Today’s internet thrives on polarization. Websites profit when people take opposing sides. That’s what happens in what we call “the comments” on just about any article, especially those on websites that are designed to make money for someone. “The game itself is rigged and it deranges the players,” Benjamin Cain says.
There’s no obvious way to respond to online criticism, especially when so much of it is trolling. One type of response works in one situation, another type in another situation. Often, a writer’s best strategy is not to engage the critic at all, especially when the critic isn’t sincerely interested, isn’t informationally equipped to have a real discussion, is going to harass the writer, is backed by an algorithm that will mobilize an army of trolls, or has fled the scene so the writer would be speaking to empty air.
But if he could give one piece of advice, it is to “transcend the medium.”
I note: He does not say to transcend conflict itself. More specifically, he doesn’t say to transcend the meaningful elements of online conflict. Instead, he says to transcend the medium that is producing unnecessary, ridiculous, unproductive conflict.
Let’s keep that question in mind. What does it mean to transcend the medium in which one writes? How does one do it?
I see what you said, and it is unacceptable.
It threatens my worldview.
It breaks apart the extended community as if we are rope unspun into threads, twisted between careless fingers, returned to bits of dry grass.
I might have to make a comment.
But I see I will not change you.
I need not make the same comment eight times.
The more I say it, the more you will think you have won when I stop saying it.
You are not “entitled to your opinion” if it is wrong, but I cannot explain why it is wrong, because the given box in which I must challenge your metaphysics is the size of my thumbnail.
I am not entitled to have you endorse my opinion, either.
I believe I am entitled to my opinion because I believe my argument is sound.
I believe I am entitled to enjoy today without listening to how you invalidate my experience.
I may have to make a comment to feel that I pushed back against the darkness.
Hear me out.
(Unless you are a bot who has no ears to hear.)
Hear how I make my home on a rocky cliff of ideas where you leave me pointed sticks to build my nest and claim all the soft grass as yours.
You claim that it is yours and has always been yours.
If I were to invite you to my nest, you’d see it is also lined with grass. I’m not as primitive as you may think.
But you’re not invited over.
I have left one comment. This is just to say: I hear you. You are wrong.
I wish there were a symbol that meant: Now I let go of you. You cannot bait me further. I am not a fish. You are not a sailor. Neither of us is a shark. With equanimity and an open heart, I reveal my sacred face to you, I do not let you touch me, and I set you free. There is a palace where we are reconciled and at peace. There is a day on which we help each other decorate the ballroom with the same silver-green grass. This box is not that palace, and today is not that day.