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On Replies and ‘Reply Guys’

We do well to live and let live, we also do well to post and let post. Devote what limited energy we are gifted with to thought and the formulation of our views and let the 'reply guys' reply. They are, generally, all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Lately, I’m seeing a consistent and persistent narrative on social media against people who are termed ‘reply guys’. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it describes people who comment on a post by way of negation.

An example might be if I were to create a post about the evils of colonialism and someone where to reply, ‘but colonialism made the modern world’. Another example might be if I were to post a survey about surveillance capitalism and someone were to comment ‘that I am using Google forms, a company synonymous with surveillance capitalism’.

Those who are offering guides to ‘reply guys’, usually take this sort of approach:

Guidelines for Replying
Do you need to post THIS?
Do YOU need to post this?

Which is a roundabout way of saying ‘do not comment unless you are in support of my post’ or ‘do not comment unless you are part of an approved group’. To be fair, I think most people who post about ‘reply guys’ do not think this, or rather they do not think they think this. They simply want constructive, although not exclusively positive, comments.

To an extent I agree. I post very little on social media because I am fed up to the back teeth of offering a historical account only to have some moronic and illiterate individual bellow ‘oppression, oppression, oppression’ because they have read a heavily edited and deeply ahistorical account of the sources which supports their ideological view of the world.

The other one I have encountered is discrimination because of ‘group identity’, in that someone is of the wrong skin colour, sex, cultural background, wealth, or other perceived privilege or injustice to have their comment heard. In our modern ‘caring society’, it seems discrimination is not discrimination so long the characteristic is deemed worthy of discrimination.

If history teaches us one thing, it is that history does not have a right side, nor does it have a wrong side. History is just — history. You can admire or resent the events, but they do not bend in an inevitable direction like gravity. If philosophy teaches us one thing, it is that individual differences matter infinitely more than perceived group characteristics. Surely people should be judged by the content of their character. Yes, I am sure I read that somewhere.

The same can be said for any concept or event we encounter in the now. The notion that because Democrats or Republicans in America win a particular election, or because the Liberals are trounced by Labour in Australia, or because a local vending machine has started accepting crypto is not, I repeat NOT, a sign that history is doing what it should. Much less that a particular ideology is correct and that by definition a perceived opposing ‘group’ is wrong. It is nothing more, nor less, than in the daily struggle over what matters to us we can notch up a small win or loss in the column of our preference.

Perhaps this is what lies at the heart of the anti-reply guys’ posts. The realisation that despite our best efforts, some jerk has not been convinced. It reminds me a little of the cartoon:

Of course, the reality is that someone on the internet will always be wrong. If this is too much to bear, then we do better to not be on the internet ourselves rather than attempting to kick / ban that which is wrong.

This may be hard, but it is an essential part of public discourse. For take the ‘reply guy’ offline and you get any half-decent town square. A space in which one cannot stand on a soapbox and sound off without a passer by — replying. The online world is no different. As Epictetus observed:

Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.
— Epictetus, Discourses 1.15.2

Social posts are, grandiloquent though it may sound, the subject-matter of the art of living. Thus, to hear each person’s own life is to hear their philosophy. This is not to say we should indiscriminately read and digest every reply. A degree of prejudice, in the sense of pre-judgement, is not only permissible but thoroughly appropriate.

While a physical public square tends to never offer such cotton wooled comfort, social media comes with an array of filters so we can avoid replies we deem unwanted. Thus, if we do not like to have ‘reply guys’ in our feed, we should use the available filters and create a bubble devoid of discord. Yet we should be cautious to not use filters so much that we live a life sans any opposing views. Better by far, asserted Burke, for us to question our absolute convictions and spend a long time ‘lost in Doubts and uncertainties’ than settle for a life deaf to speculative opportunities in which we question little and know little else.

Much as we do well to live and let live, we also do well to post and let post. Devote what limited energy with which we are gifted to thought and the formulation of our views, and let the reply guys reply. They are, generally, all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Good night, and good luck.

Photo by Tanisha Ngo on Unsplash.

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