Saturday, July 12, 2008

Uproar and Trolls

Cross-posted at MyDD and at Obama--Criticism and Support.

Apparently the term "troll" originated in the 16th century to describe political debate and insult in London coffee houses. The term is thrown about too loosely. When I was active in bipolar listservs in the mid-1990s, a troll was a despicable person who joined the group pretending to be bipolar. He often set people against each other, preyed on the vulnerabilities of achingly vulnerable people, pretended to be in crisis, etc. We all knew what the word meant. Who knows what it means in political debate? In my first weeks on mybarackobama, I was accused of being a troll daily. Anyone capable of rational debate is not a troll. We all get intellectually lazy about explaining our principles and policies. It does us good to be challenged.

Parents learn to ignore obnoxious toddler or preschool behavior rather than to make a big fuss about it. Why don't you ignore the people that you consider trolls, don't bother rating their diaries and comments, don't comment on their diaries nor respond to their comments, don't impose timeouts. Concentrate on writing your own diaries and blog posts.

When my oldest daughter was 1 and 2, she pulled hair and dumped sand on people's heads. I finally realized that she wasn't inherently vicious; she just adored uproar. Her criminal behavior only occurred in the presence of parents absolutely guaranteed to go round the twist. She stopped eating sand when her pediatrician looked her in the eyes and told her how important it was to eat enough sand daily to stay healthy.

Real trolls love uproar. If you enjoy the insult game, you can't complain about your comrades in insult being trolls because you obviously relish uproar as well.

Here is what the devil child is doing now. She no longer eats sand, although she has spent a suspiciously long time in African deserts unobserved by me.

There might be hope for trolls and the troll accusers. When I was in high school and college debate, we addressed our most cutting remarks to "the honorable gentleman or lady of the affirmative (or negative) team." Listen to how Senators do it. Mixing politeness with insult is more effective.


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