8 Stupid Arguments That Internet Debates Always Devolve Into
The Internet is full of debates about important subjects like abortion, censorship and religion, and even more important subjects like what is wrong with music these days and who is the most victimized group on earth, child soldiers or gamers.
All too often, these debates fail to stay on topic and degenerate into an argument about something completely different, which isn't surprising, but the weird thing is that there's a pretty short and predictable list of arguments that they devolve into. Some common ones:
Who Has Less of a Life
Almost anyone who's spent any time on the Internet has seen this one. Some people are having an intelligent, productive discussion about which season officially marks the beginning of the Simpsons' decline, making their points thoughtfully with capital letters, a lot of swears and an occasional anti-homosexual slur. When ad-hominem attacks about the other person's weight fail to connect, one arguer goes to the good old standard "You don't have a life" argument, pointing out the time of night (or amount of time) that the other person is arguing about this stupid subject.
"I must not sleep until I have proven that Kirk is superior to Picard."
For example, "You've just wasted five hours trying to prove to me that The Simpsons is still funny," or "You're sitting here at 3:30 a.m. arguing about when The Simpsons jumped the shark." Then they conclude that the other person is a loser with "no life" and might add that they "feel sorry" for them.
Few human beings being talked to in such a way can resist pointing out the obvious -- the accuser himself is sitting here arguing at 3:30 a.m. as well, and has been doing so for the past five hours as well.
That puts the first person on the defensive, and he has to point out his time zone ("It's afternoon here!") and other mitigating factors ("I'm just killing time until my girlfriend finishes work and comes here for sex!") before reasserting that the other person is, in fact, the pathetic one, and insisting that he feels sorry for them.
"I must not sleep until I have proven that Avery Brooks is the most insane Star Trek captain."
Usually these start off as side arguments, a "by the way" postscript after each side makes a point about what is wrong/right with The Simpsons, but eventually they grow and consume each post until there's one perfunctory sentence about the actual debate before an essay explaining point by point how much of a life they have, followed by a short story about how the other person came to the tragic day-to-day life they lead in their parents' basement. On YouTube and Twitter and other limited-space media, it's a little less eloquent -- usually just a random, disjointed jumble of cliched phrases, like "parents' basement," "Cheetos," "fat loser," "ur just jealous," "FEEL SO SORRY FOR U" and the like, that is mashed together to resemble a telegraphed message from a concussed toddler.
A tragic epidemic that underscores the need for child helmet legislation.
These arguments usually go on a good while, because people who have something better to do generally prove it by doing it, preventing them from participating in these arguments. Everyone remaining to participate in arguing about who doesn't have a life is afraid to stop the argument because stillness often forces contemplation and they might have to face the obvious truth that any observer could see in 30 seconds, and nobody likes looking into the abyss.
Who Is More Mature
This plays out pretty similarly, except instead of people trying to point out the other person's lack of sexual relations and financial independence, they point to their own maturity and ability to stay above it all. They use words like "disappointed" and "amused" to describe their reaction to the other person's arguments. "I could respond to your immature, petty insults in kind, but I'm not going to stoop to your level," they say, which is a good enough sentiment when you just act on it, but extremely douchey and ironic when you say it.
You sound like you look like this.
Not stooping to someone's level works best when you actually do it, not when you announce it. Announcing it is just arguing back in a more sneaky, indirect way. Deciding to be the mature person in an argument is great, but if at any time you give in to a compulsion to demonstrate that you have decided to be the more mature person, you have blown it. Whether by saying it straight out, or by describing your physical reactions ("Your comment made me smile mildly"), or by implying it by speaking in language you imagine a supervillain might use to describe his plans.
When people start talking in stilted language and using SAT words to hint that they are above the whole argument and are looking down at the petty bickering with nothing but disappointment or bemusement, it is pretty sad. It's like a little girl putting on her mother's clothes and smearing lipstick across her face and thinking she is indistinguishable from a grownup, only without the cuteness.
This sort of thing stops being cute around ... 13 or so.
It's bad enough when one person puts on the act, but when the second person starts going "I too find this farce an amusing diversion ..." the insufferability rating goes through the roof. The illogic of two people going back and forth saying that they are above petty squabbles and will therefore let the other person have the last word, again and again, for 50 or so replies, is enough to make the average person's head explode.
Who Can't Be Objective
It might be pointing out the obvious to mention that a lot of these debates degenerate into "You're biased!"/"No, you're biased!" At that point, the actual debate is neatly wrapped up in mothballs and put away, never to be seen again, and the discussion becomes an examination of both sides' life stories.
It's a tear-jerker.
