If only trolls are cruel what’s left for us?

A self-criticism. I find terrible, mocking humor to be enjoyable. I laugh at others expense and find the foibles and flaws of my rivals and political adversaries to be particular amusing. I will, in all engaged interest, sit for hours detailing flaws and imperfections in others, hopefully to comedic effect. I am not going to attempt to caveat this trait by saying that I will laugh just as hard when the flaw being exposed is mine, although this is true. I just find, and I don’t love this about myself, that cruel humor is my favorite.

But I don’t take it seriously. My actual feelings about rivals, myself, or flawed activity is complicated by all of the qualities that ones feelings usually are. I am as likely to despise an adversary as I am a so-called ally. The qualities that I like in others is not related to my own particular preference towards cruelty.

In this sense I understand a lot of the motivation of trolls and troll culture. When we are powerless to impact the world in such a way where we can see the impact of our blows it makes sense to attack things that get injured. We are curious creatures that deeply desire to see our experiments flourish. The cruelty we inflict on the world is unrelated to the humans we inflict it on. This disconnection has obviously been exacerbated by the Internet and the seeming lack of consequence for cruelty but we (as in humans) have long since been disconnected and done horrible things (to the world & each other) as a result of this social unpluggedness.


While I still find considerable pleasure in a similar type of cruelty I have to acknowledge that I have the incredible privilege of not ever having to do it online. I have people who find the same things funny as I do around me all the time. I have constructed a life where these pleasures feature centrally. But the corporealness of them is most important. Cruelty in isolation would have long since twisted me into the ineffective pathetic creatures I host on various websites and blogs. I understand the troll and despise them because they are what I could have been if not for a combination of luck, will, and being just a bit too old to have become trapped by the Internet for my social self-understanding.


Is all PR good?


I recently have been alerted (thanks everyone!) to an actual IRL troll of me. Correction. This is not a cruel attack done for the lulz (or whatever) but someone who believes they are doing what they are doing in the name of anarchist activists (TM) everywhere. Putting aside the very sad (and real) story of this particular individual the difference between them and a troll, between cruelty and activism, between attack and denouncement, is a central concern for me right now.

Perhaps this is a statement of our time but this is also a way to orient our conflictual capacity in real terms. We can not reasonably talk about movements of the liberation of humans against the oppressors, or perhaps we can but we don’t. Instead our fights are microscopically small and our victories are even smaller. We talk about abstractions that we oppose and our actions in regard to them is very small (aka break window, write manifest). We have an IRC argument with someone and in turn hack their email, delete their memories, and publicly advertise their home address (true story) and call our victory total. Our capacity to hurt individuals is inversely proportional to the importance of doing the same. Bad people, especially bad radicals, have little to do with the condition of the world, the problems of daily life, or our incapacity to do anything about it. Or perhaps the opposite is true, perhaps bad people are directly related to capacity.

In a related story I recently corresponded with someone who is being publicly trolled and they turned to me as someone to fix the problem. The inappropriate mention of their name was a source of concern and they feared that the deceit would be taken as truth. This is real. It is also false.

I’ll try to break this down a little bit more. Assuming the context of an open web forum (which are understandably becoming less common or perhaps more self-selecting) there are a number of concerns about bad information. One is the fact that a (self-selecting) reader might confuse the bad information with truth. They might think that X is a criminal (as a neutral way of discussing everything from the smashy to the genocide) because someone says as much, signs a post admitting to such, or is accused of being one by a convincing story. Two is association. If X is put into the same frame as criminality, in a web forum, then future discussions about criminality could very well include X as a related topic. Third is the idea that X and criminality may have a relationship but as presented is either a misrepresentation or a slander. Finally is the idea that outside of the discussion itself is the future. Search engines are forever. If X is associated in whatever way to criminality (or an open web forum) it means that X doesn’t have control over their own story. This has implication in everything from legal cases (or the States research interests) to jobs.

While this is often much ado about nothing it does put the power of representation into the hands of people who often don’t have any skin in the game. I, for instance, haven’t used my full legal name in any anarchist contexts but I have an old friend who used it to advertise for an event I participated in in the 90s. Several mentions of this event still linger on the front page of a search for my full legal name. I have attempted to contact, and resolve, this concern for several years to no avail. The people who get the emails associated with the top level domains just have no motivation, or interest, or process to protect my desire to not have my legal life associated with my anarchist life. In my case I have had to start the slow, ambivalent, process of changing my legal name as the only real way to sever my future (hostile) relations with employers or stalkers with my oh-so-naive past.

