I often feel that I spend too much time engaged in online political discussion. As I do, I'm aware that this likely does little to change political outcomes—who gets elected, and what policies they pursue—that concern me and drew me to those discussions in the first place. This is because:

  1. I am stuck in my own communities of like-minded people, and
  2. Any other person who stumbles across my posts and comments is unlikely to be swayed by reading them, no matter the tone.

All this said, I still try my best to enter or start discussions that help people learn or evolve their viewpoints. In order to do so, I have a few rules of thumb, or engagement.

The simplest is to use people's names, and where possible the actual names of groups.

Once a discussion gets slightly heated, it is only a matter of time until someone drops an epithet like Drumpf, Shillary, Harpoid, McGuilty, CLOWNservative, or libtard. Subtler examples depend on context, and might include leftist, Trumpkin, or the use of a diminutive or first name, like Iggy.

Of course, satire, including calling people ridiculous titles and names, political cartoons, and the like, has a valuable political function, in that it refuses seriousness demanded by those who aren't owed deference. But when tossed off lazily in the context of a putative, earnest debate, such names aren't satire, nor are they particularly clever.

Instead, they attempt to provoke an angry reaction that reduces the chance of any participant or observer learning anything, or changing her mind. They signal lack of respect for others, and thus an unwillingness to countenance or engage with their views.

So: don't use them! As a corollary, when people do, make a point of using correct names in response, and not rising to the bait.


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