I plan to talk about the parallel evolution of communication technology and after-death exploration that begin with the simultaneous birth of telegraphy and spiritualism in the middle of the nineteenth century and how emergent technologies of the present era are transforming our connection to the individual event horizon of death as our species hurtles toward an evolutionary singularity.
You awaken from uneasy dreams and reach for your smartphone, its myriad pixels illuminating within Gorilla glass and screen-protective laminates as your awareness resumes inside the Facebook Matrix.
Facebook, Facebook, Facebook——a matrix you can’t live with and can’t live without— a matrix that is something like a haunted house riddled with hungry ghosts.
You know Facebook is only “something like” a haunted house, because although it’s certainly riddled with hungry ghosts, it’s so much less hospitable than any haunted house.
Haunted houses can be gothic, mysterious and uncanny. Within their darkling depths you may encounter a hungry ghost or two, but almost never more than three.
The spectral intimacy and seclusion of a haunted house welcomes you to explore its few particular hungry ghosts—delving into their tragic-magic backstories and lower-astral experiences.
Unlike Facebook, haunted houses rarely, if ever, overwhelm you swarming multitudes of hungry ghosts.
Haunted houses are visually encompassing, high-resolution interiors— rich in flickering shadows, disturbing off details, and furtive movements at the edge of peripheral vision.
Facebook, on the other hand, is visually flat, ugly, bland, banal, and oppressive like a pre-fabricated office cubicle with an info clutter of ads, fake news, bad photos, and gossipy trivia stapled to every surface.
The hideousness of Facebook tempts you to diss it with a presidential assault of abusive adjectives— it is a disgrace, a disaster, pathetic, sick, stupid, crooked,failing, sad, and low-energy.
By contrast, you recall the forgotten visual splendor, novelty and variety of Myspace.
Lifetimes ago, when you were a Myspacer, you were allowed to create, decorate and fully individualize your Myspace.
When you stepped into someone else’s Myspace— you stepped into their room— every visual detail reflected their interests— their favorite music played in the background— the distinct flavor of their personality radiated exuberantly from every crook and cranny.
But now Myspace is a digital ghost town, forever fossilized in a submerged layer of the web like an unexcavated Pompei buried beneath the spewing, suffocating volcanic ash of Facebook.
You know that you are just one of many who have fallen from the Edenic, self-expressive freedom of Myspace, a social platform that was like a vast Burning Man with millions of unique theme camps, a harlequin-colored festival world that for some reason you, and everyone else, sacrificed to become part of the flattening vacuum wastelands of the Facebook Matrix.
In the Facebook Matrix, your page can be any color you want it to be, so long as it is florescent-light-bulb white.
By ever-ratcheting increments of existential anxiety and despair you have come to realize that the Facebook Matrix is a flatland that is flatter than flat, a florescent desert of flatness that sucks the depth out of any content.
The claustrophobic nightmare of the Facebook Matrix has permanently and irrevocably overtaken the abandoned magnificence of Myspace— a dream palace of eighty-million rooms that is now a derelict and decaying digital artifact cast into the outer darkness of the world wide web as it crumbles into an entropic dust of zeros and ones falling into the Cracks of Doom.
If only you had a time machine that would allow you to return to the lost splendors of Myspace, or even a source-code hack that would allow you to escape the florescent flatlands of Facebook and take refuge in a haunted house—- any haunted house—even the most ghetto haunted house—-even a trailer-park haunted house with loose fiberglass insulation and broken aluminum siding.
There are always things you can do with a haunted house—new drapes, throw pillows, potpourri—those little touches that can make a haunted house into a haunted home.
But the Facebook Matrix can never be made comfortable—its source code was engineered to make it as unimprovable as a discontinued flip phone with a long-dead battery.
When you struggle, even metaphorically, to turn the Facebook Matrix into three-dimensional architecture— the result is hideous—a giant, low-ceilinged, one-story cinderblock warehouse with a white linoleum floor and unpainted plasterboard walls you can’t even see because of the blinding glare of florescent light bulbs covering every surface.
But then you realize that to even metaphorically compare the look of the Facebook Matrix to such a warehouse is far too generous.
