Bite the Wax Tadpole: A Manifesto for Internet Conversation and Debate

Most Internet conversations suck.

You know exactly what I mean. I’m not talking about the frivolous “Ew! My cat just puked a hairball on the carpet” “Ha ha! At least it wasn’t a mouse!” conversations. True, those often suck in their own way, but I’m talking about the conversations that inevitably occur whenever someone expresses a strong opinion on a topic that matters to anyone else in the universe.

Whether it’s on your Facebook, through Twitter, in the comments of a Blog post, an Email List, a Forum, or even just a private email or texting conversation, chances are that at some gut level you hate these electronic conversations, even if they are “mentally stimulating” or “necessary.”

Sure, they can be fun if you are some kind of psycho with a disturbing amount of free time on your supposedly employed hands and a cyber-inhibited sense of decency. But if you have some kind of real life, a job, a family, bills to pay, a biological need to eat, sleep, or egest, then Internet conversations are usually a stressful distraction. You don’t want to get sucked into yet another black hole, but you MUST. RESPOND. TO. THAT. LAST. COMMENT. Real Life be damned! And the next thing you know you too have become a psycho with a disturbing amount of free time on your supposedly employed hands.

Image by by Randall Munroe

Well I’m done with it!

I know some of you are shouting “Hurrah! J. Max Wilson is going to disconnect. Goodbye and good riddance to bad rubbish! Don’t let the keyboard hit you on the way out!”

Happy to disappoint you, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to continue to post my strong opinions and promote the things I believe in on my Blog, on my Facebook wall, and on Twitter. I will continue to try to influence what others think and believe. I will also continue to engage in conversation with those who disagree with me as well as agree with me, but it’s going to be on my own terms.

This is my Manifesto for Internet Conversation and Debate. If you agree with it, then feel free to make it your own. If you disagree, then honestly, I don’t really care.

1. Typos are a part of Internet conversation and nobody should get all obsessive-compulsive about them. That said, Ya, Yah, Yay, Yea, Yeah, and Yeeargh are not the same word and do not all mean the same thing. Learn the difference!

2. Paragraphs were invented for a reason. Take a minute or two to split up that mind-numbingly long blob you call a comment so that I can read it without wanting to claw my own eyes out.

3. Caps Lock? You’re doing it wrong.

4. Who ARE you? Don’t complain if I don’t give you as much leeway or your comments as much consideration as I give to people I actually know.

5. All views are not equal. A lie does not deserve equal time with the truth in the name of “fairness.”

6. I make no pretense at objectivity, fairness, or balance. I have an agenda of my own and I don’t pretend otherwise: I promote what I believe is true and discuss the things that I am interested in. I present my beliefs honestly and welcome friendly comments from those who politely disagree. I might be mistaken in what I believe to be true, but I am not a liar. I feel no obligation to give equal time to those who disagree with me on controversial subjects—they have plenty of virtual bull-horns through which they already incessantly proclaim their views as it is. I will not let them commandeer the discussions on my platform as well.

7. I don’t really care if you have some kind of degree in advanced trans-dimensional-steam-hockey. That doesn’t make you right. Having letters next to your name or being exceptionally intelligent often means you know more ways to talk yourself into believing whatever it is you want to believe. To adapt a quote from The Princess Bride: if you tell me that I should take your word as a Scholar or a PhD, my response would be “No Good. I’ve known too many Scholars and PhDs.”

8. If the only way I can ever understand why you are right is if I go get my own degree in advanced trans-dimensional-steam-hockey, then you aren’t helping anyone anyway so stop dominating the conversation and shut up. If you can’t explain it to an less-educated commoner like me in a way I can understand then it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, you suck at communication so you aren’t convincing anyone anyhow.

9. If you disagree with me, make an actual argument. Don’t just make contrary assertions.That’s only contradiction. I’m sure responding to “Yes it is!” with “No it isn’t!” worked relatively well for you last week when you were in kindergarten, but it isn’t doing any good now. Don’t just throw out a bunch of “facts” without explaining how they are relevant or giving me a way to verify them either. If your comment is just contradiction then don’t bother leaving it because I’m just going to delete it anyway.

10. Brevity does not equal truth. Slogans raise an issue in few words, but often require a significant, lengthy explanation to counter.That is why slogans are so useful as propaganda. But easier to state than refute does not alone indicate truth. It just means that it takes time and patience to refute.

11. Likewise, winning an argument through the sheer bulk and frequency of your words rather than on the merit of what they say is not really winning. Nobody is really impressed but you. Few people have the time or disposition to post detailed responses to all of your exhaustive comments. The fact that you expect them to may be a sign of mental illness. You need help. And a job. Or to do the one you have.

12. If you are so over-focused on some minor detail that you miss the main premise of the link or post, and start arguing against that minor detail as if it were essential to the whole, then don’t expect me to take you seriously.

13. Read the whole thing. If you haven’t read the whole post or link before you leave a comment, then just don’t comment. If you only skimmed it, or are reacting only to the title or summary, then you literally don’t know what you are talking about.

14. Don’t assume that just because I link to something that I agree with everything the author says or might have said elsewhere. ever. in their whole life.

15. Just because my views seem similar to someone else you know, or to a popular radio or television personality or politician, doesn’t mean you can assume that I arrived at my views in the same way they did. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I’m wrong because I am obviously a follower of someone I have never even listened to or read, or some well-known figure who I am familiar with, but with whom I actually disagree strongly. I know it’s easier to recycle your arguments and apply them to every conversation that seems remotely similar. But you just look silly, and annoy everyone else.

