Of Devil’s Advocates and Trolls

Sometimes I just don’t know how I get myself into these things. It seems, I not only bear the resemblance of my grandfather, but also his devil’s advocate nature. Something that my previous churches never really encouraged and I didn’t really know could do well until I was out of church altogether.

It really spoke to me when I saw the scene in World War Z with the older man answering the question how he saw it coming. He started by explaining a hard-learned history lesson. How time and time again, his people agreed that nothing out of place was happening, only to discover that they were very wrong. The created a policy to fix their blind spot – when nine people in a room all agree on something, it is the duty of the tenth to investigate the matter under the assumption that the other nine are incorrect.

Sometimes a good: “Why not?” or “How so?” is all it takes for a person to explain what they believe, come to realize the implications of that belief when carried out to it’s most logical conclusion is harmful or untenable, and learn a valuable lesson in walking a mile in another person’s shoes (Ex. “I believe that marriage is the ideal.” Wouldn’t it follow that  singleness is living a less than ideal life?). I’d like to think that any good Devil’s Advocate is principled – the point isn’t to be right or wrong, but to come to a fuller understanding of a belief or idea. It’s important to know when the person you’re speaking with desire to disengage, it’s important to be respectful and polite. The moment you attack a person’s character or integrity, it’s the moment your arguments lose the ability to hold water and all your effort comes to naught.

But there are some out there on the internet who are like the ridiculously unbelievable game show contestant who tends to get voted through to the next round just to see what crazy antics they pull next. They unashamedly say some of the most vile, racist, outlandish, and nonsensical comments possible. They attract followers like moths to flame, like on-lookers at an accident scene – trying to see everything in it’s gloriously gory detail.

It seems, I fed one – but I had no way of knowing it at the time. Now twitter isn’t my usual medium. So I’m not that familiar with; well, anyone. I don’t know who or what a troll looks like. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of feeding not just any troll, but one of the worst ones. One who was infamous. At least I can say that if I’m to make a mistake, it’s better to go all out and get it over with.

Now when I was once described as being a troll when I disagreed with the OP of a different blog, I was annoyed. I was a principled devil’s advocate, not some unscrupulous troll out to amuse themselves at the expense of some other unsuspecting person. There seems to be a space lacking for an honest person to have a disagreement with the OP of a post – as trolls disagree with everything as a matter of routine, so all disagreement must be that of trolls trying to stir the pot. Except for when they’re not, but since the internet is for people who are in total agreement, there’s really no reason for people to disagree unless they’re trolls. I’d like to think the guy who labeled me as a troll has come to see that having a different opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a troll out to anger him or make him look like a fool. We have had some interesting and friendly dialogue since then.

A certain exchange student is also to blame for me being a devil’s advocate, he was one too. He explained to me that if you always agreed with everybody on everything, then you wouldn’t really know why you agree on what – “It’s a nice day.” Could mean “pleasant” or “cool” or “not rainy” but you’d have to disagree: “Could be better / At least it’s not worse.” to get a feel for what people mean by what they say. You could learn so much more by disagreement because people explain their side far more fully than they would if you agreed with them not knowing what they were saying.

Bilbo Baggins: Good morning.

Gandalf: What do you mean? Do you mean to wish me a good morning or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?

Bilbo Baggins: All of them at once, I suppose.

So for the last day or so, every time I open my twitter account, I see new comments meant for me, left by people who are the on-lookers; trying to stir up the embers of a fire and re-ignite the blaze that fizzled out quickly thanks to the timely intervention of a wise guide who let me know that I was dealing with an infamous troll. In all this, I learned that you can’t always see them coming or avoid them altogether, that you shouldn’t ever take anything personally, and you have a super-power that lets you win. When you get inundated with dozens or more tweets – you can always turn off the computer and watch a Hobbit / Lord of the Rings marathon or get a good night’s sleep; given enough time, they’ll move on and you’ll be back to your old routine – perhaps a little wiser for the wear.

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