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But here’s the thing: you might be a jerk and not even realize it.
While it’s one thing to be mean and contemptible, it’s a far more subtle sin to be a jerk through condescension. There are certain attitudes and phrases that we all exhibit on a day-to-day basis that can unknowingly derail an otherwise productive conversation.
So stop being a jerk. (I’m just as much at fault as everyone else.) The Internet would be a nicer place if we all took a step back and changed the way we conversed, wouldn’t it?
Posturing With Intelligence
Nobody likes to feel stupid. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest guy in the world or just an average Joe who admits that you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer: it sucks when we feel inadequate. On the Internet, it’s easy — maybe even too easy — to overcompensate for that insecurity.
That’s why so many arguments devolve into a measurement match between intelligence. IQ is often brought up as a way to dismiss an opponent even though it never, ever works. It only ever backfires.
For example, take a look at this Reddit user’s response to the question, “For $5 million, would you swallow a pill that permanently lowers your IQ by 10 points?” It’s a silly but innocent question that can be answered without much drama, but this user makes a critical mistake.
First, the user boasts of his own intelligence in a way that devalues everyone else. Second, he makes a mockery of average folk by bringing up the “perils of intelligence”: he’s so smart that he can’t enjoy the kind of entertainment that mere plebes enjoy.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if you have to bring up your intelligence at any point, you’ve already lost. It’s a juvenile tactic that only serves to insult everyone else, without actually proving that you’re as intelligent as you claim.
Posturing With Authority
The thing with authority is that it only has power when people recognize said authority. Trying to defend your point by proving that you have credibility on the matter is futile because your opponent(s) likely won’t care. You’ll just come off as trying too hard.
Anyone can claim anything on the Internet. Statements like “I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder” and “I have a PhD in physics” carry no weight because they can’t be proven over the web.
But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if the claims you make are true or not. The only thing that matters when arguing online is that you argue the point. Anything less than that will be seen as an attempt to bolster a weak argument with unrelated details.
And when taken to the extreme, self-proclaimed authority can actually weaken the point you want to make.
Posturing With Language
Language is a funny thing on the Internet. Since it’s the medium that we all use to communicate our thoughts, some people think that manipulating the medium can make our thoughts seem smarter than they really are.
While language sticklers (also known as “grammar nazis”) are little more than annoyances, people who speak as if they’ve been chewing on a thesaurus all day are cringe-inducing – to the max. It reeks of trying too hard, and you will be mocked if you do this.
Strip away the snobbery and it’s glaringly obvious how mundane the thought actually is: “People are too superficial nowadays.”
You also have folks who inject way too much formality into their words in contexts that don’t call for it. YouTube is one of the most informal websites on the planet, yet this guy types like he’s wearing a monocle and top hat.
Is it a joke? Maybe. Is it jarring? Yes. Does it stink of insecurity? You bet.
When you have to manipulate the delivery of your thoughts in order to make your thoughts carry more weight, it should be a red flag that the thought is weak to begin with. Don’t mask it with pretentious language.
Posturing With Maturity
In the list of “things most cherished by Internet trolls”, maturity ranks right below intelligence. But just as the “intelligence” cherished by these people isn’t real intelligence, the “maturity” isn’t real maturity. To them, immaturity is defined as liking anything they don’t personally like.
The underlying arrogance is easy to sniff out: “I’m more mature than you, so the things I like are better than the things you like. Let me show you the light.” The real tragedy is how anyone could possibly think that this tactic could ever be successful. It never is.
It’s a twist on Cohen’s Law of the Internet, which can be summarized as “anyone who tries to dismiss someone else’s point of view has automatically lost the argument”. The core issue here is the dismissive attitude, which has no place in any genuine discussion.
Posturing With Logic
This point may seem a bit paradoxical. After all, logic is the heart of argumentation, isn’t it? It makes sense to point out logical inconsistencies when debating online. The problem, as always, is that this can be taken too far or twisted.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to dismantle arguments by poking for fallacies, rather than actually presenting counterarguments. The irony here is that pointing out a logical fallacy is itself a logical fallacy.
But the real misstep happens when you fall back on logic as a way to defend yourself when the context doesn’t call for logical discourse. Humans are rational creatures, but we’re also so much more than that. Reducing everything to logic and dismissing everything else is not the way to go.
That being said, fallacies are real and worth avoiding. Check out our guide to Internet fallacies to make sure you don’t make those mistakes.
Condescension stems from a need to prove one’s superiority. How can superiority be proven? By posturing. If you ever find yourself posturing for position in an argument, that should be a red flag that you may be coming off as pretentious.
It all comes down to treating people with respect — especially the ones who disagree with you! When you stop thinking of others as below yourself, you’ll find that conversations end up being more fruitful and productive.
What are the most pretentious Internet arguments you’ve seen? Tell us about them in the comments below!
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