Sunday, June 8, 2008

Reflections: Troll

It is now time to revisit the question with which I ended my post of Sunday, June 1, 2008: “What is a troll?”

In the comments section of that post, Brandon (who has convinced me that he wasn’t a snitch, but merely a bull in the china shop in flagging my illicit presence in the comment boxes of What’s Wrong With the World) reminded me that “troll” is a term originally derived from sport fishing. Having grown up in Michigan, in the midst of many freshwater lakes, I spent a good deal of time in the summers of my youth trolling for bass. An internet troll, then, drags his verbal bait slowly through the weed-choked shallows of the comment boxes of a blog, or dangles his lure in front of the other visitors to a chat room, hoping to catch a controversy and reel in some outraged flamers. His goal is to disrupt, and thus to dominate, the site.

Another meaning of “troll,” with which I became familiar in my New York City days as the consort of a dancer, is any unfortunate jamoke who is considered to be physically unattractive by a male homosexual. Let’s leave that one alone, other than to note that my pocket Webster’s defines “troll” as “a supernatural being [from Scandinavian folklore] as a giant or dwarf, living in a cave”. As I am part Swedish on my mother’s side, that one isn’t completely displeasing to me. But one can see where the queers are coming from: BOO!

A little trolling of Google, hooked this definition from Wikipedia:

An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

The use of the word “bait” there seems to confirm the origin of the term in fishing.

Another site provided further insight into the motives of a troll:

A classic [troll] is trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic with no hidden agenda. He is divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude, "searching for the truth", flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking people to insult him. Troll is usually an expert in reusing the same words of its opponents and in turning it against them.

This is interesting, in that it assumes by saying “trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic” that all chronic dissenters (such as was I at What’s Wrong With the World) are insincere and intent only on making malicious mischief. It assumes that they are never motivated by the enjoyment of an honest debate, or disputation in defense of an ideal, but only by a kind of naughty narcissism. It also assumes that the points of view expressed by the authors of the site in question are unassailably Truthful, and that any challenges made to its premises are necessarily acts of patent vandalism. It takes a good bit of egocentrism to see things that way, imo.

This inquiry, it must be remembered, has been instigated by my having been labelled a troll by Zippy Catholic, and twice banned as such at the site, What’s Wrong With the World. I plead innocent to being a maker of malicious mischief for its own sake. My attitude toward blogging is expressed quite well in the following excerpts that I came across in a book review of a biography of John Milton by Jonathan Rosen in the June 2, 2008 edition of The New Yorker:

For Milton, the great trial of life was to discover truth through error, but without falling off the path of good. His oratical vigor balances divine purpose and individual autonomy, and he displays an optimism that, in its mixture of manliness and statecraft, sounds like a speech by Teddy Roosevelt:

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. …That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.

Bloggers who feel threatened by any and all dissent on their sites would do well to keep Milton’s words in mind if they want their intellectual integrity to be respected, even where their premises are seen to be in error.