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Walking Away from Arguments

I did it again. I know better, but I let myself get drawn into another online argument that took up far more time and energy than it was worth. It was gun rights issues this time. I’m not going to link or name the folks I was talking to, because that’s not what I want to get into right now.

I spent roughly an hour on this last night, reading comments and arguments and articles, presenting links and my own thoughts in return. There were the predictable “Oh, you stupid liberals” comments from some of this persons followers, but those were more amusing than anything.

For a while, it was somewhat productive, at least for me. I walked away with a better understanding of the mindset behind wanting more guns and guards in the schools. I don’t agree with all of the arguments, but I got a clearer idea where they came from. It helped me understand some related issues as well, and the conflict between personal security/protection vs. larger preventative measures. While some of the articles and links people shoved at me were crap, others were more thoughtful, and I’m still considering those.

But as things progressed, it began to feel more and more like pedaling a stuck bike in the mud. We weren’t getting anywhere, and continuing to try was just digging me deeper and spreading muck everywhere. So I said I was done.

Holy crap, you’d think I had just busted open this dude’s gun safe and taken a big old dump on his prized rifle. Walking away proved I was never interested in debate. It was the typical liberal tactic of running away because all my ideas had failed. By the following morning, we were getting comments about putting liberals through woodchippers. (That particular comment came from one of this person’s followers. Gosh, why would I ever want to walk away from such a lovely discussion venue?) Basically, I’m just another intolerant liberal, and the only opinions I want to hear are those that agree with mine.


I have a book deadline coming up. I could have finished the third draft of CODEX BORN last night if I hadn’t invested so much time in this debate. And then there’s stuff like spending time with my family, taking care of the house, helping my wife who’s continuing to recover from surgery…all things which I consider more important than spending another hour arguing with someone on Facebook.

The thing is, the reasons shouldn’t even matter. I get to choose how I’m going to spend my time and energy. If I’m in a discussion where I feel like I’m learning things, I’ll usually choose to keep going with that discussion. If not, or if there are other things I need to do, then I walk away. Given that it’s my life, well, call me crazy, but I figure I have the right to make that choice and set those boundaries.

Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries? It feels like, having entered this discussion, I was somehow obligated to remain until such time as he decided we were done.

I don’t get it. Let it go, man. No matter how many times you post about me, tag me in comments, or whatever, I’m done. No means no, you know?

The response today pissed me off at first. It doesn’t help that this was someone I knew and had chatted with at cons and such. But now, it mostly feels kind of sad.

What gets me is how often I’ve watched this script play out. It’s not just sad. It’s boring. What is it that makes people feel entitled to as much of your time and energy as they want? That you’re not allowed to walk away, but are instead obligated to remain on the field until they feel satisfied? I don’t get it.

On the bright side, aside from a direct message restating that I was done with the conversation, I’ve stayed away from the muck today, and instead finished up the draft of CODEX BORN. Between you and me, it was a much better way to spend the morning.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 81 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 30th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
For the four days leading up to and including Christmas, my husband and I were at a hot springs resort in Alaska with no Internet access and no phone service.

When we got online again on our way to the airport and checked messages, I found myself looking at arguments I'd stopped following days earlier—some of them were still going on!—and thinking how silly it all was.

What it's like, you know, is when you're walking down the street minding your own business, and somebody tries to engage you in conversation. You want to be polite and, who knows, this person could be worth talking with, so you engage. But eventually you need to get on with your day, or the person turns out to be a colossal bore, or whatever, and when you try to excuse yourself, he gets all offended and starts shouting at you. (Unsurprisingly, I've just described an experience incredibly common for women especially...)

