We look at trolling with this big groan, as if the act of starting a fight or drawing attention to your opinion is grounds to dismiss the content of your opinion entirely. Trolling wouldn’t work if that was the case. Trolling is effective only when it touches on conversations we don’t want to have because we’re insecure about how accurate our own opinion actually is.
Robert Pirsig describes this more eloquently in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
If we were convinced that motherhood and being a wife was a freely made goal that did not in any way encumber women, my post wouldn’t have over 200k social shares, I wouldn’t have received hundreds of emails in the span of a few days, and news channels wouldn’t be contacting me to help them get their viewers outraged and hooked on their TVs.
As a culture we become content and complacent in our beliefs. We think the fact that something is universally accepted means that it is good, or true. Stating an opinion outside of the norm, without disclaimers and disingenuous statements about how it’s “just” my opinion and every opinion is equal, is trolling because we become upset that under further inspection our own beliefs might not be as rational as someone else’s.
The person I admire most, Socrates, was the biggest troll in history and responsible for creating the entire shell of western culture. Socrates wasn’t a writer, he preferred his trolling to be IRL. In the digital age, I believe he would be writing for Thought Catalog, Kinja, and Medium. And all the old school media outlets would be complaining about how self-important he was.
There’s a story that Socrates visited the Oracle at Delphi who told him that he was the wisest man in Athens. Socrates didn’t believe he was the wisest man in Athens so he spent his life asking people questions, trying to find someone more wise than himself. Having an opinion doesn’t mean you think it is right or that you are smarter than other people, it is a vehicle towards truth that only works when you engage with others.
From a more conservative angle, lots of proponents of traditional gender roles are Christians. I think Jesus was really admirable for his trolling. All he did was attention grabbing things to draw attention to the new interpretation of the law under the new covenant. Because Jesus was indelicately seeking confrontation with religious people about their deeply held opinions was he just looking for negative attention? Was he jealous of the hotter guys in Galilee? Did his mom just not give him enough attention? Those are what the internet commenters would say if he was alive today.
Martin Luther NAILED his ideas to the door of the church. Tell me that’s not trolling? Should he have instead kept his opinions to himself because everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you shouldn’t make judgements about what other people believe?
I never believed in keeping your unorthodox thoughts repressed in the back of your mind. How does that benefit anyone? Isn’t it better that we discuss these things publicly? Isn’t conversation often a better route than repression?
Trolling combines the act of having an unpopular opinion with the skill of incentivizing people to engage with it. When you have an opinion formed it is complacent until it is challenged. If I didn’t troll, the only people I would be speaking to are people who agree with me and want to confirm their own biases. We go to websites like Jezebel or Fox News to read things that help us think the way we already think, but with new soundbites. Trolling engages you with things you aren’t already thinking. That’s not being done otherwise.
There’s a greater motivation to trolling than needing attention or being a jealous hater. It’s dialogue.