Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No More Being an Internet Gadfly

For more years than I care to count, I’ve had a habit of visiting online forums where the prevailing views on religion, politics, and other matters are very different from my own and acting as a gadfly until I either burned out or got booted out. I’ve made friends this way, but I’ve probably made many more enemies. I’ve learned a lot about myself, other people, and the issues being discussed, but it’s come at a high price in terms of chronic frustration, anger, and general displeasure with how I’ve conducted myself in a manner that violates my ideals concerning what kind of person I want to be and how I want to behave.

Moreover, if my intention was to persuade others to at least reexamine views of theirs that differed from mine, I probably failed miserably, because I doubt that I persuaded a single person to come around to my way of thinking about anything. If anything, my compulsive combativeness has probably motivated them to cling to and defend their views even more strongly and allowed them to rationalize it by saying to themselves, “A nut like that can’t be right about anything he says.”

The latest chapter of this has just come to a close. I stirred things up in a forum of likeminded religious and political conservatives until the host got totally fed up and forced me out. I learned a lot in this forum and can still do so by continuing to follow the discussion there, but I doubt that I’ll ever again be allowed to join in the give-and-take of their discussions of some truly fascinating topics, because I will never again be trusted to act like anything other than the ass I acted like before.

Did other people act like asses too? Most certainly. And while their defending it on the grounds that they were only responding in kind to my trollish obstreperousness might not completely cut the mustard, the fact is that I got off on a bad foot from my very first appearance in that forum and let things tumble downhill from there by blinding myself to my ideals and remaining more focused on stirring things up, scoring debate points, and getting back at those who insulted me than on cultivating genuine dialogue that might have enabled all of us to understand each other better and respect one another more even if we continued to disagree with each other’s views. Ironically, all I succeeded in doing in that forum was reinforcing convictions that people who hold my views on religion and politics are immature, angry, and even psychologically off-kilter, when I had the opportunity to show them just the opposite.

If I were ever allowed back into that forum, I would show them the opposite by living up to my ideals. The same goes for any other forum in which I participate from now on. I’ve learned a painful lesson. But better to learn it late than not at all.


Tom said...


Your post here sounds quite a lot like me!

I am planning/hoping to start a Blogger blog I have called "thoughts chase thoughts" all over again as a group blog where the aim is to post ~800-word essays that are not confrontational and combative, but are analytical and want the best for everyone.

After I put up a couple of posts, as examples of the frame of mind I want myself and others in the group to write from, I will let you know and, perhaps, you might consider joining the group.

In regard to your post here, I know what you are saying. There are good motivations underneath becoming a gadfly, but it is rare to feel that one is being constructive.

Nagarjuna said...

Hi, Tom. I like your idea, and I'd be delighted to join your group. I look forward to seeing your new blog and your first couple of posts.

I agree with you that there can be "good intentions" to being a gadfly. But they too often get lost in the mix of the not-so-good intentions that are there all along or that quickly arise in response to the unpleasant reactions of others, and, before you know it, constructive dialogue becomes hopeless for all involved.