It occurred to me recently that internet trolls and terrorists share certain distinct qualities. This idea came to me when I realized that the victims of trolls and terrorists always have the same response. This response is to question why trolls and terrorists do what they do. Specifically they ask themselves, “Why they do they hate us?” Often the victims explain the actions of the trolls and terrorists by labeling them as evil or simply jerks. I am certainly not here to argue that these labels are inappropriate. But I do think they demonstrate a lack of understanding on the victim’s part as to what is truly motivating the trolls and terrorists.
I think I have a good idea what motivates an internet troll because I have acted as one in the past. Although I have never committed an act of terrorism it seems reasonable to speculate that the terrorist’s motivations are the same as the troll’s motivation because the actions of both terrorists and trolls have the same effect on their victims. That is, their actions are designed to make their victims suffer in and of itself.
When I was a troll (or when I was accused of being a troll) I felt like I was being mistreated by the people who dominated the Star Trek message board on which I was an active member. (See my book “Shame and Internet Trolling” for more details). There was one politically conservative guy on the message board named Admiralbill who I felt was particularly nasty and condescending to people who had the audacity to question the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. I took it upon myself to passive-aggressively attack him with sarcastic remarks and by posting articles on topics I knew would make him angry. I was not particularly liberal at the time but I was willing to advocate the liberal argument to achieve my goals. The administration of the board sided with him and so I began arguing with them until they eventually banned me. When I look back upon my actions I can see that I was chiefly motivate to make both Admiralbill and the board administration suffer. In fact I took pleasure from doing so.
But there is another aspect to this behavior in that both trolling and terrorism are unconscious acts. They are unconscious in the sense that the perpetrators of both acts (I believe) are unconscious of their true motivations. It is my contention based upon my own experience that a person who derives pleasure from making other people suffer feels this way because someone else derived pleasure from making them suffer. In other the feel compelled to repeat this behavior because they are addicted to the feelings it evokes in them.
Because trolls and terrorists are unaware of (or unwilling to admit) their true motivations they tend to cloak their behavior in righteousness. When I trolled I argued that I was defending the liberals from Admiralbill’s abuse. Admiralbill argued that conservatism was rational and by contrast liberalism was irrational. (Although I admit my behavior was troll-like I suspect Admiralbill also share my motivations. This motivation to cloak this behavior in righteousness is probably why terrorism and religion attract each other in many cases. Other examples of this that come to mind are Michael Voris the snarky, condescending and judgmental producer of the Church Militant videos available on Youtube as well as the white supremacist Thordaddy who stalked my blog some months back. Both seem to take pleasure in judging and shaming others while at the same time cloaking their behavior in righteousness and religion. It is my contention that all these examples as well as the terrorists in Al Qaeda and ISIS are all similarly unaware of their true motivations. And they must remain unaware of their true motivations in order to continue with their behavior. I believe this to be true because in my own experience once I became aware that I was simply repeating the abuse I once suffered I realize that it is the cycle in which I was trapped that is evil and not the people upon which I sought to perpetuate the cycle. Once I realized this my motivation to continue with the behavior disappeared.
We start out thinking that all our actions and ideas are our own. Over time, however, this belief begins to erode under a mountain of evidence about which it becomes increasingly difficult to remain in a state of denial.
The best example I can give to illustrate this point is the remnants of shame a I feel on a daily basis. When I was young I thought this shame was a defective part of my personality. I had a low self esteem and this was essentially my fault because I felt that I am responsible for my thoughts and feelings. This belief is reinforced by the general attitudes of society and by the beliefs propagated by social institutions. This system seems to make sense on the surface but the more it is probed the less convincing it becomes. At a certain point in my life I came to realize that the reason I felt shame was because my parents felt that shame and I adopted on a very basic and unconscious level their energy. They in turn adopted this energy from their parents just as I have to some extent passed this energy down to my own children. But if this energy has been passed around from generation to generation I cannot very well say that this energy is me. The best I can say is that I am a vessel who is currently holding that energy. So then, if these feelings are not me (even though most of the time I feel like they are) what part of me is actually me?
Another connected example is addiction. When a person is addicted the addiction will think for the person who is addicted. The person believes or feels these thoughts to be his own but in reality it is the parasitic addiction generating these thoughts in order to feed itself. Like the energy of shame the pull of addiction is a foreign entity disguising itself to its host as the host himself. But despite the fact that at times the feeling that the addiction is the host can be very convincing, it is not the host.
I suppose it is reasonable to ask if there even is a me in the first place? In other words am “I” merely a vessel who thinks I am what other forces have poured into me? If true, then everyone else is also a vessel who thinks he or she is what other people (other vessels) poured into them. In other words most people in this world are walking around and interacting with each other under the illusion that they are something they are not.
