Today’s Dance: The Fun and Frustration of Participating in Flame Wars

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We’ve all done it. At least, I’ve done it. Gotten on the internet, disagreed with someone, and stayed on that site or forum or app for hours or even days waiting impatiently for every post of those who disagree with you, with warring anxiety and glee, planning what you’re going to say next. Flame wars. Gotta love them. Or not.

People get passionate about ideas, and different ideas spark different passions for different people. With ready access to a way to have a (more or less) public discussion about ideas that are valuable to them, in the internet era thousands (millions?) of people have found themselves having long arguments with people, sometimes retreading the same ground over and over, sometimes devolving into name calling and threats, and only rarely leading to some sort of change or consensus.

Flame wars are pretty much the opposite of mindful dialogue. The purpose of mindful dialogue is to make a connection with another person, to persuade or inform, to build relationships. Flame wars, on the other hand, almost always seek, often with excitement, the ‘ruination’ of the other person’s argument and the possible humiliation of the person arguing.

On one memorable occasion nearly a decade ago, I remember completely eviscerating an argument made for the Iraq war by a stranger on the internet. I was privately gloating about this when I received a private message that the person I had ‘won’ against was a sixteen year old girl who was planning to go into the military to pay for college, because she had no other choices, and was now terrified and confused about her choice thanks to my flame war with her. It taught me a lesson.

Unfortunately, it didn’t teach me to never engage in flame wars. I still do, on occasion. I did so yesterday, in fact. In my defense, I was coming to the defense of Zerlina Maxwell (who scarcely needs my help – she’s a tough woman) who was being bullied for daring to say that men are responsible for rape and need to take action to prevent and stop it. Also in my defense, I never, ever ‘eviscerate’ anyone anymore unless I am relatively certain that the person in question is an adult, and the person has started down the road to insults and threats.

So today’s dance explores the time honored internet tradition of flame wars. Feel free to join in:

  • Have you ever engaged in flame wars? Do you usually ‘win’, or ‘lose’?
  • Do you think most people think they ‘win’ flame wars whether or not they did?
  • Has a flame war with someone ever led to a new friendship or a change of heart on yours or their part? Why or why not?
  • Has your stance on flame wars changed over the years? Why?
  • Have you ever honed your debate tactics using flame wars, or did your debate tactics improve when you started using more mindful ways of disagreeing on the internet?
  • How hard is it for you to stay mindful when others are insulting and threatening you?
  • Have you ever insulted or threatened someone rather than addressing the argument? Which one, or both? Why did you make that shift? Did you regret it?
  • Have you ever felt honestly threatened or worried by something someone said to you or about you in a flame war?
  • Do you think you have ever persuaded anyone of anything using the tactics of typical flame wars, or when you convince people on the internet, do you use a different tactic?
  • What do you do instead of engaging in flame wars when you have a disagreement with someone on the web, if anything? Do you walk away? Attempt to persuade? Something else?’

This dance is not an invitation for a flame war in the comments. Because my website is for helping people live better lives, the toxicity of flame wars is not encouraged. Please like and share and pass it on, and please be respectful of one another in comments. Pun wars are always welcome. Flame wars, not so much. You will be gif-ted.

  • My Secret Shame (berinkinsman.com)
  • How Not To Argue (slacktivist.typepad.com)
  • It Came From The 80s – The Flamer’s Bible! (almosteverythingsucks.wordpress.com)
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