Ideology or Schtick? Steel versus straw in online discussions

A tendency I have seen all across the political spectrum is that of casually obfuscating ideological positions which are fairly easy to identify. Typically to avoid engaging with larger social trends and “other” the person as having no rational motivation, it seeks to actively disengage an actor from their personal and social context. An obvious example is when some tragic violent event happens, and it gets dismissed as “pure insanity” rather than something like a real category of social motivations.

But in the dynamics of online discussions, I find that some people and groups are reluctant to discuss ideological differences, and it stands out especially with social and political issues where using such categories seems like it could lend some clarity. If it is done, many do it as an accusation, a pejorative rather than real communication.

The first time this really hit home for me online was a few years ago, shortly after I had begun to participate on BB. There was a discussion where some people appeared to be agreeing as to some qualities characterizing “the left” which I disagreed with. So I asked what I thought was a simple and obvious question: “What about the militant left?” And this caused a mind-boggling maelstrom of weird insinuations. With some apparently angry people insisting that I clarify “who exactly are the militant left”, that I justify what some took as inflammatory. The whole idea that some people don’t have quite the same ideology seemed uncomfortable to many, and nobody was willing to discuss why. Over the years I have noticed this to be a pretty persistent trend. And I think it really gets in the way of people talking with each other about social issues. I think that ideologies are mere convenient tools for categorization, they tend to be reductionist and at times not easy to reconcile.

Coming as I do from a sort of radical anarcho-communist background, this informs some rather obvious things about my outlook on social issues. The importance of voluntary governance, resource management, egalitarianism, etc. Aspects that would seem obvious, with a little reflection, if one were not being disingenuous. So I have encountered a lot of hostility about these things from more liberal people, and I try to engage with them honestly about it. And on BB that tended to be dismissed (cool) as personal quirky bullshit (not cool). Yet, many of these chronic complainers thought nothing of dragging their liberal ideology into topic after topic. The tired schtick of relying upon unreliable representatives, prostituting ourselves for money, socializing our children into the same. These are realities, yes? But it sounds crassly dismissive when I say that these are your personal schtick, doesn’t it? There are numerous different ways of modelling and solving common real-world problems from different angles. Yet, when I tried to meet self-professed liberal people halfway by pointing out that we were approaching the issue from different places, they almost always became defensive and even angry. “It’s OK, I think the disconnect is just that I am approaching it more from a radical AC perspective, and you are approaching it from a liberal perspective” would get results like “Oh, liberal, huh? I’m just a stupid fucking liberal! Hey everybody, Popo just called me a liberal!” Which left me rather confused. Was I wrong, or do you operate from a really defeatist script or something?

Everybody who posts here were socialized, enculturated somehow, and can be said to have an ideology. Just like how anybody can be said to exhibit “behavior”. And I suspect that many protocol mismatches, interpersonal dramas, refusal to agree to disagree - stems from people’s reluctance to be literate and aware as to different schools of thought, in both themselves and others. It’s a pretty basic benchmark for functional discussion. It doesn’t mean that that person has to be your best friend, or have the greatest ideas or anything. But when it somehow feels unsafe to openly discuss coming from different ideologies because I/they are “not OK”, then a forum for discussing social issues fails. Especially when such a would-be community un-ironically seems to represent ideals of inclusiveness, right to dissent, transparency of process, representation of the marginal, etc.


I had to re-read the post a few times but I think I get the general gist. (Also: programming sucks, avoid computer science, and don’t take any programming jobs)

Anarcho-communism is all about devolving to local (read: small) community governance. It’s one of the OG schools of what we now call leftism, the antithesis of federalism. These days the Libertarians call themselves AnCaps and make everything a muddled mess - and somehow the free hand of the market hasn’t sorted things out. Hm, funny that. It’s almost like nothing gets done unless people decide and agree on it.

There’s a sort of unspoken protocol with regards to most online communities: people follow the rules and generally leave most things unchallenged as long as it does not personally inconvenience them. This comes of fora being a place where traditionally we gathered after work to have a beer and relax, whereas for a rousing time we’d head down to the local bar and have an argy-bargy over sportsball/politicians/weather/bullshit.

#include SocratesLimerick

I’m personally not interested in engaging sophists, having participated in the great flamewars of 2007, 2011, and the GamerGate War of 2013. I don’t mind sitting down with a Socratic every now and then. I don’t think anybody minds a Socratic until said Socratic turns every thread into a massive questions thread.


