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Comment Categories Rant

In the years that I have been blogging I have become increasingly annoyed with certain categories of comments that have popped up on my blog, on other blogs and websites, on reddits where sometimes my posts are reposted, and perhaps even on facebook.  (Although, since I still refuse to join facebook, I can only assume that commenting practice is similar – from what I've been told it's pretty much the same.)  The categories of commenting that annoy me, and that are utterly common and predictable, together comprise the meta-category of belligerent stupidity and because today I am feeling rather grumpy, and am coming down with a cold, I feel that I should write yet another ranty and semi-humourous post about the categories of belligerently stupid commenting that most annoys me to make up for all the boring and pseudo-theoretical musings I've recently posted.

1. "I clearly know nothing about this area but you're wrong."

Commenters who feel the need to dismiss articles and other points of view even though they're utterly ignorant––and their blaise and smarmy comments reveal this ignorance––about what is being discussed are extremely annoying.  Especially when, after demonstrating their ignorance of the area being discussed by showing that they have studied nothing connected to this area, they still want to maintain they are experts because their oh-so-special opinions and thoughts must be more worthwhile than whatever they're debating.

For example, I sometimes get troll comments (which I promptly delete) that profess the following profound axioms: "maoism is stupid and laughable"; "feminism is dumb and evil"; "you're stupid for being a communist."  But sometimes I get comments that seem to be saying something intelligent, and I can tell by the commentator's tone that s/he thinks s/he is clever and knowledgeable, but at the end of the day s/he is really making the same asinine and dismissive statements.  I will publish comments of this more pretentiously stupid type, though maybe I should also delete them since, when you are able to comb through all the dust-in-the-eyes hyperbole, they're equally as ignorant as the ones I delete without thinking.  For example, I sometimes find myself publishing and responding to something like: "maoism is stupid and laughable and I will prove this by saying something dismissive and referring to my own brilliance but not at one point demonstrating any knowledge about maoism or any understanding that it's still the most popular communism in the global peripheries, but since I am so smart I must be right."  Really, I don't know why I bother responding to these comments.

Of course, this type of commenting (like all the categories I'm complaining about) is not symptomatic to my blog (if it was then maybe that would just mean there's a problem with me) but is common commenting practice of self-proclaimed experts.  Take for example the comment string on this post on another blog: the commenter named Todd is apparently under the impression that communism/marxism means voting in the revolution and doesn't seem to grasp the fact that this is historically known as "opportunism", that under Bernstein and then Kautsky this helped cause the destruction of the 2nd International, that it was described by Rosa Luxemburg in a very famous and influential document, and the revisionists representing Todd's position had Luxemburg executed and Germany turned over to National Socialism.  Hell, even entryist marxist groups who endorse working within electoral social dem organizations reject the idea that socialism can come from voting.  True, there probably are a few bizarro "marxists" out there who think Bernstein was correct, but Todd is representing this position as normative communism––and he refuses to imagine otherwise regardless of his obvious ignorance.

Then there is the fact that on various reddits, you keep running into the guy (because it's usually male) who tries to convince you that Keynes was a "socialist"––which would be news to Keynes whose economic policies were intended to stop socialist revolution by buying of a sector of the proletariat.  I know economic astrologer morons like Hayek have argued that Keynes' policies would lead to socialism, but Hayek never argued that Keynes or his policies were socialist.  And really, considering that Hayek's parascientific theories should be trashed, along with those of Friedman and every other economic astrologer, because the crisis proved them wrong, why would we even trust Hayek's views about Keynes?  Hey Keynes-was-a-socialist guy: in Canada there are far more welfare reforms of the Keynesian variety and, guess what?, the country is still proudly capitalist.

In any case, people who think they can make smarmy and dismissive comments about areas of which they know absolutely nothing keep commenting because they think they are experts in everything.  I imagine that they are unemployed academics like myself with too much time on their hands, or graduate students who are convinced of their own genius simply because they got into graduate school, or undergraduates who took one class marginally connected to the topic in question at some point in time––like that annoying gothy guy who sits at the back of every first year philosophy class and pronounces himself an expert on Nietzsche…

2.  "Clearly this article is filled with straw-person arguments.  Period."

