A rare Internet discussion where both sides prove their point

One of my most favorite and most unproductive things to do is argue on the Internet with people, and I know it’s so, but it feels productive in the sense that I better understand why I feel the way I do. Occasionally, I much later change my mind when I recall some argument without first remembering which side of it I was on.

One of the worst ever to get involved in is abortion because it is not the sort of thing that will resolve in common understanding. I used to wear a T-shirt I made that said ‘LEGALIZE ABORTION’ because that was the joke. It would be like a shirt that said, ‘BAN MARIJUANA’. Back then, both already were common policy and said nothing more than STATUS QUO.

But recently, I engaged with someone on Twitter on the subject of reproductive autonomy and made many mistakes but (of course) don’t feel that I was wrong.

The major mistake I made was not recognizing how the person I talked to had latched on to an age that was not rationally important to what I was saying but definitely was viscerally: 10-year-olds should have access to long-lasting contraceptives. Really, I meant anyone with internal reproductive systems should be able to have access to it as soon as they begin puberty and are at risk of becoming pregnant. But the person I talked to fixated on the example age, and I should have given them an off-ramp so their automatic emotional defenses could lower.

The second mistake was to allow any snideness or attack to creep in to what I said. To have a productive discussion with anyone, you can’t call into question their motives, even if their motives have changed throughout the conversation.

Beyond that, what follows won’t be decisive or much use to anyone else, and I’m sure many have had it before, but I was surprised by how quickly someone went from believing that unborn lives were preeminent to finding reasons to prefer everything else.

Continue reading “A rare Internet discussion where both sides prove their point”

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BOOK REVIEW: We’ll be reading Zoë Quinn’s “Crash Override” to understand the Trump era for decades to come

In response to the recent Buzzfeed article about behind-the-scenes goings-on of Milo Yiannapoulus’ and Breitbart’s racism laundering, Washington Post journalist Philip Bump said, “An early chapter of every book documenting the Donald Trump era will be about Gamergate.”

If so, Zoë Quinn’s book Crash Override will be cited by nearly all of them as the autobiography of the person most affected by Gamergate and how she’s worked to defend everyone against online mobs since.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: We’ll be reading Zoë Quinn’s “Crash Override” to understand the Trump era for decades to come”

No one cares how beautiful you think someone else is—especially them

“When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.”
Steve Martin

HUMAN 1:
Can you BELIEVE how utterly SEXIST Steve Martin is?

In the year of our lord 2016 I can’t believe women are still so OBJECTIFIED

It’s getting to the point where even the most innocuous thing is setting people off because the in thing to do is get offended and cry foul.

When men die, their attractiveness as youths is rarely if ever included in a retroactive assessment of their life.

That’s why it’s sexist. Steve Martin felt the need to mention his approval of her figure and how much he wanted to bang her 40 years ago as a precedent to a more substantive compliment.

Being outraged about that is not useful or productive except selfishly to feel like you’re maintaining purity. Sure.

And yet that’s an entirely separate issue from pointing out what’s ‘problematic’ about that tweet.

Continue reading “No one cares how beautiful you think someone else is—especially them”

‘Change isn’t good or bad. It’s just change.’

The other day, Twitter did a complete overhaul of their website in terms of appearance and functionality.

It rolled out gradually but suddenly: not everybody got it at once, but once they did, it was immediately and completely different.

I hated it at first, but I’ve gotten used to it now. It was actually an improvement, rather than just a change, I will grudgingly admit.

Continue reading “‘Change isn’t good or bad. It’s just change.’”

As Billy said, ‘Brevity is … wit.’

The other day, Ralph Fiennes, the famous British film actor who also loves stage acting, said he does not so much love the current direction of language.

“We’re in a world of truncated sentences, soundbites and Twitter,’ Fiennes said, being quoted for a soundbite.  “(Language) is being eroded — it’s changing. Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.”

And he’s worried about the relevancy of Shakespeare going forward now that he says he sees young drama students are having more trouble with the Bard than those a few generations ago would have (one wonders if Fiennes really remembers how well those young students did generations ago). He’s worried about how you perform plays with a lot of words with multiple syllables when the direction of language is more Hemingway than Faulkner, read, spoken and understood.

I used to be with Mr. Fiennes on this, and in college, was really worried that that kind of written language would be the equivalent of Newspeak from George Orwell’s 1984. For example, the text, “I love you,” is soul-baring, while “luv u ;)” is common, casual, and expresses nothing. It’s not even “double-plus ungood,” as a character from Orwell’s novel would be expected to say, it’s “++ungud.”

It’s not that you’d have to censor people anymore; they wouldn’t be able to articulate anything meaningful, let alone seditious. (That was my thinking.)

But, that’s a very college sort of thought to have. And you see writers who have just graduated, even journalists supposedly trained to be concise, want to write using the biggest word that comes to mind, maybe even because it’s the first. School trains you to prove that you’re intelligent and educated more than that you’re actually a good writer or know what you’re talking about. “First thought, best thought,” — but only if your first thought is actually good at communicating.

Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “Never make use of a sesquipedalian word when a diminutive one will suffice”?

Or was he the one who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with great-big words, and they are often good to know, especially when not to use them. Twitter, in common usage, may be a gift for people to concisely say stupid and empty things. But that’s what most people say anyway. The longshoreman philosopher of the mid-20th century, Eric Hoffer, said there wasn’t an idea that could be expressed in 200 words.

“But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say,” Hoffer cautioned. “If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.”

You may need more than one tweet of 140 characters to get the full thing across, but you’re also going to make every letter count. You’re going to spill over the limit and go back and look at what you’ve written. Have I expressed this in the most effective way possible? Why am I wasting space on adjectives when I could use a more inherently evocative word (“walked without hurry” vs. “sauntered”). If someone reads only this message, how can I make this memorable and impactful on its own?

Writing has always been easy; so too chatting and tweeting. But good writing is always heavy labor, it’s just the form has changed now.

The future belongs to the aphorist. And I’m OK with that.