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Just remember – we’re not independent and we’re all idiots

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of taking a class called “Oral English” which was one hour a week and in it Year 10 students were meant to improve their oral skills by short talks, debating and intelligent discussion of issues. The intelligent discussion of issues nearly always descended into them raising their voices and insulting each other at which point I’d bring a halt to proceedings and remind them of the rules of the class.

One day, instead of doing the same ineffective thing, I simply asked them, “When was the last time that someone changed your mind by yelling at you? Or by insulting you?” The general consensus was never. “Then why do you think it’ll work when you do it?’

“We don’t,” said one girl.

“Then why do you do it?” I asked

“Because it feels good.”

“Well, just so long as you’re not expecting to win the argument or change anyone’s mind.”

I sometimes think of this when I read long arguments in the comments section. Am I commenting to change people’s mind, or am I just doing it because it feels good?

On various sites, I’ve had exchanges with people that have started to resemble the Stockholm syndrome. I’ve gone missing for a few days and they comment that they were missing me when I return. On one site, I was accused of being “brainwashed by the (left-wing) mainstream media” (ha!) and told to think for myself. This was often followed by a link where someone would tell me how to think for myself. (One would alternate between links to show that Australia was the ONLY country taking action on climate change and links to show that action on climate change was part of a global conspiracy to establish world government because that’s what the left wing and rich people have conspired to do)

There’s quite an interesting little article that suggests that facts and figures don’t matter much. People’s interpretation will sway even simple mathematics. A good example of this is The Australian’s recent “leak” of the IPCC report which suggesting that warming was only 0.12C a decade not 0.2C. This is being reported as nothing to worry about, after all, rather than, thank god, we still might be able to do something about it. There’s no “it’s definitely warming so all that guff about the planet cooling is just wrong”. (Or, to put the figures in another context, would you be happy if you were told that a particular line in the supermarket was only responsible for 12 deaths in a thousand, instead of the reported 20?).

When I wrote “Dealing With Trolls and Liberals”, I had a couple of people attack me as suggesting that anyone who disagreed with me was a troll. They obviously didn’t get the irony of the title. It was actually suggesting that people needed to be careful about doing just that, but it was also suggesting that the Abbott led Liberal Party was behaving exactly like a troll.

The Urban Dictionary defines a troll thus:

1a. Noun One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

1b. Noun A person who, on a message forum of some type, attacks and flames other members of the forum for any of a number of reasons such as rank, previous disagreements, sex, status, etc.
A troll usually flames threads without staying on topic, unlike a “Flamer” who flames a thread because he/she disagrees with the content of the thread.

1c. Noun A member of an internet forum who continually harangues and harasses others. Someone with nothing worthwhile to add to a certain conversation, but rather continually threadjacks or changes the subject, as well as thinks every member of the forum is talking about them and only them. Trolls often go by multiple names to circumvent getting banned.

I’ve decided to adopt three rules for trolls:

  1. Be careful not to define every person who disagrees as a troll, but where the person simply starts with abuse and doesn’t actually mention any of the issues raised in the blog, it’s a fair bet.
  2. Don’t let them change the topic. If the blog was on the NDIS, for example, don’t enter into a discussion with them about the “School Hall fiasco”. I intend to calmly tell them that I talked about that on a different post, and their comment would be more relevant there, and give them a link to a post which has nothing to do with what they’re talking about. (One can continue to do this with every comment they make.)
  3. Remember what that girl in my Oral English class said about doing it because it feels good. If you find yourself getting upset or frustrated, it’s safer to ignore them. Or, if you can’t do that, refer to them by name and say something like, “It’s because of idiots like you that we’ve now got a Labor Government”. Confuses them no end, but it’ll also help them achieve their aim, which is to ensure that the comments AREN’T about the blog, or the information being presented. The other option if they bring up the Pink Batts is to ask them exactly what the GOVERNMENT did wrong, and refer them to the report by Alan Hawke, where it was found that the rate of problems was no higher than normal and that scale had more to do with the number of faulty installations.

It’s also interesting that any criticism of Tony Abbott and company is quickly turned into a demand that people writing on this site, justify everything that the Labor government did. As I’ve pointed out on many occasions, I am not a member of the Labor Party or the Greens, and don’t feel the need to apologise for time these parties have got it wrong. For some of you, that may be different and you may feel a compelling need, but try not to let the topic be changed by people who’s main aim is to disrupt. (If the discussion is about whose turn it is do the dishes, don’t let it get sidetracked to how you left the margarine out of the fridge last week.) The Labor Government has been voted out of office. I accept the “will of the people”. If the discussion is about the current government, trolls bringing up Kevin, Julia, Pink Batts, School Halls or debt should get their own blog, or stick to what’s being discussed.

And no, that’s not stifling your “free speech”, any more than the fact “The Age” doesn’t always publish my letters or when the commercial channel’s decided not run GetUp!’s ads. (If you want to argue about the free speech issue, your comments would be welcome here.)


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