One year ago, I wrote Ten Things I Want To Stop Seeing On The Internet In 2014.
And now it’s 2015, and I think things are getting better. Take doge. I swear to God that the last time I saw the word doge, it was referring to an honest-to-God Venetian noble. And the price of dogecoin is down an order of magnitude from its peak last February. The War on Doges is starting to seem winnable.
I can’t take any credit for this. It has been a concerted effort on the part of millions of people who saw doge memes on Facebook, let their fingers briefly drift towards the “share” button, and then pulled themselves back from the precipice, restrained by their better nature.
But in the hopes that this is the first success of many, I would like to share some things I want to stop seeing on the Internet in 2015:
1. Abuse Of Poe’s Law
Poe’s Law is the belief that some religious fundamentalists are so stupid that it’s impossible to distinguish them from a parody.
This is all nice and well in the abstract, but when applied to a particular case, where a particular atheist has fallen for a parody site, it tends to be an unfortunate stand-in for “Some atheists are so ignorant that it’s impossible for them to distinguish religious people from a parody of religious people.” Listen:
A: “The Pope just said that everyone who isn’t creationist should be put in jail! What an outrage!”
B: “Uh, you do know that’s on The Onion, right?”
A: “Oh, well, haha, Poe’s Law, just goes to show how dumb those religious people are.”
Problem is, Poe’s Law isn’t limited to religion any more. Now it’s politics, culture, science, and anywhere else where one side thinks their opponents are so stupid it’s literally impossible to parody them (ie everywhere on both sides). You spread the dumbest and most obviously fake rumors to smear your opponents. And then when you’re caught, instead of admitting you were fooled, you claim Poe’s Law and smear your opponents even more.
On the other hand, once you’re willing to admit this dynamic exists, it can make for some pretty interesting guessing games and unintentional Intellectual Turing Tests – see the Poe’s Law In Action subreddit for some examples.
2. People Getting Destroyed By Other People
Whenever I write a persuasive piece, I get to see my fans share it on Twitter like this:
I didn’t destroy anybody. I disagreed with them.
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has to deal with this. Newsweek writes about how Jon Stewart Is A Violent Sociopath Who Must Be Stopped in reponse to increasing claims that Stewart “destroys”, “demolishes”, “disembowels”, and “makes ground beef” out of whoever he’s arguing against on his show.
This bothers me the same way that “debunked” bothers me. Both sides are going to insist that their own research “debunks” the other, and so make it impossible to have a conversation based on the premise that there’s still room for disagreement. The flip side of my fans believing that I’ve destroyed whoever is that when that person writes a response, their fans are going to believe they’ve destroyed me.
At least no one can eviscerate me, since Jon Stewart has already eviscerated the entire blogosphere.
3. Demonstrating That People Are Stupid By Having Them Use The Word “Muh”
No straw man is ever concerned about immigrants stealing his job. He’s always concerned about immigrants stealing “muh jarb”, or possibly “muh jawb”, which sounds like some form of obscure Islamic garment.
This has lately taken a disturbing turn in the form of straw feminists worrying about “muh sojiny”. I strongly believe that every women has a right to her sojiny and no man should be able to take it from her, but I still can’t help wishing that people would lay off the cheap shots for a while.
Did you know it is 2015 and people will still criticize you for getting facts off of Wikipedia?
I’m not even talking about controversial conclusions, like “on balance, the research about gun control shows…”. I’m talking about simple facts.
A: “China is bigger than the United States”
B: “Where’d you hear that one, Wikipedia?”
B: “You expect me to believe something you literally just took off a Wikipedia article?”
Yes. Yes I do. I could go find the CIA World Factbook or whatever, but it will say the same thing as Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is pretty much always right. When you challenge Wikipedia on basic facts, all you do is force people to use inconvenient sources to back up the things Wikipedia says, costing people time for no reason and making them hate you. There may have been a time when Wikipedia was famously inaccurate. Or maybe there wasn’t. I don’t know. Wikipedia doesn’t have an article on it, so it would take time and energy to find out. The point is, now it’s 2015, and the matter has been settled.
