How To Inflame

Inflaming is a popular dirty tactic. Anyone can inflame, but an expert inflamer can do it in ways that observers won't consider abusive, especially if they already agree with your message. This can be used to bait your opponent into flaming you in retaliation, and then, in an online argument, having the moderators censor *them* and not you.

Dirty tactics

First, there's a difference between flaming and *inflaming*. Flaming is directly insulting your opponent. *In*flaming is trying to making *your opponent* angry. Thus, flaming is one possible tactic to inflame, but it's a terrible one, because if you flame your opponent first, usually everyone else seeing the conversation immediately dismisses you and downvotes you if the forum has such a feature. You may even be censored by the moderators. The result is that you actually make your opponent feel *better*.

Unfortunately for the well-intentioned, there are ways to inflame someone that are much more subtle and much more powerful. Here are some techniques I've learned from seeing skilled assholes do this on the internet:

Strike at a point that's sensitive for your opponent, but not for observers.

For an example, I'll look at a scene from Doki Doki Literature Club (no real spoilers here). On day 2, when the literature club members share their poems with each other for the first time, Natsuki and Yuri dislike each other's poems and get into an argument about it.

Doki Doki Literature Club

Background: Yuri is shy and into fantasy and horror novels with deep worldbuilding, and this is reflected in her poetry, which uses uncommon words and metaphors with no clear topic or message. Natsuki uses simple language and more concrete themes with an explicit message. Also, Natsuki is cute (this is not coming from me; all the other characters agree on this), but firmly denies it.

Their criticism of each other's poems starts something like this:

Natsuki: "(What's with this language?)"

Yuri: "Did you say something?"

Natsuki: "Oh, it's nothing. I guess you could say it's fancy."

Yuri: "Thanks. Yours is... cute, I guess..."

Natsuki: "Cute? Did you completely miss the symbolism or something? It's clearly about the feeling of giving up! How can that be cute?"

In the last two lines, *both* of them used this technique, intentionally or not. Yuri used it by calling Natsuki's poem cute. She definitely knows at this point that Natsuki doesn't like to be seen as cute, so despite how her commment is ostensibly a compliment, it's actually about the most upsetting thing she could have said in that position.

Natsuki uses the technique with "Did you completely miss the symbolism or something"? Since it's known that Yuri prefers more abstract and complicated imagery, and she also has a reputation for being intelligent, suggesting that she cannot understand the symbolism of even a simple poem that isn't hers is the most threatening criticism one could level.

But since neither of these are sensitive points for most people, the other characters don't realize just how mean the girls are being to each other. By stealth-offending people like this, you can very often make it look like the opponent is the one being mean, if they can't find a similarly clever response and resort to overt flaming to retaliate.


This is a term I've coined for a nasty technique where you comment on how the debate is going, like "No offense, but you're doing a very poor job defending your claim" or "Hopefully this time you can make a less fallacious argument".

The core effectiveness of this is that it lets you taunt your opponent without them being able to retaliate. Verbal conversations and many textual conversations are linear. Your opponent can only say one thing at a time, and most likely won't get to say whatever they don't start with because everything leads to something else. This gives them two options:

It's an extremely frustrating, no-win position.

Refereeing is especially nasty in verbal arguments, where not only are people more vulnerable to emotional manipulation, but it also takes up time and space in your opponent's mind, making it artificially harder for them to represent their own argument.

Refer to the opponent in 3rd person

Back when I played Spellweaver, I posted a thread on the forum about cards I thought were overpowered, and one of the responses began, "None of the cards the OP mentioned are particularly overpowered". When you're talking to someone, you refer to them in 2nd person. Therefore when you refer to someone in 3rd person, you're implying that you don't see *them* as your audience, which makes sense if you think they're not worth trying to reason with but uninvolved observers are.


Now, one thing needs to be said: some people *aren't* worth trying to reason with (*Most* people, in fact, on most issues). In particular when it comes to politics or religion, most people care much more about the sense of identity they get from the group they're part of than being right. But earnest people obviously hate to be seen this way, so having their opponent refuse to speak directly to them is very insulting to them.


Showing amusement at your opponent's arguments can be much more offensive than your response itself, because it communicates a *magnitude* of disdain that's hard to achieve with words. You wouldn't laugh at just any bad argument, you'd laugh at an argument so bad that you wonder if your opponent is serious, or that you feel bad for anyone stupid enough to believe it. Used well, "lol" can be one of the most inflammatory words in the English language.

Put words in your opponent's mouth

AKA the strawman fallacy. Many logical fallacies are dangerous because an intelligent opponent can handily call them out and make you look like a fool, but the strawman has a special place as probably the best one. It has the following advantages:

An especially useful one is to accuse the opponent of *flaming* you, since everyone looks down on flaming so much, even much more than they should. This can double as an ad hominem if you use it in place of an actual response, which is one of the most inflammatory fallacies, but this isn't self-sabotaging like a normal ad hominem, since *you* won't be accused of incivility.

Comment on the opponent's tone or emotional state

Telling your opponent that they sound angry and they should calm down is a popular form of this. A self-respecting person doesn't want the help of someone they're mad at managing their emotions *during the argument with them*. That's incredibly insulting. This technique makes you *appear* like you're trying to defuse volatility, but of course if you were actually trying to do that, you wouldn't be acting so patronizing.

Sore winning

Sore losing is mostly harmless because it's done from a low-status position and so it can't really hurt anyone, it's just a toxic way of dealing with one's own embarrassment. But sore winning is orders of magnitude more powerful and evil, because it's used not to protect oneself but to leverage an amoral victory to hurt the feelings of someone whose feelings are likely already hurt. This shows up in argument after winning a point by insulting your opponent's intelligence for holding a false belief.

One of the last arguments I had before more or less leaving the Prismata community was an example. Another player and I disagreed on whether a position was winning or losing for player 2, and the argument stayed completely civil right up to the point where he convinced me and then he said, "0 isn't 2 so that shouldn't be a confusing thing".

Since this was before I had a good understanding of the tactical nature of inflammation, I responded by accurately calling him an asshole and the least qualified member of the moderator team. I actually realized what had happened an hour later and went back and edited the post to say only "lol you sure like being rude". This way, he - or at least the other players who disliked me - don't get the pleasure of seeing me upset or the potential excuse to remove my post. I never saw how it went down, because I wisely inbox replies.

The only downside of sore winning as a strategic technique (besides the fact that you have to first win in some capacity for it to be applicable) is that it's the most likely to be considered uncivil by observers. But if it succeds in getting the opponent to flame you (which it's incredibly good at), that almost certainly makes up for it.

I hope that I've given you a clearer understanding of inflammation so that you can better notice your opponents doing it and hopefully avoid playing into their dirty tactics.


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