The internet brings out the worst in people

I seem to have made James K. A. Smith angry. As so often happens to me in blog conversations, my perhaps over-forceful articulation of my argument has led to personal attacks — or actually, meta-“personal attacks,” accusing me of making personal attacks.

It’s the classic asymmetry: I say they misunderstand something specifically, they come back with, “Oh, you’re sooooooooooo smart, you’re the only one who understands anything!”; I forcefully state a disagreement, they come back with, “You’re an intolerant asshole who can’t stand for anyone to disagree with you!” Are you sure about that last one? Who’s the one overreacting to disagreement here, really?

Say what you will of the limitations of question and answer sections at academic conferences — the social pressures that come with being physically present to others restrain this kind of behavior, at least until we regroup with our friends and start trash-talking people behind everyone’s back.

Now you’d think that a blog setting, with its lack of space limitations and its time-delayed format, would allow for a much richer conversation than could ever be possible at a conference. In practice, though, its removal of the face-to-face element most often seems to lead to a thorough interweaving of the shallow Q&A session and the post-session bitching to one’s friends. It’s a marvel of efficiency, if you think about it — like a compressed academic conference, plus Cheetos!

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3 Responses to “The internet brings out the worst in people”

  1. Adam R Says:

    I read a bunch of those comments. It was awesome.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Contentious comment threads can be weirdly addictive, even (or especially) for non-participants with little stake in the supposed content being argued.

  3. Grant Says:

    They certainly can be, Adam. If there really is a gnostic cult that you are all involved in, I hope I can join. I’ll reciprocate by allowing you to join my homosexual cabal.


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