General Question

bythebay's avatar

Condescending responses - why?

Asked by bythebay (8113points) November 24th, 2008

Being new here I’m still trying to figure out the dynamics of this group. There are quite obviously very diverse opinions and also incredible knowledge. I enjoy the heated topics and responses as it seems most everyone here is aware and respects that we all view things from differing perspectives. My question is why are there some flutherites who feel it’s necessary to answer with complete condescension? I know that we can’t answer for anothers actions, but I’m curious to hear your collective thoughts. Joking about incorrect spelling is one thing, being rude is another. Pointing someone in another direction for answers (perhaps Google) is helpful; but if they posed the question here first, perhaps they are looking for human contact and input…why be so curt? Maybe I’m in the minority but I just don’t get a kick out of belittling someone needlessly. Patronization can be funny with your tounge in your cheek, being rude is more akin to having a pole up your ass! Go ahead – throw your patronizing responses at me; I can take it. ;) p.s. I recently responded to a question myself with a curt answer about the quality of the topic. Later upon reflecting about the exchange I realized I should have just ignored it if I found it not to be of interest to me. Or perhaps just offered my opinion more tactfully.

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37 Answers

applegate's avatar

It’s about freedom of speech and truthfullness.
But, i can see your point-people should excersize
good tase.

tonedef's avatar

I’m definitely guilty of the condescension that you’re talking about. But I really only leave less-than-friendly replies when the question is just really not up to snuff. If someone isn’t using the site correctly (no tags, no details, incoherent question), I’m going to ask that they clarify.

If I’m making anyone else’s experience here worse, though, I apologize. Please leave suggestions as private comments if you’d like to see me do something differently.

dynamicduo's avatar

Your question would be easier to answer if you were able to point to specific comments you felt were condescending – but this also might derail the discussion so I understand not wanting to pick out a few as examples.

Sometimes the question itself is based on a flawed premise, and pointing this out may be seen as condescending but is really crucial to the discussion. Sometimes the user continues to proclaim their premise is correct and the discussion veers into argument territory. In this case non-answer answers increase substantially, thus increasing the odds of a condescending remark occurring.

Sometimes people seem to ask questions here that could be answered with a quick second of research. When these questions come from low-lurve users, and especially when they also have typos, it feels that they haven’t taken the time to read the guidelines of the community and are simply using the community without contributing much to it. In cases like this, I feel giving a more condescending answer will act as a wake-up nudge to the user, and they may try to become a part of the community more. Or they may leave, which is fine by me – I don’t want to be in a community full of users who ask questions but never give answers.

In regards to your “human contact and input” point regarding easily Google-able questions, this is true in some cases, and many times these discussions do not contain a lot of condescending remarks. But looking at an example, there was a question today asking if chimps suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. No human contact or input could really answer the question, except for a chimpanzee researcher who reads and answers on this board which is unlikely but could occur.

Then there’s the issue of defining what condescending really is (versus a joke or snark). There’s also the issue of thick and thin skinned people taking offense at different things. Personally I rarely turn on the snark. I prefer to educate people rather than belittle them. But if they continue to be ignorant, well I don’t like having my time wasted, and I feel just in saying so.

emt333's avatar

what kind of idiot would ask a dumb question like that

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@dynamic, Lurve to you for the use of “snark”

girlofscience's avatar

It’s the dynamic of message boards. I was actually shocked when I came here to see how civil everyone was because I’ve used message boards since I was about 14, and I had become extremely accustomed to the condescension that exists. is especially contentious. It’s an outlet for people to be the snarkiest they can. It’s like a competition to see who can have the most sarcastic, obnoxious comment. (I don’t really see anything wrong with this; if people enjoy argument and contention, better to express it in a message board for that purpose than in their daily lives, right?) If you look at the Rants&Raves on Craigslist, the same contentious dynamic prevails. It’s not even about being accurate; it’s about being snarky.

Almost every message board is like that, and I was quite shocked with the politeness on Fluther when I first got here.

dynamicduo's avatar

Very good point, girlofscience. Compared to 4chan and Something Awful, this community is a wonderful garden of beautiful flowers and happy butterflies, even on the snarkiest of days.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I like the grammar police element of fluther, and expect to be held accountable for what I post, because I feel the accountability makes me a better writer, and poster. A lot of times, people will post questions that are generalizations, and flutherites do—and should—hold the poster accountable for an assumption, when in reality, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Sort of like the Allegory of the Cave

bythebay's avatar

@tonedef & dynamic: I see your point about examples,however, if I pointed out specific responses then I would be doing the very thing I’m questioning. It’s clear from reading the responses so far that many of you have far more exposure to other ‘snarkier’ communities than I. I agree Alfreda, I just think most things can/should be addressed with a measure of civility, and most times they are.

jessturtle23's avatar

I think everyone on here is nice. It’s hard to convey tone through typing.

tinyfaery's avatar

There is never a valid reason to be purposely rude; sarcasm and rudeness are quite different, however. But,
everyone does it at times. Some might even feel bad about afterwards, but are too prideful or do not care enough to apologize.

