I don’t understand the point of insults. Not in an I’m-impervious-to-them kind of way, I have a pretty thin skin, but I don’t get what they’re supposed to accomplish. Especially in a debate where your goal is supposed to be convincing the other person you’re right and they’re wrong. How exactly is an insult supposed to help you in this endeavor?
I have a masochistic habit of reading internet comments. I never comment myself but I’m fascinated by the people that do. And I’ve noticed a trend in the way that people deploy insults. They are used;
A) To hit a soft target. To insult a group on an article or post that is already negative towards that group. An insult that acts as ‘going in on the fun’ and that expects to find acceptance within the target audience of the post.
B) To derail the conversation. This insult will pop up from the ‘rival’ group to disparage all those who agree with the post.
Since I live in a liberal bubble and generally only see one side of each insult. I get the impression that conservatives tend more towards B. But this observation is likely highly influenced by a perception bias (seeing what I expect to see) and shouldn’t be trusted. Still, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that liberals call conservatives bigots, conservative call liberals weak, and both groups call each other stupid. (the last insult is crowd pleaser favored by any corner of the political spectrum)
These insults NEVER change anyone. NEVER add to the conversation. And NEVER (I’m speculating here) make the insulter feel better for any longer than a second.
The reasons we use them are obvious. We’re mad and we want to hurt the people who make us mad. We have an opinion that we lack either the knowledge or the creativity to defend and so saying someone is Hitler is the next best thing. And last, and most importantly, knowing where you stand in the world is a scary and precarious position. If some belief is your foundation it is unsettling to find out that other people are capable of disagreeing with it. It can make us question ourselves and feel powerless. Insults seem like the best way to take the power back, or at least diminish the power of your opponent.
So, why do I bring this up? Well, yesterday my typically safe observer status was taken away from me. I was insulted by someone in a private Facebook message. A man with whom I had had semi-regular, and previously public, debates with sent me a message with an insult about how I post too much on facebook. Fair enough, I do post a lot.
Thing is, this really came out of left field for me. For one, I hadn’t actually posted anything that political recently. Two, I thought this guy and I had an understanding. I knew him from the church I grew up in.. The church I attended when I was still devoutly Christian before I started to feel like someone who thinks that it’s fine for gay people to exist and for trans people to live as their true selves had no place in the fundamentalist Christian society. I left the church because what I felt was right and what the church told me was moral no longer matched one another.
At any rate, I have always been determined to not be one of those lapsed Christians who gets their jollys talking shit about what they used to believe. I was determined to stay connected and to actively keep alive in myself what it was to hold those beliefs. It’s good to have some person in your life with whom you can politely disagree. Ultimately the world is a better place when thoughtful people engage in debate and make earnest attempts to understand the other side. I thought that that was our arrangement. I thought we respected each other. It was disappointing to find out that I was wrong. It hurt my feelings.
So, let’s go back to liberals being weak. I think this is based in the way we talk about offensive behavior. It can be hard to understand where we’re coming from when we often fail to make our argument passed the point of the offense. To quote Stephen Fry “You’re offended, so what?” We have to move the argument passed the what and into the why. But, on the other hand, to quote Louis CK “When someone tells you that you hurt them you don’t get to say that you didn’t.”
In light of this, I’ll explain my hurt feelings;
I don’t like the implication that my posts are so offensive to you, so threatening, so infuriating that you send a private message to try and shame me out of them. This is not an attack on some changeable behavior I have that’s annoying, like chewing loudly, this is a comment on an aspect of who I am. I like politics. I like talking about politics. When I post about politics it’s not to hear myself talk (on the internet). I’m hoping you respond, I’m hoping there’s a conversation because that is so much more interesting then me being mad in my liberal bubble. I don’t really care about sports. I have no interest in having a baby. I like talking politics. That is a fundamental part of me that if you don’t like then, unfortunately, you don’t like me. It’s not sold separately.
I don’t like that you felt like that message was worth both your time and your energy. When they say that it’s better to say something nice or nothing at all, you should listen to them. The world is not better for that. That was a pointlessly mean thing, and it was beneath you. There is both an unfriend and an unfollow option of Facebook. I invite you to chose either of them in the future.
And last, it was patronizing. I don’t want to cry sexism. I am sure that this can and does happen to guys. But I am constantly being told by men with little to no acquaintances with me, what exactly it is I am doing wrong in my life. The fact that you think you know better is offensive. The fact that you think that an insult will shame me into behaving the way you think is best, is laughable. The fact that you are so convinced that you know best… The audacity that any human can decide how another human is supposed to act and feel, is ludicrous. Tell me I’m wrong! Present me with a ten pages essay illuminating every point of my wrongness, but don’t tell me to shut up and expect that to work.
The opinions I hold which don’t match yours infect your newsfeed and drive you to distraction, I get that. But let’s be real, either you don’t like me or you don’t like being reminded that there is anyone in the world who disagrees with you. In either case, there’s a better way to handle it.