In Defense Of Trolling

Once upon a time, the Internet world stayed on the Internet, real life stayed in disgusting meat space, and the two only met in rare and terrifying conjunctions of space/time. The two worlds had their own language, their own customs and practices. There was never any question where you were.  It was a happier time, and I’d go so far as to say a better time.

Things have changed. Words and concepts that once existed within subcultures of subcultures now run rampant. You can discuss memes (or you prefer, may-mays) without anyone batting an eye, even if only a tiny majority knows of memes beyond image macros with impact text superimposed over them.

And that’s kind of the problem. Meat space has appropriated Internet culture and terminology, but doesn’t really get it. This isn’t to say I am against appropriation (I love Thai food and vodka), but you should really get to know what it is you are talking about before you take it as your own.

Take trolling. Once a fishing term, it eventually became the single greatest way to spend time on the Internet, short of making money. I loved it. I did it a lot. And some of you now think I’m a terrible person. Which I am, but not because I’m an unrepentant troll. Allow me to explain, and you may just see the light. However, before I can get into why trolling is so great, we need to take some time to discuss what trolling isn’t. Like so many other words, trolling has been used to describe an array of activities so vast that the word itself has lost basically all meaning. It has become another “something I don’t like” along with words like hipster or inauthentic.

For starters, threats and harassment aren’t trolling. In most jurisdictions I believe these are criminal offenses. Bullying, insulting, and teasing are not trolling either. Having misinformed or unpopular opinions are not trolling. Being factually incorrect isn’t trolling.

Others may quibble, but for the purposes of this post I would describe trolling as follows: a deliberate and insincere statement, gesture, or entire conversation over the Internet meant to inflame or make a fool of a second party, for the purposes of entertainment.

I spent a good part of my teenage years slowly studying this most august craft, learning at the feet of the troll masters of video game forums. It was glorious. And here is why I think it was overall a worthwhile endeavor.

Trolling Is Psychology And Sociology 101

Much like how I assume good fishing happens, to successfully troll you have to know your target. What they like, what they respond to, what drives them absolutely nuts. You can pick up some good rules of thumbs through observation, but ultimately you have to get in and start setting your own traps. And you will fail at first. The ruses will be transparent. You’ll go after the wrong target. It may get messy. But you will learn. Even if you have to make every wrong choice first, eventually you’ll figure out the right answer. And then you’ll do it again, and again. And all the while you’ll learn more about your fellow man-boy or lady-girl than you ever could have by being nice.

Antagonism Is Good For Us And The World

What is the last good story you read without a villain, or even a rival? Some sort of something to overcome? There might be a few, but I’m having trouble thinking of any, and I don’t really need to to make my point so HA! All the good stories have someone or something that challenges the protagonist. No one wants to hear about the time you went to the grocery store and nothing happened. They do want to hear about the time you went to the grocery store and almost got ran over by a Mack truck. Opposition is the spice of life, and by trolling you give that precious gift to another. By the way, this may go without saying, but once you start trolling you will get trolled back, so your giving of yourself will quickly be rewarded with challenges of your own. Meanwhile, there is an entire third party audience who gets to watch you out on the highest form of intellectual entertainment the Internet has to offer.

Trolling Teaches Us Critical Thinking

Once you are successfully trolled, you’re going to want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. How do you do that? By looking for the clues, often hidden in plain sight. See, while a troll must conceal the trap from his prey, he must make it easily apparent to the audience, else they won’t realize what is even going on. Once you learn these telltale signs of a troll at work, it is easy to apply it to any number of other things; biased or misleading news, unraveling logical fallacies, what have you. The Internet becomes your oyster, which segues nicely into my final point.

Trolling Gives Us Real Life Skills

Critical thinking, storytelling tropes, understanding the human mind, what do these things have in common? They are just as useful in the horrid flesh universe as they are in the series of tubes. You’ve already conquered the Internet, you dangly-armed monster; conquering real life isn’t much more difficult, particularly if you are interested in a creative or human-oriented field. Satire to enact cultural change, sales, politics of questionable ethics. You have a educational foundation that most could only wish for. Russia is on line one, President Troll.

