Regarding my last post, Hypocrisy, it’s easy to interpret it as an advocacy for violence. However, my intention was to show that, for the most part, many people don’t understand the nature of violence. We draw the line at force so it is easy to think that certain actions are not violent simply because they do not involve coercion or force.
I think, as a society, we routinely engage in the “soft violence” that doesn’t harm physically per se, but facilitates a systematic destruction of dignity which often leads to physical harm. My personal belief is that violence begets violence, so an attempt to harm a person’s dignity will often make the recipient feel justified in responding with force. I think the conundrum is based on the fact that society has normalized attacks on self-esteem and dignity; rarely do such attacks create ostracism or repercussion and, when they do, it is often applied conveniently or hypocritically. I’m a firm believer in what author and statistician Nicholas Nassim Taleb calls “skin in the game.” I think that we would value and respect the dignity of others far more if the repercussions of attacks on such were more costly. Back in the day, personal affronts would often be resolved through dueling. I often consider that some reasonable level of personal force may be healthier for society than the complete domination of force by the State. But that wouldn’t solve every issue, particularly those between genders.
I think that many of these issues could be addressed if we more highly valued rules for how we communicate. The thing that I (and, no doubt, many others) have noticed is that virtually any situation in which one party interacts with another in disagreement is now considered “trolling.” I think it’s important to understand exactly what trolling is and the best way to do that is to understand what trolling is not:
Is a statement or response direct, factual, and easily verifiable? If yes, then it’s not trolling. If you are going to post any statement in public, then it is reasonable to expect pushback. It isn’t trolling if someone makes a counterpoint that clearly proves that your statement was incorrect. At least on my end, I tend to address statements or posts that I see as inaccurate, callous, or misleading and it’s often been considered trolling. The way I view it, if you make a public statement, be ready to support or defend that statement.
A lot of the issues related to trolling could be solved if people simply stopped making judgments, particularly in ignorance. For instance, probably one of the most irritating statements that I see repeated often is that global poverty is “declining.” Not only is the measure most quoted directly challenged by more comprehensive counter-evidence, poverty is highly subjective. Most of the poor in this country are considered rich by global standards but try convincing them of that. One of my personal rules is to not judge the quality of someone else’s life if I am unwilling to trade places with them; I think a lot of miscommunication or disagreement could be avoided simply by people respecting this simple rule.
So what is actual trolling? As far as I’m concerned, any statement or response made in a public forum that is easily-verifiably incorrect, an uninformed personal judgment, a logical fallacy, or a personal attack.
However, a personal attack isn’t just any statement one doesn’t like. For instance, I was blocked on Twitter by Andreesen Horowitz analyst and amateur Magic 8-Ball Benedict Evans when I called him out for making a verifiably false statement. His justification was that I was accusing him of lying. To me, that’s semantics. If you post something misleading that is verifiably false, what else would you call it? As the old saying goes, we don’t get to have our own facts.
So what actually qualifies as a personal attack besides the obvious? A statement made with the clear purpose and intention to denigrate or humiliate that is either non-factual or non-contextual. In other words, the statement is false and/or doesn’t provide an objective point to which one can directly respond.
To sum it up, every statement or response that you don’t like isn’t trolling. If people are going to post things publicly, I think they have a responsibility to the general discourse to either be willing to defend them or otherwise understand that some statements should not be made in an open forum. In my opinion, a good rule of thumb regarding making public statements is whether you are actually willing to defend them. If you aren’t, then you probably shouldn’t make them. That’s likely the best way to save yourself a headache.
In other words, don’t feed the trolls.