When did “discussion” become a bad thing?

Warning: many words ahead. No pictures, no soundbites . . . nothing but words expressing my opinion.

The Internet has become a contentious marketplace of canned ideas, and I have a hard time adjusting. Gone are the days of nuanced and meaningful discussions. Perhaps, those days are no more than a false memory, a figment of wishful thinking.

Whether I changed or others changed, the result is the same. It’s getting increasingly difficult to “learn” anything from anyone. Oh, sure, I can learn the canned message, the blanket generalization, the “easy” solution to whatever cause-de-jour is trumpeted by this, that, or the other side.

On a related matter, I’ve made Facebook “friends” by way of specific interests. Outside those interests, we have near-zero in common. How is that related to the opening of this piece?

I can count on very few fingers the number of people whose opinions I respect. Their opinions may be counter to mine, but they have earned my respect and I will listen to them . . . especially when their opinions counter mine.

“What does that even mean?”

Well, Bob, it has to do with a word I like:

Nuance – sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value).

Here’s a word I dislike to no end:

Dogma –  a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

There’s very little I don’t like about the series Firefly and the movie Serenity, but I do object to Book’s dying words:

“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

I know what the phrase means in the context of the movie but, frankly, it’s CRAP. Belief without reasoned and persistent questioning, without doubt, is dogma.

Pick whatever issue, and there are three levels of responses you should be aware of, both within yourself and others.

The first is based on idealism. Examples: there should be no poverty. There should be no crime. There should be no hate. All people should be free to live/do/follow what they believe in. All people should love and care for each other. Your view of the world around you is shaped by the highest ideals one could aspire to.

The second is based on personal experiences. Examples: you know someone who drinks or does drugs and they a) are unaffected, b) are really messed up, c)  complete assholes. You know someone who is religious, atheist, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, or anything you care to pick, and they are a) wonderful human beings, b) sanctimonious uncaring ideologues bastards, c) a mix of a & b. You decide based on what you experience. Opinions are strong in you, for thine own eyes have seen the ways of people and the world.

The third is based on peer/social pressure. Examples: you have no experience and have never met a gay person, don’t know anyone of another nationality, have little contact with people of different races, are clueless about the teachings of other religions, and so on. You shape your opinion based on what others have experienced or say they have experienced, especially if your own experiences are lacking in the subject.

Understand, I am not a social psychologist or any kind of psychologist. Also, I’m not a philosopher beyond being an observer, and a biased at that, of human nature. I’m sure there are others who will point to less or more responses based on all sorts of criteria.

The three I mention above are what I see in myself and everyone I meet. Here’s the thing; the actual response of any individual is based on mixing and matching those three responses, idealism, personal experience, and peer pressure, in various quantities.

It’s a dynamic mix and match. How much weight you give each of the responses is constantly adjusted based on what you see, hear, read, and, of course, what you experience.

All of it coalesces into weaving a “narrative”. We have narratives for everything we experience; it’s how we make decisions, and that’s good. Here’s what’s bad: we simplify those narratives so that our decisions are “easy”. Humans, for having the gift of reason, are curiously reluctant to put it to work. We want the easy decision, simple answer, clear-cut, black-and-white answer. It makes our lives simpler, you see; no thinking involved.

I mean, who needs nuances? 

If you start looking at nuances, you immediately see all sorts of problems. All those idealized viewpoints ignore the basic nature of human beings. We can talk about how humans “should” behave, but that has nothing to do with reality. By definition, “ideal” is something we can and should strive for, but even then, people will differ on what “ideal” means.

Those personal experiences? Well, they only apply to you, and only in your immediate sphere of influence. You can’t even begin to understand how or why the person down the street makes decisions that are different from yours, let alone people half way around the state, country, or the world. Sure, we can all roughly agree on what is good or bad, but it’s the getting there, the details on how to achieve a goal that sets us at odds with others, especially if we can’t even acknowledge that someone else’s problem is a “real” problem. After all, can’t they see that our own problems are much more pressing and important?

Your buddies, of course, are going to agree with you; that’s why they are your buddies, right? I mean, who wants to drift away from the easy, the black-and-white, the world of certainty, and into the quagmire and confusion of a gray world? Who wants naysayers questioning our narratives?

Damn few, I can tell you.  

Why this post? Because I am about to dump a whole bunch of Facebook friends.