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Storm’s Coming

An entry for Flash Fiction Friday

http://www.flashfictionfriday.com/2012/09/21/f3-cycle-97-crossroads/

“Storm’s coming,” Jebediah remarked, leaning on railing of the front porch.

“What makes you say that?” asked his elder brother Jonathan. He sat nearly motionless in his rocking chair, and if not for the response he just gave one could have thought him asleep.

Jebediah turned back at the older man incredulously. “You going blind now?”

Jonathan began rocking in his chair. “I see as well as I did yesterday.”

“Alright then, look at them clouds.”

“I see them.”

“Alright, now what do they look like?”

“Look rather large and gray to me.”

“Ya think they look like storm clouds, maybe?”

“I suppose they do, yes.”

“Then how,” Jebediah suddenly proclaimed, walking back to where his brother sat, “can you ask me ‘what makes you say that?’ when you got all that right there in front of your eyes that see as good as they did yesterday?”

Jonathan stopped rocking and scratched at his face for a moment. When it looked like his brother was starting to lose patience, he finally replied, “Suppose you were out working in the fields, like you usually are. I myself am nowhere you can see. Now where do you suppose I am?”

Jebediah quickly responded, “Probably out working somewhere else.”

“Alright then, that’s reasonable, because I usually am. Now say you didn’t see me all day long, even when you came in to eat, or to get some water, or to feed the animals. Then where do you suppose I am?”

“Probably doing something in town, then.”

“I’m not sleeping the day away in my room or nothing, right?”

“Well you ain’t sick, so why would you be. Since I was a little kid I never seen you rest more than one day a week.”

“Alright then. Now suppose at the end of the day, you see someone walking towards you. He’s got my hat on, and he’s carrying my gun. Who is it?”

This time Jebediah didn’t answer right away. “Is this some kind of trick question?”

“Just answer it. If you see a man at a distance with my hat and my gun, who are you going to think it is?”

“Well, I’m going to think it’s you, aren’t I?”

“That’s reasonable, yes, but suppose when the man gets closer, you see he doesn’t look like me at all. Now what?”

“Now I run to get my gun.”

“Why?”

“Because some stranger is coming after me with your gun!”

“But you thought it was me.”

“I did, but I was wrong.”

“Do you think, then, that’s just a bit presumptuous to just say there’s a storm coming, just because there’s some clouds that look like storm cloud?”

“Yeah, but, these clouds are a whole lot closer than the guy in your hat.”

“Maybe, but all too often people get tripped up because they think they see something coming when in fact it is something else entirely.” Jonathan stood up, arching his back and stretching his arms in front of him. “I mean, look at this field, for instance. In a few weeks it should be ready for harvest. Hell of a crop we’re expecting this year too,  enough to pay off the bank and then some. But it would be foolish of us to take it for granted. If I go out and buy a new tractor today on that assumption, what is going to happen if your “storm clouds” rip up half the field? What happens if parasites or rot sets in and eats it all up? Or what if it just ain’t as big as we thought it was? Well we’d be out of luck, stuck with a new tractor we can’t afford and with nothing leftover to pay the bank with. We could have made it thought this without too much trouble, but I had to up and buy a tractor, all because I was damn certain that everything would be just fine.”

“See Jeb, the simple fact of the matter is we never really know for sure what is going to happen until it does. We can guess and make plans and look at what’s happened before, and if we’re smart about it a lot of times we can get a pretty good idea of how things are going to turn out, but there are always the freak accidents, acts of God, whatever you want to call them, that come along and remind us just how much we don’t know about the future. And most of the time it ain’t a big deal. Like if Cousin Buford says he’s coming down for a visit and I think it’ll take him three days but it takes him four, that’s no big loss. I’ve no investment in his arrival, and it really don’t make a difference when he comes. He could come right now and it wouldn’t much matter. But once you stake your time, or your money, or your reputation, or, hell, your life on something, then you better make damn sure you know exactly what it is you are talking about. To look at Buford again, say he comes down to visit, and then later the Sheriff comes by and says he’s wanted for a murder, and then you go and say “oh my honor Buford would never do something like that” but then it turns out he did the deed, well then you look just as guilty as he does and they might just lock you up next to him. But even if they don’t, everyone will know what your honor is worth now.”