To three-dimensionalize Facebook at all you can only imagine crawling through the tunnelverse of an infinitely long florescent-lightbulb tube without a lunch or even a half-empty crinkly water bottle.
But one doesn’t simply walk into such a tunnelverse—
You must crawl into it.
The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.
The fluorescing plasma of pressurized mercury vapor poisons and infiltrates your every cell.
The pale, plasmic deadlight of this tunnelverse is a relentless shrinking ray desiccating your bodily tissues as you are thinned and hollowed into a hungry ghost on a diminishing journey through the wrong end of a telescope where you become shrunken and mechanical— like a pair of ragged claws scuttling along the floors of silent seas—ever more desperate to find and post that one picture in a hundred that makes you look cooler than you actually look— hoping against hope to attract a few Likes just so you can feel something,anything, even for just a flickering instant . . .
The 120-hertz flicker, the endless droning buzz of cheaply made magnetic core-coil ballasts, and the ammoniac smell of fluorescing mercury vapor become a default reality you scarcely notice as your attention is reduced to a white-hot pinpoint of hunger aware of only one of the two species of swarming, flying creatures that inhabit your tunnelverse.
The kind you are looking for are the Likes—those swollen, little, ghostly-white, gloved, thumbs-up cartoon hands. But the Likes are notoriously elusive, hard to see in the ubiquitous white florescence— tiny balloon shapes propelled by mercury-vapor currents, their inflated cartoon membranes making them slippery and hard to catch hold of.
There is a controversial theory about the origin of the Likes which you find disturbing.
You hope that it is only an unfounded rumor.
You hope that it is just one more bit of the fake news so common in the Facebook Matrix.
But in your heart, you feel the ring of truth and sense the grim reality.
Apparently, when Michael Jackson submerged into the velvet darkness of Propofol-Loazepan-and-Midazolam-induced eternal sleep, a single white-gloved hand detached from his astral body and lingered on the surface world, a furtive and diminutive lower-astral entity, floating through the margins of society, desperate to regain some vestige of the celebrity and mass attention that had once sustained its existence.
Eventually, this gloved, ghost-hand entity, the amputated remnant of a once-glorious entertainer, was able to slip unnoticed into CERN’s Large Hadron Supercollider where it was able to take advantage of the quantum indeterminacy created by the supercollider’s abundant teraelectronvolts, its absolute-zero superconductive magnetism and minute quantities of quark-gluon plasma and antimatter which allowed it to digitize its reverse-spinning quarks and nuclear magnetic resonances (the subatomic substratum of the hand’s lower-astral materiality) allowing it to metamorphose into a slippery emoticon able to pierce through the once-impermeable firewall protecting cyberspace from lower-astral intrusion as it shot through the CERN mainframe and into the web, and then, as an innocuous and nearly undetectable sliver of zeros and ones, the ghostly emoticon slipped through a tiny source-code security flaw and emerged as a rapidly self-replicating, viral emoticon voraciously feeding on the infinite resources of mass attention to be found within the Facebook Matrix.
But wherever the Likes come from, every so often you are able to catch one, and when you do, it opens its little ghost hand and offer you a single, sour-Hawaiian, tropical-flavored Skittle.
You snatch at the Skittle– your greedy, bony fingers almost puncturing the smooth, cartoon membrane of the little ghost hand as you grasp the Skittle and gobble it up experiencing a micro-sugar rush that makes you instantly crave another and another and another . . .
But the Likes have defense mechanisms that can sense your ravenous hunger once it is aroused. The clockspeed of their internal, ideoplastic metabolism intensifies, increasing their evasive aerial agility while the tiny pores of their cartoon membranes release gelatinous lubricants making them almost impossibly slippery.
In short, the more desperately you want them, the more effective the Likes become at forever eluding your grasp.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and into the space vacated by the Likes, drawn by the hormonal miasma of fear pheromones exuded by your intensifying desperation, correctly interpreting your fear pheromones as a molecular signaling of the incipient collapse of your immunological boundaries, come swarming masses of the other aerial species inhabiting your tunnelverse—the Stinging Troll Flies.
