Defensive Cynicism on the Internet

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Defensive cynicism is something I see all the time on the internet now, and it drives me insane. It occurs particularly often in heated topics, with, of course, the biggest example being politics. It mixes with other fallacious arguments like argumentation to moderation and whataboutism, and presents such numerous moats to good-faith discussion that it will almost always derail a thread into quips.

To give the most prominent example of recent note:

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are basically the same

This election doesn't matter, it's all the same


An Aside

I will try to the best of my ability to avoid the actual merit of the example arguments because it needlessly muddles the water when the issue is agnostic to any specific controversy.

If you are a Biden supporter or a Trump supporter - this is explicitly not about you! Picking a side is a sufficient, but not necessary, disqualifier from what I am talking about.


I think the easiest way to identify what I'm calling "defensive cynicism" is when there's a completely cynical (i.e "everything sucks") point of view presented with either no reasoning or throw away reasoning, and a tone that implies this is the default truth.

These are so prickly and difficult to engage with in a good-faith manner. The first issue is simply that there is always the nonsensical, condescending, discussion-ending response that I will categorize as the "My Sweet Summer Child" response.

When you cover yourself in cynicism, and this practically always happens, whenever someone challenges you, you can simply passive aggressively imply that they're naive babies, and that the reality is so obvious to "real adults" that it's not worth discussing, like you just argued that Santa is real.

Second, is that it always appears, like an magician's illusions, to shift the burden of proof onto the person disagreeing.

"Hah, you think [Biden/Trump] is different from [Trump/Biden]? Prove it"

And of course, this implies that if you want to disagree now you have to dig through a wealth of articles to present evidence. If you do, then an easy response is to go back to "My Sweet Summer Child". You think that those are differences? How naive.

If you persevere, then there's another bad-faith response I call the "one-and-done". You take one example where the "everything sucks" view is true and you hold onto it like dear life, like that somehow this alone proves the point. Part of the reason why it may appear so is because of the positioning, the tone, and the argumentation to moderation fallacy that is so easy to fall into.

If "Biden is Good" and "Trump is Good" are the two poles, then surely the truth is in the middle - namely that both are bad/mediocre-ish. However, that's a fallacy, because the two points to which you are averaging are arbitrary and it makes no sense that the middle is in anyway inherently closer to the truth than any other point on the ideological scale. But it can seem like the "ground truth" - the implied reality of the world that you have to find evidence of to overturn, and hence I can cling onto no evidence, or one piece of evidence, and appear to be on equal footing.

Third, these are real positions that people can take and hypothetically are defensible. HOWEVER, what I have found over the years, is that in most cases it is not genuine cynicism, but defensive cynicism - the reality is that person is apathetic or otherwise doesn't want to talk about the subject. The "everything sucks" view is an easy way to give a position on an issue without actually knowing anything about the issue and without putting yourself in a group, but while still sounding knowledgeable. I've often seen it as well when someone holds beliefs that they are uncomfortable talking about. For example, if someone is a diehard Trumpist among liberal friends who detest him, if pressed on something like the election, "they both suck" usually shuts down the discussion, since I suppose the combination of the "moats" above and the concession that Trump sucks too is enough for most people?

If you have friends or family members (...or users in a subreddit) that are split between Biden and Trump, then when asked of your opinion, "well, they're both bad, I don't really care, it's corporations and the establishment that run the country anyway" is an easy way out. And again, because this is such a prickly issue, that is a real belief, that can be held, defended, and found to be the truth, what I am discussing is a bad-faith usage of it.

Of course, you could simply say, "well, I haven't really looked into that much to form an opinion either way", but that leads to not only looking like a uninformed, uncivic person, but also invites members from both groups to sway you their way.

Defensive cynicism makes you look like you're well informed of everything - infact, you're too informed. You're the shell shocked, grizzly ex-mercenary in the action movie.

But you're not. Just a coward spitting out noise.

If you ever find yourself wanting to retreat into a shell of cynicism in a heated topic: don't. Bad faith arguments make the internet toxic for everyone. It's okay to not be informed about all things, and it's okay to not want to engage in something. "I don't know" is not a mark of shame.