When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet

I mean, you’re never going to change that asshole’s mind. Why bother engaging? Why roll the rock all the way to the top of the hill when you know it’s just going to roll right back down once you reach the top? You’d do better to conserve your passion and energy for something useful, like calling your Congressional representatives or digging a shelter to cache supplies for the coming post-Apocalyptic nightmare that will surely follow the decline and fall of the American Experiment.

And look, there probably are a hundred better things you can do with your time. And probably you should do them. I mean, we’re all going to die someday, which means our time is finite. Probably best we spend it doing positive things.

But you know what? There are some damn fine reasons to engage the shitheads, trolls, and wingnuts of the internet-o-sphere if you have the time, emotional bandwidth, and outrage to spare. So, in the spirit of, like, five years ago, let’s make a list, shall we?

1) It is (and feels) good to stand up for what you believe in.

Here, thanks to the magic of social media comment threads, is your chance not only to hit back against those odious fuckers who denigrate your most cherished beliefs and desires, but to articulate and stand up for those beliefs, out loud and proud. Hurrah! Go ye forth, then, and speak truth to assholes! Sure, they’re not going to be convinced that the productive capacity of capitalism is best constrained and directed by the human needs of literally everyone, or that people ought to be able to live as authentically and true to their historical and personal self-conception as they can be, but fuck ’em. You believe in those things, and for damn good reasons, too. So speak, sister, speak, brother, speak!

2) There ought to be a cost to being an asshole.

You know, there are people who have, to them, very good reasons to believe that there’s something special about having European ancestry, or that markets function best when untethered from the public good, or that gay people are ooky and shouldn’t be allowed to, like, gay it up all over the place. I personally disagree with those things, but there are some people who genuinely believe them, and will argue them in good faith. But too much of the time, let’s face it, people take those positions because they’re, well, assholes, and taking those positions allows them to do what assholes love best and shit all over everything. Being a recovering asshole myself, I can say that it’s a kind of compulsion, one that’s easier to indulge when there’s no pushback. So push back.

Were I to put this in commandment form, it’d go something like: Be thou kind to everyone who deserves it. But those whose unkindness makes them undeserving can go fuck themselves, and shall be told so.

3) The audience may be invisible.

Here’s where things get interesting. See, even if you’re venturing into the lion’s den, where you’re the outlier, the crazy liberal, the poor deluded social justice warrior everyone piles onto and makes fun of, there are plenty of people who may be reading along but not commenting or hitting like or whatever. People who, if they weren’t seeing what you wrote, might never hear the progressive side articulated. Who’d only hear the puppeteer words coming from folks who prefer arguing with straw men. They might not be so hardened as the one who took to the threads to talk about how women thrive best in the home or how ragheads can’t help but want to die suicide-bombing for Allah because of the virgins or because ‘they don’t value life the way we do.’ They might be persuadable. I mean, our discourse is dominated by loud minorities with extreme opinions. If we cede the universe of discourse to them then they seem more legitimate. If, however, we provide a well-thought-out, well-articulated alternative frame, it’s possible to win converts we’ll never even know about.

4) It will assuage your despair and further your resolve to keep fighting for what you believe in.

You may, like me, suffer from depression whether the world’s going to hell in a handbasket or the moral arc of the universe is bending toward justice. Or you might, like a whole great big bunch of people, find yourself getting down and depressed because the world is going to hell in a handbasket much faster than the arc of history is bending justice-ward (unless you are a member of our currently ascendent global oligarchy, in which case things are going swimmingly and you’re probably too busy laundering money through Trump-branded real estate purchases and/or enjoying some hookers and blow on one of your yachts to bother commenting on social media). Either way, the thing about depression is it’s a recursive process. It robs you not only of your joie d’vivre but your motivation to do anything to better your situation. Then, it takes that lack of motivation and action and uses it as fuel for the next round. It’s a neat trick, and tricky as fuck to get out of. But, as someone with more experience of depression than I’d wish on anybody not a member of our currently ascending global oligarchy, I can tell you that mustering motivation to do a thing – however pointless it might seem – is exactly how you break out of that funk. So stand up and tell ’em what’s what. Articulate and defend your cherished beliefs. You’ll feel better, and you’ll break the cycle of despair and get your loins all girded up for the fighting and building to come.

And, boy howdy, is there ever going to be some fighting and building to come if we’re going to turn this motherfucker around.

5) Because, dammit, what you believe in is worth fighting for.

A world where everyone gets a fair shake, where no one gets left behind; where education and health care are free, because they are good and worthy in themselves; where no one has to worry about feeding their kids, or their parents, or themselves, because the plenty we as a species are capable of producing means there’s more than enough to go around; where we choose to invest in everyone, because everyone has the potential to move us all forward; where justice and compassion go hand in hand; where preserving the planet we live on for ourselves and our posterity gets the priority it deserves, because whether we spread off-world one day or not, Earth will always be home to us, and we ought to cherish and respect that; where trade is fair and beneficial to all parties, because zero-sum games aren’t the only choice when it comes to making deals and arrangements, and the best deals are those where all sides benefit: this is a world worth fighting for, a world worth coming together to build. And while we may not see it come to fruition, nor are we excused from doing our part.

So yes. Take time for self-care. Preserve and feed the spark that drives you. Pick your battles. Choose the right hill to die on.

I’m not saying you have to engage every time. The world is too full of assholes who’ll be all too glad to shit on you and what you believe in. Who’ll tell you to kill urself, or go die in a fire. If you’re having a down day, or feeling vulnerable, scroll on and let someone else take the hit.

But if you’ve got the time, and the spark’s burning bright enough, then I for one urge you into the arena to champion what you believe in with all the eloquence and heart you can muster. You, and what you believe in, deserve no less.

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