Given this blog’s theme of “my thoughts and the influences behind them”, I really can’t pass up the chance to comment on this recent post by the Archdruid (Emeritus), John Michael Greer, a Hegelian-Discordian analysis of the recent election. Excellent, excellent post. And very relevant to me because of my own fondness for Discordianism, that great joke religion / joke / actual religion (hail Eris! all hail Discordia!). To recap the central bit:
The Hegelian theory of history involves phases of thesis (a worldview rises to dominance), antithesis (a reaction to that idea emerges to oppose it), synthesis (the two are reconciled somehow and the cycle begins again).
This violates the key Discordian principle that all worldviews (including Discordianism), are hopelessly broken in the face of ultimate chaos. It also maybe violates the Discordian principle of the Law of Fives: “All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5.”
Thus, Discordianism has its own Hegelian-Discordian theory of the cycles of history: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, parenthesis, paralysis. Also described in terms of flavors of disorder: Chaos, Discord, Confusion, Consternation, and Moral Warptitude. In the last two phases, there are increasing efforts to paper over the insufficiencies, inherent contradictions, etc. in the newly-synthesized status quo, followed by everything going completely socioeconomireligopoliticulturally screwy.
Currently, the world is dominated by a neoliberal/neoconservatives status quo. Given that the world is dominated by similar modifications of nominally-antonymic ideologies with definitions that have substantially converged1, Confusion clearly abounds. And recent populist revolts against that status quo, which seem like a trend, also don’t fit the usual pattern of ideological Discord. (e.g. the voters for Brexit were doing so without some really basic facts about what policy changes would result and when, and Donald Trump’s willingness to say the “unacceptable” is a heck of a lot more consistent than his stance on basically any policy issue.) I’m not saying there aren’t ideological disagreements with the status quo present throughout all of this, but there’s a point where disagreements with the status quo are no longer in the drivers seat and a general desire to tear down the status quo is.
Moving beyond the recap, that JMJ post got me thinking about the topic of internet trolls. I’ve joked that with the election of Trump, America’s first black President is being followed by America’s first troll President.
Trolling seeks to upset or confound, to elicit a reaction. In parallel to the above, trolling can be ideological, but there’s a point where the desire to advance some ideology is no longer in the driver’s seat and trolling for trolling’s sake is. So one could (as I am about to do now for the hell of it) take the Hegelian-Discordian Dialectic and turn it into an ad hoc taxonomy of trolling:
- Chaos - Straightforward trolling
- Discord - Trolling as a means to an overt political end
- Synthesis - Concern trolling and other forms of covert provocation
- Consternation - Trolling as an overt rejection of norms of civility
- Moral Warptitude - Trolling for trolling’s sake
Given that analysis, 4chan’s “random” board, /b/, is one of the most dramatic and obvious examples of Moral Warptitude on the internet. To the extent that part of the internet can be unmoored from surrounding norms of civility (i.e. not completely), /b/ is. But to be a nexus of trolling means that it’s all “trolls trolling trolls”, and while such nexuses may be free from norms of civility in some sense, they’re surrounded by societies where those norms are still kicking. The form of chaos that characterizes the interactions at the interface between internet trolldom and the rest of society is Consternation. And, as previously established, we’re in a political moment where Consternation reigns supreme.
I doubt Trump is spending much time on /b/, and his trolling style is definitely more off-the-cuff and boorish than witty or elaborately self-referential. But Trump doesn’t have to be a paragon of trolling to be the world’s most successful internet troll. He just has to be an internet troll who’s just gotten himself elected President of the United States.
Because bigoted rhetoric confounds and upsets, insincerely adopting that rhetoric can be an effective form of trolling, and sincerely doing so can be an even more effective form of trolling. The current social media landscape is tuned to make resharing content easy, which means it’s tuned to making retrolling trolling easy. It’s reasonable to think that someone as central as the President tapping into this kind of thing could give the Overton window a giant shove, and there’s more directions in which we could go into an era of Moral Warptitude than just a general defeat of the norms of political correctness.
1. For example, a Google search for those two words reveals definitions of “relating to a modified form of liberalism tending to favor free-market capitalism” and “relating to or denoting a return to a modified form of a traditional viewpoint, in particular a political ideology characterized by an emphasis on free-market capitalism and an interventionist foreign policy”, emphasis mine. (The definitions seem to be from here and here.)