Hi There! It Appears We’re About to Argue
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because I’ve sent you here out of concern that you and I are about to take part in the most dubious, inorganic and quixotic activity we humans have invented for ourselves in my lifetime. No, we aren’t going to consume Advocare products: we’re going to argue on the internet.
Unless you’re shy of your 5th birthday and haven’t yet been gifted your first iPhone, you’ve probably had a chance to observe how bad this can go. There might be some all caps where it doesn’t belong. One of us might stop using punctuation properly. There could be name calling. More likely, we might be reasonably civil but just fail to get a single thing out of our interaction other than the belief that the other person is clueless. I genuinely don’t want that. I don’t want to feel bad or make you feel bad and I don’t want to forfeit an opportunity to learn something or gain perspective. The main reason things might go awry is simple: we’re perfect strangers. As such, when the temptation arises to think the worst of one another we’re likely to run with it. If we were meeting at a bar instead we’d hedge against all that with introductions and pleasantries, so that’s what I’m going to try here.
I’m a white male who may well have a lot of the typical white male intellectual liabilities. I either barely caught or barely missed the Gen X train, went to college to study music, spent most of my working life up until now in the car business, and am now surprisingly happily married with two kids. I’m liberalish with mostly liberal friends, a few libertarians and even a few conservatives who tolerate me because I take occasional breaks from calling them racists. I harbor a few remaining biases from my very conservative younger days, and went through an embarrassingly cliche string of phases that went Limbaugh →Ayn Rand→Herman Hesse, before I finally just gave up. I don’t have absolute clarity on many things but I’m pretty fond of the idea that truth is objective even if humans are incapable of fully grasping it, and also that beliefs, to be accepted, should be backed up by credible empirical data as often as possible or at the very least not contradicted by it. As long as a person is willing to pay at least a reasonable amount of respect to whatever logical, objective, factual information can be brought to bear on a topic, I tend to stay interested in participating with them regardless of how much we differ. I shoot for a pretty dispassionate style of discourse and am prone to playing devil’s advocate at times, which I think sometimes gives people the idea that I’m an irredeemable, unrepentant monster.
I remain highly self conscious throughout these little ordeals, as I do life in general. I worry about whether my proclivity for having these conversations at all (on Facebook, with strangers) and going so far as to write out thoughts like I’m doing now makes me a delusional, supercilious bore. I worry about unknowingly alienating myself from people I care about when they happen to see my thoughts about their faith, their personal heroes, their parenting, their multilevel marketing ventures or their pets and assume that just because I’m voicing criticisms of something dear to them that I must also be judgmental of them. I worry about falling into the trap of becoming a person who does all this just so I can make myself look better than I really am by carefully editing every thought and putting on the pretense of actually knowing things that I actually just (like, just) Googled. And, most terrifying of all, I worry that all this is going to derail the only goal I’ve ever had: to be really cool.
These concerns have on numerous occasions caused me to eschew Facebook altogether, but I kept coming back and getting drawn into little arguments here and there until I decided that the honest, healthy thing to do was just to own it and recognize that there are at least some good reasons for it. As a stay at home parent of two young kids I risk a certain amount of isolation from other adults if I don’t have real conversations with new people over the internet. Being left to muddle around in our own personal echo chambers isn’t exactly prone to helping us recognize our own fallacies and biases, and I know I have some. There’s also something fun about gazing into the strangeness of the little fundamental schisms between human beings. I’m not talking so much about religion and politics, but the more innate tendencies our hearts and minds gravitate toward, the ultimate consequences of which become our beliefs about the world.
There’s also a more naive reason I keep doing this: I think it’s important, and that if everyone put forth a little more effort into carefully, calmly talking things over we’d gradually become more rational, more aligned, and more loving toward one another rather than rapidly becoming less of these things.
My name is Alan, I’m glad we’re getting to have this talk, and I hope we’ll make it a good one.