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, triggering a backlash against *them* and not you.
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. 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 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.
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 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 "You have made no real arguments this whole time".
The power 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:
- Respond to the taunt first. They'll seem emotionally delicate to observers for prioritizing a taunt before an argument, and you might be able to respond to their response and suggest that they focused on the taunt because they didn't have a good answer for your argument.
- Respond to the argument, and ignore your taunt.
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, it needs to be said that 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, only an argument so bad that you wonder if your opponent is serious, or that you feel bad for anyone stupid enough to believe it. Another aspect is that humor in response to someone who's seriously upset is extremely disrespectful, so if the opponent is upset, because the topic is sensitive for them or beacuse you've already aggravated them with other techniques, "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 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:
- Low punishability, since you can just claim you genuinely misunderstood the opponent's argument and optionally that it's their fault for presenting it poorly (extra insult factor as you fork them with the choice to either let your bullshit stand and cut back to the argument or spend more time on something that isn't the point. And if they do the latter, *you* get to accuse *them* of sidetracking the debate).
- *Good audience-convincing power* - if someone is just scrolling past and only thoroughly reads your argument, you have very high odds of winning that person's agreement. Even if someone did thoroughly read both sides, when they see your accusation they might wonder if that *is* what your opponent meant and *they're* the one who misunderstood.
- *Highly inflammatory*, since a strawman is a form of slander. It can even threaten reputation damage by itself, unlike most of these techniques.
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.
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 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 muted thread.
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 probably makes up for it.
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