Horror became so quotidian, that when the trolls crawled out of their comment boxes and bayoneted away the experts and nerds, who had acquired their information through study, we didn’t blink. How did the ghost of uninformed opinion gain substantiation, corporalise and destroy nuanced perspective?
Perhaps we have always felt it, that slow, burning resentment against anyone who dares to know better, more than than us the average person. A troll is born in burning, silent resentment.
That resentful undercurrent ran through long-ago Friends episodes, where dumb Joey was always more popular than know-it-all Ross, it was why The Simpsons’ nerdy Lisa could never sell as many t-shirts as her prankster brother Bart. But whereas both Joey and Bart had heart, the troll is devoid of it.
Remember how little studious Lisa worked to educate herself despite her humdrum surroundings, because she wanted to become the president of her country. Dream on Lisa, the troll would say to her now. Almost as if her loving, working class parents Homer and Marge turned around one day and betrayed her hopes by telling her, her place was at home.
Burning, silent, resentment. A troll is born in the ghost of a grudge. It only needed to learn the use of the internet to unleash itself on the world, and become commonplace; unopposed by the informed, or the educated. And even when opposed, ironically, the educated, the informed were trolled.
I am impaired by lateral inversion, which is to say I am confused about mirror images. If someone has something on one side of their face, I will point to my face and inevitably I will have pointed to the wrong side, much to that other person’s amusement. My husband pointed out to me recently that unbeknownst to me, my new phone had been taking mirror images of us whenever we posed for it.
New phone manufacturers had cottoned on to the selfie culture and were providing us with the means of satisfying our narcissistic cravings by letting us view ourselves, exactly as we are in the mirror, but not as we really appear to the world around us. We live in an era of narcissism, an era of lateral inversion. And trolls are narcissistic. When you are in love with yourself and your own opinions, what is gained from listening to feedback, or reading expert editorials? As trolls, our reading will become limited to what flatters us. The troll’s cognitive bias conquered the world.
Perhaps this is the explanation for what has happened to the world. We live now in a bizarro lateral inversion of the world itself, and none of us can see it yet. In election after election around the world a right-wing, left-behind, misogynist, majoritarian zeitgeist that runs counter to basic ethics is being imposed on country after country.
In the early 2000’s, I was doing research, which involved visiting libraries. After the procurement of a computer, I started to scour online sources for information and remember thinking how great it feels to find easy data at the touch of a button from online library sites. It put an end to running from one brick-and-mortar library building to another where I could run my fingers through dust and broken spines of much thumbed through books. In the early years of the new millennium, the trolls had not yet taken over the internet.
Today, as we are staring down the barrel, peering mutely while good journalism is decried, I realise how dangerous it was to have easy access to information at the touch of a button. This is the dark side of democracy that Plato had warned about a couple of thousand years ago. If we can’t distinguish between genuine expertise and elitist contempt, that good journalism has a very important role to play in our lives, then it is indeed a bizarro world, a world that is a lateral inversion of itself. Just as social media is an inversion of mainstream journalism.
What we see in the mirror is like reality TV, it is not the truth, it is an inversion. And when we look in the mirror, we can’t for a moment allow ourselves to fall for that mirror image, as that image is a false prophet. Our mirror image gazing back at us is not really us. For the sake of argument, let’s call it a mild optical illusion so much a part of our daily lives that we don’t think of it as an illusion. The inverted world then is like a hall of mirrors from a haunted house with all the mirror images dementedly cackling at us as we stare back mute with horror.
What makes the troll, or the social media acolyte really dismissive is when someone tells them that they are inverting the world. Because to ‘we the troll’ they did not invert the world, inversion is the world, a throwback to an older tribal instinct. It’s the real world inhabited by ‘we the people’ that was invented to keep them back.
So in those early days, I began to notice stray comments beginning to appear under articles and op-eds, which were racist, misogynist and offensive in so many ways and I chose blithely to ignore them. Not many years after this, this commentariat feeling anonymously empowered, by the vainglory of seeing their unvetted opinions in digital ink, were confidently threatening people. Not much after this, newly launched TV news channels began to say the exact same things. The trend caught on and soon regular people stopped reading newspapers, preferring instead to get their current affairs from their social media news feeds. When our backs were turned, our distorted mirror images started to control the world.
The troll had gone mainstream with vitriol in the garb of democracy directed against experts and rationalists, or anyone that dared to spout logic. In an inverted world, logic was cold and meaningless. Here sentiment without heart rules. Anything that violates this paradox of heartless sentiment is often silenced through one means or another. If only Spock could visit us now. Since we now believe that fiction is truth, and since anything goes, why not a visit from Spock. If I insist long enough that Spock will arrive in a Vulcan starship to make first contact, sooner or later, that fiction will feel like truthiness. Then everyone can live, long and prosper. Invert the word ‘live’ from the Vulcan phrase and the effect is spooky.