Love Yourselves, Trolls.

We live in a era of fantasies made real. Virtually anyway.

I am myself a bookish person, not what you would call a “physical specimen” by any stretch of the imagination. My life is about avoiding physical confrontations that would end with me battered and bruised. I’m a thinker, not a brawler.

But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to experience physical superiority? I mean for those of us for whom that’s not likely, whether because we have physical limitations that prevent it or because we don’t have the discipline or interest in truly pursuing that level of physical fitness. It would be cool, right?

Ultimately, the desire to be better than we are is something we all experience.

Imagine if you could simply plug in to some virtual reality machine that would allow you to substitute your boney or flabby reality with some Herculean avatar. Imagine being able to walk through the world as that avatar, impressing and intimidating the same people to whom, out in the real world, you are a physical afterthought. It has its allure. Hell, James Cameron did pretty well with the idea and sold millions of tickets.

What exactly is the nature of the allure? Perhaps its vanity. Perhaps to overcome a sense of painful insecurity. Perhaps revenge for some physical humiliation in the past. The reasons would be many, if such a tool were made available. A good many of the meek physiques of the world might be tempted into going Schwarzenegger or Rousey for a time because they think it might make them feel better about themselves.

They could venture into the world, flex, preen, maybe even intimidate or beat someone up. To some, the adventure would be truly intoxicating. Those who have been bullied. Those who envy the physically strong.

Those who have not learned to love themselves.

Imagine, however, that physical prowess isn’t your concern. Imagine that you experience the opposite insecurity. You are not, you think, respected for your intelligence. You feel awkward articulating your thoughts. You didn’t do very well in school. You feel judged because your life choices maybe didn’t work out so well.

Of course, we can do this to a large extent in video games already. I can be Batman, a Special Forces soldier, an All-Pro football player, or a 7-foot All-Star basketball player in the NBA. The choices are endless really. Video games offer an incredible opportunity to assume identities that give us satisfaction we don’t otherwise experience in life. For many, the experience is addictive. Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons” is a good example of how we stereotype the video game addicts. It’s an exaggeration in most cases, but in some it can be pretty accurate.

Ultimately, the desire to be better than we are is something we all experience. In some cases, there are ways to fulfill those desires. Virtually.

Imagine, however, that physical prowess isn’t your concern. Imagine that you experience the opposite insecurity. You are not, you think, respected for your intelligence. You feel awkward articulating your thoughts. You didn’t do very well in school. You feel judged because your life choices maybe didn’t work out so well.

How do you overcome that feeling, even temporarily? What video game can make you feel smarter for a while? What avatar gives you vicarious intelligence?

Video games? I would argue no. Video games most often enhance physical skills. Games that are about being intelligent actually require a reasonably intelligent person to play them successfully. Riddles aren’t for people who are insecure about their mental capacities, and many of these games are built on riddles and puzzles.

No, if you’re abstract thinking skills aren’t good, video games don’t make you feel smarter. Even sports games require a lot of complex reasoning for you to succeed in them at higher levels of difficulty.

So, what tool is there to allow less intelligent people to feel smarter? To flex their brains, to preen, to even intimidate or beat up people who are smarter than them in the real world?

Guess.

It’s called the “internet.”

They’re called “trolls.”

Yes, I went there.

Trolls, however, are under the misguided belief that they are somehow endowed with greater skills of persuasion on the internet. They often defend indefensible positions through endless streams of word vomit, meme avalanches, and blatant intimidation. In other words, nonsense followed by physical threats. In a virtual world, they seem to forget, physical threats mean nothing.

Of course, here’s the problem. When a less intelligent person goes on the internet, their avatar is nothing more than a login name. It is not smarter the way a video game avatar is more physically strong and capable. It is either mundane (e.g., “BillSmith33”) or perhaps insulting/embarrassing (e.g., “GorillaJizz69”). So, the first purpose of an avatar is not fulfilled: It didn’t make anyone think you are better than you are in real life.

Secondly, nothing about you is enhanced. You don’t think quicker, you don’t assess situations better, you don’t interpret information better. You’re still you, with all your limitations.

So why do less intelligent people go online, imagine they are smarter than they are, and bully people with diatribes of intellectual mush over and over and over? Why do they resort to “trolling” to pump themselves up? They aren’t appearing any smarter than they are in real life. Sure, they’re anonymous, so they can say god-awful things with few repercussions at all. But why? Why resort to antagonism? We disagree with each other in the real world fairly often. We negotiate civilly most of the time. Why is it that so many people need to go online and vent their spleens on people?

Frustration? Yeah, we get that. We all get frustrated for one reason or another. If we choose to take it out on other people in real life, either through physical or argumentative means, we inevitably suffer consequences. At the minimum, we have to apologize. At the worst, we go to prison. Most of us are smart enough not to do these things to such extremes that we go to prison. It really has little to do with how intelligent we are.

If we don’t want to become trollish, we have to accept our weaknesses and focus on our strengths. Just because you aren’t the smartest person in the room doesn’t mean you aren’t valued and important.

It’s about empathy, I believe. If you can understand how other people feel, put yourself in their shoes, understand that they have different experiences than you that have influenced their decisions, then you likely won’t become abusive to them. This isn’t genius-level thinking on my part. This is one of the basic lessons of human interaction. People won’t always agree with you. Respect that. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. If you don’t, you can move on or do your best to avoid the subject. If you feel the need to lash out, don’t be irrational.

If someone commits an injustice or personally insults you, you have the right to fight back. You don’t always have to, of course. Sometimes the smarter choice is to take the high road and ignore it. However, if it is substantial, you have every right to defend yourself. Even pacifism has its limits.

Trolls, however, are under the misguided belief that they are somehow endowed with greater skills of persuasion on the internet. They often defend indefensible positions through endless streams of word vomit, meme avalanches, and blatant intimidation. In other words, nonsense followed by physical threats. In a virtual world, they seem to forget, physical threats mean nothing. So, dumb in the real world is dumb in the virtual world, and now there’s a record of it for all to see.

Until virtual reality comes up with a miraculous way to make trolls smarter than they are, we are likely stuck with them. They’re too stupid to realize that their ignorance and bullying is transparently useless in a virtual world. The internet is not the tool to satisfy their insecurities about themselves. In fact, it does the opposite. Whereas a video game can vicariously enhance a physically weaker person’s strength and physique, the internet acutely enhances a troll’s weaknesses, allowing us all to see them with greater and greater clarity.

Making up for insecurities is human and inevitable. The degree to which we do so, however, is the difference between being a good person or a jerk. Self-awareness is something we can all practice, no matter how intelligent we are. And we all have weaknesses as well as strengths. If we don’t want to become trollish, we have to accept our weaknesses and focus on our strengths. Just because you aren’t the smartest person in the room doesn’t mean you aren’t valued and important. Lashing out at people who are better than us at certain aspects of life is destructive no matter who does it. Those who bury themselves in virtual worlds seeking endless vicarious satisfaction from a life that isn’t theirs will inevitably be dissatisfied.

Learn to like who you are, warts and all. Don’t be a troll.

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