But surely the vessel of self has some intrinsic qualities unto itself. For example, it has the ability to hold thoughts and feelings, it has the ability to think on its own to some extent, and it has the ability to believe certain things are true (whether or not they happen to be true). It then becomes a question of ratios. How much of me is composed of my intrinsic qualities and how much me is composed of these foreign elements which have been put into me? There is no way to measure this but it seems to me that the vast majority of what I consider to me is not really me.
One consequence of this realization is its twin realization that most of the crimes my shame accuses me of are not really my (i.e., my true self’s) fault. This is dangerous territory because it undermines our whole system of criminal justice and morality. Perhaps it is easier from a societal standpoint to continue on with the belief that all these alien, parasite thoughts are our own and our responsibility. The alternative seems highly susceptible to the malfeasance of bad actors.
The last thought on this subject I have is that meditation seems to be the means by which a person can get in touch with the real self. The simple technique of watching the thoughts swimming about in the mind and returning the mind to center when one realizes that he as identified with these thoughts brings about a separation from these thought. Whatever is left behind is the true self.
I once tried to complete the thirty day novel challenge and failed. Nevertheless, through the experience of this failure I learned quite a bit. The thirty day novel challenge is a writing exercise where an author attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This requires the author to write an average of 1,667 words per day throughout this time period. In the abstract this sounds like a task that can be readily accomplished but like most long term projects requiring discipline and dedication there are forces that will work to undermine this process as it continues.
When I set out to write my 30 day novel I started out strong. For the first ten days my average word count per day remained above 1,667. After ten days the average word count dropped below that number but I figured I could make it up by writing more before the thirty days fully expired. However, as the days after Day 10 progressed I found it increasingly difficult to continue. There was a point where the story that it eventually became began to emerge from the crap that I had written. At that point I began to think about going back and editing what I had written to conform to the story as I saw it emerging. The conflict between this motivation and my motivation to continue with the word count per day all the way to day 30 became overwhelming. It was at this point that procrastination in comparison with this overwhelming feeling began to feel like a better option. Accordingly, the project petered out by day 20 or so. Eventually I did go back and rewrite the whole thing which is the finished product now available on Amazon.com. But this was well after the initial 30 days had expired without a 50,000 word finished product.
Even though I did not completely stick with the 30 day novel for the entire 30 days I did learn four important lessons that I think would be helpful for anyone attempting this challenge. These are lessons I would certainly employ if and when I take on this challenge a second time. I have not fully committed to trying the 30 day novel challenge a second time yet but it seems like something which has become more likely after writing this blog post.
- The over arching lesson is to keep writing every day. All the other lessons flow from this one. I know an easy criticism to make of me is that I did not follow this lesson when I wrote my 30 day novel. This is true and I cannot argue the point. However, I learned this lesson after I failed. As such, I am not technically being hypocritical from a chronological standpoint. You must stick with the writing despite the forces working against you attempting to complete this challenge. These forces will undoubtedly differ both in nature and power for different people depending on their personalities. But it is crucial to recognize these forces and their motivations. Treat them as the foreign entities and adversaries that they are and then ignore them. The ability to continue on in this manner is a muscle to develop by exercising it. The more you do it the easier it will become.
- The second lesson is to allow yourself to write crap. If you keep up with your writing the quality ideas will eventually materialize. But before the quality ideas begin to emerge you will probably write a mountain of crap. Recognize this fact and be forgiving of yourself. Allow to crap to flow so that the quality can also flow. Accept that this is the process. Therefore, keep writing and do not worry if what you write is good or bad. If you do give into the worry you will stop writing and not complete the challenge. You are training another muscle here which is the ability to come up with something out of nothing. This is a skill just like anything else it is just that the something will be buried in a pile of crap initially. The more you do it, however, the better able you will become to generate the quality ideas.
- The third lesson is to trust the process. As you progress, you may begin to doubt your ability to complete the challenge with a finished project that is worth reading. Your original inclination might be to think that if nothing of quality comes out initially then it must be impossible. This is an illusion. This doubt is another adversary that will attempt to derail you. Like the other adversaries, ignore it and keep writing.
- The fourth and final lesson is to save all the editing, rewriting and thoughts about crafting an intelligible story arc for Day 31. A successful attempt means that you have finished the 30 day challenge. If you are lucky then you might also have the germ of a story that has poked its head out of the pile of crap. If not then at the very least you have exercised the muscles necessary to become a serious writer.
Always remember there are two complementary dynamics at play when attempting the 30 day novel challenge. The first dynamic is to recognize and ignore the adversaries that will attempt to derail you from completing the project. The second dynamic is to recognize that you are working to develop the psychological muscles that will eventually make you a serious writer. In this respect the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the challenge of writing itself. Taken one step further, the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the accomplishment anything worth accomplishing. Perhaps seeing the 30 day novel challenge in this light will serve as further motivation to complete the challenge. Moreover, perhaps completing the challenge will serve as a means of better appreciating this important fact.