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The Marginal Utility of Bickering: Why You Secretly Love Arguing on the Internet
December 15, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

A great contribution to the economics-made-fun genre and food for Mefi thought: Arguing on the internet is addictive because you’re almost always arguing against either a very stupid person or a very smart person, and those are the two types of people most fun to argue with.
posted by Philosopher's Beard (49 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
no, i don't.
posted by h0p3y at 9:06 AM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


a dumb-dumb pairing is a bottomless hole and a Sisyphean shit-slinger.

Please don't talk about my marriage like this.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:09 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


You lost me at "there’s no one running around saying, “Stop arguing, you two, this is the Internet!”
posted by nzero at 9:10 AM on December 15, 2011


"You think I'm dumb, don't you."

*stone face* "I think you are fun to argue with."
posted by empath at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Obligatory: Duty calls.
posted by knave at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know all. You may questions ask me, mortals. I consents.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:12 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


And we all know which of the two you are...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:13 AM on December 15, 2011


Wrong website! This is abuse.
posted by jbickers at 9:13 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


no, i don't.

That's not arguing, that's just contradiction.
posted by knave at 9:14 AM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is what most mefite bickering reminds me of
posted by Blasdelb at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


It is ages since anyone has threatened to track me down and kill me. I miss those frontier days.
posted by biffa at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


This explains why I loved arguing with my ex! Take that however you want.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, just one moment: Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:17 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


They say arguments on the internet are so vehement because the stakes are so fuck you I'm right and you know it you contrarian piece of shit.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sisyphean shit-slinger.

Worst. Cocktail. Ever.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:20 AM on December 15, 2011 [33 favorites]


Why do so many smart people say such dumb things, then?
posted by Chuffy at 9:20 AM on December 15, 2011


Wrong website! This is abuse.

Stupid git...
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:21 AM on December 15, 2011


Wait, so which generalization am I part of?
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:21 AM on December 15, 2011


I must have a different personal definition of "fun."
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:25 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article fails to convince me early on. He asserts that people with moderate intelligence aren't attracted to argumentation as much as those on the extreme ends, but offers very little rhetorical proof.

Without that, his house of cards is lacking even a table to stand on.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:29 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: too dumb or too smart to not argue with.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:29 AM on December 15, 2011


Stop arguing, people! This is the Internet!
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:31 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Why do so many smart people say such dumb things, then?"
Narcissistic personality disorder.
posted by aquafortis at 9:32 AM on December 15, 2011


Charge a dime to post a comment anywhere on the net and fix our national deficit.
posted by Postroad at 9:34 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


They tried that with text messaging, dogg.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:35 AM on December 15, 2011


The article fails to convince me early on. He asserts that people with moderate intelligence aren't attracted to argumentation as much as those on the extreme ends, but offers very little rhetorical proof.

The point isn't whether the premises are true or not, because they're hard or impossible to determine for sure anyway. The nice thing about philosophy is that no one really cares about whether the initial assumptions hold, so we've got a bunch of nice little theories sitting around all with different configurations of assumed premises. In the event that one of those configurations is discovered to be true, bam! We've got a theory for that. It's like if we designed and built a bunch of engines that run on Ununtrium or Ununquadium or Ununundeciumum on the event that one of them turns out to be a viable fuel. All disciplines should be so forward-looking.
posted by invitapriore at 9:39 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go on record as saying that I find arguing with stupid people exhausting and not fun at all. So much so, in fact, that I avoid it as much as possible.
posted by moonbiter at 9:39 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also going to go on record and say that this same reason is probably why people avoid arguing with me.
posted by moonbiter at 9:41 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Why do so many smart people say such dumb things, then?"
Narcissistic personality disorder. - aquaforts

I don't know if your serious, but if you sit down with the DSM and briefly acquaint yourself with some of the diagnosis, including narcissistic, depressive, manic-depressive, borderline, and few others it's hard not to start categorizing everyone you know under one of those labels. I know you can't get a useful/meaningful diagnoses based on a book of symptoms and a few social interactions but it's fun nonetheless.

Take the last post by moonbiter above, there's a self-deprecating insinuation that people avoid arguing with him because of his stupidity; but is he a narcissist who doesn't see that but instead meant that people avoid arguing with him because of his unquestionable brilliance? or is he a depressive who feels he is stupid, no joking? or maybe, he's manic and swinging wildly between two emotional states one post to the next. Now, I'm not a medical professional, I just think moonbiter might need help.
posted by PJLandis at 9:51 AM on December 15, 2011


Charge a dime to post a comment anywhere on the net and fix our national deficit.

This is a nice addition to Chris Rock's idea to charge $5,000 a bullet. I am on board.
posted by deanklear at 9:52 AM on December 15, 2011


The problem with this article -- a problem I'm encountered time and again -- is the mistaken belief that "stupid people" are prone to confirmation bias while "smart people" aren't. It paints this false, binary picture of psychology: a person is either they type that has unshakable knee-jerk assumptions or he is always open-minded and willing to have his ideas challenged. Most people I've met even classify themselves as one of these two types -- generally as the second type.

In my experience, smart people (and I include myself) have biases. LOTS of them. How often do you find yourself saying, "I don't get it! George is so smart usually. How can be be so close-minded about this one topic"?

