The Conquering Instinct, part 2
When I was a teenager, I used to argue a lot with strangers over the internet. Back in the early 2000s, web forums like phpBB and vBulletin were very popular (they’re still popular now, too, but they were probably more popular back then). Every individual website that wanted user interaction had a forum. Forums were used by gamers, aspiring writers, artists, etc. to share ideas and discuss things. I was active on a couple of gaming forums for several years. By active, I mean that I spent nearly all day, every day on those forums. When I wasn’t playing games or doing a small bit of studying, I was on those forums.
Of course, we talked a lot about games on those forums, but something I enjoyed just as much was arguing about politics. I remember long hours spent arguing about Israel and Palestine, the war on terrorism, capitalism vs. socialism, etc. I took the arguments very seriously. I spent a long time researching the history of the Middle East. I learned about UN resolutions, several different wars, etc. I was positive that I had the correct understanding of the situation in the middle east. My opponents seemed completely biased and stupid. They frequently ignored information I shared because of the source I used, showed empathy for only one side and unfairly attacked my side, etc.
I continued to argue with people I considered utter morons for probably close to five years before I got burnt out. Their arguments were predictable, they never changed their minds no matter what information or arguments I presented. Although I often felt like I “won” arguments, I started to doubt the value of the arguments if my opponents never changed or admitted defeat.
It never occurred to me that I, too, had predictable arguments, was empathetic to only one side in the argument, only accepted information from sources I considered legitimate, never changed my opinions, nor ever admitted defeat. In short, I and my opponent had far more things in common than I realized.
Later, I lost faith in my own side and found little reason to argue in favor of, well, anything. I took an apathetic stance, left the forums, and focused on my life and other interests.
While I stopped taking an interest in political arguments for a while after that, I continued debates with family and friends in real life. Usually I argued with my dad. Although we often disagreed, we also often agreed, so it made arguing enjoyable. However, I still didn’t want to lose. Neither did he or my mom, in fact. They often argued about more daily-life things. Usually they argued about whether or not something in the past had actually happened, what someone did or didn’t do, etc. They never had major disagreements on big, important things, but they often would argue about small, trivial things.
Why would they argue about trivial things, you ask? I have a few ideas why. For one, my dad has a way of talking that can get under your skin. He frequently tells jokes that can only possibly funny to him. That wouldn’t be so bad—deafening silence after a bad joke is pretty funny to me—but he often forces others to participate in their own torture. In the middle of a conversation with him about some work-related problem, if he smiles and asks, “You know what you should do?”, 9 times out of 10 he has some extra unentertaining non-serious advice locked and loaded, waiting for you to reply with, “What?” The flow of the conversation is interrupted; how do you respond?
Let me ask, if someone you talk to keeps interrupting you by saying “Knock-knock” in the middle of a conversation, how do you respond? Answer: You stop talking to that person.
Now, let’s talk about my mom. You may be thinking, “That poor woman,” and you’d be right. I can understand her being a bit short with my dad and taking it out on him by being unrelenting in her criticism of him (which seems to glide off him like water off a duck’s back). If my dad says something like, “On Sunday, I planted some tomato seeds in the garden with your mom,” and my mom’s eyes get wide and bulge out a little, you know she’s been triggered.
“No, that wasn’t last week, that was last month!” she says, visibly offended by dad’s wrongness.
“Last month? We bought the seeds with some fertilizer last week.”
“No, *I* bought the fertilizer last week while you were napping! ‘We’ didn’t do anything!”
Depending on how badly one or both of them remember past events and any proof they might have to support their memory, the conversation can be a quick few lines, or it can be 3-5 minutes of the most heated debate regarding the who-did-what’s and deep analysis of the timeline of trivial events.
Neither wants to “lose” the argument. Neither wants to be “wrong”.
Neither stops to think, “Does it matter?”
Programmed to Conquer
So, in my online life, I fought never-ending, never-changing fights to prove that I was right. In my offline life, my environment passively taught me it was normal to fight to prove I was right, and that being wrong or simply not fighting wasn’t acceptable. If someone is wrong, you have to prove them wrong.
In a sense, you could say I was programmed to be right and prove others wrong. I was programmed to dominate and conquer. My online and offline interactions all encouraged me in that direction. My competitive and contrarian nature made it easy for me to find arguments where there might not be any. When I find a nice, meaty argument to chew on, I can hardly think of anything else.
And I, too, do not stop to think, “Does it matter?”