How to Spot an A-hole

If only it were that easy.

Spotting an A-hole on the internet can be tougher than you think. Part of their talent can be making you feel like you’re the jerk for feeling the way you do.  It’s a no brainer when the insults are direct and overt but that’s not always the case.  Today I want to expose some of the more sneaky and subversive types of A-holism.  The following tutorial will help you see through their crap, because if they’re pointing a finger at you, they’re probably pointing 3 back at themselves. (Get it?)

Knowing these signs will have you spotting web trolls and pompous editorials in no time. The only thing left for you to do will be to sit back and watch the author’s stupor at those who take offense. The very best examples of A-holetry will use most if not all of the techniques we’ll discuss here. Anything that only has 1 or 2, you’ll just have to make a gut call.

Without further adieu, things to look for to spot an A-hole on the internet:

1. Bias. Typically you’ll see this right up front. The author will lead with a quick but subtle bias in their introduction. They’ll use somewhat vague adjectives with negative connotations right away, things like “frivolous”, “impractical” or “well-intentioned”. An even more subtle approach you could see to undermine credibility is the use of nouns like “fad” or “hobby”. They might even compare the subject to something they know is entirely opposite or unrelated and will be offensive to their target.

Ex. Mainstream a-hole: The Paleo diet is the most popular whim since the Master Cleanse.

2. Passive-aggressiveness. A tell-tale sign would be to notice the author possibly being open minded to other opinions but quickly shutting that down with a backhand.

Ex. Paleo a-hole: You don’t have to agree with us; if you want to let your oblivion kill you, then best of luck to you.

3. Mis-characterization. This can be done in two ways. First, you might get the idea that this person has very little knowledge of what they’re arguing against. This is also known as ignorance. Second, the mis-characterization may come in the form of using only the most extreme examples to illustrate points.

Ex. Mainstream a-hole:  On The Paleo diet, you can only eat animals that you have whacked over the head with a rock. Paleo dieters don’t even wear shoes!

4. Polarization. There will be no shades of gray, only black and white. Remember, they’re using extreme examples, so even though it’s not realistic at all to think that everything is so cut and dry you’ll notice that this will never be acknowledged.

Ex. Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: If you eat a Paleo diet, you can never eat dairy again…NEVER, EVER…EVER.

5. Using rhetorical questions as main defense. Imagine a scene from Law and Order.

Prosecution: “You wanted her dead didn’t you?…that’s why you left the toilet seat up knowing she would fall in.”

Defendant: “No, I uh, I….”

Defense: “Objection your honor, leading the witness!”

Judge: “Sustained.”

Are the points being made with an open ended cross-examination of the things being disputed? The key is to omit actual answers and substantiation.

Ex. Mainstream a-hole: How can you trust someone who eats raw meat and doesn’t wear shoes? How could fat (bacon) possibly be good for you if most M.D.s don’t think it is?

6. Contradiction. No A-hole postulation can be complete without this. There are 2 types of contradictions you’ll see employed. For starters, you may find the author says one thing and then draws a completely opposite or mutually exclusive conclusion just a few words later. Alternately, they could use contradiction known commonly as “the pot calling the kettle black”. Fighting dogma WITH dogma. If you notice the same methods being used as what one claims to be against, BINGO, contradiction.

Ex. Paleo a-hole: You should never eat “Paleo” food that replicates junk food, it won’t cure your psychological problems. By the way, here’s a recipe for Paleo Fried Chicken. (<– this really happens in Paleo blogland. A lot.)

Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: It wouldn’t surprise me that you’d recommend a different nutrition plan to everyone if you make a living off of personal consultations. You should buy my plan instead; it’s a one-size-fits-all plan that will help you figure out what personal adjustments you should make.

Paleo a-hole: I’m so tired of feeling like I should look a certain way based on societal pressure. Now let me tell all you “intellectually challenged” people how you should actually look if you want to be healthy.

7. Condescension.  You will perceive this as being ”talked down” to. The writer will appear miffed that anyone would believe something different than they do. Patronizing commentary and sarcasm works for their purpose here as well. You will read things like “waste of time” or even simply quotes around a word to imply eye rolling.

Ex. Paleo a-hole: Questioning what we’re telling you to eat makes you stupid, that’s probably why you can’t understand what we’re telling you. Mainstream a-hole: Including more meat is a great idea, if you love horrible ideas.

8. Assumptions and generalizations. You know the saying about assuming right? NO? It makes an ASS out of U and ME. Enough said. But I’ll say more anyway, this one really ties back into #3 (Mis-characterization.) and #4 (Polarization.) but it’s worth mentioning. The A-train has to keep running and it’s fueled by assumptions and generalizations. You will find continued instances that ignore the practical side of what’s being debated and drive home a few more unsubstantiated accusations.

Ex. Mainstream a-hole: The Paleo diet is a low carb diet. The Paleo diet is impractical. The Paleo diet costs 10 zillion dollars a month.

