If you play in the on-line political sandbox, as I do, it’s inevitable that you will be the subject of personal insults, derogations, and impugnments, often decoupled from any actual counterpoint or rebuttal to your comment. The likelihood and quickness of this sort of response increases with the political leaning of the forum in which you’re commenting. Criticize Trump on a Trumpy page, and you’ll hear about it. Criticize socialism on a proggy page, and you’ll hear about it. But, even in forums that align with your opinions, if they’re open to the world, seeing a response of the form,

You’re wrong, obviously, and you’re an idiot.

to even the driest, impersonal, and non-threatening, comment is commonplace. That such a response contains nothing of substance does not deter its frequent occurrence. Such do nothing to advance debate, or explore issues, or challenge assertions, or encourage interaction with those of differing viewpoints. They serve no purpose other than petty self-fulfillment and showing off to the like-minded. They are schoolyard and mob behavior, and do harm to the free exchange of ideas and opinions.

I’m a libertarian, and because I post libertarian-leaning opinions and comments, I will have instances of disagreement with both liberals and conservatives. This means that I’ll get abuse from both liberals and conservatives. Now, in my personal experience, I’ve concluded that I’m more likely to see immediate personal attacks from the Left than from the Right, but that’s anecdotal, and while I’d speculate that I’d be correct in asserting that progressives are more likely to attack in this fashion, I will allow the possibility that it’s because I tend to focus on matters economic and big-government in my cyber-travels, where there’s more chance of commonality with the Right and therefore less impetus for them to call me names in response. But, when I’ve delved into immigration or drug-war politics or other topics where I diverge from conservative positions, I have received those same snipes.

No matter the source, though, name-calling accomplishes nothing constructive. It can be cathartic, of course, especially after a long argument where your counterpart descends into assholery, and it can be warranted in such circumstances (when the other guy violates the social compact, you’re not obligated to remain in-bounds), but out-of-the-box insults aimed at a total stranger are nothing more than peacocking for those who already think as you do.

They’re also the product of the physical and temporal separation offered by the Internet. Mike Tyson once observed that:

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

The lack of fear of getting punched in the mouth prompts people to “muscle up,” just as they feel safe at raging at others when safely cocooned in the steel and glass of their cars (see: Internet muscles).

So, in the name of promoting a return to a degree of decorum that would advance the free exchange of ideas and opinions, I offer:

The Tyson Tenet:
Write every internet comment as if you are talking, by yourself, face-to-face, to Mike Tyson.

I’ve heard many interviews with a later-in-life Mike Tyson, and he is, by any measure, affable, honest, and extremely funny. And, I expect, he’s more reserved and tolerant than one might assume, given the antics of his youth. But, even at 53 years old, he is still Mike Tyson, and even if he hasn’t done a whit of exercise in a decade, I guarantee he remembers how to throw hands. If you’re unwilling to call him an asshole to his face for no reason other than to show off or make yourself feel superior, you’ve no business doing so to a stranger on the Internet.

Of course, I’m spitting in the wind. Base behavior such as this won’t go away, and its crowding-out of reasoned discourse has already done its damage. Many news and opinion sites have restricted or eliminated their comments sections, and many people don’t even bother engaging in public dialogue any more. That’s a loss that we should all lament.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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