Lately, I have been bothered by trolls.
No, not in the literal sense, but the figurative idea of trolls and what they represent. According to urban dictionary, a troll is “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument”, which I guess would make them the online equivalent of the joker.
Unlike the joker, however, I don’t think that trolls are representative of the nihilistic rage that makes us seek destruction. Or maybe they are, and I just don’t want to give them that much credit. I guess what I’ve been struggling with is the consistent human urge, if not the downright desire we have, to hate.
It’s all over the place. Racism, Sexism, Horsism, Pick an-ism, there is surely a thick layer of hatred frosting it like a douchebag's over-moussed tips. And as much as many would like to believe that people are inherently good, I’ve already rejected that hypothesis. For those of you who assume that we *are* inherently good, what the fuck are you basing that from?
We are experiencing tragedy after tragedy fueled by hatred, and by dismissing the slaying of innocent people by suggesting that hate is a social construct devalues human life. No one wants to admit to these feelings though, let alone to being the kind of person that acts upon their hatred of something. If you want to deny that you’re capable of hatred, fine. Unfortunately denial hasn’t been the solution to many problems, ask any drug addict.
The truth is, though, you’re far more likely to do something about a feeling of hatred than you are a feeling of love or well being, because the latter two don’t offer incentive to change. Presumably those feelings mean all is well and therefore don’t require a change. Hatred offers motivation, be it through a critical yelp review or horrific acts of violence.
But why do we hate? This is what bothers me. Much of society tries actively to discourage it, tries to banish it from conversation. We act like hatred is an emotion only dealt with by the petty or undereducated, but it’s everywhere, even inside of us. Even inside of me, who quietly seethes when people walk too slowly in front of me in a hallway. I really don't mean anger, by the way, I mean hate.
Neurologically, the parts of our brain responsible for love are active for hatred as well. This makes a lot of sense to me, given that I think we experience these emotions, like most other ones, in our quest to find meaning and propagate our species. Hatred is typically associated with fear and for good reason. My guess, is that hatred resides in that same buried instinct that makes us want to hump each other....
...but sometimes we don’t get to hump each other. Sometimes someone else humps the person we find humpworthy.
And that makes us angry.
And something primal in us whispers that we have been wronged somehow. In a way, the half-portion of children in your gonads have been robbed of something; the chance to be a real boy. And we hate that.
I wouldn't pin sexual frustration as the sole catalyst of hatred, by any means, but it's certainly the simplest one to identify and empathize with. Hatred could be thought of something of a cocktail between love and shame. Making yourself purposefully vulnerable, (which is where we start out as children, because we’re dumb) is, in a way, what love is. But something happens, and showing our vulnerability gets us hurt, or at the very least, remain unhumped. Maybe it’s scar tissue, something that grows over the raw parts, leaving us unable to expose it again, and let ourselves get hurt again. That’s why I think people are so driven to act on feelings of hatred. On some level we think we can heal ourselves, neutralize a threat, cover up that creamy center with barbed wire and skin made of bees so that nothing will ever make us feel shitty. There’s nothing more powerful than self preservation, and hatred isn’t just about self-preservation, it’s that self preservation and adding a sense of vindication.
It’s so easy to hate because it satisfies those ideas that we are not only protecting ourselves, but anyone who has exposed that kind of vulnerability and experienced pain, whether or not that threat is real. We can believe that our hatred helps people, how bizarre is that?
But what about trolls, what about people who seem to inexplicably just...hate? Are they really the hurt, the vulnerable, or are they simply acting on some devilish impulse, just so they can watch the fireworks? Maybe a bit of both. The only thing I can come up with is that it's misdirection. Some 11 year old who has trouble talking to his parents about how much he hates school gets on Call of Duty and strings together some nonsensical swear words. Some guy who can't stand up to his boss at work lashes out against women on the internet. It's all the same instincts, all the same source, but sometimes the anger gets misappropriated. But why bother letting go of all that energy, when you could do something productive like tell some 14 year old on youtube she's fat?
I think this because I've done this. I've never just shamelessly bashed a stranger on the internet, no. I've never yelled at strangers on the street either, unless they wanted to talk to me about the environment and started the conversation with some bullshit like "are you nice? But have I had the impulse? Absolutely.
