Monday, February 10, 2014

800 Words: Notes from the Underground of a Facebook Troll


I am an angry man. I am a petty man. I am ornery, cantankerous, chronically depressed, generally disgusted with the state of the world, my life, my surroundings, and my disgust. No matter what image I manage to present to the world for a few hours at a time, it is for people like me that the word ‘saturnine’ was invented. I wish I found ‘loving’ easier than I do, but I cannot help that I look around me and see so many things worth hating.

I’ve managed to forget how glum I can be all too often in recent times because I’ve thankfully become the one thing I’ve always wanted to be: a workaholic. A workaholic, mind you, at things I probably don’t have a prayer in hell for being paid real money before I’m fifty. But if I have given a greater appearance of happiness as of late, it is fortunately because I’ve haven’t had a free moment to remember how miserable was the long slow slog to get to this point in my life when decades worth of crippling unhappiness has been easier to ignore. Most people have to work to overcome their sense of denial. But I’m overjoyed to see that I finally can exist in denial’s state, because finally, here seems to come another period in my life in which the pain is duller. I don’t feel like I’m ageing horribly fast anymore, I don’t feel like the steep decline of my physical health is inevitable, I no longer consider it a given that I will shake or twitch or hyperventilate uncontrollably for a portion of the day, I don’t usually feel like my life was always a lost cause, I no longer wake up every morning (or afternoon) cursing the day I was born, and I find it harder these days to believe that everything I touch turns to feces.

This, finally, is life as most people get to live it. May this minorly depressed, thoroughly average feeling adult life continue for another hundred years! But as it has been for those rare other periods of my life when depression has not defined every aspect of it, it is difficult, so very difficult, to live amongst the bubble of privilege (some privileged people would call it ‘white privilege’) and not be so utterly bitter at the minor happinesses which one sees belonging to everyone else - the happinesses so taken for granted because they’re so basic - that sense of belonging and feeling loved, which the fates have denied you for so many years which felt like so many centuries. A person like me sees such people everywhere he looks, and he spends years upon decades trying to convince himself that he too can feel like this, against all evidence to the contrary. Because if such a person could not hope against hope that better things will one day come his way, what would ever stop a person like him from extracting revenge against this world, in blood by the quart, for those seemingly small joys which were always denied only to him. And make no mistake, such thoughts will enter his mind again one day, probably sooner than he knows. Because how can a person not hate all those things he should love when he knows that such forces have contributed, however insignificantly, to bringing him to such a disgusting state? How can any truly unhappy person look at happiness and not think it deserves to be destroyed? Only one thing could stop such a hateful man from extracting his revenge on the world, and that is the omnipresent thought, and likelihood, that he would fail at revenge just as he failed at everything else.

This is the price which true depression extracts from a person blessed enough to house this mental cancer. All privileges feel like intractable burdens, all blessings unliftable curses. If he’s depressed enough, then all the potential psychoses known to man exist within him, and perhaps any of them require only a small kindle to light. All he can ever do against the darkness which has dictated terms for so sizeable a portion of his life is to keep his brain in a state as close to steel-trap vigilance as he could ever know how to maintain. And yet he knows that the fight against the steel trap might only strengthen the beast rather than contain it.

Such people in our generation take to the internet like fish to water, and as older potential psychos still take to libraries and movie theaters. The unceasing anonymity, the interaction without interaction, the reliance upon information rather than people, the chance for an identity completely unlike a real one. This is life as we, the afflicted, wish we could live it, and so we do our best to live in this two-dimensional shadow world. Let happy people have the sunshine, but we will dwell in the shadows on the caves.

(I bet you won't listen to the whole thing...)


In addition to newly becoming a workaholic, I am a graphomaniac. I write, and I write, and I write. Long blogposts, long emails, long facebook posts, long unfinished projects, long digressions within each of them, long, uncontrollable, verbal diarrhea, which nobody seems to want to read. I’m a true pedant who relishes every last detail of the things I look at with nearly autistic intensity, but I know myself too well to consider myself a profound thinker in any sense, I’m far too cartoonish and unbalanced for that, maybe even far too stupid. I don’t know if I’m capable of nuance, but if I am, then I love what I think nuance is, and there isn’t a single concept I’ve ever read about that can’t possibly do without a few paragraphs, a few more provisos, a few more quid-pro-quos; not a single idea that doesn’t seem too simple, too caricatured, too brazen in its assertions. The possibilities of infinity are within everything, and I seem to have a fixation on trying to capture every one of them within my own limited ability that is truly obsessive. I’m not a profound thinker, but I know the lack of profundity when I see it. And for reasons passing my understanding, I can’t let its lack pass uncorrected.