The truth is that "smart," in the open-minded sense meant by the essay, is not a type. It's a state someone is sometimes in and sometimes not in. Though some people are definitely more open-minded than others, everyone who is open-minded has to work at it. And everyone -- sometimes -- gets mentally tired sometimes, gets waylaid by emotion and enjoys shortcuts.

The scariest people are the ones who are SURE they're always open-minded and think cognitive biases are things "other people" have. Those folks (and everyone else) should read "Fast and Slow Thinking." It's a book about how Natural Selection shaped us (all of us) to use both knee-jerk thinking AND deep, logical thinking. And how we don't always make the "right" choice between the two modes, even us smart folks. Sadly, a lot of readers will read this book and, once again, think of it as a book about "other people."

PS. If you don't CONTINUALLY realize (with a shock) that you're wrong about stuff -- if you always think of yourself as open-minded and reasonable -- you're almost certainly mired in biased mental shortcuts.

Here's one of the best things I've read about the opposite of this state, from a thread on Stack Overflow about how being a programmer changes your life:

"I no longer equate thinking I'm right about something with actually being right about it.
It's now very easy for me to entertain the thought that I may be wrong even when I feel pretty strongly that I'm right. Even if I've been quite forceful about something I believe, I'm able to back down very quickly in the face of contradicting evidence. I have no embarrassment about admitting that I was wrong about something.

That all came from decades of working in a discipline that mercilessly proves you to be mistaken a dozen times a day, but that also requires you to believe you're right if you're going to make any progress at all."


How often do you feel that "I may be wrong even when I feel pretty strongly that I'm right." If this isn't a daily feeling for you, you're riddled with bias. Join the club.
posted by grumblebee at 9:55 AM on December 15, 2011 [27 favorites]


Ah yes. An article that relies on a single dimensional value for "intelligence". No reason this isn't going to be utterly rubbish.
posted by seanyboy at 9:58 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


But that's just how economics works: simplify and model. Even though it's not true, it can still be right.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 10:05 AM on December 15, 2011



What is the point of arguing? Especially with strangers.
posted by notreally at 10:08 AM on December 15, 2011


how is that even a question? THE POINT IS BEING RIGHT.
posted by elizardbits at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


and with five simple words i reveal the entirety of my psyche to you all
posted by elizardbits at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


From my file of motivational and interesting quotes and notes-to-self:
Master Dogen, the thirteenth-century founder of Soto Zen in Japan, was asked by a student, “What should you do if you find yourself in an argument? Should you try to win the argument or should you concede, even though you feel you’re right?” Dogen advised neither path. Become disinterested, he told the student, and the argument will lose its energy. The same advice can be applied to feelings of competitiveness in practice: Let go of your attachment to appearances of one who wins or has “got it right.”
(It works pretty well really.)
posted by mendel at 10:15 AM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem with this article . . .

I see what you did thar.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:19 AM on December 15, 2011


The literati of the Internet walk away from every argument satisfied their minds have been used in an efficient and productive fashion regardless of outcome, while the dimwit knows their opponent was a real doodie-fart buttheaded toilet face.

So it's like one of those Presidential candidate debates then?
posted by chavenet at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2011



OK Ebits. You are right. Seriously though, I learn a lot from metafilter discussions. Arguments? Not so much.
posted by notreally at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2011


To be fair, I'm pretty sure that most of the "stupid" people you encounter online are just very young. I'm grateful a million times over that we had no internet when I was 10, 11, 12, 17, because I was spared the embarrassment of having the entire world see and permanently archive all the asinine things I was likely to say.

(Now that I'm nearly 40 I'm fine with the entire world seeing and permanently archiving all the asinine things I'm likely to say, because the entire world can go suck a dick.)
posted by ErikaB at 10:33 AM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is what most mefite bickering reminds me of this.

I just re-watched that goat-baiting video, and realized that the goat's nostrils look like eyes, making it seem like there is a small angry face at the front of its muzzle. It's freaking me out.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:42 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, this was the problem with all of my econ classes (and I took too damn many of them). I'd see that chart and my eyes would glaze over.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:02 AM on December 15, 2011


I can haz argument?
posted by Leezie at 11:29 AM on December 15, 2011


PJLandis: Now, I'm not a medical professional, I just think moonbiter might need help

I won't argue with that. (Ba-dum tsh!)
posted by moonbiter at 11:50 AM on December 15, 2011


I always thought that people argue on the internet because they are at least partially released from the social prohibitions that stop us from doing so IRL.

I'm an atheist liberal. My neighbor is a conservative who attends church more than twice a week. We get along great. His wife makes cookies for my kids and I mow his grass when he gets sick. Although each of us is aware of the other's differing views, we don't argue about them because we know that being right isn't nearly as important as being good neighbors.

When we deal with people on the Internet, none of that applies. You're arguing with an abstraction with an assumed name, which makes it easy to say outrageous things and assign whatever negative stereotypes that you're prone to believe.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:23 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


To be fair, I'm pretty sure that most of the "stupid" people you encounter online are just very young.

Or, in the case of the comments sections of any small to medium sized newspaper's website, very old.
posted by ook at 12:37 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course moonbiter needs help - he bites the moon for starters, and that ain't right.
posted by kcds at 7:02 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Secretly?
posted by RobotHero at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2011


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