This is why we temper our mind and body in martial arts. (Well, one of the reasons) It’s not about bruising each other up and dulling nerves.
Whenever I order food or drinks at one of those businesses that insist on asking for your name, in order to announce your order by name instead of number, I intentionally mumble my name rapidly: Barclay. I’m always interested in what variant I’ll inevitably receive. I imagine it a brief glimpse into the psyche of the cashier, a surprise verbal Rorschach, perhaps revealing some aspect of his or her background, culture, or upbringing. Usually, it comes out Barkley, which is fine – that’s how I’d spell it if I didn’t know, but that only tells me that my cashier’s hearing is exceptional. Occasionally, however, I receive some entertaining interpretations: Berkeley, Marky, Carckly, Parkway (?), Ptarky (??). Even less common, I get a blank stare accompanied by “No, your first name.” I pin these receipts on the wall of my cube.
As a child, I had some friends that would become absolutely incensed if you didn’t pronounce their name correctly, or used a abbreviate “Will” or “Bill” in place of “William.” I was always curious as to the source of the ire. Personally, I’ve had more than my parcel of nicknames growing up, some long and some short lived: Barc, Barcles, Bosborn, Barcl-osby, Barfly (as in barf-ly), Barfly (as in bar-fly), B., B-face, B-face Jesus … I can’t even recall the entire list.
None of my nicknames irked me – with the exception of Barf-ly. Why? Of course, the intent: it is to affront. The rest were and are fine with me, for the same reason: the intent is to indicate a sense of familiarity or joviality. In that sense, I can understand the desire to be called by a full and proper name. It display an intent of respect – that I will call you what you be desired to be called; I will give you that esteem. As I’m addressing you without anger or derision, I will do you the favor of using the label you prefer. But isn’t that all it is? A label? Something that you yourself didn’t even choose, but were assigned? (With exceptions, of course.) You had no input, no a-priori sense of affinity or meaning with that string of sounds. Artificial.
So it is both substantial and insubstantial at the same time. If you have the choice, why not choose that which pleases you?
In my martial arts school there are belt rankings. What does it matter what color your belt is? In a way, it doesn’t matter – completely superficial, particularly as belt rankings didn’t even exist a hundred years ago. It is the student that matters. However, the belt is also symbolic, an indicator of the training I’ve received and sweat I’ve poured out. If I lost my belt, I don’t lose my training, but I would expect you to do me the service of not urinating on it.
Say you did urinate on my belt, or my gi, or some other token of my training. Would I strike out at you? No. I understand the difference between the symbol and the content. They symbol is expendable, but the content is persistent. I receive the your intention to offend or rile me, but I don’t let the desecration of some artifact guide my behavior. Your actions are incidental, they could be anything that communicates your intent – or nothing at all. If your intent runs up against my intent, I will respond, but it is your mind that I am responding with, not your actions. I have no choice regarding the status of my soiled gi, but I do when it comes to my mind and action.
Likewise, we have wooden weapons swords to train with. We treat the wooden swords as we would live blades, because they are weapons. We don’t swing them around carelessly or joke about when they are within reach. Just like live blades, they can be used to mortal ends. At the same time, however, if my sword breaks during training – no problem, I’ll get another. It’s just some lignin. I’m not going to pray to it or give it a burial ceremony. I don’t die with my sword.
So when someone calls you by some nickname, why get angry? Choose to receive their intent as your prefer, make the conscious choice to make life easier on yourself. Call me Barc, Barcles, B-face, whatever … that’s fine. I actually have a friend that uses the nickname “Turd” as a term of endearment – which is fine, because everyone reads her intent, not her symbol. She’s re-defined the symbol in her context, but the message is familiar.
When you show me friendship, in whatever form, I appreciate it, and when you show me otherwise, I don’t react to your symbol, I read your intent and turn it to my advantage. Shouting derisive names? I see your lack of control. Obsequious and cajoling? I see your lack of confidence. Haughty and condescending? I see your lack of humility. Genuine, accepting, upstanding? I see you as a friend.
Do you ever get a single word stuck in your head, just repeating itself over and over, mutating in and out of different phrases? Today that word has been ‘ventricular.’
Ventricular. Ventricular. Ventricular.
Absolutely brilliant. If you’ve read any of my pieces related to turning the world upside down (Saito’s words, not mine), this is exactly the sort of thing I’m referring to: Pledge-a-Picket
Date Reported: 14 Sep 2005
Affected Packages: common-lisp-controller
Category: design error
How to Argue on the Internet
Going Head to Head with and Internet Tough Guy and Not Looking Retarded
Why the Troll Handed You Your Ass
Arguing, debating, and other generally useless Internet activities are somewhat different that in other mediums. Although similar to a spoken debate, in that jabs are generally traded in somewhat of a reciprocative manner, there are subtle but important elements of human communication that are lost. Elements such inflection, cadence, and body language are not present or very difficult to convey at the least. Furthermore, there are elements of “netiquette” that are oft overlooked, where such oversights would be unacceptably damaging to one’s arguments should the analogous action be performed in person.