Which is fine, I love stories! But defying common sense, Person A's life story is told by Person B, and vice versa. "I know that you've had bad experiences with men in the past, and I think that's coloring your judgment. Every time you talk to a man, you probably see the men who did something bad to you, so you're misreading what they're saying." Or: "You mentioned earlier that you were eating Pringles, so I assume you're fat, which means you can't think straight about the soda-ban law, and that your objection is just a knee-jerk reaction, although I mean that figuratively, because you are so fat that the hammer can't get through to trigger your actual knee-jerk reflex."
I mean, sometimes a person is laughably biased, entering a discussion with a cut-and-paste propaganda post and shouting slogans in response to any questions. But sometimes people are just passionate on both sides of the issue, which is fine, because why bother to debate it otherwise? What's not fine is when people are so hung up on the bias issue that they stop talking about the subject completely and start arguing bias back and forth like they are trying to get the other person removed from the jury or something.
This lawyer has successfully removed three of the 12 jurors. I believe if you can remove them all, you win the trial.
It's not just for "serious" issues, but also arguments about movies, TV and video games, in which case the accusation takes the form of the word "fanboy." There you are, explaining logically why Final Fantasy sucks, when someone dismisses you as a "typical Xbox fanboy," and then it's on. Fanboyism accusations galore fly back and forth until you both collapse, short of breath, into your reinforced computer chairs.
As mentioned, there's definitely a line that can be crossed, but everybody involved in a debate has to have some minor emotional investment at least or they wouldn't care enough to talk about it. So anyone who wants to go on a "bias" hunt is going to find something, if they really want to. It just seems like a person should think about whether it's big enough of an issue to risk deep-sixing the entire conversation to talk about it.
If the subject is whether Final Fantasy sucks, for example, then why not. The tangent has got to be more interesting than the actual discussion would have been.
Who Is "Bringing Politics into It"
It can seem tough to draw the line between when someone is raising awareness of an important issue that should matter to everybody and when someone is dragging politics into a discussion where it doesn't belong. But it's actually very easy. When someone is bringing up an issue that is important to you, they are doing a public service by raising awareness. When someone is bringing up an issue that disagrees with your views, they are "making things political." It's pretty simple.
Like most politicians! Ha ha!
As you can see, by this definition, two disagreeing folks can throw accusations back and forth of "turning this into a political issue," "grandstanding," "getting on a soapbox" or "being preachy" literally forever, or as long as they are alive anyway. They are making great advances in medical science these days, though, so who knows.
To give a more distant example, every time a celebrity picks up a cause, people who agree with the cause usually applaud the celebrity for "making a difference" and "taking a stand," and people who disagree with the cause complain about how society listens to celebrities too much these days and how actors/musicians should stay out of politics. The exception is Bono, who usually gets called a douche whether people agree with his current cause or not. I mean, nobody is for AIDS, but many still wish to punch the man in the mouth.
Maybe it's the glasses?
There's no problem with two people disagreeing about some political issue, but the problem with this side argument is that it's not even about the issue itself, but about whether bringing up the issue is considered "political." For example, people who have stopped arguing about whether gay marriage should be legal or illegal and are just arguing about what kind of talk about gay marriage is "political" and what kind isn't.
I think we're all human, and although we can try hard to overcome our instinct to think like this, nobody can shake it entirely. So fair enough, we're all going to secretly feel like the other person is grandstanding and soapboxing more than they really need to while we are being relevant and straightforward, and they might think the same about us. But as long as they're still arguing some actual facts and reasoning that you can try to disprove with other facts and reasoning, you might as well focus on that and not waste time deciding who is the biggest drama queen.
Who Changed the Subject
We're not robots, our minds wander, and debates that were going to be about one thing slowly drift off into being about another. You're talking about whether the media blows election stories out of proportion or not, someone cites the birth certificate brouhaha as an example of them doing just that, and someone else says, "Wait, that wasn't overblown." Next thing you know, you are arguing with a guy about where the president was actually born. (Spoiler: Mars.)
He's not trying to destroy America, he's trying to destroy Earth.
Someone else says, "For goodness' sake, people, this was a discussion about media reporting, why are we talking about the president's birth certificate?" and then the fingers start pointing. "He was the one who brought it up! I was just answering his question!" "It was a rhetorical question and he went off on this rant, so I had to respond and correct him!" If the discussion has moderators, they will soon threaten to stop the car and turn right around.
Don't make them come back there!
The weird part is that they're both blaming each other for changing the subject, which implies that they both agree that it is a bad thing. Yet they don't want to drop it. "We should really go back to talking about media reporting, but I really have to correct what you said about Hawaii not being a state ..." "I'm sorry you want to keep dragging this out, but if you're going to keep lying about that phony certificate, I have to correct your facts ..."
