Irony is easier to identify on the page than it is in the “post.” This marks one difference between writing under a byline and writing in an Internet forum. In the former, irony is usually understood; in the latter, irony is usually misunderstood — not even identified when it is happening.

notty-hottyRecently, in an online argument, I engaged in a bit of performative hyperbole after someone else had done precisely the same — yet my interlocutor did not play along. I was puzzled by this; he was adamantly insistent on taking everything as serioso as possible. So we both decided (consciously?) to play moral high dudgeon and flame war, reënacting the oldest social tradition of the Internet.

Like usual, the whole affair ended up looking ugly and stupid.

This particular case involved the phrase “I can no longer allow” in a recent Daily Caller polemic entitled “Everybody Needs to Stop Celebrating the ‘Plus-Sized Models Are Awesome’ Garbage.”

The meat of this particular think piece is simple enough to understand. Its core argument is expressed in the title, and it belongs to a genre becoming increasingly prominent as the Social Justice Warrior mindset of “fat acceptance” has hit peak cultural acceptance. But the author does go his own way:

For some inexplicable reason, American entertainment outlets think male consumers are entertained by “plus-sized” models. They’re not. Trust me when I say that there’s a reason men read the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazine, and it has nothing to do with the seemingly unending supply of bigger models.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that obese women are bad people. Obviously that’s not the case, and it’d be a lazy critique of my argument to even attempt to boil it down to that.

My point is very simple. Men love football, alcohol and the women in bikinis that they don’t see walking around the town. If I can look out the windows of my office building and see six people similar to a woman featured in Sports Illustrated, then put simply, that woman has no business being in Sports Illustrated.

I do not believe this is a good explanation for why the fat acceptance/“beauty myth” movement is off track. And I explained my position. Which I need not address here. Just insert a typical Gad Saad-ish evolutionary perspective and run with it in your mind. You will guess what I was arguing.

But I did get in a jibe at one of the online debaters: his love of “plus-sized” women is somewhat of an aberration. He is an outlier.

And he got a little perturbed, as was his right, and responded in what I regarded as a deliberately hyperbolic manner: he “would not allow” others to spew “bullshit” about something in his bailiwick.

I responded in a similar outrageous way, in performative hyperbole, accusing him of “threatening” me by using the words “bullshit” and “not allow” commentary, and saying I do not deal with such argumentative gambits. (All of which is true enough, but not the point of what I was doing.)

What I was expecting was the interlocutor to speak to me condescendingly, explaining his word choice in reference to the article we had just discussed. The article, after all, ends on a light note, in ironic grandiosity disparaging the fat acceptance movement:

I understand that this garbage is done to push a social narrative and nobody has the balls to criticize out of fear of being called a bigot or much worse. If I’m the only one willing to carry this banner and fight the good fight then so be it.

I can no longer allow this to happen, and nobody in America should tolerate it either. Stop celebrating obesity and go back to giving me hot women in tiny bikinis. Is that too much to ask?

The writer of this squib proclaims he would “no longer allow” the nonsense. Of course, the author was not talking directly to anyone, but simply posturing for stylistic effect. My Internet interlocutor, on the other hand, was doing something significantly different, echoing the very words — “I will not allow!” indeed — but applying it to an interpersonal — indeed, social — situation. And then, in his self-defense, did not mention that he was playing off the very words of the piece in question.

I am always somewhat nonplussed when debaters do not seem to realize what they are up to, and then object when someone else calls attention to it, or riffs on in a similar manner. My interlocutor instead called me a “cunt” and delivered the usual low-brow excoriations, and the whole thing descended into childishness. It became the opposite of amusing.

To engage in hyperbole and not recognize others engaging in the same seems odd to me. To riff off of someone else’s hyperbole and then take seriously another’s hyperbolic reaction strikes me as bizarre. And, indeed, to neglect to defend oneself by addressing what actually happened, but instead get caught up in argumentative denunciation, is so witless.

This happens every day, on the Net. It is so familiar one wonders why almost no one studies it, why there is so little rumination on how to think about better ways to handle tricky argumentative impasses.

Why get caught in the traps you yourself lay down?

When I, in this case, “over-reacted,” the proper response would have been to play along, and subtely reference the literary maneuver that led to my reaction. “My huffy debater,” my interlocutor could have reacted, “must not have realized that I was not engaging in a threat, or even in a prideful boast, but merely carrying on the rhetorical stance of the article in question.” But he, instead, apparently forgot that he had been doing precisely that, instead approached the evolving debate as combat and a grave breach of honor and who-knows-what. My response would have been, “Touché.” As it was, I left without screaming ALL CAPS or profanity or outrageous denunciation, just a statement of my opposition and an acceptance of his judgment. I gave him the last word. Which he had been insisting upon, in any case.

I probably should never engage in this form of tweakery. I do not want people to fly off the handle, after all. I did my part in the 1990s. I watched many a self-righteous arguer go ape over manners, of all things, based on simple and extremely polite nudges from me. Or impish trolls like me. It was fun to watch then, as people supposedly obsessed with honor in debating lost all sense of honor in debating. I have witnessed this dozens of times.

Now, though, I expect others not to lose their “cool.” But my expectation is apparently unwarranted, for losing their “cool” is indeed what most people do. They forget even what they have said, and the manner they have said it, and proceed to moral high dudgeon.

And they think themselves utterly honorable.

My error is thinking that everybody has learned the lessons of the Net. Or that they will learn mid-conversation. But to witness people take offense and then go “ballistic” is an amazing thing. The passive-aggressive stance provokes aggressive reaction because people simply cannot control themselves. If someone says something sneaky and insinuating, call attention to it and move on.

Humans are touchy creatures, and we live in a touchy society.

No wonder there once were duels.