On the up side, it’s next to impossible to be interrupted.
Gleaned from years of net existence, here’s my guidelines for not looking like a complete dumbass when arguing on the Internet. Remember, you’re not trying to convince your opponent you’re right, you’re trying to convince everyone else. After all, your opponent is an idiot, so he or she must be wrong. You’re just trying to make sure he or she doesn’t contaminate others.
- ALL CAPS IS LIKE SCREAMING AT A DEBATE. DON’T DO IT.
- Smileys do not convey body language.
- Smileys do not convey cleverness. Quite the opposite.
- Graphical smileys incite the wrath of netizens.
- Gratuitous graphical smileys incite the wrath of God.
- Not your god, my god.
- Spel check. Twwice.
- Your computer is not a mobile phone; there are many keys on it. Use them.
- “OMFGROTFLMAO ur so wr0ng” is not a sentence.
- Re-read your web forum post/email/Usenet posting the greater of
- Four times
- Two full times through without making corrections
Your opponent will read it at least twice three times that, and quote you on it.
- Re-read your opponent’s post until you understand it. Then read it again, slower. Then, read it empathetically from your opponents point of view. You might already be the dumbass.
- Do not mis-quote your opponent. After all, there is a record of what he or she said, and they’ll just refer to it. And send it back to your high-school debate coach, your mother, significant other, and the credit bureau.
- Reverting to personal attacks is about as effective as calling your doctoral review board “a bunch of snotty poopheads”. Dumbass.
- You cannot kick, punch, or shoot someone through the Internet. You will not hunt someone down because they insulted you. You are fundamentally lazy, as you are currently Arguing On The Internet.
- Such threats only serve to provide the masses with entertainment regarding the lack of your grip on reality. You will be trolled indefinitely after that, and any future valid point is already in the dustbin.
- Sixteen different fonts, sizes, and colors do not impress or instill fear in your opponent. Unless arguing with the Amish, he or she has seen them before.
- Your signature should be shorter than your post. Always. And it should never include a graphic of some anime character. Ever.
- If you’re wrong, admit it. If you’re unsure, say so. If you’re right, spell it out word for word.
- Sarcasm and cadence don’t translate well. Don’t try to use them unless you’re a very experienced Internet Debater, author, poet, or furry. Furries can do whatever the hell they want; they’ll never look like anything but a dumbass.
- Cite legitimate references. Just because it’s on the web, doesn’t make it “true.” Just like this list.
- Your “friends” are not legitimate references. Neither are your parents, siblings, children, or other relations. No one believes you actually have any of the above.
- Asides only give your opponent ammunition and detract from your point. Omit them, don’t emit them.
- Do not enlist the help of bystanders, let your opponent collapse under the weight of his or her own mistakes. The spectators will commence kicking the offender once he or she is down.
- Remember, you’re not trying to convince your opponent you’re right, you’re trying to convince everyone else that your opponent is wrong. Argue accordingly.
Most of this couldn’t be more obvious. But, as they say, arguing on the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics – even if you win, you’re still retarded.
I can’t remember why, but I was having a bad day. Perhaps Ms. Alexander had been overly harsh reviewing my last creative writing assignment, or maybe Jenny had spurned my advances. Regardless, I was displeased with myself, feeling anti-social and uprooted in the temporary schoolyard of my relocated seventh-grade class, all dirt and asphalt and trailers for classrooms.
Shane was a resident ruffian, tough and foul-mouthed but too white trash to hang with the top bullies at school. When he threw his shoulder into mine as he passed, I uncharacteristically responded. I think he was expecting me to just shrink and take it.
“Watch it, asshole.”
He spun me around with a yank.
“What’d you say?”
I looked him in the eyes as steadily as I could. I wasn’t known for my pugilistic prowess, although I wasn’t small. I just rarely fought, aside form that time last month when I belted an eighth grader for tearing off the necklace my family’s foreign exchange student had brought for me from Chile. He was so shocked he just massaged his chin and backed off.
I was jolted back to the present by Shane pushing me with both hands, backing me up and egging me on:
“What the fuck you going to do about it? Huh? Fuck you, YOU watch where you’re going.”
A crowd coalesced. A head above others caught my attention behind Shane, to the periphery. I changed focus. The Principle, pushing through the crowd.
That’s when he hit me. Once, twice, three, four times. All in the mouth, backing me up further. They were strong shots, but I didn’t go down, I’ll give myself that much. But I knew if I started swinging I’d be doing it right in front of the Principle, and besides, I might get my ass whooped further.
Shane was taken to the office, and myself to the nurse. She looked me over, and aside from a split and rapidly engorging lip, fit to finish the day.
“Do you want to got home? I can excuse you.”
“No, it’s fine.”
It was less being a hard-ass and more peer presence. Everyone saw what happened, and although I knew I had Shane by the balls “legally,” so to speak, and I was free of administrative repercussions, it might not look that way to others. I had to finish out the day so everyone wouldn’t think I was a total pussy.