And the other person is the only one who can put an end to this madness. "Let's please just drop this? If you would stop insisting on talking about the birth certificate, maybe we could get back to the discussion and stop wasting everyone else's time. Enough about the birth certificate. Which is obviously fake, as you can see if you click on this link. OK?"
Freedom of Speech
There comes a time in every argument where a person needs to be told to shut up. On the Internet, this is quite often the catalyst for a stirring protest about how the person's free speech rights are being violated. As far as I've learned from my time on the Internet, First Amendment rights are violated whenever any of the following happen:
- A person is told to shut up by a moderator or administrator.
- A person is told to shut up by an ordinary community member.
- A person is told their ideas are stupid.
I'm not sure how any of these things violate an amendment limiting the powers of government to curb free speech, considering that the government is completely uninvolved here, but I can't imagine so many people would complain about this if it wasn't true. So I guess there is some invisible ink in the Constitution about it being illegal to say mean things to a person.
I guess they added it after the Burr-Hamilton duel?
However, a lot of people don't think so. They think that a person complaining about their rights in this situation is a little crybaby with a sense of entitlement and a poor grade in their civics class. It really is very uncharitable of them to think that way, but they do, so a spirited argument often ensues where they try to explain concepts of reading comprehension and constitutional law to the person in question, whose sense of persecution only grows with each lecture.
It's temptingly fun to explain things to a dumb person, and the dumb person, I mean complainant, isn't going to want to stop defending himself, so pretty soon this argument takes over and leaves the discussion about Transformers in the dust. And I don't know, maybe it is more important to educate people about fundamental rights than to discuss what the AllSpark was supposed to do, but I do know there sure are going to be a lot of sad Transformers fans and critics who will have nowhere to talk about their movie.
The Purpose of the Thread
Once in a blue moon, there is a chat or a forum thread that has a point. Maybe everyone is supposed to name something they are most proud of, or voice actors who appear in the most games, or movies that begin with the letter T. I didn't say they had a worthwhile point, just a point.
Like what your quiz results are!
Sometimes the originator wasn't clear, or they were and some of the people involved are just dumb. Either way, questions about the premise come up, and if they're not settled quickly, and the discussion is full of D&D types, or even worse, people who would be D&D types but never got to play any D&D and get it out of their system, then it turns into Calvin & Hobbes' Calvinball.
"Do movie titles beginning with 'the' count?" they might ask, or "Do expansions and sequels count as separate games?" Questions can start out reasonable but then get taken over by nitpicky rule lawyers who start arguing over whether "the" is officially part of a title, and start pulling out examples of lists where "the" isn't used in alphabetization and opposing examples where it is.
A more conceptual discussion, about "Unpopular Movie Opinions," for example, might get sidetracked into an argument about what counts as "unpopular," where people start arguing about whether Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic should count as a measurement of popularity, or whether it's box office returns, and maybe whether foreign box office counts or just domestic. Then people start arguing that box office only proves that people liked the movie but doesn't prove they had such-and-such an opinion about a plot point or character. Then I don't know what happens, because I stop reading.
I go to those kinds of threads to laugh/gape at people saying they liked Jar Jar Binks or thought Schindler's List was funny or whatever. I don't go there to watch people develop the next Magic: The Gathering.
I already mentioned in a previous article that people constantly one-up each other with increasingly violent imagery to show that they are the most outraged at some terrible crime. ("I hope that child molester is hanged!" "I hope he's hanged while being burned!" "I hope he's hanged while being burned and drowned at the same time!")
Violating physical laws makes you the most hardcore.
People don't just do that with outrage, but with almost any emotion, like disappointment. Look at Internet people who have just found out a guaranteed turd like Epic Movie or Jack and Jill is about to come out. Or a movie that is going to "rape" their childhood, like the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie. You'll find post after post about how they have "lost faith in humanity," and if you're unlucky, it will escalate to a pissing contest of despair where they're trying to prove who weeps the most for mankind. How's that for a mixed metaphor.
Dibs on the album name.
Even positive emotions aren't immune. Visit any discussion about the upcoming Batman movie and you're likely to find a series of people describing how rigid their boners are and how voluminous the result of those boners is going to be with increasingly florid language. What is the point of that, other than to scare theater workers?
"I have to clean up what?"
I know this kind of one-upsmanship may not seem like an argument, but when people are actually trying to beat each other, it's basically "I'm the most excited about Batman!" and "No, I AM the most excited about Batman!" and "NO, I AM, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" which sure sounds like an argument to me.
For more from Christina, check out The 11 Most Common (And Sad) Internet Argument Techniques and How to Tell When Criticism is Constructive .