I had no choice, but I'd never be satisfied with the merry-go-round, either. Today's been like this. Here's the first (bad) part.
You cannot win when you have already been judged
First, a good friend whom I trust and respect sent me a letter stating that a relationship I had with another group of people was unhealthy. Now, I have forgiven this group of people many times, because they are all tecchy-geeky-computer people with the usual baggage I am used to. But he said something very ... it had impact. He said that from what he saw, he had left the group quietly, and suggested I do the same because the whole group was starting to collapse. He mentioned some internal disputes between the board moderator and some of their most heavily posting users. Now, the trouble is, these people have solved a LOT of problems I have had with all kinds of things. The support this board has given me has been unparalleled, and although I have noticed a small stagnation (repeats of posts, too many in-jokes), I didn't think it was abnormal. The board recently had an upgrade, survived a financial crisis, and pulled through because of the support of its users (and a buyout). I thought it was going strong, but he opened my eyes to something else: dependency. He said that some of my posts were too dependent on opinions, and instead of sticking to the facts, they have started flame wars. Like I have been asking, "What's the best way to do Task X," instead of "I used OS 123 to do Task X, what do you use?" I didn't see this before, but when he pointed it out, he was right. Furthermore, he added, certain users, myself included, have been attacked outside the board (in IRC channels and such), and he saw that as a BAD thing indeed. He even showed examples.
Now, I got very upset. Not personally because some yutz was making fun of me (although it stung a little, it simply cannot be stopped - it's a free country), but at the immaturity of the other users. I would love to say that the computer world is full of logical Vulcans who can discuss things without emotional baggage, and hell, I'd even accept the usual stuff like defending one's position strongly, but making fun of people like school children behind their back is just so immature and obnoxious. Especially for adults. And personally, I feel it's even more disgraceful for intellectual adults, although I will agree that I seem to see more immaturity on average among the top intellects I have known. Now I know people who will tell me things like, "Yes, this is true, ever meet someone from Mensa? Snobs, all of them!" I have only known two people in Mensa: one was a snob and the other hated Mensa because of the snobbery. But two is a poor statistical sample of some 100,000 Mensans in a hundred countries throughout the world. I'd like to suggest that many true intellectuals never come off as such, because the American media viewpoint is that all intellectuals are basically snobs. Some just know to say the right thing at the right time, and you can't think as much when your mouth fires off all the time. Sometimes there is wisdom in silence, too, you know. And that's why my friend suggested I stay quiet for a while.
"But what if I have a question?" I ask. Sometimes my job requires I know something, and it's better to ask a knowledgeable pool of people on a mailing list or chat room than it is to just look on the web. People can disagree, and show me varying points. "That is true," he said. "But in your recent topics, have you felt more learned, or more defensive?" Shades of the board that will not be named (although they were an extreme example). Things like "I like chocolate, it makes me happy," will get a reply of, "Are you saying people who like vanilla are moody?" I reply that's not what I meant, but as my friend puts it, "You have already been judged. That's why you feel defensive. You will never win. They will twist what you say, and attack because it makes them feel strong." Over a frickin' ice cream flavor? "Oh, especially that, because you cannot bolster an opinion as well as you can with hard facts. Opinions are considered the vulnerable underbelly in an argument." I also knew, from experience, that even facts are counted as opinions when the judgment is against you. You could prove, for example, that the ancient Chinese used to use firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. But simply stating this apparently made me a racist who thought Asians were stupid and primitive (this really happened, on a nontechnical board, too). "I'm not saying it's fair or right..." he continued via IM, "...but it's the law of the wild. Think of it this way, what would you do if the board had gone down? Who would you turn to?" Good point. Nothing is assured in the virtual world.
I tried not to think of these people as bad people, although my friend begged to differ. I think people are, and always have been like this. The virtual world makes it easier to be a jerk and an idiot than it does face to face. "But how do you know they haven't been setting up an IRC channel to discuss how much you suck?" I don't. But civility still holds back the tongue for those with even a shred of social aptitude, at least to your face. And body language carries a long way. If I knew these people felt this way, I would have held my tongue. A good emcee knows when his audience is bored, or when there's nothing you can do to cheer them up and make them like you.
Recently, as if to totally drive home this point, I had a recent post about "Keith R." who was paranoid that people didn't like him, and they didn't. A recent almost-flame-war debate used this example to show that I was somehow a bad person, even though the journal entry was advice I was giving someone else who was suffering something from his Everquest Guild (how uninspiring, and I still say just walk away, dude!). The poster on this board twisted this into some sort of attack on him, even though ... well Carly Simon put it best:
You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you...
So what will I do now? Leave the board? Leave all my boards? No. I won't. I will be more careful about what I say, and understand that while some people don't like me, it's not because I am a bad person, it's because that's the cycle of life. Shit happens. They don't know me, I don't know them, and if they want to dis me outside, they will, and karma will take care of it all in the end.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000185.html