I have a weakness, a flaw akin to the morbid curiosity that causes certain people to rubberneck passing accident scenes on the highway... a defect of personality similar to the voyeuristic tendencies that lead otherwise intelligent people to watch trash demean itself on reality television.
I compulsively read website comments. And no - not just on my own site, or here, where the comments are usually high quality. I read them on Yahoo news stories, on Zerohedge, on the fucking Huffington Post.
I am a sinner. I am weak. But I can’t help myself. I can’t help wondering, “What does the peanut gallery think of this story?” “How does this rub the Average Joe?”
And to be fair, many of the comments aren’t bad. In fact, I’d argue the assumption website comments are almost entirely garbage – a position widely held among people in new and old media alike – is untrue. A healthy percentage are actually well thought out, well reasoned, and often astutely flag a lack of evidence or illogic in the underlying story or op-ed.
It’s only seventy percent or so of comments that are irredeemable shit.
Over the years, I’ve made a laundry list of the types of comments we can do without – the kind that ought to be barred from all comment sections of any decent website. There are, of course, the racist ones, the sexist ones, the ethnically insensitive ones, the Neo-Nazi ones. These are frequently, as on my site, deleted pre-publication.* And then, ever present, are the trolls – the basement dwelling sages ready to attack with venomous ad hominems anything challenging the delusional rationalizations they’ve constructed to convince themselves their seemingly endless failures are Someone Else’s Fault.
But these are all obvious, offenders everyone knows well, and has learned to ignore the same way we train our minds to render banner ads invisible. The commenters I’m talking about here, those we’d merely be better off without, as opposed to those who ought to be placed on FBI watch lists, are the one who appear at first blush rational, sensible... whose first sentence doesn’t begin, “It’s all the fault of Zionists!” These are the commenters who drag us three or four lines into their text, rope-a-doping us into believing they have a point that might add to the discussion, only to hit us with an opinion so infantile, ludicrous, or utterly unfounded, we’re forced to wince and question whether humanity isn’t as doomed as it appears.
Here are three of the most egregious:
The Bilderberger/Trilateral Commission/Committee of 300 Theorist
The angrier and less properly educated you are, the more conspiracies you’ll see around you. Fact. Conspiracies are a form of deflection, the fantasy it’s not your lack of talent, or bad decisions, holding you back, but instead some evil cabal of elites meeting in a four star hotel in Europe once a year, plotting how to keep people in your low position down for the rest of their lives.
Absolute, unvarnished nonsense.
Do the Bilderbergers exist? Sure. Are they secretive? They are. Do they help each other out? What exclusive group doesn’t? But are they the reason you’re unemployed? Are they the reason you’re reading “Black Helicopter” web forums, posting rants about how we need to return to the gold standard in Ron Paul chat rooms (filled with people who don’t understand the candidate’s actual message, let alone the complexities of monetary policy) instead of working, dating, or doing anything even remotely close to Normal? No.
Whatever policies the Bilderbergers, Trilateral Commission, or Committee of 300 impact are fifty to one hundred links in the chain of commerce removed from any of the forces impacting the sort of screwheads most obsessed with criticizing them.
You didn’t lose your job at the mill, or the local credit union, because of policies set in place by academics and captains of industry at any secret meeting of billionaires, academics, and politicians. You are where you are because you were uninformed. Incurious. You played small ball and didn’t care to examine the broader forces at work in the world around you – the sort of forces people like the Bilderbergers discuss. And consequently, you didn’t hedge against likely adverse consequences coming down the road. Only now, after it’s too late, do you begin to examine why you’re in your rut. Having 20/20 hindsight, craving a rationalization, and finding endless gigabytes of dubious information to support your case, you construct a narrative in which you’re the victim, and some faceless organization that can never be fingered, is the boogeyman.
You’re not a victim. You’re a nut. A delusional crank wasting time sending crazy messages to websites “putting it all together.” A first team all star imbecile who’ll no doubt respond to this piece with an email to me arguing you see what others don’t... that you’re Churchill and the rest of us are Neville Chamberlains.
