1. Person A says something
2. Person B takes offense to Person A's comment, personally
3. Person A takes offense to the offense
4. Escalate and repeat
That's the simple loop. If it was just that simple, it could easily be ended by removing one person. But flame wars are never that simple. Here's why they get complicated so quickly:
- People start to chose sides. Now you have Persons C-J and K-P all taking offense at each other taking offense. Multiple loops form, all feeding off each other. A complex chaos pattern emerges.
- Time delay. Some people read the posts as they come in, or right as they are listed on the board. Others wait days or more. So a flame war could have died down, but then someone seeing it for the first time may restart it again.
- Some people agree, but would never admit to it, and constantly fight with each other... but saying the same thing. It's like a dominance game. "I know you agree with me, but I want you to be wrong anyway so I can crush you!"
- Some people don't know the difference between an opinion and a fact. "Dogs are better looking than cats," is an opinion. "Dog breeds have more variety in body shapes than cats," is a fact.
- People often exaggerate claims, or make unfair comparisons like "Dogs are FAR smarter than cats because of their lungs allow more oxygen to the brain," or "Saying dogs are smart is like saying Nazis are cool."
- The people, complaining about the flame wars or trolls, just add to the noise by... being noisy and off topic. Trolls evaporate really fast when you don't respond at all to them. Flame wars run out of fuel if you don't reply to the flaming topic.
Part of the problem is many people don't know how to properly phrase a provocative comment. For instance, saying "I think you are full of crap" is slightly more offensive than saying "Your opinions are full of crap," but the best way to express distrust in someone's opinion is, "I simply disagree." The passive approach is best, and while not foolproof, it takes someone with a mean streak to say, "You disagree because you suck." Even better? Do what I do: say nothing. I watch more flame wars go by like one watches a tornado a few miles away: I have a lot of awe and amazement at the wreckage, but glad I am not a part of it.
Some people just can't let a topic go. It's like they have to be right at all costs. Losing face or being wrong is so terrifying, that they simply will not allow it. These are self-fulfilling prophesies, of course, since people like this can't have a give-and-take friendship of any kind. Even when these people apologize, they do so in such an aggressive manner, it's almost in retaliation. Like, "Yes, I am SO SORRY. You happy, now?" They may harbor a grudge against you for days, weeks, years, even. I know one guy who still hates me to this day because I smacked him down on Usenet in 1992. They'll pick on everything you say, like they have to prove to everyone that they are better than you.
Tech boards are RIFE with this. I am not sure why, but I tend to think a lot of stereotypes when I see people arguing heatedly, passionately, and angrily about Operating Systems. I mean, I use Windows a lot, but dislike Microsoft's business practices even more. I like Linux, but I am still not 100% secure with it. And OpenBSD is great, but still a lot of it is a mystery to me. I haven't been on a Mac in a while, but I respect them. If someone says to me the the Mac is the greatest thing in the world, fine. If they say Linux sucks, fine. Linux may not be the OS for them, like how some people don't like soda or are allergic to nuts. All of them have their good and bad points. But the religious fanaticism to certain technical choices are blind alleys that could form a dead end. Ask all those Atari ST enthusiasts I used to hang out with. They used to HATE the Amiga. They made personal enemies over it, and you know what? Both are pretty much dead (although the Amiga isn't quite dead yet). Just think, two people out there still hate each other because one guy made fun of Tom Hudson (ST software guru). I found that the people who tried to divide the line between US and THEM were jerks in the real world anyway.
I am not sure why they come in waves. I just hope they go away soon, because I want to read a board or e-mail list for serious on-topic subjects, not that So-and-so is a scumbag.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000208.html