16. Before going off on your rant about how wrong I am, try asking a question to verify that I really mean what you think I do. Something like, “It seems like you are saying X? Is that what you really mean?” Chances are I’m not as extreme as you assume I am. Try it. You might be surprised.

17. Getting offended is wasted energy. If you are confident that you are right, then there is no reason to get offended when someone tells you that you are wrong.

18. Just because there are exceptions to the rules doesn’t mean that there are no rules. If you are a legitimate exception then there is no reason you should get worked up or angry about someone who is advocating for the rule or the ideal. But also remember that exceptions are by definition exceptional, unusual, and rare. So if you are the exception to almost every rule then you are probably just breaking the rules. So if you get angry at someone for advocating for the rule or the ideal, then you may be wrong.

19. You aren’t going to resolve age-old philosophical, theological, or political differences in one or two afternoons in the comments on my Facebook status or a blog post, or in some back and forth email exchange, let alone multiple 140 character tweets made from your mobile phone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Just don’t be upset when you don’t succeed. And don’t blame me, start ranting, call me a moron, or wield your mighty folkloric vocabulary when you haven’t convinced me after spending all afternoon leaving comments when you should have been doing your laundry or feeding your kids.

20. Whether it’s my personal blog, my Facebook, twitter, or some other social platform on the web, my page or site is my Virtual Living Room. The other guests in my virtual living room are my close friends, family, co-workers, and associates. You are welcome to stop in, listen to, and even participate in the conversations as a guest. However, you do not have the right to come into my living room to dominate and monopolize the conversation with constant, lengthy, disruptive or hostile comments intended to promote your own contrary agenda.

21. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, your stalker-like need to stand as a witness against the the things I believe to be true and provide a counter-testimony to those whom you fear might be influenced or persuaded by me, in my own virtual living room, in front of my friends and family, is a manipulative form of intimidation. It discourages my friends, family, and acquaintances from “liking” or commenting on something I have said or linked to because doing so will subject them to tomes of belligerent contrary comments. It discourages friendly, casual, and productive conversation.

22. The consequence of this manipulation and intimidation is that I start to avoid posting things out of fear that it might obligate me to debate the issue in front of all of my other friends and family on a time frame not of my own choosing or that it might involuntarily subject my friends and family to yet another tedious debate that they did not even intend to subscribe to. I do not feel at liberty to say what I think or promote what I believe in even in my own living room, as it were. It gives the false impression that I cannot say anything of import unless I am prepared to answer, and have the time to answer, every possible criticism and dissenting voice. It draws upon my lack of time, my desire not to look like a fool in front of my friends and family, nor to drive them away, in order to silence my voice and shut down my views.

23. But I reject these false expectations. I have no obligation to let you hijack my page to promote views with which I disagree to my friends and my family, most of whom do not know you from Adam or Eve. It is a gross violation of the guest-host relationship and I am perfectly justified in censoring, moderating, or deleting your comments, and blacklisting you if necessary. And no, I am not violating your freedom of speech. You are perfectly free to promote you own views in your own virtual living room. I may even stop in to hear what you have to say. But if I do, it will be because I want to, not because you are making me and my friends and family hear your point of view by invading my space for your own purpose.

24. Whether it’s just you or it’s you and your friends forming a mob of like-minded digital-brown shirts overwhelming the conversation in my virtual living room with your own contrary views, don’t act surprised and complain when your comments get deleted or moderated.

25. I have no obligation to respond to you on your timetable. I have no obligation to respond to you at all. Time and tide do not allow every contention to be addressed. Just because I have not offered a response to your supposedly brilliant contrary argument within your arbitrary time frame does not mean that I do not have one. It does not entail that I have not considered your points, or that I have no rejoinder, or that I concede to your argument, or that I am dishonest. It means that I have a life and a sense of proportion. So save your crowing and your little victory dance for when you actually have convinced me that I am wrong.

Nobody should have to re-explain these things every time they post something they believe in. I want to give myself and others a convenient catch phrase that can be used as short-hand for this manifesto. It needed to be something catchy and memorable. And the phrase is: Bite the Wax Tadpole!

“Bite the Wax Tadpole” comes from an old linguistics urban legend about translating Coca-Cola into Chinese phonetically and then back into English semantically.

It is catchy, sounds defiant, and maybe even a little nasty, but without any real pre-existing meaning.

So don’t let swarms of digital thugs intimidate you into keeping quiet about what you believe with their floods of comments and criticisms. Stop feeling like you have to be able to answer every question before you can stand up for what you honestly believe is right and good. You DON’T have to respond to that last comment. You can moderate it, ignore it, or delete it if you want, and you don’t need to feel bad; you aren’t violating some kind of rule or proving that you are wrong or that your views can’t stand up to scrutiny. You are proving you have a life. You are free to answer on your own timetable, even when that means never. And you don’t have to let them control the conversation in your own virtual living room. Remember to be polite when you are a guest in the virtual living rooms of others.  But in your own living room, just relax and if someone throws a tantrum, link back to this manifesto with the words “Bite the Wax Tadpole!” or even simply abbreviate it as BWT! Then get some sleep, or get to work, or spend some time with your wife and kids; get some exercise; get off your smart-phone and give your thumbs a rest; go to church; help your neighbor out; or start a company or a charity; and feel good about the fact that you are doing what you can to stand up for what you believe in AND being a healthy, productive, real member of society.

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