Aristotle on ‘trolling’

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aristotle_trollYou and me, everyone involved in internet fora, discussion boards, facebooks groups knows them: trolls.

This new document ‘found and translated’ by Dr. Rachel Barney and published on the  Journal of the American Philosophical Association is one of the best text you will read in a while.

We are instructed that there are several kinds:

“Hence the modes of trolling are many: the concern-troll, the one who ‘sees the other side’, the polite inquirer into the obvious. For the perfected troll has no need of rudeness or abuse, or even of fallacy (this belongs rather to sophistic or eristic, and requires making an argument): he only makes a suggestion or indication [semainein ˆ ].”

Can Socrates be called a troll?

“One might wonder whether there is an art of trolling and an excellence; and indeed some say that Socrates was a troll, and so that the good man also trolls. And this is in fact what the troll claims: that he is a gadfly and beneficial, and without him to ‘stir up’ the thread it would become dull and unintelligent. But this is incorrect. For Socrates was speaking frankly when he told the Athenians to care for their souls, rather than money and honors, and showed that they lacked knowledge. And this is not trolling but the contrary, exhortation and truth-telling— even if the citizens get very annoyed.”

Are trolls well-educated?

“[T]he peculiarity [idion] of the troll is not annoyance or controversy in general, but confusion and strife among a community who really agree. And since the one who does this on every occasion must act with knowledge, and on the basis of practice and care, he has a kind of art—just as one might speak of the art of the hack or of the grifter. But it is not really an art, being without any function; and it belongs not to the serious person to be a troll but to the one who lacks education.

And why do we all feed them, although we should not do so?

“And it is clear from this that there can be trolling outside the internet. For every community of speakers holds certain goods in common, and with them the conversation [dialegesthai] as an end in itself; and the troll is one who seeks to damage it from within. So a questioner can troll a political meeting, and academics troll each other in committees when they are bored; and a newspaper columnist may be a profit-troll towards a whole city. But blogs and boards and forums and comments sections are where the troll dwells primarily and for the most part. For these are weak communities, and anyone may be part of them: and so their good is easily destroyed. Hence the saying, ‘Trolls <are> not to be fed’. But though everyone knows this, everyone does it; for the desire to be right on the internet is natural and present to all.

Read the whole text here.

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