Okay, so I still hold by the four types of people who write to advice columns (excluding most fake letters):
1.) ones that want confirmation of something they already plan to do (and will do even without confirmation) or already did (and want reassurance)
2.) people who just really want attention
3.) really dumb.
4.) WTF people. They aren't writing in due to being stupid, wanting attention, or just confirmation, though they can be all of that. They are literally stumped on how the fuck they got to this, because they feel this isn't normal, but they don't know at what point they boarded the crazy train, because they've just been on it that long.
I was in group four: no, I never wrote an advice column, but man, I probably should have. But not for the columnist.
Ask a Manager is more or less universally right, mostly because she's advising for sitches related to work and never deviates from using professional metrics and strict professional ethics. Which is an accomplishment, honestly; very few people can keep that kind of ethical standard to their advice that consistently; her only weak point is marijuana use (she's very pro, and honestly, so am I), where some of her advice felt--not wrong, it wasn't, but not my 100% sure reaction. Her, I trust absolutely. She also differentiates clearly between 'wrong', 'bad idea', 'prob not recommended', 'should be fine but be careful', and 'cool'. I literally can't think of a columnist who does that, but there may be a reason for that.
Dear Prudence, Captain Awkward, Dan Savage, et al: not so much. All have a moral standard and relative moral standard: none have a consistent ethical standard. When they talk about ethics, it's only when it matches their morals (as of, apparently, right this second). Which is actually my biggest problem; even in relationships--maybe especially--morality is in flux constantly, is a spectrum, and can be squiggly as hell, but ethics shouldn't be. Something can be immoral (by some standards), but it can still be ethical. And honestly, I'm not sure most of them know there's a difference or care.
(It's not that there aren't good reasons to be unethical--there are, many of them--but the first step is to admit that and then why the deviation is necessary compared to other actions. That's kind of the basis of being a thoughtful person that does more good than harm. It also helps to have an ethical framework, yeah.)
However, that's not about that: this is about the reason I dropped Captain Awkward to 'maybe read if I'm really bored and want to re-read favorites' from 'sometimes when I'm bored': her comment section. Now granted, she already heavily moderated against any dissent whatsoever (any kind, even the kind that agreed in the wrong way which is apparently dissent?) to the point I felt like I was reading what she said over and over and over and over (and over, dear God), so she wasn't on my regular list, but she started closing comments at random on most posts, and I don't read for the columnists, but the comments and discussion. Why?
Well, its like reading a hundred advice columnist who don't need to worry about ad revenue, but also, the discussions are where I see the ethical--again, not moral/immortal nonsense--hashed out in detail. What is ethical in general --> what is ethical to this situation --> what is ethical to this person. And that's where you see the best advice come out; sometimes, it agrees with the columnist, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes, I don't agree with columnist or commenters, but the arguments and even individual comments as a whole do a really good job of chasing down the bits and pieces that define right versus wrong. And as a normal human being who struggles like a lot with differentiating 'this is right', 'this feels right', 'this feels right to me right now', it does help solidify my own internal action check and often adds nuance.
Also, they're funny as shit.
Just as good: communities that comment on those columnists like agony_aunt.
In closing, my favorite Captain Awkward post of all time and an example of how the crazytrain gets you: My Partner Keeps Inviting His Ex Girlfriend to Stay With Us
I can work out how this happened and around that age? It could have easily happened to me. I, however, would be asking shit like "should she be paying like, rent for the time she's here?"; this woman is doing better on that front.
(Yes, I deliberately left out part of the title: I wanted it to be a surprise.)
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