I have had the (unfortunately not unique) opportunity to learn something of the art of flame from the hands of some of the masters. These experiences have given me a bit of insight into the strategy and tactics of how to skillfully conduct a conflict by using flames.
Persons interested in taking up the art of flaming people may have a career open to them as a politician or lawyer, or in any other profession which requires a supple spine and no morals.
Take the lessons of Machiavelli's The Prince to heart. His instructions on how to conduct yourself in conflict to achieve your aims are very useful. However, Machiavelli does note that lying, cheating and betrayal are still immoral. In order to be successful, it is critical that the flamer must be absolutely sure that his actions are completely justified. Therefore, a good grounding in Sun Tzu's The Art of War is also critical as his work is unencumbered by any sense of right or wrong.
If you have any doubt of this, recall the nature of flames. Flames are not to prove right or wrong, but only used to bolster weak arguments by making personal attacks, and to drive your opponent off through attrition.
Rule One of Flames: Be Aggressive. Do not hesitate to use profanity, abuse and many capital letters. Remember that 98% of people are sheep and are easily led or impressed by a strong personality and conviction. It does not matter if you are the literal embodiment of evil â€“ people will agree with you and admire you simply because you are strong and determined. Remember: the most widely popular character of Star Wars is Darth Vader. Also, remember that Adolf Hitler's cult of personality has long outlasted Churchill's, FDR's and even Stalin's.
98% of the people will bow to your wishes if you are aggressive enough. Some will stay silent, which allows you to win. Others will be so impressed by your strength of personality that they will flock to agree with you. By doing so, they hope to gain your favor. It is doubtful that you would ever want such toady bootlickers as your actual friends, but they do make useful allies, so don't hesitate to use them. They are your cannon fodder. Let them happily lick your boots and give them a pat on the head and they will follow you, shouting your name.
If you are at all inhibited about using strong language and fighting words, shrug them off. Remember, this is not pistols at ten paces, nor rapiers at five, not even daggers at three. This is forum posts at 500 miles. Even an abject coward can shake his fist at that kind of range.
Rule Two of Flames: Beware of your opponents, but be grateful for them. Without your opponents, life would get pretty dull and your cult of personality will lose interest when you don't have someone to shout at anymore. You may therefore find it necessary to range into other newsgroups or forums to scout out potential opponents.
Rule Three: When first you encounter opposition, insult them as loudly and obnoxiously as you can. If you are lucky, your opponent will be so angry as to make mistakes. If you can get him to angrily send off a message before taking the time to think about it, study that message carefully. This will probably allow you the best access to holes in his arguments. Your follow-up must exploit that weakness to the fullest, forcing him to re-align his defenses in the weakest part of his armor. With any luck, you can get him to have to defend himself on absolutely ridiculous grounds.
Rule Four: Ask leading questions. If you can lead your opponent to a position where he has to take up a ridiculous defense, so much the better.
Rule Five: Never answer questions. Avoid answering any leading question at all costs, especially if it could potentially weaken your argument. Simply edit the question out of your reply. If pressed and the question is repeated, quote nonsensical rules that make answering the question irrelevant. If no such rules exist, make them up. If you can do it in Latin, so much the better, as it impresses the bootlickers. If really pressed, attack the question. Try "That's not the question. I think the *real* question is…" then go on to make a statement of your own.
Rule Six: There is NO Rule Six. Remember to make use of pseudo-intellectual remarks and quotations from sources like Monty Python. The bootlickers will all laugh and be reminded what a great and hilarious person you are.
Rule Seven: Make up rules as you go along. By making up net-etiquette rules, you are in control of what is polite and what isn't. This creates the illusion that you are a gentleman in the minds of the bootlickers. Remember that net-etiquette is inconsistent and varies from group to group, so by making up a rule, you don't have to list its origin. Remember though, these rules are fluid and do not apply to you.
Remember: The golden rule is not "He who has the gold makes the rules." It's "He who makes the rules takes the gold, and redefines the word 'steal'."
Rule Eight: Lie. Posts and e-mail are not made under oath. If you ever are put in a position where you have to defend yourself, lie. You never said *that*, you clearly meant something else. If your opponent confronts you with a quotation from earlier posts, insist loudly that you were quoted out of context, and smear your opponent by comparing him to tabloid reporters and the Paparazzi.
Also, when lying, it is important to accuse your opponent of lying to help cover your tracks. It doesn't matter if he has lied or not, but by accusing him of lying when you yourself are doing so, you win points by obscuring the facts. It then would require that quotations be pulled out, which would either be so long as to cloud the issue, or if trimmed could be said to be quoted out of context, see above.
If you are accused of lying, deny it. If repeatedly accused of lying, say that you already covered that and proved that you were right.
Appearance is everything in this medium. Remember: Flame wars and political campaigns are not a question of being right â€“ they are a question of *sounding* right.
Rule Nine: Cross-post frequently. If you cross post to other groups, and are abusive and aggressive enough, other groups of bootlickers will flock to your cause. If someone complains about the cross-posts, fervently maintain that they are relevant to all groups. Also, don't forget to use your ability to make up rules to defend your cross posting. Say that by convention, the maximum number of groups cross-posted to is 15, or more should you need them.
