The art of YouTube trolling centers around the task of consolidating power over your opponent. The whole thing is one big veiled power struggle; neither person is really in control of the situation – even though the winner believes the whole thing was a cakewalk. The fact of the matter is that no one can predict where the conversation is going. Even though there may be one victor, in the end they both end up feeling horrible about themselves (they feel horrible while its happening, too). The catalyst which drives these reactions is the almost universal fear of admitting defeat. That fear is driven by the idea that power has only one face.
I’ve been in many spirited debates on YouTube; some I have ‘won’, others I have lost, undeniably. The thought of ‘just not responding’, and taking the ‘high road’ always crosses my mind. I never stop responding, though; I don’t want my opponent to think, or others to think, that I was defeated – like the comment was so scathing I was forced into submission.
Being chronically ill has taught me several things. It has taught me that I still can survive if all of my fears do come true. It has taught me that the conventional ideals of success and power and happiness aren’t as three dimensional as everyone believes. It has also taught me of the darker nature of man. Most importantly, though, were the lessons which took a long time to learn, which were hard and hurtful, and which took a lot of reflection and critical thinking. I learned that generally, people don’t naturally think beyond their immediate needs. I learned that those who personified the ideals of power and success, for the most part, did not personify the journey to power and success (and all the potholes and roadblocks along the way).
We hold these ideals; ideals like: if you work hard and think positively you can achieve wealth, happiness, and security (the american dream). We are creatures who think most naturally in terms of our immediate needs, and in the context of our immediate surroundings. Most people do not have unlimited resources, wealth and security. Being this is a fact most of us know all too well, counterfactuals aren’t too difficult to think up. We want the opposite of what we have, but most importantly, we want to know that its possible to have. We consider only the perceptually salient information, and trim off the rest of the fat. This is our social consciousness. Power means being powerful and happiness means having power. The social consciousness does not take the journey and the struggle to power into consideration, and especially not those who do not have power. We don’t think about why certain people are rich and others aren’t. People ironically see things through the lens of libertarian free-will, and all the pithy ideals and conventions follow suit.
The internet is like a breeding ground for manifesting ideals. Its a place where anyone can come and express themselves with virtually no consequence. The anonymity of online forums provides a medium where immediate needs are almost immediately satisfied. People project this flawed ideal of power into the social consciousness, and the internet allows them to actualize a version of those ideals. You can win an argument, and gain the support of thousands. You can become famous by just sitting at a computer. It’s like a neo-american dream. It’s not all a fairy tale though (and in that respect it’s much like life afk); people are hurt, people are slandered, dreams are crushed and lives are ruined. The internet takes away many of the restrictions which hold normal people back from experiencing those feelings of power and control; restrictions like connections, luck, money, wealth, genetics etc… We’ve become placid and satisfied with this grainy reflection of reality. But at what cost?
These emotions and experiences while real, aren’t incredibly valuable – at least not as valuable as we would like to think. We turn to the internet because the world outside is hard, harsh and unfair. For most of us, the world makes us feel like shit. Instead of taking steps to safeguard ourselves, we seek out places where the tables are easily turned. The world is fucked up and needs to change. But its a world in which the conventions and hierarchies and systems prevent us from taking anything back, or balancing anything at all. Although we can’t go out and change the way the world works right now, we can change the way a world works.The internet is a reflection of life itself; of our dreams and desires and wishes, and of the corruption and sadness and fatigue. If we can change that world, don’t you think we’d be in a better place to change the other one too?
YouTube trolling is just a representation of what’s wrong with our world. If one person decides to step away they can take control of the whole situation, and make the whole, horrible thing stop. At its most basic form, trolling entails decreasing the amount of discomfort you feel by increasing the amount of discomfort your opponent(s) feels… I think we can all agree, that’s only a mild, slightly sadistic show of power. The troll seeks to end the war of words, but only by besting you – that’s not guaranteed success. The end game is always to have the arguing stop; everyone hates it, but admitting that fact is like an instant white flag.What if you could stop that mess no matter what, whenever you wanted, entirely on your own terms?