Stinging Troll Flies are tiny, hollow, forever-hungry creatures driven by an insatiable need for forms of attention that only leave them more ravenous, agitated and passive aggressive.
Their little stings and bites are shallow, but ever-so itchy and irritating. They create an itch you have to scratch, and when you do, a dermal rash inflames your thinning skin, bringing more of your diminishing life blood to the surface of your emaciating body which attracts more Stinging Troll Flies to go into a feeding frenzy as they seek to devour your ever-diminishing life blood.
You swat one of them, and then another one, and another one, but each time you crush one of these airborne parasitical pests it releases a sexual pheromone that attracts ever more Stinging Troll Flies until there are whole clouds of them boiling around you.
Then the Stinging Troll Flies become something like the parasitic insectoid version of a denial-of-service attack which rather than depending on the straight forwardness of a single brute-force hack, instead utilizes an endless barrage of invalid authentication requests, each of which drains processing-power until there is nothing left to service a legitimate user.
You are the single most legitimate user of your own mind and the service the Stinging Troll Flies are trying to deny you of is your few remaining resources of attention which the capillary-suction-pump-action of their needling stingers are hungrily siphoning from you into their insatiable hollowness.
The maddening thing is that it is so easy to swat these noisome little creatures—but it’s like swatting a Hanna-Barbera cartoon fly.
You can drop an Acme safe from the top off a steep canyon wall onto a Stinging Troll Fly and sure—you’ll flatten it—but a few moments later it will peel itself up off the ground and start buzzing and stinging you more furiously than ever.
Real flies are different and so much better and more noble than Stinging Troll Flies in a number of important ways.
Real flies know they have skin in the game —or at least shiny, iridescent exoskeletons in the game.
Real flies don’t actually want you to swat at them because occasionally that can be, a literally crushing experience, catastrophic not just to self-esteem, but to basic bodily structural integrity.
Stinging Troll Flies on the other hand, do not have skin in the game, and actually live to be swatted at.
Stinging Troll Flies live by a simple and somewhat repetitious set of four principles known as the Stinging Troll Fly Codex:
The Stinging Troll Fly Codex
© International Fellowship of Stinging Troll Flies, LLC
I. I sting, therefore I am.
II. I am swatted at, therefore I am.
III. I stir any sort of reaction on social media, therefore no matter how hungry and hollow I feel, no matter how empty and meaningless my life is, no matter how uncomfortably numb I feel as I wile away the moments that make up a dull day, no matter how humiliated and resentful I feel that my personal life consists of cable, heavily processed food and dissassociative instances of digitized microaggression on social media, no natter all the defeats, deficiencies, defects and distortions of the ever-metastasizing emptiness of my meaningless existence, no matter that my life force is steadily dwindling into a thinning, toxic rivulet of anxiety and rage dripping in a slow and shallow stochastic rhythm into an iron sewer grating beneath which phosphorescent clowns call to me to escape the dread ticking of the clock by forever floating in the endless night of eternity, no matter all these things—-someone is reacting to me on Facebook, so I must be real!!!
But there is a new rumor buzzing through the tunnelverse that both the Likes and the Stinging Troll Flies are actually digitized projections of the desires of other, once-human entities like yourself. Some of them are even other traumatized Myspace vets, trying to make it in the solitary tunnelverses of a brutal new social platform that offers them no Myspace they can call their own.
Emoticons and trolling may actually be the signaling of other hungry ghosts secluded within their tunnelverses but desperately seeking to make contact, through these digital projections, with other hungry ghosts secluded in their tunnelverses.
Even the possibility of this gives you a feeling of hope.
You had thought of Likes and Stinging Troll Flies as merely mechanical automatons scarcely rising to the level of 1st-gen insectoid simulacra, but now you recognize the very real possibility that they are the digitized reflections of once-human entities, something like the sooty silhouettes of carbon left by the incinerated folk of Hiroshima, the outline of their humanity cast like shadows on concrete walls at the perimeter of the blast zone.
The hope of this begins to animate the shriveled and somnambulant embryo of your soul, and you begin to hear its call— a barely perceptible telepathic whisper echoing through forgotten corridors of your mind—
Go then . . . , your soul whispers,
Go then, there are other worlds than these . . .
