Friday, June 24, 2016

One Jerk On The Internet

I have developed a new theory I like to call the “One Jerk On The Internet” theory.*

A lot of things frustrate me, but one of them at the top is logical fallacies. The internet is full of people’s opinions, which is good, except that the vast majority (including, uh, mine) tend to fall into several easy traps that often either invalidate or destroy the logic of the opinion. And the ultimate test is when one doubles down on said fallacy--it tends to make people look like hypocrites.

In today’s social media landscape, that’s a lot of hypocrites.

One of the more common fallacies, which I based my theory around, is the Strawman fallacy—basically building up the viewpoint that opposes yours in such a way that it’s easy to knock down. This is incredibly easy when you make assumptions, impute unrelated aspects into the argument, and fixate on certain elements that you particularly hate. It’s easy to debate, say, a conservative, or a liberal, when you can simply paint them up when all the stuff you hate and knock them down with a single blow, even though most people, even on the extremes, tend to have very complex approaches to their opinions. 

And here’s where my theory kicks in—the internet has an almost infinite amount of opinions being spouted by anyone. There’s no filter; there’s no editorial judgment to act as a logical clearinghouse. You can immediately go to the internet and literally find any opinion you want. No strawman is needed; no effort is required to find someone you can intellectually knock down. You have a warehouse of world history to pick and choose from at your fingertips to get the opinion you want to destroy.

There’s always One Jerk On The Internet that will say anything about anything. 

That person doesn’t represent a huge number of people, no matter what you want to think or believe. These opinions are most likely in the minority; and there’s a decent enough chance that it’s a troll. Under even the best (or worst) circumstances, they’re approaching an issue from a broadly different worldview under significantly different circumstances than your own worldview. But it doesn’t matter; in today’s world, you only need to find one, screenshot it, claim it represents everyone on the other side of the opinion, and claim victory. 

Even you have math to back it up—by votes or polls or whatever—you still don’t know what mitigating factors are present, or how strongly people believe said opinion, or what probably legitimate checks against the extreme they’ve assumed in their head. You can’t take the most extreme voter and assume all voters think like that person did. 

For decades, many pundits have decried “Bumper Sticker Politics,” where major, complicated issues are reduced down to a catchy phrase you can glue to your car. It’s generally seen as bad, because very few issues are that simple. But social media perpetuates and encourages this; you can’t have a valid political opinion worth any sort of discussion if you can reduce it down to 140 characters or superimposed over a picture of Kermit the Frog. 

The One Jerk On The Internet Theory is like the Washington Generals of social media discourse—they are there to be defeated. And if you’re the Harlem Globetrotters, your wins aren’t really wins, but your putting on a damn fine show. Sadly, most people think that their “show” is serious political business and not obvious pandering, reinforcing the negative feedback loop.

So, avoid the OAOTI. Use these steps if you’re going to post a political opinion on social media:

1. Don't.
2. No, seriously, don't.
3.  If you are absolutely sure that your opinion needs to be shared with the world, don’t be a hypocrite about it. If you could flip the opinion around and not see how the other side could do the exact same thing, there is a 100% chance that you are wrong about it.

In short, don’t be the jerk in the One Jerk On The Internet theory. 

*Fellow Pittsburghers, you are free to call this the "One Jagoff On The Internet Theory" if you wish, since that's it's proper name.

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