Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Trolling and the News

We all get trolled from time to time - and trolling has existed long before the Internet!

I get an e-mail from a reader, who asks, "Why do you hate Fox News so much?" which seems like an innocuous question at first, until you dissect it - it is the entree to a troll.   The question presupposes that I hate Fox News.  The troll impales you with an opinion that is not your own, and now you have to either defend this opinion or disclaim it.  Neat trick.  It is the classic loaded question - "have you stopped beating your wife?"  No matter whether you answer "Yes" or "No" you are admitting to being a wife-beater.  Even if you try to denounce wife-beating, you end up sounding like you are covering something up.  Like I said, it is a neat trick for trolls - and trolling has been around long before the Internet.

Well, stupidly, instead of hitting "Mark as SPAM" and delete, I answered the query. No, I don't hate Fox News, but in fact, all news organizations are about the same - selling eyeballs with sensationalism. It is just that Fox seems to be the most outré of all of them. But in their defense, I noted, Fox did go against Trump with his "election fraud" nonsense and there's something to be said for that.

So in response to that, I get the classic troll line, "Well, I clearly see I touched a nerve!  Maybe when you calm down we can talk about this like rational human beings!"

It sort of falls flat in an e-mail, but works well in a discussion group or on social media where there is an audience - others see this and assume the other person is off their rocker, getting "all upset" about the topic at hand.   Like I said, it is a classic troll move - when you can't answer an argument, attack the person making the argument as unhinged.

And trolls are one reason to just avoid social media - it isn't worth the effort.   But trolling, like I said, has been around for a long time, and you may be trolled by friends or even family.  And coming from a dysfunctional family, I saw this firsthand.  My Mother, for example, would get drunk and go looking for a punching-bag, usually verbal, but sometimes physical.  Since I was the youngest and didn't have a driver's license or a girlfriend or mistress to go visit, I was sort of stuck at home, particularly on sub-zero snowy days, as we lived miles from town.  Gee, thanks, Dad! 

Anyway, one game my Mother used to play was to say, "Well, you think...." whatever and then having set up this straw man, knock it down with her drunken witty repartee - or what she thought was witty repartee and not just slurred words.  So for example, she might say something like, "Well, you think Richard Nixon is so great!" or something like that, which is an odd thing to say to a 13-year-old who didn't particularly care for Nixon, anyway.  And then she would make a triumphant argument as to why Nixon was no-good and "win" the day.  And it didn't matter if you agreed with her or disagreed with her, she was blind drunk, which I suspect most trolls are on the Internet.  Have a few beers and cruise Facebook - what fun!

My eldest brother, the stinking hippie, perhaps being schooled in this nonsense by Mom, did the same sort of thing.  If you were not a follower of Karl Marx, well, then you were some evil Capitalist bastard.  "You think babies should be harvested for their organs, don't you?" or something like that.  Again, the actual argument is not the point, it is ascribing a viewpoint to another person without their consent, which is an evil thing to do.   Politicians do this all the time.  "My opponent thinks we should abolish the Constitution and live in a Socialist paradise!" one intones, and half the people listening believe this, asking the opposing candidate, "Why do you want to destroy America?"

You see how the game is played.  And when the opposing candidate denounces such chicanery, the loudmouth who started it all merely has to say, "Well, sorry I upset you!  Clearly you are unhinged and unfit for office, if you let little things like me calling you a traitor to our country, get on your nerves!"

Trolls suck - but they are everywhere.   When you see an ad in the Warehouse store brochure for the ultimate backyard playground set that says, "Be the envy of the neighborhood!" you are being trolled.  Because you either buy a playset for your kids so they can enjoy it, or not.  Buying something to make the neighbors envious is..... well, dumb.

By the way - and I digress here - I got my homeowners insurance renewed and there was a trampoline rider or disclaimer on it.  If you have a trampoline in your back yard and the neighbor kids falls off and breaks their neck and is crippled for life, well too bad for you, your insurance doesn't cover it.   And that right there is why you rarely see trampolines in wealthier neighborhoods - people with assets don't need that kind of liability.  Cooter in his trailer, with the redneck trifecta - the tinkler above-ground swimming pool, "envy of the neighborhood" (or trailer park) play set, and trampoline - has nothing to lose, other than the money he is squandering on crap while barely making his lot rent ever month.

But I digress.

Getting back to the News, it is depressing to read it these days - which is odd as it seems we are turning a corner on this virus thing and the economy hasn't crashed quite yet.   But it seems each media outlet is using current events to trick us into clicking on articles that are designed to get us upset, outraged, and depressed.

Talk about trolling!

So, another day, another mass-shooting.  And politicians on both sides of the aisle line up to push their agendas.  "If only we had more gun control!" Democrats say.  "How dare you!" the Republicans reply (classic troll, by the way) "with the bodies still warm!  Have you no shame?"   Yes, Republicans have no shame.  They go on with, "The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!" and then describe their dream world where everyone is armed and daily shootings are a common occurrence.  Their dream is coming true.

Problem with the "good guy with a gun" argument is that a good guy was there with a gun during the last shooting - a policeman, in fact.  He is dead now.

