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Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls

"Related to this, and common in the comments sections of blogs, is the position that because some random person on the internet is unable to defend a position well, that the position is therefore false. All that has really been demonstrated is that the one person in question cannot adequately defend their position." -- "Top 20 Logical Fallacies," The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe*

This week my mother went to pay her cable bill. It's a long story, but the cable company said she couldn't keep the account in my late father's name (two years after the fact), so they closed the old account, opened up a new one for her, and then proceeded to apply her payments (made to the new account number) to the deactivated account, resulting in claims that she was past due. Nobody can figure out how they did this. They offered to issue her a refund check in a few weeks, but in the meantime she needed to pay the same amount (again) to her existing account. She did that and they credited it to the wrong account again. In the meantime, the first refund check had arrived. So, she deposited that and, this time, she decided to go to their office in person, pay in cash, and get a printed receipt in her hand. Because that's the kind of gal she is.

She "owed" them $114.25, so she gave the young man at the counter $120, fresh from the ATM. He said he didn't have any coins to give her the 75 cents change. That's OK, she said, here's a quarter. But I don't have any coins, he said. That's why I'm giving you the 25 cents, so you won't need to give me 75 cents; you can just give me six dollars back, she said. But I don't have 75 cents, he said....

It went on like that. She eventually paid $115 instead ("Keep the change!"), and he didn't have to give her 75 cents. Whew.

As mom was telling me this story (which, in my experience, isn't all that rare), I couldn't help thinking of certain web comments I've read and marveled at. Not so much at Scanners, of course (except when certain filmmakers are concerned), but elsewhere. I've written about these elemental failures of logic -- lapses in critical thinking that one wouldn't expect from a 14-year-old -- extensively, but the idiocy of the (under-)average web commenter is a worldwide joke, and an old one, like airline food or bad drivers. Let's just say I'm troubled by the levels of incompetence I encounter both out in the world and on the Internet. Even though it can sometimes be kind of funny as well as exasperating. (You've seen the debates. "Idiocracy" is here, people.)

Among my favorite bonehead arguments are infantile generalizations based on personal taste. You know: If somebody does not like a movie, then they insist the only valid quality it possesses is its defining, innate badness! And, what's more, it cannot contain or even suggest anything that is not bad -- because it is bad! And if you compare something in a "good" movie to something in a "bad" movie -- then you are saying that good movies are the same as bad movies! And that means you have bad taste and are therefore an idiot not worth listening to!

This kind of thing, and many more, can be found in the timely, hilarious NPR Monkey See feature, "The 20 Unhappiest People You Meet In the Comments Sections of Year-End Lists," by Linda Holmes, which covers movies, music and TV. A few of the highlights for me:

1. The Poisoned. "The fact that you included Adele on this list of 100 things you like makes it a total joke."

3. The Person Who Is Exactly Right. "It really seems like this list of things you thought were good is just your opinion."

9. The Person With The Imperfect Grasp Of Obscurity. "These are all completely obscure picks nobody has ever heard of. 'The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo' sounds like a Dr. Seuss book."

10. Harry The Hipster-Hater, Who Really, Really Hates Hipsters. "This is all hipster music. I guess it's okay for hipsters, but I'm not enough of a hipster to like hipster picks like this. Too bad I'm not hipster enough. Maybe I'd like it better if I were more of a hipster." [His username: "notahipstersorry."]

11. The Person Who Thinks You Were So Close. "I like all these picks, but you ranked 'The Descendants' as your #4 and 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' as your #5, and they should be the other way around. FAIL."

18. The Person Who Wanted To Be Surprised. "Uh, way to go out on a limb. These are the same things you've been talking about all year and saying were the best things when they came out in the first place."

OK, you know you have some of your own favorites that didn't make this Top 20 list. Please share 'em in comments.

* Please note the relationship of this quotation to the one at the upper right from Daniel Dennett. Sometimes people may have points to make, whether you or I agree with them or not. But if they're too thick to articulate them, then it doesn't matter. The position may be right or wrong, but that doesn't matter unless someone can demonstrate it by making a valid case either way.

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