“Impossible” internet discussion

In a thought provoking casual consideration Medium.com posted recently the “6 Reasons Political (or Religious) Discussion is Impossible on the Internet” which is a large part of what we do here so…for your consideration:

1) People prioritize being “right” over truly listening and engaging in good faith. Being “right” or “winning” is tied to our ego, and the more strongly we identify with our ego and our opinions, the harder it is for us to be open to being wrong. The thing is — the only way we learn and grow, is by being open to being wrong. 

Additionally, I believe people with opposing views can hear OUR opinions better when we are open to being wrong. They are opinions. They are not your identity. Confusing your opinions for your identity means you are more likely to feel “personally” attacked when someone disagrees with you. Engaging in discussion with someone who has an opposing view means you are giving “yourself” an opportunity to either strengthen your argument, change your argument, or discard your argument. But you have to be open to the possibility that you are wrong. (Incidentally, I believe being open to the possibility that we are wrong is the only way to guard against becoming the monsters we fight.)

2) People engage in ad hominem attacks instead of argumentation. Why? Because it’s easier. And because they are so tied to their opinions or ideology they feel they are being personally attacked by a difference of opinion.

3) The medium of online discussion is not conducive to empathy. We don’t get the same release of oxytocin (and subsequent drop in cortisol levels) that we get through face to face or telephone communication with other humans. Oxytocin is the love/bonding hormone. Cortisol is associated with stress. We DO get dopamine hits from Facebook communication, which can be addictive.

4) We tend to prune the voices we disagree with, until we are left with an echo-chamber of like-minded souls who do not challenge us to grow, as much as they validate us and make us feel good about ourselves. We prefer to be part of a herd who agrees with us, because we are scared of being attacked. But once a part of that herd, we are hesitant to stick our head up with even the slightest differing opinion for fear of being attacked BY the herd and thrown out. We do not therefore, tend to engage in the kinds of discussions that would allow us to grow and learn. We are part of the herd. We are safe.

5) As my friend Liz McLemore points out, tone is easily lost or misconstrued on the internet. In her words: “when people speak IRL, you can hear tone. If you’re in person, you can see those non verbal cues. And if you respond to someone you don’t know, you generally have ZERO context in which to frame their remarks. It becomes a place to vomit up your viewpoint with no facts, and then run.”

6) We tend to be more focused on improving other people, on changing them, than we are on improving oneself. This is tied to the first reason. Because we’re so sure we’re right, that we’re morally just, that we couldn’t possibly have anything to learn from this person with an opposing viewpoint — we end up missing opportunities to strengthen, change or discard our beliefs. We miss opportunities to learn because we often go into discussions as if we are only there to teach.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course.

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