I've walked away from more online debates than I've stayed the course in, lately. It's remarkably refreshing, and I recommend it. :)
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
That's a very good analogy, the idea that women are obligated to pay attention to the man for as long as he wants, and if she tries to walk away, somehow *she's* the one being rude. Hm. I wonder if it's that women aren't supposed to be allowed to set boundaries, that men aren't supposed to accept them, or both. Probably both. Which is depressing.
(no subject) - nyxalinth - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
You might find it interesting to check out Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg (Not to be confused with Jonah Goldberg - no relation) talk about gun issues. There's very little actual rancor. Instead, they have a nuanced conversation.
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
I actually linked to that article as part of the discussion last night. It was answered with a comment about how Coates "lacked moral courage" or somesuch.

I very much appreciated the conversation between Coates and Goldberg.
(no subject) - sinboy - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sinboy - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pantryslut - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rimrunner - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 30th, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
FINISHED! Yay! (I love those words, "The End." You know, until I have to edit them. LOL.)

This was the year I decided not to get sucked into those kinds of arguments, and also spend less time on FB and Twitter. You know, shockingly enough, I don't feel like I missed much.

Congrats for finishing the first draft. *makes gimme hands*
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
This is the third draft, actually. And nobody gets to read it until I get at least one more done, because there are too many broken parts in this. (The good thing is I'm pretty sure I finally know how to fix most of them!)

Overall, I think I've gotten better at just not engaging, but I made an exception in this case. Partly because I knew the guy. My mistake, apparently...
(no subject) - ethelmay - Dec. 31st, 2012 03:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Dec. 31st, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 31st, 2012 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Kudos, Jim! Both for walking away from an argument where it's glaringly obvious that no one's mind is going to be changed, and for finishing the first draft of CODEX BORN!

As someone who sits squarely in the middle of this argument, I know it's not easy to walk away, and frankly, it's really shitty of those on the other side to get bent out of shape when you do.
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
I've considered writing up some of my own thoughts on guns and such, if only to have something to point to when people assume they know what I believe. But if I do, it's going to need to wait until I have the sporks to deal with comment moderation and troll-bashing...
(no subject) - carmy_w - Jan. 2nd, 2013 02:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
I think for a lot of people, the term discussion means 'argue until the other side admits I'm right.' By bowing out, you did not let them win. Darn you, Jim, for valuing your real life and having the courage of your convictions!
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
You know, I get that. But I also recognize that very few minds are changed by online arguments. I certainly wasn't expecting this person to completely reevaluate his ideas about guns, but there's always that part of the brain that's waiting for the other party to say, "I never thought of it that way. Your brilliant and logical reasoning has forever changed my views on this subject!"
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
I saw Mad Mike's rant this morning - I almost got sucked in to one of his arguments a couple of weeks ago. He has several valid points, but he is so hung up on the term "rights" that he refuses to hear or accept anything that might limit his rights in even the smallest of ways.

Finishing another draft was a much better use of your time and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the finished product. I should probably go check on that batch of chili in the crock pot and dish up some lunch.
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, sure. He and at least one of his followers had some good points. Heck, some of the things he kept emphasizing were things I already agreed with. I get the sense people assumed "liberal" and attributed a whole set of stereotypical ideas to me during the discussion.

Working on the book was definitely the better choice.
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
Hooray for the finished draft!

Dec. 30th, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you :-)
(no subject) - filkferengi - Jan. 5th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Jan. 5th, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
Yay for finishing the draft. Looking forward to the day it's available to customers!
Dec. 30th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
You and me both :-) Thanks!
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries? It feels like, having entered this discussion, I was somehow obligated to remain until such time as he decided we were done.

Oh, I've seen that far too much. My mother's household has always had the abusive dynamic of "the men throw temper tantrums and the women walk on eggshells". Now that I've gone to college and moved away from it, I've actually gotten pretty good at setting boundaries. Doesn't make for "peaceful" family gatherings, but at least it's helping me stay sane(r) because I have and enforce my boundaries.

...Not that any of that stops similar facebook arguments. There's maybe one person with whom I've had an extended (opposing) discussion without having to just block all future conversation due to overriding boundaries. The last time we discussed abortion, we mutually agreed to stop because we were getting nowhere after a while.

