Election year is in full swing, and things are getting real. By things I mean people’s opinions. Americans, already a partisan bunch, are coming out of the woodwork to voice their political passions.
Nowhere is the battle more heated than on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and the comments sections of political websites, long epicenters of ugly, shallow discourse, will increasingly light up like the Fourth of July with poorly reasoned arguments and ill-informed analyses as November draws closer.
As you enter the fray, willfully or not (because, let’s face it, at this point it’s pretty much unavoidable), beware the dark recesses of the Internet. The road to Election Day is littered with all manner of vile beasts anxious to pounce. Below are some of the more common creatures known to prey on logical, reasoned discussion and a little advice on how best to defend yourself should you encounter them.
1. The Blamer
This creator of boogeymen can easily lay the fault for complex issues at the feet of a single entity with just a few clicks of the keyboard. No matter the conundrum, he knows precisely who is responsible.
Why is Donald Trump so popular? Ever heard of a little thing called Fox News? Why don’t we all drive wind-powered Volkswagen vans and subsist solely on sunlight? Easy, the Koch brothers. Why will we all die one day? Where have you been, under a rock with no access to Salon.com? Three letters: N, R, and A.
“It’s Bush’s Fault” is his Bible, and believe me, he practices what he preaches. Every problem, no matter how layered and complicated, has a simple, single point of origin and, like a recent convert to veganism, he’s more than happy to tell you about it. Just don’t ask about Benghazi.
If confronted by this venom-spewing, finger-pointing know-it-all, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, attempt to explain the dynamic nature of polling, energy policy, or gun control. Your best bet is to play along and give him a taste of his own medicine, countering every simplistic association with equally simplistic rebuttals. He says Fox News, counter with MSNBC. He mentions the Kochs, simply respond with George Soros.
It won’t change anything, obviously, but it’s entertaining enough to watch him do battle with his own reflection.
2. The Gamer
This fellow’s liberal arts education is finally starting to pay off—in the form of condescending, pseudo-intellectual rebukes straight out of his 100-level university rhetoric class.
You know this guy. He fancies himself an elevated thinker and attempts to prove it by repeatedly parroting terms like “straw man” and “ad hominem,” no matter the context. Be careful, you’re dealing with a master debater—on a good day, he speaks eight words of Latin.
His profile pic is a CGI swordsman and his cover photo an homage to “Fallout 4,” which he’s already beaten despite its release just weeks ago. He’ll pwn you too if you insist on pointing out the obvious economic flaws in Obamacare because, even though he’s never paid a bill in his life, it’s allowed him to stay on his mother’s insurance for another two years while he finds himself. He’s feeling the Bern alright—universal healthcare means he may never have to move.
Use extreme caution around this one. Didn’t I tell you? He almost passed that rhetoric class. Still has the book, too, in case he needs to quickly reference a fallacy, or a coaster for his milk when his mom brings him more waffles.
But don’t let his unwarranted condescension and poorly formed logic derail you. Chances are your arguments are perfectly solid, unlike the gelatinous liquid swarming with flies in the piles of cereal bowls that litter his basement bedroom.
3. The Shamer
This one’s a doozy, and my personal favorite. While Lady Gaga may have been “Born This Way,” you weren’t, so don’t even think about commenting. Got something to say about Planned Parenthood? Grow a uterus! Still call Caitlin “Bruce?” I’ll bet you do, Mr. Perfect!
The Shamer operates under the bizarre assumption that unless you happen to be part of an affected group, you are wholly unqualified to weigh in on its issues. You know, like you can’t condemn the Holocaust unless you’re German or Jewish.
Ironically, the twisted prism through which this critter views the world only reflects light in one direction. Such people are perfectly comfortable sharing their opinions on other groups, such as, well, conservatives, or Christians, or Mitt Romney’s black grandbaby.
There is no real defense here, so you’d best just move along. Unless, of course, you can grow a uterus, in which case feel free to engage all you want. It might be the only thing that can actually shut these people up. But probably not. All the facts in the world can’t kill the creatures lurking in the shadows online.
4. The Race Baiter
This fellow is as old as time itself, and he’s probably not going anywhere. Al Sharpton is his Mr. Miyagi, his crane kick a single word—“racist”—sure to defeat even the savviest debate opponent, or at least he thinks so. The horrors of real racism now take a back seat to the most mundane, trivial occurrences because, well, literally everything is racist.
Trump wore white pants after Labor Day? Racist. John Kasich didn’t care for Chi-Raq? Racist. You didn’t protest the Oscars? Super racist!
While one would think his routine tired by now, it now flourishes like never before despite the fact that we currently have a black president, never mind recent research revealing America to be one of the least racist countries in the world.
But beware. While his weapon of choice may seem somewhat cliché, his arsenal has evolved with the addition of a bevy of meaningless academic terminology. “Cultural appropriation” and “white privilege” are now things, and if they’re new to you, they won’t be for long. The Race Baiter has a passion for educating the uninformed, racist power structure that is in reality neither uninformed nor powerful nor racist.
Rest assured that you will eventually cross paths with this one, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Your best bet is to simply check your privilege and move along, for the crutch of false victimization will not be relinquished easily, and almost certainly not in the comments section of a Facebook post. Good-intentioned logic is almost always a weakness in today’s political discourse.
As Ray Bradbury brilliantly opined: “You can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.”
This list is by no means comprehensive. No one knows the full extent of the horrors that await reasonable people as they attempt to engage their fellow citizens on issues that affect the entire country. But if you do choose to fight, do so with honor. And remember, while there is no honor in retreat, there are many fewer gray hairs.