Why I Will Block Your Dumb Ass (When I Wouldn’t Before)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The file still sits in my “Documents” folder, a hundred and fifty crowd-sourced pages detailing every humiliation of my teenaged years.

We called it “The Dictionary.”

Because this was before the Internet existed, my friends would write up long, cynical takes outlining the origin of every ugly nickname we’d crafted for each other, Lovecraftian descriptions of each other’s physical shortcomings, timelines of our most regrettable love affairs with snarky commentary.

Because I was the only one who had a computer with a printer, I was tasked with transcribing these massive narratives. I’d spend hours dutifully entering in these entries – even the ones raking me over the coals, especially so – and add a few of my own, then print them out in increasingly-large bundles, to be read aloud to raucous laughter at parties.

Nobody was immune. If you complained too loud about the Dictionary, we’d devise a funny name for you and then write an entry in the Dictionary about what a cry-baby you were.

See, what we did wasn’t too far beyond what other college-aged doofuses accomplished: a couple of drunken breakdowns, some lamentable hookups, a tendency towards drama.

But what set us apart was our ability to endure. We prided ourselves on being unflinchingly honest, able to look our shortcomings right in the eye. Standing tall in the face of friends who were out to degrade us was, in fact, the one thing that was never targeted for derision.

It was a very Howard Stern thing to do – which made sense, since we were in Howard Stern’s Ground Zero of broadcasting. And like Howard Stern, an ecosystem of constant insults encouraged a certain Darwinian survival technique: yes, you could tolerate being mocked for your fluttery stomach whenever you got too drunk again…

…or you could re-aim the spotlight by getting better at mocking someone else.

So it became a meatgrinder of a social group, with everyone – boys, mostly, predictably – finding new ways to point the finger. We scoured each other for new faults we could blow up into tried-and-true insults, expanded the Dictionary, hoped for our buddies to screw up at parties, with girls, at life.

And if anyone said, “Hey, this is pretty mean,” well, the one thing we all held to was that there was no mean. There was strength.

You could either take it, or you weren’t worthy.

Worthy of what?

Well, we never got so far as to ask that.

And what I came to realize as I got older was, well, that this proto-4chan social group, where the whole point was to degrade everyone as quickly as possible, was actually a way of sapping people’s potential. By reducing the goal to “mock people effectively” and “endure the insults of the people you called friends,” you quietly obliterated any other positive qualities anyone else had – their compassion, their artistic abilities, their ambition, all that became an active threat, because if there were other ways to be strong, then why were we tolerating this?

We were bound in this bizarre social contract that none of us had made yet all of us were now invested in: this concept that the only skill worth developing was a cynicism so toxic that it became all you could see.

I left that group when I took another job in another state, and it took me a while to evolve away from it. (I can’t say that some portion of my ever-present social anxiety wasn’t honed from it.) And I see those old friends on Facebook from time to time, and they seem to mostly treat those days as though it was some bizarre madness we were all gripped by.

Nowadays, I realize that a lot of what I considered to be a strength – that tolerance – was actually something socially engineered to get me to put up with behavior that no reasonable person should ever have had to endure.

So how’s that relate to blocking people?

Well, as my relationship with social media has evolved over the past *cough* two decades or so, I realize that I had a Very Liberal attitude:

I could tolerate dissenting opinions.

And as a good, flexible liberal who tolerated dissenting opinions, I’d see people spouting out absolute goddamned drivel on my feed and I’d engage with them. Because as someone who tolerated dissenting opinions, as someone committed to finding common ground, I’d dig down for long comment threads with people who had zero interest in discussing an issue, they only wanted to spout their talking points and be furious.

And I… put up with that.

I told myself that even if I didn’t convince those people, I was potentially convincing the onlookers in a thread.

I told myself that even if I saw some toxic asshole tearing up someone else’s comments, I owed it to them – as a good, flexible liberal – to see whether they might say something else more reasonable to me if they showed up on my threads some day.

I told myself that even if they came off as callous and insulting, I had to dig beneath that layer to find the thoughtful insight that simmered beneath every thinking human being.

And if they were so stupid you couldn’t even make sense of their opinions, I broke out that old limp liberal saying: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

And what I’ve come to realize is that basically, the liberal hope to reach across the aisle is, in many ways, a modified version of the Dictionary – that concept that we’ll be brutalized by idiots, and enduring their ignominy is some kind of strength.

Look. There’s legitimate debates to be had these days about legitimate issues – how much immigration do we want, and what should the path to citizenship look like? How do we want to transition an immensely complex health care system into something that provides adequate care yet keeps our cutting-edge medical technology growing? How do you balance the needs of the economy against the needs of the dignity of the citizens?