Good on you for walking away.
Dec. 31st, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Good for you for drawing your boundaries and making them stick! It does get easier after you've been away for a while and learned that there really are other ways to live.
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 31st, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
I've had arguments like that. Sometimes, walking away is the only sane approach.

There are definitely topics I won't engage on, because I know it will end badly. I did have one reasonable discussion about abortion with a Catholic friend because she asked me in a courteous way and didn't get defensive or mean when I responded. Otherwise, I just don't go there.
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, walking away is the only sane approach.

Whacking them upside the head with my cane is another one; but Internet arguments means I'm too far from anyone, to try to knock sense into someone else's head. Not that I would, honestly; but you sometimes feel that's the only way to get through to people. ;)

(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 30th, 2012 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Dec. 30th, 2012 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - silvertwi - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - northernwalker - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
Much more productive than arguing with idiots, right?

As a country, we can't afford the salaries to maintain armed guards in the schools. At least, not for public education. Not unless they wanted to maintain the school within prison walls. this was one of those things where the person...no one saw it coming. I'ts like that acquaintance of mine, someone whom I would have been happy to call friend if we had run in the same circles, who pulled out a gun at the high school graduation I managed to miss (I was supposed to be in the same graduating class) on the podium, and shot himself. One of the major differences, of course, was that this was turned outwards, rather than inwards.

On the other hand, bake sales for the purpose of saving up for metal detectors, and parents who would volunteer to administer them in the mornings, that wouldn't be quite so bad. It would not be a permanent solution, or a perfect one, but it would probably help the parents feel better.

I wonder if we should have a return to "duck and cover", not for the purpose of fruitlessly trying to hide from nuclear explosions, but as part of a student-oriented program of what to do when a rabid gun-toting maniac enters your school grounds and starts shooting. At least, a mobile target is more difficult to hit, than a sedentary one. It's not a perfect solution, but it's the best and most cost-effective one I can devise, on short notice (even if I'd probably end up as one of the first ones shot).
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
but it would probably help the parents feel better

Honestly, that seems to be what a lot of this is about. School shootings really are very rare. I'm not going to get into what that implies or doesn't imply as far as gun ownership rights/privileges/etc, but it's a bit like other rare disasters such as plane crashes: you don't see things like this coming, and that's what's so frightening about them (aside from those directly affected, I mean). Unless the school already has a demonstrated and recurring problem with weapons on campus, I actually don't think metal detectors are a good idea. The vast majority of the time, they'd be theater, and wouldn't do anything but increase fear.

I work on a university campus, and we have regular lockdown drills for various scenarios including, yes, someone running around with a gun (which actually happened about a decade ago, well before I started working there; a guy who was stalking a professor came on campus and shot one of her colleagues, killing him). A college is much harder to lock down than a K12 school because college campuses are typically designed to be open places (that's one of the things nobody understood about the Virginia Tech shooting; they couldn't just lock the doors to keep the shooter out). As a result, our process is complex and involves the biggest, most complicated phone tree I've ever seen.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries? It feels like, having entered this discussion, I was somehow obligated to remain until such time as he decided we were done.

I think it's more like "until such time as he's convinced you that he was right". By being unconvinced and walking away, you become a threat. The same thing frequently happens to pagans and atheists in arguments with Christians. And yes, I do consider gun-worship to be a form of religion, with all the baggage pertaining thereto.

Dec. 30th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
What gets me is how often I’ve watched this script play out. It’s not just sad. It’s boring. What is it that makes people feel entitled to as much of your time and energy as they want? That you’re not allowed to walk away, but are instead obligated to remain on the field until they feel satisfied? I don’t get it.

I'm guessing it has to do with feeling deeply invested, being certain they're on the side of right, and imagining that if they could just present their argument one more time, the light would dawn and you'd have to concede. (It also has to do with the loss of a sense of humour/proportion, I think.)

