As usual, the staff of Mother Jones is rounding up the heroes and monsters of the past year. Find all of 2021’s heroes and monster here.
In 2021, I went from mildly bemused to fully annoyed by a scourge my Dad has often talked about: Dudes Who Are Right on the internet.
If you’re not as extremely online as my family, here’s a brief primer: There’s a collection of (mostly) men on Twitter who spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to prove (to God? to their followers? to themselves? to their high school bullies?) that they are right about…everything.
For the past two years, my father—an early Twitter adopter—has warned me about this reality. He has gone from an eager reply guy to basically being celibate on attempts to be “correct” on the internet. He has cast aside the “clever take” and gone near cold turkey on having an “interesting way of viewing it.” He doesn’t dunk, quote-tweet, or thread. It’s just too annoying now, he says. A Dude Who Is Right could pop up and ruin your day.
To be clear, this isn’t a cancel culture jeremiad. My Dad is not “anti-correct” in terms of anti-politically correct, or even in terms of truth. (In fact, a lot of the stuff that annoys him is factually accurate.) Instead, he is a pretty online person who has grown completely disillusioned with a way of posting that bolsters confidence instead of curiosity. Lately, he’s turned to mainly reading books about science from the library.
For my part, I’ve come to particularly dislike a specific variant of Dudes Who Are Right—the ones who screenshot articles, post graphs, dabble in economics, pivot to Substack, are named Matt, hold a grudge, perform exegesis on polls, and offer commentary on every political, cultural, and historical moment to vouchsafe us the correct opinion. But the trend goes far beyond them. I called my Dad to talk about the wider genus.
Here’s an interview with him about his awakening—lightly edited and condensed for clarity (or to make fun of him)—about the plague of Dudes Who Are Right online.
Yes. I made some categories for you, because you mentioned this. So, I may dominate the discussion here for a bit.
That’d be so unusual.
Don’t do that! Terminate that. That’s not what you think.
A joke! Go ahead. The first category is…
One category would be what I call Threaders. These are the people who are seeking to be correct but it starts out with these “1 of 762” threads. They just come with these absolute dump trucks….You can hear the truck backing up!
[My Dad makes truck noises here like: beep-beep-beep.]
And then the bed of the truck raises and they just unload a 762 thread of manure.
At the end, it’s not like you’ve learned anything whatsoever.
You can’t! You’re so dazed—and you’re sitting in a pile of shit. It’s not like it’s some intellectual argument one can follow. You can’t say: “Oh, I remember, in post number 711, there is something I actually would like to agree or disagree with.” It’s impossible. Because it’s just complete manure immersion.
It started out with, and everybody made fun of, the “it’s time for a little game theory” guy. But he’s not alone anymore. Now everyone’s a Threader.
It’s a numbing technique. Like Novocaine. You don’t really learn anything from it. Its purpose is complete and total overload. With shit.
It’s like the spread in debate. You talk as quickly as possible, and say as much information as possible, to exhaust a person with a job and a family and perhaps interests that don’t include posting all day.
Exactly. And I repeat: It’s hard to say you’ve learned anything from it. All you’ve done is sort of signal that you have some category dominating knowledge. Congratulations, you win.
And they never go away! The Threaders that have a million insane ideas—like Seth Abramson and Louise Mensch—never go away.
So category one is the Threaders. And I agree; I hate them as well. So, go ahead with category two.
Category two is the Cheerleaders.
I think this the number one way to gain followers online: Every day wake up in the morning and tweet about what people are mad about. If people are mad at Kyrsten Sinema, you tweet about Kyrsten Sinema. If people are mad that Joe Biden said the wrong word, or left too early from the podium, you tweet about that. It’s a surefire way to absolutely dominate online.
You just tweet with the wind.
It’s like you have a sailboat. You wet your finger, you put it in the air, you see which way the outrage winds are blowing, and you set out to sail. You will race like it’s a catamaran.
This is an important moment to repeat something: It’s not that you’re wrong if you’re tweeting that Kyrsten Sinema is blocking legislation. It is that it is easy—and thus lame—if done without bringing anything new.
It’s uninteresting. That’s it. And it’s not everyone who posts about Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin, of course, who does it like this. But like, to me, the the absolute worst—the worst/best example of this—is actually on the Democratic side: There’s a guy named Jon Cooper.
It’s like something will happen. The Build Better Act—a thing will come up on it. And he’ll put something out there…. It’ll have a raised hand—like an emoji—and something like, Who thinks Build Back Better is what we really need? And it’ll get 4,000 tweets. Imagine doing that every single day.
[Editor’s note: This tweet from Cooper has about 3,700 likes and 1,000 retweets. Close enough.]
President Biden’s #BuildBackBetter framework is finally here! Bigger than FDR’s New Deal, it will be a truly historic investment in our children, our healthcare, and our planet — and will create MILLIONS of new jobs.
Raise your hand if you’re excited to see this get done! ✋
— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@joncoopertweets) October 28, 2021
To do it every day seems insane. Like, I’m amazed by energy of the Threaders. And then for Cheerleaders—it’s the relentlessness, a bit of the shamelessness. Which is what you said: How do you get up in the morning and do this every single fucking day?
