Worse*, Because Reasons

It was somewhat surprising that a post about a 3-second Snapchat would go out into the wild, but it captured much of what’s at issue in the culture war. It wasn’t posted for shock value, or to demonstrate who was more culpable. To the extent blame was directed at anyone, it was the grownups.

First, the New York Times for publishing an article that framed the matter to valorize the young man who deliberately harmed a young woman, whose word choice was immature at best and offensive at worst, who intended harm to no one. Second, the University of Tennessee who succumbed to the shrieking of the mob by ousting her from matriculation.

But these were the issues up front. The reactions to this scenario, as reflected in the comments, tell and retell the tale of how difficult, if not impossible, it’s going to be to overcome the anger, viciousness and simplistic tribalism that permeated the comments. Notably, I trashed more than half the comments as being repetitive (the same commenter repeating essentially the same comment directed in reply to multiple other commenters), needlessly offensive (random comments by people hiding behind ‘nyms calling others names or suggesting violence), or just contributing no thought whatsoever.

But I posted quite a few comments that contributed no thought whatsoever for the purpose of exposing just how emotional, simplistic and mindless the warring tribes are. What is apparent from these comments is the facility with which sides flip positions, with the woke asserting “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” the usual retort of the tough-on-crime law and order crowd, while the others discovered nuance, inequity and the immaturity of kids uttering foolish words.

This will come as nothing new to most of us, fully aware that people simply pick their sides and then use whatever arguments they can muster to push their agenda. Some can’t distinguish between their feelings and reason, one of the most troubling aspects of this moment in history when people argue in emotive terms and believe they are entitled to never have their feelings hurt or questioned. That, of course, makes discussion and resolution impossible.

Forget about the underlying beef and consider the method of argumentation that’s become pervasive. It’s disingenuous. It’s empty. People pick their sides and use whatever argumentation is available to bolster it, oblivious to the fact that they’ve seized upon the other tribe’s rationalizations and shamelessly proffering arguments that would outrage them under another circumstance.

Even worse, some have no argument, but just vapid snark or conclusory assertion, because they feel the compulsion to register their “vote” for their tribe. This was particularly notable for the side that attacked the young woman for her utterance, for whom the wrongfulness of a white girl saying the n-word needed no further consideration or thought. Would it have been acceptable for someone to have taken a gun and killed her for it? If there’s no limiting principle, like youth or proportionality, and her act was so inherently wrong and evil that no consequence was too great, why not?

One commenter put a lot of effort into a remarkably idiotic comment. While another five comments by the same person attacking various other comments in the same fashion were trashed, it stood out as reflective of what’s happening.

HAHAHAha all you haters of the black kid are hilarious! You wish him all this ill will while magically jumping over the fact that that white girl was the one that was wrong in the first place. So what if she didnt directly call HIM a N-word, if she’s that casual with her use than yeah she probably uses and hears it a lot more behind other people’s backs. And her little excuse “i didn’t know, i’m just a privileged white girl that doesn’t bother to listen or understand the world around me or other people because i’m white dangit and everyone is supposed to act the way i act”. Welp, she just found out that that is not true and it’s hilarious. I applaud this young man for being this patient to teach a good lesson to white people. Time is up, cut the racist crap or get handled. Its’s her own fault!!! Ain’t nobody force her to record herself being a racist, coulda just said nothing and been excited about her permit and moved her way through life, now she lives at home. And every job she ever tries to take will find out about her so easily. Oh what i wouldn’t give to be the black HR person at any job she applies, the sweat on her butt must almost permeate the room. SHE DESERVES THIS. PROVE ME WRONG. Sorry for the caps….

A snarky response would be to wonder how this person remembers to breathe, but I suspect this was written by a well-intentioned, potentially well-educated and likely tenacious ally for social justice.  She deserves this? Prove him wrong? What possible narcissism makes this person believe anyone cares to prove anything to him ever? Yet, he does, as do so many other young people absolutely certain of their ideological righteousness and blind to their mindless viciousness.

Have we reached the point where there is nothing to be gained by discussion, as discussion is dead and we’re left with tribes taking their respective sides and saying nothing more substantive than “reasons”?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply, even though it’s Wednesday.

31 thoughts on “Worse*, Because Reasons

  1. Jason

    “Have we reached the point where there is nothing to be gained by discussion, as discussion is dead and we’re left with tribes taking their respective sides and saying nothing more substantive than “reasons”?”

    I feel we reached that point years ago.

  2. tk

    These cretins have power because society recoils in fear at the yammering of a tiny minority. “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
    The solution starts with publicly standing up for common sense and proportionality, and refusing to give in to the braying.
    Kids say stupid things. Because they’re kids. Brains not full developed and all that. A reasonable person can apply a statute of limitations on stupid things that kids do and say.

