On Reading The Comments*
Once upon a time, back in the day, etc., I was an avid reader of and participant in The Comments. I’m not sure whether I was braver, dumber, or just a lot more bored (probably some of each?), but I sort of had this notion that Someone Has To Speak Reasonably (yeah, yeah, typical Angry Young Man stuff).
Let’s not even get started about the privileged assumptions behind that kind of thing — I know, I know. Not that I ever really strolled around the internet swinging my electronic gold watch chain and telling people that they were half-witted imbeciles, old boy, and that their backgrounds deprived them of the ability to respond rationally, but part of me almost certainly kind of felt like that on some level.
I tried to write rationally and logically and politely and sanely, but I also believed that a lot of people were Wrong On The Internet and that I should Lead By Example (how embarrassing).
I think some benighted part of me seriously (but unconsciously, or at any rate no more than hemi-semi-demi-consciously) believed that if I just kept calm and demonstrated what civil discourse “should” look like, I could somehow save either the internet or civilization or something.
At some point, I realized that A) I was actually, in my own way, kind of being an ass (to whit: a lot of the people who say stupid crap in the comments are just having bad days; the ones that are actually jerks, meanwhile, are just going to go on being jerks, no matter what) and B) you can’t take the wind from the maelstrom, or whatever. Comments gonna … um … com?
I figured out that even to read the comments was basically a form of swimming upstream, that you can’t reason with irrational people or even with rational people who are having irrational moments (who, of course, are the ones who I was, for a long time, most likely to attempt to engage with my reason and coolness and politesse, &c.).
In short, The Comments became a giant energy sink, and I said to myself, “Wait, I don’t even have to read these! I can just pretend they’re not there! And if I really, really feel the need to comment on a particular newsworthy item, that’s part of why I have a blog.”
Since then, I’m happy to report, I’ve been largely unflustered by The Comments (and the world has not, as far as I know, ended — except perhaps in an Alternate Timeline). The Comments and I now have a great relationship: I leave them alone, and they leave me alone.
Every now and then, though, I venture back into the fray (though, outside of WordPress, I pretty much never say anything).
Sometimes it happens on purpose — I guess when I’m really, really bored and all the dishes are clean and I have done the day’s thousand tendus or what have you and I’m also feeling a bit masochistic.
Usually, though, it happens by accident: I’m idly scrolling through the aggregations of links related to the article I’ve just finished, looking for another way to
avoid doing work and occupy myself, and then suddenly, Boom! I’m in The Comments, and I don’t even realize it ’til it’s too late.
The problem is that I’m an auto-reader: put text in front of my face, and I will read it (or, if it’s in a language and/or alphabet and/or syllabary and/or pictographic system I don’t know, I’ll attempt to read it). I suppose we all have our weaknesses.
So by the time that I really grasp the fact that I’m in The Comments!!!!111oneone, it’s too late, because I’m already reading them.
Usually, I pull myself out before any damage occurs.
Once in a while, I start reading, am filled with horror, revulsion, and/or frustration, and yet I find myself fascinated, and must apply all of my fearsome might to tear myself away before I become lost.
Once in a great while, something different happens: I read the comments, get sucked in, and swiftly receive a reminder that the human race is, in fact, actually kind of doing all right — that there are good people, that we can be reasonable, and that the world probably isn’t going to end today.
It’s weird how bracing that feels: to see two people disagree, and to expect Fighting On Teh Intarwebz, only to be startled by a breakout of humane, civil discourse that leads not to an escalating firestorm of trollery, but to a really admirable agreement to disagree or — better still — the serendipitous discovery of unexpected common ground.
Once in a great while, I’ll even discover that someone out there disagrees with my own cherished beliefs in a way that makes me realize that they’re just that — beliefs — and that they’re full of holes and flaws like everybody else’s.
So, anyway. That happened today: I was reading The Comments on, of all things, an article on Queerty, and a little conversation happened between two people who disagreed, and then talked about it like civilized beings, and I was impressed and led to think, “Hmm. Have I really been looking at this situation as objectively as I can?**”
So, there we have it. Out of the depths, a moment of light and clarity. A happy surprise from the universe, found in an unlikely place.
This doesn’t, of course, mean that I intend to start regularly reading The Comments. Oh, helllllll, no.
I may be inspired, I may even be a little bit crazy — but I’m not an idiot.
…But maybe just a peek, now and then.