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Have we lost the ability to debate? My thoughts on "blocking"

# Introduction

The first time I learned about "blocking" was when I was in elementary school. At that time, I was using Toutiao and was influenced by public opinion. Due to my young age and my love for debating, I would join discussions whenever I disagreed with something, but I rarely resorted to personal attacks and mostly focused on reasoning. However, one day, I finally encountered an "invincible" opponent: I don't remember what we were arguing about, but I do remember that after I pointed out that the other person's lengthy argument was copied and pasted, they angrily blocked me. But if we're talking about who was angrier, it was definitely me. It was the first time I discovered the extent of blocking's pettiness, and I was so angry that I posted nearly a dozen profanity-laden posts in my feed, mentioning that person in each one. Not only that, but I also couldn't sleep well that night due to my anger.

But now, as I spend more time on Zhihu and Tieba, it has become the norm to resort to personal attacks at the slightest disagreement. I have long learned to treat being blocked by others as a spiritual victory and just laugh it off, and of course, I often block people who I disagree with and don't feel like arguing with. However, looking back at the increasingly chaotic and extreme internet, as well as the polarizing behavior of labeling others, I can't help but start to think about a question: Is the "blocking" function good or bad? Does it extinguish the anger in people's arguments and bring about a harmonious internet, or does it result in people having no outlet for their anger, ultimately turning all internet debates into arguments? To answer this question, we need to start with the origin and original intention of "blocking":

Why block#

The origin of blocking is unknown, but the original purpose of blocking is obvious: to prevent harassment. The early internet was a free place, and the rapidly evolving internet, coupled with outdated laws, created an internet that was like the Wild West, a place that couldn't be governed no matter what. However, unregulated freedom often leads to chaos, and along with the internet came more convenient advertising, scams, and harassment. Not only that, the internet brought together people with opposing political views who would never have met in their entire lives. Political debates are the most intense and have the lowest tolerance: political views often have class implications, and you can't expect a capitalist to accept communism, nor can you expect a nationalist to accept internationalism. Since ads and scams couldn't be manually reviewed in a timely manner at the time, and websites couldn't ban political discussions for legitimate reasons, blocking became the best solution for various reasons.

If we continue to think this way, blocking naturally becomes the optimal solution to prevent arguments and build a peaceful internet. If we simply observe the current state of the Chinese internet, it does seem to be the case: platforms like Zhihu, Toutiao, and Weibo, which have blocking functions, have far fewer arguments compared to Tieba, where only members can block others, and the scale is much smaller. Just take a look at the headlines on various websites, and you'll only see posts about banning, AOE, and opening boxes on Tieba. But does the blocking function really make these websites more harmonious? Does blocking really effectively prevent arguments? In my opinion, hidden beneath the appearance of harmony is a deeper undercurrent:

Hidden undercurrents#

If we just casually browse the headlines, we can easily come to the conclusion that "websites with blocking functions are more harmonious than those without blocking functions." But when you truly understand these websites, you can see the real situation: blocking doesn't bring about harmony, only more intense arguments.

Blocking leaves no outlet for anger#

In reality, whether in the past or now, personal attacks have always existed. It's not that the internet in the past was a utopia without any conflicts. But if we observe carefully, we will notice a phenomenon: whether it's in the past forums or the current Tieba, personal attacks don't last long, and the argument stops when one side gets tired. Without the ability to block, personal attacks couldn't be stopped, but no matter how intense the argument was, as long as one side stopped, the argument would quickly come to an end, unless it was a mutual exchange of insults between two factions. Arguments would never last a day.

But since the introduction of blocking, things have changed: while blocking stops personal attacks, it doesn't stop the anger. As a result, we see phenomena such as creating alternate accounts to attack others, banning others, and opening boxes becoming even more malicious. There's a saying: "It's hard to forget when you take a step back, and the more you endure, the angrier you become." This is the situation we're facing. Arguments that would have ended because of exhaustion or boredom now escalate further due to blocking, eventually evolving into even more malicious wars.

No one is a saint, everyone has emotions, and naturally, everyone gets angry. But when there's only a little anger left, blocking multiplies it, causing the argument to escalate further. It can only be said that it's not worth it.

Blocking makes us give up thinking#

On the internet, no matter how much you block content, you can't prevent it from entering your sight. And when you see this content, you can't pretend you haven't seen it by simply blocking it. What would you do in this situation? There's a saying: "No one is without fault." Some people say things unintentionally, maybe simply because they don't know. At this point, a reminder can solve most problems. If there's a difference of opinion, it can also be resolved through debate—at least it used to be that way. Debates often ended with one side admitting defeat, with the winner being the one with better debating skills and more knowledge, gaining recognition.

But today, everything has changed: with the rise of mobile internet, the popularity of smartphones, and busy work schedules, we no longer have the time to sit in front of a computer and debate with others like we used to. Short videos and other quick content quickly took over the market and won our approval. But compressing content that used to take an hour to watch into one minute while maintaining accuracy and objectivity is a difficult task. What do content producers do in this situation? It's simple—they don't guarantee accuracy, they only focus on the most attention-grabbing aspects. Not only that, in order to generate the most discussion and make the most money, they often sneak in personal opinions, which means even objectivity can't be guaranteed.

This has a disastrous impact on people: to put it simply, "it fattens their wallets but empties their minds." The wallets of marketing accounts get fatter, while the minds of the audience become empty. Since people's fragmented time is often "racing against the clock," they don't fact-check, they mindlessly listen to what marketing accounts say. In the end, they lose the ability to think and become the ideal ATMs for marketing accounts.

There's a saying: "Weakness and ignorance are not obstacles to survival, arrogance is." It's precisely because they have been indoctrinated with "absolute correctness" that people start to reject everything else, including those with different opinions. Serious discussions are replaced by senseless insults, and it all ends with blocking. If the information cocoon of marketing accounts is formed out of necessity, then blocking is self-imposed. The invincible weapon ends up stabbing oneself.

My thoughts on blocking#

I've said so much, but I'm not denying blocking or calling for the abolition of blocking. I'm just reflecting on the current chaos of the internet. Blocking does bring us many conveniences: no longer wasting time on idiots, no longer being harassed by idiots, and no longer participating in pointless arguments. However, at the same time, we also need to consider the impact of blocking on us: blocking often makes us more extreme, our thoughts more polarized, and more dismissive of the truth, only believing what we want to believe. And the fact is, blocking is gradually becoming an essential factor in the polarization, infantilization, and dumbing down of the internet.

When it comes to blocking, it reminds me of the cosmic security declaration in "The Three-Body Problem": in order to defend against light particle attacks and dimensional strikes, lower civilizations would envelop their entire star system in a dark domain. In the dark domain, nothing can exceed the speed of light, so external light particles and two-dimensional foils cannot enter the star system. However, civilizations within the dark domain can never understand the changes in the universe and can only immerse themselves in their own idyllic world.

To be continued.

2022.5.11 Deleted some controversial content, awaiting modifications.

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