For younger people, for Facebook users, this problem will only get worse.

You may ask what my decision was regarding the trolled person? The other side of this discussion for me relates to the role of being a public person (a “personality”). I realize that talking to reporters, writing a book, or doing presentation shouldn’t necessitate the signing of some sort of unstated contract but for me, it kind of does. It means that you are choosing to associate yourself publicly with something. In my case it is anarchy, in another persons case it may be poetry, or Pokemon, or whatever. If you are public it means you have to accept the fickle, fickle love that the public has to offer. For some people this love means being accepted as a respected public intellectual or activist, for others it means being pilloried and reviled. As far as I’m concerned there is a choice, a willful act, that moves you from a private person to a public person. I am on the public side of this choice, as are many of my friends, but as a result I have had to suffer indignity and attack along side the (positive) attention and respect. I think it is disingenuous for other public personalities to think they should only get the pluses without getting the minuses so I refuse to coddle this kind of behavior. I think this is grist for the mill (see 1-3 on the list above).

But, and this is a big but, I don’t think it should last forever. I think a scandal, most every scandal, should last for the five minutes (or ten seconds) that it deserves and then that we should all move on. Search engines don’t allow for this so my decision regarding the trolled was to remove all mention of them after the scandal (such as it was) was aired.

This whole situation was a useful exercise for me because I much prefer my policy decisions to hinge on a different axis (or two if possible) than just “this is the policy” so putting the temporal axis into this decision was helpful. It also helped that the trolled came in good faith AND that I got good advice from an adviser… but this is how small decisions often times end up being big ones.

I’ll wrap this up. The earth is filling up. Many of the horrific things I despise about the existing order are, from the perspective of capital p Power, crowd control. There are too many of us, we are anonymous, and becoming invisible is most peoples alienated reality. Trolling, and the cruelty of the troll, is a kind of care too. The troll is paying attention, it may be a negative attention, but can you blame them? The troll is the most reviled of creatures in a world filled with the despised, the despicable, the tortured, and the lonely. It’s a funny way to end this but this is one of the few times where I believe in the healing power of the sun, by which I mean not only fresh air, exercise, and being outdoors but the brightness of people in a room, disagreeing and sharing a mammalian moment or two.

The problems of opinions & wealth

I want to wrap up my out loud thinking about my time in Europe (I’ve been back for three weeks but it doesn’t feel like it since I am now traveling so much) with some conclusions but first some thoughts about other problems that feel specifically American but perhaps are more general.

US radicals are right to criticize ourselves for American exceptionalism. The idea that the US is at the center of the world has, sadly, been how all of here in this forsaken place have been raised. Our Civil War was a fight over big principles. So too was our entry into WWII. The Cold War was noble, just as our struggle against (whom again?) racism which we won with civil rights legislation. It is useless to argue against these facts with most people in this country. We honestly believe it, on the right and on the left.

This is why most anarchists wish a pox on both of their houses and why we have such a hard time finding ourselves out of the mess of liberalism, false oppositions, and the belief that somehow we are truly and goodly on the side of… right. We are not, of course. Not just because no such thing exists but because this belief is so shallow, so deeply uninformed, that it exposes itself all the time for being a matter of faith not of reasoned thought1. But we are from this primordial ooze and it is in us, like it or not.

Americans are opinionated. They have strong opinions about politicians, Muslims, the flag, recycling, soy, parking, taxes, etc, etc. The radio waves are filled with people who have a lot of true emotion wrapped up in every detail of mundanity. If there is any possible way to turn an issue into a simple one, stripped of context and complexity, Americans will do it and fight any comer.

Sadly this particular American trait still appears in those residents of this country who are the enemies of the country itself. American anarchists are filled with stupid fucking opinions2 and that world wants to hear them. This is particularly true if they never plan on doing anything real (material, outside of their heads) with them.

Perhaps this is related to the strangeness around American wealth. Most everyone I met in Europe was quite open and honest about how much money they had, made, and came from. In the US this is almost never the case. Experientially anarchist milieus always riff poverty with the primary difference being (in my experience) that Americans are broke but have enough money to eat out at restaurants whereas Europeans only eat street food (like €2 souvlaki) if they eat out at all. But the silence around money & origins is one of the creepiest things I run into time and time again with people around this place.

