Back in the day, I used to participate in message boards on AOL. We discussed history, politics, and whatnot. It was fun, you got to talk about your hobbies to people who actually cared, spar a bit over points of disagreement, and even occasionally become friends (or, indeed, enemies) of a sort with the other participants. Some list-serves – the kind that came to your e-mail box – followed. But my participation in such discussions fell off rapidly in graduate school, where there always seemed to be real people to argue with.
Nowadays, nearly every page on the Internet has a message board affixed to it, and some – like Facebook – are basically nothing but. Make no mistake: these boards do not exist in order to democratize the media or any of that nonsense. They exist to generate page views, information about viewership that can then be sold to potential advertisers. Over time, I found myself drawn to reading the comments in a "can’t look at it, can’t look away" sort of manner. Sometimes I even posted a comment of my own, and then felt like taking a shower afterwards. And so I decided to conduct an experiment. For about a year I partook in discussions on a variety of different pages. I posted, in all, six or seven hundred times (rarely more than twenty or thirty words at a time) and probably read ten times that number of posts. My intent: report my findings on Measure of Doubt when I eventually revived it.
I approached this with some rules. First, I’d use my real name, not a pseudonym. Second, I would never lie. Third, I would mainly respond by pointing out errors of fact and/or argumentative errors in the articles on which I was commenting and/or in the posts of others. Fourth, I would never resort to name calling or ad hominem of any kind. (Only once, near the end, did I break this rule. A poster suggested that he didn’t care if texting while driving endangered others – it’s a free country and he ought to be allowed to do it. I replied that we needn’t be worried in his case, as one needed friends in order to have anyone to send texts to in the first place. He replied, predictably, that he would be texting my mom. I said that, in that case, he ought to be careful, as texting on a flip-phone was hard enough, let alone while driving a late-model Datsun and when spelling isn’t your forte. Ding, ding, ding: and the winnah by knockout...) Fifth, I decided that my natural tone would be ironic. The Rob Ford business gave me both motive and opportunity to really sharpen these skills, which had grown quite dull and rusty sheathed in their scabbard since about 2005. Sixth, when participating in a discussion that lasted more than three exchanges back-and-forth (and on some boards, like CNN, the messages poured in so fast – literally dozens would arrive every second on big stories – that no “discussion” was possible at all) I would always thank my interlocutor for chatting, no matter how badly it went.
After a few months of participating on various boards, I reached certain conclusions, some of which I believe, and some of which (marked with an *) other people believe. Here they are, in order.
1) Humanity is doomed. I have no words to describe how totally, viciously, and horrifically boned we are as a species. My odds-on favourite for possible outcomes at the moment is some sort of global nuclear holocaust resulting from environmental catastrophe, followed by the total collapse of civilization. The survivors on the political right will turn to cannibalism and burn the contents of our libraries and museums in a forlorn attempt to stave off freezing to death in the nuclear winter. The survivors from the political left will say that civilization had it coming anyway and talk about the need for solidarity. Then they’ll get baked, try to (finally) make it past page five in Das Kapital, and plan for some sort of direct action tomorrow.
2) People are horrible. They are ill-informed, irrational, bigoted, tribal, tasteless, tactless, petty, self-interested, self-absorbed, and just plain mean. No part of the political spectrum has a monopoly on stupid; civility accrues nothing in your favour. My grandmother was right: people are garbage. Stay away from them.
3) No one works hard except for the person currently posting.* Everyone else is overpaid, underworked, and suckling at the bosom of the nanny state. Especially teachers. In addition, no one knows how to drive properly except for the person currently posting.
4) I have it on good authority that if it’s cold right now where you live, global warming is a hoax.
5) People who begin a sentence with a phrase such as “I’m not a racist, but...” are always racists. There are a lot of them.
6) Arguing with a Creationist about evolution is like arguing with a Big Mac about vegetarianism. Too. Far. Gone.
7) Bush is Hitler.*
8) Obama is also Hitler.*
9) Stephen Harper is worse than Hitler.*
10) The only political leader ever who is not Hitler is Hitler. Mention Hitler anywhere and hordes will rush to his defense.
11) But they’re “not racist.” They just want "white pride."*
12) Countries that aren’t the United States are permitted to kill, torture, and generally knock about pretty much anybody they want. Everybody gets a free pass because of what the United States did in Vietnam, to the natives, and because of slavery. Slow clap.*
13) Things used to be great. But now we have lost our values because of either a) immigrants or b) big corporations. Or both.*
14) Jesus is coming back soon. We’re not kidding this time.*
15) There is a cure for cancer, but they aren’t telling you what it is.*
16) There is also a cure for obesity, and the person posting knows what it is.*
17) Everything everywhere has been cured but they don’t want you to know.*
18) Educated people don’t know anything about the “real world.” They “can’t see the forest for the trees.”* People who make this argument often have difficulty distinguishing between “your” and “you’re” and “it’s” and “its”.
