Subject: Re: The toxicity of trolls
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 27 Sep 2002 03:33:38 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Brian Palmer
| Wow, you really take things seriously.

  My intention is to make people think about things they tend not to think
  about.  This means taking things seriously.  You appear not to be used to be
  taken seriously and consider your flippant comments harmless because of your
  harmless intent.  Such is the opposite of sensitivity.  However, it appears
  that you do not have a well-developed concept of public vs private, so I hope
  to show you how differently one would think and react with such a developed

| It seems we have somewhat of a misunderstanding here -- shall we try again
| rather than bringing out the verbal nukes?

  There are no verbal nukes.  I am frankly puzzled by the need for people to
  liken words to physical threats.  The images you conjure up from a word are
  your own responsibility, even when emotive words are used.  However, it
  appears that you need to imagine your opponent instead of reading and trying
  to understand what he says and then prefer the more emotional images to the
  more reasonable.  Such is consistent with taking sides.

  Why would we need to try again?  Just when did you imagine that I had
  finalized my judgment of you?  Or is it that you arrived at /your/ jugdment
  prematurely (again consistent with taking sides) and therefore are willing to
  re-open /your/ case?  Just trust me when I say this: I judge quickly whether
  someone thinks or not, but slowly about what they think about.  You will find
  me fantastically hostile to non-thinkers if you are used to throwing flippant
  comments around and not used to be taken seriously, but also find me patient
  with people who actually express ideas and reason well.

| If it's someone I have a certain amount of respect for, my tolerance for
| their sensitivities goes up.

  That is, if you do not like people, you can treat them any way you want.
  This is a pretty common way for people to interact in real life and the cause
  of almost all the idiotic fights and wars that people get themselves into, as
  well as the fundamental cause of the need for legal systems to ensure that
  proper procedure is followed when society takes over the function of exacting
  revenge for wrong-doing from the people who were quite happy to take revenge
  on a personal level in their "natural", i.e., uncivilized state.

  Letting your treatment of others depend on how much you "like" them is the
  very antithesis of ethical and just behavior.  The whole point of having laws
  in addition to ethics in a society is to ensure that those who suffer from
  selective empathy do not hurt people they do not respect or like.  The need
  for this is alarming -- many people actually believe that they do not need to
  act morally if they can believe they are taking revenge for something the
  other guy did.  However, revengeful people tend not to listen to what the
  other guy has to say, because they neither respect his sensitivities nor his
  word, so whether he did it or not is immaterial.  This kind of lynch mobs is
  the most base, most evil form of the human group psychology, an undeveloped
  stage that one would have hoped evolution would have taken care of, but our
  advanced societies are still so young that such primitive properties remain.

  To the primitive pre-intelligent human, "us vs them" is a question of rights.
  "We" have rights, "you" have none, and so "we" can murder and destroy "you"
  if it serves our purposes.  Mistreatment of those who land in the "them"
  category is legion the world over, and the very ability to understand human
  rights and the concept of justice appears to be unavailable to people whose
  selective empathy is not curtailed by education and serious training in how
  to cope with the unpleasant.  Non-thinking people take sides based on fickle
  emotional responses and feel no compunctions about mistreating those on the
  other side.  Thinking people realize that taking sides is a primitive tendency
  that predates reason and ethics and rights, dating back to primordial times
  when one's survival was intimately tied to the group's.  This is no longer the
  case, and especially so on the Internet and on Usenet, where we can all assume
  that all possible fundamental needs are satisfied and secured for the future
  -- or people would presumably be out there in the real world catering to such
  needs.  Therefore, no one is under threat when they participate in discussions
  on the Net and there is no group survival at stake, either.  Continuing to use
  the primitive survival-directed emotional responses is counter-productive and
  inexpedient, and the reasons to think in terms of proper procedure and rights
  of those who make unpopular and unpleasant arguments or appearances are very
  good -- "survival" on the Net is a question of intelligence and intellect in
  action much more than it is in the real world, and it is much more personal.
  Your physical ability to intimidate and ward off an intruder increases with a
  group to back you, but appealing to your group decreases the value of your
  arguments, meaning that it could not and would not stand on its own.  Most
  things that work well in near-physical combat do not work at all intellectual
  battles.  Some people appear not to figure this out at all, and think they are
  in physical combat on the Net and have to be defeated on such terms before
  they figure out what is going on.

| It's fairly easy in a local community where people often share similar values
| and sensitivities.

  The group agreement on sensitivities is simply an agreement not to "offend"
  one's peers with information or arguments that is known to be historically
  hurtful in that community.  For instance, Germans who are reminded of the
  atrocities of WW II tend to become defensive in counter-productive ways and
  Common Lispers tend to get annoyed with the repetitive nonsense from Schemers.
  However, the "similiar values" part can be seen from two vantage points: There
  are those who have attractions in common and those who have avoidances in
  common.  People congregate because they are all for or all against something,
  but that agreement is actually quite precarious.  The best reason to respect
  people's sensitivities in real life is that you do not want in-fights in your
  group; divisive elements get thrown out of the group, without which they are
  much less able to achieve their goals, so it makes good sense for individuals
  to abide by the sensitivities of others in order to keep the group alive.

  However, when groups of people meet with much less interpersonal contact,
  call it the size of the area of interface, the group survival issue vanishes
  and it becomes a question of the individual's value to the group as opposed
  to the group's value to the individual.  A member of a group who presents his
  sensitivities for others to respect when there is no group survival at stake,
  is the divisive element -- quite the opposite situation from real life.

  The core principle we respect when the group's survival is at stake is that
  the group would feel the loss of the individual member.  However, this
  presupposes that the group is the individual's primary protector.  This is
  true of social groups and small physical communities.  It is not the case for
  professional groups and public fora.  Some people have no concept of the
  public as different from the private (see «The Fall of Public Man» by Richard
  Sennett, 1992 paperback edition ISBN 0-393-30879-0), and therefore lack the
  professional dimension to their interaction with other people, leading them
  to inject and interject personal matters into their public discourse.

  Now, we all have emotions, and getting rid of them is a bad suggestion, but
  there is the question of whether you feel personally or professionally about
  something.  I am not threatened personally by misinformation, but I want to
  protect my profession from misinformation.  I want to help people learn and
  understand, not because I want to take part in their personal lives, but
  because I want better professionals around me in my carreer.  Chances are
  pretty high that I would like people from other professions better personally
  than fellow programmers, just as I would expect to socialize with people
  because I bring something of social value, not my programming prowess, to
  parties and dinners and the like.  Therefore, personal questions should not
  interfere with professional conduct in professional fora.

| How this scales to communicating in a forum such as this, where there are
| many different nationalities and backgrounds interacting, I don't have all
| the answers on that one.

  I do.  Leave your personal issues at home when you enter professional fora.
  If you want somebody to heed to your personal issues, write them personally.
  If you make such issues public, you not only flaunt your personal life, you
  invade that of others with your personal concerns, as well.

| What are your views?

  In general, I think people need to rediscover the role of public man and
  learn to totally avoid personal issues in public.  That does not preclude
  personal warmth, of course, but asking people in public to take part in one's
  emotional life is incredibly insensitive to others.  I firmly believe that
  people need to have their house in order before they venture into the public
  space.  If they seek to satisfy or fulfill personal needs in public places,
  they feed off of other people's unwillingness to be harsh in return.  I think
  of people who take their personal problems public as demanding beggars.

Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway

Act from reason, and failure makes you rethink and study harder.
Act from faith, and failure makes you blame someone and push harder.