Transcending Online Road Rage

photo by Whereisat

© Jonathan Zap, 2011

Part I Edited by Austin Iredale

Part I of this article was originally written for Reality Sandwich. You can read part 1 there with all of the many comments posted at the end: http://www.realitysandwich.com/transcending_online_road_rage

I’ve added three additional parts:

Part II Comments Added to this Article and what they Reveal about On Line Road Rage

Part III Aspects of On Line Road Rage

Part IV Principles for Transcending On Line Road Rage —-Part IV is subdivided into two parts:

Part IV A—- Watch out for your own Tendency Toward Web Rage

Part IV B Dealing with Web Ragers

The speaker has no value whatsoever, nor what he says. What has value is how you understand yourself in listening to what he says. He is like a mirror, in which you see yourself reflected. Your consciousness, your daily activity, your unconscious demands, pursuits and fears are exposed. When you so listen, then you begin to discover for yourself not the ideas, the conclusions, the assertions of the speaker, but rather you see for yourself what is true and what is false. —Krishnamurti

Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Perusing the comments sections of two excellent articles I read recently on Reality Sandwich and Evolver, I was struck by the abusive tone of many commentators. This had much in common with the tone I have encountered in other online forums. I refer to it as “road rage” because I think there are some parallels to vehicular aggression, which also occurs in a dynamic, anonymous medium. I grew up with and strongly believe in the value of Socratic dialogue, including sharp and forceful Socratic dialogue. But the tone of many online forums does not strike me as the sharp edge of minds exploring their differences as cognitive swordplay. There may sometimes be an element of that, but mostly the dominant flavor is a neurotic venom, a venom that I find myself especially allergic to because I find some of it within as well as without. I have had to hold myself back from online road rage, and in exploring its origins I will look within, as well as without, to understand what’s going on and how we might transcend some of this venom.

Online road rage is relatively new, but only because online is relatively new. In earlier centuries and millennia, political disputes, disputes in the arts and sciences, in philosophy, history, theology, etc. often dripped with vintage venoms every bit as potent as any brewed up today. Communication technology changes faster and more decisively than the human psyche, so we should expect many of the deeper psychological causes of venomous dispute, past and present, to parallel. I’ll focus on the present, however, and take a more personal view here.

We could all find examples, some funny, some grotesquely over-the-top, of online road rage. It would be easy to construct a rant on the discourtesy, egoism, grandiosity, ignorance, etc. of online road-ragers. It would be easy to go into road rage about road rage, taking vicious glee in exposing the foibles and gaffs of online road-ragers. Shaming road rage from the outside might serve some purpose too, but I feel that to understand it I need to examine it from within, to look at the glowing road rage embers in my own soul.

I am an introverted thinking type and I have this hunch, but don’t have a shred of evidence, that many of the online road-ragers of the sort that write multiple paragraph comments are also introverted thinkers. Also, I sense that most of the Reality Sandwich road-ragers are fellow “mutants.” They are highly individualized, cognitively dissident folks who have logged thousands of hours in alienating environments such as schools, workplaces, shopping malls, and various social venues where their point of view was not always welcomed, respected, or acknowledged.

As an introverted mutant, my inner world is often more real to me, more dynamically in the foreground of my awareness, than the outer world, which often seems like noisy, in-your-face mundanity, crassness, and mediocrity coming at me in percussive bursts like a series of 30-second TV ads. So I’m used to carrying my inner world, populated by my divergent thoughts, perceptions and images, around in alienating environments.

Furthermore, as a narcissistic personality type, the ruling personality type of our day, I take considerable pride in my inner world. The alienating environments in which I regularly find myself feel like an implicit dis of my self-importance. Everyone is just passing me by, like I pass them by, as if I were just another body crowding the sidewalk, the highway, or the corridors of cyberspace. These other bodies crowding the space I am trying to navigate seem ignorant and oblivious to the greatness of my inner world. And so I compensate for all the thousand-thousand abrasions and irritations to my self-importance by inflating my inner world. I take excessive and brittle pride in my inner world as the best, most valid, most real, most everything inner world to be found anywhere.

Retreating from the often abrasive, noisy mundanity of public spaces, I bring my precious inner world home with me and incubate it in my personal space.

In sit in my personal space, mesmerized by the pixellated glow of my computer monitor, exploring this vast online labyrinth of zeros and ones. The walls, floors and ceilings of the labyrinth are all mosaics, and every glowing tile is an artifact of other human psyches. Some tiles are beautiful and intriguing, but many others pop up like greedy little hands that promise to elongate my penis, or share the wealth of a Nigerian prince.

Within the labyrinth there are antechambers where I find mosaics that reflect back my own most personal obsessions—sexual, intellectual, visual, musical, etc. Whatever entrances me, no matter how exotic or unusual, I can clutch it in my sweaty palms and get sucked with it into Google wormholes which transport me to hidden recesses where I will find tiles or whole mosaics related to my obsession.