19) Misogyny is real. For proof, read the message boards on IMDB where they discuss Sex and the City and Girls.
20) The moderators of any particular message board are trying to silence at least one of the people currently posting, usually because the person they’re trying to silence is the only one exposing their lies.* Such statements are often accompanied by metaphors about emperors not having any clothes on.
21) Nobody hates Star Trek more than Star Trek fans. The principal holds true for obsessive fans of everything from other science fiction franchises to sports teams.
22) Except for Ayn Rand fans. Ayn Rand fans are the most rabidly indoctrinated sociopaths in recent history, with the possible exception of parents who rioted to get Cabbage Patch dolls for their children. They are probably the same people, I suspect.
24) Humanity is doomed. Mainly because of Ayn Rand fans.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Your noble author contains multitudes, faithful readers, and so it came to pass that on the 23rd day of February in the Year of Lord 2014, he rose at his customary hour on Sunday, fed the felines, made coffee, and turned on the computer. Heedless of the peril that he might start drinking Coors Light, calling other males “man” “bro” and “buddy” and giving them suspiciously long hugs punctuated by thumping yet strangely tender pats on the back, he watched the Olympic Gold Medal hockey game. It was the first hockey game he had ever watched from one end to the other. In commemoration of this momentous and never-to-be repeated event, he took notes on his reactions to the extraordinary spectacle of watching millionaires skate around for an hour. Well, half of them are millionaires. He isn’t so sure about the Swedes. Below is the unedited transcript:
7 AM. Coffee in hand (done right, in a French press); cats are momentarily content. Computer is on. I am one of 4 million people live-streaming this on CBC.ca. Don Cherry, who ranked 8th on the list of Greatest Canadians a decade ago, is screaming at me. To quell the noise and incoherence I contemplate banging some pots and pans together while shrieking like Yoko Ono but the moment passes.
7:07 AM. They are playing. There is much analysis going on between the CBC Broadcasters. The Canadians need to play a tight defense. And a tight offense. I am a hockey neophyte and have trouble keeping up with their strategizing.
7:07:28. Swedish player goes off the ice after less than thirty seconds. This must be some kind of hockey rule or something.
7:15 AM or thereabouts. Canadians score. I miss this as I was reboiling the kettle for more coffee (I have a problem, I admit.) CBC broadcasts crowds of Canadians in various places across the country, cheering like mad. The shots look staged, or at least highly performative. They do not replay the goal.
7:18. People are skating.
7:21 AM. Occurs to me that nobody is racist about Swedes.
7:22 AM. I minimize the viewer to the corner and check e-mail. Send a couple of replies to the usual morning dross. (“Dear Professor, I have been very sick and my dog died and my grandmother has been diagnosed with certain death and my girlfriend left me for Bill Clinton. Can I please get an extension on the essay that was due last month?”)
7:23 AM. I look at bicycles. Surly Long Haul Trucker or the venerable Trek 520? Do I want a Rohloff hub for my touring bike? Good for 100,000 KM they say.
7:26 AM. Paying more attention to the game for a bit. Men are skating around. Looking at the uniforms, I keep thinking “stop if you can” and “stop”.
7:27 AM. Intermission. This is called the “end of first period.” Ah.
7:28 AM. More Don Cherry. Shouting. Intolerable. Didn’t he support Rob Ford? Say something about pinkos on bicycles, too? Strange: as I understand it cycling is a core component of off-season training for many hockey players.
7:35 AM. Don Cherry says to Canadian kids that if they work hard they too can end up NHL players, just like their heroes. I check. There are 5.6 million Canadians under the age of 14. There are 488 Canadians in the NHL. Assuming the same percentages: you’ve got one shot in 125,000. So stop readin’ books you sissies and get out there and skate.
I lose track of time.
Second “period” begins. Men skate around. At one point, a bunch of them gather by the boards and there’s this cluster trying to get the puck. They hack at it like a bunch of guys trying to chop up a gopher emerging from a hole. Best metaphor I had for this.
Minimized viewer again. It plays in the corner while I surf the web. Twitter. Hilary Clinton’s tweet feed identifies her as “Wife, mother, U.S. Senator” in that order. They had a focus group for that, you know. They did - guaranteed. They had focus groups and ran small polls to determine the best order in which to put that. Senator, mom, wife? Wife, Senator, mom? Gotta please the family values types…
Hockey. People are skating. Icing call. I picture my mother calling me to the kitchen to lick the spatula when she’s finished a cake. Icing call.
Skating. I Facebook. A friend notes that Ikea doesn’t sell hockey sticks. Ten minutes too late I reply that hockey sticks are hard to assemble with an Allen key.