Labels are just noises, or symbolic scrawls if written, but people imbue them with much more due to connotations. However, they’re not neutral - like a dictionary definition of the term - they get burdened with whatever assumptions the listener/reader has about the speaker/author.

Blatant example: the n-word as a term of endearment vs a racial slur. Exact same word, very different meaning, depending mostly upon the opinion that the hearer/viewer has a of the speaker/writer (and to a significantly lesser degree on context). Labels like pencil vs pen don’t carry much emotional weight, but social and political ones do.

Most everyone, liberal or otherwise, has been conditioned to very binary thinking. You’re either a conservative or a liberal, a republican or a democrat, white or a minority, male or female, with us or against us, etc. If you are outside that simplified map, it confuses people. They feel threatened by things that they don’t fit into their worldview and have a natural tendency to lash out in self-defense. The idea that your entire worldview might be wrong, and you need to rebuild it, is a big thing, so defense mechanisms kick in to avoid it. Even among liberals, who try to be better about that sort of stuff.

Binary thought is drilled in from the raw beginnings - night vs day, warm vs cold, up vs down, left vs right, etc. Breaking that isn’t easy, even for people who try (and believe that they have successfully done so).


My only programming is arty stuff which doesn’t really count.

Sure. Although “devolving” seems to suggest that social organization is somehow fundamentally an expansive, top-down affair. How I see it is that it is progressive for people to opt-in and implement the systems they need. It avoids violence and coercion largely by not forcing a captive audience, and by not alienating millions of people into supposedly sharing the same goals or values (hint: they don’t!).

Indeed. It gets weird that because I am not a statist, many accuse me of being AnCap even when I try explaining that I am not capitalist in any sense, but they often don’t listen. Which ties back to my OP about it being surprisingly difficult to draw what seem like simple distinctions, especially when somebody is more interested in fitting you into whatever their current narrative is.

I can see that. I have typically mistrusted unspoken protocol precisely because it leaves so much unexamined. But it’s certainly quicker than deliberating things. When I have been in bars it has usually been to play my “music” (noise). I think of the fora as being sort of like a hybrid between a senate and a salon. We in the bar don’t only discuss politics, we actually define policy. Both commenting upon society and engineering it. Because it’s necessary and fun. So I can’t relate to why when things get very deep that many complain that it is somehow serious or stifling. I don’t understand why debate and dialectics result in so much tension, why more don’t relax and enjoy it. Just because social issues are important doesn’t suggest to me that we need to be miserable or pompous in discussing them. I think that plays into the psychology of hierarchies and power distance, that those with real power must be rarified and self-serious, so that we will know our place and keep our distance, petitioning them meekly from afar. Not enjoying the process together as equals.

I can appreciate that. And true to type, I suppose - I think that most people do indeed take far too much for granted, and ask too few questions. This causes some very pragmatic difficulties as atomized individuals try negotiating their ways through society. But what I don’t relate to is “flaming”. I don’t have any interest in over-reaction or sensationalism. I can appreciate a lack of emotional self-regulation in young kids but I tend to hope that by people’s 20s they have more or less grown out of it, for their own sakes. It weirds me out how many people lack the patience to discuss that which is most important to them. I just treat every second as if it is borrowed time, try not to worry about it, and do the best I can.


Gee, one might suppose from the overall lack of interest in this topic that it wasn’t relevant, like practically every day. Come on, you! Discuss it in its own topic, instead of dancing around the issue and derailing when you encounter it in other topics. But I guess maybe it is settled and will never come up again. /s

Another area where ideological disconnects happen often is when many assert that only their pet framing of an issue has any possibility of being productive, and dismiss anything other framings as a recipe for inaction. Ironically, those people themselves are often merely discussing the issue and looking for feelings of solidarity. It often plays out like a false dichotomy between rational skepticism and enlightened sympathy. For example, many frame racism as being a social problem, and the social solution is to raise awareness that racism exists and is A Bad Thing. To pressure and shame those feel that racism does not exist, or is not a problem. But what about racism as pathology? One area I am interested in is the possibility for medical models and cures for bigotry and other common cognitive biases. Although I can understand why not everybody would jump on board with that, what surprises me is that some decry it as a call for inaction - a rationalization for oppression. Why? Because it is an uncommon framing. But if something is a social problem that affects the lives of billions of people, why would you not want progress on as many fronts as possible? Because of activist tradition?