You were wise to drop out of it. The other person's reaction can't be helped. Personally, I appreciate that you made your exit while you were still able to acknowledge some of the feelings/logic of the other side, however much you might disagree with it. That's an honourable exit, right there.

Edited at 2012-12-30 07:28 pm (UTC)
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:32 pm (UTC)
I'm friends several gun advocates, including Mad Mike. I've found him to be very knowledgeable about gun issues -- but I'd agree that he stereotypes much liberal behavior in general (and in particular to this discussion, gun control lobbyists) to an unhealthy-for-discourse degree.

Unfortunately, so long as there are senators like Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer proposing ill-researched legislation to regulate gun commerce, and telling their constituents that they'd take the guns out of civilian hands if they could; Attorneys-general like former AG Janet Reno who publicly stated that eliminating private ownership of guns is a good idea, and very vocal lobbyists from the Bradys and other anti-gun organizations, people like Mike will feel justified in refusing to compromise with people they can assume to be negotiating in poor faith, wanting to go step-by-step into an abrogation of the second amendment.

What I really wish could happen is an actual debate in good faith by equally-knowledgable people pro and con on the issue. That might actually generate some useful results, rather than the sand-pounding that typically comes from the gun-control "debates".
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
It would also help if both sides stop assuming that "liberal" is "anti-gun" or - as has happened to me several times now, that because you're pro-control you don't know anything about guns.

(being able to pull out my NRA-approved Sharpshooter certification helps, in those instances)
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 30th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosencrantz23 - Dec. 30th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Dec. 30th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
All I can think is: "yeah, that."

I don't need the last word, I don't always want the last word. Sometimes I just don't feel like discussing/arguing/defending the point any longer, because it's not getting me anywhere useful. Attacking someone because they leave the conversation is...

well, they're being the Black Knight.

Edited at 2012-12-30 07:37 pm (UTC)
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
Congrats on the finished draft, and good for you, walking away when you needed to. I stopped arguing with people earlier this year after my grandma passed away. I was busy being angry with the universe, so I didn't have any energy to put into online arguments. I also wanted to avoid taking my anger out on people who didn't deserve it. Now that I'm doing better, I'm still avoiding online debates because I don't think they change many minds. My debates are picked carefully now. It makes me feel like I'm not standing up for things I believe in, but I'm making more progress in my personal and professional life, too.
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
I try and keep XKCD number 386 always in mind when I'm online.
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite comics ever...
(no subject) - biomekanic - Dec. 30th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:43 pm (UTC)
I am slowly learning when to walk away from an argument. What's harder for me is that I discovered that sometimes, the only way for me to walk away from an argument successfully is to walk away from where the argument is happening. I've dropped forums I used to frequent, blogs I used to comment on, and chat rooms where I used to hang out because the arguments happening there were not good for my mental health.

It makes me angry, sometimes. Not necessarily at the people I had to get away from, but that I am not some sort of idealized Perfectly Thick Skin Internet Warrior who can discuss anything at any time without it affecting me emotionally, and just ignore unpleasant things.

But then I remember that I've known some people who seem to be able to do that, and 95% of them are horrible people who I had to get away from because them being able to emotionally detach so easily meant that they didn't give a damn about anyone else's emotions. So on the whole, maybe I'm glad that I'm still in the place where walking away from the argument--or the argument's location--is often the best choice for me.
Dec. 30th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
Did you tell them you were through arguing? Or just walk away?

Sometimes a deafening silence is the best response.

On the other hand, I'm reminded of another potter I know who'd been badgered all weekend by a woman who wanted a discount on a particular item.

"Done talking," he said, as he dropped it on the sidewalk...
Dec. 30th, 2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
I did let them know I was done. I don't think it was a pissed-off, flouncing away in a huff sort of thing. (We had a nice demonstration of that earlier in the night.) But it just feels rude to me to walk away without saying anything.

