Choosing when to argue

I’ve been on the internet since its earliest days. With the evolution of online forums, social media platforms and content creation, the climate for discussion is larger than ever before. What you decide to talk about is generally the largest factor in the diversity of opinions you’ll happen to find, which is consequentially why anime has seen massive growth in the amount of online debate.

This of course comes with its own set of complications, because the larger a circle of interest is, the more ‘bubbles’ it can accommodate. These ‘bubbles’ being a group of individuals who hold contrasting views to those of another, rather than a comment on the inclusiveness, depth or validity to their beliefs. While I don’t believe anyone sets out to design a system like this, the notion of picking sides and fighting the misconceptions or falsities of the opposition is a shared commonality within all interest driven communities. While I wouldn’t think to equate flat-earthers with anime award shows, when you break the disagreements down to the basest form possible, the principle is the same. You’re simply not going to find two strangers that don’t hold conflicting opinions on something.

The reason I bring up all this is because the nature of this environment creates new questions for people to consider; chiefly, is this conversation going to be productive? It’s a hard cutting question, especially when we consider that it’s only relevant to the people who are willingly vocal and (presumably) enjoy talking about their interests with others. Indeed it is probably for the aforementioned reason that this question doesn’t get asked enough. Too often are impassioned and knowledgeable individuals driven to exhaustion by endless back & forth arguing, in which the subject has become a game of win or lose, rather than a strive for developed understanding.

It’s a tough field to navigate, one which can have very real effects on your mental well-being. For some the stress takes over, hurting their social life, sleeping pattern and eating habits. For others the desire to prove people wrong begins to dictate their every action, turning them into embittered and vindictive people- a poor reflection of the person they actually desire to be. I fully expect those two examples to resonate with the readers of this article, in fact I take no shame in admitting that I’ve fallen victim to the former.

Given we know the risks, it’s still ultimately up to those involved to measure up the cost/benefit figures before they decide to engage with contrary beliefs. While I would love to point you towards a basic 5-step guidebook that provides all the answers, the reality is that it depends, because the complexity here is directly correlated to the nuances of human nature. You have to use your better judgement, which I know will sound weird in an article detailing the common pitfalls the majority fall into, but stay with me.

Again, I’m not an absolute authority, but these are the things I make sure to carefully consider:

Do I know this person?

Generally speaking, you’ll have a much easier time establishing an unwritten ‘rules of engagement’ with someone you know instead of a complete stranger. When I’ve had contact with someone before, I know, to a certain extent, where the boundaries lie and how to avoid crossing them. While there is something to be said about echo chambers, carving out a space for yourself will be a vital alternative when addressing the crowd feels like too much work.

The inverse scenario is that if I have a history of never getting along with someone, then it’s safe to assume this occasion won’t be any different. This can be expanded to cover people who attacked your friends and not you specifically. Nobody is owed your attention, no matter how important they think they are.

Do I disagree with certain material too often?

This might seem like an odd one for many but it is worth factoring in. I tend to find that if I frequently have strong disagreements with a particular argument or line of reasoning, I don’t need to keep exposing myself to it. After a point you can quite clearly say “I’ve given this a chance, it’s not working”, which in my opinion is around the same time you should disengage.  I haven’t yet found any one person or organisation that has the authority to shape the future of discourse in anime community, so the idea of obsessing over one voice over the thousands that exists is foreign to me. Aggrevated catharsis is fine when it’s not habitual.

What kind of language is being thrown around?

Everyone is going to have different standards for this but for me personally, there is nothing worse than providing a platform to someone who exchanges common decency for mocking and unfiltered insults. The common retorts tend to follow along the lines of “don’t be so sensitive” or “can’t handle being wrong”, when in actuality, I’d just rather give my time to someone who doesn’t resort to juvenile name calling. Believe it or not, it is extremely easy to tell someone why you think they are wrong without also calling them an idiot in the same breath.

In a similar vein, it’s worth understanding that poor arguments can be broadly compelling. I don’t know about you, but I’ve read academic essays that have been cited numerous times and in the process poked dozens of holes in their arguments. Avoid thinking that technical vocabulary automatically equals worthwhile commentary. Trust me when I say that there is no barrier for entry when it comes to burying an opposing viewpoint under smart sounding rhetoric.

I don’t want to just talk about inflammatory speech though. There can quite as easily be a disconnect if one person chooses meme-talk while the other is hurling academic theory around. Both can be inaccessible, so you need to learn who your audience is as quickly as possible. Folks that are insensitive to the level of conversation are often looking for an excuse to throw their weight around, which is best avoided wherever possible.

Is the spirit of the argument about subjectivity?

No, this isn’t one of those ‘objective review’ comments. The fact is that some topics are going to be impossible (or at least impractical) to argue, such as ‘dub vs sub’ or ‘the soundtrack is good/bad’. This is not to be insensitive to those with the qualifications to make distinctions in music theory, only that if someone likes a song or voice actor, telling them otherwise is a hard case to make. I for one am not going to suddenly stop liking my favourite band if one day someone comes and tells me that the lead guitarist isn’t playing his instrument right. Having personal preferences is a-okay and typically not something you need to defend.