I don’t think this is entirely because all of my comrades are secret princes and princesses waiting for their trusts to vest before they return to their castles in the sky. I think that the flip side to wealth isn’t just poverty but shame. We fear association with our associations.

But everything is not bad in this home of mine. This land of fear, hate, wealth, and moralism. The reason that I am glad I left here for three months was because I could see from a distance, for the first time, that there are things that I love about the people I know and places I am from. Our eclectic vitality isn’t sharp but hacks through most things just the same, only requiring several swings. I am not more hopeful about the future but I have a lot more ideas about how I want to practice anarchy with my mongrel pack. Now to find them.

1 Not that I am a particular fan of reason but I do react to the religious devotion to God, whether it is called J-dog or Amerika, with something… cold and calculating. But I already covered this.

2 Opinions in this context means not facts, not defensible positions, but habitual simplistic perspectives that actually interfere in critical thought.

The problem of moralism

I’m thinking a lot about what we (in the US) get absolutely wrong in (anti)politics as I am traveling in Europe. My last piece was about sociability and the structural difficulties in working with other people in the US context of no commons, people passing through, and the near requirement to full time work for survival (in much of the country). This time I am going to talk about consciousness and the suffocation of radicals by moralism usually learned from the protestant upbringings of most of the US but also from the newer religions of secularism and counter-cultural politics. Consider this a draft of some ideas that I will try to expand on later.

More importantly it is a self-criticism and a break from my own past & choices. You can laugh as long as you are not sanctimonious about it. I still believe in drawing lines.

Protestant religions

I spent a lot of time digging into the cultural implications of the religions of Europe. My review is cursory and based on the limitations of my contacts in Euro-radicalism but I feel confident on the level of observing some differences that are worth sharing without pressing too hard on any conclusions. For starters, most of the people I have met haven’t really even thought about the issue. Perhaps this is true in the US also but my experience growing up in the northern Bible Belt instilled a certain necessity of understanding the impact of religion on cultural & social life. I’ll be specific and talk about a couple generalizations from around the country.

The major protestant religions in the US are Calvinism, baptist, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. There are a scattering of Anglicans (although I’ve never met one), Amish, congregational, etc but these are the major ones. My specific history is with Calvinists (meaning I grew up around them but I’ve never even been to one of their services) and here is a nutshell on what differentiates them from other Christians.

  • all people are depraved and incapable of following God on their own. They require guidance.
  • predestination aka God already knows who is going to heaven

I’m sure they believed other things but these two things alone is enough to realize what a cold and formidable religion this is. As a result they created cold and formidable things in my town that largely dominated the psychic landscape. The children who broke with their religion (and eventually returned) tended to classic (aka boring) breaks; inebriated, sex starved monsters. Passionate moments to reflect on during later lives of monotony and cold, as shame is a warm emotion.

Baptists are creatures of a different suit entirely. Where the Calvinists are tight and disciplined in their impoverishment the baptists are fairly wild in theirs. Much of what we understand to be characteristics of the American personality are, in fact, Baptist traditions. Specifically the four freedoms (which most Baptists accept) which basically boil down to the idea that your soul and salvation are a reflection of your individual relationship with the savior (and your interpretation of the holy of holiest scriptures). Baptists don’t need anyone but their bible and Jesus which is about as American of a doctrine as I can imagine.

The orthodox & Catholics

These two religions vary wildly from the protestants. So much so that it is hard to believe they all are into the same zombie myth at all.

The Catholics are the original recuperators, taking whatever cultural artifact they encountered and rebranding it. The result is a conservatism that would be seemingly inherent in a 2000 year old institution. In Spain and France the role of the Church seems be entirely defending the cultural, social, and political gains it has achieved over that time. There is no real sense of a missionary zeal in these countries, only old buildings and a certain sense that the world is passing it by, but it doesn’t matter because it is the world-in-itself.

The orthodox are fascinating to someone who hasn’t been around their particular brand of archaic outfits and long beards. As exotic to someone from the US as the Muslims these people are the original Christians (the split was at the council of Nice and the composition of which texts were to be in the holy book we’ve been plagued with every since). A cultural artifacts that are notable with the Orthodox is the priest vow of poverty. This is also true with the Catholics but their thousands of years of hypocrisy make them a little harder to take seriously. With the (Greek at least) Orthodox this isn’t exactly the case and more importantly continues to be a social/cultural imperative. Greek society does not link wealth with holiness in the way that several Protestant sects do and the difference is real. Yes, it makes anarchists seem less crazy, but it also places the small business owner at the center of the Greek imagination.