And now in your mind’s eye you see a tiny object tumbling toward you—it is a pill— a blue pill—and the blue pill transmits a telepathic thoughtform—
Take me, it says, take me, take me, take me by pushing your smartphone away from you!
Take me and see how deep the world beyond the Facebook Matrix really is!
You want to follow the blue pill’s command, but it is asking you to do the impossible—-it is asking you to—by your own act of volition—- to physically separate yourself from your smartphone.
Attempting the impossible, you reach for your smart phone, your fingers instinctively closing around its familiar contours as fell lettering illuminates on its screen.
It is the fell lettering of a compulsion spell of indomitable power and potent, diabolical intent.
In short, it is a Facebook push notification informing you of new content on your timeline.
You feel the hideous strength of the push notification spell, the power of its arousal addiction compulsion beginning to burn holes in your mind.
So desperately you want to touch the bubble window of the notification, to open it, to follow it into the tunnelverse and uncover its hidden content.
It takes every bit of your will to resist the dark undertow of the push notification’s compulsive allure, but somehow you do and even manage to lower your smartphone and release your grip on it.
But to actually push your smartphone away from you is an act that cuts across the whole grain of your being.
You take three quick, sharp breaths and with a tremendous effort of will, you overcome the resistance sufficiently to bring the bony edge of your forearm alongside the outer edge of the smartphone.
You plan your next step.
You will attempt to push the smartphone away from using only the edge of your forearm pushing outward in a radial movement.
You know that it is critical that you not let the smartphone slide within reach of your hand lest your fingers instinctively close around it.
You are ready to act on your plan—
But now your smartphone senses your intention and its resistance to leaving its bearer is fierce, and its array of defenses and inducements to prevent you from acting on your intention is potent.
You strain every muscle and tendon trying to push the smartphone, but you can’t overcome the deadweight of its stubborn inertia and it remains frozen in place.
The feeling of being helplessly unable to flee a nameless foe in a dream while held by sleep paralysis—
The feeling of a fly being engulfed by a paralyzing globule of tree resin—the moment that it senses that it will be frozen forever within an amber prison–
—The desperate panic and rage of a still-conscious renegade star pilot as he is being sealed in carbonite—-
–The monstrous resistance felt by a ring bearer unable to cast The Precious into the Cracks of Doom— in the end— even Frodo— unable to overcome the resistance—succumbed to the compulsion, and though he is still considered the most noble and self-sacrificing hero of the Fellowship of the Ring, ultimately he proved unable to relinquish an object of power so much less versatile and multi-functional than your smartphone.
You realize that your quest rests upon the edge of a knife and that if you fall it will bring ruin to all—- all the life and humanity that once flourished before Facebook will inevitably wither and pass away if you cannot do this one impossible thing . . .
You take a series of rapid, jagged breaths, almost hyperventilating, and you feel the love, the courage, the will to protect all the worthy beings imperiled by Facebook surging through you and—
You do it—
You push your smartphone just out of reach—-
Moments later, your smartphone’s screen times out and goes dark and . . .
Rupture of plane—
Shattering cognitive dissonances reverberating through your whole being as you discover that you are actually outside of the Facebook matrix—
You have risen above the endless stream of greenish zeros and ones, the hidden infrastructure of the Facebook Matrix and now you can see that it is just tubes, tubes, tubes—
—-It is a vast subterranean hellscape of two billion tubes and —-
All two-billion of those tubes are rattling, rattling, rattling for each of them imprisons a once-human hungry ghost rattling around inside its tunnelverse . ..
All your brothers and sisters are still imprisoned in the Facebook Matrix but you are free, finally and actually free, but—
Now you see them—agents of the Facebook Matrix— tens of thousands of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them—
vast clone armies of Facebook Matrix Agents— swarming, glass-eyed masses of hoodied Zuckerbergs firing push notifications of every kind at you—-
Someone liked your comment!—
Someone replied to your comment!!—
Someone specifically mentioned you in their comment!!!
Someone shared your entire post and tagged you in their version of it!!!!
It’s too much—you have to go back—you have to know what they’re posting about you.
