CHASING THE RABBIT

Whether regular readers realize it or not, I read every comment that is posted here even when the daily total reaches triple digits. I remember well when I started this site and it felt cool to get one comment per post, not to mention the (eventual) thrill of seeing the occasional comment from strangers who were not my immediate friends. In short, I don't take it for granted that people bother to spend their time reading this stuff and writing some kind of response. It seems like the respectful thing to do to read the comments. Even the stupid ones. But I kid.

On Monday's post, we see an exchange in the comments that typifies one of the differences in mindset between liberals and conservatives in this country. It's one of the most common sources of irritating, time-wasting arguments on the internets: one person makes an assertion, and another says, in essence, "prove it". Explain it in great detail and show your work.

One of two things is true in this situation. If we assume that the skeptic has good intentions – i.e., he is legitimately interested in exchanging ideas and perhaps learning something or correcting his misconceptions – then the issue is merely laziness. Take this hypothetical exchange:

Al: "Barack Obama supports keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2050."
Bob: "No he doesn't. That's ridiculous."
Al: "O RLY? LINKS PLS."

The correct response on Bob's part, assuming that dealing with delicate feelings is not one of his concerns, is "Google it, pal. I'm not your research assistant." Even if in this instance Al really is curious but is limited by inaccurate information, it's not others' responsibility to fix it. If you're the one who's mangling the facts, be a grown up, read something that isn't written by an AM Radio host, and update your beliefs accordingly.

The second possibility is that Al isn't making a real good faith effort to engage and discuss something. He is just out to waste your time. The goal is for you to respond with a thousand word treatise full of links and examples, all of which he will dismiss out of hand, followed by changing the subject or expressing more skepticism (Your sources, for example, are probably "biased"). Getting sucked into such an exchange will accomplish nothing because it's not a conversation, it's a game. In 2004, the Bush campaign utilized Karl Rove's strategy of throwing out topics off the cuff, watching with delight as the Kerry campaign devoted lots of time and resources to responding, and then simply ignoring it and moving it on to something else. They called this "chasing the rabbit." Kerry's campaign took the bait repeatedly, wandering off message and wasting time.

When someone expresses skepticism over something that is either totally obvious ("Since when does the Republican Party take contradictory positions on issues? I NEED LOTS OF EXAMPLES.") or a simple factual question ("McKinley is taller than Mount Hood? LINK PLZ.") it is probably not sincere. "I'm not your secretary. Google it." is the preferred response, possibly followed by a comma and "dumbass" if the situation calls for it. At this point, he or she will dismiss your viewpoint – "See, you can't find any links because I'm right!" – which may tempt you to respond. Rest assured that a factual, detailed, response would have been dismissed just as summarily.

If people actually want to learn something or verify facts, there are amazing new technologies that allow them to do so. If they don't understand how to find things on the internet quickly, you shouldn't enable their ignorance / laziness. It's far more likely, of course, that they know damn well how to find things on Google but they'd rather let you do all the work and then follow up with a "NOPE!" afterward.

These exchanges rival watching paint dry in terms of thoughtfulness and informational value.

59 thoughts on “CHASING THE RABBIT”

  • With respect, isn't writing a whole post, admittedly without researched examples, also a bit of feeding that troll down the rabbit hole?

  • Fair point, Ed, but if I can point to myself, Major Kong, and Nick as a justification of risking this kind of exchange, there's occasionally some good to be gained from it. Re: the issue of gun ownership, I presented the facts as I understood them ("facts" that, as Jason pointed out, were partially based in questionable statistical analysis), and then asked, one rational adult to another, what motivated him (and others) to own guns in spite of the risk involved. And MK and Nick answered, fully and articulately, and I came away knowing a bit more about that decision–which millions make–and respecting it.