Harp's avatar

Some (but not all) of it is good old-fashioned territoriality and trying to establish or defend one’s place in the community pecking order. One way to assert your dominance and discourage challengers is to belittle them.

We do this in more subtle ways out in the real world because there are more strictly defined guidelines about how we treat others, but online communities are still working out those boundaries of acceptable behaviors. Some feel free to push the envelope in ways they wouldn’t among, say, their workmates.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

And some times, you just have a bad day, but can’t resist the allure of fluther, and take out your frustration on a post that rubs you the wrong way. It’s hard to resist temptation…must.not.hit…Answer! Arrrghh!

rossi_bear's avatar

@tinyfaery AMEN to that!! I didn’t think you had to be a brain to be here in a “community.”

tinyfaery's avatar

A sure way to change people’s opinions is to attack their reasoning skills. An even better way is to wage an attack.~

syz's avatar

I’m certainly guilty of being smart-assed. On my part, it has to do with repetition and/or lack of respect.

As far a correcting grammar, my opinion is that if someone wants me to go to the effort of composing a reply or helping research a topic, then the questioner should at least make the effort of capitalizing sentences, writing out words rather than sloppy text-speak, and generally make an effort to communicate clearly.

For comments regarding inappropriate questions, I try to nicely suggest venues likely to be more effective for newbies. The problem lies with those individuals who ignore repeated comments from a multitude of Flutherers and post innocuous, boring questions easily Googled.

That, and I think sarcasm is an art form

dynamicduo's avatar

Oh for sure, one doesn’t need to have a brain to participate and contribute. Some of the best comments come from people’s insights and personal experiences, which often do not require having a big brain. However I think a problem can occur if someone with no brain doesn’t know that they don’t know something but tries to give advice as if they did know something. For instance, I don’t give factual answers to advanced spacial mathematics questions because I know I that don’t know much about the topic. Someone with no brain may choose to give an answer based on “something I herd at the mall” which could be correct but could also not be correct. And then sometimes these non-answers get snarked at and criticized

syz, I really enjoy your answer, and I feel very similarly. I think a lot of it has to do with respect. Such as respecting the English language by using proper words and correct spelling remember, many people do not speak English as a first language, and the language is hard enough without adding in spelling errors and txtspeak. And respecting the rules of the community by asking proper questions. And respecting what other users say and think. I respect those who respect others, and do not respect those who show no signs of respect.

elchoopanebre's avatar

I think it’s because the internet is anonymous.

People are much more of a dick online than in real life because of the lack of consequences and actual face-to-face contact with people.

Perchik's avatar

I’m rude generally for a few reasons:
1. If the person asks a question that would be better suited for Google..some things are pure fact, google exists for that reason. (Note, there are some questions that are hard to google, those I dont mind so much..)

2. If the person wants me to do their homework ( I don’t mind explaining how to do something ,but occasionally there’s a question that is obvious someone is trying to get answers for homework.

3. If the person attacks me in their question, either directly or inherently. The best example of this was the recent Bicycle Question that began by making me “justify” driving a car. That inherently says that I’m doing something wrong, and I don’t like that.

dynamicduo's avatar

Ah yes, the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory does account for a certain amount of stupid.

squirbel's avatar

I like rules and order.

The recommendation for fluther-questions advises against google-able questions. Human input or not – those questions are not welcome, and almost always receive snarky answers.

Snoopy's avatar

@Perchik Funny enough, I was going to site the bicycle question too…

In general, I think that people who are consistently snotty or rude do it to make themselves feel better about themselves and/or have a crappy life situation and are lashing out….

I have not knowingly been snotty or rude…unless someone else draws first blood.

I really, really, respect people who have an opposing viewpoint from mine and can relay their views intelligently. Making biting, sweeping remarks tends to reveal a lack of maturity and/or sophisticaiton about a given topic.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I do have to say in this day and age the number of people who cannot query on Google to save their lives. I’m amazed at work at the frequency of people who cannot use Google to find the best answer to their question. Often, they will search a single term, and not seeing what they want, give up. I’ve often wondered if it’s a by-product of not learning how to correctly identify terms.

wundayatta's avatar

As Harp points out, condescension is one of the tools used to try to push someone beneath you. It is part of the battle to ascend the pecking order.

