How to Sabotage a Newsgroup

or Why I Do Not Like Cussing Contests
Published: 1998-01-01

Observations on verbal violence and the Usenet newsgroup alt.revisionism, with hints for potential participants

Violence in speech does lead to violent action, as witnessed by the recent death of Yitzhak Rabin and its lengthy, ugly prelude of verbal excoriation of the basest sort. Yet many are those who rabidly maintain that the moral content of an opponent's position (as judged by guess who?) at some point of paucity justifies the removal of all civility from discourse. "What else can you do?" goes an argument that's been posted in alt.revisionism several times, "What can you do when they are presented with truth and refuse to accept it, except to call them what they have shown themselves to be — liars, morons, and Nazis? It's only a natural reaction". Perhaps the name of the newsgroup should be changed to either alt.logic or alt.maturity. It may be a natural impulse to act like a boor, but those who wish to present such behavior as normal or desirable should take their meals out on the back steps, lest they cock a leg and pee on the table when another diner appears to disagree with them.

This bigoted view posits that once a person has shown themselves to be impervious to a clearly presented "truth", truth being the argument of the righteous, then the righteous have not only a right but a duty to heap verbal abuse on the one who has committed the unpardonable offense of refusing to share their faith. The abuse need not be directed at any specific offense either — it simply becomes a fixed component of comments directed to that person. This loutish leap of logic is then followed by a wide-eyed claim that certainly an exchange of ideas can still take place, once the liar realizes what he is and that "we" are on to his game and publicly recants. Sometimes they even ask for this openly, a la Torquemada — "Do you admit that you were lying now, Mr. Revisionazi?" Exchange ideas? Balderdash. What happens, of course, is what the title implies — the attacked either leaves or a cussing contest begins. Happens all the time. It's what alt.revisionism is really about.

Every sentient human being knows, at some level near enough consciousness to be held accountable for, that in order for communication to take place there must be some token show of respect on the part of all participants. Mammals universally develop rituals to express this fact of behavior before sitting down together; it's an instinct, a very useful part of the survival mechanism (i.e. - yes I know we're sitting down to eat, all the more reason for you to demonstrate that I am not on the menu and vice-versa). Successful discussion of the abstract is so dependent on this that to talk to someone on that level without any degree of respect, real or feigned, is to engage in conversation with threat or the imminence of threat as the guiding force in your mind. To pretend otherwise is tantamount to fraud.

When someone talks trash to you, you quickly convert to either covering your own butt or hoping to kick theirs (figuratively, then literally). With your mind so occupied, reasoning takes place in a part of the brain much smaller than the one involved in keeping that scowl on your face. And whatever the deficient result is has to pass out to the world through that scowl, through that whole aggressive/defensive mental state, filtered and refined to arrive at its target with all the benefit of gasoline on a fire.

You do not shout reason at someone while at the same time calling them an idiot and a liar, or worse, and expect them to get a damned thing useful out of it except maybe the wisdom to back away from your sharp teeth. To rationalize such behavior as normal is nothing more than making an excuse to continue a fight. If you really think that verbal communication is one of your primary goals while acting that way, then run, don't walk, to the Psych.101 class nearest you. This may be in the introduction of the text. It shouldn't have to be explained.

So let's be honest, regardless of our philosophies — alt.revisionism is not about reasoning with anybody. It's an electronic cat-fight. It's as intellectually deep an affair as screaming lines of apes throwing rocks at each other across a ditch. Keeps them all excited, doesn't settle much. Not a lot more you can say about it. Except that the introductory scenes to Kubrick's 2001 (remember the blustering ape who discovers weapons and high protein diet?) give an elegant and disturbingly chordal portrayal of where it leads. Which is finally to God, but there's a whole slew of dead apes along the way.

The path can't be otherwise in our present state of development (with its rhythmic retardations called war) but believe above all else that it can change when we do. The only way for that to happen is to expand minds instead of honing them like narrow impervious knives, to listen to others and get a feel for how and what they think so we can come to a point of mutual accommodation that allows us to concentrate on more important matters. Like living in the marvelous present instead of being eternally consumed with anguish for the past and fear of the future. Aren't those last two the driving forces of alt.revisionism? Damn straight they are, idiot, and you can kiss my ass if you don't take my word for it! (The stuff sticks to you after a while. Those who think they leave it on the hard disk are suffering from two delusions — one, I know how to communicate and two, playing the verbal equivalent of a mugger each day doesn't affect my laid-back basically nice personality.)

Now if you're convinced that reason won't carry the day for you, consider these possibilities — that either your position isn't worth supporting, or the threat posed by someone disagreeing with it is serious enough to fight against, and name-calling is a necessary part of the build-up to that. Decide which is the case and stop pretending to do and be something you're not, such as reasonable, while travelling hell-bent down a path having nothing to do with reason. Mealy-mouthing about the details of irrelevant philosophies attending the main event is part of a larger game you're heading into, and you need to be straight about basics lest you grow confused and vulnerable in the literal battles which will come. Therein lies the argument for our rather desperate need to engage in civil discourse. Not because nasty words make a few tender souls feel bad, but because they invariably lead to things that make everyone feel bad. And those who would speculate as to their value in limited use should also speculate on this — how far down a slippery slope fronting an abyss is it advisable to crawl to seek a better position?

Much is made of the need to learn from the experiences of World War II and the myriad ritual carnages before and after it. What we're not even close to learning is that supposedly trivial things like a computer discussion group, when multiplied to a level of thousands of ideologues shouting past one another in rising fury, are exactly how wars get started. Ideological arguments are the vehicle to conflict and scorn is their fuel. One acrimonious group with closed minds and open mouths motivated by fear is no more than a pebble on the slope. Of itself it poses little danger, might cause the body social to lurch a bit if stepped on. But what happens when there's a hundred of them? A thousand? Ten thousand? At some point, the slide into oblivion cannot be recalled. How better it is not to let it start.

Curse not the darkness, for you thereby add to it. If enough people do that, it can consume us all. Direct the light of your reason into the shadowy places so that you can see and deal with what hides there instead of blindly smashing at it in the dark. The ravening tiger you're trying to kill may turn out to be just your neighbor's cat.

Since this polemic has as much chance of changing attitudes in alt.revisionism as optimism does in affecting weather patterns, it is advisable to outfit yourself properly before entering that den of din. We therefore offer instructions for assembling a professional quality....

alt.revisionism Discussion Survival Kit!

The helmet of truthThe Hatchet of JobThe Plunger of PostingThe Medal por Nada
Instructions for Use
  1. Put on Thinking Cap (unless you're already wearing it).
  2. Think up a good, unfounded Hatchet Job to do on somebody.
  3. Write it up and shove it into the line (post it).
  4. Pat yourself on the back (por nada, pundejo).

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Hellen Keller
Title: How to Sabotage a Newsgroup, or Why I Do Not Like Cussing Contests
Published: 1998-01-01
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1998, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: