That Twitter grove deep in the woods

If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
Yes, it does make a sound, because a sound is defined as mechanical vibration traveling through the air or another medium at a frequency to which the human ear is sensitive. So a falling oak makes a pretty serious sound, even without an ear around.

Okay, I should have learned my lesson by now, but I just can’t resist. Just imagine you are interested in skeptical thinking — you know, one of those people who weigh every word. And you see a tweet saying:

“Indian guru A. receives threats bc his teachings allow any person to live by absorbing sunlight. He needs our support — so give him money.”

Wouldn’t you be tempted to criticize the person retweeting such nonsense? And wouldn’t you be taken aback when people claim you are prejudiced against Indians? I mean, what does the nationality got to do with it? It’s not that all or even a majority of Indians think like this — obvious — fraud. This person is — very likely — sprouting nonsense. Things that do not make sense from a physiological perspective. It’s that this person claims people are able to live off sunlight that incurs the criticism, not that this person is of Indian nationality. It’s a straw man — and a bad one.

Strangely, this thing seems to happen quite a lot online. Recently, I stumbled upon a tweet saying:

Folks, @femfreq has been the target of abuse for critiquing sexism in video games. Send her some support and watch her fantastic videos.

And I send a link to a video that offered a different perspective on that “abuse”. It got a fairly typical reaction based on my twitter experience so far:

No. Calling out sexism and supporting Sarkersian doesn’t make her a “damsel in distress.” But nice mansplain.

In case is it not obvious what “mansplain” means (unlikely, the word is used in a rather … special corner of the net), the definition is:

to delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation

So, in short, it’s bringing up sex as a negative (here: a man says it, therefore it should be discarded). There are people who simply deny that anything a women can say to a man can be sexist, because: all men are more powerful than women and there is no such a thing as “reverse sexism”. But there are others who say that sexism is simply “prejudice based on gender” and that all that stuff on “reverse sexism” and how that is “impossible” (due to a power imbalance) — screw that ideological smoke screen. If someone thinks that the gender of a person works against this person, or if someone thinks the quality of a person’s arguments depend on the gender of the person making them — that’s sexism, no matter the gender in question. Isn’t this whole thing about “being equal”? But yeah, I see the value in ending discussions and feeling as a victor (or victress): If you lack good arguments, you sure as hell need to have some easy and almost always applicable ways to feel like you won an argument.

And yup, that’s something that happens frequently to me on Twitter. People I — otherwise — respect retweet unfounded and sexist (in the sense above) assertions. And when you get into a discussion, the assertions for the other side are usually quickly retweeted or favorited. But frankly, that’s to be expected. Twitter serves as an echo-chamber for many users. They confirm their views — which is nice, if you want to get feedback that you are right. These people favorite and retweet the hell out of any tweet that seems to be for their point of view. You really hear each individual bounce in that echo-chamber. But personally, I am more interested in opposing positions … if — and that’s a big ifthey are providing actual arguments.

So, yeah, the conversation took the usual turn. With some even worse contributions along the way. Seriously, you need to be able to laugh about what you encounter on Twitter, otherwise … just don’t do it. It just brings you down. But if you are willing to play this game, it’s actually fun. And yeah, it’s a bit of Pratchett’s de Worde:

You’re a fool, said the internal editor. Some people have tried to kill you. You’re concealing information from the Watch. You’re mixing with strange people. You’re about to do something that’s going to get so far up Mister Vimes’s nose it will raise his hat. And why? Because it makes my blood tingle, he thought. And because I’m not going to be used. By anyone.
“The Truth” by Terry Pratchett

And yeah, personally, I don’t like to be used for someone’s ideological agenda — or, worse, being lied to. Hell, I don’t even like other people being lied to. If they are being told a lie and they still chose to believe it — hells, go ahead. But everyone deserves a chance to hear opposing positions. But — usually — on Twitter, frequently it’s just a vomitting or parroting of opinions. Seriously, just forgo all hope of a rational, high-level discussion.

Unless … unless you stumble upon a person who does make rational arguments, even if somewhat misguided (in my view — well, it pays to watch videos to the end, especially if they are meant as satire and this satire is only revealed at the end). But strangely enough, I actually did encounter someone to have a rational discussion with. I am surprised. I know, on Twitter! Still, miracles do happen, and sometimes, just sometimes, hell does freeze over.

Perhaps it’s time to fill out that lottery ticket. 😉

And yeah, and I say this as much for my future me as for you: Don’t expect rational discussions on Twitter. It’s made for 140 characters “knowledge”-dumping-quick-response-stuff. Gut feeling reactions that lead to retweets or favs in the blink of an eye. More reflective people quote tweets and try to add their own thoughts. Few people are on Twitter to discuss, many just parrot something they have heard beforehand. And in discussions, it’s a bit like this quote:

Arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pigeon … no matter how good you are, the bird is going to shit on the board and strut around like it won anyway.

But yeah, sometimes you do get lucky. There is intelligent life on Twitter … and sometimes you are surprised — positively. 🙂