Condescension is the tool of the insecure. Not knowing how well their arguments play, they add a tone of condescension in an attempt to make their “opponent” feel bad, and perhaps withdraw from the discussion or argument.

If the person being condescended to either has moxie or feels fine about themselves, they can point out the tone of the other person, and then turn the tables by further pointing out how inappropriate it is. If they do this in a calm, reasonable manner, they gain a lot of steps up the pecking order, while the condescender gets seen as a meanie.

This means that condescending is a risky strategy for status seeking. Therefore it tends to be used more by people who aren’t that bright, or who recently learned something, or who are young and new to the game. These people mistakenly think it shows education and knowledge.

Sometimes, there’s another kind of condescension, which is the return volley. If someone condescends to another, the second person shoots back a telling argument, in an even more condescending tone. This, of course, is guaranteed to start a war that may end up in ad hominem attacks, and need the intervention of a moderator.

Condescension only works in one model of discussion. To my mind, there are two major categories of discussion: the debate, and the talking stick.

We all know debates. In a formal debate, there are strict rules for time sharing. Each side gets an equal amount of time. In less formal debates, such as will surely be going on around the Thanksgiving Feast tables in this country, two people, usually those with the loudest voices, take up all the time, and they step all over each other lines, and there’s no listening, and it’s all about being right.

I believe people are less familiar with the “talking stick” method. Native Americans used a talking stick at council meetings. They would sit in a circle, and the person holding the stick could speak as long as they wanted. You were only allowed to speak if you held the talking stick. The stick gets passed around from person to person, and each person gets as much time as they need.

This might sound like it could go on forever, but it doesn’t. People have a sense of fairness, and they know how much time there is in the meeting, and somehow, it works out pretty well. Some people take more time, others less, but you are done not long after the meeting was supposed to be done.

Of course, you don’t actually have to hold a talking stick to use this method of conversation. We often use it in various situations: classrooms and other meetings, where we go around the circle to hear from everybody.

Because everyone knows they have the time they need, the conversation is very different from debates. People get to talk about their personal experiences, and after a lot of people have presented these experiences, a kind of synthesis begins to take place in our minds, and often, this sythesis is surprising similar amongst the people in the room.

The time also allows people to tell stories, and is much more entertaining than the sorts of combative arguing that occurs in debates. It also leads to a feeling that everyone on the room is on the same side, not on opposite sides in an artificial war. No one is left defending a position they really don’t believe in, purely for sake of argument.

Online communities, for the most part, operate under the talking stick method. It’s kind of hard to restrict people from taking as much times as they want. I mean, look at the length of this post! I hope people find it interesting enough to read all the way through.

Even so, people often try to move into debate mode online. Debates are fights, and few people are interested in fights. Those who are, are usually men, though not always. (I won’t bore you with my theory about what makes women combative here). Women tend to be more comfortable with the talking stick style. They seem to be used to listening.

Listening, my friends, is good!

People from the TS style, feel like a part of a community, and trust that others will support them if someone gets out of line. Condescending doesn’t work so well on them.

I also think that folks condescend to make themselves feel superior (as opposed to actually being superior). The funny thing is that being superior allows you to back off, and be more confident. You don’t have to indulge in the ad hominem argumentative style.

Personally, I can do well under both styles, but I much prefer TS. In addition, I might even feel superior, except that I am exceeding insecure, and am convinced that what I write sounds like nonsense to most people. Nevermind. I believe it passionately! So, being insecure, I do much better under non-competitive systems. Yeah, I don’t know where I stand in the pecking order, but damn, is my blood pressure reduced!

jessturtle23's avatar

My best friend is a highschool teacher and most of her kids do not know how to use an index in the back of their text. I doubt they can google.

dynamicduo's avatar

It was very interesting indeed daloon! Very insightful points.

jessturtle23, this forms a great argument for having some type of course during school to teach how to master the Internet, where kids are taught how to use resources and how to establish validity and credibility in these resources, the basics of how the internet itself works, the principles behind e-commerce and how to remain secure on the Internet, etc. Seeing as the net will only become more prevalent in the future it seems silly that kids aren’t being taught about it explicitly.

susanc's avatar

Often when I post curt and dismissive answers, I see other people giving caring,
carefully considered ones. I could take this as a guideline but I take it as a
permission. My occasional impatience is balanced by other people’s kindness. And vice versa! That’s why I like multiple-user conversations. This is, in fact, exactly what daloon is talking about in his description of the “talking stick” model (see above, it’s perfect).