    And why on earth would someone revel in the destruction of any young woman?

  3. Luke G

    I think I’m too young to be a true grumpy old man, but I’m going to venture down that path and say “yes, the concept of discussion is largely dead and replaced by talking points and tribal snark” and blame social media. When Twitter and Facebook are the new public square, discussions aren’t happening between actual human beings any more. The guy you’re disagreeing with isn’t your neighbor who (wrong as he may be about whatever we’re discussing) also moves your packages inside when you’re on vacation and clears your driveway with his plow truck. He’s just a screen name posting things that are stupid, if not outright evil, and he must be slapped down for it.

    We’ve all turned into football fans, where we pick our team and root for them no matter what. The same behavior that you cheer from your own team should be booed from the opposing team, and whenever the referees penalize you it’s proof that they’re biased and on the take and not to be trusted.

  4. Grum

    MacKay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds“ would have run to several more volumes had he been around to witness t’internet after the beginning of “the Eternal September” but sadly, “Witch mania” seems to persist, derailing any serious discussion on contentious topics, and makes me wonder if a fear of not also being burnt at the stake is the main motivation for a large section of the online population.
    Perhaps that’s why SHG’s posts taking a humane slant on something that has provoked performative outrage raises the roof down here below the post.
    And, to be fair, “shove it up yer hoop Noah”, wasn’t my best moment when our host is kind enough to let me comment. Sorry ‘bout that.

    1. L. Phillips

      For all his GOM-ness the Admiral appears to me to be championing an intelligent and nuanced version of “Can’t we all just get along?” As far as I can tell human beings do a lousy job of balancing self preservation/self identity and the need for social interaction. My wife’s family reunions are a case in point.

      Sarc aside, maintaining that balance can become extraordinarily and overtly brutal. Wyatt Earp’s ride comes to mind as a micro example with the Trail of Tears or Bataan Death March in the mid-range and any number of “world” wars at the high extreme.

      Avoiding this kind of behavior is continuous hard work for all involved. Quiet reflection, an understanding of basic psychology, sociology, and history, the ability to really listen and to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes as it used to be called, and the humility to accept that your view might be the wrong one from time to time are all needed. Hard enough in a friendship or marriage. Approaching impossible in a society.

      My money is on this latest surge of idiocy being resolved with the weapons of death. But I come here, in part, to be reminded that there is another way.

    2. Dan T.

      As an ’80s college student and dialup BBS user, I know that the “Eternal September” wasn’t the beginning of online flame wars, which happened with great regularity even in the old academic-geek net, with the difference being the lack of extreme real-world consequences for the participants as happens now.

      1. Grum

        Dan, for sure, that’s how I remember it too, but it tended to stay in its lane rather better back then – alt.tastless, even, had a surprisingly sensible FAQ and things rarely got out of hand, ‘cos most of the participants probably had better things to do with their time.
        I mention the “Witch Mania” because I suspect that if people feel generally powerless, and in modern society there are plenty of reasons for that, there must be a vicarious sense of power in condemning the scapegoat du jour; a chance to feel that their voice is being heard, if only for the wrong reasons. One must try to remember that, away from the online world, these people care for their families and fuss their pets. Society as we know it, referencing Mr. Phillip’s comment, would scarcely function if we acted in real life the way that some people react on, say, Twitter. Of course, I would say that, being a beneficiary of white privilege, and probably transphobic, although I’ve yet to be accused of being racist.
        Mencken probably had it right when he wrote “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
        Avoiding that temptation, as Mr. Phillips rightly points out, is hard work, and our host has one of the better forums for reminding me of that.
        I don’t, however, envy him the job of moderating the comments.

  5. Drew Conlin

    I would have thought the musical responders would have posted Sly and the family Stone .. Don’t call me whitey”..of course the song goes on to use the n- word as well… and that was an a.m. radio hit!… in the late 60s.
    Doesn’t sentiment matter even when someone uses the word? My guess is like many other young white kids she has absorbed some black culture and to ingratiate herself she used the word.
    Of course she should not have said it but frankly I don’t see it as racist as much as trying to be authentic.

  6. Angrychiatty

    That commenter, and every one like him, is a total coward. Losers like him can hide behind their computer screens and say things they most likely wouldn’t have the courage to say in person. Sure, a few do- most don’t. These people get a rush from screaming something inflammatory out into the world from the safety of their computer screen. It’s not just anonymity. I see versions of this in email communications between lawyers; too often, emails are addressed to opponents using words or tone that they would not have the courage to use in a face to face conversation. Electronic communication is truly the tool for the cowards of this world.

