I wish their Ennemies could by any means be perswaded to carry on the War against them in Places where they might be sure of Tryumphs, instead of insitsing upon pursuing it, where they are Sure of Defeats.
John Adams to Benjamin Franklin
From The Hague, June 13, 1782
The Adams Papers: Papers of John Adams, vol. 13, May-October 1782, p. 117
(unmodernized, uncorrected text)
Here Adams is referring to the British, who were at war with France, Spain, Holland, and America. I can apply this to all kinds of situations in which I think people are more interested in fighting than in winning. They have a political objective that requires them to identify a specific enemy, attribute specific motives to that enemy, and publicly engage that enemy over a period of time; however, they have no practical objectives and show little willingness to accomplish anything efficiently.
On this account, I would criticize tax protestors; anti-abortion activists; anti-war activists; advocates for starting and continuing the Iraq War; intelligent design advocates; evolution advocates; the emergent church; the New Atheists; gay marriage opponents; Democrats under Bush; and Republicans under Obama.
These folks are playing some kind of public relations game in which they want to demonstrate “public support” for a hopeless position by flooding blogs, forums, chatrooms, radio airwaves, cable channels, and editorial pages with mindless grumbling and arguing. I call their positions “hopeless” because if they had faith in them, they would seek some kind of concrete improvement towards an achievable goal. Since they don’t really believe in the practical significance of their professed doctrine, they are content to flounder aimlessly in the mud pit with their opponents, as long as they can still hear the roar of the crowds.
Furthermore, this applies generally to most people who want to debate things on the Internet, in a bar, over a joint, or in any other situation where the method of discourse and the results don’t actually make any difference. If there is anything that you are willing to argue about with someone who is antagonistic or indifferent to you, it is probably something that you cannot care about. If you could care about it, you would model it more than talk about it; and you would seek strategic victory rather than meaningless, bloody fights followed by whining and bitter insults.