Your anger is priceless.
Well, actually that’s not entirely correct. Your anger has a very specific value, almost certainly and without a shadow of doubt calculated to a fraction of a cent in a market of digital ideas, clicks, advertisements, and crafty book deals.
Not to me. I’m not buying. But… well… let me start again.
You probably didn’t notice but I’ve been avoiding posting much on social media these days. Why? Because after a few initial and what I considered at the time to be tactical outbursts of my own in the wake of the blossoming crazyness around the world in 2017, I –aiming for a personal target of rational, clear, level-and-balanced, hardheaded thinking that is markedly rare online these days– realized that I was not a player but instead just another pawn.
So I retracted to redefine my own personal approach…
…via a tangential upsight…
…in the form of a novel.
My favourite book for nearly the last decade, without question, is a massive science fiction tome by Neal Stephenson called Anathem. I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Without spoiling it, I will say that it is stuffed to overflowing with rich ideas paralleling the conflict in our modern society between intellectual pursuits versus populist sentimentality. The society in the story which exists in a kind of literal parallel to our own is flipped on it’s head: science is a kind demonized pursuit where the robed monk-like protagonist is cloistered with his fellow cerebral-minded outcasts into one of many technologically barren convents to ponder the deep questions of the universe while keeping their dangerous thinking physically walled off from the sport-casino-consumer-gadget culture that has evolved outside the gates.
The story is long and complex, but it has many branching ideas that are often followed to a purpose in the story, and one of those branches is the idea of information purity on (their version of) the internet.
See where this is going?
Eight years before manufactured outrage stoked by false information spawned political movements strong enough to begin the dismantling of at least two world super-powers, Stephenson had written about the notion of the market value of fake information online. It was little more than a plot aside, a point directed at a completely different notion in the novel, but the sentiment (and the backstory that bolstered it in the narrative) was almost eerily accurate having read it again a couple weeks ago. False information created so much noise and generated so much anger that, as a side effect of minimal importance to the story other than as historical backdrop, the anger broke society by fueling those who would use it in nefarious ways to enrich themselves.
The simple point being: Your anger is priceless.
…and getting mad is making the crazy people more powerful.
But perhaps you prefer a more accessible analogy than an obscure novel you probably haven’t read?
Fine: Monsters Inc.
You’ve seen that movie, right?
A bunch of fun-loving monsters live in a parallel dimension (that seems to be a theme here, too) and fuel their society off of the fear of children. They have an economy and a technological backbone built upon the notion of opening portals to the bedrooms of sleeping human kids for the sole purpose of scaring them and milking their screams for their energy.
In this analogy, the internet trolls are the monsters, and every time you (yes… YOU!)
scream click and type an angry response when they jump out of your closet iPhone screen, someone makes electricity money.
…or builds the potential to make money from the dribble of fame you’ve added to their troll buckets.
(This is straying a bit, so… analogy switch number three: go.)
Now this is the tough part… What do we do?
See, the trolls are already kinda in charge. They’ve won the battle. They’ve stormed the castle and are chewing on the walls as they throw rocks down on we townsfolk below. They still need our anger, true, but they know how to trigger it with efficiency and accuracy. They are milking our screams for their fame and riches. And every time they trigger that outrage we, all of us who click and rant and rage against the falsehoods get a tiny little gush of oh-so-addictive brain-gush from the experience.
It feeds us with the good-feels feel-goods that a good outrageburst can have… which inevitably fades in a few short minutes. It feeds the trolls with money and fame and clicks and power… which lasts a lot longer.
I really do appreciate the seeming irony of writing about this is a way that might evoke your precious anger. But I don’t know either… what do we do?
What do we, the townsfolk who are aiming for a that target of rational, clear, level-and-balanced, hardheaded thinking… what do we do?
It won’t necessarily go away if we ignore it.
But neither do we want to feed it.
In the movie Monsters Inc, the monsters themselves found a more valuable fuel in the form of children’s laughter. I don’t think that’s an option, even metaphorically, for us.
In the novel Anathem, the implication was that the battle was never really won, but that better tools were built to filter and attack the false information. That sounds lovely, but that idea takes the responsibility away from most of us.
I’m not done writing about this, but I think what is starting to come into focus for me after a few weeks of deliberately withholding my outrage from the trolls, what I’m going to be writing about more in the coming weeks, months, or years, is that all of us need to act, no matter what so-called side you are on: it’s in all of our best interest to sour the source and taint the fuel.
It’s up to all of us to make our anger a lot less valuable.