There is an Eddie Izzard sketch about “original sin” — in which people try to come up with, well, original sins. One of which, if I recall correctly, was “Poking Badgers With Spoons.”
And now, when I charge into battle on a right-wing (or alt-right) or ultra-religious site, I will admit to my friends that I’m back poking badgers.*
The question they often ask is “Why?”
The question I often ask myself is “Does this make me different from a troll?”
The answer to the first question comes in multiple parts:
- It lets me blow off steam; it’s fencing. I was brought up in a household of debate and argument and rhetoric; I bring those tools to my arguments elsewhere in the hope that I can, perhaps, shed some light and point out a few contradictions/assumptions while I’m having fun.
- For some of the notions out there, it’s worth actually combating them wherever they show up — Tom Kratman’s “It’s legitimate for me to shoot socialists coming to power as ‘self-defense'”, for example.
- I learn things.
#3 requires some definite expansion — but, as an example, when I was arguing with Rick Warden over at Templestream about one of his risible proofs for the existence of God**, he made a statement about the “universal truth of the law of non-contradiction.” I found myself suddenly wondering if that was “universal”. Surely, someone must have challenged it.
And I found someone who had: Graham Priest, whose books on dialethism I find fascinating. I’m not sure I ever would have run across Priest, had I not argued with Warden.
Similarly, arguing with someone on John C. Wright’s blog encouraged me to seek out and read Ken Liu’s Mono No Aware — and I am very, very glad that I did.
Taking things that are fundamental assumptions of mine and having to defend them against other people helps me find out new ways to be clear about my views, and new ways to defend them. I now am very chary of using phrases like “laws of logic” and “laws of nature” because of how easily people go from that to presuming a lawgiver, an enforcement mechanism, etc. Similarly, having been challenged many times on “It’s impossible to imagine that…” and coming up with examples — I’m an SF writer, it’s what I do — I’ve dropped “I can’t imagine…” from my speech; I very often *can*.
As to the latter: I draw a distinction that others may or may not share, and may or may not think applies to me:
I argue to win, and I change my arguments and respond.
A troll, to me, is arguing to infuriate/anger/outrage the other person. Their reward is the anger coming out of the person they’re dealing with. (For example: nominating obviously inferior works for Hugos in order to irritate the people who care about them is trolling. Nominating works you think are honestly good is not — it might be slating, but it’s not *trolling*.)
I don’t think I’ll ever convince the Kratmans or the Wrights of the world that they’re wrong. I might convince someone reading them that they are, and I might convince someone commenting in their blogs that they’re wrong. But nothing would give me more pleasure in the argument than to have them “see the light”, as it were. I would much rather have John C. Wright as a friend than as a fervent opponent who considers me subhuman.
Also: If all you are doing is posting the same canned response over and over again, you’re not engaged in a dialogue — you’re spamming. So I make it a point to respond to the comments which engage with me. (Of course, this usually gets me called names as being overly loquacious, but if I don’t engage, or engage at little length, I’m accused of being a troll or just using cheap one-liners. I can’t win that particular game, but then again, I’m not the one playing it.)
So, to me, I am not a troll; I may be poking badgers with spoons to relatively little effect on the badgers, but that is not the same thing.
(Upcoming: some poking of badgers with spoons in this space, since I have learned something from dealing with them, and they politely asked me not to come into theirs. Sadly, this means they probably won’t even notice, but you never know.)
*The original badger for whom this was coined was actually a left-wing conspiracy nut, utterly committed to the notion that 9/11 was an inside job. When I presented him with the possibility of another group — one whose influence, while still strong, was definitely on the wane, while post-9/11, it had shot to new heights of economic success, political influence, and access — he agreed they sounded likely candidates too. When I said that described the band U2, and he agreed they needed investigating, I gave up.
** “seems most likely that” does not have a place in a proof, for example.