Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Day My Life Changed

I was anonymously part of an online discussion where someone asked for tips for launching an online community. He received dozens of replies, many of them highly-rated, but all of them primitive from my expert vantage point.

I wrote up 500 words - 500 golden words - with the weight of authority and hard-won knowledge. It was insightful and smart. You didn't need to know my history to recognize that 1. I knew my stuff, and 2. I was right. I'd offered, perhaps for the first and only time on the Internet, a terse but complete guide to online community design and management. A gem. Sorry, it just was.

My reply was completely ignored, aside from a couple of users who took snarky potshots at it.

I was long accustomed to being ignored and to receiving potshots. I've lived a bifurcated life in which I feel both eccentric/crazy/annoying and correct. I have tolerated this paradox, self-identifying both ways: batshit eccentric and also quietly correct. Crazy and sane. Right and wrong.

"Rightness might not be everything, but it's got to count for something." That was the plaintive maxim I held onto for decades. It sustained me, and I needed the support. You'd need to be a supreme egotist to walk around with straight spine and haughty superiority in a world that unanimously insists you're out of your mind. Your internal mental tickertape would need to sound like this:
What a horror that would be! Fortunately, I'm capable of only one mousy, hesitant refrain.


For one thing, I couldn't be sure. I didn't love everything that came out of my brain. I'd failed at stuff, I have blocks and shortcomings and slowness and fog. I once noted that
I read slowly, I memorize poorly, I have trouble following instructions and following novel and movie plot points. I don't digest data points quickly or easily. I was a B+ student, and am shockingly poorly-read. My cognitive horsepower is, at best, mildly above average.
Also, I recognize that all sorts of people are better at all sorts of things than me. Recognizing my own spottiness (and having been raised around people with a strange ironclad faith in their phenomenally ignorant convictions), I always accepted the possibility that I might be far less reliable than I believed.

But then this online situation happened, and I could only see one side. In this one instance, for the first time in my life, I felt 100% assurance. When I'm 90% assured, or 99%, or even 99.999%, I can comfortably continue my bifurcation, and live my life as daffy-overheated-weezil-but-also-probably-onto-something. But not this time. And that's when it all began to unravel. Worldly reaction had jumped the shark.

As I've come to recognize my general rightness (my patches of wrongness feel wonderful and refreshing when I discover them; I bathe in them with considerable relief), the one thing I haven't done is to flip the switch launching an inane narrative about how being right makes me awesome. It just doesn't connect. My mechanic can rebuild a transmission - something I couldn't learn to do with a century of instruction - yet he doesn't feel particularly awesome. And assurance, it turns out, feels way better than arrogance, anyway.

But the gaslighting's over. That's the main thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous coward said...

I know for 100% sure that contemporary scientific evidence points that climate change is real. Yes, new evidence could always emerge tomorrow, but for today I have that 100% certainty. Yet, I get the same sort of reaction from random people online when I make a statement about climate change as when I make an incorrect claim. Kind of weird.

I'd say I am an expert on arguing climate change, I put the time and effort in, and there is a finite amount of knowledge to know. Knowing you are correct and the other person is incorrect is strange. Usually, I try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they know something I don't know. At some point you have to acknowledge your own expertise. I think this a great step in the correct direction Leff.

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