I updated My Time/Habit/Life Tracking about three weeks ago. In it, I added a "Challenges" section:
Did I start the day in my planner instead of online?
Did I only check email when I was ready to write back immediately?
Did I clear my active to do list before any screwing around?
Did I avoid getting into arguments with idiots online?
Did I only check a site once, then done with it?
Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing?
Did I avoid sugary food?
Note one in particular - "Did I avoid getting into arguments with idiots online?"
This can be hard to do if you're on a discussion site. But now, I think I've got a rule that covers when to discuss and get into it with people, and when not to.
The rule - no arguing with peasants.
What's a peasant? Or, to be more precise, who is a peasant?
A peasant is someone who is:
(1) Ignorant, (2) Tribal, (3) Has no power, (4) has a strong opinion, and (5) refuses to consider alternative opinions or change their mind.
Let's go through all of those.
(1) Ignorant: The argument the person is making isn't cohesive or otherwise makes no sense.
(2) Tribal: It's a tribal argument, so people from their tribe will support it even though there's holes in it.
(3) Has no power: So on the off chance your changed their mind, it wouldn't matter, because the person is just unemployed or a student. It's worth it to take a try to change the mind of someone who can make a difference even if it's unlikely, but on the off chance you finally convince a peasant - nothing happens.
(4) Has a strong opinion: Weakly held stupid opinions can be changed, and you're doing a nice thing. Once you get into a combination of ignorant, tribal, powerless, strongly opinionated people, you're not going to be able to change them.
(5) Refuses to consider alternative points or change their mind: If a person will even consider an argument and reply coherently, you can have a discussion with them. If someone thinks through each point, they might still disagree with you at the end, but maybe you two can learn a little of each's point of view. Peasants ain't learning anything.
The thing is - you want to reply to peasant comments. You think, this person is so stupid and making such glaring errors, I could just point them out to him! But no, this is not the case. Time spent arguing with a peasant shows a severe lack of self-discipline.
Here's an example of a peasant comment I almost replied to:
I once saw a slogan on a T-shirt that said “Labor creates all wealth”. I would suggest that if your first reaction to that slogan is anywhere in the range from “that’s an exaggeration, but yeah, it’s mostly true” to “HELL YEAH!”, then you are (should be?) a socialist.
The various flavors of socialism, from anarcho-syndicalism to Marxism to Scandinavian-style social democracy, represent different answers to the question of “OK, granted that labor creates the wealth, but in a country with one iron mine, five steel plants, and twenty steel-consuming factories, who decides how resources get distributed from the mines to the steel plants to the factories?”
That was on Hacker News. Does it fit our definition?
(1) Ignorant: Yup. No understanding of economics or how wealth is created at all.
(2) Tribal: Definitely.
(3) Has no power: I seriously doubt this guy is doing anything of value.
(4) Has a strong opinion: “HELL YEAH!”
(5) Refuses to consider alternative points or change their mind: This one is more of a guess - but I'm thinking so.
There's obvious debunking that could be done - the first one I'd point out (almost did) is that trade creates wealth, if for no other reason than people like variety. So if you have 10 potatoes and I have 10 carrots, and we swap some of them, we're both wealthier. I could point out accountants and bookkeepers create wealth by helping people make decisions. I could point out that two managers given the exact same team and resources will produce wildly different results.
If you said, "All of that is labor," then you've got a tautology. If everything a human does including bookkeeping, trading, buying, and selling is all labor, then sure, all wealth is created by labor... but that includes all the moving around of private property by merchants, financiers, classical bankers, and so on - which probably isn't what our friend here meant.
I caught myself. I was about to argue with someone who saw a t-shirt that said "All wealth is created by labor" and he really liked the t-shirt. He holds this view strongly, and he probably doesn't even understand his own argument. That's before even getting into the fixed pie fallacy in the second part of that comment - the idea that there's some fixed amount of wealth (mines, foundries, plants, factories) and that the product of them gets distributed. No, no, no. You don't like the way things are, build a new factory. Yes, you really can. Yeah you - you could be an entrepreneur. Start small. You could do it.
But I won't even try to convince him, because that'd be arguing with a peasant. He's not going to change his mind. I'm not going to learn anything insightful by arguing with him except maybe getting a pulse on how people who don't think very much think. But I could do that by just doing some google searches and reading blogs in that space.
I'd take the time to make careful and articulate arguments to someone who could make policy, or someone who runs a company, or someone who has any influence or whose decisions and thought processes matter. But even if not, if a person made halfway intelligent arguments, or their arguments were based on individual ideas rather than tribal ideas, or if they seemed genuinely willing to change their mind, or if their position wasn't strongly emotionally held - yeah, if any of those were true, I'd try.