Rule Ten: Claim victimhood. Make certain that you paint yourself as a helpless moral victim in a cruel world, and that your opponent is part of the group that has oppressed you, or is in aide to them. The bootlickers will see this as depth in you, as you confess your weakness. They will love you even more.
This allows you to avoid taking responsibility for your actions. The bootlickers certainly don't assume responsibility, and they don't like to see their heroes do it either. It helps to remind them how pathetic they are. There's no use in grinding your superiority in their faces. Lie, cheat and bully and then blame it on someone else. This way you can proclaim yourself a Robin Hood, fighting the oppressors in a guilt free environment.
If your opponent tries to point out that victims aren't licensed to do anything they please, you can point out how unsympathetic he is to your cause. The world has made "Politically Correct" into a very sharp sword; don't be afraid to use it, but don't stick too closely to it as it has drawbacks. Not adhering closely to being PC is a great advantage as it makes you appear to be kind, but not unrealistic. Use PC when it is to your advantage; throw it away when it isn't. Produce artificial rules when it applies and when it doesn't. Calling your opponent a racist is always to your advantage.
Lying about your racial background can be useful too. Recall it only takes one grandparent to allow you to register as a Native American in the USA. You can always claim to be a minority even if you aren't, and reap the rewards. It doesn't matter if victimhood is irrelevant to the case at hand. Always remember that OJ Simpson is free today because he played the victim. And that was in a court of law where people were under oath.
Rule Eleven: Take the moral high ground if possible. It is always easier to fight from such a stance as you can claim to be a man of principle while you smear your opponent as a scum of the earth oppressor. The bootlickers love this.
Rule Twelve: Use dramatic, descriptive and imaginative hyperbole often. It impresses the bootlickers who will be amazed by your inventive mind. If it can put your opponent in a bad light, so much the better.
Note! This can easily be overdone. Comparisons to Hitler tend to be overboard. You have to know your audience well enough before you can use that one, but if you have the bootlickers really on your side, it can make a devastating point.
Rule Thirteen: Be emotional. Logic comes off as boring. Emotional, self-righteous indignation goes down well with the bootlickers. Being emotional allows you to contradict yourself at whim.
Rule Fourteen: Know your enemy. Try to read several of his posts before attacking. Gather information so you know where to strike. Strike his weak points hard enough and you'll get an incoherently angry reply that can signal his doom as he overextends himself, loses his temper, and alienates his allies.
Rule Fifteen: Know yourself. Watch out for emotional 'pushbuttons' in yourself. Try to avoid subjects which upset you, as you will tend to give too much of yourself away. This allows your opponent access to your weak points.
Rule Sixteen (optional): Know the subject. It is often helpful if you actually know what you are talking about. But, this is not always necessary. It will usually suffice if you only sound like you know what you're talking about. The bootlickers can't tell the difference. A useful technique to sound like you know the subject is to make up fictitious article titles in fictitious journals. "Well according to the article in The New Journal of Psychological Society of Austria on March 5th, 1994 page 46, available in any decent University Library, you are very, very wrong." No one will bother to research the article.
Make up statistics. Statistics always sound impressive and make devastating arguments. Produce imaginary studies out of thin air to back up your conclusions. Or, better still: reinterpret actual studies until they appear to say what you want them to.
Remember that a convincing lie is more persuasive than an actual fact. Facts can be contradictory, and don't always lend themselves to support you. Lies work better as you can tailor make them to suit any situation.
Dangerous last resorts, and claiming victory in defeat: Every once in a while you may actually find yourself outmatched by someone who can out argue you, or actually knows what they are talking about. The following ideas are risky and only to be used as a last resort.
E-mail your opponent with your reply. You can always claim that this was a mistake, but don't apologize. Say something went wrong with your connection that wouldn't allow you to post or respond by normal channels.
E-mail has the advantage that you can continue the losing debate while cutting it off from your throngs of bootlickers. It also allows you to cut off your opponent from his allies. Divide and conquer.
Ignore his requests that you stop e-mailing him. Continue the debate as normal. You may find it less satisfying without your throng of bootlickers to cheer you on, though by telling them that it is continuing in private will lend more credence to your image as a peacemaker.
Your aim at this point is to build up a few letters back and forth, so that then you can demand that he stop sending you mail, and then you can claim that he is stalking you. With letters in hand, you can claim that he has been harassing you, and threaten to use lawyers.
The risky part here is that he may do the same to you.
If he takes your e-mail and posts it back to the newsgroups or forums, you can then make up rules about net-etiquette to attack him for doing so. Your bootlickers will heartily agree that you were 'betrayed' by your opponent, because to them, you obviously took the time to settle things peacefully with that opponent. This gives you the illusion of being a peacemaker, which, of course, wins points with the bootlickers.
At that point you can claim victory by declaring that you no longer wish to debate with such a dishonorable person. Smear his character as best you can as loudly as possible and exit. This way you can claim victory, even though you were losing badly. Remember that Saddam Hussein claimed victory after the first Gulf War, and his bootlickers believed him.
With due consideration on the tactics necessary to win at this, I think I'm rather proud of the fact that I've lost every flame war I ever participated in.
Scott Kellogg is a contributor for the Comixpedia. You can peer into his own Machiavellian exploits here.