Over the weekend, I did something I rarely do. I read an article online, and when I’d finished it I scrolled down the screen and added a comment. It wasn’t a particularly controversial comment – to be honest, it wasn’t even that worthwhile a comment, but I gave it anyway. And then I made my big mistake. I started looking at the other comments. The article was about Syria, and one would expect some strongly-held opinions, sensible or silly, accurate or baseless. But well-meant, usually, and however much I might disagree, I’m not going to find them offensive. People have the right to their opinions, after all.
But there were a couple of contributors that went further. Not content with pointing the finger of blame (for pretty much everything) at “the Zionists” and “the bankers” (not to mention “the Zionist bankers”), they started blaming “the Jews”. They expounded their theory of Jews in society as a kind of fifth column, the traitors in the city, as they put it (paraphrasing Cicero, incidentally). They published links to the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and to the wonderfully-titled “Jew lists”, lists of Jews prominent in countries outside Israel. They were clearly very, very angry about Jews.
I almost felt sorry for the people who had been writing more reasoned (if occasionally inaccurate) comments about Israel. They’d retreated, determined that opinions like these wouldn’t be linked in any way with their own comments. The whole board seemed to slow down and collectively gape, astonished, at what these people were writing.
My first thought was to report the comments to a moderator, but I paused, for one fatal instant, and in that instant I laughed and was lost.
It started innocently enough, I thought. I commended the Cicero-quoter on his wisdom and asked if he knew that Cicero had predicted all of this, in a scroll buried in the desert outside Homs, guarded by immortal seven-headed dogs (Kosher, of course). This elicited a confused reaction. Maybe they thought I was for real. I should probably have carried on like that, but when the usual Freemason/Illuminati drivel started to appear I had to warn them that I knew where they were, that we were watching them, in their caves, using our hidden cameras, orbiting high above the earth in our Jewpods, where we had been waiting these long, dark centuries, readying ourselves for the final confrontation. I’d given myself away by this point, so I started to enjoy myself, commiserating them on the death of the Fuhrer but wondering if they should still be mourning nearly seventy years on, issuing dark threats about chopping them up and using their blood for unleavened bread, asking if they knew where one could get a decent SS uniform these days.
I’d hit a nerve with that one, it seemed, because rather than carry on regardless, or respond in the same light-hearted vein, they started to swear at me. Maybe they really were short of SS uniforms, who knows? But I’d upset them and I didn’t want to do that. “Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying this”, I said. “Nothing like a good debate, you in your white robes and burning cross, me with my long nose and horns”. I was into my stride now, actually willing my opponents to respond, to give me something else to aim at. I was having fun.
And then I stopped. I had, I suddenly realised, turned into a troll. I had a troll, briefly, on these pages, and it was a most unpleasant experience. Now I’m sure there are various types of troll, from the psychos who haunt Facebook memorial walls to the benign ones (like me, of course), hanging around in public, under their real names and twitter handles, taunting idiots. But still, I thought. Is this something I should really be doing?
Now I’ve had a little time to think about it and I’ve decided the answer is “yes”. Not because it’s a public service (it is); not because it eventually silences the idiots and allows the real debate to continue (it did); but because it’s good for me. It’s healthy. It’s fun. Instead of blustering and analysing and trying to get a point across to people who are determined not to see it, come what may, how much better for my own peace of mind just to laugh at them?
Not that I intend to seek them out, the lunatics – it turns out you don’t have to, they come out when the moon’s full and once you’ve adjusted your eyes to the darkness and spotted one of them you can see they’re all over the place. But when I see something that makes my blood boil, that’s vile and offensive and stupid, I won’t bother arguing with it any more.
I’ll just enjoy myself.
If you liked this, take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.