16 March 2019

On being conflict-averse

I don't write posts like this very often, and I suspect I may regret writing this one.  But like everybody, I feel a need to vent sometimes.  I would stress that the kind of issues I'm talking about here rarely arise; the great majority of my interactions with people in the blogosphere are quite pleasant.  But just occasionally.....

Unlike (apparently) many people on the net, I am extremely conflict-averse.  One reason for this, though not the only one, is that frankly I don't handle conflict well.  While there have been times when I stopped blogging for short periods due to physical pain or other stresses reaching levels I couldn't cope with, the fact is that I'm always in some degree of pain -- as I've mentioned a few times, I have serious arthritis -- and this tends to make me short-tempered.  I can control that, of course, but it takes effort, and I need to focus such effort on other situations such as my job.  There's also another issue I've never mentioned here, ongoing for over eight years now, which causes me severe emotional stress.  (And I would emphasize that even if all this were not the case, I would still have every right to avoid conflict and arguing as much as possible.  I simply don't like it.)  At any rate, generally I do avoid it -- if I feel like I'm being attacked or drawn into an argument, I disengage from it as quickly as possible, and I try to avoid interaction with people who seem conflict-prone.  This isn't difficult if it happens on another website, since I can just stop reading it if necessary.  The problems arise when it happens here.

I do give potential commenters looking for a fight every opportunity to be aware of this.  There's a link to the comment policy right above the comment form, and it does include a note against "pursuing interminable back-and-forth arguments. This is a blog, not a debating forum. There are plenty of sites out there which are debating forums, if that's what you're looking for."  So no one should be surprised at my attitude toward such squabbles.  It's right there.

(Tumblr blogging culture is a lot blunter.  I sometimes see disclaimers at the top of a blog like "If you're a homophobe, sexist, racist, TERF, ableist, weightist, MRA [list continues for a dozen more epithets], then fuck off and don't interact."  I'm not comfortable being quite that aggressive up front.  Maybe it's the age difference.)

On the few occasions I've let myself get drawn into arguments, they have almost always turned out to be worthless.  The kind of person who does this generally does not read carefully and does not respond to the specific points I make, preferring to recite canned talking points in favor of their position and respond to the standard talking points in favor of mine rather than responding to the points I actually made.  My replies thus end up simply repeating what I already said in hopes that the pest will actually read or notice it this time.  That kind of thing is a waste of time and energy, and I can't imagine it's of much interest to anyone else who might read it.

The same goes for engaging with people who post off-topic comments.  My favorite example is this post, consisting of a set of videos of prominent atheists discussing religion.  The first comment attacked Sam Harris (who was in one of the videos), on the grounds of his supposedly not believing in free will, something which didn't come up in any of the videos and was irrelevant to the topic.  From then on, later comments harped on the same point (there aren't many there now -- I think I may have deleted some of them after originally letting them post.)  Eventually, realizing that post wasn't going to get any on-topic comments, I just closed comments on it.  Then one of the people who had been arguing about the free-will thing, missing that fairly-blunt signal, tried to continue the argument on the subsequent post I wrote explaining why the off-topic determinism issue was irrelevant.  You could not make this stuff up.

In a recent comment berating me on another blog, one person attacked my "particular way of handling conversations that [I do] not wish to have", as if the mere fact of writing a blog that sometimes gets onto controversial issues somehow obligates me to have any "conversation" (or endless back-and-forth squabble) that anyone on the planet with internet access "wishes" to come here and impose on me, for however long they feel like imposing it.  Sorry, that's not how it works.  Do whatever you want on your own blog, but on mine, well, if someone came to your house and insisted on arguing with you about something you'd made it clear you didn't want to argue with him about, you'd tell him to leave.  It's the same principle.

I honestly don't see why people harp on such things, though.  In my own 13 years in the blogosphere, of course I've had times when other bloggers reacted badly to comments I left or whatever.  As best I can remember, I haven't reacted by arguing or attacking them.  If I genuinely feel I've been treated unfairly, I just drop that blog from my regular reading and go elsewhere.  The internet is a big -- very big -- place.  And on those rare occasions where there's a real issue of debate involved and I have a serious point I need to make, I handle it like this -- not naming names, making it about the issue and not about personalities.

I've seen what happens when bloggers submit to pestering and engage with it.  Threads with dozens of comments, all repetitious bickering that never goes anywhere and never resolves anything, and always puts me in mind of that saying that you should never mud-wrestle a pig because you just get all muddy and the pig likes it.  Perhaps those bloggers have infinite energy and time and infinite capacity to absorb pointless aggravation.  I don't.

I put off publishing this post for several days, because I couldn't decide whether or not to close comments on it.  The reasons for not allowing comments are, I'll assume, obvious; but I was also curious what other kinds of reactions I'd get -- perhaps other bloggers have had similar experiences and problems?  In the end, though, I decided to close them after all.  I'm not really interested in having discussions about this with anyone -- it's more in the nature of clarifying, for anyone who wants to know, an aspect of who I am.  I suppose one or two people may write posts on their own blogs bashing me about it, which is fine, and I may even get a nasty e-mail or two (don't expect replies).  But I just had some stuff I needed to say after all these years.


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