Even thinking about this type of comment makes me grit my teeth with annoyance.  Suddenly everyone commenting on blogs, reddits, comment strings on news articles, and most probably facebook is a fallacy expert, though the only fallacy they seem to know is the straw-person fallacy.  A straw-person argument is something that misrepresents a position in order to easily knock it down, but simply calling something a straw-person argument does not make it so––if you're going to name something a fallacy the onus is on you to explain why it a fallacy.  Unfortunately, the fallacy experts simply respond to an article and/or position that they dislike with only: "this is filled with straw-person arguments and it is garbage."  End of story.

Now I'm all for using informal logic to pick apart weak-points in argumentative positions because, by doing this, it forces me to examine my own arguments.  At the same time, though, I'm sympathetic with a complaint one of my work colleagues made last year in a course on argumentation theory we were both teaching: sometimes this approach to discourse turns students into fallacy detectives who rote memorize the names of fallacies so that they do not have to critically engage with material.  And this simplistic straw-person complaint is case in point: it is generally used by commenters to avoid thinking about an argument they dislike and to dismiss it simply by naming a fallacy like the divine name of God.

Check out this post on People of Color Organize where commenter "hedgelines" argues with cunningly: "[t]here seems to be one strawman in every paragraph of this article.  Consider me thoroughly disappointed."  And this is all "hedgelines" has to say to feel content that he has devastated the offending argument's position.  There "seems to be one strawman in every paragraph" claim does not explain where these straw-person fallacies are, how they are straw-man fallacies, and why "hedgelines" thinks they are straw-person fallacies.  But they must be straw-person fallacies because he has parachuted into a comment string, declared them so, and vanished without even providing an explanation to back up his argument.  This isn't an argument but a vague pronouncement: an argument of this sort must interrogate the original position and explain what makes it flawed.

I suspect that this type of idiot "arguing" comes from people who disagree with the position they wish to dismiss but cannot come up with a counter-argument.  And if this is the case, then the original argument probably isn't a "straw-person" for if it was they would be able to quickly explain how the argument is misrepresenting their position––really, defusing actual straw-person arguments is pretty easy because all you have to do is demonstrate the position being misrepresented, and if you're calling something a straw-person one would figure that you would know why you're doing so.  So my suspicion is that all this straw-person crowing comes from people who do not like that their political/social/intellectual commitments are being attacked and perhaps the attack is so accurate it makes them extremely uncomfortable.  Rather than critically engage with this possibility, they drop the "straw-person" bomb with triumphalist satisfaction so as to distract others from engaging with the original argument/article.

There is actually a fallacy for this kind of argumentative behaviour: it's called the red herring fallacy.  A red herring fallacy is used to avoid the terms of the initial argument by distracting people with another claim that may be utterly disconnected.  "Don't pay attention to these words because there seems to be a straw-person in every paragraph" is a red herring because it is aimed at preventing actual engagement with the subject material and, rather than replying directly to said material, dismisses it with distraction.

Even more hilarious is the fact that these straw-person claims are often in themselves straw-person fallacies.  Why?  Because sometimes the arguments made, even if they are debatable are *not* straw-person arguments; misrepresenting them as such, however, is doing precisely that.

(I realize that I have just opened up a possible infinite regress of straw-person fallacy charges...)

3. "I am going to tell you an anecdote or provide you with some crazy background story about my life that gives me special insight."

This has got to be the easiest dodge to honestly engaging with arguments and articles and other commenters in the world of internet discourse.  And since there's often no way of knowing whether the commenter is telling the truth, dishonest commenters can make up any grandiose claim about their life, wield it like a hammer, and declare life lesson expertise.

Like, for example, the anticommunist who always informs you that you are scum for being a communist because s/he suffered greatly under some (usually unnamed) communist regime.  This is not to say that I don't doubt that some people suffered under the socialisms that collapsed, but I agree with Mobo Gao (who also lived in socialist regime that eventually fell) that peoples' class positions in those historical contexts determine their view of these contexts.  I also know many people who were born and lived through these fallen socialisms and who have a different perspective.  But no: their viewpoints don't matter, even when they're published and the authors' biographies are known, because we have to accept the common-sense viewpoint pushed by the anonymous commenter who can make up any story about hir life to bolster hir position.