Persistence, Persistence, PERSISTENCE

Learning to let go is hard. Anyone who has been through a particularly difficult breakup might understand that keenly. Funnily enough, the same applies to all kinds of conversations. A touch of social awareness is vital. Chasing someone too far when the original matter is as trivial as it gets should come as a big red flag. If the person you’re talking to believes getting the final say is the key signifier to a constructive conversation, they’re probably wrong. I talk for myself here, but respecting an opponents need for space takes precedence over social gains and losses. Conditioning someone like an animal to be hypervigilant shouldn’t be a hallmark that makes anyone proud. Avoid it to the best of your ability.

Does the conversation transcend individuals?

This is neither a no-no or a resounding ‘go for it!’, but you do need to be wary. Hosting forums on each step of the ladder helps keep interests from disappearing into the prison of abstract academics. At the same time however, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in the mist of an extremely politicized debate. Without any crucial knowledge you’re likely to retread tired ground, and even with it, you’re still likely to be blind to a lot of nuance. This is a lesson I constantly have to retrain myself in, because the temptation to chime in on the latest issue can be overwhelming. When you dive into the trenches on a topic that has seen years of ceaseless jawing, don’t be surprised when you start getting déjà vu. Past a certain point in time, the conversation stops moving forward until change is implemented that far surpasses the efforts of a few small commenters. Pick your battles carefully and don’t afraid to let out a resounding “nope”.

Baiting

You can call them trolls, or attach them to a political group if appropriate, but you know what I’m talking about. For example the tweets that deliberately include hashtags used to get a rise out of people, or ones that have a history of being attached to hate campaigns. Maybe it’s a common strawman that is as old as the position it mocks. While telling people how redundant #notall tweets are or debunking derailing tactics may be easy, the person making them will drag you along for hours. Most of the time their attempts to frame it as an innocent misunderstanding are insincere. Even on the off chance you do teach someone, you’re still giving an awful amount of labour out for free, plus that person you changed will be replaced in seconds. Do yourself a favour and keep it out of arms reach.

Are you happy?

Some might choose educational value as the metric to a successful conversation but I disagree. Vast knowledge is wasted on an individual that does not have the capacity to utilize it. Rule of thumb: Don’t do things that detract from your quality of life. I enjoy learning, it can be entertaining if you let it be, just remember to stay grounded. I can imagine anime is a hobby for most of you, so don’t miss the forest for the trees. Stay happy!


3

Now don’t excuse these points as being fully comprehensive. I’ve done my best to explain my approach in the hope that it helps you, but don’t be ashamed if you stopped and thought “that’s me!”. This list is something that even I will have to go back to in the future, no doubts about that. Arguments are a huge drain, which is why justification for them is so sorely needed.

If in the end none of this has sunk in, at least take this underlying message; for all the missteps and transgressions one person makes, it still takes two to tango- it’s okay if you’re the one to say “enough is enough”. More is lost by making your hobby unfeasible than by refusing to humor someones argument. You might get called ignorant or biased but such accusations are transient anyway. I’d take an imperfect critic that reminds me to be a better version of myself over another that drives to be eternally antagonistic and inhospitable.

If we imagine the community as a sumo wrestling tournament, then everyone gets pushed out until only one is left standing. 

Do you care for that? I don’t.

Thanks for reading.

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6 thoughts on “Choosing when to argue

  1. This is a really helpful piece for me, honestly it’s something I should keep bookmarked. I’ve fallen into both pitfalls you mentioned early on, becoming stressed to an unhealthy degree and becoming overly emboldened in such a way that causes me to act irrationally. Neither ends up with me coming across in the way I want let alone make a coherent argument in the first place.

    This resonated with me: “Avoid thinking that technical vocabulary automatically equals worthwhile commentary.” It’s endlessly frustrating when people try to get one-up on another by using convoluted terms. Ultimately their arguments stop making sense which makes it impossible to agree or disagree with them. It’s a conversation ender.

    And this: “Learning to let go is hard.” Yup. Years of therapy on this matter haven’t helped me either, heh. Sometimes you just need to shut it off and walk away which granted is far easier on the internet, you just need to make sure not to get the tunnel-vision inherent to staring at a screen as your fingers furiously tap against the keyboard in protest of your best interests. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier though.

    Ultimately, changing minds through conversation is often just not going to happen. We’re a fickle people and change in opinion often has to come through personal experiences.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This is a very flattering comment, thank you!

      The one-upmanship with critics is the worst. Decoding what they are actually trying to say is a logistical nightmare. It’s the sort of fluff that is intended to strengthen their argument yet fails to have any relevance most of the time.

      Third paragraph is ‘relatable’ in a nutshell. I find the accessibility of the internet is my biggest problem. If it was actually hard to go ‘online’ I’d probably be far more picky with how I choose to spend my time.

      You also include a good point that I missed myself. Amusingly, personal experience is the reason I agree that personal experience shapes minds better than anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bloody, Brilliant article on this major issue particularly within the anime community. I haven’t been a rut of a conversation with anyone of the description you describe in a long time. I’m too old for that shit, Im 26 Im living out my love of anime here and the youtube’s. it’s all the new anime fans and elite time people they call themselves who stir the pot real good. Keep at arms lengths as you said if it it looks like it could get ugly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. I think humanity hasn’t really changed since the dawn of time – most of what we believe is driven by what we WANT to believe.

    I don’t tend to argue online because it can really get to me. Instead I do my best to see both sides and then stick by what I really believe is true.

    Liked by 1 person

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