That’s power. You take control of a situation neither of you has any control over. Eventually the battle becomes this reflex; no one plans to say the horrible things they say, but they end up saying them anyway. We become controlled by instinct rather than reason. You can be rational and end the entire thing, just by walking away (virtually speaking, of course).
This logic applies to almost every conflict in life (at the very least, all the disturbing and hurtful verbal altercations). The main thing that keeps people from utilizing this tactic is their fear it will make them look weak and defeated. They overlook it because it seems so simple, and thus cannot actually be useful. So they refuse to even consider employing it, out of the feeling of dread that accompanies looking like a tool in-front of a mass gathering of judgmental onlookers.Only, that’s just the wrong way of looking at it.
It affords you true power. You are helping yourself, and the other person – even though they may not see it. You are both being weak, giving in to your baser needs (the need to shed discomfort, garner attention and experience praise). By rising above, you are showing true strength and grit (denying those basic needs, for the community at large). They are lashing out like an animal, thrashing about and striking out of fear and ignorance. We can all be above that.
That’s the real power here. It’s ethical, moral, and extremely pragmatic. And at the end of the day, it’s also just plain bad-ass.
This is not something that was easy to come by for me; I have spent years trolling and arguing on YouTube and other forums. And honestly, every single time I absolutely hated it; I ‘liked winning’, but only as a consolation. The amount of discomfort I felt during, and immediately after, dramatically outweighed the amount of pleasure felt by making someone feel shittier than myself. It wasn’t some dramatic, life changing epiphany either. I was driving home from the hospital, listening to a radio show, and a bunch of shit just meshed perfectly; poof, epiphany.
The message has always been there. Since childhood we’ve been told to walk away from conflict, and ‘be the bigger man’. In the Disney movies most of us found the character who ‘took the high-road’ endearing, and the ones who don’t we automatically label ‘the bad guy’. But that’s more because the movies present ‘taking the high-road’ with the wealthy, incredibly attractive and charismatic prince who lives in this massive castle and in the end always gets the beautiful long-haired girl. And the dickish character is always greasy and dark and lives in like a cold, misty cave. And that opened up some more serious questions concerning how we teach responsible, moral behavior.
Most of us aren’t rich wealthy princes who have everything one could ever want in life. Most of us are just average. Taking the high-road when you’ve led the life of an average-slightly below average person isn’t so easy (it’s not impossibly hard, but we’ve developed these reflexes that kick in when we sense bullying). It also doesn’t help that we were always presented the whole ‘be the better person’ thing in the context of like a bully beating up a kid with glasses and knee braces… c’mon, no one wants to be that guy (or at least put himself in a position of comparison).
I see things differently and much more clearly now, and I’m finding things much easier in my own life. As children we are presented an incomplete picture of what morality looks like. As a result, we go off into the world thinking in these very simplistic, black and white terms. For many people, this isn’t a major problem; if you’re good looking, have a stable home and a moderate income, the point of comparison is a little closer to the fictitious prince. Even the prince will mess up from time to time, and if you’ve been bullied at all, your ability to employ stable conflict resolution tactics is even more jaded. We have to reject this simple understanding of morality and ethics and think more deeply on how to behave towards others. We have to consider power, as well, and the influence that feeling has on our actions. Eventually, most will realize that verbally attacking someone is a game of chance; that even if you win, you both start out with the same ‘power’. At the end of the day, only by taking a moment to reflect on the complexities of the situation while the situation is unfolding, will you begin to recognize the foundational flaws at play. This new understanding has affected every aspect of my life. We’re social creatures, and if were to function appropriately in that setting, than we have to learn how to deal with conflict. Stepping away from conflict and distancing ourselves from trolling is just the beginning, but it’s a very appropriate place to start.