On the subject of online condescension and dickery

I want to pause to say a few words about dickery in online discussions.
I got to thinking about this tonight, after a sharp exchange with somebody in a discussion thread.
The exchange came about because a male commenter, bent out of shape over a perjorative label being applied to him by a female commenter. decided to begin his response with “Lady. You do not know me”. Then he launched into a whiny excoriation of her and her worldview.
I commented that beginning a response with “Lady” was highly likely to convince a number of readers that he was a condescending asshat.
Unsurprisingly, he was not happy about this observation, and complained that since I did not know how appallingly the female commenter had been accusing him of Bad Things, I should, as he put it, “stop flapping my gums”.
His complaint might be true, the commenter might have been unfair or rude to him. But…
…It is irrelevant.
My main point (which he chose to blow past, because he was all fired up with indignation by that point) was that beginning a comment to female with “Lady” is about as condescending as it gets. It is a clear tell of a certain level of contempt for female viewpoints. And…based on my experience in online forums, this is endemic with male commenters when women either write things that they don’t like, or when women challenge their opinions and worldviews.
Condescension (the online pat-on-the-head equivalent of “don’t you be worrying your pretty little head about this Complex Stuff”) is often a first-port-of-call for male commenters. It is, incidentally, a significant part of the reason why there are very few female libertarians, and it is part of the reason why I find it hard to respect many online libertarians, or take their opinions seriously. Condescension has become an integral part of the online arsenal of many libertarians (that plus juvenile memes promoting old shibboleths).
But I digress.
The other point that needs to be made is that just because somebody starts talking smack to you online doesn’t mean that you have to immediately respond in kind. One of the key life skills that we all have to develop is knowing how to not be trapped or tricked into escalating disputes, and knowing when to walk away from a situation when we conclude that there is no upside to continued involvement.
The sort of person who always responds in kind or with aggression when somebody says something that they find irritating or annoying is the sort of person who pretty quickly acquires the reputation of behaving like an obnoxious confrontational asshat with a temper management problem. This is not a behavior pathology that has any beneficial upside of making friends or positively influencing people.
You can be be a dick in online discussions quite easily. Lots of people do it almost without thinking, or maybe without realizing that they are doing it.
On the other hand, some of them know they do it, and don’t care. They see it as a personal feature, not a bug.
You can sometimes spot those people in advance. They will say things like “I’m not politically correct”. They may think they are signalling their ability (which they regard as a Good Thing) to be blunt and candid. However, most of the time, in reality, this is a vain attempt at pre-inoculation, a signalling of the message “At some point in the near future I am going to write something that makes me sound like a dick”.


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