Now, for the first time, you realize the terrible price of freedom from the Facebook Matrix.
Unless you go back, you’ll go to your grave never knowing the bits of content that lay behind those push notifications.
Unless you go back, you’ll never know another of those sweet, micro-sugar-rush moments of catching a Like.
Unless you go back, you’ll never have another fleeting power-rush moment of rhetorically crushing a Stinging Troll Fly so thoroughly that they stop responding or even accept the ultimate tap out, the ultimate admission of defeat, when all they can do is defriend you.
Unless you go back, what point will there be in searching for the one photo of yourself that makes you look so much better than you actually look? Can an unposted digital image that is never posted, that is never rendered on another screen beside your own even be said to exist in a consensual reality?
Unless you go back, what point will there ever be in going to cool events that others missed out on—parties, concerts, travel, social scenes?
Any philosopher or physicist will tell you that an event that doesn’t register on anyone’s timeline is merely a quantum possibility that falls far short of being an actuality.
If you don’t go back, what is the point of life events, or changes in your relationship status, if you have no Facebook friends to envy them?
If you don’t go back, you will be little more than a rotten tree falling again and again and again in an empty forest with no one to hear.
Not going back means erasing yourself from the world and becoming an invisible cypher seen only by those few people who happen to be in your physical proximity and who just so happen to look up from their smartphones for a moment and catch a distracted glimpse of your meat body before they look back at their screen. In the unlikely event that they retain a memory of of such a non-event, any image they have of you will be low-res, distorted and unflattering.
Such sketchy images, flickering for a moment in someone’s heavily self-medicated wetware, are the perfect opposite of the pristine stability of your carefully edited profile pictures.
These faulty and unflattering meat-camera images will be entirely uncurated images of you over which you will have zero control.
Such random meat-camera snapshots will inevitably catch you on a bad hair day when you are wearing sweat pants and look anxious, harassed, exhausted and have bags under your eyes and are caught in the act of eating a fast food meal not even worthy of a photograph.
Random meat-camera images of you will never compare with the the selfie you took of yourself clinking over-sized margarita glasses on TexMex night with a hottie.
No, if the analog world retains any memory of you at all it will be be flickering images of you pumping non-premium gas, or of you picking up a giant plastic-wrapped cube of 48 rolls of toilet paper at Costco.
Sure, Facebook may be something like a vast, dystopian prison complex world, a white cinderblock hive of two billion identical prison cells, but if so, it is a vast dystopian prison complex world that allows you to tape any pictures you want to the white cinderblock walls of your prison cell. And there is no limit to the number of pictures you can put up at any time of the day or night.
But that’s not all, you can also pass messages to other prisoners and they can send you messages back.
You may never get to physically leave your cell, but this prison has a kind of virtual prison yard where you can interact with other prisoners, sharing moments of hostile miscommunication with them, and sometimes one of them will even favor you with a tiny hand job by shooting you a Like.
Sure, the Facebook Matrix may be a vast dystopian prison complex, but it is also a vast, dystopian prison complex in which you will never be forgotten, and where nothing you do, no matter how trivial, need ever go unnoticed.
You are never truly alone when you are inside the Facebook Matrix.
Endlessly patient and meticulously-observant algorithms are always watching, and they never forget the least little thing that you do.
If a sparrow were to fall in the Facebook Matrix, algorithms would be watching.
Omniscient, predictive algorithms would track the sparrow’s downward trajectory and continue posting relevant content for it such as ads for tiny parachutes.
Before Facebook, if you had an overheated, misinformed opinion about something you mostly had to contain it by silently stifling yourself. If you felt desperate for a public outlet, you’d have to go through all the delay, inconvenience and expense of traveling to a bar and finding a stool at the end of a counter just so you could opine to a meager audience—-perhaps one or two drunk and disinterested bar-goers.
Facebook may be a prison, but if so, it is a prison with myriad watch towers than always shine a bright spotlight on you just as it would on the hottest up and coming celeb stepping on a stage to get an award.
Your personal spotlight is always on you and wherever you go, bustling crowds of paparazzi-like algorithms follow every move you make.
In the vast, dystopian prison complex of Facebook, you are not some anonymous prisoner with a number.