    My goal wasn't to present unassailable facts. (Such things may exist, but my access to them is limited.) My goal was to acquire complicating facts–but not those available by web-search. Rather, the facts I was after were the facts of the intelligent decisions by individuals who have reached contrary conclusions. That's not the sort of thing that comes about via web-browsers, but through discourse. And it worked–MK and Nick stepped up to the plate and made good cases, and I nodded, and said "Makes sense."

    Such situations can and do degenerate into shouting matches. But MK and Nick's response to my query (seconded by others) proved that they don't have to. It's a compliment to the venue you've created here that they often don't.

    (On the other hand, I *am* lazy, so what the hell do I know?)

  • "If people actually want to learn something or verify facts, there are amazing new technologies that allow them to do so."

    O RLY? LINK PLZ!

    But seriously, you read every comment?

    Fuck. I apologise for all the precious eyeball fluid of yours that I have wasted over the years.

  • I feel so stupid for falling for this more than once. I'm really fast with providing research, so it usually feels great to back everything up with citations. Just recently, I was asked by a conservative to provide "proof of this war on women". In five minutes I had links to 6 states passing anti-abortion or anti-contraception bills this year alone. After being told "six states isn't a war!" I found five more and said "Well shit…how many more do you want from the last 4 months?"

    Topic changed, but fortunately some other people caught on, and I "won".

  • Middle Seaman says:

    First, this blog stands out with clarity, brevity and decent selection of topics. These traits make it a joy to read and leads to trying to comment, first and foremost, and have decent and thoughtful comments. I am delighted to hear that you read the comments.

    I comment early in the night and almost never read comments following mine. Responding to a comment is worth while, mainly, when the comment is extreme biased or ignorant; if your opinion differs I couldn't care less. The most important role of my comment is to voice my typically very liberal opinion. Publishing the comment is my goal.

  • Drivebyposter says:

    "These exchanges rival watching paint dry in terms of thoughtfulness and informational value. "

    I feel like there must be a peer reviewed study on this somewhere.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Ed's right.
    We can all link to our hearts content, but people who don't want to see, either won't bother to look, or, if they do go, won't see what they don't want to see anyway, since it contradicts their view of things.

    Providing a link that shows a conservative commenter empirical proof that 2+2=4, doesn't mean that they'll go to the link, or want to – or believe that 2+2=4 if they do go, since that site uses arithmetic, which like geometry and calculus, have a well-known Liberal bias.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    OY!
    "…has a well-known Liberal bias."
    Not have, has – H-A-S!

    Ken oui haz "Edit" pleez?

  • That was me. Sorry. I'd heard a myth on the intertubes that trolls are like goldfish and will eat themselves to death. In the future, I'll leave it to Adam and Jaime.

  • RosiesDad says:

    "Google it, dumbass; I'm not your research assistant" is about to become the stock response to every forwarded chain email (usually with the comment, "Can this be true???") that hits my inbox.

  • You know, ironically (or serendipitously) I was writing about much the same thing this morning. Clinton spent a boatload of time chasing the rabbit. He was pugnacious and loved a good fight. Obama isn't like that. The result is that Obama got a lot more stuff done. Some of it is pretty weak tea, but Clinton's signature legislative achievements from his first term were an Eisenhower budget, the Brady Bill and Newt Gingrich's welfare reform bill.

    Admittedly, Clinton gave Dan Burton more to work with than Obama has given Darrel Issa, but one thing Obama won't do is chase the rabbit.

    Meanwhile, they have Mitt running in circles.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    MK.
    Trolls are needy, lonely, and unloved creatures – who have, and give, no respect, and thus, get none in return.

    And any attention, in their minds, even mockery, is better than no attention be paid to them at all.

    So, we shouldn't mistake hunger with starving for attention. :-)

    And this is said by another schmuck who falls for responding to trolls – ME!

  • Kind of off-topic,, but not exactly…

    Did you know that "chasing the rabbit" is a tactic abusers are known to use? Particuarly verbal and emotional abusers, I mean. Abusers tell the victim that "The problem is X" – where "X" is a behavior, attitude, or beleif that the victim is engaging in. The victim then attempts to fix "X". At which point the abuser dismisses "X", and promptly begins to berate the victim about how "The problem is Y." The victim then tries to fix "Y"…etc. The abuser will play this game forever – or until the victim catches on and leaves.

