabst Blue Ribbon?!) I’ve already addressed most of the world’s misconceptions in excruciating detail, in well-though-out forum posts with links to various reputable sites. And now new people come along, with the incredible tackiness to not have known me when I was in my wisdom-dispensing heyday, and want to spew the same stupid ideas I already put to rest? Aw hell no. Let’s just not and say we did. A simple You’re wrong will have to suffice.

I still have the knee-jerk tendency to point out to people the sad error of their ways. What I lack is the follow-through. The desire to spend hours fielding all their wrong-headed retorts. So I generally just leave the field to them, but then, as Randall Munroe’s comic notes, they persist in their wrongness. Perhaps more tragically, they’re left with the absurd notion that their specious arguments carried the day, that they “won.”

Image by Michael Keen, CC by-NC-ND 2.0

And the sad little secret last reason: what evidence do I have that will convince these online doofuses, and how much of it can I examine myself? Put more succinctly, how do I know what I know?

These days, we don’t just disagree on how to interpret basic facts, we disagree on what those facts are. And our sellers of information have picked up on this and now sell us the information, the commodity, that we want to receive from them. So you can watch the news network that provides you with the truth you want to hear, and you can fight to have your children (and other people’s) provided with textbooks that reflect the reality you believe in.

And I’m no different, except that the things I believe in are true, while the things I disagree with are asinine.

Much of our modern reality seems to have spun into a strange zone where almost no lay-person can evaluate the truth of any claim, because you need a ton of specialized education before you know enough to even have a well-considered opinion. And so, for all the sources I can cite to support my beliefs, all my statements really come down to is “I find my sources more credible than I find yours.”

I’m not expressing some sort of ambivalence when it comes to reality here. I know what I believe:

While I can’t go back in time and grill the “founding fathers” about their specific intent, I believe that our country is or should be founded on the principle of preserving the most rights for the most people–and that this means we need reasons more compelling for abridging those rights than the strictures of any particular religion.

While I’m not an expert in every science–or hell, in any of them–I believe in the scientific method. I don’t mean some bogus list of five or seven steps or whatever, but the approach to knowledge that says you do your best to look at the data and create a belief system that represents it, and not the other way around. And I believe that the purpose of science class in school is to teach this way of approaching questions of fact. (In fact, I believe that every academic discipline exists to teach a way of solving problems and answering questions, and not [primarily] a body of knowledge.)

I guess for me these are philosophical truths more than specific historical or scientific ones.

You can feel free to post where you disagree with me, but I won’t bother arguing with you. You’re wrong, but I’ve got OAF.

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3 Responses to Online Argument Fatigue

  1. David Flor says:

    In order to make you feel like you’re not the only one to feel this way, I’m going to disagree with everything you just said. In fact, I might start a blog for the sole purpose of explaining why you’re wrong.

    And, come now, this is the Internet after all… You expect me to explain *why* I disagree and what I disagree with? Pfft…

    It’s amazing how we have evolved… I remember a time where the most heated debate was whether it is “less filling” or if it “tastes great”.

  2. Joe says:

    Thank you for your input!

    Sadly, you’re wrong.

  3. Jonathon says:

    I sympathize wholeheartedly. Even if you limit yourself to just one tiny sphere of human knowledge, there’s just so much wrongness and so many facts and opinions to wade through that it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

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