How to Make Yourself Unpopular

Over on, one particular individual (who shall remain nameless here) has been doing an unusual amount of ranting and raving lately. It’s an unmoderated newsgroup, so anyone can post anything they care to. It’s to be expected that misunderstandings will occur from time to time. Points of view will differ. Tempers may even flare. And of course we have our pet troll, who occasionally posts outrageously insulting messages just to watch the fur fly.

In the latest little brou-ha-ha, however, we seem to be hearing from an individual who possesses, in some measure and in some order, the following set of characteristics.

He cares passionately about the subjects discussed in the newsgroup, and has strong opinions.

He feels that a cabal of others in the group is ganging up on him. This cabal is ignoring his legitimate views or trying to shut him up because he won’t toe the party line.

His views are not internally consistent. He sometimes posts messages that make little sense in context with other views he has espoused.

When others point out these contradictions to him, he leaps to the conclusion that they’re part of the cabal. He gets mad and uses naughty language.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, or vice-versa.

The contradiction that caught my eye today was this: On the one hand, he asserts that he would never create software for free, because he deserves to be paid for his work. This is a legitimate point of view. But on the other hand, what he keeps whining about is the fact that the developers of Inform 7 — which is free software — are paying insufficient attention to his needs. They’re ignoring him.

The only possible response to this contradiction would be: Dude, if that’s how you feel, go write your own interactive fiction authoring system. I didn’t post this message, however, because I don’t want to get involved in the flame war. Plus, he wouldn’t get it. He would just conclude that I’m part of the cabal.

The lessons I wish this guy would learn from the wrangle are pretty simple. I’m pretty sure he won’t learn anything, and I don’t feel very inclined to try to help him come to a better understanding. But here’s what I’d tell him, if I were feeling a little more helpful.

First — the universe is not, as far as we’re able to determine, a very nice place. Among its other shortcomings, it is almost infinitely hostile to every known form of life. Remaining alive is always more or less a struggle, and in the end you always lose the struggle. There are no exceptions.

Second — the world is plentifully supplied with people who are (a) stupid, (b) duplicitously scheming to fulfill their own creepy agendas, or (c) just plain too busy to care about you and your doubtless tragic situation. You will spend your entire life, such as it is, dealing with people who fall neatly into one or more of those categories.

Third, and here’s the really bad news — there’s nothing whatever that you can do about it. It ain’t gonna change.

Now for the good news: If you work at it, you can find ways to live fairly comfortably in these circumstances. You can try being grateful for the good things in your life (including free software, basic literacy, and a computer with which you can post messages in newsgroups). You can also, if you feel so inclined, look for ways to increase the amount of goodness in the world. Such as by contributing to free software efforts, if you have the necessary skills, so that people who can’t afford commercial software will find their lives enriched, if only by a tiny bit.

Finally, you can develop survival skills. I’ve found that being sardonic or cynical is quite useful. It saves any amount of wear and tear on my arteries, because I’m less inclined to get angry. I have a motto that I use as a touchstone for understanding and dealing with human beings and human affairs. I’ve found frequent occasions over the years to call it to mind, and have never found any reason to disavow it. While grinding his teeth over the alleged misdeeds done to him in the interactive fiction community, my friend might find it beneficial to remind himself:

What we’re dealing with here is a fairly intelligent species of chimpanzee. It would be a mistake to expect too much.

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