    I don't have a larger point – I just think it's interesting.

  • mining city guy says:

    I am a regular reader but not a regular commenter. I also frequently post your blog to my Facebook page. I had no idea that you read every comment. I am not sure that this is typical. Anyway here is a comment for you: You have a great blog. Please keep it up.

  • Monkey Business says:

    I think, based on context, you can differentiate someone who's asking for information, versus someone that's just trolling. A respectful conversation between two people where one asks for further information on a topic is fine. An argument where one person is a troll is not.

  • @Ellie: Not only that, but (and increasingly off-topic) "chasing the rabbit" is a tactic that beagles are known to use! Not to denigrate your informative and useful observation – heck, anything that helps us to actually see human behavior for what it is, is useful, I just couldn't resist putting that in. Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma. Anyway, that goes back to Ed's column – imagine Dennis triggering a thoughful and useful post? It gives hope to all of us who don't even reach the rarefied heights of trollosity, let alone such unattainable spires as Thoughtful Commentary.
    Oh, and in keeping with the spirit of the artwork of Ed's site, I will celebrate May Day at work by thinking about drinking while listening to Hayseed Dixie and eating Tex-Mex for lunch.

  • While I try not to drive myself crazy disproving all my friends ridiculous claims about the Obama administration (I live in central Virginia…) every so often when one is just too much to cope with, I will simply say something like 'Um … that's not correct' and give them a link to Snopes or some other place which disputes their 'fact'. Whether or not they actually (a) read it or (b) believe it, I guess, is their problem. I can cope with people believing what they want, but I hate when they start passing out demonstrably untrue claptrap.

  • What J Dryden said. There are trolls everywhere in the Internets, but as a percentage it seems this blog has a number of people who engage in reasonable discussions most of the time. It's like finding the bar with the lowest number of frat boy douchebags.

  • I've had this play out over and over. My own GD mother sends me garbage quotes, 'facts', and various other bullshit that she passes to me from her other uninformed email buddies/friends. For a long time, I would do the research, then send her back the rebuttal with the truth. I have told her time and again to stop watching FOX and to look up the stuff on her own. She doesn't. On the phone she told me that just because I source something and say that it is a fact doesn't make it so, anymore than if she says something is. The next day she sent me another email. I'd had enough. I asked her why she wants to antagonize me. I basically told her I will no longer read her emails. I will delete them. If she wants to tell me something important, she'd better call me because I would no longer be researching the bullshit she sends me. I figured she would stop talking to me (has happened many times), but no, she didn't. She still send me the stupid emails.

  • Rick Massimo says:

    Of course, the corollary to:

    Al: "Barack Obama supports keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2050."
    Bob: "No he doesn't. That's ridiculous."
    Al: "O RLY? LINKS PLS."

    is:

    Al: "Barack Obama supports keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2050."
    Bob: "O RLY? LINKS PLS."
    Al: "Google it; I'm not your damn research assistant."

    (Sigh)

    Ellie – that's nowhere near the only way conservatives are like abusive spouses. If GWB's 2004 campaign was anything other than one long "You can't make it out there without me," I must have missed something.

  • Rick Massimo says:

    P.S.:

    glf – I find that the word "afraid" is kryptonite to the conservative. Once the name-calling starts, ask why they're AFRAID to talk about the actual subject. Put the word AFRAID in every single response for the duration of the conversation. Drives 'em nuts.

    iceblue2 – Do you ever ask her why she never thinks "just because you say it is a fact doesn't make it so" about Fox News?

    P.P.S.: I had no idea you read every comment. Sorry I've posted two where one would do, and thanks for this blog. I love it.

  • Remember when Dennis mentioned Jonah fucking Goldberg as an example of typical right-wing clarity and civility?