9. Arrogance. Nothing crushes A-holyness faster than admitting you don’t know it all. That’s why this one is a little harder to detect since it’s more about what is NOT said. You may get a hint of this if you notice claims that are just as hard to prove as those denied…but…since the author knows only black and white (see #4) they will imply that their way is the ONLY way. With all due respect though, they probably are special snowflakes. (#1, #2, #6, #7, #8 all in one!)

Ex. Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: How dare you quote a random study to support your argument! I have a random study right here that says the exact opposite, except this one is right.

10. Big words. The author will need to seem like they are very intelligent so you’ll think, “well, they did say ‘ad hominem’ so they must know what they’re talking about.”

Bonus. Sketchy motivation. (This one is not required but it can really put the icing on the cake.) This can be as easy as selling a product that happens to be the opposite of what is being argued against or even needing attention. Other examples include denouncing things that threaten them or being the smartest, most interesting person on Earth and having a desire to make sure everyone knows it.

Ex. Mainstream a-hole: I work for the government where my job is to sell subsidized grains, however, I disagree entirely with the Paleo diet because you cannot be healthy without hearthealthywholegrains. Paleo a-hole: In case you didn’t know, sugar is not Paleo.

(Starting with “in case you didn’t know” is a classic.)

Well everyone, I do hope you’ll find some use in my tutorial. I wish I could say I totally fabricated my examples, but these examples come paraphrased (and admittedly slightly embellished in some cases) to you from mainstream news and Paleo blog sources. If you need further examples, they’re not too hard to find. If you’re like me you can’t stand a-holes, be sure to come back next week when I release my new e-book, How to Be Nicer and More Humble Than Everyone ($19.95).

18 thoughts on “How to Spot an A-hole

  1. Mike Strickland Reply

    I do enjoy internet debate. So much so that I’ve written tens of thousands of posts on various forums over the years in exchanges of ideas and debate.

    One thing that many of your examples tie to are logical fallacies. Here’s a good link describing those:
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/

    What you describe as bias is an example of Poisoning the Well.

    Passive-aggressiveness: Appeal to spite / ridicule / belief / etc

    Mis-characterization: Straw man argument / fallacy; Spotlight fallacy

    Polarization: False dilemma / false dichotomy

    Using rhetorical questions as main defense: Could be many different fallacies. Composition fallacy, most of the appeal fallacies, poisoning the well, and others.

    Contradiction: These can be varietal. Your first example is simple hypocrisy, but could be special pleading in other forms. Your second example is poisoning the well. Your third example resembles appeal to ridicule.

    Condescension: Appeals to ridicule/spite/emotion/fear/etc

    Assumptions and generalizations: Should be IMMEDIATELY challenged for substantiation and dismissed if that is not provided.

    Arrogance: Almost always appeals type fallacies. Arrogance is often employed as an inflammatory tactic more so than anything. This is a specialty of internet trolls.

    ——————————————

    The smartest tactic to use in internet debate aside from knowing fallacies is to regularly ask for substantiation of claims and be ready to point out that unsubstantiated claims are nothing more than opinion. Doing this combined with calling people out on fallacious reasoning is surprisingly effective at shutting people down or driving them to an outburst which simply causes them to embarrass themselves.

    • Shannon Reply

      Oh wow, I just had a flashback to my informal logic class thanks to that post! :)

    • Anne Shuck Reply

      I enjoyed your recap of my Introduction to Logic class taken over 40 years ago… Same fallacies, too. LOL

  2. Jenny Reply

    This just made my morning!! Thank you for that. This can also be applied to the techie world of computer nerds (in which I work ). Just read a couple of this-is-how-you-fix-this forums :)

  3. Amanda Mae Reply

    this was very entertaining!
    I try really hard to not read most comments online (wether it be news articles, videos, facebook, etc), for these very reasons! You brought humor to this madness, thank you!

  4. Teresa Reply

    This is the first post I’ve read (so far) on your blog, and I’m already laughing and nodding my head in agreement. Looks like the start of a beautiful health-bent blog reading habit. ;-)

  5. Chris Reply

    Brandon – Great article! It’s amazing how many different ways people can spin their opinions to make themselves look smart and like they know it all. Hopefully people will look for good resources and information from people/blogs that don’t exhibit the above traits. I can think of at least one blog that I would read that fits the bill! :)

    Keep up the great work!

  6. Sara Reply

    FYI, the link to your book is broken. (/sarcasm)

    This is awesome! Well written, and pretty balanced–I really liked that you called out paleo as well as mainstream crazies. Obviously, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but sometimes I feel that everybody needs to take a step back and breathe for a minute. No need to freak people out by polarizing food/health issues, we deal with enough of that in other areas of life.

    (Although, I sometimes read certain blog posts *for* the comments, because it’s hilarious to watch how polarized people can get about simple things.)

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud today!

  7. Eve Reply

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog! In the 15 minutes I’ve been here, I’ve found some recipes that I can’t wait to try and just had a really good laugh, thanks to this post. Awesome.

  8. Sara Knight Reply

    Oh.how.i.laughed.so.hard. SO TRUE. I’m buying a health bent tee stat to wear while I go stand in our local bookstore in the nutrition section and give unsolicited advice on agave nectar and the use of ellipticals :)

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