How do we stop fighting on the internet?
How the philosopher David Hume became best friends with his opponents.
In the 18th century, the philosopher David Hume fell melancholic. He’d been writing back and forth with other philosophers of his time in an endless battle of wit—they thought they were right, he thought he was right—and he became exhausted defending his position against an onslaught of antagonism.
When he wrote to his doctor for a cure, the doctor suggested he stop reading philosophy, drink a pint of claret every day, and enjoy some horseback riding. Hume obliged, writing that he then became “the most sturdy, robust, healthful-like fellow you have seen, with a ruddy complexion and a cheerful countenance.”
When he took up philosophy again, he was able to hold it at arm’s length, realizing that the goal of philosophy was not to create discord—just the opposite. Most philosophers were trying to figure out how to be more moral people and make the world a better place—fighting against one another in that mission did nothing to advance it.
As a writer, I too have experienced bouts of melancholy when my ideas are met with antagonism on the internet. It is so hard to see my thoughts, which in my head are painted many shades of gray, regurgitated by commenters in black and white, placing me in the black even as they place themselves in the white.
Most recently, when I wrote that I felt product design and community moderation had been more effective against hate on Substack than centralized moderation has been on other platforms, some interpreted that to mean that I was pro-Nazi. I received emails outlining why I was on the wrong side of history and was tagged in notes calling me a Nazi and a fascist. I was so upset. I felt that I must refute every line, defend my position, and set the record straight, placing myself in the white once again.