    Let's go back and read that one again.

  • There are trolls everywhere in the Internets, but as a percentage it seems this blog has a number of people who engage in reasonable discussions most of the time. It's like finding the bar with the lowest number of frat boy douchebags.

    Agreed. I like the fact that people here mostly disagree without hitting below the belt, and are generally clever, insightful, and funny.

    I also like the fact that Ed doesn't feel the need to wade into the comments and litigate every scrap of disagreement with his posts. I've stopped reading the comments of a couple of blogs that are dear to my heart because their owners cannot stop themselves from bullying dissenters.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    There's a long history behind the Al comment troll(s), including speculation whether it's AI or Al, since in sans-serif, lower-case l and upper-case I look the same.

    If it's AI, Alan Turing wants his test back….

  • I truly have the dumbest trolls on the internet at my blog. One guy insisted that the Wal-Mart bribery scandal in Mexico was no big deal! Victimless crimes! Just the cost of doing business in Mexico!

    But my favorite is my perennial troll Jim, who never met a straw argument he didn't like. On this post where I express the view that Republicans plotting their Obama obstruction strategy on the very night of the inauguration were breaching their oath of office, he offered a very bizarre analogy:

    If you feel so strongly that Democratic elections should have the final say on things then do you support the Constituional Amendments that states have passed banning gay marriage? Should people be bringing lawsuits against these democratically decided issues?

    Huh???

  • @ Deep and JonahBlue —
    YES!! I am not usually arguing with trolls – I am arguing with relatives, friends, etc. And you are right on target !!

    I don't know how many times I have had two of them tell me they won't accept anything backed by Snopes because they are too "librul". And they won't accept any study from "one of those big universities"; or anything from the West or East Coasts; or …..

    One fundie friend that I used to argue theology and Rush with finally admitted that she never read any of my rebuttals. I cut her off the email list that day. Waste of mental energy.

  • @Elle:

    …their owners cannot stop themselves from bullying dissenters.

    Guilty as charged. But I don't bully dissenters, I bully my trolls. I actually have a couple of what I'd called "reasonable" dissenters whom I'm happy to have a "reasonable" conversation with. I'm discussing healthcare policy with one right now.

    What I cannot abide are trolls and troublemakers. Every gun post I've ever done has immediately been flooded by gun-nut bullies. I finally banned a couple but damn I hate banning people. They just polluted every thread — even non-gun threads — with poison.

  • Oh, I think it's kind of cute that this blog finally got its own right wing pet troll. I think we just have to be strict with Dennis. They do like discipline.

  • Remember when Dennis mentioned Jonah fucking Goldberg as an example of typical right-wing clarity and civility? Let's go back and read that one again.

    If you had read it, I mean, actually read it, at least once, it would've been evident that I said nothing of the sort about Goldberg's book. I told Major Kong to imagine Goldberg pointing to comments at far left blogs to justify what he had stipulated about liberalism in his book, which is exactly how Major justified his sloppy, hyperbolic post about conservatism…. by directing me to comments at RedState and Free Republic to somehow prove his point.

    Really folks, I'm flattered, but, this wasn't worth a whole blog post. Major Kong made a false assertion that he couldn't come close to defending. Admit it and move along….that way no one has to chase any rabbits at all.

  • Guilty as charged. But I don't bully dissenters, I bully my trolls.

    I think this is a different thing. I have great admiration for the tenacity of bloggers who make the effort to keep the trolls in line.

    I've been driven away from blogs mostly by the sight of long-term commenters, who seem reasonable, polite, and nuanced, upbraided over lengthy exchanges by bloggers who won't let a tiny smidgen of disagreement go. Persistent hectoring is douchey when it's about abstractions, but unconscionable (I think) when it's about people's lives.

  • @Mothra:
    "Oh, I think it's kind of cute that this blog finally got its own right wing pet troll. I think we just have to be strict with Dennis. They do like discipline."

    Probably reminds them of their childhoods.

