On Responding to Stupid People

I struggle with responding to peoples' comments. Mostly because most comments online are insults. Now, people in general are not necessarily good, I know this. Many are even evil. But the prevalence of insulting people online seems outrageously high. I wonder how much cowardice comes into play. Maybe these people want to say this stuff all the time, but in person they are afraid to, so they do it online instead. Anyway, I have to try to figure out how to handle these darn people.


The most vocal people commenting online are people with serious psychological orders. You can tell that by their comments. They are usually aggressive and insulting. I think it's often something like resentment mixed with frustration mixed with projection. When I've done aggressive online commenting it's been because of my own emotional issues. I'm guessing that goes for these people as well.

Let's look at some of the recent comments on my article "Aphorisms on Grief, Suicide, and Meaning in Life." We'll look at how I handled them. We'll look at how others like George R. R. Martin, Joe Rogan, and Mike Rowe handle them. We'll look at what business philosopher Paul Graham says about this, and mention an interesting thing about Mark Twain and Egar Allan Poe. Plan, set, go.

My article was a set of aphorisms that I've made about grief, suicide, meaning, and truth. I just wanted the title to have three things instead of four. I've written some powerful stuff about all of these subjects in other articles that had various levels of success. My article on suicide was shared in psychology groups on Facebook about 30 times, many of those people are practicing psychologists. People are still sharing my philosophy article from two years ago on Quora that digs into grief. Meaning gets woven into many of my articles because I've spent so much of my life focused on thinking about it. My philosophy article "Flavor and Value" is about truth and has garnered enough likes on Steemit to make 46 dollars, which impresses me.

I've been thinking about all of these things for years, trying to grow in two directions: 1) being able to differentiate more and more so that I can correctly assess what's happening in these processes, and 2) trying to pull that understanding together in a compact way that will communicate an immense amount of insight in a small space. I guess I could go the other way and try to write large amounts of content on them. That just hasn't been my natural tendency, I'm drawn to short and powerful insights.

When I posted the article I mentioned on Facebook that it might be the best thing I've ever written. Alas, few views, or likes, and no good comments anywhere. This is not unusual. Mark Twain considered his best writing to be his book about Joan of Arc. I didn't realize for most of my life that Twain had even written about Joan of Arc. Most people don't. Edgar Allan Poe thought his best work was the poem "Eureka" written in his last year of life. In that poem he was the first to propose the idea of the big bang theory, about 80 years before scientists proposed the big bang theory. No one liked his poem. So, it's not unusual for writers to disagree with people about what their best work is.

One of the first comments was from Ute Hutten in a high IQ group on Facebook. (We'll come back around to the fact that maybe I shouldn't be looking at comments at all.) A high IQ group is a bad sign anyway. I joined after I had my spinal issues, after the Africa ordeal. I had damage to my brainstem and had a huge loss in cognitive function resulting in low working memory and a bunch of other issues. I've always had a high IQ, that's how that works, but I hadn't joined a high IQ society because I didn't value their validation. After having brain damage I wanted to recover enough to prove that I could join Mensa, the largest high IQ society. I did. I joined a few more too, the EPL High IQ Society in this specific comment's case. Then I learned that the people that participate in the online high IQ societies are not mentally stable people. They're the people that are desperately seeking to prove that they are smart. (The situation of these people is almost perfectly demonstrated by my case. When I knew I was smart I didn't need that validation. When I was having trouble and doubting it after recovering from brain damage, I did. I've been to one in-person local Mensa meeting and that was different. But, no one in that group interacted with the online groups. Just an observation, online high IQ groups attract people that are in a bad place emotionally and trying to seek some form of self-worth. Not a great environment for discussion.)

Here's how Ute commented: "Arrogant and shallow, spouting empty words."

The question is, what to do with something like this? It's just a straight insult with no content. It's one of the many ways that a person with a high IQ can prove that they're not intelligent by any other measure. There are a few options that you have at your disposal.

1) Don't read it in the first place. Meaning, you can't read any comments.
2) Ignore it.
3) Respond to Ute addressing Ute.
4) Respond to Ute addressing the general audience.
5) Respond to Ute addressing Ute, but think of the message in terms of the general audience.
6) Respond in kind. In this case I could call Ute stupid, which is a natural reaction, and I think the assessment is warranted. Or, you could do it in a pretentious way, "Ute is a knave of the highest regard among those circles which value insights into the minds of high functioning people with no substance or content to speak of. The worth of such an individual has been speculated on for years, but none has been found." Something like that.
7) Respond defensively. E.g. "I am good because other people like me."
8) Try to have a reasonable conversation. "Why do you think these wondrous insights into the work of which you speak?" (You would have to ask it in an authentic way, which this example is not.)