How accurate is Wikipedia?:
Several studies have been done to assess the reliability of Wikipedia. An early study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia’s scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”. The study by Nature was disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica, and later Nature replied to this refutation with both a formal response and a point-by-point rebuttal of Britannica?’?s main objections. Between 2008 and 2012, articles in medical and scientific fields such as pathology, toxicology, oncology, pharmaceuticals, and psychiatry comparing Wikipedia to professional and peer-reviewed sources found that Wikipedia’s depth and coverage were of a high standard.
I know this because I got it from Wikipedia’s Reliability Of Wikipedia article. Go ahead, challenge me, I dare you.
5. Articles That Start Off With An Image Taking Up The Entire Screen
This is what I’m talking about. I click on the link expecting an article on gas pipeline deals, and there is exactly zero article on the first screenfull of page I come to. That’s fine, you know, the only reason I even clicked was to see a huge, high-resolution picture of Vladimir Putin’s head. Information is totally optional. Screw you. This is why if I want to learn about Russian-Chinese gas deals, I’ll just look them up on Wikipedia.
I feel the same way about those Web 2.0 sites where the landing page is just an image of a smiling group of people engaged in a nondescript activity, and then way up in the corner is a tiny button that says “Discover” (it’s always “discover”) which leads to actual information. Likewise this site, which probably made its designer feel very smug about their clean minimalist style, but where you can’t get a single word of information without watching a video.
6. Ads That Disappear Very Slowly
You get an ad. It appears at the bottom of the screen. You look at it, decide you’re not interested, click the little X. It disappears. But not right away. It crawls. It saunters. After what seems to be a long and arduous journey, during which it had to ford several rivers and stop off at Fort Laramie for supplies, it finally makes it to the bottom of the screen and fades away.
I try hard to understand other people’s perspectives. I know that companies need to have ads to make money. I know that they have an incentive to make those ads as disruptive and obnoxious as possible to make you look at them. I even understand why some ads have the little x kind of hidden, so you can’t find it without some poking around, which forces you to view the ad for a little while longer. I understand all those things.
But I don’t understand why the ad has to take so long to disappear. It’s obviously not just incompetence. They specifically have to add an extra little sliding-down animation to the ad to make it take so long. They put in more work to make it more annoying for no benefit. Do you really think that while I’m waiting for the ad to disappear, I’m thinking “You know, I thought I didn’t need to meet hot desperate singles in my area, which is why I clicked the X to make it go away, but that sliding-down-the-screen animation is so cool that I’m going to reload the page a couple of times, wait for the ad to come back, and then click it”?
7. Overuse Of Demonstratives In Clickbait
I understand that demonstratives (“this”, “that”, “yon”) are supposed to give you a bit of mystery, make you want to click on the article to see what’s happening. “This Celebrity Just Came Out As Gay” makes you wonder which one it is. “Rare Disease Spreads To These Three US States” makes you check if yours is one of them. Fine. I would personally prefer “Rare Disease Spreads To Three States” or even “Which Three States Did A Rare Disease Spread To? Click Here To Find Out”, but whatever.
However. On Vox recently, Obama Just Hit These North Koreans With Sanctions. What, exactly, are we supposed to get out of this? “Oh! I wonder if it’s Yu Kwang Ho! Surely they wouldn’t get Yu Kwang Ho! Better click to find out!”
8. Any Use Of The Word “Entitled”
Okay, I’ve already written on what I think of people calling nerds “entitled”. But it goes beyond that.
