When I was in college, I checked out and read virtually every behavioral science book the campus library had, especially those having to do with serial and mass killers. I wanted to understand what could possibly motivate someone to do something so heinous.
Today, I would probably be burying myself in studies on trolls and other malicious people.
Sure, at the moment we could blame the heat, as it makes crabs of most of us (especially those of us built for the fall and winter). I pity the fool who decides to test me on a day when the heat index tops 110 degrees … though to be fair, any time the temperature is much above 80, I’m cranky. Don’t get between me and that last pint of Yarnell’s Homemade Chocolate unless you want to lose a hand. I will bite you.
Still, that doesn’t explain the people who are hateful consistently, no matter the temperature. If a day in the 60s with a lovely breeze and low pollen count won’t make them cheerful for at least a second, it ain’t the weather; it’s them.
And honestly, I have little patience for the hateful anyway.
I’ve tried trolling the trolls, but when all they do is troll while I have to try to earn a paycheck, it’s a bit hard to summon up the time and patience needed for that. Especially as some of them are sea-lioning, basically a slightly more polite (seeming, anyway) version of the Gish Gallop, the fallacious debate technique that drowns opponents in a flood of individually weak arguments.
Sea-lioning is a fairly new term describing a specific trolling technique, though the technique has been around for longer. Dr. Jonathan N. Stea, a practicing clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, broke it down in June 2020 on Medium: “The term sea-lioning was derived from a  Wondermark comic by David Malki. In essence, it can be described as death by a million bad-faith questions. It is not for the faint of heart. The goal of sea-lioning is to push an ideological agenda by means of leaving the targeted opponent tired, breathless, and speechless—much like a victim of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope boxing tactic, but without the knockout.
“Sea-lioning is an insidious Trojan horse. It cloaks misinformation and propaganda in many disguises: politeness, sincerity, curiosity, compassion, and even martyrdom. It is the sophisticated adult-version of the fraternity-esque “debate me bro” plea. At its core, however, those who engage in sea-lioning still have their ears plugged and their eyes shut, and they’re annoying as hell.”
Another goal, apparently, is to get the target to lash out, meaning the sea lion can claim victimhood.
Seriously? If you started it, how … sigh. Right now there’s a whole herd of cranky toddlers giving you the stinkeye.
Strategies by social-media sea lions include, according to Stea:
👍 👎 The flipper, who distorts, flips and fires back the words of the target to misrepresent what has been said (a favorite strategy of my trolls). If my trolls can’t find something to flip, they’ll change the definitions of words (like moderate or independent) to mean whatever they want (in this case, nonpartisan) and claim that I said I was nonpartisan and dare me to prove them wrong (they don’t care that burden of proof is on them).
👉 Whataboutism. If I had a penny for every time Hillary Clinton (and to a lesser extent people like Bill Clinton, George Soros, Nancy Pelosi, AOC, etc.) is brought up when she has absolutely no connection to what’s being discussed, I’d be a millionaire, probably. She’s the all-purpose evil for some folks.
💺 The armchair critic’s pipe: “The metaphorical armchair critic is the enemy of reason and the champion of postmodern philosophy because they eschew hard-won expertise for their own personal anecdotes that are regarded as equally valid,” Stea wrote. “If Donald’s second-cousin’s former roommate says so, then it must be true. Overwhelm your target with a shotgun of personal anecdotes in the form of a series of questions to render them paralyzed with frustration.”
💻 Dr. Google’s jugular punch: Everyone’s an expert using Google, and much more knowledgeable than those people who actually studied, earned degrees and have devoted their lives to research in their fields. I can’t tell you how many times my departed brother and I sparred over this before he got covid. I hate that it was the last argument we had. I hate even more that I couldn’t convince him of the need for vaccination and other precautions.
👨🦯 Blind Socratic reasoning. Unlike Socrates’ focused, good-faith questioning to find truth, Stea wrote, “Blind Socratic questioning involves first equipping yourself with an entitled aura and then proceeding to pointlessly nitpick every nook and cranny of your target’s comments until neither you nor they understand what the hell is being discussed.”
There are more tactics, but I’m already tired and frustrated thinking about these few. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? And if you sea lions out on these tactics, suddenly you’re a bully. (I witnessed this the other day on a Facebook friend’s post, where someone whose questions were answered [apparently she didn’t want them answered, especially with documented facts] called the person answering the questions a bully, then did the same to my friend, who is a very peaceful, loving guy, when he called her out. Geez.)
I try to understand the kind of people who insist on making everyone else miserable so they can be happy in comparison, but I can’t, any more than I could understand the motives of those serial and mass killers I read so much about in college.
I’m just not built the same way, and I don’t feel any compulsion to harass people simply because I may not agree with them.
Malki, the comic artist, said he never intended to coin a phrase when he drew that cartoon of a woman disparaging sea lions to her companion, only to be relentlessly hounded by one. “The core of what I set out to criticize is just the notion that any random patient stranger should feel entitled to as much of someone’s attention as they want.”
And the hermits (me perhaps loudest) all say amen.
With any luck, by the time you read this I’ll be at least a little less cranky, having spent the evening with my friend Sarah watching “Fargo” (perfect for this heat) while bothering my fur-nephew Charlie. All hail the healing power of kitty kisses and toebeans!