A Phenomenon of Nature?

One of the interesting questions that arises in communities centered around learning and discourse is what to do about the spoilers. That is, what happens when someone arrives who is not exactly a ‘troll” but rather someone who comes only to talk, perhaps to insult people, but never to listen?

As I am very invested in figuring out how to make diverse communities work, I am watching with interest and concern but entirely on the sidelines in a community where a new entrant has arrived who obviously has no experience or interest in civil discourse. I want to see how the entry of this participant will evolve naturally without skilled facilitation.

One aspect of his participation is that he only lectures, responding to himself over and over, but seldom even responding to questions from others.

So far, you might ask, what is unusual in this? Lot’s of really BAD teachers do this as well, probably a lot of cult leaders, as well as lots of very self-centered people in all areas of life.

What is unique here, in my experience, at least, is that this new arrival responds 100% of the time to disagreement or even questioning of his views with accusations that the respondent is arrogant and only seeking to assert intellectual superiority. What’s more, he then suggests that the respondent concede the point and thereby become “intellectually enriched.”

Now most people, including myself, will tend to stay a few hundred miles from such a Prince of Arrogance. A little arrogance I can deal with if the person has interesting thoughts to share, but this case is so far out of the ballpark, I have to say that my usual inclination to build bridges doesn’t extend this far! The claims this person makes in his lectures, by the way, are not at all novel. Rather, they are pretty common ones that are only difficult to recognize because of a mind-boggling layer of special CAPITALIZED jargon.

The hypothesis I have been testing for a week now through my quiet observation is that members of the community will very quickly decline to attend any more of these “lectures.” Or if they do follow, they would do so only to observe the oddity of it, just as people read tabloids or watch reality television. They surely wouldn’t respond just for the joy of his accusations and condescension!

Along these lines, many communities have a policy that goes by PDFTT: Please Don’t Feed the Trolls.

I am shocked to report that so far, after one week of my observation, my hypothesis is falling to the data! People continue to attempt to interact with this fellow, all getting the same predictable result. The more educated or thoughtful members of the site don’t visit him much or at all, as there are plenty of engaging conversations underway as well, but he continues to have a regular flow of other attendants in his corner.

I wonder how long it will last. Perhaps I need to revise my hypothesis?  Is there something perverse in this, not just on the Prince’s end but also on that of his subjects?



About reflectionsandrotations

I'm an educator and coach with a special interest in fostering creative thinking, designing effective learning environments, and building communities of learners
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