The Cultural Sickness of Online Arguing, These Days

Facebook arguments are famous for their futility. Everybody’s done it, and it doesn’t take many clicks to figure out nobody is changing anybody else’s mind.

In an age dominated by communication media, we all tend to think responding might do some good. But, it never does. Most people have experienced this. At some point, we’ve engaged in a little online debate to find that, in the end, it produced no good fruit.

When I was born, the West, and America in particular, were well into their decline. My life and the lives of all those younger than I have elapsed entirely within a period where the general spiritual sickness of the West has metastasized, spreading steadily until we are everywhere weak, deformed and diseased.

When such conditions are all you know, or have ever known, you assume they are normal, that everyone in all places and times has lived this way. You assume everybody’s parents have always been divorced, if they were ever married to begin with. You assume teenagers have always blown one another away at school. You assume porn has always been free, accepted and ubiquitous. You just assume these things are markers of normalcy.

It is a characteristic of our cultural sickness that the further it spreads, the more rapidly it moves. Thirty years ago, though we were already in decline, things had not reached critical stage. Most of the parents of my friends were married. Every adult I knew had a job. The most violent thing that ever happened at school was when our speech teacher took a spill trying to stop a fistfight and went sprawling down the hallway, flailing his arms as he slid between the lockers. Porn was sequestered into back rooms and dark theaters.

Even so, from my earliest days, I knew something serious was wrong. From the time I was in grade school, I was out of synch. While my peers were consumed with sports and pop stars, I longed for a nobler world.

I grew ever more uncomfortable with the world as I found it. Even before I was ten, I had a sense that the world I was living in was, at its heart, a shadow of what had come before.

Perhaps the real difference was that I was, alone among my cohort, unable to suppress my intuition of the not-rightness of things. Even today, I hear people bemoan the way things are these days, and this simple comment betrays a deeper critique.

People who complain about how things are these days implicitly compare these days to some other, better days. Everybody knows those days lie in the past. Most people’s only hopes for the future are for better drugs, a newer gadget, more money. Nobody expects the trajectory of destruction we are riding to be reversed. Nobody thinks the future holds stronger families, less violence, more satisfaction, less divorce.

Most often, I have heard the “these days” complaints invoked in the course an argument about any manner of social issues. Try taking any sort of non-mainstream approach to a cultural issue in discussion with some people and you’ll hear it eventually.

“Well, what can you expect these days?”

This is, of course, a curious response. The person who counters your reasonable concerns by saying “Well, what can you expect these days?” doesn’t come at you with a full frontal assault, mounts no defense of other kids’ raunchy behavior. Instead, the launch a more subtle, and therefore, more insidious attack.

Their response indicates that, on one level, they agree wholeheartedly that your analysis is right. They too are concerned about the corrosive effects of the culture on kids. At the same time, they argue that such corrosion is only to be expected given that today is, after all, today.

Since, today is today, they imply, you ought not be complaining so much. Every reasonable person, they suggest, knows the right response to a collapsing culture is quiet acceptance.

But, still. In their response, we see another thing. We see the deep intuition of decadence, the sense that things have fallen apart. They are saying of course everything is worse now. Their charge against you isn’t that you are wrong, but that you are naïve for believing that your complaining might change something.

In this way, they combine discontent with our age with the despair that characterizes it. They have tacitly accepted the spirit of our age, while rejecting its outward signs of corruption. By doing this, the forces of our age are given a victory. To accept the spirit of an age, is to accept its right to rule. And the criticism of your complaint is really just an attempt to remind you who rules and to squash any nascent resistance to that merciless rule.

What we can take away from these encounters is that the deep intuition that we live in a time of decadence is widespread. Everybody knows, and most deal with this knowledge by suppressing it. They lose themselves in reality television, sports fandom, popular culture. The nightmare of reality is too great for them and so they retreat into a waking dream of distraction.

The job of those who have stopped avoiding what we know is to wake others up, not to the nightmare only, but to their inner witness, that little voice inside them that continually whispers, “It’s not supposed to be like this.”

That voice is our power. People deny it because the voices outside contradict it. If they hear a plethora of external voices reflecting back that inner whisper, their strength will return and they will begin to stir in their slumber. The only question is whether we who are awake will make enough noise to rouse them.

But, people who advance decadent opinions on social media don’t change minds. In fact, their minds have very little to do with it.

The central reason for putting forward such opinions on social media is to signal others that you are one of the cool people. The point is to show that you are on the right side of history. It’s not about the content; it’s about the subtext.

When we engage them, we provide them another chance to signal their virtue, another chance to show their commitment to the approved wisdom the culture has handed down. By challenging them, we become their foil.

Source: (edited)

Notice what happens when you argue on Facebook. The friends of the original poster, people you don’t know, jump in. In my recent experience, after critiquing my opponent’s argument, some young man appeared in the thread to tell me to stop “harassing” his friend.

I pointed out that in no rationally imaginable way is critiquing an author’s published work “harassment.” It didn’t matter because Facebook arguments are a mirror of two key elements of contemporary society: emotivism and the entertainment mindset.

