It’s been little over a week since the presidential election. I feel like I’ve aged five years. After it was clear on Wednesday morning that Trump had in fact gotten the electoral vote, New York was in mourning. No one could look at each other on the train. I cried twice in public, and still now I keep trying to think of upsides.
(“There is no upside!” My roommate tells me as I type this. “It’s just terrible!”)
Even though I can barely wrap my head around what has happened, I’d rather not reiterate anything Vice, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and New York Mag have already said. Instead, I am going to do what I do best: analyze what I see.
I spend a lot of time online, mostly arguing with people in the comments section. It tightens up my writing, but it also makes me feel like I am reclaiming that space. Unless regularly moderated, the comments section on almost every website can be a petri dish of the worst of humanity; I for one think that the fragile anonymity that the internet provides should not be an excuse to indulge the worst in ourselves, and I like to use my powers of persuasion for the greater good.
But some people can’t help themselves. While they may think they’re being edgy or counterculture, or just expressing their opinion, man, the way that humans argue still follow certain patterns. And if you’re the type to loves to argue for arguments sake, then there’s a really good chance your arguments commit certain logical fallacies.
The truth is, there really is no one way to argue with these people.
1. The Move On’er
“The election is over, man. Why don’t you just move on?” Admit it, even reading the title of this post you were thinking it. We’ve been in election mode for the past year and a half, and now a lot of people just want to move on with their lives.
Except the result of the election is not normal. Somehow we managed to elect a man who ran several businesses into the ground and is so unprepared for a presidency that he doesn’t even have a transition team in place.
It’s difficult to move on when your rights might be in danger. I live in a nice little blue bubble of democracy, and I am still worried about my reproductive rights being decided by the alt-right. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those who woke up still black, Muslim, LGBTQ, or Mexican in a red state. People are afraid because there is real reason to be.
The best way to talk to the Move On’er is to point out the real reasons why you’re afraid, and the very real things Trump has said to make you afraid of his presidency. If they come back with something along the lines of, “Trump didn’t really mean that,” remind them that there really is no way to be 100% sure of that until it happens, and you have every right to be wary.
2. The Couple Tag Team
You argue with one and you inherit an argument with the other. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, or if you’re being naive, confrontational, cynical, or snide. If you’re arguing with Thing 1, Thing 2 is bound to come in to defend their honor.
The problem with The Couple Tag Team is that they come at you as an united front but you’re still arguing with two people. When one taps out, the other taps in. When you’re responding to one, the other asks another question. It’s exhausting, and completely unfair. How can you possibly make your point when it’s two-on-one, at least?
The Couple Tag Team is tough because real relationships are on the line. If you are having a disagreement with a friend and their other half joins in guns blazing, it might be easier to back off to preserve your friendship. But if its someone you barely interacted with and then their spouse is being obnoxious? Fuck ’em. Make your point and then hit that block button when you’re done.
3. The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud)
They don’t make any sense. Any time you try to respond to one of their points, they throw three more at you at the same time. They change the subject, they move the goal post, they criticize your sources as”lamestream media” and then they turn around and quote The Washington Post. And then, just when you think you’ve got them cornered, they go to another thread and start the whole fucking thing again.
But look into The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud), and you’ll find someone with a family and children. They may even have high powered positions and college degrees, and you might actually consider being friends with them if they weren’t so horrible on social media.
You might start to think, why would otherwise will read and learned person say such horrible things online? Well, some people, hear me out, think that the things they say online has no real-world consequences. Other people feel so insignificant in their daily lives that trolling online is the only way they feel important. And then there’s the type of person that has really damaging opinions and sees the internet as a safe place to be hateful.
One thing we often overlook when dealing with conflict is that humans feel things. One of those feelings can be anger, and socially, we discourage people from expressing their anger. Often, this is well-intentioned: anger is volatile, unpredictable, and destructive. There really is no safe, public place where to express and expel undiluted anger, and for many, the internet has been an outlet.
The thing about The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud) is that they see the internet as a no-consequence space to vent their anger. While anger is a perfectly valid emotion, there is a difference between venting and indulging. What they don’t see is that opinions influence media and ideas. Remind them. My favorite thing to tell people: everything is sociology. Everything. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything has a footprint. The quality of the footprint is up to us.
4. The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher
God knows all. God will protect us. God has a plan. God knows your ass didn’t vote.
The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher sees their own inaction as part as some mysterious greater plan. Didn’t wear a condom? God will know what to do. Got pregnant? God wanted it to happen. Criticize their decisions? God will protect them from your negativity.
