This began as a comment to Patricius’ recent posting on Trolls… When I attempted to post it, I found that the site limited the number of characters allowed. It is understandable, so rather than edit the comment to fit the limits, I decided to put it on my own blog and adapt it in a few details. Patricius asks his readers whether we think he is a troll. I would say right away that he is not – from the evidence of his transparency and honesty of identity.
In my experience, trolling is something that comes and goes. It has its emotional impact no matter how used to it we think we are. I had been free from it for quite a while, and then one struck a few days ago. The pattern is fairly constant. A troll is one who tries to drag a conversation to a very low level, pretending to “out” someone’s purportedly secret sins, usually of a sexual nature. There is nothing positive in troll messages. Trying to discuss with a troll is something like trying to negotiate with evil spirits. They will turn everything you say against you. Most often, you can’t even communicate with them, because the e-mail address they give isn’t a valid one and they use sophisticated means to give a false IP address. Their hatred is one-way and the only defence we have is to delete their messages before they get anywhere near our blogs. As always, don’t feed the trolls.
Trolling is a major problem on the internet. It is found in blogs, but also on Facebook, Twitter and anything that allows readers’ comments. Some trolls are so vicious that they cause a person to commit suicide. It is heartening to know that some such trolls have been arrested and sent to prison. There is a vast difference between trolling and flaming or even reasonable debate of a non-obsessive nature. I frequently allow comments of people who think I am wrong about something. I respect their freedom of speech. Flamers are often obsessive people with their pet single-issues. The real characteristic of the troll, on the other hand is anonymity and evil expression.
Trolls tend to have personality issues like psychopathy and sadism. What they do on the internet is no different from the antics of the school-yard bully, the rapist who stalks women in the street and people who are really sick and horrible. In short, the “virtual Ted Bundy”… Don’t feed the trolls is a bit of advice that is useful for those who find it difficult and spiritually / emotionally draining to deal with this kind of pure evil. I have recently been attacked because I chimed in on the Charlie Hebdo issue and opposed the “hyper-masculine” agenda of some conservative folk who would like to challenge atomic bombs and heavy artillery with pistols and blunderbusses! We need to stop being naive, get street wise and see that there are some very odd people out there.
Unless you are a real computer expert, which I am not, trolls are impossible to identify. They use false handles and give false e-mail addresses. My blog is configured to maintain new e-mail addresses on moderated status unless I approve them. It keeps my blog clean. There is a way to route communications through false front IP addresses. My recent pet troll used an IP address based in the Netherlands which is notorious for being used by trolls. The person in question certainly does not live in that country but probably in England or the USA. Google can get quite a lot of information, but there are limits you can break only when you are skilled in hacking and other illegal activities and low-down skulduggery.
It sometimes happens that a former friend becomes a troll. The e-mail is invalid and the IP address indicates a place you know to be elsewhere from the place he lives. The referrers make the identification easy. I knew one such former friend almost twenty years ago in England. He had had a hard life, a failed marriage and an attempt to live a religious life. We spent good and amusing times together. He was a gifted cartoonist and caricaturist, and will probably read this posting. He got involved in sedevacantism, as I did to an extent at the time. The difference is that my critical thinking evolved and I found it to be an untenable position intellectually, and he became very aggressive with it in the same way as people with political ideologies or who become fanatics. Going by recent conversations with people who know or who have known this person, there is no evolution of thought or personality. He is caught is some kind of vicious circle or prison. We find bitterness and jealousy as motivations of a distorted personality. I think anyone can fall into this predatory way of life, and especially if one has predispositions to narcissism or psychopathy.
A troll will often try the destabilising tactic of claiming freedom of speech, freedom to criticise. If I refuse the criticism and take the troll’s words at face value, I lower myself to the same level of ideology and obscurantism. One thing I learned from the Charlie Hebdo episode, apart from empathy for the families of those who were so cruelly murdered, was that freedom of speech has its limits. I don’t mind people criticising my views, joking about me or even being ironic, but there are limits like expressions of pure negativity and evil. That is the difference between a critic and a troll, as in the mainstream world when considering racial hatred, defence of atrocities and other such deviations.
Returning to Patricius, I have sometimes vowed never again to comment on his site on reading certain articles which I found hateful or at least exaggerated. On the other hand, I find him asking questions about himself and trying to understand his own failings in life. I have a lot of sympathy for Patricius, as we share a common friend in London.
We live in a pitiless world, but one that has always been that way. A certain amount of prudence is called for in deciding what we write. We might be horrified about the dominant alpha males of our own time, but there have always been such men who owned the world throughout history. God alone knows how they fare beyond the death that awaits us all. I take pride in being a man of softness, gentleness and aspiration to be kind and loving in the place of hatred and violence. Jung taught that we are all biological males or females (with some biological exceptions because of genetic errors, etc.) but with male and female sides of our souls and personalities. We all need to work on this in our lives to emerge as integrated and free persons.
I am not threatened by trolls, because I don’t allow them on my blog. They have no freedom of speech because their purpose is manifestly evil and negative. They have their work to do on themselves as we all have. Long consideration of evil personalities has led me to go though many years of self-questioning, questioning of my Christian commitment and vocation in a way that is very different from classical spiritual discernment. Jung has his limits, but he established a very sound psychoanalytical method by which we could each find our own personalities and souls, all the things that “float our boats”. We all have our archetypes and inspirations from our childhood. Individuation is what enables us to free ourselves from the snares laid by evil spirits and the prison of our own making. This is perhaps the most meaningful understanding of evil: it brings us to seek good by the high road and doing positive and beautiful things.
We have to lift ourselves out of the mire to soar and do what we are good at doing, what gives us a sense of vocation and purpose. We all have to run the gauntlet of those miserable characters at their keyboards. It is worse when they can do greater spiritual harm or even physical injury. It is better for us not to know them, but rather to pray for them that God may bring them light and deliverance. That now seems to be a part of my ministry in spite of my weakness and sensitivity.
Pray for me as we prepare to enter Lent and the arid desert.