Games of Wit, Battles of Rhetoric, and the Art of ‘You Suck’
Hey you â€“ yeah you with the nose.
No, wait. Wait. Let me try that again.
You suck, like your momma on my d*** last night.
No, no, wait. Still not quite right.
You suck, like your momma on my d*** while your gf was giving her a tongue dive.
Now I feel I have successfully refuted your position on Austin’s stance on the Sense-Datum Theory.
Then you must suck even more.
Debate and argument are age-old traditions. Ever since our ancestors sucked their first eggs, we’ve been finding new and innovative ways to disagree with each other on whatever came first, next, or last. Just like we did for sex, we humans have gone and made arguing into an art form. Witness philosophy. Witness satire. Witness comedy, even. (Hmm… can these apply to sex, too? Maybe there’s a future column there, but I digress…)
If the Internet has given modern society one thing, it’s the ability to discuss and debate practically instantaneously on a global village scale. Now, you’d think that with everyone suddenly having the ability and the opportunity to practise the art of debate 24/7 with people all over the world, we’d be spinning out rhetoric and intelligent exchanges like the Classic greats themselves. “I think therefore I am”, “There’s this cave, see…”, and so on…
But I donâ€™t really remember Plato ever saying, “screw you these guys are good and funny,you’re a n00b and afraid to admit it” or “So basicly my point is that you suck…Thank you for you’re idiotic meaning”, or even “Wow. I bet the author got his @$$ kicked by gamers once. That’s the only explaination I can think of. That or crass stupidity. Oh heck why not both”, or anything about wishing one gets cancer and dies, for that matter.
Nope. Plato it ain’t.
Instead of developing tools and skills to debate more intelligently, the Information age seems to be but encouraging the masses to become lazy with their debating skills.
For some reason, a number of people who frequent the Internet are under the impression that if you disagree with someone’s opinion, rather than actually explain WHY you disagree, and try to offer salient arguments that support your own view, you can just namecall and belittle and Yo’ Momma your way to “victory”. Why bother to address someone’s initial argument in point-form and detail when you can just say “Yeah, well you’re an @$$wipe” and watch as everyone in your mob applauds your sparkling ‘wit’?
This is what passes for Rhetoric (a word which originally meant “the art of public speaking”) these days. If you donâ€™t agree with someone’s idea, you just call him a dumbass. If he doesn’t like the same thing you like, you tell him he’s a worthless n00b. If he says something that goes against your beliefs, you threaten him with violence. If you have a mob to travel with and back you up, all the better. Welcome to the new school of philosophical debate.
We saw this happen just this week in response to two reviews of a pair of webcomics with medium-sized fanbases. The creators weren’t happy with the reviews, passed that information along to their fans, and the mobs poured in. Then the Rhetoric hit the fan.
What was ‘discussed’ in these review rebuttals? Mostly that the reviewer was wrong, that the comic creator was great, that nothing the reviewer said was true, and so on. Add to that a healthy smattering of threats of violence, insults and attacks on the reviewers’ characters, and one guy who told a reviewer that his comic sucked (which was particularly interesting, seeing as the reviewer in question HAS no webcomic).
More often than not â€“ and we definitely saw a number of examples in the case of the review responses â€“ actually focusing on the issues at hand means little to those who engage in this type of verbal swordplay. All that really matters is that the speaker comes out sounding smarter, funnier, or “righter” than his opponent; rather than resolve any problems/disagreements, debate/arguing is used a tool for one-upmanship. It’s a crutch for the insecure, used to prop themselves up, and in the case of those who like to play the straight-up ad hominem game, knock other people down in the eyes of others.
The “yeah, well you suck!” retort can’t be countered, because it’s not actually a response to an argument to begin with. It’s a deflection, a delaying/diversionary tactic when the person in question just canâ€™t think of how to actually respond to the meat of the issue at hand. Sadly, this type of tactic has become a standard in online disagreements worldwide. It may only be a matter of time before it’s approved by the W3C.
Is it an age thing? Is it because the Internet is so speedy that it doesnâ€™t give people time to think before they type? If we were to travel back in time and listen to an actual conversation between Socrates and Plato and Aristophanes and anyone else you’d like to toss in the debating mix, would they, rather than sound polished and refined as in a book, actually be hurling insults and colorful epithets at each other whenever one tried to make a point or present a theory?
Maybe this is just the way modern philosophy has evolved â€“ where the vessel is more important than what’s inside. Where, in an attempt to be more efficient, we nip arguments in the bud by attacking the one with the mouth before he can open it to speak the words waiting to come out. Maybe arguing has always been about one person looking better/smarter than the other, and was never about the issues at all â€“ those ancient wise guys just tried to disguise this fact in reams of language, rules, and buzzwords like Logic, Rhetoric, or Philosophy.
Perhaps I’m the one who’s simply not hip on how to argue nowadays. I could try to change, I suppose.
Let’s try debating how to achieve world peace next. I’ll start.
Damonk is the Editor-in-Chief and the Executive Editor for Reviews and Columns.