ARGUING ONLINE

Everyday, we hear pundits and politicians talking about how divided our country is. We are more polarized than ever. The political landscape is bleak and it seems like our differing points of view are separating us more and more everyday. The hostility that we feel and display towards eachother is only getting worse. I see friends and family members debating issues on Facebook and other social media platforms, disagreeing vehemently, and subsequently resorting to vitriolic and incendiary language that causes them to “defriend” eachother and stop speaking altogether in real life. Why is it that we all seem to take politics so personally these days? Very few people seem able to respectfully disagree with one another.

I think it is important to recognize that the way you engage someone in a debate definitely has an impact on how they respond. If the tone of your conversation is threatening, insulting, or sarcastic, then you are not likely to receive a serious, thoughtful response. Bickering is not conducive to progress. One common reason for this type of engagement online, I have noticed, is the phenomenon known as virtue signaling.

Virtue signaling is a manner of communication in which the speaker’s sole intent is to signal to others (not even necessarily the person with whom they are engaging) that they are righteous members of society who hold moral authority on various subjects and do not need to explain or rationalize their points of view as long as they use certain buzzwords that signify inherent problems with the other person’s expressions. I often see people refer to their friends’ Facebook posts as “disgusting.” This is a strong word with a clear message: “Your opinion is so utterly and grotesquely incorrect and inflammatory that I cannot even dignify it with a full response.” I believe that this word might be appropriate where an opinion is expressed which is hopelessly irrational, hateful, and offensive. But from what I have seen, people overuse the word “disgusting” as a mere tactic to self-moralize their opposing point of view, thus alleviating themselves of the responsibility of forming a cogent argument. This is not smart, and it does nothing but dumb down our collective conversation.

A similar such sentiment that I see often embedded in arguments is the insistence that the arguer “go read a history book.” This might be the most hilarious example of virtue signaling, as it is intended to give the impression to everyone on the thread that they are engaging with someone who is overtly professorial and spends their life hunkered down in the public library thumbing through the pages of history texts and preparing themselves for their next intellectual sparring session on Facebook. Of course, if that were the case, they would likely have something more substantive to say than, “go read a history book.” It is a shame that these types of indignant, self-laudatory catch phrases are often more potent in an argument than an actual argument. We see these types of comments getting untold “likes” and virtual “pats on the back” from fellow internet warriors. It is considered a digital “takedown” of sorts, just to be dismissive and outright insulting to a person’s point of view.

Personally, I feel that a little bit of friendliness, sophistication, and tact in our online conversations would go a long way toward patching up the polarization of our current political spectrum. I know we were all raised watching obnoxious shouting matches between talking heads on the twenty-four hour news networks, but that does not mean that we need to regress into the same type of idiotic discourse. I would like to see people who disagree discuss their ideas respectfully, progressively, and with an end goal of actually finding common ground and solving the issue about which they both care enough to opine. Instead, we all seem to just want to zing eachother so that we can get points from the Facebook gods. What is the point? We are not all going to agree on everything. It does not mean that differing points of view are disgusting, uneducated, or unthoughtful. It just means that there is more than one way to look at an issue, and we would all do well to keep that in mind and try to engage eachother with respect and humility, not pompousness, buzzwords, and recycled pabulum. In the words of Bill S. Preston, Esq., “Be excellent to eachother!”

I had to end it with some positivity/comic relief.