The Care and Feeding of Trolls

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So it will come as no surprise anyone reading this, that I am both an atheist and a skeptic. I’m not aggressive about either, although for quite some time I did have for my profile picture in a number of places, “Demand Evidence and Think Critically”. I do have strong opinions, we all do, but in general, I’m more than happy for you to believe whatever makes you happy, so long as it doesn’t endanger the people around you, or especially the people around me.

I’m honestly unsure why certain things polarized people to such an amazing degree, although far smarter people than I am have studied it in detail, coming up with all manner of interesting conclusions about human behavior and psychology. Still, for myself, I wonder what turns otherwise reasonable and rational people into foaming-at-the-mouth nutbars.

Case in point, I said something on Facebook recently that I found amusing in a skeptical vein and shared it. Eight hours later, the first comment surprised me just a bit.

Feeding Trolls 1It’s an odd response from someone I remember from high school, especially completely out of the blue with no contact in decades. He must have seen that another friend liked it. This fellow and I weren’t friends, exactly, although I remember him, and knew him through people I did count as friends (some I still do). The thing is, I remember him being a relaxed and open-minded guy. That’s not what I got from the conversation that followed. All names and identities, except mine, withheld to protect both the innocent and the misguided. The particular misguided is marked with a T for Troll. Blanks are left for other folks who participated.

See, I don’t know where the laid-back and open-minded guy I remember. Granted but it’s been 26 years since I graduated high school, and I have certainly done a lot of personal growing in that time. Different people grow in different ways.

As teenager, I learned to think for myself but mostly did it by myself.

In my 20s, and I learned how to stop conforming to other people’s expectations of me.

In my 30s, I learned how to examine everything I thought I knew about the world with a much more critical eye, and I learned a great deal about patience, both of those mostly as a result of my children.

I’m not far enough into my 40s yet to generalize them, even to the extent of adding something relevant to the chain here. I’m always learning, and always growing, but one of the things I’ve learned, over and over again, is that we don’t all grow in the same direction. Just because something makes sense, doesn’t mean that people will get, agree with, or like it. In fact, quite often the opposite is true.

Feeding Trolls 2   Feeding Trolls 3

Feeding Trolls 4Ordinarily, I believe quite strongly in not feeding the trolls. But when someone I’m not actually friends with on Facebook takes the time to comment on something I’ve posted, and if what they post in response contradicts, disagrees with, or makes fun of what I’ve posted, particularly when it does so using methods deliberately designed to offend or provoke heated emotional responses rather provide a reasoned argument, I can’t just let it go. If I do, aren’t I tacitly giving them the point? No, someone being a troll on my time deserves a response, if not the one the Troll is looking for.

What they’ll get back from me is a calmly reasoned, probably sourced, and probably detailed, argument in return. It will not attack them directly, but the arguments or sources they’ve referenced, and hopefully it will poke repeated holes in the bullshit they are trying to pollute my life with.

Oh, and I’ll keep going as long as they feel like keeping it up, until they either back down or give up and walk away.

Why? The because I have discovered that while it’s very unlikely you can find a way to reason with trolls, you can absolutely reason at them. The longer you can remain calm and collected, intelligent and reasoning, the more they look like a reactionary dumb ass who can’t be taken seriously. There is no such thing as a private conversation in an open social network, and when the troll finally realizes that you have no interest in playing by their rules, they slink away like the broken bullies they are.

And, I do hold onto a small amount of hope that a brain cell might fire again now and then, even in the thickest skull of the dumbest of dumb asses. Stranger things have happened.

Silence followed my last batch of statements. At least, it has so far. But it’s been two months.

Be well, everyone.

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