Number 8 in last year’s Least Favorite Things was “arguments about which generation is better”. Well, now those have progressed to arguments over which generation is most entitled. Hard Work? No Thanks! Meet Entitled-To-It-All Generation Y. Millenials are Selfish and Entitled and Helicopter Parents Are To Blame. But The Most Entitled Generation Isn’t Millennials, It’s Baby Boomers. And coming in from left field, maybe The Greatest Generation Was The Most Entitled. There are even entire books about this
Men feel entitled to women. Women feel entitled to men. Blacks feel entitled. Whites feel entitled. The Entitlement Mentality of Liberals coexists with Entitled Conservative White Male Putzes, possibly because Conservatives Feel ‘Entitled’ To Scorn ‘Entitlement’ (whatever).
Anyone can call their out-group entitled. The easiest way is – well, poor people are entitled because they demand hand-outs without working for them. Rich people are entitled because they think they deserve 100% of what they have and refuse to acknowledge or change the inequalities in the system that benefit them. One side or the other of that dichotomy is likely to map onto whatever group you want to insult.
“Entitled” is a Fully General Insult that can apply to anyone, and it really hurts. That makes it irresistable to the wrong kind of people, and it’s why I hope I start seeing less of it. Alternately, people could start giving their enemies the Psychological Entitlement Scale, which is so hilariously obvious with what it’s doing that I find it astounding that it apparently still manages to successfully detect some entitled people. The Titanic? Really?
9. People Being Post-Things
I recently heard someone describe themselves as “post-Zionist”, then go on to give what sounded like pretty standard criticism of Zionism. I don’t want to get too heavily into this particular example, because I understand post-Zionism is complex and every time I write something about Israel I get Israeli commenters saying I’ve gotten it wrong and other Israeli commenters saying no they’ve gotten it wrong and still other Israeli commenters saying we’ve all got it wrong. What was that saying about “two Jews, three opinions” again?
But what bothers me about post-Zionism is that it seems to carry this kind of smug “Oh, you guys are still Zionist? Don’t you know Zionism is, like, totally five years ago? Nowadays all the cool people have moved on to more exciting things,” which I don’t think really adds to the argument. Zionism versus anti-Zionism suggests a picture of two sides with two different opinions – which seems to match the reality pretty well. Zionism versus post-Zionism suggests one side just hasn’t gotten the message yet.
I feel the same way about post-rationalism. Yes, maybe you’ve seen through rationalism in some profound way and transcended it. Or maybe you just don’t get it. This is exactly the point under debate, and naming yourselves “post-rationalists” seems like an attempt to short-circuit it, not to mention leaving everyone else confused. And maybe you could give yourself a name that actually reflected your beliefs (“Kind Of New-Age-y People Who Are Better At Math Than Usual For That Demographic And Will Angrily Deny Being New-Age-y If Asked Directly”?) and we wouldn’t have to have a new “but what is post-rationalism?!?!” conversation every month.
Post-modernism can stay, though. At this point it’s less of a name than a warning label.
10. Disputes Over Whether Humans Evolved From Monkeys
I don’t mean creationism. I mean disputes among people who accept evolution, over whether it was monkeys in particular that humans evolved from.
It tends to go something like this.
A: “Humans evolved from monkeys”.
B: “No they didn’t! They evolved from chimps! Chimps are an ape, not a monkey!”
C: “Humans didn’t evolve from chimps! They evolved from a most recent common ancestor whose descendants include both humans and chimps!”
Everything about this conversation is not-even-wrong.
First, humans clearly evolved from monkeys in the same sense humans evolved from single-celled organisms. No one’s saying it had to be the most recent step.
Second, apes are ambiguously a type of monkey. Think square versus rectangle. All squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares and “rectangle” is usually used to indicate rectangles that are not squares but can technically refer to squares as well. Here’s a primatologist saying that Apes Are Monkeys – Deal With It.
Third, the most recent common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees may (or may not) have been a chimpanzee. This is Richard Wrangham’s thesis, and he calls it pan prior, placing it firmly within the chimpanzee genus.
These last two issues are especially annoying because they’re kind of meaningless category disputes. Yet for some reason the Internet seems to be obsessed with the lurking fear that someone, somewhere, might be saying that people evolved from monkeys or chimps.
Seriously. Get a life, Internet.