Recently, I logged onto Reality Sandwich and found an article about Terence McKenna, entitled “Concerning Stoned Apes”. Terence has been on my mind lately, as just a few days ago was the eleventh year since his passing. I consider Terence a colleague, though I only spoke to him on a few occasions, because our ideas and obsessions paralleled and converged in so many areas. (read about a weekend of high strangeness I spent with Terence in 1996: A Mutant Convergence…) Just glancing at the title of the article, and without reading a word of the text, I felt both interested and irritated.

The irritation carried a strong flavor of trespass, of someone invading my personal space. I heard a brassy ego voice speaking in my head, a voice whose tone and percussive rhythm felt like the honking of an oversized turn-of-the-century brass car horn, the kind with a large, black rubber bulb to push the air: What’s this about Terence McKenna? I’m supposed to be the guy who knows about Terence McKenna. Whose this other guy who thinks he knows about Terence McKenna? Why do I have to read this shit? Dammit! Since I’m the guy who knows about Terence McKenna I better read this and find out what he got wrong so I can set things straight.

On some occasions I have been the irate, red-faced driver, squeezing the black rubber bulb with furious intensity. On this occasion, thankfully, the honking was not in the foreground of my mind; it was more like a car honking on the street a few floors down. The brassy voice was there, getting its two cents in at the periphery of my mind, but mostly I felt curiosity, the title intrigued me, and the article seemed a worthy rabbit hole of zeros and ones. Intuitively, I sensed that there was some novelty within, something new to learn, and was eager to read it.

I entered the article, traversing passages and corridors formed of a lattice of words and thought-forms. Traversing this particular thoughtscape, the honking in the background continued: What’s up with this writing style? I would never write like this. Is this guy British or affected or what? In the foreground of my mind I was intrigued, though also a bit chagrined, at some flaws being exposed in Terence’s thinking, and a specific, important example of how he had distorted some research in a way that was convenient to one of his theories.

This wasn’t a surprise because I had long realized that many of Terence’s theories worked best if you took a half-metaphorical step back and interpreted them for general principles without taking the literal specifics too seriously. The few times I talked to Terence, the context was my attempting, very politely and respectfully, to confront him with the flaws of Time Wave Zero and the fudge factors involved, for example, in how he located novelty. I found him graciously and courageously open to dissenting points of view about even his most cherished ideas. For example, one time he replied to one of my challenges, “You’re right, novelty is a slippery concept.” This one sentence acknowledgment stands out in my memory not just for its content, but also for the humble, gracious, even poignant tone of his voice as he acknowledged my points. The tone of Terence’s response was a reflection of the largeness of his character, and his deep and humble commitment to the truth, a commitment that transcended Terence the showman, narcissist, trickster, self-promoter and so forth. It also reflected Terence’s genius with spoken language, his ability to impregnate a single sentence with so much meaning.

The way I saw Terence handle divergent perspectives is a gold standard for me. No doubt there were other moments I did not witness when Terence, like other mortals, was squeezing his black rubber bulb and honking with road rage. The point is not about Terence, but about a particular layer of the reality sandwiches that we make and consume on a daily basis. There are usually higher and lower options with the choices we make in the various realities we encounter. There are disagreements that we choose to handle with grace, and others that we handle leaning on the horn and shouting invective at another body moving through time and space or cyberspace.

Commenting online can be a fast, anonymous and cheap adrenaline buzz. Unlike lashing out a friend or coworker, the repercussions seem minor. We usually don’t see the face of the person we are objecting to. They are like someone whizzing by us at ninety miles-per-hour on the highway. We see the glass and metallic glare of their speeding exoskeleton, but any human form is at best an abstracted blur. (extremely relevant: Living Anonymously

The thought-forms of other psyches traversing cyberspace can sometimes be thorns in our side or even splinters in our mind. We feel we know exactly what they got wrong. But sometimes the other gets something right, or at least half right, about something that we don’t know or don’t want to know. Suddenly this stranger is showing up in our precious, mental inner world saying something objectionable about something that we know a lot about, and in which we have a lot invested.

The “Stoned Apes” article at times intrigued me with the very specific flaws it found about a McKenna theory that I always found a bit dubious anyway. At other times I felt a bit offended by the author’s condescending and superior attitude toward Terence, and his failure to find or acknowledge anything of value in Terence’s work. After I finished the article, I started to read some of the comments and found that many were pointing out some of the flaws I had also found in the article. But the tone of some of these commentators was venomous, and I found whatever content these comments contained was eclipsed by the sense of them as stereotypical examples of online road rage. Just as the author of the article didn’t find much merit in Terence, the commentators found no merit whatsoever in any part of the article, which to me seemed to be similarly unjust.

