Tag Archives: ad hominem

Message Boards and Comment Sections

I have been involved in many conversations on message boards and in blog comment sections over the years. Very few of these conversations have been respectful and compassionate although this sometimes occurs. More often these conversations start as a difference of opinion about a specific issue but then morph into a battle of egos. Neither side will admit this of course. They always couch their position as if it is motivated chiefly by a search for the truth. This proclaimed motivation, however, is almost always betrayed by the snarky, sarcastic quality the comments take on and by ad hominem attacks made against the person espousing the opposing position.

I should know better than to get sucked into these debates. They always end up the same way, sour my mood and muddle my thought process. But this is the nature of an ego based exchange. As I said, ad hominem attacks (as opposed to an honest discussion of the issues) is a good indicator that the conversation has turned in this direction. Another indicator is when the debate replays itself in my mind when I am not actually engaged in the debate. This is the ego preparing itself for the next round. And the goal is not really to show the opposing side the errors of his ways. The goal is always to humiliate the other side. This is why it always gets personal.

I have my theories as to why a person chooses to make a debate personal. Choose is actually the wrong word because this decision is made on a very primitive and neuro-chemical level. That is, reward chemicals are released when a person senses that he has humiliated his opponent through text. Over time his brain rewires itself in response to this reward. Through this rewiring he becomes addicted to the reward and then acts on it through compulsion.(1) This is why a troll does what he does. But the question remains why these chemicals are released in response to this scenario in the first place. It seems highly likely that this neural pattern is based on prior experiences of being humiliated (probably by primary care takers at an early and formative age). This creates the mechanism that rewards humiliating other people.(2) But often within the throws of an exchange it feels like a struggle for the truth is at stake. It is forgotten (or never known in the first place) that the real motivation is to humiliate the other even though this motive remains alive and well on a subliminal level.

Another aspect to this dynamic is a failure (or refusal) to appreciate the other person’s position. Once things get personal this obstinance only calcifies. For example, Zippy talks about the positivists wearing blinders in the following passage:

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

However, he fails to see the beam in his own eye in this respect when it comes to his obsessive anti-liberal stance. He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples (usually with an  ad hominem attack thrown in for good measure). Moreover, within the echo chambers of the comment sections of the Orthosphere and his own blog his absurd points of view are largely confirmed. The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies. (See the comment section to this post). I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief. Unfortunately, such is the post truth / alternative fact world in which we now find ourselves living.

In closing, I write this post mainly to put a bookend to this series of posts I started writing a while back. It started when a self proclaimed white supremacist and Orthosphere commenter by the name Thordaddy start spamming my blog with literally hundreds of comments. Something I said clearly irked him and he made it his mission to read all my posts and comment copiously on them. I sort of enjoyed this for a while because it gave me a wealth of material on which to write. But as I mentioned before this type of exchange eventually becomes emotionally and spiritually draining. Later I started engaging the more sane contributors on the Orthosphere in an honest attempt to understand their point of view. This worked for a while. My original position was merely to document my thought process as I followed their arguments and evaluated the natural counter arguments that arose in response. But eventually that position devolved into the present position where I find myself engaging in silly debates about whether a person can coherently say he would rather live in a free society such as the USA over an un-free society like North Korea. The answer is obvious to me and it is equally obvious that any further debate would only serve to feed each other’s ego. It is Lent after all and I would rather follow the advice of St. Paul and set my mind on things above rather than earthly things. (Col 3:2)


(1) See The Cure for Alcoholism, Roy Eskapa, PhD, (2008)

(2) See Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw (2005)

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Dialog with a [W]hite Supremacist Part V

My biggest fan waxed psychological about the workings of the ego: “It’s not clear who exactly is writing on your behalf? Your ‘self’ or your ‘ego?’ I was always suspicious of those that try to disassociate the two to the point of mutually exclusive ‘entities.’ Where my beliefs are strong, the ‘ego’ is silent. Where trivial efficiency comes into play, the ‘ego’ sometimes goes into overdrive.”

Here, I am pretty sure I understand his point. Again, the concept of ego can be used as a crutch or an excuse but also its existence can be reasonably called into question. Part of the confusion is that the term “ego” can be used in different ways. Freud’s ego is not the same thing as the ego talked about in a Buddhist context for example. When I say “ego” I refer to that inner voice. A person who deals with shame issues might experience an inner voice that is constantly criticizing him. It might tell him or make him feel that he is not good enough or is not entitled to certain things. It might recall embarrassing memories over and over or tell him he is doing something incorrectly. I believe a great many people experience the ego I am describing undeservedly. This type of ego results from an abusive situation where a person is constantly bullied or told they are wrong at a young age. This message is then internalized and never really goes away. Because of its chronic nature it has to be managed, otherwise it will result in maladaptive behaviors, anxiety, depression, anger and in some cases violence.

Periodically, in our discussions the white Supremacist would, rather than discuss the issues civilly, resort to making ad hominem attacks. It is my belief that his unchecked ego was the source of this behavior. When I pointed this out to him he responded, “But that is exactly the kind of disassociated, ego-emergent notion that neutralizes the rightful burden at the feet of the Self.” I assume by this statement he means that his ad hominem attacks were not only fully intentional but virtuous and praiseworthy as well. Putting aside the fact that making ad hominem attacks is not really a convincing or effective debate tactic, I have to admire that he is taking his philosophy all the way without compromise. I’m not sure what he is talking about half the time but he seems to believe it whole heartedly.

He went on to say, “What you call ‘ego’ had been assimilated by my Self where issues of first principle are involved.” By this, I take him to mean he has no ego or critical voice as I have described when survival is at stake. I can only take him at his word on this point. However, he seems to put almost all aspects of life under the umbrella of survival. He sees the white race as under threat of extinction and he sees the behavior of seemingly everyone but himself at fault for this. I cannot experience his psychology (obviously). I can only piece together the bits of reasoning I have sifted from his voluminous and largely incomprehensible writing.

Based on my meager understanding I still have to believe he has this internal critical voice whether he labels it an ego or not. He displays all the characteristics of a shame dominated person. He is highly judgmental of other people. He displays an “us versus” them mentality. He tries very hard to project an image of certainty and reacts with hostility when questioned. He is obsessive (one need only review the comment sections of the last four posts for proof of this). He has scapegoats too numerous to count. A person with a shame dominated mind has to find other people at fault for his problems. He has to point the finger elsewhere in other words. Else the only person to point to is himself and that pain is too much to endure.

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