    1. Raccoon Strait

      It’s not the tool, it’s the integrity of the communicator. The tension is between (as SHG has pointed out) reason and ideology expressed in a tautological manner (under the unreasonable assumption that repetition will make an untruth true).

  7. Steve King

    Show me someone who does not say or do something stupid and I will show you someone who is dead. We should have some latitude for stupidity. We should have none for the viciousness and cowardice of those who injured this young child.

    The Stoics would say it is not the word but your reaction to it. UTK and the young man involved have placed themselves under the control of anyone who utters the right words.

    1. Dan J

      Whenever these progressive types talk about situations like this, the “they knew what they were doing was wrong” line always comes up. So I ask them if we should abolish the juvenile justice system and just charge everyone as adults. They have lots of reasons why it isn’t the same, but none of them make any sense. And, of course, they don’t want to talk about it. I just get called a racist.

  8. Sacho

    I think there’s plenty of discussion still happening, but you may be a victim of your own success. I think you’ve laid out your positions well enough throughout the years with numerous examples, and the stable readership has already settled their arguments and disagreements on many of the issues, so the comments turn into head nodding or memes, and the occassional burst of crazy from the outside world as your blog’s popularity reaches the mainstream. For every crazy comment, I’m sure(or at least hope!) that there’s many people who read the post, and just did not have anything to comment, because they either agreed with what was said or were forced to reflect on their current position and were left unsure what to think. It’s also much easier to produce an emotional outburst than to craft a meaningful, thought-out response.

    Without the perspective of time, it’s hard to say if this has always been the case, just less obvious due to the prominence of mass communication, or if we’ve been going up or downhill, or if we’re just in a pendulum swing.

    I personally try to see the comments you illustrated as a good thing. I think people are overwhelmed by the relentless bombardment of information, facts and opinions on intransigent issues that refuse to be solved. I think you’ve shown similar frustration or tiredness(just more restrained) at how the same set of problems seems to keep popping up over and over, entangled together in an unbreakable web, with efforts to improve one leading to the worsening of others. I see these outbursts as a safe and harmless way to release the negative emotions building up from the frustration that we can’t simply bend the world to our will, that we can’t just will utopia into existence. Better this than more rioting on the streets.

    I also think it’s worth considering the difference between the personas people portray – especially online – what they’re willing to sacrifice for(virtue signaling vs actions), and what their deeply held beliefs are(tribalism and fitting into society vs principles). To give an example, I’ve mostly seen the ridiculous dramatic persona of Elie Mystal from his posts online, but how much of that is really him, how much of it is just a performance to keep his tribal affiliation, how much of it is dramatization just to antagonize people into engaging with his arguments rather than just dismissing them?

    Finally, I think that people are just not that careful with their words, the way lawyers may be. I’m sure you know this way better than I do; we rarely express ourselves with clarity and precision – literally will do here, I hate everything that causes me mild discomfort, and so on. There is a certain vocabulary, a way of expression you settle in when you frequent a social circle(“go back to reddit”), which does not translate well across boundaries. You can discern the meaning behind the words of a long-time poster here, because you have the context of their previous interactions, but random strangers can come off jarring, because there’s no context why they are communicating the way they are. I know myself I post differently here than I do on slatestar, or on a board about video games, or on reddit and whatever other forums. To that end, I see these posts as mostly just a break down in mutual understanding, almost spam, an acting performance, not as a demonstration of where people actually stand on the issue at hand.

    TL;DR I think these comments are just the way it is, nothing new or particularly bad; I don’t think discussion is dead, and most of all, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with moderating them. Thanks for the blog, thinking is hard work.

    1. SHG Post author

      Usually, when I see a very lengthy comment, I think to myself, “oh crap, please don’t make me read this insanity.” Thank you for this comment. This is the one that reminds me why I have comments here in the first place.

  9. Richard Parker

    Asked in his old age to explain the causes of the Spanish Civil War, General Franco’s brother-in-law and former Foreign Minister Ramon Serrano Suner replied: “We simply couldn’t stand each other”.

    Unfortunately we seem to be on the same path as Spain was.

  10. Rengit

    The conception in the nearly trashed comment of what an HR position is about (and, since this whole thing is about a girl whose admission was revoked, presumably a college admissions officer position as well), a minor fiefdom where you reward friends, fellow ethnic or racial community members, and political allies with a job, i.e. a sinecure, and punish or keep out those who aren’t any of those categories if they don’t flatter your sensibilities, is interesting, and is a view growing in popularity amongst the sub-35 set.

