We Need To Fight More on the Internet
An article in praise of bickering with strangers
I have written more than 220 articles on Medium in the past year and a half.
A quarter-million words.
I’ve tried to pour my heart and soul into each and every one.
Never shying away from the terror and corruption of modern life.
I try to back it up with facts, averaging over ten citations per thousand words.
I try to write with unassailable logic.
And I even try to write goodly.
Each piece has one goal:
To share a perspective on how we can create widest-spread wellbeing.
It’s the only thing I care about. How can we, an eight-billion person species, survive tomorrow? How can we thrive tomorrow? What do we need to change today so that in the future we can have socioenviroeconomic sustainability and live in harmony with nature without widespread suffering?
Recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile the conundrum in which we presently find ourselves: We have millions of anti-vaxxers who will try every experimental treatment under the sun except for the #1 experimental treatment that’s proven to reduce death by Covid… the Covid vaccine. It’s led to a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s crushing our health services.
Meanwhile — never letting a good emergency go to waste — we have sociopathic politicians wanting to force people to get vaccinated or lock us all in our homes for the rest of eternity.
Last week, I proposed a reasonable middle ground: No lockdowns, no forced vaccines, but if you’re aren’t vaccinated and you get hospitalized with Covid, you have to pay out of pocket. This way, we can protect freedom of choice, sustain our health services, and can get back to normal life.
Not unsurprisingly, a teeny tiny percentage of Surviving Tomorrow’s readers lost their minds.
You should’ve read the emails.
Full grown-adults throwing absolute temper tantrums and hissy fits.
I’M TALKING ALL-CAPS SCREAMAILS!!!
The literary equivalent of a mental breakdown.
Conplet wit runonsentences and ununtellagible rammblings for peragraphs and peragraphs.
The dozen or so emails all ended the same way:
I AM NEVER READING ANYTHING YOU WRITE EVER AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
These are the times in which we find ourselves.
We’ve stopped having logic-based dialogues about important issues.
Addictive social media is radicalizing people to the extremes.
It’s taught us to ignore people we disagree with on any issue. Forever.
The second someone disagrees with us, we write them off for good.
And there’s a major problem with this: Spend enough time around any other human being on earth and you will inevitably find an intractable difference of opinion that can never be reconciled.
So what do we do?
We swallow the hyper-individualist script and slowly but surely lose relationships as we isolate ourselves from friends and family members.
Eventually, we end up completely alone.
Do you know who huddles in the corner by themselves and refuses to listen to outside perspectives?
Unstable doomsday preppers.
This sort of behavior is antithetical to widest-spread wellbeing. We need a growing middle-ground commons of reasonable, rational, patient people who can find common ground when they can, but also… disagree well.
What if, instead of writing each other off, we practiced honor, respect, and patience for one another?
Instead of running away from dissenting opinions like cowards, what if we leaned into those we disagree with?
I follow several dozen writers who I disagree with at least 90% of the time.
I’m talking about:
Pro-fossil fuels corporatists
A huge amount of “horrible” people.
But do you know what?
Not once have I ever thought “That’s it, I will never read another thing they write ever again.”
Because siloing yourself off in an echo chamber is a sign of emotional and intellectual immaturity.
It literally makes you stupid.
It’s like a madman staring at a mirror, and no matter what he says to the mirror, it always answers back, “You’re right. Everyone else is wrong.”
I even follow a large number of hardcore anti-vaxxers. They have interesting perspectives. Some are funny. Some are properly great writers. I want to hear what they have to say. I’m open to new perspectives, without having to accept them as biblical facts.
Only people who are deeply insecure can’t have their opinions challenged.
That said, always demand that your “opposition” commits themselves to hard logic and sound reason.
Never let them rage, or change the topic, without actually addressing the perspective and sources you’ve shared.
When I receive anti-vax scree in my inbox (or pro-fossil fuels propaganda, anti-population sustainability rants, libertarian freemarketeerism, etc.) I automatically delete any reply that isn’t calm, rationally defended, and well-sourced.
Often, if it’s halfway there, I’ll point out the logical fallacies, the false dichotomies, the ad hominem attacks, the incredibly poor sources, and the overt breakdowns in logic.
But let’s pretend for a moment that the anti-vaxxers are right — that this whole thing is a plandemic concocted to usher in a new world order, that this vaccine hasn’t actually saved the lives of millions of people, and that Robert Malone (despite his outrageous number of conflicts of interests) really is the second coming of Christ. Where are the orators making a truly logical, coherent, readable, and compelling case on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere?
I long for people like Socrates to take center stage on the Internet, who are first and foremost deeply reverent of human life, can construct a truly sound and unassailable argument in as few words as possible, but who also aren’t so precious as to have their ideas questioned.
Vaccinations aside, some of Surviving Tomorrow’s best readers disagree with much of what I write on all sorts of topics, but they do so in a way that respects reason. Even when they’re wrong (from my perspective), they provide a unique perspective that actually helps improve my work. We both grow wiser for it.
We need to fight more on the Internet.
We need more Ciceros and Churchills to do intellectual battle in the forum and then have pints together in the pub.
But first, we need to commit ourselves unconditionally to each other, to rational dialogue and logic, and to the pursuit of truth.
My aunt Anneli is the perfect example.
She’s a far right-wing, pro-Trump, rules-free-market, conspiracy theorist anti-vaxxer.
And I adore her.
Because we are committed first and foremost to each other as people.
Or how about this one: I had a friend ask me if she should marry this one guy — a guy she had once told me she would never marry for a litany of reasons. I repeated these reasons back to her, essentially saying, “Don’t marry him.”
Her reply? “Well… I’m marrying him and you’re emceeing the wedding, so get on the bus.”
And I did. I chose to love him and eventually came to really like him, too. I adore their kids. I miss them all every day we’re apart.
That’s what happens when you prioritize people over issues.
Several years ago, I visited a famous monastery in France called Taizé. I asked the abbot how in the world so many disparate monks managed to get along despite sharing everything in common.
His answer was simple but profound:
“We have committed ourselves to each other for life, so we have our entire lives to figure it out!”
Covid will come and go… the Democrat and Republican parties will come and go… and capitalism will come and go… and every other contentious issue will come and go… but people will remain.
Commit yourself to people, not your personal politics.
People are far more important.
And if you don’t understand this, you will end up alone, staring in the mirror, hearing nothing but, “You’re right, you’re right, you’re always right.”