We’ve reached the age of the troll. Is that a bad thing? Eh, we’ll see.
Whatever happens over the next four years, it’s now more important than ever to develop a level of disinterest.
Disinterest is frequently mistaken as being uninterested; not caring; cold; blasé. However, the preferred meaning, per the Oxford English Dictionary: “Not influenced by considerations of personal advantage.”
When you’re disinterested, you aren’t cold; you simply realize the decision or reaction must be deeper and perhaps more calculated than the emotions you feel at the moment. You’re giving yourself a break from the bull-matador relationship perpetrated by the internet.
As Christopher Hitchens, a favorite writer of mine, wrote: “Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder.”
Unhappiness and disorder is a fairly accurate way to describe the last two-or-so weeks. While many attempt to try and piece together the puzzle of social order via communication, others replace conversation and discussion with an attempt to hit someone in their core being via general nastiness. Insults aimed at things we can’t or would rather not change – gender, race, nationality, religion, political leanings, social leanings, sexuality, weight, physical appearance, etc. – have come from middle school into public roads, sidewalks, schools, and restaurants.
Honing your level of disinterest takes the power away from those who want a rise out of you, the aforementioned trolls. They want you to react. Why give them what they want?
You may have noticed this when dealing with a standard, run-of-the-mill asshole in real life. They goad you – tongue jutting out, smug smile, excited look in the eye. They want to see your eyes squint up and water ever so slightly, jaw tighten, and face redden. They don’t want you to argue back; they want you to bicker back. They want to dominate you. They want to get you to their level.
To use an annoying modern term, they want you to be “triggered” and they won’t be afraid to tell you when they think you are.
On the internet, it becomes much easier for the trolls and trigger-men. We all know a lot about each other now, as social media has opened up our brains and thoughts from few to many. We’re keenly aware of just how much bullshit some have gone through to keep existing; the day to day is exhausting enough, from work to slights to relationships, many of us now see just how exhausting the human experience, outside of our own skin, can be.
Then, seemingly from the depths of hell, someone pops up and starts in with ad hominem attacks, lies, grating commentary, nasty pictures, terms meant to demean, or just dumb bullshit. It’s like a drive-by shooting for people who live in their mother’s basement. In real life, this would be seen by a few witnesses as “some dickhead.” On the internet, it’s broadcast to many. You’re put on stage and almost expected to respond, lest you be “PWNED” or (ugh) “TRIGGERED!”
Words are not violence but, as Hitchens noted, they get our adrenaline pumping and our thinking clouded.
Honing disinterest takes that power away. Aristotle called it “eunoia,” which means “well mind” or “beautiful thinking.” It’s a willingness to sacrifice your own interests and desires for the greater good, in this case the greater good being your ability to not be pissed off all the time.
Instead of the instant reaction, you allow yourself a step backwards and think, hmm, what does this person want from me? Ah! They want a fight. Well, they won’t get that, but they will a level of calm, cool, and collected they hadn’t anticipated. Or perhaps they’ll get nothing at all.
There’s nothing more poisonous to a troll than this brand of anti-reaction.
This skill has come somewhat naturally naturally to me, to the annoyance of many. I’ve tried to use it less to hide emotions, as I had in prior years, and more to genuinely approach people who have a gruff or perhaps shit-covered exterior.
The muscles of patience and disinterest have grown thick and sinewy from years of meditation and even more years of thinking everyone was fucking with me. I was wrong on the latter, but I’m glad I get some use out the attempted or perceived tormenting of those who likely had their own demons.
At an old newspaper job, I still recall the eyes and neck veins bulging out of former editor’s head as he couldn’t quite find the words to get me to bicker back. On his warpath, the attempts had taken place for days via phone calls, meetings, and text messages. I smiled and calmly replied every time, always being sure to ask how he was doing as I entered and whether the weekend went well. The satisfaction I got from finally seeing him storm out of the room after yet another smile and positive response still fills my belly with warmth as I write this.
I call that the reverse disinterested troll. You should give it a try.