Refusing To Engage Does Not Equal Victory

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

If I refuse to argue with you, that doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument. It means I’m not choosing to engage with you personally at the moment.
There is a difference.
The Internet is the refuge for people with too goddamned much time on their hands, and in general that’s glorious.  Do I have time to create, say, a full-on Transformers costume that lets you actually transform?  Or spend time mastering the art of making Walking Dead pancakes?  Hell no.  But I get to turn on Twitter every morning and watch a stream of awesomely unproductive people work their magic for me.
But for every dude/ette who’s spending hours relentlessly filming ping-pong balls, there’s someone who’s devoted their full time to arguing with people.  And they have packed themselves full of facts.  Or things that look like facts, anyway.  They’re certainly taken from web pages on the Internet.
And here’s the thing: they all want to interface with you directly.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had this argument somewhere else on the Internet, or even have a separate thread on this very blog entry where you’re refuting their points, they just got here and by God they won’t be happy until you personally have debated with them extensively.  And so if you’re not careful, if a blog post gets even a moderate bit of Internet attention, you’ll wind up having the same conversation with a hundred different newcomers, each certain that they will be the sole person who changes your mind on this topic, each much like a cut-and-copy of the ninety-nine other people who’ve come before them.
Worse, this is their version of “too goddamned much time on their hands,” and so they have many facts.  Why is it so hard to debate evolution and make it convincing to laymen?  Because the anti-evolution people have entire encyclopedias worth of factually wrong content that sound convincing until you dig deeper, these scientific “studies” couched in tech-talk, and refuting them isn’t that hard but boy does it take time looking up each link and finding the counter-argument and summarizing it and posting it.
99% of what the creationists are spouting is bullshit, whereas 99% of the evolutionary arguments are factual hypotheses. But again, when you take someone who considers it their full-time job to push this view forward, and they aren’t particularly scrupulous about where they get their data, then eventually refuting them point-by-point becomes like stamping out cockroaches.
Or worse yet, they have actually good data, but you feel their interpretation is skewed, and now you have to read the studies and discuss what you think that really means.
And keep in mind, I believe in interfacing with these people, if you’ve got the energy for it.  Yes, ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are intransigent, and are merely here to spout whatever extensive talking points they’ve scraped up – but if even one out of a hundred is reachable, then converting that extra 1% is the sort of math that changes elections.
Yet my point remains: if you’re a blogger of any significant size, you could spend all the rest of your days arguing with replies on the Internet.  And to quote Mitchell and Webb, “The football will never stop!  The football is officially going on forever!  It will never be finally decided who has won The Football!”
At some point, you have to say, “I might be able to convince this person of the error of their ways, but I have a lover and work and and a fun game to play and other more interesting blog posts to write.”
And you leave.
That decision does not mean that the other person has won the debate.  It means that you refuse to engage, because you have other priorities that individually convincing each person who shows up in your life of the correctness of your decision.
This is the Internet.  There are people with infinite time on their hands, people who will spend an entire week doing nothing but rabidly posting rebuttals.  But “infinite spare time” is not the same as “good logic” or “well-sourced credentials” or, in fact, any of the things that make for a compelling argument.  There are plenty of writers with infinite spare time, endlessly churning out stories, who never get good at writing fiction, because they’re just writing the same story over and over again and never listening to feedback.
“Spare time” is not the defining factor of anything: “quality of effort” is.
And when you go, “Ha!  They weren’t willing to engage me, so they lost!” what you are actually saying is, “The person who has the most time to waste discussing things will inevitably be the victor.”  In which case I’ll just hook you up against an Elizabot, who never tires of arguing Gamergate, and tell you she’s the winner.
“But that bot is stupid!” you cry.  “She always says the same thing!  There’s no chance of changing her mind!”
Yes.  Precisely.

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