Things that I should have kept in mind when entering Hostile Internet Territory (the HIT):
- "Logic", like moral authority, is based entirely in consensus. Whenever I'd try to explain a position point-by-point, it was declared illogical. Never was my ostensible mistake explained, though it was often illustrated by means of an analogy that made absolutely no sense. But it didn't matter because everyone else in the thread agreed that the analogy was perfectly apt.
- Keep it short.The more I would write, the more often respondents would seize on the parts of my response that a) I felt were least important, ignoring the key bits, b) were the most poorly developed and ripe for attacking, and c) contained misspellings. Engaging an opponent in the HIT should be like running into the Romulans along the Neutral Zone - don't deviate from the course, don't make eye-contact, and say as little as necessary.
- Keep it clear. This is not unlike the last point but deserves its own entry. I would use expressions like "I think it's fair to assume" or "my best guess", thinking that they expressed an appropriately casual and open-minded position. But I'm not one to write in a deferential or cautious manner, and so the specificity and strength of what followed those undercut my position. I should have remembered that people's memories in the HIT generally only extend back to the last thing that made them angry, and so the speculative element should have been reinforced.
- Keep it serious. Never, never, never try to be sarcastic or ironic in a forum full of people who have previously told you that they hate you. (And who have written death-threats to your co-workers.) It might seem like quite the clever and good idea in the moment, but it never is.
- Emasculate, emasculate, emasculate. Being called a "bitch", or some derivative thereof, is the ultimate put-down and sexism - even, as baffling as it seemed, when it's a woman challenging the masculinity of a man by way of comparing him to a woman - is par for the course. I was, at first, shocked to see this kind of thing being written by the people with whom I might some day find myself working or teaching. And then I remember that this is the HIT, where the enemy isn't really regarded as people and so things like sexism aren't really sexism.