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On insults - Input Junkie
May 11th, 2015
11:42 pm


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On insults
I try to avoid insulting people, and one of the things I like about my button business is that it's a way of demonstrating that you can be funny without being nasty.

One reason to not insult people is that while insults are a good way of getting attention, it's very likely that the attention will go straight to the insult, and anything else you were trying to say doesn't get noticed.

Also, insults run the risk of having the behavior you don't want getting incorporated into the person's self image. Someone does something stupid. What you want is for them to be more alert, better informed, and/or better at deduction. If you call them stupid, they might believe you, and give up on thinking. Or they might hate you, and only think when they aren't doing something you want. (See first point.)

Michael Vassar came up with a plausible reason for identity-based insults. They may well be useful for breaking one kind of defense. If someone has stolen and you call them a thief, it's a way of saying, "It was really you who did it. Don't pretend it was some momentary lapse that doesn't matter." However, the first two drawbacks still apply.

One thing I've learned from the current difficulties with the Hugos is that people wildly underestimate the effects of the insults which come out of their own group. Insults which seems like good fun, the simple truth, and a pleasing exercise in group bonding are remembered in detail and with fury by the other group.

However, while there are good reasons for not insulting people, I do have a another reason-- a gut-level belief that I wouldn't be good at it. My expectation is that the other person would just insult me back and I wouldn't have a good fast reply. I have no idea whether this is a good enough reason. Perhaps I should practice.

I've wondered whether there's a biological basis for this sort of aggressiveness or lack of same. Usually, I have a sense that other people are human spirits, and should not be bent, folded, spindled, or mutilated. Occasionally, this feeling has evaporated. It's just not there. Fortunately, I have enough investment in my reputation that I don't do more than get slightly snippy, if that much. (I'm talking about my online behavior.)

Anyway, I'm curious about other people's experience with using insults. Have you found insults to be a reliable tool for getting people to do what you want? Or if not reliable, no worse than other methods? If you've changed your level of insultingness, why did you do it and how has it worked out?

Thoughts about getting attention without using insults?

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(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2015 12:25 am (UTC)
I try not to use insults, though they're often tempting. For me the main reason is that if you insult people, it tends to end communication. People don't like to be insulted, so they stop listening.

If my goal is to end communication, for instance if a phone scammer calls me, that's a different matter.
[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2015 02:46 am (UTC)
Haha, I don't insult them, but I do mess with their heads. The first thing I do is say "Are you a robot?" The callers who are robots will usually laugh and say something like "Do I really sound that bad?", whereas the real ones will say "No, I'm a real person", but in either case, I say "If you're a real person, talk like a pirate; say Arrr, shiver me timbers!"

I've never had a single caller - robot or human - try to say it. The robots say "I'm sorry, flimsy excuse, goodbye"; the human people just hang up.

You don't have to answer their questions or talk about what they want to talk about. You can ask them any crazy question you want, pretend you think they're spies or aliens, tell them nothing matters because the stars are right and dead Cthulhu is rising to destroy all reality... anything you like; they are yours to toy with. See if they ever call again!
[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2015 02:24 am (UTC)
*Have you found insults to be a reliable tool for getting people to do what you want? Or if not reliable, no worse than other methods?*

Insults are a reliable tool for making people feel hurt, humiliated, angry, intransigent, resentful, even vengeful; certainly NOT invested in doing anything the insulter wants. They're the #1 technique for 'How To Lose Friends And Alienate People' - especially insults about things the person can't change, like their race, body type, accent, disability, family background, etc.

The word 'sarcasm' literally means tearing flesh. So-called 'snark' may be funny, but it's also intrinsically mean-spirited, even when it's about people (such as celebrities) who will never know or care. It may not hurt them, but it does hurt the person doing the snarking, by damaging their character.

If you've changed your level of insultingness, why did you do it and how has it worked out?

I was a snarky bitch in my youth, and got embroiled in all kinds of needless fights and flame-wars on a regular basis. I don't think I ever persuaded anyone to my views by that kind of behavior, and it did not make me feel good about myself either; quite the contrary. In truth, I regret every insult I've ever inflicted on anyone; it was wrong and ignoble, and I wish I'd just walked away instead, every time.

That includes all the instances where the other person was being an utter jackass to me for no good reason. I didn't have to accept that from them, but I didn't have to be a jackass back.

"Thoughts about getting attention without using insults?"

My first thought is: why does one want attention? If one is seeking recognition for achievement, or trying to bring about social/political change, a reputation for fairness, kindness, respect and generosity toward opponents will stand one in much better stead than a habit of bullying, back-biting or throwing hissy-fits. If, on the other hand, one is trying to 'bond' with a group of snarks, one might do well to wonder what they say behind one's own back. Mean people don't make loyal, compassionate friends, especially when hard times come: "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"

My biggest difficulty has been putting a choke-chain on my rampant impulse to leap into every fray and tell people what's what. Why should I fash myself? Why should they care what I think anyhow? And even if they did care, what of it; what does it matter? "Oh noes, someone is WRONG on the Internet!"

Or in person, for that matter: someone is doing X thing that I don't like. Maybe it affects me enough that I need to do something about it: fine; I can do that thing without getting in a fight. Maybe it doesn't affect me: even better; I don't have to do anything about it, and can turn my mind to more pleasant or productive lines of thought.

In the past year, I've practiced leaving discussions when they start to piss me off, and not going back again to read what's said after I left. This is not easy, because of course I'm very curious, but if I do read it, there'll be the temptation to reply, and.... there's just no end to it. Therefore it's far better not to even look.

*wry grin* I can think of several people who must certainly have said all kinds of nasty things to and/or about me after I'd left the discussion, who would be ever so annoyed if they knew that I never read a word of what they said. The thought of their hypothetical annoyance is my main defense against the impulse to take just a peek: worse than being insulted is being ignored.

Edited at 2015-05-12 02:26 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2015 08:56 pm (UTC)
I generally try not to insult people.

That said, sometimes it's worth calling someone out when they've said something -so- over the top that letting it stand without comment is a worse result than courting backlash over naming their shame.

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