Don’t waste your breath. My only reply to anything containing the term “Bilderberger” is Delete.
“If You’re So Smart, How Come You’re Writing”?
I actually agree with some of this criticism. The Internet, books, and news are filled with people who spend too much time mentally masturbating, too little time actually living. This makes writing stale. It causes writers to write for other writers, and critics.**
And yet comments offering this criticism still fall flat, and are probably the most embarrassing of those one can offer. Asking “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you doing something besides just writing? How come you’re not a billionaire?” invites two comebacks so easy it feels like a guilty pleasure to use either:
“Are they mutually exclusive?”
“Where does that place you, the guy reading this?”
Suggesting someone ought to be doing something other than writing the thing you’re responding to, without which the debate would never have existed in the first place, is arguing no one should ever write anything. It’s an argument that everyone should always be doing something, as opposed to articulating anything. Which would by extension involve no one reading anything, no transmission of knowledge from anyone to anyone else and, taken to its logical extreme, an argument society would be better off if everyone chose to merely profit from what he learned, rather than impart some of it to others.
We’ve all seen how that Randian utopia works. They call it the Stock Market. You might also call it this: A dog track of manipulators and herd-thinkers running in circles, creating nothing but volatility.
Heavy shit there. Probably got away from myself, and onto another point entirely... Here’s the quick and dirty wind down: The “If You’re So Smart, How Come You’re Just Writing” Guy is one who fancies himself a man of action. A man who gets things done. Who doesn’t think. A Player.
...Except, of course, when he’s taking the time to read a website and write a one hundred word comment explaining why, if the author were more like him, he’d be doing something better than writing the material the critic just consumed and responded to.
If your best criticism is “Do something,” follow your own advice. Back away from the keyboard and make yourself a sandwich. Throw a Frisbee. Masturbate. Anything else would be a more productive use of time.
The ‘I Knew That Already’ Guy
This commenter is my favorite offender, probably the most amusing of the miscreants cited here. He either believes that every story should be entirely sui generis, saying something never said before, or thinks there’s some form of criticism in saying “I already knew what you just wrote.”
Here is Wisdom (ahem, “Obvious Wisdom”): As you read, if you’re thinking, as opposing to simply running your eyes over text, you’ll notice the essay moving toward a certain conclusion. About halfway through you’ll have a Eureka!” moment where you’ll guess, probably correctly, the point offered in the final paragraph. There’s a tendency at this juncture to feel like you knew where the author was going from the start. And if you’re impatient and sure of yourself in the way only certain eighteen-to-forty-year-old men with more confidence than appreciation for nuance often are, you might think, reflexively, “Why did I bother reading this?” You might even feel the urge to write the author and say, “Hey, no shit! I already knew all of this! You didn’t say anything new.”
Fight this urge. Because Here is More Obvious Wisdom: In terms of essays, Nothing “New” is Ever Said. The points have all been made before. The arguments have all been hammered out elsewhere. To say “I Knew This Already” is to telecast the opposite of knowledge – that you didn’t grasp the fact most people are familiar enough with the subject matter at hand before reading to credibly argue they already knew a good bit of the piece’s ultimate point. It’s akin to knee-jerkedly critiquing Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, as many granite-headed Amazon reviewers did, with the response, “All this guy said was, ‘You should follow your first hunch.’ D'uh!” Yes, indeed. That’s all he said. The other two hundred and seventy pages were utterly superfluous. No more intricate analysis offered there.
One who thinks it’s that simple tells the world he’s that simple. Best to keep that exclamation to one’s self.
And with that, I’ll turn the floor over to comments. I’m sure everyone has a list of those he could do without. Feel free to describe them below.
* Even I have certain standards, and though I’d love to dissect the troglodytes who offer such comments for a laugh, wallowing in their sewage simply isn’t worth it. ^
** Which is kind of amusing because, so far as I’ve seen, the average professional writer is far too self-absorbed, and strained for time, to read much of the stuff his contemporaries are slaving over to impress him. ^
[Editor's note: Be sure to remember our comment policy: Don't make me destroy you.]