Though looking back, that probably would have been the wiser way to go.
Dec. 30th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
You are a sensible man with a life outside the Internet, Jim - that's so rare in the world of Internet arguments that I'm sure they still don't know what to make of you :D Small minds react to puzzlement with anger...

Dec. 30th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
Have you ever noticed how pissed off people can get when you set boundaries?


You did the right thing.
Dec. 30th, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking about this A LOT lately. I've grown weary of the "righteous indignation on the internets" (as I've been calling it), both real and perceived, and there's a hell of a lot of it out there.

I've decided that one of my main 2013 resolutions is to make the internet as positive a place as I can get it for myself. That doesn't mean trying to get the world to be all happy-huggy, nor does it mean ignoring the news, or avoiding being part of a debate or releasing the occasional rant, far from it.

I'm just done with the OMG THE WORLD IS WRONG AND I MUST HAVE FEELS ABOUT IT atmosphere. I've got better and more creative and productive things to do.

Edited at 2012-12-30 10:17 pm (UTC)
Dec. 31st, 2012 12:33 am (UTC)
Can you clarify the difference between participating in the debate vs. righteous indignation of the internet? I'm not sure I understand the line you're drawing there.
(no subject) - joncwriter - Dec. 31st, 2012 01:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 31st, 2012 01:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 31st, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
The weekend the Newton shooting happened, I just closed my computer and did not go online again until Monday. I adore FB and Twitter and usually spend a good amount of time there, but I saw the first couple of posts from people and knew it would not be emotionally healthy for me to be there.

It was the right decision for me.
Dec. 31st, 2012 12:29 am (UTC)
I had to do something similar, though I didn't manage to stay away as long as you did. But yeah...
Dec. 31st, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
I had a similar thing happen to me the other day re: the Russian ban on adoption. It's a subject about which I'm very sensitive, since I'm about to become an adoptive parent. I was hurt to see a friend of mine from high school post on his FB page that he didn't get why people were so upset--there are plenty of American children to adopt, after all. I tried to explain why that mindset is problematic and one of his friends jumped all over me about how I had no idea what I was talking about, etc., etc. It was ridiculous. Finally, when I realized I'd said my piece, I just said that I had a book to revise and ended the conversation. I didn't go back to see what other people said or to engage further. Very glad I didn't.

(And don't even get me started on gun control/mass shootings. I lived through the massacre at VT and the other murders that took place on campus that academic year. I generally will not engage with people who bring that up, as most of them have absolutely no clue what they're talking about).

The kind of anger that generates is definitely not healthy or productive. It sounds like the people you were dealing with were even more aggressive. Ugh. We definitely have better things to make! Good for you for getting CODEX done! I can't wait to read these books, Jim!
Dec. 31st, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
Thanks, Tiffany. I think "Don't look back" is often good advice in this sort of thing.
Dec. 31st, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Gun arguments are difficult like many arguments are difficult where essentially the key point is (for lack of a better term) a moral point. It can be difficult for those on both sides to step back from the flight or flight reflex and actually discuss instead of preach. And if one side steps back and the other doesn't, it doesn't work. I am in favor of gun control, but I have many close friends and family members who have guns. What I've gotten from talking to them is that many gun people are very frightened right now. (Hence the enormous run on guns right now.) It's not fair to you that they are taking that fear out on you this way.

I wouldn't ordinarily bring this up, but you have shared your struggles with depression with us and I fight with it myself. I find these situations don't help this at all and can stomp on my mood hard. I'm glad you were able to walk away and have a productive day. Please take extra care of yourself while this is on your mind.
Dec. 31st, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It did take a little while to bounce back. This was the first time since I started talking to the therapist that I let myself get drawn into one of these squabbles.

The fear is an interesting point. I do think there should be more to it, though. Looking at data and statistics from different states and countries, and so on. But people can't even agree on those, which gets rather frustrating after a while.
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