Ever since I got interested in the paranormal five or six years ago, I've occasionally ventured into newsgroups, message boards, and comments threads to give my opinion on ESP, life after death, and related topics.
I've found that, in general, such forums are dominated by the loudest and most hard-core skeptics, who can be almost comically obnoxious. They seem to enjoy throwing their virtual weight around, responding to any evidence or argument with insults and putdowns. A favorite tactic is to accuse their opponent of being a liar, frequently an "outright" liar or a "bald-faced" liar or, for variety, a "bold-faced" liar. They like to assert their intellectual superiority by suggesting, none too subtly, that their opponents' cognitive functioning ranks no higher than that of Down's syndrome patients. They are often uninformed, not to say downright ignorant, of even the most basic facts relevant to their claims.
And yet they are absolutely sure of themselves, perfect case studies of what A.E. van Vogt called Right Men - the men who must always, always be right. They will never give in or give up, they must have the last word, and if you try to gracefully bow out of a pointless discussion, they will crow that they've won and you're running away with your tail tucked between your legs. (Sort of like Bill O'Reilly, another Right Man, who maintains that anyone who declines to appear on his show is "hiding under his desk," prostrate with fear at the prospect of being grilled in the No-Spin Zone.)
All of the above, by the way, is equally true, if not more so, of most discussion groups catering to aficionados of Ayn Rand, as my occasional forays into that enemy territory have shown.
I've waded into all these inane conflicts more often than common sense would dictate, in part to satisfy the urgings of the ego, which is always spoiling for a fight, but also because I felt some weird sense of duty to "spread the word" about the wealth of evidence for the paranormal that the skeptics consistently overlook.
But recently I decided: no more. I've done my duty. I've completed my hitch, and I'm not going to re-up for another tour.
Of course, my comparison with serving in the military is facetious; sitting comfortably in front of a computer keyboard is hardly the same thing as patrolling the back alleys of Baghdad. The only possible similarity is that war is hell, and, all too often, online forums are hell also. In fact, I've sometimes thought that if there is a hell, it is very much like the least decorous discussion groups -- an eternity of chattering egos assailing each other, taking cheap shots, pecking and nitpicking, and never reaching a conclusion or consensus, or even trying to reach one.
So I'm through arguing. That doesn't mean I'm through broadcasting my opinions on this blog or elsewhere, or engaging in polite and constructive discourse. But hostile debate, adversarial argument, scoring points, and playing gotcha are a waste of time and an unhealthy preoccupation. From now on, I intend to resist my tendency to jump once more into the breach. These battles will be fought without me, perhaps by a new generation too young and naïve to see that their efforts are largely hopeless.
I wish them well.