Back in the 2012 electoral cycle, I got involved in what diplomats call a “full and frank exchange” of views over the merits of Barack Obama as the candidate for POTUS. The individual in question, who removed himself from my Facebook a long time ago, was engaging in juvenile put-downs (along the lines of “Obama is a huckster in a $1500 suit”). When I pointed out that this was juvenile. he accused me of “unbelievable arrogance”, and then started attempting to bully me by saying to his friends “I am copying this to my friends so they can say what they think of this”.
A couple of times, other commenters have accused me of being “arrogant” on Facebook.
So..what did I make of this?
Well, in the first instance that I documented, I had been a bit pointed in some of my comments to him, so I apologized. I wished I had not, but I was trying to be nice to a person who seemed to be terribly angry online. It didn’t exactly do much good, he never apologized for being juvenile in his comments, and he dropped me off Facebook anyway.
My general view of being accused of being “arrogant” is simple. If you’re accusing somebody of being arrogant, you’re not critiquing substance. You are fixating on style.
In the internet world, there is a term for this. It’s called tone trolling. The perpetual demands for “civility”, “respect” and “politeness” are variants of the same underlying tone-trolling reaction.
Now, at this point I have to point out that I am a proponent of polite discussion and argument. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, a fact that a lot of online commentators either ignore, or did not understand in the first place. As my Dad used to say, good manners cost nothing.
But holding argument hostage to communication style is a cop-out. From time to time I read people saying things like “I’m not discussing this until you are more respectful”. When I then examine the interaction, it becomes clear that what they are really saying is that they simply want whoever it is they are disagreeing with to either shut up and go away, or to agree with them. In other words, they cannot handle dissent and disagreement in a non-emotional fashion. Allegations of “arrogance” often originate from people with those sensitivities. They simply do not want to process contrary opinions, views or evidence. However, they know that to admit that is the equivalent of admitting “my mind is welded shut” which they know makes then sound…well, not very constructive. So they dress it up in some sort of style-related complaint instead.
So, my response to anybody who accuses me of being “arrogant” this election cycle will be a two-part one:
1. You are complaining about perceived style, not substance. Why don’t you talk about substance?
2. Are you really complaining about my style, or is it that you don’t want to process my message?