Reposted without irony from Twitter, and lightly edited.
A few late-night thoughts about hostility on Twitter and other anti-social media.
Put aside all questions of what is legal where, what will get you kicked off of Twitter, what constitutes “harassment,” and so on.
There are two broad types of reasons to be aggressive and insulting on Twitter: personal satisfaction and serving some larger cause.
If you regularly take pleasure from demeaning other people online, you have a serious character flaw, and you should stop.
If you do it only occasionally to blow off steam, you still have a character flaw (a different and lesser one), and you still should stop.
That leaves the impersonal motivation: attacking people because it helps advance a larger and important cause you’re committed to.
I’m not going to get into the question of which causes are right or wrong. I have some opinions here, but so does everyone else.
And I’m also not going to get into the question of whether sneering insults and the like actually work at persuading or silencing anyone.
Instead, consider this: humanity is currently facing some immense, existential, planetary challenges.
In no particular order: nuclear annihilation, climate change, Internet security, resource depletion, pollution, maybe rogue AIs, etc.
Dealing with these challenges will require careful, detailed, and sustained collective action by most people on the planet.
That kind of concerted cooperation can only happen if people are broadly persuaded to agree on what to do. (Compulsion won’t cut it.)
The possibility of persuasion depends on there being spaces where people try to convince each other in good faith by giving good reasons.
Every tweeted takeout attempt is like tossing another soda six-pack ring into the sea of rational discourse: that much more pollution.
I don’t know what the critical threshold is, but there is some point beyond which rational discourse is simply impossible.
If we get there, we as a species don’t even get to try to deal with all of our real problems. Civilization collapses while we argue.
That’s the tradeoff inherent in trading vicious insults. Too many “fuck off and dies” and we all do.
So ask, “Is it worth it?” I’m not going to say it isn’t. I don’t know. Some things can be important enough to fight dirty for.
But please, please, do ask yourself whether each next drop of vitriol will do enough good to justify its debasement of our discourse.
Respectful engagement isn’t just about manners or aesthetics. Like the rule of law, it’s a basic element of our collective survival.