Where do we go when we itch for a good fight? To the comments box, of course
It is said that the Internet is where good arguments go to die. I thoroughly disagree. The Internet’s all dead arguments go to get resurrected as zombies. The conversational undead stalk our world, clumsily trudging along as a horde, making growling noises and infecting everything they come in contact with. Pretty much any website with a “Leave a comment” box is potential prey. While real zombies feed on brains, this horde feeds on common sense and logic. If you are liberal, this horde will question your sexual preferences. If you do not like Shah Rukh Khan, they will question your credentials to dislike his personage. If you are an atheist, they will question your right to possess a heartbeat.
Godwin’s Law states that all Internet arguments will, in complete concordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, eventually devolve into one of the participants being compared with the former dictator of the Third Reich. Internet entropy is embodied by a blog post that has been left unmoderated for period of time. Godwin’s Law also has Indian corollaries, supplements and appendices. Indian arguments on the Internet have, in the spirit of disunity in diversity, several paths to choose. Since we are secular, we have no specific preference for a single path.
If you do not express everlasting and undying love for the country, you are clearly a citizen of our dysfunctional neighbour. If you do not like Amitabh Bachchan, clearly you must be a dark-skinned denizen of South India who swears by Rajinikanth. Most arguments either end in a Hindu-Muslim Quake death match or a North India–South India Mortal Kombat. Some take the Manoos–UP/Bihar route and a few the Kannada-Tamil side road, but one thing’s for sure: If you want to have an online wedding between good argument and gentlemanly behaviour, there’s an unmanageable Mongol force of wedding crashers waiting to invade your party.
But admittedly, it’s been a bit of a disruptive change from the time when the only way one could comment on someone else’s opinion was to send some prolix prose, liberally sprinkled with apropos-es and kudos-es, to a newspaper editor who then opted for some manner of inky-pinky-ponky to choose which ones got published. So when the comment box came along, it was almost a case of folks not quite sure how to deal with this freedom.
There are, however, smart ways to deal with poor comments online. Platforms like Reddit use voting to separate the wheat from the fungus infesting the chaff and with Google+, I’m expecting people to form circles entirely made up of people who nod their heads vigorously in agreement with their opinions. That, in my opinion, is a worse outcome than putting up with angry rants and fallacious arguments.
Edward De Bono, the renowned thinker about thinking once suggested that a debate as a form of conversation is quite non-optimal if one’s goal is to learn more about a subject. The antagonistic nature of the head-to-head argument makes it difficult for debaters to agree even with points made by their opponent they should be agreeing with. He suggests a different format where people spend half the time agreeing with one side of the proposal and the other half disagreeing. But then, that’s no fun. Debates were clearly designed as verbal gladiator fights and their primary purpose is to entertain, not to inform. But how does one find that sweet spot between freedom of expression and informative debate?
A suggestion. The next time you feel like commenting on someone’s opinions, ask yourself this: Do you want to win the argument or explore the subject? If it’s the former, hit the cancel button.
Keywords: Digital Natives