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Paul Crowley

I love it! Sadly, unlike (say) your cogent criticisms of religious errors, there's no way the sort of person who says that will read and take in this sort of thing: one universal about those who say "I was just trying to make you think" is that they don't themselves think.

Bruce Gorton

I sometimes use anger as a means of "cutting the crap."

Frequently in arguments people try to tiptoe around what they really want to say, but avoid just baldly saying it because they know it is wrong.

Which doesn't stop them actually saying it at all, they just say it in "not so many words."

And that, irritates me, so I call them on it until they finally get annoyed and outright say it.

Or they manage to get me to see that I am attacking a straw man, in which case I feel sort of sheepish.

I have been trying to stop doing that as much lately.

It is like there are three main stages to growing up online: You start off nice, get mean, then realise that being "mean" all too often equals being a dumbass.


Right on.

Internet trolling is an inherent violation of the conversational contract.


I've just been doing some related thinking on this. I have had my first extended debate with a troll in a long time (on astrology, if you're curious) over the past few days, and it's boggled my mind. I've been reflecting on it and thinking that I really ought to debate trolls more often until I manage to really drill it into my head that some people care more about "winning" or provoking anger than they do about reaching the truth, as astonishing as that is.

The debate itself amuses me somewhat, because I don't think the original poster expected it. Someone posed the question "Do you discriminate [when seeking potential romantic partners] based on astrology?" apparently intending to ask if people discriminated in the sense of "I'm not dating a Leo 'cause I'm a cancer." But he got a bunch of responses, mine included, that responded positive in the sense of "I don't believe in it, and I tend to avoid dating people who do." Fireworks and accusations of close-mindedness and blindly following the lab-coats ensued.

David Harmon

All your arguments are cogent -- indeed, perhaps "overthought"... I'd say the basic reason why that phrase is so noxious, is a particular subset of your #3: It's not only arrogant, but insulting, because it implies that "nobody here is thinking" without the "help" of the troll in question.


I'll have to perhaps play devil's advocate here and say that, in my experience, sometimes people *don't* think and do need help from a good questioner. However, I think that the phrase that should be used in that circumstance is "I want you to consider this because it may help you understand."


Here's what usually helps me in those situations:

For a few moments, cast away all doubts and know that your position is undoubtedly superior. That mostly results in two things - it helps remaining very calm while facing some utter nonsense, and at the same time sending out a signal to your "trying to get people to think" opponent: I am not at all impressed with what you've just said.

But that's just the foreplay. Because then you start lurking beneath the sea, waiting for the inevitably upcoming opportunity to mercilessly rip your opponent to shreds (of course only in terms of discussion), leaving their bloodless body on the ground for all others to gloat over the opponent's misfortune.

But that's just me ;-)



I would take that one step further and say the phrase used should be "I want you to consider this because it may help you understand my opinion."

I think the last is very important, because otherwise it's easily read as "I want you to consider this because it may help you understand [the truth]." Implying that the poster knows the truth and placing them, once again, in the position of being self-appointed guru.

Greta Christina

Acutally, vel, if it were me, I would hear the phrase "I want you to consider this because it may help you understand" as every bit as problematic as "I'm just trying to get people to think"... and for exactly the same reasons.

I don't see what's wrong with simple, "Have you considered this?" Or words to that effect. That's a statement between equals... not a statement from a superior trying to help their inferior see the light.

Rev. Wally Real

Pissing people off can get people to think. Being irrational (using ad hominems) can ironically make people think rationally.

Case and point: The Spirit of Truth

He's God Almighty, curses, insults, blasphemes, but is a motherfuckin' genius. He's one of the most influential people in my life and this is coming from an atheist. In a metaphorical sense he is GOD!:

Dr. Gene Scott: This is a rant from one of the greatest religious hustlers on television. He made a lot of people think in his unorthodox preaching. Kudos to the christian watchdog group the Trinity Foundation for saving this rare clip. This is a clip that is often taken down by Pastor Melissa Scott, so watch it while you can. Priceless!

