As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned time and again that there are few greater wastes than arguing with people on the internet. It’s right up there with spitting in a lake to refill it. Nobody ever changed their minds about anything because they argued about it with someone on a message board. That’s just an inescapable fact.
So why do we do it? Why do we have these online debates that are about as formal as meth-fueled orgy? There are many answers to that question. Not all of those answers are entirely misguided either.
People want to connect with each other. People want to share their views with the world, no matter what they are or how crazy they may be. Look up discussions of lizard shape-shifters to see what I mean. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sharing such views. So long as nobody raises the flags of the NSA, it’s one of those wastes that can help us with the basic human need to connect.
Being an erotica/romance writer, I’m all for activities that help us meet our basic needs. However, I’ve learned from experience that it’s not a good idea to have too many debates with folks online. I was once the kind of guy who spent hours crafting elaborate, detailed posts, complete with citations and footnotes, to prove my point. I’m pretty sure I put some grad students to shame.
I put in a lot of effort to make my arguments. I really did think I would stump, confound, or convince other commenters that I was right. In the end, that effort might have been better spent trying to find new ways to deep fry donuts. It took me way too long to realize that people don’t change their minds based on what online debates. They only ever change their mind when there’s a damn good incentive.
Until the day comes when saying something stupid online earns you a painful shock to the spine, nobody should debate anyone online with the expectation that you’ll change someone’s view. That’s not to say it’s a complete waste of time. If you set reasonable expectations and focus on less divisive issues, then you can have real, honest conversations with people.
This brings me to abortion. I’ll give everyone a second or two to unclench their assholes. Bear with me. That’s not a complete non-sequiter. When it comes to my least favorite topics to discuss, abortion is right up there with explosive diarrhea. I’m a man. I don’t have babies. I can’t get an abortion. I bring absolutely nothing to this conversation and, as a principle, I generally avoid it.
That said, I did end up having an insightful conversation with someone online, which was related to abortion. It occurred on a site called Townhall.com, which is basically the complete antithesis of the Huffington Post. If you have any kind of liberal or moderate inclinations of any kind, expect the content on this site to piss you off.
I go to it because I find it helpful and insightful to visit sites that present views you don’t agree with. Townhall offers that in abundance. The rhetoric here can be downright venomous at times and not just because Ann Coulter writes regular columns. Some of the commenters on this site would make Nixon himself look like a hippie.
Naturally, that means you’ll find a lot of pro-life, anti-abortion discussions here. You’ll also get no fewer than 20 Nazi references when discussing it. As a general principle, and in respect to those with a weak stomach, I try to avoid these discussions. However, one discussion in particular revealed something that’s worth sharing.
In a column I won’t cite, just because I don’t want to give the writer more exposure than he deserves, I got into a discussion with someone who was vehemently pro-life. He or she was the kind of person who would probably force women who’ve had abortions to tattoo a fetus to their forehead to shame them for their choice.
Debating with people like this is usually an exercise in futility, right up there with teaching quantum mechanic to a chimp. However, I tried to dig a little deeper into this person’s rhetoric. I asked them to try one of my little thought experiments, which I’m so fond of on this blog. It went like this:
Imagine that tomorrow morning, someone announced they’ve created the perfect form of contraception. It’s easy to use, it’s effective, it’s relatively cheap, it has no side-effects, and it functions in a way that ensures an egg and a sperm will never meet. No conception ever occurs. As such, no abortion ever occurs or is necessary. Would you, a pro-life advocate, be in favor of making this contraception mandatory for all of breeding age in order to end abortion once and for all?
This is one of those thought experiments that’ll either derail a conversation or just get you blocked. It’s also an experiment that has the possibility to become relevant one day because the technology to perfectly control our fertility, male and female, may very well emerge in our lifetime.
It’s a possibility that I find exposes a dirty secret in the pro-life crowd. While there are a few who genuinely believe that abortion constitutes the murder of an innocent life, there is also a sizable chunk that is vehemently anti-sex. They see abortion as just a means for people to have consequence-free sex and that doesn’t sit well with them.
I can understand why, especially from religiously-motivated arguments. Anything that leads to consequence-free sex is going to get the clergy of any religion up in arms. However, that’s another issue altogether. We expect religion to oppose anything that might distract people from giving them tax-free donations. It’s the other chunk of the pro-life crowd that are a bit more transparent with their sentiment.
For this particular person, however, I actually got a pretty insightful response. Not surprisingly, this person was not at all in favor of mandating that this perfect contraception be mandated as a means to end abortion entirely. Initially, I thought this exposed the person as one of those repressive anti-sex types. I turned out to be wrong. This was the person’s justification:
Once you start limiting peoples freedom for their own good you get slavery.
This weren’t against the use perfect contraception. He or she even said they’d gladly take it. However, the idea of forcing people to use it to end abortion just exchanged one immoral act for another. Regardless of how you may feel about abortion, I think we can all relate and respect that sentiment to some degree.
I tried probing a little deeper. I compared making perfect contraception mandatory to requiring seatbelts. Apparently, this person was against that as well. He or she did not make an exception between contraception and seatbelts. These are the exact words from the response.
So the answer to your last two questions is, of course it is immoral to force people to wear seat belts and forcing people to stop at red light is for the protection of others.
I really couldn’t go farther than that. I think the person effectively made their point. This person is an ardent libertarian. Coercion of any kind, even the kind that would end abortion completely, is every bit as immoral.
Again, I can really understand that. This person showed some consistency in their rhetoric, which is somewhat rare on the internet, as anyone who ever visited a Twilight message board can attest. I admit it was somewhat refreshing because most don’t even attempt the thought experiment. This person made an effort and for that, he or she has my respect.