Mind you, I have nothing against them, but they are not really my friends. We have one or two common interests, but that’s it.

“So?” you ask.

Well, the problem is that many are dogmatic in their narrative. Tribal, even, and I less I speak up, my association with them makes it seem as if I’m part of their tribe. Many post blurbs that tempt me to engage them in discussions. This is especially true when they post this or that blurb designed to enhance their own narrative and denigrate all others.

Blurbs aimed not at SOLVING a given problem, but at DIVIDING people into narrowly defined camps.

“Some tribes are good, right? They are the ‘correct’ tribes, the ones you want to belong to, right?” you ask.

Sad that, because if you ask that question you really missed the reason for this post.

Before I answer that question, let me point you HERE. I do so as an example of other voices I am beginning to hear. Few and weak, but more than used to be. I point to it because reading it from someone else might have you actually pay attention. You could also listen to THIS. Just substitute “Russians” for whatever group you want.

Here’s my answer to the question; it’s Book’s quote, but with a twist.

“I don’t care what you believe, but ALWAYS question it.”

To my Facebook current, ex-, and future friends:

  • Before you pick up a flag, make sure it’s helping bridge division and discord, not promote them.
  • Before you post that blurb, make sure it’s offering a solution, not merely widening the chasm.
  • Before you dismiss criticism, make sure you understand what is being criticized; is it the goal, or how you are going about it?
  • Before you dismiss others as unenlightened, consider their point of view; make sure it’s really crap and without merit, and not just uncomfortable for you to hear.
  • Before posting something, ask yourself the reason for it . . . are you really helping, or just building your self-image?
  • Before spewing your views, have you sufficiently questioned them?
  • . . . and always, always, always question the easy answer, facile narrative, feel-good platitude. That way lies not progress.

Finally, if you see me fail in any of those, do challenge me with a reasoned argument. I might not ultimately agree, but you might earn my respect even as I hope to earn yours.

Many people could care less if they have my respect, so don’t put much stock in it.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it has been copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intention, like attracting you to a malware-infested website.  Could be they also torture small mammals.


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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.

About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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16 Responses to When did “discussion” become a bad thing?

  1. chefcrsh says:

    Do you want to talk about it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure whether I have five or six FB friends, one of whom is my partner. I went through the loop of having zillions (well, 100+) of ‘friends’. Deleted the account in the end. It was either endless arguments and huffs or drinking latte in Starbucks. My life doesn’t need that.


    • disperser says:

      One of the conflicts I have with social media is that Twitter and Facebook (and Goodreads, and a bunch of other places) are where one is supposed to network if one deems themselves a marketable writer.

      My conflict is that I’m not much for asking anything from anyone, and I don’t like the idea of leveraging “connections” to gain or do anything. Yes, I know all the pro-networking arguments . . . it just ain’t me.

      Netflix did let me connect with people I had not seen in a long while, but there too it was more “hey! You’re still alive?” and much less a virtual reunion about times gone by.

      I decided to keep my Facebook free of any “professional” connections. Also, since we are in an election year, I’m also dropping many non-professional connections.

      Like you say, I don’t need to read stuff that only makes me want to debate (argue) with someone.


      • If it makes you feel any better I read a post today saying that instead of wasting spending time on FB/Twitter, one would be better employed researching appropriate key words for a book/s. This blogger (and author) argued that despite all the so-called advantages, he found it unproductive, ie little/no increase in sales.


      • disperser says:

        Not sure if the tone came across as such, but just to clarify, I don’t feel bad. I also never had big plans for leveraging any “friends” for any type of self-promotion. I even have a statement about that at the bottom of every post.


  3. oneowner says:

    Facebook, in its attempt to make communication between people easier has raised a lot of problems. A lot of folks use it to further an agenda that is not always shared by their “friends”. I have “unfriended” people in the past (even family) simply because I didn’t like their Facebook ideology. At this stage of my life, I don’t like to spend time with people I don’t like and that includes Facebook. So I remain well below average for number of friends and I haven’t made any new ones in a long time but I’m fine with that. You will be, too.


    • disperser says:

      Yeah . . . I can still occasionally find people who will read more than a couple of lines of text, but not many, and not often.