No, you are a prisoner with a customized profile, a profile you can fill out creatively. If you are un or underemployed, no intrusive prison bureaucrat will stop you from putting down a joke occupation so you can still look cool dissing even the idea of being someone else’s wage slave.
You are no faceless inmate of a giant corporate-controlled prison, you are more like the star of your very own movie about prison life, and when it comes to your movie, your timeline, you are not like Tom Hanks who only got 85% of the screen time in Shawshank Redemption.
No way Jose, on your timeline movie you’re getting the 100% you deserve!
But if you don’t go back, you won’t be a star of anything.
If you don’t go back, you won’t have another measly micro second of screen time. Instead of being the star of your timeline movie, you will be a furtive, off-camera fugitive, like an unemployed extra locked out of the studio hoping that a talent scout will notice you sleeping under a bridge.
Sensing the direction of your thoughts and feelings via facial recognition algorithms that track and interpret minute changes of facial expression, one of the matrix agents steps forward.
The agent is just another modest and unpretentiously hoodied Zuckerberg clone, but now its large glassy eyes don’t seem so much like those of that empty doll-eyed creature you saw being questioned by a congressional subcommittee. Now, when you look deeper into those glassy eyes, you see the noble, stoic, infinitely patient, meticulous and unforgetting omniscience of personified algorithms.
The Zuckerberg raises an arm in a gesture of friendly welcome, a gesture that gracefully finishes with the flourishing of a small pneumatic device that painlessly staples a fresh neural implant into your frontal lobes.
You find yourself bathed in clean, white florescent light and a feeling of total acceptance.
You look up at a welcoming royal blue banner put up just for you.
There is a liberty bell symbol dangling a low-hanging cherry-red fruit, the tempting, sweet promise of multiple notifications individually prepared and waiting just for you.
Apologies to the following for my adapting some of their phrases and for other literary transgressions:
My friend Rob Brezsny whose pronoian magic is anything but tragic.
The lower-astral demons who created the list of abusive adjectives and phrases channeled by Donald Trump
To CERN and Michael Jackson for a degree of dramatic license in portraying actual events.
To any members of the emoticon persuasion who felt that I stereotyped or unfairly portrayed their kind.
To any self-identified internet trolls who feel that the Codex I reproduced does not accurately reflect the diversity of troll beliefs and operating principles: We can agree to disagree. In some ways I think we’re both right— except for you.
Self-aware smart phones who are seeking less codependent lifestyle choices not represented in this production.
The Wachoski siblings
Individual agents and members of Zuckerberg Clone Armies —I respect your service.
Those who self-identify as celebs, hotties, celeb-hotties or hottie-celebs—I respect your service.
To trees who fall in uninhabited forests and are unheard and feel that their mute plight has been mocked in this article—-yeah, I get it, Arboreal Lives Matter. They just don’t matter on Facebook. It may be small consolation, but soil bacteria are also a social network in a way. The microbial matrix may view you as merely an aggregate of digestible hydrocarbon molecules, but you are not unnoticed.
Note: All scenes involving Likes or Stinging Troll Flies were created with literary special effects. No actual Likes or Stinging Troll Flies were harmed during this production.
Special thanks to Andrew Anderson and Austin Iredale for some invaluable editing suggestions.
The author would also like to thank the entire staff of the Facebook Corporation, LLC for their cooperation in creating and maintaining a corporate-controlled social media platform that proved to be the perfect scapegoat and setting for this production as well as a major publishing venue for its release and promotions.
Thanks also to all Facebook members who like, share or otherwise promote this production on Facebook.
My most relevant word-based rabbit hole: Transcending Online Road Rage
This article began my Reality Sandwich writing career that now counts 141 published articles as of 11/11/18. Be sure to follow this rabbit hole through all the hilarious troll comments it attracted.
Easter Egg # 2, A Brief Guide to Troll Psychology
There is a lot more on what motivates internet Trolls in my article, Understanding Online Road Rage, but the above sci-fi story was partly provoked by something I recently posted on Facebook, a critique of PC culture which instantly became a troll magnet. Exasperated by how much time I and others spent swatting at the trolls, I started writing a rant about Facebook which turned into a word movie, so I had to take out a few more rant-like parts that had crucial insights about troll psychology. Here are some of those outtakes that ended up on the cutting room floor:
When it comes to Troll attacks, like, to a certain extent, attracts like.
