I get it. It wasn’t actually meant literally to be a definitive list of trolls and malcontents. Amanda Marcotte’s essay on Rawstory.com, A Definitive Ranking of the Weirdest People on the Internet was, by my reading, more of a raspberry directed at the various offenders and malcontents who’ve taken time out of their days to make her Comment section and Inbox a terrible place.
She derived her slightly tongue-in-cheek list from three criteria, which she also included. Briefly, these were comments from people she described as obsessive, as trolling (that is, “commenting for purposes of eliminating any conversation about the topic“), and as humorless. She characterized the last as exhibiting butthurt (“self-pitying”) when confronted.
This is a good list, PZ. One needn’t be that much more specific to see that these guys really do shut a conversation down. They are condescending, anarchic, and manipulative. They don’t care about what you have to say. And, even if the list of weirdos isn’t (yet) complete — and I will describe the one type I think she left off — it does the work of listing objectively who is stalling the conversations. You can abstract from there. Whether on-line forum or conversations at work or some other public place, these types do tend to completely turn any conversation into something unpleasant (for it’s own sake) and non-productive.
I won’t keep you waiting too long with regard to that missing “type”. The common quality of most of those on her list is simply “obliviousness”. A couple of hangers-on at the end of the list could be described variously as “condescending” and “angry”, but the missing type is someone who, while bothering to comment, cannot be bothered to describe their own position; one who seems more interested in sneering and expressing the worst possible interpretation of your lengthy work; one who usually comments anonymously. Strictly speaking, this type doesn’t shut a conversation down, but I note that Marcotte did call for suggestions and she was indeed going for the “strangest characters”.
They are everywhere
As though on cue, the very first comment I read at the very top of the Comments section underneath her short essay, was a sneering and useless utterance from someone who, predictably, posted anonymously:
Comedy gold. This one couldn’t type even five more words to describe why this could even be hypothetically true — maybe this one could see straight into Marcotte’s soul and “just knew” that all of her detractors are “passionate” and that she actually always thinks herself to be inherently correct; all others stupid. The comment sits there, adding nothing to the conversation and helping no one understand what kinds of comments do and don’t contribute positively.
among the Marcotte Types
I noticed a bit of a pattern, as I alluded, among those types listed by Ms. Marcotte. It is true that each of these met at least one of her three perfectly reasonable criteria — and they really are strange characters — but they seemed a little “weighted” to me. The ten types could almost be (re-)characterized like this:
- …the oblivious male obsessives,
- …the oblivious so-called “Feminist” bigots,
- …the oblivious self-pitying creeps,
- …the oblivious politicos (Libertarians);
- …the oblivious fantasy heroes, unaware of how they actually respond to danger and unaware of how their heroic pose is really counter-productive;
- …the oblivious, self-styled super-mothers;
- …the oblivious vegans, unaware of how animals actually perceive their experiences;
- …the oblivious anti-Evolution/ClimateChange/Theory of Gravity, etc etc., completely unaware of the state of the art regarding various sciences;
I made that obvious enough, I guess. It really did seems like most of these types could be distilled down into a mental state characterized by an almost pathological lack of awareness.
The only two that aren’t strictly “oblivious”, on first look, are the two I didn’t include above. Morcotte described self-assured “Evolutionary Psych” types and the “automobile driving screamers”. The former “just know” what-and-why women behave-and-think the “way they do”; the later just want to blame others.
…well, no. Now that I look again, the last two are oblivious, too, aren’t they? The self-styled expert of Evolutionary Psychology type is entirely unaware of his own ignorance (anosognostically oblivious?) and the screamers are unaware of the fact that the problems they complaining about are actually of their own making! This last being not unlike that Right Wing syndrome in which Fascist Nationalists complain of all the crime and filth caused by immigrants (and/or liberals and/or queers and/or “kids these days”….), when in fact they, themselves are usually the primary contributing cause to these problems which they try to blame on foreigners, liberals, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, teenagers and other “deviants”.
Is oblivion generating all that ubiquitous, unproductive commentary out there?
“So, you’re basically just saying that…”
We are getting around to the missing type, entirely and completely useless, beyond tedious. The missing type generates a particular type of stupid commentary I’ve sometimes think of as a knee-jerk “distiller” who just wants to insult you, but also wants to make it look like a response to something you’ve said or written. Oscar Wilde said that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. But, the Poison Distiller doesn’t even bring sarcasm to bear.
The Poison Distiller is someone who apparently read, though probably just skimmed, your essay or article; they took exception with some point (or with your face) then, instead of indicating specific agreement or disagreement about some point or another — the former being, perhaps gratifying and encouraging; the later, informative and challenging — they simply state that your premises and supporting statements distilled down into the most degrading possible characterization. The degrading characterization being the bulk of their comment. I show a comment from one such distiller above. It’s funny to me that such comments seem so often to start with the words “So, you’re saying…”. Such an introduction is just about the least amount of effort required while still masquerading as a legitimate observation. The above commenter didn’t do that precisely, but the conclusion is the most wretched and misconstrued parody of several paragraphs of essay. The commenter wants to pass judgement, poke the knife, take a jab, with the effect that no one knows anything more except that anonymous commenter is counted among a select group of intelligencia uniquely able to state in the fewest possible words just why the author is not worthy.
I think that the Poison Distiller is not so much oblivious as much as they put themselves high above any condition of oblivion. They inhabit the space above even (oblivious) self-righteousness and pure (oblivous) anger.