      And, yes, I’m not big on socializing. I’ve never needed it (although I keep getting told I do), and with rare exceptions, it seems always one way. I don’t usually friend people unless I have/had in-person contact with them or have interacted with them in other venues and for a long time. The vast majority friend me, and especially after the workshop in October, my friends ballooned from about 80 to 130+.

      There are other venues for keeping in touch, and I very much doubt that any of the ones I dropped will make the effort to reconnect (other than trying to friend me again).


  4. Excellent post, Emilio!
    I think discussion became a bad thing when people realized they could “hide” behind a computer screen and say whatever they want to say…without respect or maturity or kindness.
    I remember my parents and their neighbors and friends sitting on one of their porches discussing everything from the weather, to illnesses, to jobs, to politics, to religion, to finances, to the tough things of daily life, etc., and even though they didn’t all think (or believe) the same way, or the same things…they discussed with respect and without name-calling…with open minds and hearts…really hearing what someone had to say, and considering their thoughts. And even with their different ways of thinking, feeling, and believing…they were always there for each other…to help in times of need, to help paint a house, to help watch the kids, to bring food during illness or death, etc. We’ve lost a lot of that community and just plain good humanity in the past decade or so. :-(
    HUGS!!! :-)


    • disperser says:

      It’s not just the hiding . . . it’s that for many people everything can be simplified to a slogan. In their minds, it is the beginning and end, and everything else is not worth contemplating.

      I responded to a post the other day, and the person deleted my comment (it was his post). He said he did not want distractions from the message. We continued via messaging, and I pointed out (and gave links) the statement he made was not factual. He did not budge . . . the message, he said, was important and in a broad view, valid.

      I immediately unfriended him. Not for being wrong; for censoring my comment.

      I really have no hope for the younger generation (and many of the older ones). Soundbites is all anyone seems interested in.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rachael says:

    An interesting post which I did read from end to end. You are writing about much more than Facebook, of course, but regarding Facebook in particular, I have long ago hidden the posts of Facebook ‘friends’ who use it as a soapbox. It is not a judgment based on whatever ‘belief’/topic they particularly espouse but rather a blanket policy. Facebook just seems to me to be the wrong forum for politics/religion and only encourages bitesized statements whose main aim is to prove the speaker’s ability for rhetoric or, at least, ‘pithy’ one-liners. There are always exceptions, but they are rare, in my experience. Call me shallow by all means, but I prefer my consumption of one-liners to consist mainly of statements by characters created by Joss Whedon.


    • disperser says:

      And here I am criticizing one of Whedon’s one-liners.

      . . . and yes, Facebook does not encourage discussion . . . but neither does it prevent it. That’s on the users, and most users – as in real life – care not for things that make them think. You can still find places with healthy exchanges, but invariably people drift to name-calling and specious arguments.


  6. PiedType says:

    Nuance is almost a non-starter on the internet. Without facial expression, body language, and tone of voice, how can anyone convey nuance? It takes one heckuva writer to do it, and a reader who is alert to it. Really rare in our world of instant messaging, acronyms, and emoticons.

    As for Facebook, I’ve never seen the point. Giving up a lot of my private information to a faceless corporation just so I can have inane conversations with total strangers. And as you point out, “friends” are usually just people you have one or two things in common with. That’s not friendship; that’s coincidence.


    • disperser says:

      My nuance reference has to do more with issues not being B&W, right or wrong, or any version of absolute. But, yes . . . the lack of visual cues is a big impediment to “conversations”. And yet, before FB, there were forums. I have records of long and detailed conversations with lots of exchanging of opinions and ideas that went way beyond the “you suck” type discussion typical in many of today’s venues.

      I like the coincidence comment, but to be clear, I have people I consider friends and who are strictly Internet friends.

      One other thing with Facebook . . . other than your name, there is no requirement to give them an accurate profile of who you are. In fact, one can have fun with that.


      • PiedType says:

        Yes, I understand the issues being shades of gray thing. Those can certainly be explored on line, but anymore I find very few forums or discussions that rise above the “you suck” absolutists and trolls. Terribly disappointing, because I love the good, serious, thoughtful discussions. I just don’t see them much anymore.

        I have internet friends too, but not through Facebook. Most are the result of conversations on my blog and theirs that later morphed into personal correspondence over a period of several years. I do remain very cautious about online friends though, having seriously misjudged some people in the past.

        My son admits to planting a lot of false information about himself on Facebook, just to confuse parties trying to compile his personal information.


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