In terms of strength, I am the bottom of the totem pole. I'm smart but I'm not quick, I'm nervous and flinchy in person. I make too much or too little eye contact. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be doing research on humans for my home planet, but I ran out of Alien Grant Money and they just left me here to quietly go insane. I understand so little, feel so vulnerable and powerless, and it makes me hate. I don't take it out on strangers, because I'm too weak to handle the loss. I take it out on friends and family. When I was younger I made caustic relationships for the sole purpose of breaking people until they could no longer talk to me. Why? Because on some level, that hatred made me feel powerful.
Is there still a way to reach out to people mired in their hatred, to teach them that one exgirlfriend is not enough evidence that all women are cheating whores? That not everyone who picks up a bible intends to throw it at you and assert you’re going to hell because you jerk off? How do you stop people (people like me, even) from sending more shit into an already shiterrific world?
When I said that I didn’t believe that people weren’t inherently good, I meant that we respond to whatever social stimulus gives us a favorable reaction. If a hate-group takes you in, then that feeling of acceptance will lead to a feeling of hatred that means self-preservation. If you want to be loved by those people, then paradoxically, you must hate. So no, that means that it’s not possible to save every neonazi and misogynist (or hell, misandrist). I suppose. But it's not hopeless.
Martin Luther King Jr, whether it’s cliché or not, is one of my personal heroes. Few spoke so passionately about change through compassion and kindness despite being faced with unbelievable darkness. And that is, as far as I know, the closest we can come to an answer.
“The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
This idea, delivered through his sermon on Christmas, is not new, but doesn’t seem to have ever been fully embraced. I don’t know that it could be. Martin Luther King uses this sermon to postulate exactly how one loves their enemy; how can you forgive someone who has wronged you, and offers the beautiful advice that forgiveness will not erase what has been done, nor does it erase feelings of ill will. What forgiveness is meant to do is offer a means of reconciliation, a way for both parties to have a relationship of some kind together even though they both know they're starting on uneven ground. If that’s not fucking poetry I don’t know what is. It can't be easy, I know it's not easy. Sometimes I've been guilty of outright hating someone who simply navigated social cues in a way I didn't like, to the point of belittling them for it or worse.
Unfortunately, speaking strictly in terms of numbers, I'm afraid we're locked into these pitfalls as a species. It only takes a small number of people acting on hatred to negate the actions of hundreds of people acting from a peaceful mindset. Very few lambs have gotten away with laying beside lions. In my opinion, 'love' could be less cryptically translated into 'understanding', and to truly understand someone that hates you, requires the humility and self esteem to acknowledge your flaws, and why they might bother someone. It also requires the courage not to harp on your own flaws, empathize with someone else and come up wit ha solution. That's not simple, it has no logical, mathematical steps you can follow. It's not a dance you can choreograph. That's a map created by thousands of gibbons on acid attempting to crochet their first unity quilt.
I have never tried to love an internet troll. I have never spoken in protest to people who spew bigotry. The only thing I have done, and the only thing I can do, is to attempt to understand what it is they are protecting, and treat it as delicately as they do. That's all I needed, when I was my most wrathful, was someone who simply wanted to try and understand what I was going through. That's it.
Bringing this back to the idea of trolling on the internet, I see a major flaw; there's no way for the person spewing bile to be seen or to see someone genuinely trying to connect with them. Our relationship with technology, and by the same logic our relationship to anonymity, changes the way we communicate. You can't feed a troll empathy and expect it to cough up some common sense. Maybe the best route is to ignore it, and let these ideas blister in the expanse of the comments section, untouched by any other communication.
Whenever I sit down to write, I always hope on some level to reach someone, to communicate something. It's hard for me to think that other people sit down and share something without that goal, whether or not we achieve it. I was hoping to reach some conclusion, some explanation and maybe resolution about this, but unfortunately, I'm at a loss...
I'm bothered by trolls. All I've learned from writing this is that I'm bothered because I don't understand them, and so far as I can tell, that's why they do it. The only recourse, I guess, is to admit the disconnect and move on.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.