Of Trolls and a Turn in the Cycle

by Michael Drew on September 26, 2016

Michael Drew · Pendulum Business Tips Popular Culture · September 26, 2016

Pendulum in Action, business education, WE Cycle, ME Cycle, people have been trolledI know several people who have been trolled. I myself have been trolled. The people I know who were targeted are writers – one’s an editor at a newspaper, and the other a cultural writer who has specialized in theater. They’ve been subjected to horrific comments, online death threats and a constant barrage of hatred. Because they shared some of their work online. Why have I been trolled? Because I expressed an opinion.

This is what we’ve come to. When you say something, however uncontroversial, when you express an opinion, you risk not only being disagreed with – which is normal – you risk being singled out by hate-filled people who, always under cover of anonymity, think nothing of wishing you and your family dead. For doing nothing other than voicing a thought. This is, increasingly, the new normal. Hated for being yourself.

Who are these trolls? Who would wish another person dead? Who becomes so insensitive to social norms, or even to basic human decency, to heap vile scorn on another person who hasn’t done any harm?

It’s true that anonymity breeds contempt. People lose civility when they believe they have nothing to lose, or when they think they won’t be found out. Can you imagine what such people are like in private? They might resent everything around them that they can’t control – and that means that they resent the world. We can’t control anything but our own behavior. But tell that to the trolls.

This is where society is now, in this turn of our current WE Cycle, when we take a good thing too far. As Roy H. Williams and I found in doing research for our book Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, there comes a time during each social cycle when people begin to turn on each other. Society swings between cycles – between individualistic ME Cycles, when people think in terms of personal heroics over team-building – and WE Cycles, when people prefer to work together toward a common good.

But what happens, about a third of the way into each cycle (our current WE Cycle began in 2003) is that people grow tired, without realizing it, of behaving in a way that the prevailing social mood wishes. And they rebel by acting against their own best interests – looking for victims on whom to unleash their frustration.

So while the current cycle began just at a moment when social media had begun to create an online community, it’s continuing as that online community is descending into rancor. As I and several people I know have found out, even expressing a simple opinion on a non-controversial subject will cause the trolls out there to attack you for being yourself.

Many people who have been trolled ignore the trolls and they eventually go away, since such people feed on the apparent discomfort of others. But it’s not going to stop with online trolling. It’s already leeching into social life beyond the online world, as more and more we’re confronted by the violence of people who think that others need to suffer. Why? Just because. That’s where our WE Cycle has taken us.

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