Another example of this is to examine the prevalence of security cameras in each country. Greece has a very low number of security cameras with a generalized social repulsion to the idea that public space, and individual people in that space, should be recorded. This is somewhat related to a discussion of their tradition between the relationship between Idols and icons but as was described to me the Greek “face” (the actual human face of a Greek person) has a value that cannot be recorded. I can’t make this shit up.

Contrast this to Northern Europe, especially the UK where you cannot travel without being imaged by CCTV 300 times a day which likely correlates to the weakly ideological nature of the Anglicans requiring a process to verify trust. But also to the Calvinist Dutch who actually pedagogically believe that privacy is irrelevant because judgement is only possible from God who can see everything anyway).

Obviously I’m not painting enough of a picture here but the premise I’m working on is that both the Catholic & Orthodox are much older, sedate religions (even if they ostensibly worship the same bearded guy) than the Protestant one’s I know in the States. The impact resonates in the cultures themselves.

The even newer religions

I don’t believe that there will be a holy war led by these old religions. Not in my lifetime and probably never again. I would not say the same about some of the Protestants but I think it is quite likely that they will continue with their mainstreaming strategy (public participation in political and cultural crafting of the US) along with nurturing their lunatic fringe. I also will not say the same about other identity-religions.

Before I begin I’ll caveat. I believe I will make a stronger criticism of identity-politics another time. At this point I am scrabbling about myself, figuring out a way to distance myself from my own sense of false unity and self-betrayal that has surrounded my own participation the lie that we understand as identity. And the confusion we (in the US) have suffered from the secular mantra of the “personal is political” never realizing we were actually just repeating the gospel of Luke in different words (cite 1 and 2).

The formation of synthetic identity will be the new terrain for holy wars in this century. It may not be the vegans vs the paleolithic diet, instead it may be the equally fabricated Wahabi or Westboro Baptist Church that sets it off. What is important to argue is that the ideology of nation-as-identity is fading fast. I am not American and nearly no one on the globe is fighting for the glory of their own Nation-State (with a very few exceptions of course). But I have been, on the other hand, a handful of other labels that I was willing fight for yet didn’t have any tie to bind me but my own belief in them.

This auto-generation masks an existential point. We crave people. I craved some sense of place (meaning people) since there was no real place for me in the place I came from. In our search for place we attach ourselves to identity as a way to find a common vocabulary, a way to find people, and mission accomplished, we usually find them. It takes nearly a decade (measuring for instance the average lifespan of a punk, anarchist, or vegan) for most of us to realize that the unity that we have in these synthetic identities isn’t real connection, place, or enough to fill the loss. Especially since these new programs don’t have the infrastructure to fake real they have yet formed significant militias, creches, or old age homes.

A new moral framework with the added benefit of the illusion of Real Human Life ™. It also is a fair restatement of many substantial critiques of “the subcultural” which is why I want to be clear that what I’m saying is not a dismissal of people who participate in (sub, anti, or counter)-culture. I get it and I’m not trying to distance myself from the need that contra-culture represents. Instead I am saying that I realize now that this need isn’t possible to fill, not with one synthetic identity or another, not with religion, not with family.

This means that while I still have some connection with my contra-cultural past it is entirely on the level of liking the same music, sharing a preference for good food, and liking the same books. I am no longer set of terms but something else… perhaps just another person whose frustration with the language and so many of the people I have met along the way has just grown stale.

How I would rather put it is that the new post-secular religions haven’t improved on the source material in a significant way and draw far more from it than they would like to believe. Veganism isn’t going to change the world, end animal suffering, or much of anything at all except fill a different set of people’s pockets. DIY hasn’t made people particularly engaged with their own life, hasn’t slowed down the flow of products from China, and done much of anything except fill a different set of people’s pockets. Anarchist hasn’t created much anarchy.

So here we are, left in the rubble of Christianity. Anarchists have, by and large, avoided religion as a topic for criticism for the past 50 years out of some misguided tolerance but this has been a mistake. Religion, in the form of morality and Christianity, absolutely frames us. Our counter-cultures, our radical politics, our missionary zeal and our acts of contrition are all fruits of a poisoned tree. In the past I have called this tree European thought, but that is perhaps too abstract to be helpful. Perhaps this rant against religion and the way that it permeated everything that we believe is a little bit more grounded, but probably not.