And yes, the anonymity is a freedom. I’ve always been awfully damn nice in the real world. I don’t lie, it’s just self-protective – and also my gift to the universe – to put a kindly spin on everything. But it’s limiting. I like it here because I can be an asshole and I won’t get slapped in the face for it.
thank you thank you thank you

tonedef's avatar

@susanc, I’m also usually surprised to see people genuinely trying to be giving and helpful in response to a question that makes no sense. It’s like a riddle has to be solved before you can help the person. Everyone else just makes me look petty and dismissive.

sometimes, it’s not entirely untrue!

jessturtle23's avatar

Her school is a private school based on Existentialism. I went there, too. No computers. We meditated before tests. It has become a school where rich kids go when they get kicked out of regular schools. If you have ever read or seen “Running With Scissors” it is like that. The principal and owner of the school is just like that guy and it is in an old run down hundred year old house. I could write a really crazy book about my experience there. The school song was “sex, drugs and rock n roll” and the principal use to play it and sing it on the trumpet. I painted our school bus that he use to take kids to Mexico in bright red with gold flames on it. WTF? We had a smoking section. He use to give us money if we could recite romantic poetry.

bythebay's avatar

Allow me to express to you, with no condescension, how very much I have enjoyed reading your responses. As I stated in my question, there are some very bright and caring people here and most of your answers reflect that. daloon, I love the talking stick example. A conversation is only as good as the give & take permitted within it’s duration. I rarely see a point in castigation or in becoming overwrought. I do love to hear other points of view, it broadens my horizons.

Trustinglife's avatar

I loved Daloon’s response about the Talking Stick method as well. I also do much better when the style of conversation is less about arguing, and more about trying to understand different viewpoints.

Occasionally someone participates who is disrespectful and aggressive. Fortunately, there are others here who are more comfortable in confronting those folks and “educating” them about what tone generally works best here.

poofandmook's avatar

I understand the spelling and grammar being out of control with some people, and kindly correcting them on it. But let’s be honest: Some people can’t spell, and have terrible grammar. Does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed to post here, because their inability to execute those two things is against the guidelines?

If I had typed “thier” instead of “their”, “grammer” instead of “grammar”... for example… these things don’t hurt anybody. Yet, there are people who have been here a while, who will point these things out. Why? What is the purpose? To “help” the poster “learn” the correct way? That’s commendable, but frankly, I think it’s a line of bull. Now, a repeat offender, sure. But I’ve been here plenty of times where simple things were “corrected”, right down to an old saying being corrected just because it was heard differently in another area of the country and it was believed that was the only way to say it. I know that’s vague, but without citing the exact example, that’s the only way I can convey what I’m talking about. It’s just crap, and it makes me second-guess my high opinions of the people who do it consistently.

That being said, I also have not been without my share of rudeness. However, there are definitely regular keepers of the proverbial “red pens.”

tiggersmom's avatar

I was wondering the very same thing, why do people feel the need to be a smart alleck when there really is no call for it. I can see if someone is feeling a bit silly, and asking for it, but not when it comes to a topic that is important to someone for one reason or another.
I even have a friend here that had the same thing happen to her, and it isn’t just on this site that people do this. There are others out there. I always think, ‘do unto others’ before I answer a question. I helps a lot. Hope this helps you out, good luck trying to find out.

Knotmyday's avatar

Maybe you all just need more Jesus in your lives.

sorry, couldn’t resist

One thing that I will snark onto (with gusto) are people being inordinately rude to others here. It’s not necessary, especially on a super-civil site like this one.

New members will never feel welcome here if they are told (tactlessly) that their answers are stupid and they didn’t spell “their” properly. Manners! (shakes finger)

If someone’s being an ass, I have no problem flagging their response. Screw ‘em; you get what you give.

Anyway, I’ll be passing the talking stick off now. Next?

shadling21's avatar

I guess it’s my turn.

I agree that condescending responses are a territorial thing. I think it’s also a way of showing off. “I’m going to show you how things are done here.”

There is certainly a temptation to be rude to newbs, especially if their method of communicating doesn’t quite fit the Fluther way of doing things. However, most of us (I think) try to keep in mind that most Internet users don’t communicate the same way that we do here. Thinking back to my first posts on here, I think some of my responses really showed a lack of understanding of the ways of Flutherites. So, newbies are given some room and time to adapt to the site. But maybe not enough.

Only once have I been intentionally rude on this site. I don’t really want to repeat the experience, despite the immediate satisfaction it gave me.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

in comparison to other sites like this (like this meaning where people talk to eachother and debate about things haha) i actually think the people on here tend to be a lot more accepting and respectable in their answers. not in all cases of course, but i’ve seen more positive than negative.

Val123's avatar

Wow…this came up as a “great question” to the right. As I started reading I thought, “What? That sounds like the old Fluther (the one I ran away from initially) because that’s not how it is any more!” Then I looked at the date. A HA!

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