Should I Bother Arguing People In Facebook Comments?
By David Metcalfe
September 1, 2019
Something I’ve spent hours on- probably hundreds already so far this year- is arguing with people on Facebook. Sometimes it’s friends who post something, or it’s a celebrity, or it’s some kind of news outlet. I study certain topics constantly (especially political philosophy), and am very well educated, so it’s not difficult for me to spot things I find wrong, whether in terms of logic used or evidence presented.
And on social media, there’s a never ending supply of wrong- from completely absurd to stupid to biased to almost reasonable but missing a couple things and more- there is a wide range of things I feel the need to correct. People do not like it…at all.
People call me all kinds of horrible things. Right wing people’s personal attacks towards me are typically: arrogant, liberal snowflake, communist, unpatriotic, and they’ll sometimes accuse me of being brainwashed into some kind of generic liberal agenda.
Left wing people’s personal attacks towards me are typically: racist, sexist, homophobe, transphobe, and a plethora of hating me for being a “straight, white male”.
Not only am I regularly insulted, but I’ve also lost friends because of my comments, made lots of people feel embarrassed or bad about themselves, and had mobs of people mock or get very angry at me.
So, why on earth would I keep doing it?
I don’t really know what it is that forces my mind to think of large, abstract ideas so much. My family and friends would much rather I hit my head with a hammer several times and become dumb enough to join them in pursuing material possessions, living vicariously through athletes and celebrities, spending majority of my time expending hard labor for an hourly wage, and accepting the philosophies handed down to me by my social community.
But I would be very depressed doing that. I’ve tried many times to be more normal, but it doesn’t work for me- I just hate it.
So what I am is basically a freaking weirdo who does his own thing. But it’s not really “on my own” as much as it would seem. It’s just that I’ve never met many of my co-workers, and several are dead. I read and learn from a lot of old books- from the Ancient Greeks to the Bible to the Enlightenment Thinkers, etc. I read a lot of new books- from United Nations leaders and former Presidents to economists to philosophers to social psychologists, etc. I also read a lot of magazines- “The New Yorker”, “The Economist”, “The Atlantic”, “Maclean’s”, etc.
What I see from all these great thinkers is exactly what you would expect- great ideas. This makes the contrast to social media very stark. It’s quite alarming to put down a book from a Nobel Prize winning economist and then scroll down to see some random person critique our taxation system with “the government is stealing from rich people and that’s bad” or “welfare makes people poorer”. I have to say something. But honestly, it’s not really me saying most of the things I say; I’m repeating what the world’s top experts are saying.
What I then get to see play out is a meeting of the minds, so to speak. Like, what would happen if Jeffrey Sachs tried to explain global development to a redneck idiot who thinks America should stop trading with other countries and just manufacture all of their own products? Or what would happen if Stanley A. Cohen tried to explain criminal justice to someone who thinks all criminals should be put in prison for life and never let out?
What I see is a scared, angry, and stupid reaction, in majority of cases. The redneck idiot would say to Jeffrey Sachs, “you’re a stupid liberal and you hate America!” The person who thinks criminals should be locked up forever would say to Stanley A. Cohen, “you just want to let criminals out so they can rape and murder everyone, you sick freak.”
Now, Jeffrey Sachs and Stanley A. Cohen never bothered to speak to idiots ever, on social media or in person. To even talk to them, you need to get high grades and pay huge money to be a student in their class at Columbia or Mcgill. Or, you need to be some kind of top professional in their field. You can read their books, sure, but only educated people understand them to begin with, and even then, you don’t get to really dialogue.
But I enjoy bringing these large, super-intellectual ideas down to the simpletons in a way they can understand. Sure, they do not appreciate it, and I’m not sure how much gets through to them, but I do see many people thinking and engaging the concepts in a greater capacity- i.e. they are learning.
I also learn- I learn how to more effectively engage with people on big ideas, I learn what kinds of false ideas are out there and how I can work to address them, I learn about when to end a debate and when to continue one, on and on, I get to learn.
At the core, I believe in two things: truth and goodness. I believe those things are found and achieved best by effective education: an education that teaches one to use reason and evidence, to respect expert opinion, and to seek the moral good in any situation.
I believe that in our world today, ideas are shared more on social media than anywhere else. The people around me don’t study anything. To them, “studying” is the word used to describe a chore one does the night before an exam. But I do study, and I have a duty to impart that knowledge to the world. I have a duty to correct logical flaws, to question and present counter evidence, and to demand others to appeal to basic moral good.
But I don’t have time for every rabbit trail from every crazed lunatic who thinks they’ve solved the national debt or that all the white people need to move to California or whatever thing. I have to choose my battles. But if I’m right about the issue, and the other person is clearly wrong, I make sure I win. I make sure I comment enough, and allow them to respond enough, to the point where any reasonable third party would see that my view is the correct one. Them insulting me right off the bat instead of using evidence? Them spouting some insane lunacy to justify their position, with no basis in any basic education? Them fumbling back their argument with more and more ad hoc justifications? Them clearly misquoting and misunderstanding the things I’m saying? The list goes on…but I make sure of it.
So, go ahead and post something political, but if I comment a counter argument, be prepared to change your opinion, lose the debate, or get very angry at me. Unless, however, you actually study the issue, in which case we will just have a normal and edifying discussion sharing information and ideas. I wish I had more of the latter type, but then my life would be too easy.
I do think, however, as I get more involved in actual things and get busier discussing these sorts of topics with actual experts, that I may lose the desire to continue engaging random simpletons in Facebook comments. It’s hard to care about some plumber in Arizona who thinks people with criminal records should still get AK-47s when I’m interviewing the chief of police for an investigative article on firearm background checks, or to discuss why the free market needs regulations with some idiot who thinks the central bank is a scam run by Jews when I’m working with communities in Africa trying to get their economies more developed.
So, that is to say, I think my days of engaging random simpletons may be numbered, but I do hope I am always able to find time in my life to meet people where they’re at, correct them where needed, and share things I’ve learned to help them, and myself, be more knowledgeable on big, important things.