“Now I tell you these things because you’re a smart boy, but you don’t remember it very often. You got caught up in doing whatever it was you felt like doing, with whoever it was you wanted to be around, and either you thought it was all going to be just fine in the end, or you weren’t even thinking about how it would end up at all. Now I like you, I do, and I appreciate having you here with me, but don’t tell me that coming back here and working the family farm was what you were dreaming of. Or was it?”

Jebediah’s eyes turned downward as he replied, “I guess not.”

“Now there’s nothing wrong with working on a farm, else I wouldn’t be here, but there’s a difference between what’s good and what’s good for you. Now we didn’t always get along, you and I, but I’m still your brother and I paid enough attention to know that this isn’t the life you wanted. When you got big you left, and it wasn’t just because because Pa was an old cuss and Ma, God rest her soul, wasn’t around to keep things calm around here. You had bigger dreams than this place, and you were bold enough to go after then as soon as were able. The problem was, you didn’t think long enough about how to go about it the right way, and when everything fell apart in a way that you never guessed it would, you came back asking if you could stay here a while. That was two years ago. So here’s my question for you: how much longer are you going stay here letting life happen to you on accident?”

Jonathan let the question linger for a moment before sitting down again. Jebediah said nothing, and when it became clear to him that Jonathan was done speaking, he went back to his spot on the railing and stared back out at the clouds. Already he could see that they were starting to clear up, the afternoon Sun poking through as they faded. Eventually it would set, but not for several hours more.

“Sky looks like it’s clearing up,” Jebediah finally said.

“That it does, Jeb, that it does.”

The Savage Pitch of Conan

I went to a baseball game last night. Baseball games can be fun, but often for reasons entirely unrelated to the game itself. I can’t think of much to say about it though, so here’s some fan fiction.

***

“Now pitching for the New York Mets, Number 99, Conan Cimmerian.”

Conan strode unto the field, adjusting his slave cap to keep the oppressive witch lights from burning his eyes. Surrounding him the distance was a great crowd, the wealthy and influential, and beyond them the common masses. Though wealth and prestige separated the classes, they all came together like this night after night, thirsty for the blood of those gladiators who would surely die. Yet since his capture, none had died in this place. The rules of battle here were most peculiar, and filled Conan with an unflagging dread. Were they simply rousing the crowd to to the point of frenzy by teasing them with violence, or was there a more sinister ploy here? Conan knew not, and ultimately cared not. He would have his freedom tonight, one way or another.

His present role in these absurd gladiatorial games was simple enough to grasp. Using only a stitched orb packed with stuffing, he was to defeat the club-bearing man in the uniform of the opposite color. Conan’s predecessor in this battle was ill-prepared, and had failed to so much as strike his foe, let alone defeat him. No doubt this was the reason Conan was brought in. He knew that the jeering crowds demanded a show, and he would not disappoint.

Gripping the orb as he was instructed by the head slaves, all of whom were given the designation of “Coach”, no doubt to destroy their sense of self and thus deny any hope of liberty, Conan spit unto the ground and readied his weapon for the attack. In a moment’s hesitation, he wondered if such a puny thing could truly do any lasting harm to what were clearly seasoned gladiators. Perhaps the orb was woven with vile enchantments to destroy the flesh of the proud warriors it struck in battle? It did not matter in the end.

“Strike!”

Conan’s aim had been off. Despite the training regimen enforced by the slaves known as Coach, Conan still found himself uncertain with this weapon. Worse, he was fairly certain that the training was meant to hobble him, and prevent him from landing a hit on his foe entirely, but Conan the Cimmerian was not so easily fooled. If the monstrous serpent-men could be slain, then so could this poor fool with his wooden club.

With a mighty roar, Conan flung the orb with all his might, aiming right for his opponent’s head. The orb struck, shattering the pitiful protective helmet and knocking the club carrying brute off of his feet. Conan grinned in triumph, but his face soon darkened into a scowl as one of the Coach slaves began berating him. Conan could not tell why at first, but when he saw his foe get back on his feet and jog towards the white diamond on Conan’s left, he knew that he had failed.

Little matter; another enemy approached with another club. This time Conan would put his foe down for good. And then, freedom…