I admit to having a fascination with trolls (hence, our cover feature). Not just the online variety, trolls in general. The idea of going around trying to start shit is so counter to every instinct I have: I want to see everybody happy, have all arguments resolved, have everything work in its most efficiently productive manner.
But every now and then I’ll see a comment on an article—particularly if it’s an article where someone is being really sincere and vulnerable—that seems so wildly off base or mean-spirited I feel a little tingle up my spine. A thought creeps into my head: somebody should shut them up. What if I said just the right thing, the totally diplomatic and even handed thing, and put their asinine point of view to shame? Or what if I created a fake profile and just took out my frustrations by going all batshit crazy on them? What if I traced back who they were and threw a spotlight on them, robbing them of their shield of anonymity? But all of those are horrendously dumb ideas (on top of being a waste of time and energy), it would be further polluting the conversation with more of the exact same need for power and attention, plus it would just feed the troll, giving them exactly what they’re looking for.
Besides, It doesn’t matter who’s right if you’re arguing about utter bullshit. Better to just analyze your own logic, decide what you believe to be true, and then move on without making it about controlling idiots.
I suppose there are situations in life where people could legitimately benefit from arguing, although it’s hard for me to pinpoint a case where non-offensive/defensive conversational dynamics couldn’t get the job done better.
I find it especially odd that the two most common situations where arguments are acceptable are between anonymous strangers and people in intimate relationships. Why is that? People seldom argue with friends, co-workers, or people they interact with casually. Somehow it’s become acceptable that the people we’re closest to get the same level of trust and respect as people who have no relationship with us at all. Learning how not to fight with my loved ones while still being honest has been one of the most challenging, liberating, and valuable changes I ever made.
But I digress; we’re not talking about normal human failings, we’re talking about trolls. There are definitely people who don’t adhere to any boundaries whatsoever: people who fight with everyone, every chance they get. I’d like to think they lash out because they feel weak and they just need to be shown kindness or have their basic needs met, but upon contemplation, it seems more likely they just like the rush of power, the ability to make an entire scene about them and what they can make other people feel and do.
It’s easy to talk around trolls on the internet, but the ones who needle you in the real world make for much stickier situations. Especially topic-oriented “activists” who find ways to constantly make things about what everyone else should be eating/thinking/valuing/doing. I relate to having strong feelings and opinions—to the desire to improve the world in some way—but when people go about it by being dicks, I tend to see the trollish behavior as their true motivation, and as a result, I wind up glazing over and ignoring everything they have to say. That’s not to say all activism is trolling; I’m a big believer in collective expression to make social progress; I just think it goes over a whole lot more effectively when people are authentic and kind.