Smooth and masterful real life pimp Bradley pimps off bitches 'because they can't think for themselves'. Bitches have to be dealt in different manner than people open to rational thinking.


I can agree, yogurtbacteria :) but that only is if it is my opinion. Soemtimes what's being discussed is indeed a fact. Then it may help someone to understand. I think this applies to your point too, Greta. I also think that some people are indeed that stupid to have to have it stated to them "if you consider this, you may understand", when it is obvious that they don't.


Great post. Point three is the one that particularly galls me. It often comes up with men talking about abortion rights or workplace sexual harassment or something that doesn't affect them directly-- one of them will say something totally reprehensible and then follow it up with "well, look, I just find this conversation very interesting and I wanted to bring up this opposing view for discussion." And the women on the thread are like "dude, we have heard that opposing view a million times and this issue matters to us. It is not just some abstraction."


A fair bit of narcissism, which is different than but related to arrogance and superiority, is also usually an ingredient in the "I'm just trying to get people to think" dish. Infuriating, indeed. Great post, Greta.

Greta Christina

Actually, vel, I don't agree. Of course there are times when one person in a discussion is in possession of facts that other people aren't. But my point is that there are ways of conveying the message, "Here are some facts relevant to this discussion that other people seem not to be aware of," without at the same time conveying the message, "I am the God-King of the Internet, the intellectual superior of all, and I am here to lead the rest of you into the light."

I'm arguing that "I'm just trying to get people to think" strongly conveys the second message... even to the detriment of the first. And I would argue that "I want you to consider this because it may help you understand" does much the same thing.


I like this. It's a good comment on something that gets up my nostril as well.

I think I've invented a word for these people, based on your list of why they're so annoying: Cryptopedants.

What can I say; you made me think. ;)


You make me think too, Greta. Excellent post.

the chaplain

Your second and third points are right on the mark. They are the things that annoy me most in conversations and in blog dialogs.


I don't know if this was what inspired this post, Greta, but PZ had a post the other day about some Christian pastor from North Carolina who commented on an atheist blog, pretending to be an atheist, and said things like, "Since there's no absolute right or wrong, why shouldn't I go out and rape and kill if I want to? It's all about whatever makes me feel good, right?"

When he was unmasked and called out on his lying and smearing of atheists, he gave the exact lame response you discuss here: "I was just trying to get people to think." It's that excuse - trying to pretend that dishonest, unacceptable behavior was just an innocent conversational gambit - that really gets me upset about people who say this.

Bill Brent

Great, Greta, great!

Very rich in fiber, IMO one of your better posts & threads.

As for me:

a) It makes me appreciate how much of YOUR backstage patrolling of trolls et al. goes into making this blog so worthwhile.

b) The Pinker book sounds pretty great.

c) This thread helps explain why my mentor likes it when I get angry, something that has puzzled me.

d) Likewise explains, esp. David Harmon's & sav's comments, why I find a friend's BF so boorish. He is THIS disingenuous and controlling.

e) OTOH, I've also been at the butt-end of part 1 of Devysciple's advice, ouch. Even we of relatively rhino-hide temperament get hurt when we know we're being frozen out in the midst of discourse that is both rational AND heartfelt -- in other words, NOT utter nonsense.

Just a thought.



After spending some time pondering the topic...

a) Greta, you ROCK!!!

b) Punch 'em on the nose, will ya?! Because anyone stupid and desperate enought to resort to those rhetorical figures does not deserve anything else! ;-)



It's at once hilarious and saddening to think how that illustrates how out of touch fundies can be with what atheists think. One can only assume that McFundy thought he would at least somewhat blend in with the crowd while advocating rape and murder. Which

Pink Eye

hummpff - got you all to think without saying it. Masterfully arrogant. ...well, almost.

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