This morning, I pressed the Publish button on a 5,000 word essay in this space, but didn’t publicize it anywhere because I thought I should probably come back to it. The topic: in the last six months or so, I’ve been hearing repeatedly from multiple people regarding what a dick I was being online, arguing too much and generally disturbing everyone’s sensibilities. The title of this post is a fair summary of what I was hearing.
People who don’t have mental illnesses never understand this, but when I hear critiques like that, I don’t get to have an opinion. I’m bipolar with ADHD—that means a lot of things, but first and foremost it means that my self-perceptions don’t mean shit in this instance. Each and every time, I go back and reread what I wrote. Sometimes they’re right, and I was a dick. Often they’re not, and so I say something olive branchy that still manages to be entirely true. If I can’t say “I’m sorry for what I said” because I’m not, I can usually at least say, “I did not intend your reaction and I’m sorry I caused it.”
So in the 4,000 words I just cut, I explained how self-analysis works after 25 years of therapy in far greater detail, did an analysis of why a dozen problems out in the world have made us much more distrustful of each other, how this may have led to hair-trigger emotional reactions to what used to be entirely acceptable, and pointed out various hypocrisies regarding some exceedingly hostile messages I’ve received telling me I need to be more civil. Then I blew it all to hell, because after revising this literally 29 times and counting, I realized that the core issue here is miscommunication—and the people who are absolutely certain of what I’m saying, in contradiction to my actual words, will just as effectively misread what I write here.
Suffice to say: sometimes my fault, sometimes not. But one thing they’re all certain of: that I’m also absolutely certain of my position. But I’m not. I’m literally crazy. What I’m certain of is that I have a goddamn good command of facts and rhetoric, little goddamn pity for people who don’t, and little goddamn patience for people who don’t think they’re important parts of an opinion breakfast. However, my conclusions are malleable—how could they not be, half of them are about technology that will be obsolete in three years. My facts are memorized by a computer made of meat. They can be misremembered, out of date, or poorly sourced in the first place. Most of them are not, so I don’t know which ones are rotten until I bring it out and someone corrects me. I have discussions and debates because I learn from them. That’s not speaking from a position of certainty, and the point is not to “win,” the conversation is the point. Didn’t we all used to be like this?
I’m pretty fucking sure that pressing the Publish button again is going to be a Friendship Limiting Move. But there are a few reasons to do so. It could be that I’m just a dick from now on and people who don’t leave will have to put up with that; might as well be honest about it, because whom do you know who entirely changed personality at 50? Or that everyone is batshit crazy from living in a kakistocracy and I haven’t changed one iota, but everyone now needs their warm fluffy blankie of nothing but 👍👍👍💖💖😆 and I’ll be ostracized for not providing one.
But the main reason I’m posting this: shit, people, you’re all scattered to hell and gone. I have two close friends in Philadelphia I rarely get to see, a dozen more in DC I rarely get to see, and I can go two weeks without speaking more than a single sentence a day out loud. (“Venti, about an inch of room for milk, thank you.” This is in no way an exaggeration.) I am fine with this, because I have to be—it’s not like anyone makes an effort anymore to be in touch anywhere but online, and I’m no exception. I’ve been a digital native since Reagan’s first term; there are things about my social life I’d like to improve, but being lonely is not one of them.
So tell me to stick to small talk online, and never say anything that could possibly be upsetting or controversial, and that’s the scope of our friendship from now on. Let’s just be honest and say it’s the end of it—all that’s left is performative kabuki.
How I concluded the original essay:
It’s one thing to assume that a random stranger online is a troll. It’s another to forget everything you know about someone in order to reach that conclusion. Three of the people who criticized me have known me for literally 40 years. I cannot believe that it comes as a surprise to them that I have strong opinions, and that when I share them, it’s because I enjoy debate. In my world, that understanding of me should provide the benefit of the doubt. Likewise when there’s broad agreement on large concepts and interesting discussions to be had on smaller ones within them—if we’re allies on an issue overall, is it necessary for us to be in lockstep on codicil 17, section 8? These days, apparently yes.
But while I usually feel justified I wasn’t inappropriate when I review my words, the fact remains, I’m bipolar with ADHD and I don’t get to feel secure in those conclusions. So these are my next steps, and I list them as an open message to anyone I’ve offended, pissed off, transgressed against their social norms, or otherwise ruined their evening:
- It is never my intention to provoke a negative emotional response to a discussion. I’m aiming for emotionally-neutral-and-interesting, humorous, or warm fuzzies. Anyone I actually want to go fuck themselves, I’ve stopped talking to them long ago.
- For the dozen or so of you who’ve complained, I’m making a list. An actual list, with your names and the things you thought I did wrong. I think this is silly and I doubt any other human being on Facebook does this. It’s just that my only alternative is to write you off entirely.
- When I post to or comment on Facebook or Twitter, it’s stream of consciousness. Five minutes later I’ve entirely forgotten I wrote it until a notification brings me back to it. When you detect a trend in what I’m saying, I haven’t noticed it until you point it out to me.
- Likewise, if you’re slowly getting pissed, I have no fucking clue.
- So tell me.
- If you do, I’ll add you to the list.
- Since my time here is stream of consciousness, your presence on the list does not guarantee compliance—I’m not going to keep it open in a side window every time I’m online. I’ll review it from time to time, and every time I change it, and with any luck avoiding you will become habitual.
- I’ll ask for some benefit of the doubt. Remember: bipolar and ADHD. These are not excuses, they are illnesses. They affect how I perceive the world and how I act. I will judge people on the basis of whether they respect that.
- I will likewise judge people for dictating to me what I can and can’t say, and the words I use. Because frankly, one of the ways I’m out of fucks to give is that I don’t need friends who disrespect me. Similar to disregard for mental illnesses, “helpful” advice such as how I should change my entire communications style, approach to life, what conversations I enjoy, or how I avoid depressive isolation, has a possibility of knocking 50% to 95% off my regard for you as a quality human being. You will not be informed of this. Several people already have not been. Some people have not used up all of their Get Out of Jail Free cards and are still doing fine despite using these actual words once or twice. No one but me knows which is which, or ever will.
- Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether my opinion of you matters to you.