    It doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming productivity or economic health of institutions if “reward ally/punish enemy” is to be the forthcoming modus operandi of HR/college recruiting.

  11. Hunting Guy


    “I realized, rather late into the process, that my first mistake was to assume I was dealing with a rational, sane person.”

  12. orthodoc

    First, happy new year to all. Second, thank you, everyone, for the education this year.
    I am particularly grateful in this instance that although many comments on “He Taught Her A Lesson” were trashed, the boss left quite a few (103 –a record number?), including some that were completely off the rails.
    If we ever can get beyond tribes taking their respective sides, we have to pass what Bryan Caplan calls “The Ideological Turing Test”–being able to state the rival position so well that it sounds like our opponents are the ones doing the talking. That starts with hearing them, in moderation, with moderation. (Thank you, 230)

  13. Steve King

    I cannot find a definition of “social justice.” It is a meaningless term. So what exactly do SJWs fight for anyway? Oh, I forgot: feelz.

    That crowd is far from progressive. Just the usual do as I say bunch that humanity has had to suffer with since we stood up on the plains of Africa.

    1. PML

      You forgot to add the OT at the end of SJW, making them SJWOT’s

      SJWOT= Social Justice Warrior Oxygen Thief, since most of them do nothing but steal valuable oxygen from good people with all their yammering.

      1. SHG Post author

        I’ve been on the road today, so haven’t had the opportunity to do much more than approve comments. And I decided it might be nice to keep my nose out of it and see what became of the comments without my involvement. But your comment pushed me to respond.

        Your comment is not merely worthless shit, but you are that asshole causing the problems this post is about. You are the asshole.

        1. Sgt. Schultz

          Your “tolerance” has made assholes like this and racists like some of the others feel empowered to spew garbage like this. Are the good comments worth this asshole?

          1. SHG Post author

            No. I’ve clearly become a little too hospitable to assholes. This is unacceptable and I will not let this continue.

  14. Dave Landers

    My question is why did Ms. Groves participate in the reporting of this article? I began to read this on the front page of the newspaper and then opened the paper to finish reading the article and it struck me that you had a picture of Ms. Groves sitting in posture.

    1. David

      I think many people, if contacted by the New York Times were told something like “we’re going to be running a piece about how you’re a racist who used racial slurs 3 years ago”, would understandably feel the need to try to defend themselves and do damage control, possibly even persuade the person there’s no story because it happened 3 years before as a minor and not directed to someone as a slur. Rather than letting the NYT piece come out with “we asked her to explain but she refused to speak to us or acknowledge it was an offensive word”.

  15. paleo

    As politics has become more divisive, the phenomena in which political zealotry destroys the ability to think objectively has become more widespread. It is even destroying a lot of folks’ basic humanity.

    Take the Congressman-elect that died last night of a heart attack after covid related surgery. Several in the Twitter-active left are predictably dancing on his grave this morning, asserting without any apparent evidence that he was opposed to policies that would slow down the disease, etc. And these aren’t just internet randos, it’s journalists and attorneys and such. People that should be able to think and empathize. But they’ve lost that ability, at least as it comes to people that they disagree with, who should simply be shamed.

    it’s really pathetic, but you can’t even get through to them to try reason, because if you disagree with them you’re automatically on the other team and not worthy of attention.

  16. Scarlet Pimpernel

    Like several of the commenters above, I have been online since the early 90s with the BBSes and Usenet alt.whatever discussion groups. I was also what in todays parlance would colloquially be called an “asshole”. All scorched earth and an over abundance use of the phrase “feminazi”. As I look back on those days, I can say I truly regret the pain I know I caused others.

    That being said, I was also young, barely older than Mr. (really Mr.) Galligan and as I have aged and experienced more of life, I have learned to see things from others points of views. That doesn’t mean that I am above snark or presenting someone’s position in the worst possible light and at time fall very far short of my ideals but I can at least now acknowledge their humanity. As has been stated, we must do the difficult thing and recognize that there are real people on the other side of the screen and that we never know what is going on with their lives. For me, I may not agree with the actions Mr. Galligan took, Ms. Groves word choice or what the random commenter has to say however I also recognize that we are all just people trying to find their way in the world. This means that expressing a vile attitude towards Mr. Galligan, or anyone else online, would reflect more poorly on me, than the target of the comments.

    Or more to the point, if I can look at myself at my worse and still see myself as a decent person, then I must be willing to do that for other people. But it also took many many years to reach that point and when I look around today at the level of discourse, I just remind myself that for the vast majority of people the internet and public forums are still fairly new. Hopefully it doesn’t take them the decades it took me to mature but there is at least hope that things will change for the better.

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