The hard part about arguing with The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher is that they really believe God is pulling the strings. Call it a form of comfortable ennui. On one hand, it keeps them from feeling insignificant and giving up hope. But on the other hand, it can be a very passive existence, comfortable in the idea that there’s a higher power living their life for them.
I have a huge problem with “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosophers. I grew up in the same type of skirt-only-wearing, girls-should-be-pure-preaching, used-to-be-a-bodega kind of Pentecostal church that used to preach that the Apocalypse was going to happen and it was only a matter of when. As an adult, I now have anxiety.
But part of the reason I am okay with leaving the church is that often, The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosophy is often used to excuse bad behavior or inaction, because God knows what’s in their heart. It doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do, because God knows what’s in their heart.
When I argue with The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher, I’m usually brutal. I’m not saying take my lead on this one, I am saying, I hate this type of person specifically and I am probably not the best person to take advice from on this one. When I do argue with The”It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher, it looks something like this:
5. The Conspiracy Theorist
They think Clinton should be in jail. They share statistics about black on black crime. They think 9/11 was an inside job. Something something Illuminati. And if you disagree with them, you’ve clearly have been brainwashed by the establishment.
The Conspiracy Theorist thinks they know a higher truth than you. How did they learn this higher truth? Probably on the internet.
The Conspiracy Theorist is usually trying to fill a void in their life, and it can be really difficult to convince them otherwise. The answer, however, seems to be empathy. From the linked article:
“So what’s the key to stopping conspiracy theorists? It’s like a wise dog once said: “Empathy, empathy, put yourself in place of me.” It was his conversation with Mark Bingham’s grieving mother (and his disgust at how his fellow conspiracy theorists were treating her with utter contempt) which pushed Charlie back into sanity.
There’s a belief that fighting conspiracy theories is a simple matter of bludgeoning people over the head with facts and waiting for everything to sink in. But that’s like arguing that Christianity will eventually defeat atheism by finding the right combination of Bible verses. Every one of us has near-constant access to the greatest information archive in history, and conspiracy theories are flourishing like never before.”
The Conspiracy Theorist, like literally everyone else, is trying to find meaning in this world, just through a really harmful outlet. If you have to argue with The Conspiracy Theorist, try to get them up on the conspiracy that private corporations have been trying to buy our democracy through the Republican party for over a century. It’s scary stuff.
6. The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist
Didn’t you hear? Obama has been coming for our guns since 2008! Did he get yours yet? Huh? He hasn’t? No, he hasn’t gotten mine either. But he’s coming for our guns!!! Any day now!!
The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist always makes me thinks of this quote in Good Omens. Crowley, a demon, is describing how he feels about the people who worship the Prince of Darkness:
“Crowley always found them embarrassing. You couldn’t actually be rude to them, but you couldn’t help feeling about them the same way that, say, a Vietnam veteran would feel about someone who wears combat gear to Neighborhood Watch meetings.”
The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist has probably never seen active combat. They’re probably not even fit to be on a police force. They’re probably white, very likely male, and they’re very afraid that “those people” will come take their rights (i.e. privileges) away.
They also don’t represent they average gun owner:
Don’t argue with The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist, but keep a wary eye on them. If they post something that even hints at a threat, call the police, pronto.
7. The Diet Racist
They just want to make America Great Again, ya’ll. They want to protect the border and bring back our jobs! What’s wrong with that?
Well, The Diet Racist is the reason the United States has immigration laws after 90% of the native population died off. The Diet Racist is the reason redlining is still a thing, and why the quality of education you get depends on where you live.
The Diet Racist uses coded language to obscure what they really mean. They’re not racist, you see, they’re just trying to keep the ones they love safe from ‘those other people’:
Othering, of course, is the root of the problem. From the link:
“By “othering”, we mean any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.
This psychological tactic may have had its uses in our tribal past. Group cohesion was crucially important in the early days of human civilisation, and required strong demarcation between our allies and our enemies. To thrive, we needed to be part of a close-knit tribe who’d look out for us, in exchange for knowing that we’d help to look out for them in kind. People in your tribe, who live in the same community as you, are more likely to be closely related to you and consequently share your genes.
As a result, there’s a powerful evolutionary drive to identify in some way with a tribe of people who are “like you”, and to feel a stronger connection and allegiance to them than to anyone else. Today, this tribe might not be a local and insular community you grew up with, but can be, for instance, fellow supporters of a sports team or political party.”
Understanding this, your best tool when arguing online is to remind your opposition that you are a person. Not a name on a screen, not a profile on social media, but a person who lives and breathes and has people in their corner. How you decide to get that message across, however, is entirely up to you.