Conversations with People who Hate Me by Dylan Marron (Non-fiction)

This is an extremely well-written, thoughtful, and reflective book that tackles the Hate pervading the internet in the form of nasty ad hominem attacks on anyone who has had the guts to post an opinion. Dylan collected many such disturbing posts in his Hate Folder, and then proceeded to create podcasts where he talked to (some of) these people in an attempt to find common ground for conversation.

He takes us through the process, starting from his own gleeful participation in the internet’s “holy trinity of cynicism, apathy, and dismissal” as he plays the shame game himself, through to his own hurt and betrayal as his posts / podcasts incurred various incarnations of “die you #)()(#@,” attacks, and finally to actual recorded conversations with those of his detractors that were willing to engage (and were clearly not dangerous or severely unbalanced).

He promotes empathy and conversation as an antidote to Shame — one of the big weapons in the snarky attacks on … everything. Lucid writing, good reflection on his own role, no rants, clear thinking, and a willingness to shut up and listen. For me his messages were not necessarily new but were refreshing and his experiences were enlightening (I spend a lot of time on the internet but very little engaging with anonymous strangers — a few months of the vitriol on NextDoor during the early days of Covid cured me of that habit). My only disappointment was that while he did a great job remaining open and listening to those who had called him names and (obviously) held very different views, there was never a point at which I thought he was listening to their actual views with an open mind. He lowered the anger thermostat and was able to see these strangers as human — and get them to see him that way too — but he remained firmly entrenched in his own view of the world as ever. To me, real conversation MUST include people being open to the idea that the other person may have good, rational reasons for having the opinion that they do and learning from that.

Still, this was an easy and engaging read and did get me thinking. I would love to see more conversation, discussion, empathy, and open mindedness on the internet. When did it become cool to be jaded, nasty, and cynical? When did hope and optimism become naive and stupid? Maybe we’ll learn that in book two. 🙂

Some good quotes:
“In the politically fractured climate of 2016, I saw the term used mostly by conservatives against people like me, which is to say politically correct internet users who vocally advocated for social justice. It was a way to mock those of us who talked about things like feelings and respect and safe spaces and pronoun and trigger warnings.”

“And what I had perceived as ‘hate’ was often discontent expressed hyperbolically.”

“Just as I have found that conversation is the antidote to both the game of the internet and the sport of debate, I also see it as the most potent antidote to shame.”

“Without the ability to keep up with the latest shame army, I am more able to take stock of what I actually think rather than defaulting to the opinion factory of social media.’

“Was seeing my conservative guests as human some sort of ideological treason?”

“In trading nuance for easy coins, complexity for simplicity, was I the social justice advocate I thought I was, or was I simply playing one online?”

“..I was a brown, Mohawked, pearl-earring-wearing gay guy whose tank top revealed an upper body that clearly screamed, ‘Chosen last for dodgeball!’”

“Was it because apathy, snark, and sarcasm were more in-keeping with the onslaught of bad news that dominated our news cycle? Did public expressions of joy undercut the severity of the unfolding sociopolitical mess? Whatever the reason, I had to figure out how to maintain my success on a platform that would shun me for daring to express my true self.”

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 29th, 2022.

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