“ ‘The Kid’ never races anybody. He just sits there and scares the hell out of ‘em.”
--- Paul Stookey, Paultalk
"Who is more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?”
--Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope
Yetzer ha-Ra: That Troll hole sure looks interesting . . .
Yetzer ha-Tov: Stay on target. Stay on target!Yetzer ha-Ra: Maybe we can have a productive conversation, he can’t be ALL bad! Yetzer ha-Tov: Negative, Captain. That Troll’s female hatred index is 78%, and the diction analysis indicates a high level of cruel cynicism. Recomend aborting the diversion and heading straight for an Objectivist bulletin board. Yetzer ha-Ra: Poor troll, there’s probably just a scared little boy inside. You can bring out the . .
Yetzer ha Tov: Do NOT feed the troll! Do NOT feed the . . . . Damn. She’s gonna . . . there it goes! Libertarian Trolls are NOT rational. It’s gonna be ugly . . . Ship: Ping! Brrrrwahahahahahaharhrhrhrh! Pow!
Yetzer ha-Ra: Beetle-bomb! Yetzer ha-Tov: Captain, impulse engines still operating. What are your coordinates, Ma’am?
Ship: (Coughing slightly and waving smoke away). Where is that Objectivist site, again? I think maybe a fuel change is in order. Earl Gray. Hot!
---- Fragment of Internal Dialogue
On the internet, bullies are people who derive a certain sense of power by sneering and whining, deliberately targeting those who take a discussion seriously or literally, and taking conversations off-track. In short, petty cyber-bullies—often called trolls—will do anything to keep a conversation from evolving in order to keep themselves at the center of attention, even as the circle of that attention becomes smaller and smaller.
Outside of the cyber-world, the way to stop a bully is to call him out. A bully is generally a coward with an aversion to picking on someone who will fight back. Running in and slashing at others, then retreating like a hyena is the typical bully style. This is why I taught my son that the manly thing to do is never to start a fight, but always finish it. Decisively.
But in the cyber-world, where people have been intimidated by a false definition of censorship, and where the only person with any freedom of speech is the bully himself, what most often happens is that bullies are not confronted or removed. Instead, conversation at a site or page dwindles to just the few bullies, who jockey and sneer at imaginary foes, and the utility of the place is lost. This is a problem for site owners and administrators, who have often spent a good deal of time building a place for a certain kind of conversation, only to have it devolve into endless and meaningless bickering over tangential details, while the point—and the pleasure—is lost.
Although we all know that “feeding the troll” is pointless, most of us from time-to-time foolishly do it anyway, whether out of a misplaced sense of respect for the humanity of the little shit, or the transparently naive hope of breaking through to have a real conversation. And sometimes, we hope that by so doing, somebody else on the page will be drawn out of their silence and the page will become what it was. This seldom works, and the page generally continues its bully-induced slide into silence and obscurity, until even the troll moves on to greener cyber-pastures.
At a Libertarian-sponsored site, the conversation was about the threat to the Second Amendment. The post was a quote from a Colorado State Senator who announced that with some bravado that he would rather die than give up his weapons. The Curmudgeon joined in, hinting darkly that there is no remedy to the present tyranny, and that bravado and courage itself will wither in the face of omnipotent police brutality. The Troll made his move: “I sneer at all those who . . .”
Dominance established. The original poster never piped up again.
As an administrator of the site, I though that perhaps a suggestion to the Troll that he should take his sneering to the source of his anger would bring the conversation back on track. Curmudgeons can be good discussion partners, but trolls never are. I then tried to bring the conversation back to the Curmudgeon’s salient point. The Troll was not having it. He responded with a hurt little boy tone, and I fell for it, against the better angels of my nature. They were saying: “He’s a troll. A TROLL! An unmannerly, babyish, woman-hating, mom’s-basement, never-had-a-grown-up-relationship, T-R-O-L-L! TROLL!” Being low on estrogen and testosterone both, I ignored the warning.
Beetle-bomb! Shards of hope and sparks of action falling into the netherworld of Cyberspace. Neither the Curmudgeon nor the Troll will ever take any kind of purposeful action. The first wants to impress people with his cynicism, and the second, to prove what a tough guy he is by how badly he treats anyone who crosses his path.
There has been precious little dialogue in this group, and what is there dominated by the Curmudgeon and the Troll almost exclusively. Other members drop in, make announcements, and drop out. Why be bullied? It is difficult for members to confront the bullying, because they have no power to stop it.
Smart other members.
The current characteristics of the group alone tell the story. The group has become the Troll, with “ain’t it hopeless” choruses from the Curmudgeon, and a few— mostly ignored—attempts by new members to start a conversation. I have been dropping in to make announcements and to see if there are any libertarians who have mistakenly thought it was a place to discuss libertarian ideas with an eye to actually doing something. But as every idea that does not belong to the Troll or the Curmudgeon lands on the ground in a burning heap, and every suggestion for some kind of action is sneered off stage, the place has become cobwebbed and dull, leaving the taste of dust and ashes in the mouth.
“Don’t bother with Liberty, folks,” these types announce by the subtext of their behavior. “It can’t be defended, all is lost, and there is no point fighting for it. You’ll just fail and thinking otherwise shows how stupid you are. What we need to do is close the curtains, sit here in the dark, and keep ourselves from getting hurt. Because the animating contest of freedom is a hopeless illusion, and the power of the state is omnipotent. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either naive, deluded or posturing, and will be driven from this group by mean and petty sniping and malignant hatred.”
