|Brother/Bully Ray brandishes a Singapore cane.|
Taken July 26, 2010. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
Licensed under the Creative Commons
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“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” ―Mark TwainI naturally type people according to a shorthand that saves me the trouble of dealing with the real complexities of another human being. I call someone Wimpy because he tags along with me but never brings his own cash. He is especially eager for lunch—or for me to buy him lunch. Yet my teasing him for being like Popeye's Wimpy might not preclude him from coming with me. I realize that there is more to Wimpy than than mooching and insipidly tagging along. He is, after all, a real-life, three-dimensional human being in whose company I might find an asset that pleases me to be around.
Among the great majority of acquaintances that I make through the social networks, I form cooperative friendships in which pleasantries are exchanged for pleasantries, likes for likes, and sometimes even information gets exchanged. Yet this society exists mostly at a superficial level, which is fine because people derive a pleasure from the company yet few of the sticky obligations that friends in real life spin for each other. Some percentage—and Google isn't forthcoming with precise statistics in this matter—of acquaintances step out from behind the safety of their computers and meet each other in person. Two individuals might find something special in each other online, so they decide to take a chance on possibly finding romance in the real world, and usually geography plays a role in this process because it is rare that people who meet on the internet also live in the same city. There are, however, organizations that are based in a city or have a chapter in a city, and while they conduct most of their activities in cyber space, they may have monthly meetings in person. But most of our relationship remain virtual, and that's fine. For the most part, the bonhomie of virtual friends sharing little things like photographs or recipes or favorite movies is a lot of fun.
But there are a few kinds of people you should watch out for and try to avoid. They are game players who conform to specific types with few redeeming qualities. They do not take on the rich complexities of real people because they use their computers as masks and consistently play a certain well-defined role.
|Image by Liftarn. Licensed the Creative Commons|
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Trolls are acerebral troublemakers who specialize in ad hominem insults, so there is no mind-to-mind with them, no trafficking in ideas. They're the guys who will leave some nasty insult in the comments section of the picture you're so proud of. They go straight for the paunch of your emotional underbelly with sharp knives. Encounters with trolls are relatively short-lived because they don't waste their time building up a false friendship the way a toxic person does. They go straight for the hate. Because of that, there is something utterly diabolical about the way they operate. In The Exorcist, Father Merrin prepares Father Damien for the creature they are about to meet on a spiritual field of battle:
MERRINWe may ask what is relevant, but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar, the demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien. And powerful. So don't listen, remember that, do not listen.
If I find I've been attacked by a troll, I do not engage the creature itself, but block it so that it cannot leave any further messages and so current messages disappear. If I send a message to a troll, the thing will interpret my message as "I'm a bigger and better troll than you are," and he will only escalate the contest in waste-tossing until I am angry, at which point he declares himself the winner and walks away laughing at me.
|Photo by Kevin Dooley. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.|
Bubba is a person who runs on superficial, emotion-driven impressions, preconceptions, and prejudices, by which they are so consumed they don't bother themselves with facts. Like members of Al Qaeda, they are typically right-wing zealots, which imbues their belief system with a tasty candy-coated shell of unquestionability. They are confident in the tattered quiltwork of their belief. Living in a fantasy world so deviant from reality, they spend a great deal of time in anger. That the world should look like The Donna Reed Show or Leave It to Beaver, devoid of homosexuals and Communists (same thing), people of color and foreigners (same thing), Muslims and terrorists (same same), and socialism is to these people so self-evident that they become furious with those who do not share their simple vision of holiness and righteousness.
Bubba never was much on reading, and he prefers a six-pack and one of those gladiator obstacle course TV shows to books. There are, Bubba realizes, things beyond his ken and education, and those things are held suspect. People who do understand them are egg-heads and probably Communists.
Bubba doesn't understand the Constitution, but he believes he understands the Second Amendment. Or at least the second half of the Second Amendment. The mention of militia confuses him, but properly translated into 21st-century terms, the amendment reads: "If you are in the National Guard, you have the right to bear arms." It's just that three hundred years ago, the expedient armies for emergencies were much less formal than they are now. Each man who was in the militia—and not all of them were—and in a state of constant readiness to be called upon if there was an Indian uprising or if the British made a raid (as they did in 1812), had a right to bring a gun to work. Of course when the National Guard does get called up, Bubba stays home with his guns. Bubba needs his guns to shoot burglars—who often turn out to be Bubba's adult kids swinging by the house for a drink. Indeed, most shooting deaths aren't burglars but friends and kinfolk.