Penalty against a Canadian. Occurs to me that there are slight advantages to getting a penalty: you get to rest for a couple of minutes, and you have an awesome seat for the game.
Skating. Am joined by Amanda. Tea and more coffee.
Canadians score another. I feel mildly elated but am reminded of the immortal words of Han Solo: “Don’t get cocky, kid.” Always good advice.
Carey Price probably got made fun of in school for his name. Those people are sorry now, because they’re watching him play. And drinking Coors Light before 8 AM.
Is it checking or chequing? Which way do we spell it in Canada?
16:08 in second period. Champlain founded Quebec that year.
Why is there no fighting? Is this hockey not as good because it doesn’t have fighting? If I were a hockey player, I would use reasoned argument to solve problems on the ice. “Sorry about that ill-timed cheque, kind sir. It was my fault entirely. Can we discuss how to avoid such incidents in the future? Again, my most sincere apologies.”
Second period ends. Swedes are down by two. More analysis. Hockey analyst guy is very incisive. Actual quotation: “Swedes need to play a tough offensive game now. When you’re down by two, you can’t lay back and be defensive.” I find this very helpful. I would have thought that when you’re losing by two goals the key would have been defensive play. Forgive me, I am new to the game.
Skating. Skating. Skating. Play-by-play announcers could be making up names for all I know.
Puck goes over the glass. Do they show a fan catching it, holding it up in the air? No. Odd.
I check Sweden’s population. Just under 10 million. Could we take them in a war? Hard to say. They had conscription until recently. I consider how much I would have hated military life. Orders. Conformity. Shouting. Large groups of aggressive men. Green. I would have used reason argument with my senior drill instruction. “Sarge, I don’t respond well to the shouting. Maybe we could discuss this over coffee?”
Skating. I notice on Wikipedia that most Swedish military kit is home grown. How can they afford the R & D for such small procurement numbers? I need to look this up.
I like Saab automobiles. I had a Saab ball cap when I was a teenager. I wore it everywhere. It was part of my identity. Weird: I don’t drive.
When I was ten or eleven my parents sent me to a sports day camp for two weeks. The people who ran it were awful: mean, slovenly, foul-mouthed. And I was not good at sports, which pretty much was the equivalent of a tattoo on my forehead that said “please beat me up”, which the other boys did with enthusiasm, and the beatings were usually accompanied by all manner of homophobic epithets. Sports build character. It did in my case. I learned that coping with being bullied is an important life skill. Certainly it has been one of the keys to success in my chosen profession.
Oh my god.
I check the news from Syria, which nobody seems to care about anymore. Many dead. Upheaval. Also, Canada’s Senate scandal seems to have blown over. But Harper got a case of beer from Obama. Sam Adams. Not a bad choice.
I begin to make breakfast. Tex-Mex breakfast burritos.
Skating. Whistles. Canada gets a third goal. I feel bad for the Swedes now. They are nice and have a fine social welfare system. And Ikea. And write good crime novels. I thought Kenneth Branagh was good in the BBC version of Wallander. I check IMDB to see if it’s coming back for more. It is. Awesomeness. But so is Heroes. Why?
Skating. Whistles. Swedes look sad. I feel bad for them. Is their king watching? I look up the king of Sweden, guess his name is either “Carl” or “Gustaf”. Holy crap: he’s Carl Gustaf. There’s a picture of him. He’s an Honorary Admiral in the British Royal Navy. Weird. He also is a Knight with Collar of the Order of the Elephant in Denmark. This I have to check on Wikipedia. It’s the highest order in Denmark. Nothing to do with actual elephants, which are not native to Denmark.
I watch hockey. Amanda is reading about Ukraine. This will end badly.
Skating. Three minutes remain.
Breakfast is about ready. Eggs got a bit browned on the bottom. We fold them into wraps with onions, mushrooms, peppers, avocado, and goat cheese. I wonder again if I could or should be vegetarian. Probably yes to both.
Skating. Countdown. Ten, nine, etc.
Canada wins. I feel a tiny twinge of national pride. And also that this is vengeance for all the poorly drilled holes and missing pieces from Ikea furniture over the years.
Mentally, I cross “watch a hockey game” off my bucket list. It comes just below “write a bucket list” and just above “get a colonoscopy”.
Much cheering across Canada on CBC. Looks staged again. In Russia, the players shake hands. Some replays. I see Sidney Crosby remove his helmet. I was hoping for female and flowing red hair, like Eowyn in Lord of the Rings when she reveals herself. “I am NO man!” That would have been awesome.
Am pretty sure I see a Canadian player mouth, “Fuck, yeah.” Camera moves away from him rather quickly.
According to CBC, 15 million watched the game. I check: 13 million voted in the last federal election. Apples and oranges? I dunno. I’m just sayin’