But there’s also a lot of people poisoned by Fox News talking points, the assholes showing up convinced that Soros is paying every protestor personally, that being Muslim is proof they’re a terrorist, that trans people are out to fuck kids in the bathroom.

And you know what?

Fuck those people.

Fuck ’em right in the dictionary.

Part of what I’ve come to learn is that my tolerance merely gives people the impression there’s a debate to be had. And yes, you have to be careful about what sorts of debates you shut down, or you wind up with a traditional liberal circle-jerk where we all decide – once again – that the arc of justice will naturally bend towards our magnificent way of life, and nobody would vote for Proposition 8 in California and nobody would vote for Donald Trump and even if they did the Republicans can’t be that bad because hey, the world is slanted towards liberals, don’tcha know?

(Maybe you didn’t do that. But you damn well know liberals who decided to go with Jill Stein because hey, America had fixed its gay problems, they couldn’t just walk it back, right?)

My tolerance enables people to think they have made some valid point in engaging with me, and I only debate people who are willing to have their minds changed.

More importantly, I don’t have to debate with someone to see that their minds are closed. I don’t owe these motherfuckers a chance. I can see their profile, skim a couple of comments they made, and decide there’s zero benefit in having them show up anywhere in my life.

Buh-locked, asshole.

So, you know, so much for the tolerant left. Because that version of “tolerance” keeps getting papers and major news programs to debate fucking stupid things, because every time you have fifteen professors debating some dipshit Holocaust denier it gives credence to the concept that “The Nazis mass-murdered Jews” is somehow up for debate. Every time you put a legitimate scientist up against some random hack saying climate change isn’t man-made, you leave people with the impression that it’s 50/50 instead of 98/2.

My new tolerance is this: If the argument (or person) is sufficiently stupid that I don’t want to have them siphon off my credibility by having my audience see me engaging with them, then I’ll just block those idiots.

And if you think that’s not how the right wing does it, well, watch fucking Fox News. Did they spend significant time bogged down debating credible experts who questioned the legitimacy of holding endless Benghazi hearings? Did they hold special shows asking, “Okay, Hillary’s emails were bad, but let’s look at the other politicians, many of them conservative, that also broke these laws, and here’s how we’re devoting equal time to their sins?”

No. They did what I’m doing now: they’re just not bothering to have the conversation.

And do I want to be more like Fox News? Not particularly. But I’ve come to realize the tolerant left is essentially a one-way propagation for propaganda: Fox news gins up some controversy to say “Hey, do you believe what these liberals are doing?” and the liberal papers fall all over themselves to report it because they are fair. And then the liberals say, “Hey, do you believe what the conservatives are doing?” and it does not appear on Fox news because only one side is interested in having that discussion.

You can, of course, lament the death of honest debate in our country. But for one thing, I’m not killing off honest debate – I’m killing off ill-informed talking points I don’t feel like giving airtime to. And second, before you bitch at me about how I shouldn’t do that, maaaaaaybe aim your complaints to the massive, worldwide network that carries infinitely more weight than one single blogger with less than five thousand active readers.

Think about who you’re rewarding.

Because me? I’ll just block freely these days. I don’t need to endure idiots to prove some illusory strength – particularly since the end goal of both methods, intended or not, is to tear me down.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Oct 24, 2018

    I had a friend group not unlike the one you describe when i was in High School, and I still remember the day one of my friends literally asked out loud why we were always being mean to each other like that. It probably wasn’t as instantaneous as I’d like to remember, but after that we largely stopped.

    -Alex

  2. William Starr
    Oct 25, 2018

    This is an absolutely magnificent piece of writing. What’s so depressing is that the rabid would’ve-cheered-for-Hitler right — “Make Germany Great Again!” — _will_ be beaten back sometime (starting I hope on November 6th), and when that happens we’ll all go back to being good little tolerant liberals again, because as best as I can tell we never, ever, learn.

    • The Ferrett
      Oct 25, 2018

      Alas, I wish I believed that. Because I think voter suppression and hacked voting machines will make it a close, if plausible, race where the Republicans are always slightly on top now.

  3. Imrix
    Oct 25, 2018

    It’s also just a matter of saving yourself time and aggravation. There’s a curious idea among trolls; they interpret being blocked as a kind of victory, a demonstration of ‘cowardice’ on the part of their would-be victim, as if we’re refusing to hear out their drivel because we can’t handle it.

    But nah, it’s just clearing out litter that would otherwise be clogging up our social media feed. As you say, we know how that kind of ‘debate’ will turn out, and it’s about as fruitful as trying to talk to a porn bot. Blocking it is no different.

    • The Ferrett
      Oct 25, 2018

      As I said to someone yesterday: “I’ll know from your response to this whether you’re worth talking to. And if I decide to block you, it’s not because I am afraid of debate; it’s because I’ve decided you’re not worth wasting time on.”

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