If you come to believe that you know the truth about someone or that you know their “real” self, then there is nothing else to learn. There is no need to listen or to observe. You can assume that every argument is conducted in bad faith. There can, in fact, be no dialogue at all. Conversation is altogether precluded.
We are thus tempted simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically, to believe that those we encounter online are necessarily involved in an inauthentic identity game and that we are capable of ascertaining the truth about them, even on the slimmest of evidence. […] Or, to put it another way, we believe we know the truth about everyone and the truth we know is that there is no truth to be known. So our public sphere takes on not a cynical quality, but a nihilistic one.
L. M. Sacasas on the Discourse.
I’m somewhat torn about this article, as well as the essay that it references about “the unmasking style” in arguments.1 On the one hand, I think understanding “the unmasking style”—understanding that it’s even A Thing—is really critical in understanding certain manifestations of Arguing On The Internet and okay I’m going to say fandom antis. I mean I think it’s useful in understanding fandom antis (among others).
But, on the other hand… a lot of Arguing On The Internet really is conducted in incredibly bad faith. And assuming good faith in those situations isn’t just futile but can be actively dangerous. So… yeah.
I don’t really have a pithy conclusion or an action list or whatever to solve this apparent paradox, incidentally. Just… these things. They exist.
- Which, again, I think is interesting reading but have issues with on… numerous grounds, really, not the least being the author is one of the sorts of people who’d unironically put scare-quotes around the word “microaggressions” while simultaneously utterly failing to comprehend what they actually are.↩