Save Yourself from Internet-Assholes & Their Opinions

August 31, 2016

Oh, the Internet! So much information, so much connection, so much innovation – and so many opportunities for people to be assholes. Leave it up to certain human beings to transform an incredible opportunity for dialogue, idea exchange, and social improvement into another place to whine, complain, and – most of all – have an opinion.

Because we all know that great advancements in human history have come about because of some guy’s opinion, amirite?

We’ve all been there: “innocently” entering into a conversation on social media, only to find ourselves – hours later – exhausted, confused and pissed off with the virtual person on the other end of the keyboard. What’s more, even having allowed yourself to become so emotionally involved in something so silly – like a stupid Facebook post, a casually posted Tweet, or a news article comment – adds yet another layer of shame-infused frustration.

But the Internet ain’t going nowhere, and neither are its collection of assholes. Some of us refer to them as “trolls” – but personally I think the Internet-age term distracts from the reality that, no, these people are just plain old assholes. Nothing more, nothing less. And to save yourself from the massive waste of time Internet-assholes want to suck out of you, the first thing you need to be able to do is identify those who are worthy of your online time, and those who just ain’t.

In my opinion.

On behalf of everyone on the Internet, I’d like to congratulate IMHO-assholes everywhere for sharing their opinions. Thanks, truly! But I need to know more about your opinion! Tell me, what’s your opinion on the following definition of “opinion”?

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At its core, an opinion is a flimsy belief put together by flimsier information, like anecdotal evidence, and the Internet is a factory for mass-produced opinions. Sure, some opinions are harmless – like your opinion on what fruit I should add to my sangria this weekend at the cottage (would peaches and cherries be a good mix?). Other opinions, however, can be damaging – especially when we make decisions and form beliefs based on an uninformed opinion.

You’ll encounter IMHO-assholes regularly on the Internet. They are big fans of ending statements with “Just saying” or “I call ’em as I see ’em” – statements which might sound conclusive, but in actual fact mean nothing. Like literally absolutely nothing. There’s really no point in engaging with someone whose contributions to an argument are based solely on opinion. IMHO-assholes are not interested in any sort of exchange of ideas; on the contrary, their main goal is to reinforce their flimsy, insecure opinions by repeating them over and over, and ignoring your contributions.

What’s most amusing about opinionated Internet-assholes is that they often perceive themselves as heroes taking the hard road in a fight against the tyranny of political correctness and polite conversation.

But in actual fact the opposite is true; they are taking the easy road. Having an opinion is the easiest thing in the world to do; anyone can do it. Being open to questioning your own beliefs is much harder. In fact, it’s more than hard: it’s brave, it’s courageous, it takes effort, and it’s a skill very few people actually have.

The Internet is a breeding ground for logical fallacies.

Having a basic understanding of the most common logical fallacies will add hours of happiness to your online life. A logical fallacy is a fancy way of saying a flaw in reasoning, one that – at first glance – might seem to make sense, but doesn’t when you take a step back.

Here’s a few of the most common ones Internet-assholes love to confuse you with:

1. Generalization Fallacies

There are many different types of generalizing statements, but in general (see what I did there) these are statements that define a complex thing – like an entire group of people, for example – into a singular statement to make it easier to understand.

For example:
The Millenial generation has an unearned sense of entitlement.

While this might be true about some young people, it doesn’t follow that it’s true for all young people – and for that reason the statement is ultimately false. Generalizing statements like this one negate the reality that the world and the people and things in it are highly complex. If your goal is to genuinely try to understand something and make decisions based on that understanding, building your opinion on generalizing statements will only distance you from that goal.

2. False Analogy Fallacy

Internet-assholes just love to use analogies to reinforce their opinions. While analogies can be harmlessly fun – like the analogy I created in this post from a while back – during constructive dialogue they’re only purpose is to confuse the issue and reinforce a flimsy opinion.

For example:
Introducing a basic income for all citizens would be the same as telling people they don’t need to work.

Like generalizations, false analogies are commonly used to reduce a complex issue into something tangible that supports an uninformed opinion. The example above rests on false logic because it assumes that the only reason people work is the promise of a paycheque. While that’s a big reason (perhaps the main reason) there are other reasons people work, like contributing to the common good, a passion for something, a desire to keep busy, etc.

False analogies are easy statements to spot, too, typically starting with “That would be like…” or “That’s no different than…”. But the reality is that one complex thing is never exactly like another complex thing. They might have similarities, sure, but similar does not necessarily mean the same.

3. False Dilemma Fallacy

Also known as black-and-white thinking, or the fallacy of either-or, a false dilemma happens when only two, opposing options are presented, when there are more than two options to be considered. This fallacy is common in asshole discussions about things like religion vs. science, or left-wing politics vs. right-wing.

For example:
I’m against religion because science is a more logical way of understanding the world.

This is flawed logic because it carries the assumption that the world can only be understood either in religious terms, or scientific terms. It neglects at least one other possibility: that a person can understand the world in both scientific and faith-based ways at the same time without internal conflict. From that perspective, the statement has created a false dilemma of choice in a discussion where a choice doesn’t need to be made.

Calling out fallacies of logic and resisting the urge to respond to them is the simplest way to prevent discussions from moving forward supported by that false logic – because they won’t go anywhere that’s useful.

If it’s not about dialogue, there’s simply no point.

Like any situation involving people, there are those people who are worthy of your time, and those who are not. The Internet is no different; its anonymity and lack of face-to-face contact are open invitations for the opinionated asshole hiding inside people to come out. While it’s important to be open to discussion, what’s not important is having those discussions with Internet-assholes.

Keep your discussions within the realm of dialogue: that magical form of discussion that invites two or more people together to share ideas, ask each other questions, and leave the discussion having grown a little bit. When you find yourself drawn into an Internet conversation, take a step back and ask yourself:

“Is this really about an exchange of ideas, or are we simply reinforcing our opinions?”

If it’s the former clause, by all means, dialogue away! Open yourself up and be genuinely receptive to the possibility of sharing thoughts, considering what the other person has to say, and maybe even questioning your own beliefs. If it’s the latter, then take it from me: You might as well just flog a dead horse.

Don’t get me wrong, either; it’s not easy. Many of us are confronted on a daily basis by Internet assholery and it takes strength to not fall into the trap of responding to it. Try approaching it as a favour to your self: There is a surplus of negativity out there in the world, and you don’t need it in your life. Let everyone else have their issues, while you focus on what really matters: improving yourself and reserving your passionate energy for the real, live people in your life.

But anyway, that’s just my opinion.

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