Online discussion: A failure of epic proportions.

A week or two ago I blocked someone for the first time. It was a terrible experience and I made sure to end it with the final words "And I am growing tired of your arrogance". Even thinking back on the arguments I had with this person upsets me. "Your logic is flawed" was a primary argument of this person and there seemed to be no end in sight to the circular practice of trying to get a meaningful discussion going. I was accused of a fallacy fallacy and this is interesting, because that person was both admitting a fallacy and accusing me of one.

I have had some good arguments with people online, but they are fewer than I would like to believe. My belief that the internet was a place where ideas could be discussed was a false one. All that remains after these debates is a puddle of vomit representing what is left of the arguments presented.

I have been thinking over this for a few weeks now, and it started with the simple idea of taking the higher ground in arguments. There is no use in pointing out the tired old raggy arguments that only apply to a small minority of those you are arguing with. My concern started mainly in the atheist community on Google plus. Even though I respect the folks there, I have found that some of the arguments conflate right wing fundamentalism with religion in general. It is not valid to bring up evolution denial in an argument with a regular Christian who does not oppose the theory. It is equally useless to argue against those who do deny evolution.

Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are the antagonists in the super internet society where people discuss things and respect each other. There are multiple spots on the spectrum of argument where sensibilty tries to interject, only to be drowned and buried by virtual screaming and fecal flinging.

There is a prevailing idea that passers by will read arguments and realise what the sensible side is about. I believe this is false. Most people who read the arguments on these topics of interest have already made up their minds and confirmation bias will serve them well to reinforce whatever decisions they have already made. Nothing moves, nothing changes, like the wind wearing away at Everest versus the force of plate tectonics pushing it ever higher. 


It is extremely painful to be in these discussions, and very upsetting. I have been in arguments with people where I quoted sources that enforce their positions. They go on to unknowingly poison their own arguments by not reading, or only reading parts that disagree with their opinion with their only ultimate intent being attack on you, your positions and the information you provided. In return they quote information that refutes their own arguments, usually somewhere in the conclusion of the offending source. If only they had spent an extra two minutes reading the rest of it.

Cognitive dissonance protects even those who are willing to debate from changing their minds. Instead of discussion all there is just anger. I don't see things being much different in real life, except that in person we maintain the fa├žade of civility, while online people will go straight to name calling and accusations. These discussions are no different to crappy politics, and I think crappy politics tends to reflect on humanity as a whole, instead of it being the exceptions and a bad example of how humans discuss things.

Opinions seem to be foundations laid in cement, and only the initially planned structure can fit onto that. No consequent changes of mind are ever even considered. I am sick of trying to understand the points that others make, and to take in the information they provide, only to watch them reject mine outright without even the decency of skimming my sources.

There is a fashionable outrage going around, and people will write about how outraged they are about what this one said, or that one said, because the truth is that outrage sells. Angry frustrated people seem to be coming onto the internet and nodding so eagerly at angry rant of other internet users that their spines snap. 

You may be reading this thinking: "well this is a rant, so maybe this guy is part of the problem" and yes you would be right. I have been guilty of the same things I am accusing others of. One thing I am not guilty of is being convinced of my innocence in any way, or being unable to admit that I have been wrong in the past. In fact I read some of the posts on my own blog and shudder at the poor quality. I don't enjoy being humbled by the facts, in fact my first instinct would be to punch my opponent in the testicles... very hard... repeatedly, but I try to take it with me and peer through my hatred of them at that moment to see if what they are saying is actually right instead of burning through google trying to find facts to refute them. There on the internet you will always find someone or something that agrees with your point of view, so argument by internet is almost useless.

Other people don't feel the same. Self examination and learning and growing and respect do not seem to be intrinsic to the culture of the internet. The internet is just a Machiavellian hellhole full of people who cannot be convinced, but are convinced that the others can be. If you see a problem with that logic that is because there is a problem.

Every single call on a fallacy, or claim of superiority is just chest bashing bullshit, and nobody seems intent on learning anything. Maybe the internet is the arena for the ultimate human male showdown, but instead of clubs the pure weapons of status and rhetoric are used. Egos reign supreme while ideas flounder and gape helplessly for air.

My utopian concept of discussion was that we can teach each other something, and a conversation where both parties walk out unchanged is a waste of time nobody is willing to pursue, but I was wrong. I thought there was hope, but I no longer think that way. My only hope now is that  a gamma ray burst will swiftly singe humanity away because the universe should not be subjected to such a futile organism.
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