Of course, no one wants to talk about a compromise - how about no crazy people with guns?  Yea, I know, hard to enforce, particularly in an era where mental illness is pretty much defined by the irrational need to accumulate an arsenal of weapons for no particular reason other than vague paranoid theories that are promulgated by the right-wing media.  Or the left.

Yes, I recounted before how a young black friend of mine showed me his new shotgun (part of an arsenal he was collecting).  After many well-publicized incidents where black people died in custody, he wasn't "taking any chances" he said.  "If the cops pull me over, I'm shooting first!" - which seems like a dramatic response to a potential speeding ticket.

I tried to explain to him that pulling a weapon on a Police Officer gives them carte blanche to gun you down, without any consequences.   Upping the ante here isn't the right idea, it would only make things worse.  Similarly, this idea that if everyone carries a gun, they can start an old-West style free-for-all in the grocery store when a mentally imbalanced person shows up with an assault rifle (and please don't try to tell me those don't exist and "Palestinians" are not real either - trolls don't get to control the language of the debate!).   It would not decrease violence, it would increase it.

But speaking of trolling.... the NRA.  As we have learned in recent months, the NRA is basically an organization more interested in lining their own pockets than anything else.  Most organizations are this way, whether they are a charity, a car company, or a lobbying group.  The guy at the top wants to see his perks protected - and increased.  And every so often, this sort of thing blows up, when it is revealed that the head of a car company is using private jets at company expense to take his family on vacation, or the head of a charity is using charity money on hookers, or the head of a lobbying group is taking home an obscene salary.  The only answer, I think, is to consider carefully before throwing your pitiful dollars at these organizations.

But the classic troll the NRA and other "guns rights" groups use, is to exerpt the helpful parts of the second amendment.  It is, after all, one sentence long, and that is too much to process.  So instead of:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

They print:

"... the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed".

Which misses the point.  These crazy people storming the Capitol were not a "well-regulated Militia" but traitors to the very Constitution they claimed to be defending.  Drunken nutjobs running around with their shirts off in some self-declared "militia" are not "well-regulated" at all.

And besides, the Supreme Court has held, time and time again, that regulation of weapons is permissible, but outright bans are not.  So no, you can't own a nuclear weapon, or a howitzer.  You can own a machine-gun, but it is damn hard to get a permit.  And permits to carry concealed weapons were, at one time, hard to get (and still are, in some States) and probably should be.  It is not against the Constitution, eitherBut of course, that is up to the Supreme Court to decide, not you and me.   What they decide next week is anyone's guess, but based on 200 years of jurisprudence, "anything goes" isn't the law, just yet.

But again, if you say this, the trolls come popping out.  "You're against guns!" they cry - again ascribing an opinion to you that is not your own.  I am not against guns, just against people who are stupid and irresponsible.   Like a friend of mine who kept a loaded .357 Magnum next to his nightstand and blew part of his head off one night.  Why he needed such a hand-cannon loaded next to his bed is anyone's guess.  To me, it is just irresponsible gun ownership.  They do make gun safes - I have two of them.

Or people who leave guns around where children can find them.  Or idiots who I used to party with, who would get drunk and then pull out their pistols (paging Dr. Freud!) and play around with them.  "Oh, no, it ain't loaded!" they would say, but when I asked them to check, it was "Whaddya know?  There was one in the chamber!"  Duh!

The NRA used to stand for responsible gun ownership - teaching gun safety to kids in Boy Scounts and teaching people how to handle firearms safely.  Today, their core member is the guy who lays out guns on his bed (Dr. Freud!) to take a photo to post on the Internet.  Google it - it's a thing.

These are not people who hunt.  These are not even people who bought a pistol for "personal protection" or whatever.  These are folks assembling arsenals of weapons for a potential mass-shooting.  There is no other legitimate reason for collecting such an arsenal.  And no, throw-away AR-15 knock-off rifles are not "collectibles" any more than Elvis plates are.

The problem which is unique to the United States is not just permissive gun laws and lax enforcement, but our mental health system.  Years ago, we let people out of mental hospitals to save money (and to be "compassionate") and gave them a few pills and wished them luck.  It didn't work.  There was a reason why we locked up paranoid schizophrenics back in the day, before they could hurt others or themselves.  In countries with fewer gun deaths, there are more restrictive firearms laws, but also better mental health care systems in place.   It isn't just about guns.

But once again, I digress...

The point is, the "news" is just bullshit.  First of all, we don't know what "really happened" until months or even years after an event.  They just sentenced a guy who shot and killed two elderly black people at random in a grocery store.  We know now that he was blinded by racial hatred and set out to target people of color - and killed them.   If you look at his picture, you see those same crazy eyes staring back at you.  Maybe some sort of facial recognition software will detect this in the future.  The point is, it is nearly three years later when we know the whole story.

But again, simple answers to complex problems are usually the wrong answers.  And sadly, after each one of these "news" events, both side trot out their simple answers and panaceas to all of our problems.  Each person looks at the same "news" story through a different lens.  The Leftist sees the need for gun control.  The rightist sees the need for more guns.  It is the tale of the three blind men and the elephant, each "seeing" a different thing, and each getting it all wrong.

And it doesn't look like that is about to change - which is why I don't bother watching the news so much anymore.   Any why it is so depressing.