“Really, it’s nothing, I’m fine. I’ll go back to class.”
Releasing me with a kind smile, I returned to Mr. Pavlik’s History class and subsequently lunch. Inevitably I was assailed with questions from friends clamoring for details.
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. He’s just an asshole, is all,” I lisped over my protruding lip. I removed myself to another table to get some peace and hid my face. I hadn’t cried yet, and I wasn’t about to start now, but I hated all the questions. They saw it, they knew what happened.
Shane didn’t make it to school the next day. Ten or twenty friends I didn’t know I had took it upon themselves to call Shane out and deliver a series of beatings that left him black and blue for weeks. I knew nothing about it, and was surprised to find some of the people that stood up for me, and the things they said. “You just don’t do that to Barclay,” I heard. I was astounded.
Sometimes just being your simple, honest, understated self affects people deeper than you realize, and provides a stronger foundation for future friendship than anything else. Everyone affects the world around them more significantly than we generally realize through our hum-drum daily lives, and sometimes it takes extraordinary circumstances to bring it to our cognitive forefronts.
Back then, I could smell the salt in the air all the way out in Alpine, forty miles inland. I’d be rocketing in from El Centro on I-8, windows down, stereo sweating. Pulling deeply, I’d savor the indication of the ocean, dowsing my emotions in water. Eventually, I’d only be able to smell it standing on the cliffs in Pacific Beach. People are adaptable like that, and sometimes I despise it. Sometimes, it’s disappointing to adapt. Sometimes, I want to suspend change. I want to smell the salt again.
You got steel, son, my Uncle’s talking’ / takes a champion to walk and keep walking
When I moved to San Diego, everything I owned fit in my hand-me-down ‘84 Toyota Cressida station wagon: futon, stereo, CDs, computer, and clothes. I’d been frustrated with my parents, with living at home, with high school, with Phoenix. Phoenix, Phoenix, Phoenix. I abhorred the sweltering city streets of the six-month summers, the dirt and dust, the paucity of culture drawn tenuously between hick and gangster. Phoenix straddled a purgatory of boredom and apathy, one long enduring anti-climax. Unlike the namesake, my rebirth lay elsewhere.
My high school was an inner-city school in the center of a district tall and thin. One mile wide and ten miles long, my end was the North, the suburbs, and to the South, central Phoenix. Although inner-city, replete with inner-city funding and security, gangs, drugs, fights, and both kinds of weapons – those that drew blood and those sprayed it – we didn’t lay claim to the toughest educational facility in town. South Mountain probably took that dubious honor, but we will weren’t soft. There were people you didn’t fuck with, no matter what. Omar. Cody. Joey. A slew of guys – and girls, who stashed double-edged razor blades in their mouths for slap-fighting – that I never even knew the names of. Tough guys that put tougher guys in hospitals, in comas. Worse, even.
When I left Phoenix, the taggers were just starting to migrate north into my neighborhood. They’d be followed by the wannabe gangsters, then the real deal, if a black market was to be found.
I’d just graduated two days earlier and received the responses to my college applications.
- Occidental: Primary candidate.
- Tulane: Full ride.
- Clairmont-McKenna: Check.
- UCSC: Check.
- UCSD: Check.
- UC Berkeley: Deferred.
- Stanford: Denied.
- Columbia: Denied.
- No application to any in-state school: Check.
I’d lived almost a quarter of my life in San Diego. My father’s father had taken his family on annual vacations from the Yuma sun to temperate San Diego, and my father expanded on the tradition, buying a house in Mission Beach back when houses could still be afforded there. I’d lived summers there since I could remember, and worked them since fifteen. San Diego was comfortable exploration. Plenty of trouble to be found, and I already knew my phone number. But not much else.
I knew nothing I wanted or expected, only what I was exhausted with: Phoenix. Apathy. Stagnancy. Sedentary lives. Lack of change. Inertia. The co-efficient of static friction.
I was dealing with a different sort of friction now, a lesser force, my boot mashing the accelerator and burying the speedometer of my coughing rustbucket. There was the gaping maw of the Pacific beyond these dunes, beckoning me, teasing me, a summer fling promising a full-fledged affair.
My summer friends from years past would be gone, back to their respective locales, and the locals I knew rotated on a yearly basis, just permanent enough to not be considered itinerant. I knew nothing of the San Diego beyond Mission Beach, beyond attenuated debauchery and tourism jobs punctuated with drinking, body surfing, and post-curfew make out sessions with girls in from Texas-Arizona-Jersey-Boston-Elsewhere. It was as if I had hiked this trail a thousand time before, but never ventured to the undergrowth I’d always tread around. Now, I was destined off-piste.
I slammed the accelerator down again, gently padding the blistering metal outside my window. Good girl. We’ll be there soon.
Someone, someone I hadn’t met yet, would later tell me: never go from anything, go to something. If I did know anything at all, it was that I was going to somewhere other than Phoenix.