A few days ago I wrote of Evangelical Ben, a former coworker who I have been arguing with on Facebook for some time. At the behest of my fiancee, and using my own good judgement, I decided to block him- not to avoid any harassment from his end, but rather to stop myself from reading the crazy shit he posts on his wall and get into further arguments.
Our Facebook debates and the somewhat trollish manner in which I sometimes engaged him, drove Alison insane and I’ve started to see her side. Now she’s a little less confrontational than I am, but nonetheless I think she’s probably right that treating Ben like the asshole that he is really doesn’t do anything but make me look like an even bigger asshole. It’s one of the most important philosophical questions in recent history: if you troll an asshole, does that make you an asshole? What came first, the troll or the asshole? If you troll someone on a message board and no one’s there to read it, did you even troll at all?
I’m not really a fan of trolling. It’s juvenile and stupid and not usually very funny. It also goes along with the whole notion that you don’t have to hide your racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry or general douchebaggery on the internet because you know, it’s the internet and people don’t get to look you in the eye while you’re shitting all over them. In a way, psychoanalyzing Ben on my personal blog is tantamount to talking shit about him behind his back, which is why I decided to omit his last name (also because I wouldn’t put it past the guy to sue me for libel or something). I kept making the argument to Alison that he deserves it and he does… but is it really worth my time to tarnish my own image in my quest to muddy his?
Now there’s no denying the man is an asshole, bigot and crazy person. And when I come into contact with such people my natural reaction is to revert to sarcasm and insult because civil discussion is pretty pointless. In my eyes I’m the one who comes out looking good because I’m letting a piece of human garbage get his comeuppance. But what I never really thought about until Alison pointed it out is that my Facebook friends might look at it and go, “wow, Alex is kinda being a dick,” but more importantly that I’m just reaffirming Ben’s preconceived notions of the liberal stereotype I’m sure he thinks I am.
Now he’s already confirmed my assumptions of who he is, and while I suppose he could just be trolling as well, I doubt it. You can feel the passion behind his dogmatism; there’s no underlying sarcasm. The truth is I’m not really the stereotype he probably thinks I am because then I would just be the flip side of who he is. The actual flip side of Evangelical Ben is another former Sleepy Giant employee I will lovingly call Sean Degouiavich (I blocked Sean on FB months ago). They’re pretty much the exact same person, but their ideologies have been reversed. Ben believes in an Obamacare death panel conspiracy, Sean thinks 9/11 was an inside job. Ben is a vessel for the gospel of Fox News and I have to assume Sean just says whatever Rachel Maddow tells him to. I don’t like any form of news media outside of the New York Times, and for headlines I like to stick to neutral news agencies like Reuters and AP. I’m a registered Democrat but don’t really support the party and didn’t vote for Obama.
But in Ben’s eyes, I’m Sean Degouiavich. And because social media gives us a very skewed perception of who a person is- their identities come off as a patchwork of random thoughts, links and likes- the Facebook identity of an individual can be quite removed from who they are in real life. What began to worry me is that Ben might not be the only person who sees me in this false, negative light. I also have family on FB and have to keep reminding myself that I will soon be Alison’s husband and what I say will reflect on her as well. And of course hanging over all that is the specter of THE CAREER, the fear that the shit I say will ruin my chances at getting a job or hurt my dreams of writing professionally. Companies don’t like you to have opinions or convictions about anything, so voicing them online is always a risk. It’s a difficult balance I have to attain because I need to establish myself as a unique, personal voice and vie for position with the billions of other personal voices on the interwebs, but I also have to avoid writing something that may come back to bite me in the ass down the line. As Alison is wont to remind me, once you put something on the internet, it’s there forever.
But it’s soooooo hard for me, because I’m such an opinionated and passionate person. It’s hard for me not to spit obscenity-laced retorts at Evangelical Ben because he brings it out of me and I let my emotions get the better of me sometimes. What can I say? I’m an emotional guy.
During the time we spent debating, I would tell myself I was trying to have a rational, civil discussion with someone of differing ideals, but in truth I was lying to myself and was essentially trolling. I was trolling Ben because I pretended like I was interested in Christianity and his ideas but the whole time it was more of an obsession spurred on by morbid curiosity. I couldn’t believe the things he’d say, and they made me so angry I couldn’t help but jump back in, even though arguing with him was tantamount to arguing with a toddler as that’s basically the level of intellect he’s achieved. It was pointless, Alison kept telling me it was pointless, but I couldn’t stop; it had become more than an obsession, it had become an addiction. A part of me wanted to get through to Ben but my rational brain knew he would never see reason and so all I was doing was grinding my own gears. I didn’t really want him to understand that he was wrong, I wanted him to understand that he’s an asshole. And at the end of the day, that’s kind of a dick thing to do and I’m always paranoid of being a dick. I hate dicks.
Some friends have encouraged me to keep this bullshit going because they find it entertaining and probably share the same sick fascination in Ben that I do. But it’s time to put an end to the cycle of frustration and to move forward. It doesn’t matter what Ben thinks because we all know he’s wrong, and we all know that marriage equality will come to fruition and that people such as him will go down in history as the bigoted assholes that they are. What does matter is that I continue to pursue a more professional line of thinking; it’s the only way I’ll ever get to be a real writer.
Opinions are great and voicing them is even better. Most of the best websites are ones where people complain and bitch and critique and analyze and basically say whatever’s on their mind. It’s why I can’t peel my eyes off Jezebel even though I find the writing style a little annoying. But those are real bloggers, people who get paid to write. When I’m getting paid, I’ll say whatever the hell I want and use phrases like “piss the shit” as much as I damn well please. But right now I need to focus on an image, and write what I’m expected to. My voice can come through, but it must be muted. That’s why, in the next few weeks, this site will transform into more of an online portfolio than an actual blog.
Alison and I will soon be launching withabang.net, a pop culture blog I will be writing for along with several other talented friends. It will be the classiest, most professional blog you’ve ever seen. Details will come soon- in the meantime, I’ll continue to repost my articles from Games Abyss, ZEFR and Cultermob here.
For now, I will leave you with this: