Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nobody's Fault But My Own

Here's something that's been nagging at me: Am I mean online for no reason?

Just as a preface, I can tell you straight away that my online 'voice' is not really much like my real 'voice'. Shocking, I know. As far as I can tell, my voice is based on my main sources of reading, which is very acerbic and opinionated, as well as prone to non sequiturs. While the non sequitur part is recognizably me, I can say that the rest only exists within my everyday speech as vague attempts, which I am prone to stumble over (much like everything else). Since online writing gives me more time to think over my words, it ends up sounding a lot cleaner than IRL.

In conclusion, I am a lot more caustic online than I am in real life. Is this the dreaded anonymity protection concept, where I feel free to be an asshole because it lacks real consequences? It is a definite possibility, I must say. Then again, I don't think I've ever had a real forum where I could speak of the same things - but, that could be because I just avoid them, out of fear. I try to assert myself when the opportunity pops up, but I'm still not sure its on the same level as I do in an online discussion. So I am not discounting that solution, it being one of the obvious ones. But there's got to be something more to it, surely? I still have some level of caution that makes it so even the great anonymity shield isn't enough to make me feel safe to express myself all of tume. So what other reasons could there be?

It could be that I am raging against the world I see, whether or not an it's appropriate setting for that rage. I know a lot of people say they think everything kinda sucks now, but I have come to observe many things that do really infuriate me on some level, to the point that even mild cases get me riled up. So I might be mean because I am just SO FUCKING MAD. But really, I don't think I am, at least not all the time. I mean, when it comes to certain issues (for example, my hatred of rampant proud ignorance that is, like fear-free posting, a trademark of online discussion) it really gets me in righteous fury mode, but in the smaller cases, is it really justified? Am I just making up an issue so I can get mad about it? I'd say that's a possibility, too.

At this point, I can say that I have answered my initial question. I am not mean online for no reason: I am mean online (possibly) because (a)I read a lot of things that are mean online and emulate them, (b)I feel free to be mean online because wheeeee nothing is gonna stop me, and (c)I have things that get me mad, and I sometimes carry that sense of anger into all sorts of conversations. Well, that's the one side of the 'why'; the psychological half. But what about the practical half? Is there really any reason for me to be mean online? What does it get me?

A lot of my reads grapple with this question as well. After all, as the tired cliche goes, you catch more dopes with free food than a punch in the face. But do I really want to 'catch' them? Do I really go out to convert a ton of people to my 'side'? I think that's the crux of the practicality argument, and this is where I really disagree with it.

A lot of people think that you're never going to educate anyone by being snarky. But is that really true? For one, addressing an issue on a more emotional level can grab attention, and I'd say that's a pretty essential step in a persuasive argument. That's huckstering tactics used often by the lowest of the low, I know, but I can't say it doesn't work. Second, going for an emotional response has a greater chance of getting the audience to know the issue at hand, which is ALSO an important part of a persuasive argument. It doesn't matter if they like me, or what my take is, but if they get the IDEA, that's a good thing, and even better if (even if only for a short while) I get the person to really take that idea and think about what it means. To paraphrase Alan Moore (to a considerable degree): I don't care if they agree with me, as long as they think about what I say.

But, one may ask, wouldn't the anger bit get in the way of that goal? If someone just sees you as a ranting, opinionated jackass, won't they just ignore what you have to say completely? Yes, more than likely, that will happen. Just look at PETA, who are so completely out there that any legitimate issues they may have (and they do have some) are completely smothered by provocation. On the other hand, going completely neutral on a subject likely won't get you anywhere as well, as people will just gloss over the entire thing like a weather report. It's a difficult task figuring out what level of ferocity is needed to attract attention without making you the spectacle rather than the issue.

On a more personal note, I don't like the argument because I don't think I should water down who I am and what I believe just so I can be appealing. I mean, we're all bound to do that, as it comes naturally, I think. But, especially when dealing with something very important to me, asking me to not actually share my opinions just feels wrong. I am intelligent enough to know when to apply temperance, and I am completely willing to use trial-and-error to figure out how to do this right, so don't be telling ME what's the right way to get MY views across. Not only that, but do you really think I'm less likely to engage an audience by showing how something really makes me feel (and thus allowing them to see what the weight of the topic might be) instead of treating the argument like some hashed-together high school science project, or compromising my view to such a degree that it loses all impact, and goes for the tiny and easier victories over the more difficult and important ones? I know the people who want the mean guys to tone it down often have good intentions, but good intentions don't always lead to good results.

In the end, I am more willing to stay myself and be able to reach a few than I am to compromise and have a vague hope that I've reached more. I want people to know what I think, that I'm not afraid to say what I think, and that I want them to know why I think that way. If that makes me come across as mean, spiteful, ranting, crazy, be it. If that causes a few to ignore me completely, so be it (chances are they are just as convinced of their position as I am of mine, so trying to preach to them them is about as worthless as preaching to the choir). I refuse to constantly play nice so that I can possibly score a few more points. It's just not who I am (online...and hopefully offline as well).



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