I seem to write long blogposts in this space the way some people eat breakfast. Hopefully they’re thoughtful, hopefully they hold something of interest to someone, and hopefully they offer those few kind souls patient enough to read them some reward for the effort I make them put in. But for the two-and-a-half years I’ve regularly written long blogposts, I’m lucky if I ever get a hundred readers for a single one of them, and for every hundred long posts, I’m lucky if I ever get five comments. I know that I set down my thoughts, such as they are, to a vacuum. They will either be read in the future, or they will not be read at all.

But on facebook, hoo boy, on facebook... All those people who couldn’t bother to give my thoughts the time of day when I do my feeble best to make them nuanced, complex, and three-dimensional on this webspace which has faithfully kept me sane for two-and-a-half years, suddenly become utterly committed to refuting or supporting what I have to say. All you have to do is make precisely the sort of sweeping declaration I do my best to avoid in this space, and the half the world is up in arms with offense, and the other half is ready to rush in to defend me, or at least further offend those who already took offense. And those friends who do neither inevitably comment that they read them with interest and not a little admiration that someone would speak their mind so heedless of the consequences. It would seem that the lack of nuance which facebook provides is the only weapon I have at my disposal to make people remotely aware that it might benefit them to read what I write.

Would that there were a single person on this space who displayed anything like the passion for what’s written here as they do for those two-dimensional, flatly provocative facebook posts. I often wonder how I'd write differently if I knew that a single person was as excited by the work I do on this space (and believe me, it’s work…) as people seem to be about the ‘debates’ I start on facebook. How many devoted readers would it take for me to feel as though I was writing what I want to write for someone other than myself?  

The fact that nobody seems to care about what I write not only drives me to a certain amount of despair for myself, it also makes me despair of other people’s capacity for thought as much as I despair of my own capacity. Everyone bemoans the state of internet discourse, wailing to anyone who will hear about how even the smartest publications have been reduced to clickbait. But the state of the discourse is the symptom, not the problem. The problem, my friends, is the proverbial you. Once a person adopts a life-philosophy that thinks in two dimensions rather than three, the entire world is divided into binary code. If you are a conservative, or a socialist, or a religious fundamentalist, or a scientism-ist, or a critical theory-ist, then you necessarily think yourself on the side of light, and all those who disagree with you are infidels are on the side of darkness. It therefore gives you license to act like a troll to all those people with whom you disagree. And there will always be people with whom you disagree.

And yet, why can’t I be more understanding of that? The proverbial ‘you’ includes me too. I have divided the world in half according to those who divide the world in half and those who don’t. I am, in point of fact, as loathsomely simple-minded as the people I troll. And just as, so they say, the Germans could never forgive the Jews for the Holocaust, I never seem able to forgive those who view the world in binary terms for making me one of them. I could, were I so inclined, lay blame with all sorts of elements - from the fact that I grew up with all manner of fundamentalisms being thrown at me from religion to politics to education, to the illnesses themselves which exacerbate my reactions to all manner of stimuli so viscerally, to the fact that I ‘merely’ post to my own ‘wall’ rather than to others’. But the fact remains that I wish it were not so more than I wish to excuse what I do. Fanaticism, fundamentalism, extremism and radicalism; these are all diseases of the same family. A person who was once depressed is more liable to succumb to depression, a formerly obese person to obesity, a former cancer patient to cancer. And once a person contracts a particular disease, they become far more at risk to attract the disease again. It is utterly naive to pretend that a person cannot be an anti-extremism extremist, or a fundamentalist of anti-fundamentalism. And yet, here I am. To see things well-roundedly, with all an object’s nuances within a person’s line of vision, is a truly extraordinary thing - perhaps you’d either have to be completely naive or touched with genius to do so in a world where you’re being asked to react to what you see and hear, billions of times every day. But nevertheless, it is the state toward which we should all aspire. And for those, like me, who are too stupid to know how; maybe, just maybe, we can make the way a little easier for those who can.


  1. Comment. I don't have much of a comment other than that I feel you, but wish to comment for the record.

  2. I'll see your Keats piece on Hyperion and raise you a Hyperion piece from Hölderlin:

  3. "I’m not a profound thinker, but I know the lack of profundity when I see it."

    Isn't that just another way for one to say that one can smell one's own?

  4. I discovered your blog about a month ago and have really enjoyed reading through your old posts.

    Love your writing, especially on opera news.