3 Stoic philosophers on how to stop arguing on the Internet

The ancient Stoics knew to pick their battles, and how to stop arguing with petty fools.

If they were alive today, how would they deal with random trolls on the Internet?

How to stop arguing on the internet Pinterest Pin

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None of all this means, of course, that you should tolerate cyberbullying or comments that violate forum rules. If, however, what you’re dealing with is not that, read on.

How to stop arguing, and why

Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, the most popular online games, or even RL trolls: you waste a lot of time and probably won’t change their mind. Your anger is their food.

As Elizabeth Saunders from Wired writes, “you stand as the triumphant [monarch] of a lonely land smoldering with the ashes of people you’ve decimated with your words who are less likely than ever to ever listen to your side again.”

YouTube commenter: "My biggest problem on social media is getting dragged into arguments on social issues. I don't know why on Earth I do it. Nobody has ever changed anyone's mind on Twitter."

Sure, it gives you a rush of dopamine and adrenaline, but one symptom of addiction is lack of self-control leading to undesirable consequences. Keep that in mind, and you’ll see why it’s a fool’s game to feed the trolls.

You’ll encounter three types of people online, as far as I’m aware:

  • people who love to argue (rather, to dominate)
  • people who respond explosively and claim offense
  • trolls

Instead of reacting with fight-or-flight mode (who am I kidding, just fight), the Stoics insisted that because you can’t control others, you must control yourself. How to stop arguing? Stop arguing.

So here are 4 Stoic philosophers on how to stop arguing on the Internet.

And yes, it applies to political arguments, hate included.

Stone busts in a row at a Vatican museum
Image by Cains on Pixabay

1. Epictetus – be a stone

Don’t try to change other people. You’ll always be disappointed, angrier, and ashamed at having wasted so much time. Instead, seek to change your reactions.

This doesn’t make you weak. This makes you much stronger than they are.

When a troll attacks your Achilles’ heel or an ignorant hater lobs personal attacks in lieu of an argument, be stone-faced.

“What does it mean, for instance, to be abused? Go up to a stone and subject it to abuse; what effect will you produce? Well then, if you listen like a stone, what will anyone who abuses you be able to achieve?”

– Epictetus, Discourses

Furthermore,

“Remember that you are insulted not by the person who strikes or abuses you but by your opinion that these things are insulting. So whenever another provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion that has provoked you.”

– Epictetus, Discourses

While this is a good comeback to someone who sees offense where there is none, that’s acting out of the same sadistic spark that got them going. It makes you no better.

Repeat after me:

“It’s not that I don’t get angry, but that I don’t give anyone the privilege of making me angry. I don’t give them that power.”

A frightened and an angry face, left and right respectively. sketch by John Tinney, 1770.
“A frightened and an angry face, left and right respectively.” Drawing by John Tinney, 1770.

2. Marcus Aurelius – steel yourself

Certain places online are more hostile than others. If you NEED social media, this is why I suggest curating it with my free guide.

But Marcus Aurelius suggests how to stop arguing is to armor yourself before entering an enemy stronghold, or just a battlefield. This reduces the amount of willpower needed to use Epictetus’s method. (whom he read and still endorsed)

Because he was an emperor, he had to deal with all kinds of people. And rich to poor, city to country, no matter their profession, they were mostly the same.

“…the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Not that you should expect the worst of people and walk around sullen, defensive, and cynical. Just be aware that people experience a broad range of emotions and have their own reasons. You can’t control them.

He also echoes Epictetus:

“If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing that troubles you, but your own judgment about it. And this you have the power to eliminate now.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

image by bstad on Pixabay

3. Seneca the Younger – rise above

If you’re weak in a certain area or vulnerable because it’s a bad day, you don’t have to calm down. Lean into your anger and use it constructively, to lift yourself up.

“It is the mark of a great mind to rise above insults; the most humiliating kind of revenge is to treat your adversary as not worth taking revenge upon. Many have taken slight injuries too deeply to heart in the course of punishing them. The great and noble are those who, like a lordly beast, listen unmoved to the barking of little dogs.”

– Seneca the Younger, On Anger

(I LOVE that. The “barking of little dogs.”)

He wrote this, by the way, after a man who had heard of him and disapproved approached him, smacked him over the back of the head, and casually walked away. Then when he returned later to apologize, Seneca feigned ignorance the hit ever happened, leaving the attacker with nothing but guilt, and positioning himself “like a lordly beast.”

An Amazon warrior looks down sneeringly. "Hah! You're not worthy prey." (from Killer Instinct 2015)
© Microsoft Studios 2014 (Killer Instinct)

There are no “bad” emotions. Rage is useful, if you can’t calm down. Channel it productively into exercise, a creative endeavor, or pondering your deepest-held values.

Because knowing your deepest-held values and acting on them every day with Quests is a potent way to stave off addiction. Dare I say it’s a cure. But you have to build the Quests right or you won’t get the benefits.

Those benefits are:

  • measurable boost to Meaning In Life (MIL)— apathy and meaninglessness is often a reason for relapse
  • measurable boost to hope, no matter how hopeless you may think you are, lasting motivation, and HAPPINESS
  • more self-efficacy (belief in yourself)– which leads to tackling rewarding challenges you wouldn’t have before– confidence, energy, and self-control
  • less sensitivity to triggers and desire for social media, porn, etc. at all

And it’s all SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN. (I distill hundreds of pages of science into clear, easy actions.)

It’s all in my ebook, Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors.

“Liberty is having a mind superior to injury… that separates itself from all external things, avoiding the unquiet life of one who fears everybody’s laughter, everybody’s tongue.”

– Seneca the Younger, On the Constancy of the Wise Man

4. Biblical philosophers – mockers & fools

I know, not Stoic. But around the same time period, and still helpful. (all KJV)

“Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.”

– Proverbs 15:12

Personal attacks don’t affect the strong. They’re calling you out. Prove them wrong by disengaging.

“A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.”

– Proverbs 14:3

In other words, “He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak.”

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be just like him.”

– Proverbs 26:4

Good lawyers bring evidence, and it better be high-quality (no journalism except interviews). Odds are, you and your online opponent will both look like fools to an outside observer. How to stop arguing? Don’t argue.

“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”

– 1 Corinthians 14:38

How to stop arguing quotes

Lastly, here’s some how to stop arguing mantras (say them yourself) from throughout the ages.

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself, and if they will not adapt to me, I adapt to them." - Michel de Montaigne
"i would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him." - Booker T. Washington
"to argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

How to stop arguing online: boildown

  • You make yourself offended. Is it worth it?
  • You will waste a lot of time and energy, and you won’t change their mind. Is it worth it?
  • Don armor before entering a battlefield.
  • Your pain is their food. Ignore them like a lofty beast unmoved by the barking of little dogs.
  • If you’re unable to calm down, channel the rage into exercise or something creative.

How to stop arguing with people on the Internet? Stop arguing.

3 Stoic philosophers on how to stop arguing on the Internet

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