the comments section

I am mad that I have ever let the comments section of any post on the internet bother me at all. I am mad that I ever let some dumbass random anonymous people’s comments get me mad.

I used to, in an attempt to be fair and believe in fellow humans more, try to give any sort of opinion some consideration. I didn’t want to dismiss anyone’s opinion automatically. Now I see that that was being far too nice—inaccurately nice, frustratingly nice. I applied my own preferences and feelings to others: I don’t routinely just announce my opinions to people I’ve just met or in comment sections. So I suppose I was assuming that if someone did do those things, like express an opinion to a new acquaintance or make a comment on an article, that they were doing so with the same weight, consideration, and thinking that I would. In other words, these comments couldn’t be just some brain vomit that someone puked up to reassure themselves that their views are already correct without even considering an opposing one.

Boy, was I wrong. So, so very wrong.

Now I want a DUMB stamp. Now more often I just label people’s opinions as DUMB and move on. I’m so analytical and logical that I do have to stop myself from overanalyzing some people’s opinions and arguments. I start going down a rabbit hole of ridiculous and absurd thoughts that don’t even deserve to be seriously analyzed. It’s as if I’m still trying to somehow find a kernel of wisdom buried in a big pile of nonsense. I’ll start rantalyzing (my new portmanteau for the way I express confusion as I try to analyze someone’s poorly reasoned argument) and say, “But what are they saying? That ____? That’s the implication of that. Do they not see that? Or are they just somehow contradicting that and not acknowledging it? OR? OR? OR?” and my boyfriend will just say, “I think you’re overthinking this.” And I’ll realize I’m trying to analyze something as if it had the validity of a piece of art or other such serious expression, when it took the amount of skill and planning as a finger painting.

But seriously, that is a good comparison. Sometimes (often), I analyze the equivalent of a finger painting as if it were an oil painting worked on for many months. I’m just not going to find any substance or depth and I’m just going to go round and round spinning my analysis wheels thinking of abstract hypothetical interpretations. I don’t need to seriously consider every finger painting. I can just see it for what it is.

A belief in the importance of validation has become more and more eroded in my mind, and I’m happy. I used to think that any sort of act was only valid/valuable/important if other people both noticed and approved. It really doesn’t make much sense when you break it down. It contradicts other beliefs I have, such as that truth isn’t decided by popular vote, and that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, it does indeed make a sound.

What just set of this frenzy of thought on this subject was a brief article I just read and the comments in response. I liked the article and thought it had good points that were sound. I thought it was good the author wrote the article and it helped me crystalize some things I’d been thinking about.

Then I scrolled down to the comments and this old, nagging frustration erupted. All of the visible comments (you could click to see more) did one of these things:

*Missed the point

*Weren’t in response to actual points contained in the article

*Were one sentence that should be contained in a larger paragraph of explanation but treated as if it spoke for itself and was a pithy statement of truth

*A paraphrase of “I was right already before I read this and now that I’ve read it I’d just like to reassert my correct opinion without beginning to dream of considering another even though my opinion doesn’t really tie into the subject at hand”

I was mad at this apparent injustice. It was honestly a pretty straightforward article that I didn’t think was making very controversial points. But, oh dear, it did tie into women and expectations of them and that ties into lots and lots of opinions. It’s like certain people pop into the space with their hand cupped around their ear, saying “Women?! Did I hear someone say women?! I have an opinion on that!!!” I was just like, is no one even reading this article? This is unfair. You’re not even actually addressing anything she’s saying.

And then I realized, DUMB. An article is not a “success” only if enough people see it and agree with it. She put her thoughts out there, I liked it. It’s nice that she wrote it. You can’t wait to write articles until you know they’ll be well received. The important thing is making your thoughts known, not being approved of.

I thought about a common critique of professional critics, by the people they criticize. A writer, for example, will scoff at a book critic panning his work because the book critic isn’t actually publishing a book and so shouldn’t judge someone else. Well, I don’t think that holds a lot of weight, and I’m sure that author also criticizes people’s performance in professions he doesn’t have experience in. It happens all the time. It’s really often a way to sidestep the actual arguments the book critic is making by instead just saying that nothing they say has any validity. Would it have validity, in the author’s eyes, if it was praise for the book? Probably. So, a book critic is apparently knowledgeable enough to know when a book is good, but not bad. Which doesn’t make sense.

But these anonymous internet commenters are actually, I think, the true example of this criticism. They are so often people who do not need any courage or serious thought to post their opinions and only do so to nitpick and tear apart writing that they didn’t even closely read. They usually have at most a name, often just a username. Often no picture. And they’re commenting on an article with the author’s real name and picture, with links to other articles they’ve written. The author is in fact putting themselves out there and writing an opinion and expanded analysis. Commenters with no real name, photo, or credentials who think they’re so smart that they barely have to read the article to judge it look pretty pitiful in comparison.

In real life we don’t consider everyone’s opinions equally. If you’re walking down the street, you will respond differently when a friend versus a stranger talks to you. If you’re in line to get coffee and you strike up a conversation with someone in front of you in line who is in the same field, you would obviously consider any opinion or advice they have more than the person behind you with no background or experience with your work. A fellow graphic designer recommending a new stylus is going to be more trustworthy than an insurance salesman behind you who advises you to “use more blue.”

On the internet, we often don’t see who these people writing comments are. We don’t know what knowledge or background they have. We usually don’t even know their ages. There are 12-year-olds who dispense marriage advice online and claim that they’re in their 30s, married to a beautiful wife. You just can’t trust a comment indiscriminately.

So now I’m seeing that these comments are just a reflection of the people making the comment, not the author. These are “drive-by” opinions, the equivalent of a stranger driving next to you and yelling out an opinion and driving off. I’ve been taking them way too seriously and have felt the vicarious injustice on behalf of authors who produce work that gets these strange comments in response. I’m more OK with it now.