Aristotle on Trolling

Aristotle on trolling (as reconstructed by Rachel Barney) is one of the best things on the internet. One must read the whole thing, but here is a preview:

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.

2 thoughts on “Aristotle on Trolling

  1. I’m tending to agree with the argument that Socrates was a troll, and that the good man also trolls.

    In the first place, the part about Socrates seems hard to deny. For example, when he argues that “everyone is a lover of gain,” and concludes, “therefore you yourself must be a lover of gain”, against someone who complains about other people being lovers of gain, he is clearly trolling by the use of the equivocation between “lover of gain” meaning “lover of good” and “lover of gain” meaning “lover of money.”

    And apart from that, according to [Aristotle], “Well then, the troll in the proper sense is one who speaks to a community and as being part of the community; only he is not part of it, but opposed.”

    Consider why people have an objection to that. When they find out that he was not a part of the community, but opposed, they say, “Oh, he was just a troll.” But what do they mean by that? Something like this, “Oh, now we know that we had good reason to read you uncharitably and reject your argument without consideration, but since we thought you were a part of the community, we read it charitably and tried to understand the argument. How awful!”

    But everyone should always be read charitably and their arguments given careful consideration. So in many cases the troll has a good motive, and that the same as Socrates: namely to speak frankly, to tell them the truth, and to show that they lack knowledge. Since this often cannot be attained if someone openly admits that he is not a part of the community but opposed, this goal — a good one — will often be better obtained by not openly admitting the fact.

    And so we see that the good man also trolls.

    Liked by 1 person

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