I talk too much crap on the internet. I go to social media, the place we all go to scream now, and I see something bad. I quote the bad thing to mock it, thus spreading the bad thing, and inviting bad replies. I do this despite already having a job pointing to bad things and inviting bad replies for money, otherwise known as blogging.
So lately I’m using this mantra, not something I tell myself, but something I ask myself, before saying anything — especially a reply or reaction — on the internet. I ask myself, “Is this strategic, or just cathartic?”
I picked this up from a Writers Guild representative at a union meeting. I think about it a lot, because I do a lot of things that feel cathartic in the moment, but are in fact strategic disasters. If I really asked myself this question enough, my wife would be 50 per cent happier with me.
But for now I mostly ask it before I say crap on the internet. Because if the answer is “this is only cathartic,” that doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t say it! But often the answer is “this is cathartic for the first 10 seconds, and then it will be QUITE THE OPPOSITE.”
If I quote-tweet some arsehole I’d never heard of before today, what do I think is gonna happen? Do I think they’re gonna read my intellectual commentary (“Hey arsehole, your entire worldview is misogynist”) and reply, “Wow, I never considered the crappiness of my statements, but now I recant them all! I shall now learn at your feet, sensei”?
No, they’re gonna quote-tweet me back, and their followers will insult specific pixels in my Twitter avatar, and no one will feel good, especially no one who deserves to.
“Social media satiates our appetite for moral disgust and tribal conflict,” says a person I disagree with about many things. She — Quillette editor Claire Lehmann — put herself on a “moral outrage diet”. If the editor of a magazine that defends right-wing moral-outrage peddler Jordan Peterson can take a moral outrage diet, maybe the rest of us can too. Even if our definition of moral outrage is wildly divergent.
You don’t have to quit social media; I know you’ll never do that. You don’t have to stop being loud and forceful, effective and thought-provoking.
You just have to ask yourself: Have I thought through the likely consequences of what I’m posting? Have I considered whether I’m accomplishing anything? Have I considered whether what feels good right now will look real stupid when someone embeds it in a blog post in 10 years? Will this thing that feels real good now feel real worse in an hour? Am I taking a bad thing I could have quietly fumed about for 10 seconds and making it a bad thing that bad people argue with me about for 10 days?
And screw it, maybe you’ll go ahead and say it anyway. Sometimes you gotta.