I bring this up, because I have seen other libertarian site administrators frustrated by the same or a similar senses of life imposed on their discussion groups, and more malignant, those who hate libertarians for whatever reason, and set out to deliberately hurt and destroy them. I have seen anti-Semites ruin the image of the Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty, and Nazi hunters crying anti-Semitism on Libertarian sites where it doesn’t exist. I have seen conspiracy theorists bully anyone who wishes to have a rational conversation virtually shut down all discussion over a minor reference, obscuring the actual point of the conversation because they lack the faculty to look critically at their own dogmas.
Site, page and group administrators are frustrated because if we are paying attention, we know the destructive end of such behavior is the same every time. A perfectly good site becomes useless, and someone’s (often many someone's’) work was all for naught. And yet, we often tolerate it. We sigh in exasperation, complain about the solipsistic immaturity of a certain group of Generation-Xer American males, and try to laugh it off over a beer with friends or take comfort in participating in more rational forums. But we TOLERATE what is not tolerable.
Why do we tolerate it? It is the use of subtle force by others to dominate, bully and harm the work of others. But when a site administrator does edit, block or ban someone wreaking such havoc, they immediately respond with the indignant cry of the cyber-bully: Censorship!
And many libertarians, having been brought up with an education that failed to teach them the (not so) subtle difference between liberty and libertine, immediately take it up.
In tones dripping with entitlement they cry that the administrator is a fascist pig, an authoritarian, and that they have the right (god-damn-it) to bully, disrupt and destroy whomever and whatever they want, because THEY are RIGHT, and more than that, they are MORALLY SUPERIOR to every being that has ever walked the earth before them. (Because of us the seas stopped rising, poverty ended, and heaven was brought to earth. “WE are the ones we have been waiting for . . .” and all of that bullshit). In other words, they have a serious case of the Vision of the Anointed. Good will toward others and simple manners were never part of their curriculum.
Many administrators, especially old-school libertarians, are caught off guard by this, and if one is not fully grounded in libertarian thought (and even if one is!), it is easy to be cut to the quick by the sheer virulence of the attack. It is usually delivered complete with a tone of dripping sarcasm and righteous indignation.
Being an Aspergian, I am almost always caught off guard by this, because no matter how often people are cruel and nasty to me, I never expect it. This, along with my tendency to be overly literal, and to fail to see the language pragmatics that warm Neurotypicals off, makes me an excellent target for bullies.
In any case, as a helpful guide to Aspergian and other Libertarians of Good Will, these people are wrong and most of them—particularly the bullies—know it. Censorship is a function that only a government can perform. Private individuals may indeed keep order and regulate the environment of their own private property, or do so on the behalf of other owners and stakeholders, in order to preserve the purpose of the site, forum or group for all.
But private property owners cannot and do not wish to stop the dissemination of speech or behavior that they dislike altogether. Only a government, with its monopoly on physical force, can do that. The disgruntled bully can always start his own forum, build his own platform, or hold forth on a public street corner, although in the last, he cannot abuse or detain the public.
People of good will follow the rules and regulations of a private property owner gracefully, as a matter of respect and good manners, and if they do not agree with them, they feel free to excuse themselves and go elsewhere. Being themselves self-respecting and effective individuals, they are capable of creating their own platforms for free-speech, and if they err on the side of passion, create a misunderstanding, or take a disliking to someone, they are amenable to the direction of the owner or administrator of the forum, and either correct themselves or move on.
But bullies are seldom self-respecting, effective individuals, and thus need to get and hold the attention of others in any way they can. Thus, they scream about their over-arching rights while ignoring the rights of others. And the libertarian movement seems to attract a large number of them. I believe that there are some philosophical reasons for this, but that is another blog.
The point here is this: although libertarians of good will are naturally hesitant to block or ban someone who is pissy, sarcastic, disrespectful of others, and subjects others to personal attack, it is right and responsible to do it. And it is appropriate to warn others who come crying “censorship” that such behavior will not be tolerated. In such cases, it might be a good idea to explain why it is not censorship, but if we find ourselves being called “fascist” and other names, it is a good bet that the name-caller is also a bully trolling for a response.
Finally, when a forum has been allowed through neglect or appeasement to become a place in which fruitful discussion can no longer take place, or when administrating it has become a tiresome and painful chore, it is time to move on. In my case, I should have done so long ago, before I got sucked in by my own naivety and desire to discuss something important to me. Bullies do not discuss or share. They attack and troll for a response, feeding on the pain of others, and like Dementors, they suck the joy out of everything. Curmudgeons are generally not malevolent themselves, but they believe that the world is. They are incapable of kicking around an idea because they have already decided that action is futile and nothing that anyone else thinks about can possibly be worth discussing.
As an Aspergian, I often get played for the fool because I don’t read the subtleties of the words or language pragmatics that NTs see right through. I tend to take longer to learn from painful experience. However, as an Aspergian, I do have empathy. I do feel pain and I see it in others. I just do not always know what to do about it. Although it is painful to be treated like crap by bullies and trolls, and although I often have the sinking feeling that I did it to myself again, I know this is not entirely true. Bullies and trolls are responsible for their behavior and I firmly believe that what goes around comes around. Although as an Aspergian, I am not really capable of delivering a proper and cutting retort--I always think of one in the middle of the night--there are others who are and will do it. In any case, their unhappy, unwholesome view on life, the universe and everything is punishment enough, and brought on by their own selves, leaving me free to enjoy the benevolence of more healthy people, elsewhere.
In the meantime, I refuse to give up on Liberty. It may be a struggle because of those who hate and fear it, and sometimes we may be called upon to fight and lose, and fight again for our freedom, acting from Liberty makes me feel happiness and wholeness. And for me, that makes it worth the work.