“It’s hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it’s damn near impossible to win an argument with a stupid person.”
– Bill Murray
Every good war story starts, “There I was…” This one is no different. About ten years ago, I had an idea: establish a space on social media where people can engage in productive dialog about key issues of our time. Understandably, my focus was on national defense, but I would widen the aperture on occasion to highlight the random #FloridaMan story or articles that highlighted the challenges of military family life. And, when something momentous occurred, I’d bring it to the forefront for discussion. Over the years, we engaged on a diverse range of topics, from the hunt for Osama bin Laden to the takedown of Muammar Gaddafi, from the siege of Mosul to the civil war in Syria. If it affected our national security, we discussed it.
What I learned in that time might surprise you. Or it might not. Pick a crisis, any crisis. Secure your mouse in one hand and fix your eyes to the screen. Scroll. What you’ll find doesn’t really change that much between crises. The same basic arguments from the same types of people, variations on the same general themes. The faces – or “handles” – might change, but for the most part everything else remains fairly consistent. The phenomenon has been defined as keyboard empowerment: “A sense of worth and authority that can only be gained by sitting behind a keyboard for countless hours…”
The recent flare up with Iran was no exception. Even though the killing of Qasem Soleimani had been years in the making, the event created a stir unlike anything we’ve seen since, well… the last crisis in the news. As news of the attack broke, the reactions were the same as ever. We’re going to war with Iran. The draft is coming. This is World War III. Dogs and cats living in sin…
After ten years, nothing has changed. Don’t get me wrong, there are still intelligent people in search of well-reasoned discourse. I just think that they tend to get drowned out by the louder voices with the more extreme opinions. As a result, getting the right people to engage in discussion is becoming increasingly difficult. Honestly, most rational people would rather sit on a rusty cheese grater than be dragged into an irrational debate with equally irrational people.
So, who are these people? Well, I’m glad you asked. Some of them work with you. Some of them live next door to you. Some of them might even live with you. But one thing is certain: you know them. This is what keyboard empowerment looks like.
Typically, the first person you encounter is the basement warrior serving up hot takes on how the only answer to any international crisis is a barrage of violence that would make Stalin look like a born-again pacifist. At some point, expect a reposting of “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” or a comment about nuclear weapons and parking lots.
Not everyone wants to drop nukes at the drop of a hat, and that’s a good thing. The Keyboard Coward, on the other hand, takes it a step further, offering a plethora of bad career advice, such as how service members can go AWOL to avoid fighting the Keyboard Commando’s war, or what you can do to avoid a draft that isn’t going to happen. Hint: Don’t go to Canada.
Diving into the fray at an astronomically high hover, the Keyboard Hysteric is like a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, edging toward a meltdown one post at a time. Always emotional, always reactionary, and always unstable, the Keyboard Hysteric is impossible to deal with. Don’t try. Walk away.
Just when you thought it was safe to reply, the Keyboard Politician is here to lower the bar. Blame Trump! Blame the Republicans! Just give socialism a chance! But her emails! Epstein didn’t kill himself! The liberal agenda! They’re coming for our guns! Honestly, I’d rather be stuck in beltway traffic with Gilbert Gottfried during a solar eclipse than endure the divisive rants of Keyboard Politician. Yeah, I said it. You heard me, Gilbert.
We have some truly brilliant historians in this world. Unfortunately, none of them are willing to venture into an L-shaped ambush on a discussion thread. Instead, we are treated to the uninformed historical opinions of someone who skimmed a book on Grant at a used book store or, better yet, played beer pong during a Ken Burns series on PBS. That freshman history class you took in college sure lit a fire under you, Keyboard Historian.
No debate stage is complete without someone who thinks they’re possessed of a strategic genius that rivals Clausewitz. Maybe you were a battalion planner once. Maybe you read a lot of Tom Clancy novels. Maybe you watched all of the Mission Impossible films. Here’s the thing – the real world doesn’t follow a script. Your particular genius will self-destruct in five seconds.
Every online debate includes one person who has “the inside scoop” from an inside source: Uncle Jim’s second cousin Earl who lives next door to a woman whose nephew was almost recruited by a staff sergeant who they’re pretty sure was a special forces ranger airborne commando who guarded alien lizards at the FEMA camps near Area 51.
Usually a close relative of the Keyboard Commando and the envy of many a Keyboard Sleuth, the Keyboard Veteran brings a unique and understandably nostalgic, yet seemingly strategic, perspective to every debate. The Keyboard Veteran has the right answers to every military problem, which is impressive for someone who drove a Gamma Goat during the Gulf War.