Then there are the people who say the most reprehensible things and then appeal to some identity you are supposed to believe they possess.  Like the commenter who spouts racist garbage and then, when you call hir on it, informs you that s/he's a person of colour and so "can't be racist."  Of course, those of us who believe in structural oppression really don't care about your individual identity because your identity doesn't stop you from being racist––or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, etc.  This happened to me, once, after an article I wrote about Andrea Dworkin and, after calling a troll a misogynist, my spam filter was glutted with "fuck you" attempted comments arguing that the commenter was actually a woman, then a black woman, and then a black disabled woman.  On another blog's comment string, after calling another commenter on her defense of homophobia, was snidely informed "well you don't even know if I'm gay"––as if this somehow mattered when all I was arguing was that she straight men did not have the right to make homophobic jokes simply because it was "innocent razzing" and "built team spirit."

So do I generally care about the supposed subject position you occupy when: a) there is no way to know if you're telling the truth; b) you are saying the most reactionary and offensive garbage?  The answer is obvious.

4.  "I'm not going to read this article but will dismiss it anyhow because I think I know what it's about."

Love this one and have seen it happen over and over.  I've even complained about it briefly in past articles––not that it mattered considering a commenter on that article demonstrated his inability to still not read after the complaint.  (Which brings up the sad point: why am I complaining?  We all know that this idiot ranting won't make a difference!)

One of the best tragicomical examples of this type of asinine commenting, in my opinion, is the frenzied commenting response caused by the "white left" articles on Enaemaehkiw's blog Speed of Dreams.  So many commenters did bother to read what he was actually writing, seeing red (or probably "white") the moment they read "white left."  Bizarre assumptions and assertions were made that in many ways confirmed some points made by the initial articles about white privilege and how it functions in the North American left.

If you do not read, I would assume, you shouldn't have the right to comment.  I mean, this seems like an entirely rational hypothetical imperative––like if you do not write your term paper you will get a failing grade.  But this rule does not apply to internet discourse where everyone is an expert and apparently can know the essence of any given article or post simply by reading its title, a few lines out of context, or other comments by other people who also do not read.

And I think this last category of idiot commenting really defines the problem with them all: these are comments by people who assume (often arrogantly) that they know more than everyone else but are generally ignorant and, lacking any self-awareness, refuse to recognize their ignorance.


  1. One of the true facts about the internet is that 99% of people who "argue" with a focus on informal logic don't know the definition of the fallacies they are accusing their opponents of using.

    Also your opponents probably aren't unemployed academics. More likely they are variations on this guy

  2. I just have a few comments to make about this post. Why do you get to decide which comments to post and which not to on your own blog? This obviously biases things so that only your opinions or arguments that you can refute get through. You should really learn to be more objective, like Fox News or something.

    Clearly, your opinions on comments are entirely flawed because you are maoist and we all know that Maoism is stupid and laughable. Granted, I have never read anything about Maoism, but because the name suggests it does not come from North America, it must not make any sense. I know this because I have my own blog and have had comments on it as well. Also, I stopped reading by point 4, but am sure it is as flawed as the rest of your post.

    And now that I am done with my most brilliant of arguments that makes the existence of your entire blog pointless, I might have to go back to thesis writing, which I have been successfully procrastinating all morning.

  3. Ms. Marx: I laughed so hard when I read this I almost snorted coffee out of my nose and now am coughing.

    Enjoy the thesis writing, or at least enjoy procrastinating...

  4. Your last paragraph (as you probably know!) is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect in psychology. The less expertise one has, the more one underestimates one's lack of expertise.

    1. Actually, not being well versed in psychology (not my area of study), I didn't know that this phenomenon was called "the Dunning-Kruger Effect". In some of the critical thinking courses I've had to take the generic textbooks have mentioned this study but have done so in a rather vague manner… Always meant to follow up on it, though, so thanks for the reference.


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