This entry is a long time in coming.
The tip of the pimple that popped tonight was the appearance of a troll in a Facebook chat page of ex-Scientologists, wogs, and various “Suppressive People” who are dedicated to bringing down David Miscavige’s cult of $cientology. Now, I’ve dealt with trolls before, and usually just ignore and block them as soon as I smell their ugly breath. But this fellow – I’ll call him “Dick” – was intriguing at first, as I originally thought I was helping a fellow cult survivor overcome his anger and educate him about how easy it is to become entrapped in a cult. I should have known sooner, but I was caught up in a zillion other discussions, and the thread this idiot was using to work his “art” was only one of a dozen or so online conversations/ interactions taking up my attention at the time. My first clue was when he termed the burning of the people at Waco “quite a barbecue,” which I mistook as coming from the man’s own wounds, because in my experience, people seldom speak so extremely unless they’ve been hurt.
Well, another member of the page informed me that Dick was a troll, and I quickly let him know that I thought the joke was tasteless, and promptly blocked him (his last rant just before I blocked was something in all caps about roasting marshmallows on the burning hair of the 22 children who burned to death that day – I must credit him for having a vivid imagination). But, as disgusting as Dick’s comments are, it’s not those petty words, or even his stunning lack of empathy, that makes me grind my teeth (or, in a darker, angrier, corner of my mind, makes me want to take a screencap of his lovely sentiments, and send it to a group of Branch Davidian survivors, asking them how funny they think Dick’s comments are, adding the suggestion that they let him know).
Trolling, as it is called, is just the latest manifestation of a deeper evil – bullying, harassment, psychological abuse, emotional torture – whatever term you use to describe it, it’s simply taking joy in causing another sentient being discomfort and enjoying the feeling of power engendered by doing so. Even before the internet, it had become forgivable, even commendable, to attempt to cause emotional discomfort, even pain, to someone – even a complete stranger – who has done you no harm. My friend Dick must have a sad, empty life indeed that he needs to fill with a sense of power; he was so pleased that he might have caused offense to a complete stranger, he even cheered himself on with an entry from the Encyclopedia Dramatica, entitled, “Offended.”
No, Dick, as I said before I blocked you, not offended, just disappointed. Disappointed that an apparently intelligent human, whom I thought I was engaging in honest and respectful debate, turned out to be, well, a Dick. Disappointed that you were more concerned with offending a total stranger than actually helping to right any injustice or spread wisdom, or even, god forbid, to offer comfort or support. Disappointed that I live in a world where the rapidly disappearing art of debating – that is, discussing differing viewpoints in a civil manner – has been replaced by a growing tradition of perpetrating deliberate provocation untempered by empathy or values.
How many times were we told in school: “don’t let them know their bullying upsets you; they’ll only do it more.”
Hello? What is right about this scenario? The child who is being bullied should not be coached to simply keep their heads down; believe me, ignoring my tormentors didn’t stop them from continuing their abuse through twelve years of public school.
I should probably lay out the cards right now, because I want you to know just where teasing, trolling – whatever word you want to use to justify it – can lead.
If I had access to firearms when I was a high school senior, Columbine would have happened in Vermont, some thirteen years earlier. The day that the bullying drove me to violence, I only had a large knife to hand, and was stopped by a sympathetic teacher, who, unaware that I was hiding a knife under my shirt, who gave me a cup of tea and talked me down. That day was not my darkest: a pattern of being bullied and emotionally battered by my peers would eventually lead me to the cult where I was forced to become an abuser myself, causing others pain at the bidding of my leader.
The reason that wounded teenager of long ago wanted to kill her classmates – and yes, I did want to kill them back then, and would have done so, quite violently, had someone not intervened – was the same reason the mature woman today simply sighed in resignation and blocked Dick, and, I’m realizing, is the same reason I’m writing this now. It’s a sad but true fact: people who take joy in making people uncomfortable are sanctioned, protected, and deemed “just a part of life” by a culture grown all too jaded to pain and degradation. The internet has only worsened the effect; now you need not be in the same hemisphere to inflict your harm on another human being, and you might even gain a following of applauding acolytes of your own on top of it.
Saying that the people who still get hurt when trolls attack them should “let it go” and “not be so sensitive” is only ignoring the problem and making it worse. Why should the Dicks of the world be allowed to think that deliberately trying to offend someone is an acceptable form of entertainment? I am no stranger to the joys of a good practical joke, but the best ones – and IMHO, the only worthwhile ones – are where the “victim” is laughing along with the rest, and where no real harm or offense was intended.
The real irony in this incident of trolling was that Dick was pretending – I can only assume he was pretending – to be outraged by the crimes of $cientology cult leader David Miscavige. He was condemning the diminutive despot and rejoicing in some stunningly graphic imagery of that man dying in many colorful ways, and expressed relish at not caring how many people died along with him, guilty or not. The reason I know that he was only pretending to be outraged at Little Davey is the stunning lack of empathy he showed to the cult’s victims. Not caring who you hurt or why is the mark of a cult leader, and in my mind, Dick and Davey are equally evil – it’s just that Davey has his hands on more money and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to grab power. If Dick had been in Davey’s place, he’d clearly be just as happy to do all the evil things Miscavige does.
I am happy to see that most schools have some form of anti-bullying education and regulations in place (though that hasn’t kept the rate of bullied teens committing suicide to drop any, have you noticed?), but much more needs to happen. We need to stop condoning this abuse in any form – bullying, trolling, teasing – these are all behaviors that need to be stopped. Coaching the victims to “just put up with it” is NOT the answer. Ignoring them is the best way to deal with insults from Dicks, but why should I have to deal with Dicks in the first place?
I’m reminded of an unpleasant encounter I had long ago, where an anti-$cientology song I’d written was mocked in an Anonymous chat room by a couple of trolls who cared more about giving me what they termed “butthurt” than actually hearing what I had to say, or even bothering to insult me accurately (they were under the impression that I was a Scientologist, that I was defending Hubbard, and that “all of her videos” had the Virgin Mary in the background). Nothing I said could keep them from pouring on the insults, even though I wasn’t really insulted, just frustrated that they wouldn’t listen to the fact that I was ON THEIR FUCKING SIDE.
I think that’s what really gets me – the Dicks of the world don’t care about accuracy, or compassion, or even doing the right thing. They just want to watch the world squirm. For those of you who still think that’s funny, I leave you with this thought:
I recently came across a YouTube video about the recent suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, who succumbed to the pain and stepped in front of a truck to end years of bullying. If you follow the link, you will see the sole comment from one Tankin Tortuga:
“my question is this: WAS THE TRUCK OK?”
Hilarious, Tankin. I would ask how you would feel if a YouTube commenter treated the death of someone you love so callously, but I doubt you know how to feel love anymore, or even know what love is. All you know, all Dick knows, is the joy of being a hurtful bastard. Neither Dick nor Tankin will find any value in anything anyone else has to say, and nothing anyone can say or do will sway them from the belief that deliberately trying to cause offense is funny (while still trolling me, Dick tried to raise my ire by saying that the only way high-level Scientologists would change their mind was with a bullet or a piece of shrapnel to the brain. Well, Dick, you’ve convinced me that that’s the only thing it’ll take to change you; you’ll keep trolling and bullying until someone “puts you down,” as you so charmingly termed it). The Dicks of the world degrade us all, and it’s time we stopped enabling them by chastising their targets for being too sensitive. It’s time to call them on their offensive behavior, and perhaps even reclaim a shred of dignity for our culture before it’s too late.
It’s time to stop trolling.