The Law of Superefficient Reactions

“For every internet action, there is a greater and opposite reaction.”

There.  I’ve boiled it down for you.  You want an explanation?  OK, let’s get into the math of this thing.

Let’s say Alex makes an argument on the internet, which we will take as A.  Now, A could be basically any position at all, and in order to avoid any particular political situation, I’m leaving it as a variable.  Alex takes position A.

Betty sees position A on the internet.  Now, Betty’s a consumer of information on the internet, which means she has a pretty short attention span.  Alex maybe simply posted a one-liner, and she doesn’t have much to go on.  Or Alex posted a tl;dr rant about a topic, and Betty skimmed it.  Point is, there’s a number of different ways A can be taken, because language is imperfect and people are imperfect.  So A can actually be represented as a set of interpretations.  {A(1), A(2), A(3)…A(infinite)}  Contained among that set is A(A), which is the position that Alex meant to convey.

Betty disagrees with Alex’s position, and wants to respond to it.  Now, Betty wants to make an argument, here, and the more extreme Alex’s position, the easier it will be to argue against it.  So Betty has a natural tendency to imply extremity to Alex’s position, and states for herself position B.  Position B will be a response to the interpretation of A we’ll call A(B).  A(A) will, because of this tendency, almost always be less extreme than A(B).  So, A(A) < A(B).  Therefore, we can also assume that A<B.  Position B will be more extreme than Position A.

The problem here is that Betty has now performed an action on the internet, and there are several possible interpretations of that action {B(1), B(2), B(3)…B(infinite)}.  Contained among that set is B{B} which is the position Betty meant to convey.  Remember that B(B)=A(B), so therefore B(B)>A(A).    Now Carl is going to come along, view Betty’s position, and disagree with it in statement C.  Of course, Carl will be selecting an interpretation of B we will call B(C), such that B(C)>B(B).  C will therefore be such that C>B.

And this repeats, ad infinitum.

This is a function unique to internet communication, wherein there is no dialogue being conducted between the two people, but rather is a function of each person performing their opinion for their audience.  The purpose of the increase in extremity is (oftimes subconsciously) to present a quasi-straw-man interpretation of the opposing position in order to rally like-minded people around the speaker, and not to directly rebut the holder of the original position.  This phenomenon is therefore limited to modes of communication that lend themselves to public demagoguery, and not dialogue.

There are a couple of corollaries to this law:

Corollary 1:  Arguments on the internet tend to become more extreme over time, not less.

This corollary seems pretty self evident.  If every internet action has a greater and opposite reaction, then we’re locked in a death-spiral of ever-increasing extreme stupidity, with each side cranking its rhetoric up more and more to combat each other.

Corollary 2:  As society relies more on the internet for communication, society will become more polarized.

This also follows logically.  If the internet produces an ever-increasing growth to extremity, and society relies more and more on the internet for communication, then it follows logically that society itself will become more extremely polarized.

Corollary 3:  As positions become more extreme, engagement in dialogue becomes less desirable by the holders of those positions.

Dialogue is the obvious solution.  But the more bitterly entrenched positions become, the less likely that open and free dialogue between parties is going to occur.  That means the Law reinforces itself as it spins out of control.

Corollary 4:  As positions become more extreme, opportunities for civil compromise decrease.

Yup.

Corollary 5:  In order to gain attention within one’s own social group, it becomes necessary to take a more extreme position over time.

So, this is a factor that’s adding to the issues.  There are a certain number of people that want to be seen as “leaders” in any given situation, to be acclaimed by their peers.  In order to stand out, though, they have to take things one step further.  This is where we get the Kim Davis’s of the world.  It’s also where we get the Columbia students who want a trigger warning attached to Ovid.  Both of these people are extremist nutjobs.
So, there.  I’ve boiled the math down for you.  Now you know why we’re fucked.

By the way, I’m not targeting one particular political group, here.  This isn’t specific to SJW’s, MRA’s, Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Feminists, Gay Rights Activists, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Coffee Party…it isn’t specific because it applies to all of them.  The Law has taken you over, and is driving you into positions that make it impossible to fucking talk to you.

The solution is to shut the hell up for a moment, then engage the person in an actual dialogue about their position.  This can be done in the comments, or privately.  Engaging in dialogue as opposed to performing as a demagogue causes positions to moderate instead of become more extreme.  We need social media to encourage cross-contamination of ideas, instead of what we have now.