Bubba's existence explains many things. For example, it demonstrates how fascism could have taken over an entire, otherwise highly civilized European country in the 1930s.
When the laborers on whose backs agricultural production rides are declared "illegal people"—and "job thieves" because they filled the jobs of slaves, who, since 1865, haven't particularly wanted the jobs—Bubba believes the scam, buys an AR-15, and starts patrolling the border as a vigilante. He's hoping he can bag himself a "meskin." Bubba's existence explains how in 21st-century America someone who wants to deport Muslims, build a wall around the country, and whitewash those remaining in the US could be a viable candidate for the presidency.
Bubba's existence explains how the UK could withdraw from the EU so heedless of consequence. The sort of stupidity that has crawled out like a plague of serpents of late has created a backlash in which people, normal people anyway, are wondering if there shouldn't be some sort of intelligence test required to vote. This is the Stupid-Normal Bell Curve:
You see how it looks like a bell? Kinda? That's why they call it a bell curve. I don't know if you ever talked to someone with an IQ of 100, but I have and he wasn't bright. There is a political secret that people like Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump know:
- People on the stupid side of the Stupid-Normal Bell Curve are easily manipulable, especially by demagogues. Indeed, demagogues by definition are in the business of manipulationg the stupid side of the curve.
- If you can manipulate the stupid side of the curve to vote as a bloc, they create a constituency that cannot be beat.
- The stupid bloc is bigger than any bloc a politician might be able to draw out of the normal side. The normal side thinks too critically to rally around a single issue or candidate.
Those simple principles are why elections and referendums often yield absurd results that are counter-productive to the welfare of the majority of the people. These principles are why people in the US openly carry arms and violently protest the very changes that would improve their lot in life. But Americans are taught all their lives to accept high crime rates, the high incidence of mental and physical illness, the high dropout rates and low rates of education. Americans accept their poor qualities of life with fatalism. Paradoxically they also believe things like the US is the best country in which to live in all the world and that it is the richest country in the world. I don't know about the superlative, but, yes, part of America is extremely wealthy, but that part is so sequestered from the country as a whole, that there are two Americas: one is extremely wealthy, invisible, and inaccessible. The other part endures living conditions and economic injustice on a scale typical of West African nations. The US that I know is more or less a Third World Country now. But all this is beyond the grasp of Bubba.
Keyboard Warriors are highly opinionated crusaders with an agenda, and who probably are not so bold in real life. They might be boring, but they are pussycats compared to the others I describe here. Most people post about the diverse array of issues and activities that interest them, but a keyboard warrior fixates on one idea, and every post is about that one thing. Keyboard warriors are not likely to seek you out, so if you do not provoke one, they're not going to bother you. Debating a keyboard warrior is folly because they spend every free moment reading and studying their obsession.
Liars take advantage of their invisiblity to make themselves into something they are not. Women can make themselves beautiful by uploading pictures of women scanned from magazines. Men can find their way to greatness with minimal effort. "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on the internet." Right?
I've saved Toxic People for last because they can be the most insidious to recognize and the stickiest to remove. You saw Fatal Attraction? Glenn Close plays a highly toxic person, but fortunately relatively few toxic people are murderous. Toxic is a current pop psychology buzzword, and it's a useful concept for editing your Christmas card list as well as selling paperback books. Many toxic people carry a script, but you are not permitted to see it. By any means necessary, the toxic person manipulates me into acting out a part that, for example, a parent played in his or her parents' marriage, and in this way we begin to play house. If I tire of these tedious reenactments of someone else's bad marriage and my acting the part weakens, then I get brow-beaten back into the game. I can explain this better with a list:
- My toxic partner carries a mental script that reenacts her past or her parents' past.
- I get taught my part. (It's like "playing house.")
- If I resist the part, I get psychologically beaten.
- I play the part, which involves reenactments of oftedramas out of my toxic partner's past.
- By playing the part, I get psychologically beaten.
- If I don't want to play anymore, I get psychologically beaten.
I am, to a certain extent, an opportunist or at least an optimist: I haven't been doing this long enough to tire of it or to give up the other benefits of having a friend, companion, confidant, and lover. But eventually I do tire of being in a position of being constantly drubbed for either rule #3 or rule #5. If you are lucky enough to identify that there is a script at play—and not all toxicity falls under the script game—then you can ask for the game to stop. You might even ask the toxic partner to seek help. But that might be violation an unwritten rule #7: It's blood in and blood out.