6 Rules for Surviving a Flame War Like Asbestos Underwear

explosion on war

The age-old fight for supremacy continues to dominate the Internet.

Kirk vs. Picard, Connery vs. Craig, Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition Vs. 4th…

Jokes aside for a moment, the art of verbal kung-fu is wasted 99% of the time when you are in a discussion on the Internet. The pitfalls Internet arguments are many and the rewards virtually non-existent. But some people will always insist on spending part of their discretionary time being indiscreet. For those that absolutely must strap on the flamethrower, there are a few basics to staying cool and winning an Internet thermonuclear war.

Internet arguments are incredibly detached from a lot of things that prevent fights in real life – accountability, face to face politeness etc. Always keep that in mind. And if you want to have a real discussion with someone you know, get off the Internet and go talk to them (or at least call etc.) You would be surprised how big a difference it makes

Note: These rules are in descending order of importance. Whenever possible, default to rule one, or at least a higher rule.

Rule 1: Sincerely Don’t Give A Damn

I think Bruce Lee said it best in Enter the Dragon – “My style? the art of fighting without fighting.” Basically, don’t’ start trouble, and don’t care if trouble starts. Be polite, and avoid arguments whenever possible. But keep in mind: what’s the worst that can happen? Someone calls you a dork? Laughs at you? Donates money to an opposing cause or goes to a different church? Who cares?

Most flame wars start because of ego and pride. Someone feels hurt, or invests their ego in an idea and boom….things go up in flames. What do you think the fuel of flame wars are? It’s pride and ego. Yes, it’s easy to say “Don’t invest your ego” when it’s not your argument. That’s why I’m giving you this advice now, while you are clear headed and emotionally sober. If you frequent a forum, go look at the arguments on it. More than likely you’ll see at least one that is incredibly silly and pushed on by two or more people yammering from their egos. They are not looking to clear up logical points or discover facts, they are in a pissing contest. In short, they didn’t read rule one.

Rule Two: If You Do Give A Damn, Pretend You Don’t

If you can’t follow Rule One, then fake it. No one can see you seething in your underwear or grinding your teeth in your cubical at work — at least no one on the Internet. A lot of people “lose” arguments because they lose their cool. I guarentee if you go into five argument threads where you see people “win”, it’s because they don’t get upset about the argument. They present their case with facts and clarity, don’t get knocked off topic, and if they other person goes on and on, then bow out gracefully having made your point. Your ego may sting a bit, but you’ll be better off in the long run. Sometimes the best thing you can do is let a person make a final, weak point and let it go at that.

Rule Three: Pick Your Battles

How important is the point you are trying to defend? How likely is it that anyone will remember this argument six weeks from now? How likely is it that people are going to remember how you conducted yourself more than the argument its self?

Sometimes the mistake of investing your ego comes from being in a community and wanting credibility. Genuine credibility usually comes from adding something to the forum, not trying to get something out of it. If you contribute, that builds credibility more than anything else. If you are contributing and you feel like someone is pushing your buttons, a little patience and politeness can go a very long way. In the long run, people will respect you for sidestepping a silly argument anyway. If you’re really good, save your chops for when it counts.

Rule Four: Know Your Audience

There is probably a reason you’re not emailing or private messaging someone to clear up your disagreement in private. Probably because you are playing to an audience. If persuading your audience is more important than persuading your “opponent”, then you might have a leg up over someone who doesn’t care about the audience and is focused on trying to win you over. Sometimes there can be a bit of martial-arts changing your opponents momentum by switching from one to the other. It’s all up to you.

Obviously I’m advocating not spending any time worrying about what other people think. But if you feel yourself going in that dark direction, then at least have a clear understanding of who you are trying to persuade. Don’t just read the thread you are posting in. Take a look at who is respected in the community, how they conduct themselves and what they have to say on the topic.

Rule Five: Control the Argument, Or At Least Your Persepctive

If someone ticks you off, it’s not going to show on your “face”. Maybe one day when the entire Internet is wired for constant video streams from every household, but that’s a way off. In the meantime, if someone ticks you off go take a walk. Eat a cheese sandwich. Watch a Dick Van Dyke rerun. Call the guy a bastard under your breath as you play Warhammer Online. It will all work out. If you blow off steam away from the screen, and then come back and post clear, sober facts… well, you’re a lot closer to “winning” than the other guys is. If he loses his cool and forgets his points as he goes off on a rant, then he didn’t read this article and he’s going to lose, right?

What you choose to respond to or ignore is up to you. What points you follow up on, and which you leave behind can say as much about you and your point of view as any of your arguments. If you find your opponent complaining about ignoring his arguments? Make the point that you have a right to decide what is important and what is not. If the two of you disagree about what you are fundamentally arguing about, then maybe this would be a time for you to agree to disagree and bow out. This isn’t an invitation to dishonestly ignore fair and on-topic points. It is a way for you to keep focus on what you genuinely find important in the argument.

You don’t have to have the last word: That kind of thinking is for losers and people that have too much time on their hands. Spamming a thread with arguments makes you look incredibly bored and lonely. If you’re going to fight, focus on key points and hammer them. Define what your argument is and what you are fighting for, and establish early on a somewhat detached air; Not superior to your arguer, just superior to the argument.

Act like it is beneath you, because in reality….it is.

Rule Six: Ridicule Your Opponent, Make Him Care More

Ridicule is your friend…sometimes. 90% of the time, if you can laugh at your opponent honestly and get others to laugh too, it far harder for them to win. But it is a double edged sword. There is a time to pick it up, and a time to put it down. If it’s used against you, ignore it as best you can. Ridicule is for throwing the other guy off his game, not for getting thrown off yours.

If you’ve put yourself in the bad position of ego-investment here, work your way “up” the rules as best you can — prioritize rule five over rule six, rule four over rule five etc.

And finally, the biggest win is to leave someone arguing while you walk outside in hopes of meeting his girlfriend. In other words, beat your opponent by leaving him flailing around on the mat, wrestling with his own arguments while you go do something else. If you can honestly master the art of “not giving a shit”, you truly win the Internet. Perspective in the key to all of this. Get mad. Take a little time to cool off, and then go back in your time. You might be surprised how often you don’t even care anymore by the time you get back to the argument. To many, getting into a fight with someone who just doesn’t care about winning and can honestly laugh them off is the hardest thing to deal with.

That guy that’s all twisted up in knots over this? Don’t be that guy.

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