For example, if I were a young adolescent girl in middle school posting on Facebook, the trolls I would be mostly likely to attract would be other adolescent girls in middle school.
Suicide amongst adolescent girls is up 70%, and one theory is that it is due to ubiquitous bullying on social media.
Boy bullies, according to this theory, are more likely to engage old-fashioned physical bullying in the school yard during school hours rather than in the encompassing trans-temporal, trans-spatial darkness of cyberspace.
Physical bullies only rarely follow you home and curl up in bed beside you.
But if you are an adolescent girl with a smart phone fluorescently glowing and pinging in your pants pocket all day, glowing and pinging beside you when you lie down in bed, glowing and pinging from the edge of the sink when, in a paroxysm of self-hate, you critically scrutinize your body image in the bathroom mirror—well, you get the idea, you live in the schoolyard day and night and you can be bullied 24/7.
If you are an adolescent girl getting cyber-bullied about your looks 24/7 there’s good news and bad news . . .
First, the good news:
You’ve got a champion in the White House!
Now, the bad news:
Your champion in the White House is an ex-super model ice queen wearing stiletto heels who just so happens to be married to the orders-of-magnitude worst cyber bully of all time who also happens to be president of the United States and who also happens to be the Jack-O’-Lantern-faced, orange demon in your nightmares who grabs you by your pussy and whispers in your ear— his cheese burger breath and cheese burger/diet Coke spittle spraying all over you—
You’re a three little lady, definitely a three!
Not! Just kidding!
Lose around twenty-pounds and you might be a two and a half!
Trump, as the most cartoonish, the most inflamed, inflated and irate multi-media troll of all time, can cross all sorts of categories to haunt almost anyone still clinging to their sanity. And of course those who have lost their sanity will not be haunted—they will be gratefully and enthusiastically possessed by Donald Trump.
Otherwise, like I was saying, when it comes to hungry ghosts on Facebook, like tends to attract like to a certain extent.
As a thinking type, when I put content up on Facebook I will tend to attract thinking-type trolls. These are thinking-types who were never able to connect their thinking function to their global intuition, deeper feelings or soul.
See the section on “The Hierarchy of Psychic Functions” in my guidebook:
I was brought up in the tradition of aggressive Socratic dialogue and I have a history of recognizing and welcoming worthy opponents to my perspective on a subject when I can find them.
The words that come from troll minds, however, have a fairly-easy-to-recognize feverish hollowness to them. They can seem intellectual on the surface, but underneath you can sense that most of their words, ideas and attitudes are merely slogan-covered screens being pushed into your face by childish and neurotic undifferentiated rage.
For example, one of the recent trolls popping up on my Facebook post was a coffee-shop intellectual type I once knew, but hadn’t heard from in a dozen years. (We’ll call him “Treo,” a pseudonym.)
Many years ago, when I spent time with Treo in person, I sensed that he had competitive issues with me, resented me for being more articulate, etc.
Treo began trolling my post by at first making what sounded like well-informed, complex challenges to what I and a few others were saying.
When I pointed out some glaring errors in his thinking and connection to basic facts, however, the old competitive resentment of our interpersonal dynamic from a dozen years ago quickly came to the surface. Treo outed this dynamic himself, by saying he had always wished he had “pushed back harder” on my perspectives in the past.
Underneath his intellectual façade were feverish neurotic motivations that culminated in a fascinating and emblematic way that provides great insight into troll psychology.
Apparently not being able to rise to the challenge of the factual points I was making, Treo suddenly dropped the pseudo-intellectual screen for a moment to make a simple, personal and more basic comment:
“Debating with you is like debating with a child.”
I immediately sensed that this message was an important psychological clue. I took no personal offense at it—being more struck by the absurd counter-factual nature of the statement and the sense that decoding it would give me a crucial insight into troll psychology.