    There's something in your tone that implies dominatrix. I hope you're female as I have this horrible picture of a balding, bearded, hairy beer gutted, middle aged guy in pair of black lederhosen, fishnets with suspenders, bitchboots and riding crop running through my head [shudders].

    Not that there's anything wrong with that! ;)

  • Major Kong says:

    I'm not gonna feed the troll, I'm not gonna feed the troll, I'm not gonna feed the troll………..

  • Dear G&T readers:

    Today (May 1st) is an important day in world wide Leftism.

    You could show some love here… buy a sticker or if our fearless moderator has a direct contribution link I have missed (which he may point out) then do it.

    Be a joyful giver!

    An accused (though un-indicted) troll

    //bb

    P.S. – I financially support this 'ministry' even though I would not likely be on Ed's Christmas Card list.

  • Hey Ed,

    Long-time reader here, first-time commenter. I'm commenting only because of your remark that you read comments. Just want to say: You're a fine writer. Wonderful blog. Good enough for you to transform it into a full-time career if you want to.

  • As I've gotten older, I stay as far away as I can from discussions revolving around certain topics- politics, religion, etc. Particularly on the internet, but even in person. Why? Because "discussion" inevitably turns in to "me listening to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about trying to convince me that I'm wrong". I see this a lot- somebody states an opinion (not stating anything as fact, just opinion) then they're immediately attacked by somebody who feels the need to try and convince the person that their opinion is wrong. I really don't get that…

  • It is odd that Al would demand a link for Bob's rebuttal, even though Al provided no link or evidence for his own assertion.

  • For the two or three of you out there that haven't heard of this gem yet:

    http://lmgtfy.com/

    "Let me google that for you" gives you a link that you share with a loved one. When they click on the link, it shows the google box, the question or topic being typed in, and then all of the results. Gets the job done in a wonderfully passive aggressive manner.

    See brooklyn4eveh, above, for a great example.

  • I have to point out that there is a dangerous flipside to the point you're trying to make here. Yes, there are times when 'Google it' is acceptable. For example, I often see people writing the tired old idiotic question, "HOW COME YOU NEVER SEE MUSLIMS SPEAKING OUT AGAINST TERRORISM?" I inform them to Google 'Muslims against terrorism' and to brace themselves for the torrent of links which shall pour forth.

    On the other hand, I think the main problem with the internet, especially in comments or forums, is that there is this leveling effect whereby everyone thinks that Google and Wikipedia make them qualified to speak on whatever they want. I can't count how many times I found myself in some long debate, imagining how short this would have been were the debate live, in public. In that case, I'd just bring up some obscure fact known only to those who have dedicated serious study to the subject at hand, and the opponent's slack jaw and deer-in-headlights expression would do the rest. The gallery would realize my opponent has no idea what he's talking about(let's be honest, it's always "he"). More importantly, they can't just pretend that there is no gallery.

    So what happens in real life? You cite a paper by a well-recognized scholar? They just run to Google and type "(scholar's name) debunked/criticism/etc." Then they go on to explain how this random article they found which disputes your source(s) is 100% true and correct, and therefore your source doesn't count. Hell, I've had arguments with people who lecture me on politics and life in Russia without having ever set foot over here, and then they CONTINUE to do so even after they have been made aware that I live in Russia. This would NEVER happen if such an argument started in say, a pub surrounded by interested onlookers.

    I have often wondered, sometimes "aloud"(in the sense that I post it), if the opponent would ever walk into a conference of say, physicists, and start lecturing them on their own personal theories of how the universe works.

    The bottom line is this:

    Burden of proof is on the claimant.
    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

    Proof, doesn't necessarily mean something dug up on Google or in Wikipedia.

    I wanted to address what Iceblue said separately, because I am in a similar situation. If you have conservative family members you might have noticed how they will constantly bring up their Fox News talking points, but when you dispute them they say, "I don't want to talk about politics." This is often confusing at first, but I discovered that what it really means is "I don't want YOU to talk about politics."

