​Loki's Wager is Why You Can't Win Arguments on the Internet

Illustration for article titled ​Loki's Wager is Why You Can't Win Arguments on the Internet

All fights on the internet are infuriating wastes of time. We know this. But we still try, and we're often stymied by this particular phenomenon. Learn about Loki's Wager, and why it makes the world a more frustrating place.


As legend has it, Loki, official trickster god of Norway, made a bet with some dwarves. He lost that bet. This was unfortunate for Loki, because the penalty for losing the bet was his head. And so he was beheaded, and the dwarves were happy and there were no more problems ever in the Norse pantheon. The end.

Just kidding. Loki decided to haggle, and managed it very well. He claimed that yes, the dwarves had the right to claim his head. They did not, however, have the right to claim any part of his neck. So as soon as they could find a place to sever his head that would not include any part of his neck, they could claim his head. The two sides argued for days, but while there were some parts that both could agree was head, and there were some parts that both could agree was neck, there was no spot at which they could both agree the head stopped and the neck began.

Loki's wager has become the term used for an argument that can never be decided because one (or both) parties, cannot agree how to define one of the terms. My personal favorite is the perpetual arguments over whether or not something impinges upon "free speech." The First Amendment has been redefined over the years, but it's not quite the same as free speech. If you're on the internet, you're without a doubt some day going to run across someone who claims that a certain action limits freedom of speech. That action could be anything from criticizing someone to refusing to publish demonstrably untrue claims to boycotting a service. Since there's no way to determine what is "free speech" actually is, there's no way to argue the point.

(As for the wager with Loki, if I were one of the dwarves, I would have decided I'd be perfectly happy with half a head and cut off everything above the lower jaw. Problem solved.)

[Via Loki's Wager.]



Here's synthozoic's two reasons why you can't win arguments on the Internet.

  1. Absolutely everyone has more patience than you. You'll give up your end of the discussion out of exhaustion before they will.
  2. Absolutely everyone will be smarter than you eventually. The longer you argue, the most likely it is someone will come in and fact check you into oblivion.

Arguments on the Internet: the best way to win is not to play.