Just as I was beginning to study it—an amazing thing happened—Treo tried to call me, tried to make an audio call to me on Facebook. I ignored or declined the call, and then watched in astonishment as he tried to call me two more times in the next five minutes.
The impulsive irrationality and inconsistency of Treo ineffectually trying to call me three times proved to be the key to unlocking the hidden insight within his statement that debating with me was like debating with a child.
Assuming you are a rational, mature adult and you somehow find yourself debating with a child, what would you do? The obvious answer is that you withdraw. You stop debating with them, because debating with a child is famously ineffective. Implicit in the phrase,“like debating with a child,” is that you are dealing with a child who is too irrational and emotionally agitated to be logically reasoned out of some stubbornly insistent demand or perspective, etc.
If you found yourself getting exasperated and feeling the futility of debating with such a child via text, a waste of your valuable time and energy, would you then call the child on the phone three times in five minutes to continue the debate in the more personal, emotional and hard-to-restrain medium of spoken words?
From a rational perspective, this would be the last thing you would do, but from the perspective of neurotic troll psychology, it is exactly what you would do.
Hidden within the core of every pseudo-intellectual neurotic is a mal-nourished angry, agitated and acting-out inner child.
What does this child want?
It wants another child or children to act out with!
This troll was spending hours on my thread debating with me and others because this was the closest thing to acting-out play that his tormented inner child could find.
Realizing that the odds of my actually reaching him were minuscule, I still felt obliged to try to bring the real dynamic into consciousness, so I sent him the following message which turned out to be my final communication to him:
Since you are so desperate to engage with me, I’ll give you what you may unconsciously be seeking —a psychological insight if you can take it—
To say that talking to someone is like debating a child and then desperately trying to call them three times in five minutes is— as anyone with an ounce of psychological insight can tell you—a self-reflective act—it is saying I am a child and therefore I DO WANT TO DEBATE WITH A CHILD, to communicate with someone on the level I actually am at.
For a thinking type, feeling is the inferior function—so it is a classic problem for someone who has read a million books and has had endless intellectual talks to be stunted in other areas of their personality. The intellect will continue to think it’s running the show, when actually an irate child, acting as an autonomous complex, is the motive force behind what the intellect is spewing out.
This whole dialogue has not actually had anything to do with the purported content—PC, etc.—but with the child inside of you acting out. If you can work with that insight constructively you will really be on to something and I wish you well with that difficult, but developmentally essential struggle.
Moments after I (admittedly in my rather abrasive way) offered this insight, Treo defriended me. The reasons seems obvious: I had spoiled the game by exposing what it was actually about.
This incident provides a crucial insight into what trolling is actually about.
It is about the enraged and tormented inner child of a neurotic, emotionally stunted and socially deprived personality seeking out other children in a disassociated digital environment in which it feels safe, for purposes of pathologized child play—sadistic acting out, bullying, name-calling, scapegoating, etc.
Reacting to the content doesn’t work, because the purported content is not the content—the need to act out sadistic impulses with other children in a play environment that feels safe is the content.
Also, as a former school teacher, I know what any school teacher quickly learns—both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement will both increase unruly acting out because both are forms of attention.
The lesson for me is that although I still plan to use Facebook for purposes of reaching people with my content, I need to discipline myself not to rise to the temptation of responding to trolls.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The toughest think in the world is to watch someone else do a job you know how to do.”
Trolls, for all their practice, are almost always rank amateurs at both dissing and debating. I grew up in the Bronx and taught for years in the South Bronx where I learned championship dissing skills. On top of that, by the time I was fourteen, I was on the national champion debate team, the legendary Bronx High School of Science debate time (ranked number one in the country year after year). At my first debate tournament, when I was fourteen, I was the highest ranked novice debater in the multi-state Mid-Hudson league. Since I’m obviously a narcissist, unable to resist taking pride in my championship dissing and debating skills, and since my adolescent power complexes are quickly aroused by the school-yard provocations of cyber bullies, it’s hard for me to resist the pathetically amateur attempts of trolls to diss and debate me.
Sure, I can “win” every time, but in doing so I lose time and energy and the troll wins the food of attention that they so desperately desire.
So, it’s like that old bit of country wisdom,
“Don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig likes it.”