April 11, 2010

Thoughts on the effect and effectiveness of ranting

I'm intrigued by posts like this fix-our-goddamn-Rails-tickets-you-lazy-non-contributing-user rant and Zed's shut-up-and-learn-C-you-noob rant. I find them relatively tactless, as I'm sure others do, but that says nothing about their effectiveness.

As a writer, it's a classic value judgment: one one hand, you're lowering the level of discourse; on the other hand, that may be what's necessary to reach the pathologically uninformed. From a writer's perspective, how many new Rails contributors or interested C programmers would justify that kind of entry? I'm reminded of an ESR post I read a while back:

I listened to the others on the channel offer polite, reasoned, factually correct counterarguments to this guy, and get nowhere. And suddenly…suddenly, I understood why. It was because the beliefs the ignoramus was spouting were only surface structure; refuting them one-by-one could do no good without directly confronting the substructure, the emotional underpinnings that made ignoramus unable to consider or evaluate counter-evidence.

Fighting against people's irrationally-held positions with well-reasoned arguments can be ineffective. When you combine this phenomenon with the web's insatiable attention to conflict and drama, trollish writing is a predictable and potentially effective result. Especially on the web, infamous and famous aren't far apart.