*Apologies for no art on this yet; I'll get some soon, I promise! [/lame excuse]
I know I've been doing a lot of triple-topic blog entries, but this one entry is going to be alllll about this: Phil Plait at TAM 8: Don't be a Dick. The linked video is about half an hour long, so it might be a bit much for people with precious free time. It took me almost three days to finally get the time to sit down and watch/listen to it. This is a topic that I'm keenly interested in though, right up there with comics, video games, and boobs.
I'm an atheist. I don't really make any secret about it, but it's not something I wear on my sleeve. It's only a portion of my personal identity, I guess. I used to be really, really active on atheist and skeptical message boards. Part of it was started from being stuck in a craptastic cubicle job working for a horrible company, so to kill time I trawled the internet. People naturally want to find like minded people, what with us being social creatures and all. But that can be kind of rough when you're in a minority of any sort, whether racial, political, or religious. Religious folks (Like ~85% of America) tend to react sort of negatively to atheists, so most of us keep it on the down low. I didn't really know any other atheists in real life, so I was delighted to find a vibrant, active online community of non-believers to hang out and chat with.
I'm not really a confrontational guy, but the anonymity of the internet is a nice little insulating blanket against the discomfort of getting into someone's face for real. It made it really easy to just completely rip into people with different world views than my own. So that's what I did. Bored at work? Let's go yell at some young earth creationists on IIDB. Waiting for the business analysts to find their ass with both hands? Lets go rile up those homeopaths and psychic frauds. It wasn't that hard; I didn't even have to go and crash other forums, there were plenty of creationists or pseudo-science devotees coming to our little atheist forum to dump shit on our heads for the exact same reason that I took the time to engage them. I suppose we can take from this that there are a hell of a lot of people stuck in shitty jobs with internet access and time to kill...
Anyway, this went on for a good five years. I got really involved. I started researching stuff just to win arguments. Hell, I got so involved that I actually started doing a skeptic and atheist themed comic called Fundyville. That's pretty fucking involved, I think.
It didn't last all that long though. Mostly because the comics were laughably horrible, but there was something else lurking beneath the surface there... an uneasiness... an unsettling discomfort with the whole concept. It took me years to figure out why I couldn't get into it and commit to the whole atheist themed thing... But I did finally figure it out; one day it just dawned on me:
*pause for dramatic effect*
I was an asshole.
Or, in Phil Plait's more civil-conversation-acceptable terms, a dick. A real raging, confrontational dick.
There aren't too many principals I live my life based on, but I've got some really big high level ones that do me pretty well. One of those is this: try not to be an asshole. It's a little like Bill and Ted's 'Be excellent to each other' only with a sharper point on the end. This is one of the reasons I don't have political or philosophical bumper stickers on my truck. I'm not looking to shove my beliefs (or lack thereof) into anyone's face. If you have that kind of bumper sticker on your car, you're probably a dick, just a little fyi.
At the same time, you don't want to be a total pussy and let people walk all over you. It's ok to be an asshole to people who are assholes first, or to people who are complete shitheads, but try not to be the one to start it. And most importantly, know when to quit. On the internet, it's a lot harder to figure this out. It's real easy to sit back, sip your latte, and just unleash a scathing vomitous heap of bile and hate onto some unknown douchebag on a web forum.
But the internet isn't real life. When you have to sit down, look a person in the eyes, and have a conversation or discuss some heavy topic, it's a whole different experience.
And I think a lot of people are losing sight of that. There's been a gradual blurring of the wild-west "go fuck yourself" mentality of the internet with real life discussions. What I'm saying is that a lot of us are turning into assholes. Real insufferable pricks.
By 'us' I mean people in general, not just atheists. Take a look at any news broadcast and look at the mind numbingly retarded rhetoric that they're filled with now. Look at blogs, facebook, twitter, all that shit. People just spew out the first angry thing that comes to mind. And now that people can do this from their smart phones it's getting even worse, because we don't even have a few minutes to calmly and rationally think about what kind of idiocy we're about to share with the world. People are just venting their spleen for the world to pick through.
But it doesn't do one fucking bit of good. I guess if you want to get people who think like you to buy your shitty merchandise it's effective... but as far as actually advancing any sort of agenda it's about as good as poking people in the eye with a sharp stick: "BELIEVE AS I DO, FUCKERS!!" *poke*
So, about three years ago I kind of gave up on atheist forums. I hung out at a sort of goofy non-serious 4-chan /b style ranting site for a bit, but even that got boring. This isn't to say that I gave up on my opinions or became less skeptical; just the opposite in fact. What changed was that I just didn't see the point of back and forth dick waving with young earth creationists anymore. Did it help anyone? Nope. Hell, I even tried to convince myself that I battled 'for the lurkers'... those anonymous non-participants who were desperately seeking solid, concrete refutations of irrational beliefs. But really, I was just fucking with people I didn't like and venting my frustration in the most hateful way possible.
Which brings me back to the video I linked above. Phil Plait pretty much nailed it with his talk. When you act like a confrontational dick, you turn people off. They become entrenched, and you lose the ability to get through to them. I can't tell you how many times I got into a written pissing contest with some pseudo-science devotee just to score cheap points against them or wait for that one "gotcha!" moment when they'd slip up and say something idiotic or hateful. And they did the same thing to me in return. In the end, we accomplished nothing. Not one damn useful thing. They didn't do a thing to make me understand their perspective, and I know I certainly didn't help them see mine. And as for the 'lurkers' I mentioned? I'm sure they didn't get a whole lot out of a hundred pages of back and forth "You're an irrational retarded fuckwad! And here's why!"/"You're a delusional god hating faggot! And I can prove it with THIS!".
I get the frustration and aggravation that feeds into the vitriolic attitude on internet, I really do. But it's pointless. It gets you nowhere, and accomplishes nothing. There will always be someone else out there with irrational and potentially dangerous beliefs, and you're just going to have to accept it. If you want to make your point, just lay it out there calm and rationally, and leave it at that. That's just the best it's going to get. You are not going to change anyone's mind on the internet, and especially not by yelling at them and calling them a stupid dipshit. Don't let yourself be baited and dragged down to that level.
So as Phil says, don't be a dick. Shitheads are legion... but that doesn't mean you have to join them.