Re: Who are you calling stupid? was: Adamant Rudeness

From: Charlie (
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 02:40:20 MDT

On Wed, May 03, 2000 at 02:34:33AM -0400, Dan Fabulich wrote:
> My two cents:
> More generally, I think I can make the stronger case that this doesn't
> just happen in rare instances. By and large, WHENEVER you're trying to
> convince someone that something is true, *whenever* you make a statement
> in the simple indicative mood, you're almost certain to be more convincing
> to a person if you don't call them an idiot or refer to their ideas as
> idiotic, and, of course, they're very likely to be happier about it to the
> extent that you avoid doing so, people being as they are. (Though it
> might be better if they were otherwise.)

Very good!

More specifically, on the subject of flaming on the net:

One participates in a public, non-realtime internet forum (be it a
mailing list or a newsgroup) for one of two purposes: to speak or to
listen. (When speaking, one wants to convince others that ones' point of
view is correct; when listening, one is attempting to acquire new data.)

It is axiomatic that you can't force somebody to listen to what
you're saying, on a mailing list or on usenet. They can killfile you,
unsubscribe, or walk away.

Human beings tend to respond reflexively to displays of aggression,
verbal or physical. If you are rude to someone, chances are that they
will be rude right back.

A point to note is that if you're trying to get a viewpoint across
on a public list or newsgroup, the odds are that the person you're
directing your comments to is _not_ your real audience; you're arguing
with somebody who doesn't agree with you, and the likelihood of changing
their mind is very low. Your _real_ audience consists of the interested
but silent by-standers reading the thread. _They_ may listen to what
you say, because they're not bound up in reflexively responding to you;
they have no emotional capital invested in the argument.

It therefore follows that making insulting and wild comments -- "all
religionists are shit-heads" -- may generalise your insult to the third-
party by-standers you most want to reach. While insulting the other party
in the discussion more specifically ("John Doe's mother wears army boots
and smells of elderberries") suggests to them that you have run out of
effective arguments to deploy.

The upshot is: never throw wild accusations or abuse around in a
discussion unless you (a) have considered very carefully the possible
impact on the notional dispassionate observer, or (b) want to lose the

Classic examples of wild accusations include: "baby butchers", "gun
grabbers", "pinko commie fag liberals", "nazi republocrats", "god
botherers", "Christ-killing jews". Fun as these terms might be, employing
them serves to screw your chances of convincing anyone who might be
vaguely in favour of contraception, of not letting convicted felons and
lunatics own guns, people who believe in a collective duty to give alms
to the destitute, people who believe in fiscal propriety, quakers, and
people like me.

-- Charlie "all extropians are shit-headed
            geek libertarians with bad breath" Stross

           (See what I mean?)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:10:25 MDT