How To Not Be An Asshole During Political Debates: The Easiest Method

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the best tricks the conservative troll ever learned was the Kobayashi Maru of troll tricks: the “You’re supposed to be inclusive!” cat-call.  Which is to say that the conservative troll becomes increasingly abusive, occupying your time with shoddy arguments and half-assed insults.  Just as you’re declaring this argument to be a waste of time and energy, they say with glee:
“Hey!  I guess you can’t really deal with other people’s world views, huh?  You’re so closed-minded!”
Thus, you’re left with two options: continuing to engage someone who’s patently insane…. or blocking them and reinforcing their world view that yes, those Democrats are sheltered and unable to deal with real argument.
But there is something even worse you can do in the course of a political argument, and here’s where I encourage you to strenuously avoid it.
It started with a debate with a usually-sane conservative friend of mine, who irrationally complained that Obama was “trying to lock [Ryan] fast into a box defined by what they think they can beat most easily.”  To which I replied that this was politics, not liberal politics, in that trying to lock the opponent into a box is what you do, even if the Republicans are usually better at that locking.
*Cue the sound of troll feet jumping into the argument*
The troll in question then said, quasi-reasonably enough, “They DID make hay with Bush’s past. They even invented some when that wasn’t enough (Texas Air Nat’l Guard smear).”  To which I replied that “And Republicans haven’t? Obama’s a Muslim/Kenyan/lazy. The point is, both sides try all the time; only some sticks.”  Not a terrible interplay.
At which point he said, “Muslim/Kenyan/lazy is an accruate reflection of his origin. He is certainly not culturally African American.”  So I replied, “If you believe he’s a Muslim, then you’re sufficiently removed from reality that I don’t see a need to engage. Enjoy.”
Cue flurry of angry responses, because what he meant was that Obama wasn’t a Muslim, but he had Muslim origins, and he’s an Arab and you’ll find virtually no one named Hussein who isn’t from a Muslim family, and how dare I misintepret his Tweet to say that he thinks Obama is a Muslim, and “His origins aren’t an issue. His socio-economic ideology is, and it’s based in a failure and is alien to American culture” and “Having lived in E.Germany, I know his core group’s methods: demagoguery, phony class enemies, strawmen, vote-buying.”
Which is a sucky argument, since my point was that the right has smeared Obama as a Muslim – not a man of Muslim origins, but a fucking Muslim now, with around 15% of the population thinking it despite it’s not being actually, you know, true.  And I called him on it, saying that “your own dismal ability to process is the issue, not my unworldiness” and exited the argument.
At which point, over the next couple of hours, he kept leaving increasingly insulting messages to me – “is baiting people all that your political view amounts to? Stay in your ethnographic bubble, sparky” – and finally ending with “Hey, have you called anyone ‘Chimpy’ lately?”, referencing the calling of Dubya Chimpy McFlightSuit, at which point I moved towards the “block” button.
Now.  Here’s how you avoid being a political asshole.
You might suspect that the problem here was his argument, but that’s not it; it was a shoddy argument that relied on the disjunct between “I believe Obama has Muslim origins” and “the conservatives have successfully caused a large percentage of people to believe that Obama is a Muslim,” but that could be explained away by Twitter’s crappy 140-character limit.  I might have engaged more if this had taken place in my journal, where there was more space to talk.
The assholeness was assuming that since I was a Democrat, all Democrats do this.
I blocked him because I personally find it offensive to call Dubya “Chimpy,” and have never been thrilled with those who do.  I have a friend who posts all sorts of Photoshopped images of Romney and Paul on Facebook, making them the Ambiguously Gay Duo or the Munsters or whatnot, and to me it’s disrespectful.  Romney and Paul’s policies are so offensive that frankly, that should be enough – and calling them silly nicknames just makes it harder to actually get across the point that these guys are terrible for America.  As a Democrat, I’m against it.
But to this dude, because I’m liberal, this is naturally what I do.
That’s how you become an asshole.  Pigeonholing.
I’ve seen it time and time again – “Oh, you’re a Democrat?  You fucking hate guns!”  Well, no, I don’t.  “You’re a Democrat?  All you want to do is tax small business-owners!”  Well, no, actually, I think encouraging low business taxes is what makes America great.  (In fact, one of the main reasons I want socialized health care is so it’s that much easier for people to start their own business and not having to worry about paying exorbitant COBRA rates to protect their families.)  “You’re a Democrat?  Aww, you atheist scumbag!”
Look.  As a Democrat, I’m a unique person, not some fucking stereotype who chugs all the Democratic Kool-Aid.  I have serious problems with liberals, and I’m not down with everything they do – but there’s only two parties in this country that have a reasonable chance of getting elected, and the Democrats have more of what I want.
Treating me as though I had all the traits of your stereotypical Democrat just because I’ve expressed one wins you no points.  It tells me that you have demonized the enemy to the point where they’re a homogenous slur, where you don’t interact with the real world because to you, anyone who disagrees with you must adopt all the opposites to your world view.
That makes you a dick.
And Liberals!  You’re not exempt!  Time and time in this journal, I’ve seen people leave comments about their desire for lowered taxes – and idiot liberals have assumed that because they’re for low taxes, they hate gays and are die-hard Christians who want to put women in chains and hey, you fucking Reagan lover!  And that’s not cool, either.  I suspect many Republicans are in the same state that I am – which is to say, hey, I’m not entirely happy with the way my party’s going, but at this point in time there’s slightly more to like on my side… so reluctantly, I stand over here, wishing there was a third party who had what I really believed in. (And could, you know, get elected.)
Want to not be an asshole in a political debate? Don’t assume.  Ask what their take is on something, and then debate that.  But don’t debate people like they stood for the monolithic and ill-defined strategy of an entire political movement unless they’re actually leading that movement.  And don’t assume that any one person automatically has all the worst traits of the people you loathe.  They don’t.
In short: when debating, remember that people are unique. Thank you.

1 Comment

  1. Jericka
    Aug 17, 2012

    “In fact, one of the main reasons I want socialized health care is so it’s that much easier for people to start their own business and not having to worry about paying exorbitant COBRA rates to protect their families”
    My sister in law is a small business person. She has been horribly worried about being uninsured due to not being able to afford the expenditure for the insurance that was available to a single(widowed) person not employed by a corporation with bargaining clout.
    And yet, she is Republican and spouts the party line against socialized medicine and Obamacare. The insurance exchange idea is actually similar to something that SHE suggested a number of years ag0, before Obama was elected.
    I have a friend who was a teacher, and now is very underemployed tutoring and such. He forwards me tea party propaganda and talks about cutting government spending.
    I have friends who are gay or bisexual, and they dislike Obama and don’t quite want to vote for Mitt, and I keep pointing them at Gary Johnson, because though he probably can’t get elected president as a Libertarian, at least he wants government out of the bedroom?
    I don’t worship Obama, as some Republicans accuse Democrats of doing, but he is probably the only one that I can vote for. Gary Johnson would be second choice, though not realistic in our very two party system and with the scarce press he has gotten….
    Romney scares me, though, if only for the possible court nominees that he’d pick.

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