I've been moderating, or helping moderate, a couple of Internet communities for about ten years now. From very early on we had to find a way to deal with people who did a flamenco dance with the rules.
You've seen this before, I'm sure. They'd stomp right up to the line, clash their heels together next to it, make a lot of noise, and then dance away again before getting thrown off. And they'd do this again and again, with just enough time between incidents to allow even the hottest tempers to cool down.
Unfortunately for them, we took notes. We let our note-taking be our elephant's memory and remind us that these guys were old hands at disturbing the peace. It didn't take Solomon to see they were rather nihilistic in their behavior: they just wanted to get people on their side, throw their bombs and run. Never mind if everything else burned, including things they themselves had to work for (inasmuch as people like that worked for anything, and didn't simply demand it).
I grew quickly familiar with their playbook. I grew even more quickly tired of it. They attacked rules that had been set up for the populace's general benefit. They suggested unworkable alternatives, and then threw fits when they didn't get their way. They staged demonstrations of solidarity for oppressed brethren (really stupid when you realize they were talking about a chatroom and not, say, lunch-counter segregation). Most annoying was the smirking insinuation, the "I'm just saying"-style innuendo where they could say something inflammatory (and even claim credit for being inflammatory amongst their peers) without ever having to take the real brunt of the responsibility for having said it.
They loved using passive-aggressive tactics to their advantage. The most infuriating for me was the "I'm just saying" ploy — or sometimes, "I'm just asking". No, you are never just asking. You are asking, period, and if you ask, an answer may well come. Sometimes that answer will not be what you want to hear. But if you can't deal with that, then for god's sake, don't play this game.
I soon learned the definition of the word casuistry outside of a theological context. For those of you who just reached for the dictionary, it's when you use what looks like heavy logic to mislead people. The casuistrists-in-training posted more than one multi-'graf screed about this or that to the main message board — never because they actually wanted to broaden the discussion, always with the express purpose of getting us to do something intemperate. Somehow we managed not to blow our stacks at this tripe, if only because we knew that would put us in the same class as them.
Eventually most of the worst offenders and their yes-men were kicked off for keeps, or got sick of us not rising to their fight and stormed off in a huff. And then by some amazing coincidence, the amount of internecine conflict throughout the site dropped to almost zero.
What I couldn't stand most about those folks was not even the way they baited authority — that's something we all do at some point, I guess, and then grow out of. What I resented most was the way every argument — especially arguments that needed to be had, that were vitally important to the community — were turned by them into dishonest ploys. They were ruining chances for other people, perfectly good people, to ask the same questions without passive-aggressive front-loading ("I'm just asking") and get straight answers. They also made it very difficult to flat-out boot them without having their cronies erupt in screams of "censorship" or "oppression", two words I have seen abused so thoroughly that they now carry almost no weight outside of a historical context.
I don't mind an argument. It's an argument in bad faith that I hate. Or, as my experience showed, an argument in no faith at all.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind