Whenever the posts on any blog tend strongly in one particular direction or another, we find that there are people who stop by to disagree. Some of them do so in fairly crude fashion, and some of them appear not to get the point; and, especially when the blog has a well-established commentariat, some of the commenters often try to run the “troll” off by lambasting him or her with insults.

Please don’t do that here, OK? The insults from trolls don’t bother me much. I’ve been insulted a number of times in my life already; I can’t always preserve my equanimity, and when cut I bleed as profusely as any other mammal, but intellectually I regard “insult” as something closely approaching a null concept, a meaningless word.

An insult is a statement making a negative observation upon the subject’s person and/or behavior. Like any other statement, it is either true or false.

If the statement is false, two further possibilities occur: the person making the statement either knows it is false or does not. In the first case the person delivering the “insult” is a liar; in the second he (or she, of course) is ignorant. In either case the statement should be ignored, although the polite course is to assume ignorance and attempt to correct it — if nothing else it will enable you to differentiate between liar and ignoramus.

If the statement is true, it describes a real fault or deficiency on the part of the person addressed. Again, two cases occur: the fault is one that can be remedied, or it is not. In the first case, the person issuing the “insult” has done the target a favor — although it may be hard, emotionally, to accept that. In the second it is mere boorishness, again deserving nothing but contempt.

If someone tells me I smell bad, I should take a shower and change clothes. If someone tells me I’m ugly, I merely curl my lip. (WordPress offers me the option of posting a picture. I have refrained from doing so. There’s a reason for that.) If someone tells me I support the war in Iraq out of a desire to see the white man’s boot on the neck of brown people, I attempt to correct the misapprehension; if they persist, I dump them into the oubliette with the rest of the lying and/or maliciously ignorant sons-of-(whatever)s. They are boors. I don’t let my mental state be controlled by boors.

I commend this attitude to you as a means of preserving your self-respect in the face of attack. It can be difficult to maintain when the subject of the insult is emotionally significant, but we are human beings and supposedly rational, and it represents a rational approach to the matter. If you want to discuss my, or another commenter’s, ancestry (or lack thereof), living conditions, sexual proclivities, or standard of personal hygiene in vociferously negative terms, go do it somewhere else, OK?

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