Why Every Discussion On Your Timeline Turns Idiotic

There's one big reason that every argument we have ends in a stalemate: Everyone is more interested in being a hero than in being right. Sound crazy? OK, then let's do an experiment. Try to follow this conversation:

Jill: "Would anyone like to talk about dogs with me?"

Joe: "How dare you bring up dogs! I want to talk about cats! Why do you hate cats so much?"

Jill: "I don't have any opinion about cats at all. I just want to talk about dogs."

Joe: "Wanting to talk about anything other than cats means you hate cats! I am disgusted and disappointed by your anti-cat propaganda. People like you are why cats get cancer and die."

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That seems outlandish (after all, cats never die, especially not mine), but I feel like I've seen this exact same conversation play out, again and again and again, in every possible context and about every possible topic. I have tons of examples, but let's start with another silly one. Here's a post I found on the front page of Reddit a while back:

"Harry Potter is a solid children's series -- but I find it mildly frustrating that so many adults of my generation never seem to 'graduate' beyond it & other YA series to challenge themselves. Anyone agree or disagree?"

Hope that doesn't sound too snobby -- they're fun to reread and not badly written at all -- great, well-plotted comfort food with some superb imaginative ideas and wholesome/timeless themes. I just find it weird that so many adults seem to think they're the apex of novels ...

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I clicked on that title because it's an observation I agree with and a conversation that sounds interesting to me. I love Harry Potter. It's a great young adult series and meant a lot to me when I was in middle and high school because it deals with themes that matter to young adults, like your first experiences with love and death, how it's OK to make fun of people for being fat if they're also mean, responsibility, bravery, owning pet rats, and so on. But it doesn't really say anything that's resonated with my experiences in my mid-to-late 20s the way other books or movies or songs or stand-up specials have. That's subjective, obviously, but it still seems like a good starting point for a conversation. Forgive me, I'm infinitely optimistic. It bites me in the ass all the time. Especially in this instance, when I read the top-rated response:

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To be honest -- I read a lot, have a large personal library, and have mamy varying books from travel, travel stories, history, science, and different types of fiction.

YA is just so enjoyable to read when done well. I work hard all day. Im using my brain all day. Sometimes I just want to kick back a read a nice cheesy book, irrespective of what category it is.

Reading should be an enjoyment. It doesn't always have to be about furthering knowledge or reading harfer/morr complex books ...

No need to be so judgemental about what they are reading.

That's pretty combative, but to be honest, I also agree with that. How you spend your free time, and the books or movies or video games you label your "favorites," are totally your prerogative and not necessarily a reflection of your intelligence or maturity. Some of the smartest people I've ever met have been perfectly happy to read Sue Grafton or Clive Cussler books, and are perfectly entertained by daytime soap operas or Jean Claude Van Damme movies. And J.K. Rowling is probably ten times as a good a writer as the more "mature" Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) because Brown writes like a chimpanzee currently undergoing a lobotomy at the hands of another, dumber chimpanzee. Working on a computer with no spellcheck. With a blindfold on.

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But that has nothing to do with the original post. If someone had wanted to say "Well, I think Harry Potter transcends YA literature, and it really does resonate with my adult experience because x, y, z, whatever," that would've been a response. Or even "Fuck you, Harry Potter is perfectly mature, you shitting shitweasel!" I mean, that's rude, but at least it makes sense in context. But instead, this poster pretended that someone had besmirched the honor of a children's book about wizards and elves, and they hopped up on a soapbox to defend it. What we end up with is two statements that can totally coexist thrown at each other as if they're in opposition. It's a total waste of time, because one person is bringing up dogs, while the other is mad that they don't want to talk about cats.

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Now let's move on to a more serious topic.

In August of last year, footballers Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid started sitting (and later kneeling) during the national anthem in order to bring attention to, in Reid's words, "many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system." (Read the rest of his words here, if you haven't.) Whether or not you agree with his point, you have to agree that that is what he's talking about. It'd be crazy to pretend that his protest was about Twitter's new character limit or McDonald's Szechuan Sauce or bringing back AIM. That'd just make it look like you were confused about how your news feed worked.

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But, overwhelmingly, the response has consisted of complaints that kneeling during the anthem is somehow disrespectful to American soldiers. Never mind that Kaepernick and Reid explained the purpose of their protest in a New York Times article. And never mind that Kaepernick and Reid took advice from a retired Green Beret on the most respectful way to protest. Their critics, like former 49er Alex Boone, just wanna say stuff like this:

"You should have some fucking respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom. We're out here playing a game, making millions of dollars. People are losing their life, and you don't have the common courtesy to do that. That just drove me nuts."

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(The real news article I link to censors Boone's curse, but I put it back in because I respect your intelligence enough to know you probably think bad words are funny).

Again, I (and I think most of you) agree that you should have respect for people who've served in the military, especially if you work an easy, silly job like playing sports or writing jokes about Spider-Man. Same as how I like both dogs and cats. They're different things. Unrelated. When someone pretends that Kaepernick is insulting the troops, it really just seems like they're insecure about the point he's bringing up about police brutality. Again, he got the kneeling idea from a fucking Green Beret. One gets the idea that his critics are just avoiding the far more uncomfortable conversation so they can hop up on an imagined moral high ground and say, "I like soldiers, soldiers are good!" Of course you do. Most Americans do. Why are you bothering to point this out? It's not exactly a bold position. "I'm on the side of whoever has the most deadly weapons" is probably the least-brave principle possible.

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And most recently, we have the reaction to any mass shooting -- most recently Las Vegas -- wherein certain people immediately respond that we should avoid "politicizing the tragedy." Search Twitter for those words, there's no shortage of examples. Monica Hesse summarized the issue extremely well right here, so go read that instead of whatever I might say on the matter. Or I'll just paste my favorite part right here:

If the shooter subscribes to the same political ideology I do, then I pivot to using words such as 'lone wolf.' I talk about how he was disturbed; I cite endless depressing statistics about mental health care in America.

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If the shooter belongs to the other side, then suddenly it is finally time to talk about the systemic issues that caused the shooting. It's a 'them' problem. It's an other-side problem. Suddenly it's time to politicize.

So now that I've talked about Harry Potter, racism, and mass shootings, let me finally get to my point.

Productive arguments are boring. They're uncomfortable. They involve explaining why we believe things we already believe (that's the boring part) and listening to other people's perspectives (which is the uncomfortable part). They're quiet, and nobody gets to be a hero. So we have a built-in mechanism for avoiding them, which is to make for ourselves a quick moral high ground and then stand up on top of it, shouting down and waving our finger. Because blaming other people for our problems feels great.

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If our goal is just to feel better about something bad happening, this is a great strategy. But if we want to get to the bottom of an issue, to make ourselves smarter, to understand the world a bit better and maybe even make a difference in it, we're gonna have to do the boring thing and actually try to listen and understand what other people have to say instead of immediately climbing on top of a moral high ground. The stakes are pretty low when we're talking about Harry Potter. But when it comes to mass shootings, it's actually sort of a big deal. I know, it sucks. But it's better than society collapsing, and having the cats vs. dogs argument become about which one we're going to eat first.

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J.F. Sargent is a senior editor for Cracked.com, and not afraid of anything. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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