The example I'm using involves arguing with some kid about cartoons. The overall message I'll get to in a minute is broader.
So! I had a pointless argument with someone on a cartoon fan site. It's about this Steven Universe character, Yellow Diamond.
Because of the way she looks, some people have wondered whether her hair is a helmet. And it's so easy to mistake for a helmet that actually a couple of the people who work on the show have mistakenly called it a helmet. A popular cartoon analyst on YouTube made a video about this back when one of the show artists made this mistake during a drawing livestream, spreading the news to everyone that it must officially be a helmet because Kat Morris called it a helmet.
I know, this sounds really silly, arguing about what's on a cartoon character's head. But stay with me here.
Because I follow stuff about this show pretty intensely, I knew that this artist Kat Morris later published a clarification on her blog to say actually Yellow is not wearing a helmet, and she even had to correct some show art that made it look too much like helmet lines in the final drawings for the show. She apologized on her blog for saying the wrong thing.
And then recently another show artist, Joe Johnston, accidentally referred to it as a helmet on his blog while answering a question, and when someone asked for confirmation he wrote this.
I think he means it, y'all.
So when I saw someone on one of my favorite sites posting that Yellow Diamond's hair is actually a helmet, claiming "Rebecca Sugar said so herself!" I was curious where they were getting that information. Rebecca Sugar is the creator of Steven Universe. I had my doubts that Rebecca was a third artist on the show to be making that mistake, so I commented on the person's article and told them that Joe Johnston has recently said otherwise pretty adamantly. (I shared the image of him writing "hair" over and over again.)
So this kid's response to me was to be pretty snotty, sneering that *Rebecca Sugar* THE CREATOR OF THE SHOW YOU KNOW said otherwise sooooooo. I asked for where they'd gotten that info because two other artists on the show have made that glitch but I hadn't seen Rebecca do it. They linked me to the popular fan video I mentioned earlier, claiming "She says it somewhere in this video, skip to 1:30." The video was Kat Morris, NOT Rebecca, and nothing in the video misrepresents it as being Rebecca either. It's an easy mistake to make if you're not super familiar with them, but to mistake one for the other, you'd have to ignore the introduction and the captions. You'd basically have to assume any dark-haired woman with glasses drawing for the show must be Rebecca.
|Left: Rebecca; Right, Kat|
Well, the person replied to me a couple more times but I wasn't able to read the comments because before I could they deleted the entire thread. Okay, fair enough, you're embarrassed that you tried to shove evidence in my face without making sure it was what you thought it was, and now you want to delete all evidence because you're kind of a turd. But what really irked me? Is that the person left the post up with no clarification, apparently happy to still claim they'd discovered THIS WAS OFFICIALLY A HELMET NOT HAIR AND REBECCA SAID SO, wow, and didn't seem interested in being corrected.
This is where it gets kind of frustrating. See, ultimately? It doesn't really matter to me if someone chooses to be ignorant, especially over something very insignificant like a cartoon character's design. But I was wondering if there had been some explanation for this in the comments they deleted (and if they realized the comments never got to me), so I commented again to ask what messages they'd tried to send. They said it wasn't important and I said I thought it was disingenuous to delete a conversation that disproved their claim and then leave it up like nothing happened--especially since they were putting words in someone's mouth, claiming Rebecca said something she has not said.
The kid deleted what I said there too, went to my account profile, and posted "TRASH" on it.
I replied with a funny GIF of one of the characters yelling "I'M REPORTING THIS!" and did so. They protested that ALL THEY DID WAS SAY "TRASH" and oh well later hater and blocked me.
Now here's the thing.
Again, ultimately? Arguments like this aren't important.
But in the grand scheme of things?
Why are some people SO DEAD SET AGAINST learning new information?
Why do they react to well-researched, indisputable, accessible counterpoints by erasing evidence, doubling down on their demonstrably wrong positions, and lashing out at people who tried to help them learn?
When this happens, I always wonder if there could have been a way for me to change my approach to reach a better conclusion. This person behaved like I had attacked them. Regardless of the fact that new information on a topic you're not informed about should not feel like an attack, they behaved exactly as if I was out to HURT them or EMBARRASS them. I mean, I don't know how old this person was (and I'm assuming they were a child because a) there are many children on that site and b) they type in a certain slightly incoherent way that's common with kids--I'm quite familiar with it after hosting kids' chat rooms for years). As the "mature" person in a situation like this, it's really my responsibility to do something so my audience receives my intended message, right?
This is very hard when the other person is wrong, full stop, and there is no room for concession or negotiation on it. It's a little different if it's a matter of opinion, but we were arguing about an established fact, and I was absolutely right and they were absolutely wrong. I had more information, and I was willing to show it to them, and I did so without taunting them or trying to make them feel bad, but I think the problem is that certain kinds of people always feel threatened by being corrected NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.
I immediately became less willing to make allowances for their probable youth and their possible embarrassment or hurt feelings as soon as they sneered at me as if I'm the one who doesn't know who Rebecca Sugar is. I was not going out of my way to make sure this snotty person had their negative feelings assuaged after they demonstrated willingness to shove evidence in my face without examining it. But if some kid responds to being corrected by arguing shrilly, deleting everything when they realize they look ridiculous, and responding with namecalling, well, I'm thinking there probably was not much chance that I would have gotten through to this person no matter what my initial approach was.
Is there ALWAYS a path to amicable settling of differences with people like this, or are people like this just impossible to argue with because they will not, under any circumstances, accept any input that amounts to "you're wrong"?
I've known people before who were like this--it didn't matter what I said or how I said it; if I corrected something they claimed or asked for clarification, first came the aggressive defense, then came the personal incredulity, then came either the deflection of blame or the complete derailment. "It is too XYZ!" "How dare you suggest I'd be wrong about this!" "Okay fine but So-And-So told me XYZ and HE'S an expert/Well I guess I can never be right about ANYTHING because you went to college and I didn't." This pattern would immediately begin as soon as I requested more information about why they believed something I thought was wrong or explicitly told them it was wrong.
In short, correcting someone like this is OFFENSIVE, and there is no acceptable way to do it.
If possible, I look for face-saving possibilities if the other person is displaying signs of reacting this way. I remind them that it's a common misconception, or agree that if someone billing themselves as an expert told them that, it's not their fault for being mistaken. I can braid in some understanding, or point out that lots of people have repeated their wrong belief without including the full context that would allow them to know why it's wrong, but so, so often, they're simply hostile to changing what they believe even if it's a very simple argument with an incomplex answer. If I'm correcting you about which Founding Father is on the twenty-dollar bill, I shouldn't have to pat you on the head soothing you with the assurance that yes that guy DOES look a lot like that other guy, or give in to your misconception that maybe it USED to be the guy you thought, or let you get out of the conversation by insisting that you remembered the information perfectly from third grade but your teacher taught you the wrong thing. I just . . . you're responsible for your own education, and if you want to know the real answer and you have respect for logic, you should never respond like this to new information--whether it's about a cartoon character's hair or about your whole world view.
You need to be able to evolve and learn new things. Being actively hostile to new information because it makes you feel silly for not knowing it is not a rational option.