Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

You are not “educating” someone when you explain how or why they’re wrong.

If you merely critique, you will merely appear to criticize. And all creatures defend themselves when attacked. It’s an instinctive, genetic response.

The fact is, whether it should be this way or not, the human brain is not an all-purpose computer. People do not, like Mr. Spock, logically evaluate the truth-value content of non-emotive speech and ignore the rest.

To start, not everyone is competent to evaluate every utterance, even though they may believe they are. Nor is any listener free of ego, even though you may want them to be.

But more to the point, not everyone is competent to speak on every topic, even when they believe they are. Nor is any would-be “teacher” free of their own ego, no matter how hard they may try.

I guarantee you that any fool with a functioning language center sees behind your words far better than you do. If you believe your merely well-argued criticism is free of emotion, if you believe you are effectively schooling these dumb shits, you are at best ignorant, and at worst, conceited.

To those genuinely interested in educating others, I propose there are certain human truths to overcome. First, the relative status of the interlocutors matters. Unless you have a socially recognized position of authority, which is rare on the internet, you have to approach everyone, even those you feel are vile, bigoted assholes, as though they are your equal.

Second, context matters. You will have much more success — but still probably not very much — if you restrict your on-topic arguments to discussion forums and the like, where that kind of speech is encouraged, versus shouting into the void or pissing into someone’s stream.

Third, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. This is a whole topic in and of itself. Just accept that you need to spend more time on the how than the what. FACT.

The sad truth is, genuine opportunities to educate (anywhere really, but especially on the internet) are few and far between. And what opens a person to new points of view has almost nothing to do with facts and statistics and the structure of valid argument and a whole lot to do with trust, social status, context, emotional state, stomach contents, and a bunch other non-rational factors.

People are, thankfully, not machines.

When you merely criticize, you kinda sound like a pompous ass to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. And I tell you this as a guilty party.

If you really want to educate, and not just gratify your own ego with an erudite put-down, you will choose your time and location carefully, you will listen more than preach, and you will arm yourself with basic human respect even where it is not given in return.

Anything less is intellectual masturbation.

Thank you for listening. I will return the favor. Sincerely,

-me

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