Like who wouldn’t surrender to the lameness of that?
I would. But, moving on, category three.
Yes, the third one. This is a stupid name, but it’s the only one I could come up with: It’s just the Hypocritic Oafs.
It’s just people who spend all day pointing out the hypocrisy of the other side. The thing is, you start out and you think they’re pretty clever. But, after awhile, any person comes to understand that there is rampant hypocrisy all over. So, it becomes this entire space where a Democrat is pointing out the hypocrisy of a Republican to Democrats; and on the other side, a Republican is pointing out the hypocrisy of a Democrat to Republicans.
Then, it gets worse. The people pointing out the hypocrisy get big enough that they can be made fun of—and people start pointing out the hypocrisy of these Hypocritic Oafs. A new guy starts pointing out the hypocrisy of a guy who spends all day posting about hypocrisy of other guys! It’s insane.
And to stick with your theme: They are right!
Yeah, often they are pointing out something that’s true. It’s just annoying.
And it’s time taken up by actually learning about whatever is going on.
The best example is what’s going on at the border. I’m going to sound like a Republican, but I’m not….You need to be tougher on your own team. The same people that are posting all day about hypocrisy have stopped talking about what is happening to migrants at the border. And from everything I’ve seen, it hasn’t really changed. It has not gotten significantly better now that Biden is doing things.
The Biden administration has continued some of Trump’s policies, but done so more quietly. We’ve reported on that.
Exactly. And instead of thinking about that, what they’re doing is posting the hypocrisy of the other side.
This is perhaps the crux of the Being Right thing. Which is that it isn’t as noble as we’d like to think it is unless you’re following it all the way through. It ends up being about winning.
It’s an abandonment of curiosity. Knowledge is just there to be harvested to be correct for strangers. Who cares? It’s performative point scoring.
And this is what ends up feeling true for the Threaders, the Cheerleaders, and the Oafs: It seems like they don’t care about the actual issue—they care about being seen caring about the issue.
The day starts and a big issue develops. And this is sort of a frame for all these. An issue arises with, say, Joe Manchin….The Threaders make a thread about Joe Manchin’s coal connections, the Hypocritic Oafs quote-tweet his old stuff with a screenshot, and the Cheerleaders post some cringe thing and ask for a retweet.
And this next category, what they do—
Okay, next one.
The next category is what I call the Christmas Tree Posters.
When an issue pops up, the Christmas Tree Posters, they see it—they look at the tree covered in takes from the Threaders, Hypocritic Oafs, and Cheerleaders—they see there’s already an angel on there; there is a funny little mirror ball ornament. And, as the day progresses, the tree is just getting more and more loaded with stuff. They’re freaking out a bit.
So, the Christmas Tree Poster tries to find a new angle. They have to post something kind of niche. And it doesn’t really make complete sense. Or, even if it does, there just isn’t enough space for it on the tree. All the normal and good things to put on a tree are already on there. And so at the end you’re getting these really specialized ornaments.
Now, these takes are, again, probably absolutely true—and people want their credit for their ideas—but they don’t really help you understand the issue. And you know what? It’s too many ornaments. It’s made the whole thing a bit ugly. Not just their ornaments. It’s made the whole tree—all the posts—look silly. Because the tree is too full.
By the afternoon, it’s like Christmas: It’s about niche grievances that have built up since the morning instead of the thing itself.
It’s a problem of too much collective action. I’ve done this. I can relate. You become the child in a massive family. Like: “No! I want to be up there too! I want to be on the tree!”
“Daddy hold me up I want to put the angel on the top—and I want to be seen putting the angel on the top.”
Right. It’s childish. Alright, last one?
This one—it doesn’t really have anything interesting to it. But if there were one monster of trying be a Dude Who Is Right on the internet, this is it: It’s the Shameless Meme-ers.
The example to me is Ted Cruz. And J.D. Vance, too. These are absolute elite, elite, elite level people: Harvard, Goldman Sachs. And they use memes to pretend they’re not. Maybe they could post something that’s right, though I doubt it. But that’s not the point. The point is its a performance for some onlooker. And it’s embarrassing.
It’s like watching a kid who thinks he’s cool in like 11th grade, but is still clearly a loser, like he was in middle school, trying so hard. (Which, of course, wasn’t me.)
Yeah and they’re embarrassing.
Just to finish this up: I thought the important point you made was that it’s not about content. It’s about form. In-person arguing is great. It’s something that we both love to do. But it’s not fun to do online anymore because it’s become pedantic and annoying instead of interesting. You never learn.
Right, I agree. The solution is to read more books. And use Lists. Or follow Jamelle Bouie. He is the opposite of this. He reads books and has niche interests and tells you about them.
So, those are all my thoughts.
Okay, great I’ll go transcribe this. That was pretty fun! Hopefully I get to actually see you for the holidays.
Yeah I hope so. Text me your plan either way?
Yeah I will—and oh. Wait, wait. Let me ask you one final question: Who do you think is right more often, in general, me or you?
I think it’s actually you lately.
Wow, that’s on the record. I love it. Oh my god.
But I’m working on it!