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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