Is It Worth It To Reply?
I wrote this a few years ago, on the subject of whether or not it’s worth it to respond to someone saying untrue things, and who everyone figures for a troll. I went digging for it, because it felt relevant and timely again.
Think of it like this. A dude walks into a grocery store and says “I’d like to know whether or not tomatoes are poisonous.” The produce department person says nope. Our dude replies by pulling up a soapbox, blowing a whistle loudly, and shouting, “TOMATOES ARE POISONOUS! I HAVE A DOCUMENT HERE FROM 1745 THAT SAYS SO!” Nervously, in the crowd, a person from far away who has never seen a tomato turns to her friend and says “You know, I think I’ll pass on the tomato. I just don’t want to take the chance that it’s poisonous.”
Out on the sidewalk, the buzz has started and people are talking in the parking lot: did you know TOMATOES ARE POISON? At the far end of the parking lot, someone’s putting groceries in her car when the guy parked next to her says “The tomatoes have been injected with poison! Throw them away, fast!” Across the street, too, everyone knows what happened: someone in the grocery store ate a poison tomato and DIED. Things are getting worse for tomato sales and consumption all the time, man.
But meanwhile, in the store, a lone botanist chuckles. “Yeah,” she says, “It’s true that tomatoes were thought to be poisonous in a lot of places. To be fair, other plants in the solonaceae family are poisonous, like deadly nightshade, and there are parts of the plant that aren’t good to eat, but eating the fruits is totally normal and they’re not toxic.”
Our original tomatoes-is-poison dude hollers, “LOOK! SHE IS SO STUPID SHE THINKS TOMATOES ARE FRUIT! And you guys are going to take her word for them not being poison?” The botanist smiles, and says “Well, as a botanist, I can tell you that scientifically speaking, tomatoes ARE a fruit, though you’re right that in the 1800s they were legally declared a vegetable by the US supreme court; in any case, the major point is that they aren’t poisonous.” Everyone standing around goes “Oh, okay, that makes sense, thanks for clarifying, geeze, who knew tomatoes were this complicated?”
Dude leaves the store, and goes to a restaurant with a salad bar. There are tomatoes being served. He’s shocked; after all, he has this document he read from 1745 where someone called a tomato poison. “Remove these tomatoes from the salad bar at once!” he demands of the restaurant staff, who look at him in puzzlement and do not remove the tomatoes from the salad bar. Determined to do something about this, Dude quickly makes up a sign reading POISON FOUND IN RESTAURANT SALAD BAR and starts picketing. Did you know he asked if the poison could be removed, and he was told it was impossible? This restaurant just expects you to eat poison!
So now we have people running around town going “Omigod, the tomatoes at the supermarket have been injected with poison” and saying “Wow, I was over to have lunch at that salad joint today and apparently someone found poison on the salad bar and they wouldn’t even do anything about it!” when the reality is there’s a fixated dude with no social skills stomping around ranting about a document from nigh 300 years ago which has since been proven false repeatedly, accusing grocers and botanists of trying to conspire against him getting out the TRUTH that he has learned: that by smashing a tomato into a tin can, filling the can the rest of the way with cat urine, and then pouring in bleach, CHLORINE GAS IS PRODUCED FROM TOMATOES, AND CHLORINE GAS IS USED IN CHEMICAL WARFARE.
Now picture this continuing, and escalating, for years. Why the hell does chlorine-gas-tomato-can dude rate serious consideration, respect, and decency beyond what he’s been willing to show grocers, nutritionists, historians, botanists, cooks, and manufacturers of poison, who have all come forth and said “Dude, you’re off base, you got chlorine gas because of the interaction between the ammonia in cat piss and the bleach, it was nothing to do with tomatoes at all!” And week after week after week the dude just keeps finding more and more people to tell his escalating story to. It has now become the tale of how he walked into the Kroger only to discover German soldiers from World War I lobbing chlorine-gas-filled tomato grenades straight at innocent, harmless babies, while cops and EMTs stood around laughing and threatening him and pistol-whipping him till he eats asparagus with a mustard-gas hollandaise, all with Kroger’s full corporate support.
I will not be sorry for, or regretful about, walking into that situation and saying “Dude, you are wildly off base and this is a problem, and hey, everyone in earshot, this guy is not credible on the subject of tomatoes.” Anybody who likes me less for that is totally, 100%, one THOUSAND percent, welcome to like me less for that. I would like myself less for never speaking up.
Nobody was engaging in chemical warfare in the produce department, tomatoes aren’t poisonous, there was nothing amiss at the salad bar, there’ve never been poisoned tomatoes at the supermarket, and I am not gonna refuse to speak up and say as much, out of fear that someone just passing by may think I’m mean. It’s not okay for one person with a clear, public track record of unconcern for facts to just run around bullying multiple communities into submission in hopes someone will say OH MY GOD YOU ARE THE GENIUS WHO TOLD US ABOUT THE CHLORINE GAS TOMATOES.
This was originally written a few years ago in a forum discussion thread about this guy who kept showing up making outrageous assertions, then getting into bizarre ad hominem when someone called him on the absurdity of his statements. “If you stop responding to him,” some said, “He’ll go away.” The thing is, he didn’t. He’s probably still there. But you know what else is definitely still there? Me, rebutting him with facts — and that wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t spoken up, if I’d figured someone else would come along and do it.
What do you think? Let me know with a reply here, twitter, or Facebook, or just click the little green heart to let me know you thought it was interesting.