Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Modest Taxonomy, For Your Consideration

I’m not naturally a confrontational person. I’m a consensus builder by nature. Now, my natural inclination is all fine and good in certain situations, but I am fully aware that consensus building isn’t always the best way to go. For example, you wouldn’t want to build a consensus with someone who wants to grind up half the population and feed them to cattle, and absolutely refuses to budge from that position. And you can’t build a consensus with someone who just joins disputes for sport. These people exist and they know how to use the Internet.

This taxonomy is what I’ve gleaned from watching arguments unfold online. I’m limiting it to specific patterns of behavior that are never useful, no matter the context, and are therefore a giveaway that the person is not engaging with others in good faith. I blame my non-confrontational nature for the fact that, in the past, these behaviors have annoyed me so much that I've been driven to master them by describing them, and by so doing hopefully make them seem silly and uncool.

I always try to remember that we can never truly know what another person is thinking, especially over the Internet. But there are so many times when I can only assume someone’s sitting behind the computer at home giggling and thinking “I sure annoyed those people good, didn’t I?”

I've observed all of these multiple times on Facebook, but they're not by any means limited to there (just last week I saw an excellent manifestation of a Learned Expert on a classy, heavily curated comment thread, which was the main impetus for me to write and post this), and I suspect that if I used Twitter regularly, this taxonomy would be twice as large as it is. I have every intention of expanding this as I start discerning more patterns in the wild.

The Being of Pure Energy

Join a discussion and be antagonistic. Tell people they’re wrong, cast doubt on their good intentions and basic knowledge. But whatever you do -- and this is critically important -- don’t say anything of substance.

Then when people inevitably complain you’re being a jerk, you get to complain that they’re just making personal attacks but they haven’t responded to any of the points you’ve made. Of course, this is because you didn’t make any points -- in fact, you’ve said nothing that can be engaged with.

The Learned Expert

Insist that someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t feel any need to be brief; some Learned Experts do this over the course of several posts, while others prefer one very long post.

But -- and this is vitally important -- don’t say why they’re wrong. Don’t say anything specific that could reveal your own level of expertise. Don’t make any statements about the topic at hand that others could engage with. Truly high-level Learned Experts can do this without ever explicitly acknowledging what the topic of discussion even is.

Sanctimonious Flounce Type A: The Scuttler

When people disagree with you, say something like “You shouldn’t get your panties in a knot just because someone has different opinions!” or “Personally, *I* like engaging with people with different points of view!” and then exit the conversation permanently. For added effect, block the people you were arguing with.

Note that this is the most ridiculous of the behaviors in this taxonomy. As a result, there’s a risk that your victims will just find it funny. Of course, since you blocked them, you will never know, so you can imagine them getting really annoyed and then giggle at your own mental fantasy.

Sanctimonious Flounce Type B: The Hypocrite

For this one, it’s fine to say things of substance. But you also need to be annoying or needlessly antagonistic in some way. When people predictably respond in kind, or call you out for being a jerk, say something like “I’m usually happy to engage with people with different points of view, but your rudeness has turned me off so I’m outta here.” Needless to say, the more sanctimonious you make this sound, the better.

Now I need to shift gears. Out of this whole taxonomy, the Sanctimonious Flounce Type B is the one that bugs the most when I see it in the wild. But I think that’s because there’s something different about this particular pattern. Sanctimonious Flounce Type B is the most subjective item in this taxonomy, because rudeness is inherently an “eye of the beholder” kind of thing.

That’s why, unlike the other behaviors I’ve outlined here, whenever I observe a Sanctimonious Flounce Type B in the wild, I wonder if maybe they're genuinely acting in good faith. We’re all the protagonists of our own stories, and maybe in their minds, they’re not the ones being irritating; maybe they think they’re the ones dealing with online nitwits.

And that’s why, for me, this is also a lesson in being self-aware. We all must be aware of how we come across to others, and I don’t ever want to accidentally play the role of a Sanctimonious Flounce Type B.

How to Use This Guide

If you don’t feel like increasing your self-awareness, I suppose you could try on these roles yourself, although any amusement you get may be outweighed by losing friends, and frankly you’ll deserve it. Better to treat this taxonomy as a field guide to behaviors you may be lucky enough to spot in the wild. “I saw an actual Sanctimonious Flounce Type A today on Facebook,” you may tell your significant other when they get home from work. “Naturally, he scuttled away before I could get a closer look.”

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