But in this case? No way. It'd be undisciplined of me to argue with this guy. So I didn't! I stopped myself and read a good book for a little while before doing some work and going to bed. Hurrah for self-discipline! And no arguing with peasants if you're disciplined! "HELL YEAH!"
I was reading a passage from Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary today, which reminded me of this post of yours, if only in one respect. Although it is true that you were referring to peasants, while he refers to fools, which are not necessarily synonymous. However, it reminded me of it, because you were speaking about peasants being powerless, while he refers to the power that fools do have (although probably not in online arguments):
"Descartes was forced to leave his country, Gassendi was calumniated, Arnauld dragged out his days in exile; every philosopher is treated as the prophets were among the Jews.
"The greatest misfortune of a man of letters is not perhaps being the object of his confreres' jealousy, the victim of the cabal, the despised of the men of power; but of being judged by fools. Fools go far sometimes, particularly when bigotry is added to ineptitude, and to ineptitude the spirit of vengeance. The further great misfortune of a man of letters is that ordinarily he is unattached. A bourgeois buys himself a small position, and there he is backed by his colleagues. If he suffers an injustice, he finds defenders at once. The man of letters is unsuccoured; he resembles a flying-fish; if he rises a little, the birds devour him; if he dives, the fish eat him."
I just got linked here. After sniffing around a bit on your blog, without intention to insult, my first impression of you was one full of arrogance. You seem to like self-improvement and this post won't take much time, so:
As of this time there is a certain type of reader (to which I seem to belong) which you discourage from your blog. It just sounds so.. Full of it, what you write and what you write about yourself on your about page.
Because social standing (non-native speaker here, maybe "standing" isn't quite the most accurate a term) can facilitate a great deal of daily troubles, perhaps for you it could be worth it to investigate into the impressions you leave with people. If you come across as not too likable maybe you miss out on opportunities to improve yourself.
Everyone is always worth talking to, if prepared to have reasonable (valuable?) conversation with you - the real measure of how best to use your time. As a traveller I'm sure you will have experienced random acts of kindness from unlikely people. Afterall, you never know where the next pitchfork in the arse is coming from.
Are you concerned you might appear to be a 'peasant' to other people, albeit well read?
Edit: But on a global scale, if the majority did this, there’s a much higher chance we’ll collectively find these gems without wasting too much of any one intellectual’s time.
Hmm. Yes, it's definitely a big waste of your time to attempt to enlighten every fool that comes at you with weak arguments. But this seems kind of black and white to me.
If we reject everybody, then there will be exactly zero improvement among the foolish. I suggest: we should argue with some such peasants, but only on rare occasion. Eventually, you'll stop someone in their tracks and force them to think for themselves about something. Sure, this is indeed a rarity. But on a global scale, if the majority did this, there's a much higher chance we'll collectively find these gems wasting too much of any one intellectual's time.
We've all been there before. Ignorant, holding onto only what we've been taught, and momentarily having absolutely no power whatsoever. (A scary thought: the removal of condition (3) only.) Don't give up on these people. But find balance; don't waste more time than necessary.
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I don't necessarily disagree about arguing with certain people or about wealth. I'm mainly commenting because I feel I should give something back, since I am indebted to you for providing me with a new rule:
Don't argue with the sort of arrogant toad who calls people 'peasants'. Even if you, the toad and the rest of the world learns something from it, you'll still have had to spend your time talking to the kind of conceited, elitist egotist who uses the word 'peasant' as an insult.
Here's hoping this helps you get over your crippling, self-congratulatory conceit. Show some humility. If that does not appeal to you, so be it and best wishes.
“(1) Ignorant, (2) Tribal, (3) Has no power, (4) has a strong opinion, and (5) refuses to consider alternative opinions or change their mind.” – is there a better non-cliche word than peasant for that?
London taxi driver.
While I agree that arguing with trolls on the internet can be a huge time sink, I disagree with this post. For one, I find that debating isn't only good for informing someone else, but instead it is great for strengthening your own beliefs and also a bit of thought exercise. Debating your views truly tests how strong and valid they are.
In addition, I find it in poor taste that you state that you do not want to argue with the 'peasant' and then do so indirectly through your blog. Describing your side of the argument does nothing to further the main point of this blog post, which is to not engage with trolls. You could have just as well posted the quote and described why it fit your criteria, then ended it there. Showing why you are right and he is wrong seems passive aggressive as other commenters have noted.