“The police are out of control! We should be much more vocal in our condemnation of abuses by police.”
“Yes, but it is also important to be personally responsible for the police our taxes pay for. To monitor and confront them in my daily life.”
“Well, I am not going to do that, that’s dangerous and stupid, you are obfuscating the issue.”
“If you were listening, I said ‘yes’, I agreed with you - but I think that in itself might not be enough.”
“You are continuing to obstruct us, so everybody here (who voted me as spokesperson) now know that you are really just a police apologist.”
“But I have confronted and protected people from police myself!”
“No you haven’t. And if you did and survived, then you must be a White Man, which is the oppressor class, so you must be part of the problem.”
“Um, yes I did, and no I’m not.”
“This isn’t all about you!” >flag<

I actually had one member of BB, who I admired the intelligence of and respect to a fair degree, PM me that I was worse than Donald Trump because I was trying to give them tactical advice on how to force their local police department to act upon their complaints of anti-Semitism harassment. I didn’t mind our disagreement, but I would have found discussing what the differences in our ethics were more interesting and productive than being verbally attacked for offering to help in the wrong way.

A lot of that conflict I see can easily be explained as obvious difference in ideology. So what I am getting at is that acknowledging these issues and putting them to bed quickly greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio of online discussions. Instead of challenging everybody as a bad-faith actor, all it takes is a quick, “No, thanks but that system doesn’t seem workable to me, I prefer X.” Instead of soapboxing for dozens of posts to call people out and interpret for others what they are “really saying”. IF (a big “if”) you are going to take that much time and energy, you might as well actually engage with them. Otherwise, why bother bringing their posts to everybody’s attention, why create controversy? If somebody does come at an issue from (what you might assume is) a different ideological or cultural position, acknowledging this and moving on is rather distinct from calling them out, accusing them, demanding that they justify their position. That practice actually creates the very digressions that I have read so many people complain of.

It’s been a while, I guess I can jump in.

I grant that you do not understand because you speak for yourself. I only point out, that it does.

And yet we can be.

I do not understand your point of view. I do not set out to attempt to convince you but it must be understood, In order to engage in honest discussion on any topic one must be willing to risk being convinced to change opinion.
I do not know how to argue otherwise. This is a warning.

That’s the problem. When you see a person and are able to categorize their position so easily, you’ve now committed a categorical error.
Positions are not for categorizing. It’s true that many people do tend to talk in talking points, but that does not mean that the person has been able to transmit the full breadth of their understanding or belief on a topic, but precisely because one lacks words to describe a position, it is socially easier to give an approximation of our beliefs and feelings as an attempt to try to get the other person to understand where we are coming from.
In a formal debate, this is a sin. In casual conversation, ever the internet, you can’t read too much into it.

People tend to want to talk about what they agree with more than what they disagree. I have observed this as well.

Could, yet doesn’t, and the answer is this.

Because it is reductive. There is no way that people who want to convey nuance can be satisfied that a label describes their position. This may be something you are personally comfortable with, but does that mean that other people must be comfortable with it as well?
It seems to me that you are framing this discussion from an egocentric position. Why is it that people act like they do if there are better ways to act and think?
This way of thinking presupposes that your solution is, while not necessarily the only way to do things or even the best way to go about doing things, it presupposes that it is effective on its face and understandable without much effort from your side of the conversation.

If you are talking to somebody and what they say to you sounds like nonsense, then it’s very likely that what you say sounds like nonsense to them too. So the way I see it, is you are beginning the conversation making too many assumptions about how compelling an argument you possess.

No, not obvious at all. I don’t need to tell you this assumption is wrong, I only need to point out that this assumption gets you nowhere.

Of course they would bring their ideologies with them, didn’t you?

Citation needed. This is the sort of thing where I grant you personally experienced another persons reply as angry, it does not mean that it was:

  1. Meant that way
  2. Unjustifiably angry

Says who? Again, another assumption. For a productive discussion the only benchmark is how productive it is.

I do not dismiss any of your arguments here, I do not dismiss your point of view, your way of life, or even the opinion you have of people you engage in fruitless discussion with. If we can begin this conversation with something we agree with is that your preferred mode of communication is not well understood to the uninitiated.

The question to ask here is what is your goal? Is your goal to express an opinion? or is your goal to convince other people of the ideas you hold?
Expressing opinions is painless, once you say what you want to say, you bow out and can be satisfied that you made your argument as best you could. People don’t accept it? well, too bad, you said your piece.
Do you want to actually convince people? Well, you should feel a little unsafe (not like physical harm unsafe), you might fail. Ideologies are not carried by the wind, they are carried by people, and it takes guts, and it takes perseverance to convince someone. Barring that, charisma will do.