Facebook arguments aren’t settled by whose argument is stronger, they are settled, as all other contemporary cultural controversies are, by who has the most legitimate claim to victimhood. The white knight who warned me to stop my “harassment” didn’t mean what he said as a serious statement. The content didn’t matter. His statement was merely a subtextual reminder that his female friend had, according to the currently ascendant calculus, a greater claim to victimhood than I have and therefore I must be wrong. He felt, within his victimist mindset, that I was in the wrong, so I must actually be wrong. That is how emotivism works.

Facebook arguments are also entertainment. More often than not, people are only interested in the spectacle. This is true of the people who lurk on the page waiting to see the next zinger. It’s also true for the people engaged in the argument. Arguing is fun, and like most merely fun activities, it’s a waste of time. Had there been no element of entertainment involved, I wouldn’t have succumbed to the temptation to argue just as I never succumb to the temptation to run an impromptu marathon.

Giving up arguing on Facebook fighting doesn’t mean letting the forces of decay win. It can’t possibly mean that because never once has arguing on Facebook led to their losing. Instead, arguing only strengthens their resolve to continue to face down the forces of “wickedness” through their skillful employment of really sick memes and novel interpretations of fortune cookies. What’s worse, there’s plenty of advice out there only encouraging it and plenty of people out there looking for it and intentionally causing it.

Facebook fights are a part of daily life. A 2012 Pew study found that 15% of adults and 22% of teens had engaged in an interaction on the site that resulted in a friendship ending. Three percent of adults and 8% of teens said that fighting on the website had led to fighting in real life. For many users, life on Facebook has become a banal battle fought with unopened hyperlinks and 1,000-word-paragraphs and violent empty threats to de-friend. Comments don’t lead to conclusions but rather character assassinations.

It’s not just that Facebook fights end without a clear victor. It’s that they often finish brutally, with mortal consequences for the relationships involved. Even if we can often smooth over a painful political fight in the physical world, friendships in the virtual world form very quickly, so they can unfold just as quickly. The explosive intimacy seen at the beginning of a Facebook friendship or Tinder conversation can rupture with just a few misplaced comments on Twitter.

In the “real world,” long-term friendships often go into hospice care before they disappear. On Facebook, your best friend can become your worst enemy in one day.
So must all Facebook fights end in mutual defeat? Must we resign ourselves to posting soupy, bipartisan breaking news about “kittens who enjoy lunch,” and “hot dogs from the 90s,” and “humans who look like dogs who look like cats”? Not necessarily.
Positive feedback makes people feel good about themselves — affirmation allows people to express their values somehow, letting people pick their top values.

If that’s not possible, it’s better to ignore the tempting conversation you’re about to enter into. Arguing only feeds the monster. Arguing on Facebook is like taking your time and setting it on fire. Leave it alone, and maybe the beast will starve.

Whether it does or not, you’ll be far better off using your time productively. Go tend to your ant farm, garden, pick up a guitar or spend time with your children. Anything that strengthens you is a blow to the other side, and thus a win for you through not engaging.

In today’s age, it is impossible not to cause arguments on Facebook. The darn thing just lends itself to them. There’s some sort of weird alternate universe in social media where people are not really the people they are out in the real world. Automobiles have the same affect on people. Just cut someone off once and watch the beast appear.

While you may not be able to control when you cause an argument, you can for sure control when you contribute to it. It’s an odd contradictory conundrum anyway if you think about it, where you end up angry, grumpy, distracted and barely able to get on with your day because all you can think about is how wrong this person is, who you never talk to in real life.

At the very least, rethink your words.

You know, sometimes I think to myself: “How did this person come to my life?” And then I wonder: “Why are they still there?” Because let me tell you — every word of their flaccid, asinine, Fortune Cookie commentary is an affront both to me personally and the American education system. Why Facebook lets your pop punk ass within five miles of a keyboard is one of the great modern mysteries.


You know, sometimes I think to myself: “How did this person come to my life?” And then I realize: “I’m glad that he’s there.” I totally know where you’re coming from on vaccine dangers, and while I”m not sure I agree, your anxiety is understandable. Maybe we should talk about this more in person over coffee.

After all, that is what people do these days, isn’t it? But, maybe that’s just me. If you choose to keep on fighting, feel free.

I won’t argue with you.


4 thoughts on “The Cultural Sickness of Online Arguing, These Days

  • April 2, 2017 at 11:11 am

    No matter where you look – been watching April the Giraffe’s live feed – honestly the critical, nasty, ugly things some people say make you simply shake your head. And then there are the ones who can’t let the comment go – must reply – and so goes on and on.

  • April 2, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    That’s an opinion I can’t relate. Arguments online can’t be chalked up to people vs people. You have corporations, oh I mean people, paying businesses for AI that will argue a point.
    As far as winning an argument, facts win the day. And I cannot allow people to believe falsehoods. I have had lots of arguments and have not lost friends. But I have gotten people to look at truth.
    You can’t give in to the decay and you don’t have to be quiet.
    Have a great day.

  • April 2, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    As someone old enough to remember decades before the internet, I can honestly say life was better before it. Some things are definately handy. Shopping, looking up info, pic of grandkids. But the chat thing… mostly wastes your minutes. Minutes you will never get back. Just my thoughts.

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