Having good conversations on the internet even though it’s full of jerks

On the internet, there are a lot of people. There are massive numbers of jerks. There are also massive numbers of nice people.

If you focus on the jerks, you’ll never run out of jerks to talk to. If you engage with everyone who is mean to you, your life will be full of conversations with mean people.

This is true in reverse as well. If you seek out people who want to listen to you, you can have good conversations. If you reply primarily to people who respect you, then your life will be full of conversations with people who are treating you well.

Focusing on people who treat you well is a choice that you have to keep making, over and over again. It won’t happen automatically, and many people will try to push you into interacting with mean people. Some of them will be mean people who devote a lot of time honing their skills at demanding attention so they can hurt people. (Eg: 4chan trolls.) Some of them will be people who basically have good intentions but think that you have to reply to everyone. Some of them will be people who try to draw you into every fight they have.

Focusing on respectful interactions can be very difficult, but it’s worth it.

I think these are some basic principles for how to do that:

Talk to people who are listening.

  • If someone is making a serious attempt to understand what you are saying, they’re likely a good person to talk to
  • If they’re mocking it, twisting your words, or telling you that you’re a terrible person, they’re probably not a good person to talk to

Talk to people you want to listen to.

  • If you think that what someone has to say is worthwhile, they’re likely a good person for you to talk to
  • If you have active contempt for someone and their opinions, you’re probably better off talking to someone else

It is possible to have respectful conversations with people who you disagree with about important things:

  • In a respectful conversation, they listen to what you are actually saying and respond to it
  • In a respectful conversation, you respond to what they are actually saying
  • Neither side makes personal attacks
  • (Explaining why an idea is harmful is not a personal attack. Calling someone who disagrees with you human garbage is.)
  • Neither side engages in language dickery
  • (One or both of you might be angry, vehement, passionate, or heated. None of those are the same thing as contempt).

It’s ok to publicly explain why you don’t respect an idea, or have contempt for a particular person’s worldview:

  • It’s best not to do that as a conversation with that person, though
  • Conversations with someone you don’t respect tend to go poorly (especially if they don’t respect you either)
  • It’s much more effective and pleasant to discuss those ideas with people who want to listen to your perspective on them

Short version: The internet is a much more pleasant and productive place if you focus on interactions with people you respect and who treat you well.  Conversations go better when both people in them are listening and responding to content. If someone has contempt for you or you have contempt for them, it’s probably time to find someone else to talk to.

Wishful thinking

If you think someone is a jerk.

And then you’re attracted to them sexually.

Or they offer you a job you really want.

Or they introduce you to a really cool group of people you look forward to spending time with.

Or you otherwise want something from them.

And then you stop feeling like they’re a jerk.

They’re probably still a jerk. You were probably right the first time.

If you think you’re right now, think through why that is. Why did you think they were a jerk before? Do you have new information? Has anything changed?

Don’t just assume your now-good feeling about them is right.

Wishful thinking is a powerful thing, and it can lead you astray.

Autistics, cluelessly awkward people, and jerks

Some people are socially awkward because they don’t know the rules. Those people can learn the rules and not be awkward anymore. That is a different problem than autism.

Being autistic means that, no matter how much you understand, you will not be able to follow all of the rules. There will be some rules you won’t ever be physically capable of following. And some rules you will be capable of following, but with a heavy cost not faced by nonautistic people. And sometimes your abilities will fluctuate. That is a different problem than being awkward out of ignorance.

It’s also a different problem than being a jerk. Some people are jerks who don’t much care about being good to others. This is a different problem than not knowing the rules, and it’s a different problem than being physically incapable of following the rules.

Some people are kind of unintentional jerks because they don’t understand much about *how* to be good to others. This is a different problem from not caring about others. It’s also a different problem from not understanding the rules, or being unable to follow the rules. Treating people well is a learned set of skills. It’s not the same as social conformity or appearing normal.

Autistic people can be considerate of others. Autistic people can treat others well. This does not depend on following all of the rules all of the time. Following the rules is one tool people can use to be considerate of others. It is not the only tool.

Being autistic means that being considerate of other people will look different for you than most other people. It doesn’t mean that your neurology dooms you to be a jerk. It just means that you have to learn to treat others well in a way that works with rather than against who you are.