A reasonable conversation isn't going to work. It's like trying to have a conversation with someone that's trying to punch you. They're just trying to hurt you, not communicate with you.

Responding defensively seems pathetic and a waste of time. Ute didn't give any argument to refute, or anything like that.

Responding in kind won't work out well. That's just a fight with words.

Responding to Ute and either addressing him but thinking of a general audience, or addressing the general audience directly, seems to be the best options. This is what Mike Rowe does. He'll even write up articles and posts like this addressing people. He is great at it. The best I've ever seen.

Responding to Ute in any way seems like it probably won't work as far as the conversation with Ute himself goes.

Ignoring it after you've read it is hard.

Not reading it in the first place is hard. But... that's what some people almost have to do. For instance, George R. R. Martin is a super famous writer. He's also constantly attacked for being a slow writer. Some of that is his fault for setting up false expectations, but still. Not reading comments definitely seems like his best option. Joe Rogan has the most popular podcast in the world. He says the same thing. If you go on his show you can't read the comments afterward. There will be positive ones, but the negative ones will mess with your head too much. He says people will drop into depressions after doing that sometimes and he has to tell them to stop looking at comments.

In this case what I did is make this response. "Nice and low on the pyramid. Accuse me of what you're guilty of, smart." I'll explain the pyramid in a minute. Notice that his calling me arrogant and shallow is ironic because his comment is arrogant and shallow. I noticed the irony, and pointed it out. I'm addressing him more directly than a third-party though, so that's probably not a great example of what to do.

The pyramid refers to a link that I sent. It's Paul Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement. Ute is at the very lowest rung of disagreement. Here's how Graham explains it.

- - - - - - -

DH0. Name-calling.

This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common. We've all seen comments like this:
u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!
But it's important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight. A comment like
The author is a self-important dilettante.
is really nothing more than a pretentious version of "u r a fag."

- - - - - - -

This perfectly describes the situation. Ute has a high IQ, probably has a decent vocabulary, so he is articulate at name-calling. A skill of sorts.

Here are the rest of the levels.

- - - - - - -

DH1. Ad Hominem.
DH2. Responding to Tone.
DH3. Contradiction.
DH4. Counterargument.
DH5. Refutation.
DH6. Refuting the Central Point.

- - - - - - -

Graham offers good explanations and examples of them in his article, which is here: http://paulgraham.com/disagree.html

In his sixth level he offers this example format.

- - - - - - -

The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:
<quotation>
But this is wrong for the following reasons...

- - - - - - -

Notice that it aligns with Mike Rowe's idea of thinking about the rest of the audience too. It's nice when things align.

Now, just two more quick examples of comments on my article.

Lenny Schafer made this great comment, "Sophomoric." That's it, that's the whole thing. Another form of fancy name-calling. This was on my blog itself. I decided to just delete it. How would you respond to something like that anyway? There is no central point for me to refute. That's also the issue with Ute's comment. I can't actually do anything that would be a refutation because they're just calling me names.

The last one is from Michael Howson, and it's reasonable. "Perhaps grief is more about loss of connection than expectation and perhaps it is that those connections that give our lives much of their meaning."

He's on level four of Graham's pyramid here, which is decent. I tried to show how his basic premise wasn't even a contradiction of my article. Human connection is a value. The experience of loss is the feeling of the loss of something. Loss of what? Loss of a future value. Connection is one such value. Thus, the experience of loss can be the feeling of a loss of future connection. His proposition can be nested in mine because mine is larger and more inclusive, and I would say significantly more insightful and useful. He went in the direction that the experience of time doesn't exist, and proposed that I must never have known anyone that's died. Then, I fell down the pyramid and dismissed him.

Michael's comment was definitely reasonable even if I disagree that he even had a disagreement with my article. The question is whether I should even be reading or responding to comments like this at all. The possibility that something that seems reasonable at first devolving seems quite high.

I'll have to think about it more, and work on it more. It's an important and difficult thing. Only a few people handle it well. Joe Rogan doesn't read any comments. Mike Rowe responds publicly thinking about the whole audience. Two decent options.

Stupid is essentially lacking good judgment. It's all too easy to respond to stupid comments (comments lacking good judgment) with a stupid response (a response lacking good judgment). Just thinking about avoiding that is a good place to start.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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