    What I have noticed more recently is that explaining facts to conservatives is pointless. Typically if they are family they will at the very least attempt to appear as though they are listening to you. But usually their eyes glaze over, they get real uncomfortable, and they will attempt to change the subject. One time I made the mistake of explaining what was wrong with Glenn Beck's theory of the world to a close family member, eventually writing an e-mail that would have been several pages long. It could have easily been an article on Alter-net(since I didn't get paid for it). The result? The e-mail was totally ignored as though I had never sent it.

  • caroljane says:

    The only way to deal with trolls, after giving them a fair hearing on a given subject, is to ridicule them in polite language (repeatedly if necessary).Then stop responding. Of course on a forum this only works if everybody sends them to Coventry. Usually the owner just has to ban them.

    As the resident socialist on a loosely Objectivist site I had to adopt your excellent advice before I even heard it, Ed. Mainly because I don't know how to do linking.

  • Pleas do not give conservatives credit they don't deserve by calling them trolls. We trolls would be insulted.

  • Hell, I've had arguments with people who lecture me on politics and life in Russia without having ever set foot over here, and then they CONTINUE to do so even after they have been made aware that I live in Russia. This would NEVER happen if such an argument started in say, a pub surrounded by interested onlookers.

    Oh, I've met a few people who would definitely continue to lecture you on Life in Russia while mispronouncing 'Moscow' in any language, on the basis of one article they're pretty sure they've read.

  • @Elle

    Then there's my favorite old canard when discussing Soviet/Eastern European history: "I knew a guy from the Soviet Union and he said…"

    Yeah..I know some people who lived in the USSR too.

  • Hi! Thanks for that response, but I'm afraid there's a detailed refutation of your argument on this website: google.com

  • caroljane says:

    Wait a minute, Ed….you read all the comments? And you write the blog, and you do standup, and you have some sort of university gig…when do you have time to brush your teeth let alone watch TV?It's tiring just to think about. You are an affront and a discouragement to disorganized procrastinators everywhere. I need to go lie down now.

  • @arslan

    "The bottom line is this:

    Burden of proof is on the claimant.
    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. "

    Although you may have problems with the late Christopher Hitchens on some subjects, he had a nifty little line he used in his Atheist/Believers debates that we might add to your list:

    "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    //bb

  • @ Major K: "Rupert Murdoch is a white Persian cat and a monocle.."
    Admittedly I read that while the coffee was just percolating through the system, but my first instinctive reaction at that point was (God's-honest truth!) "how can he be both?" I'm very literal-minded in the a.m. Then I finished the sentence and stepped out of Wonderland.

    @Xynzee: "..this horrible picture of a balding, bearded, hairy beer gutted, middle aged guy in pair of black lederhosen, fishnets with suspenders, bitchboots and riding crop.." (a) you should see my photo albums, and (b) reminds me – need to get a new riding crop.

  • A few months ago I posted something on Facebook that my Tea Party friends from high school — all of who subscribe to the "both sides do it" philosophy — disagreed with, as usual. One of them responded, "You need to give examples that show both sides of the story" and I wrote back, "How about you do that?" And that was the end of that.

  • I dissent. If you make an assertion, you should show evidence. When somebody tells me to "google it" to back up THEIR assertion, I assume they are dumb and lazy; I usually come into an assertion with my links handy, like keeping a six shooter on my hip in a gunfight. But I'm a librarian, so I would do that.

    What I really hate is when I have good sources–and by that I mean reasonably politically unbiased ones, not ones with an ideological axe to grind–and the right wing chump I work with refuses to pretty much believe anything, because EVERYTHING you pull out has a "left wing bias." Snopes says it's bullshit? "They have a left-wing bias."

    Once, though, I did prove it beyond his ability to blow it off. He was nearly in physical pain from exposure to an idea that didn't come from his AM radio, Drudge Report bubble. That was kind of sweet.

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