Hello, my name is Keith and I’m a troll. My grandparents called it “needling”, my parents called it “pushing buttons” but in contemporary culture I’m a common trolling troll. I’m sure it’s the spiritual disease that will take me to hell eventually— either that or cruelly bashing the French and their culture (but that’s an entirely different story, and they deserve it anyway). In my nightmares I see myself at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter reviewing the deeds of my life and finally informing me “Well, son you’ve lived a beautiful, loving life— but you did deliberately make that guy cry over an episode of Glee…” *sigh*
I come by it honestly, in a sense. My family are intellectual “wolves” with strong, nimble, witty minds and mile-wide iconoclastic streaks that can’t resist tearing into dogmatic, axiomatic, or ignorant ideas with the merciless claws and teeth of argument and reason; but if there aren’t enough of those around they’re happy to argue over opinions. As the family motto goes “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”— so there’s always that as a fallback if you can’t dominate with an appeal to reason. Seriously, everything from evolution to your opinions about the perfect ham sandwich was likely to come against an argument at some point. That’s my Troll Origin Story.
Still, until the internet, self-preservation kept my trolling moderated to family and close friends who were too closely associated with me to get away with strangling me. But then the internet and social media came. Combine a sense of invulnerability with a perpetual disagreement and it’s just a recipe for disaster for a guy like me; and I have a long association with networks, beginning with BBC’s and continuing all the way to Facebook and Twitter. What I mean to say is that I’ve had a long run, unchecked by the threat of clobbering. I really AM Charlie Hedbo (even if most adults aren’t) complete with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with it.
All humor and defenses aside, it has become a disease worthy of any 12-step program. Sure, I can blame it on my roots and the contentious nature of online social media or laud its value in combating ignorance, stupidity and sloppy thinking; but in reality it’s become a monster in my daily life that feeds my worst, basest impulses. I joke that because I periodically lose more Facebook friends than I add that I’ll one day manage to attrit my circle down to 1 Ultimate Friend, and even though I don’t regret blowing away “social chaff” with my strong opinions— the fact is I abuse my ability to provoke.
For those of you who know me, it may not seem like I’m trying to reign in my trollishness at all; but I am and have been for the past couple years. Perhaps the evidence is my friend trend is reversing. We all know that addiction requires total abstinence for healing, but short of a vow of silence I can’t think of how a person can give up disagreeing. A person can be more wise in when and how they disagree though and there is the struggle. As the sage said “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” [Ecc. 3:1] and there is a time to challenge bad thinking, to enjoy the challenge of debate and to challenge each other to stretch our assumptions. Maybe the seasons to cause a meltdown is more limited.
As with many addictions, society can take some of the blame. The polar nature of our society and the incendiary nature of online opinions makes it nearly impossible to agree to disagree anything. I find with increasing regularity that people would rather storm off in a rage than simply say “I don’t want to talk about this anymore”. Heaven forbid we not get the last word on an issue. So help me out people, don’t feed the troll; if I’m pissing you off just tell me you don’t want to talk about it. I promise you don’t need a reason. And if you, too are a troll join my program— or start an argument. Whichever.