I found that I had a more allergic reaction to the comments than the article, and quickly got restive and left off reading them. Following some forgotten chain of links, I found myself pulled into an even more intriguing article posted on Evolver entitled “The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda.” This article was a rabbit hole in many senses, a fascinating glimpse into the hidden, cultic world of Castaneda’s personal sphere. I had read other exposés of Castaneda, and seen a documentary on the subject, but this article was well-written and researched and provided many novel details. I had long considered Castaneda a hoaxer-genius so the article wasn’t disillusioning. When I got to the end of this article I read a few comments and found many parallel examples to the road rage tone I found in the comment section of “Stoned Apes.” The subject matter had changed, but the tone and tactics of irate commentators had not.

Like most other mortals, I’ve had some disagreements I’ve handled well, and many, many that I’ve handled poorly. Leaving an online comment can be a fast and easy way to vent, but what I try to practice, and recommend that others consider, is to slow it down and relinquish some of the coarseness and aggression that often come with anonymity. When I leave a comment I try to remember that in addition to higher and lower options I have in the content of what I say, I also have higher and lower options in the tone with which I convey my content. I try to remember to ask myself: What does my tone say about me and where I’m coming from?

I also try to remember to respect the otherness of the other, to realize that I am encountering another ship distantly passing my ship in the night of time. Through the mist of zeros and ones I can’t even make out the outline of this other ship. I know little or nothing about where it’s been or what it’s gone through, what forces may have pressed upon it to cause it to yield up the words it has proclaimed that I object to. Very likely this other ship has also passed through alienating currents and storms. It has also passed through obscuring fogs and dark, despairing nights. The view from the deck of this other ship is different, its maps are different, its navigational instruments are calibrated differently. But it is another ship with its own structural integrity, its own trajectory and inertial force, and I need to respect that. As I steer my ship through the sometimes-misty darkness of cyberspace, I know that the wind in my sails will drive me to areas where other ships are navigating the same space. Ship-to-ship signaling is crucial, but many ships handle it differently. Some ships use their canons to fire across the bow of other ships. Others are more diplomatic, and send signals that encourage everyone to navigate more respectfully.

Note: Part I edited by Austin Iredale, Parts II-IV are for the present unedited.

Part II Comments Added to this Article and what they Reveal about On Line Road Rage

To read the full text of the comments left go to:

http://www.realitysandwich.com/transcending_online_road_rage

Here I will provide excerpts from the comments (which were voluminous) and most of my responses. I didn’t feel offended by any of the negative postings as they were giving me valuable specimens of the topic at hand. I did not, however, live up to the Goethe standard suggested by the opening quote or the “ships in the night” metaphor at the end. I take myself to task for that near the end, but some of my approach is justified by a need to analyze the specimens rather than coddle the ragers. While some posters use their actual names, many use anonymous blog avatar names like “Daruma” and “Wild Thing.” Many postings praised the article, but I won’t be commenting on those.

Daruma left a number of strange postings, some of them tinged with aggressive and even violent posings:

“I don’t hug my enemies, I hug my friends, then try to choke them. I would expect the same back, otherwise it would be very disrespectful; and there would be no learning.”

One of his posting was a rambling post-apocalyptic fantasy that began with the following:

“I am a time traveler from the future, no one drives in the future. No one here could survive the climate there. The psychic pollution is inundation equivalent to mind control, physical disabilities and diseases are created to spur popular growth after the depopulation efforts have already left people in death and chaos.”

The free associative story goes downhill from there for a few hundred words. Although he might sound a total loon, in some of his abusive postings at the end of the “Stoned Apes” article he occasionally showed that he could be semi-rational when he wanted to.

My response:

Thanks Stevie. Daruma: Thank you for those very revealing comments. You were the most voluminous flamer of the author of “Stoned Apes” so we can look toward your comments for revelations about the sources of web rage. When I wrote the above article, which I described as a personal comment, I had done zero research on the topic. Just in the last hour, just before you posted, I did a bit of online research and found that a number of psychologists agreed that there was a disinhibiting effect of being online and that much online behavior showed signs of regression. Your comments reveal a disinhibited exhibitionism where you appear to be spilling out the contents of your psyche without much regard for relevance. Your second comment, which takes the form of a garbled dystopian sci-fi story, I read as aggressive non-sequitur. If I enter someone’s space and go on an extended monologue irrelevant to anything they’ve said, it is an act of aggression. Your first comment where you talk about choking your friends speaks for itself. Much narcissism is also apparent. You inflate yourself as a time-traveler from the future, while everything you say seems to illustrate the all too contemporary psychopathology we find in cyberspace. I am not trying to psychoanalyze you, that would be impossible and inappropriate, but I am on appropriate ground analyzing what posts on an article about posts say about the psychology of posting. Your comments reveal a disinhibited exhibitionism that is doing its own self-referential thing completely independent of anyone else’s content. This is something people should keep in mind when they get flamed on line. The troll or flamer is not saying anything about you, but about themselves. The words they leave behind are usually an X-ray of their own lonely, tormented psyches. I feel these posts confirm what I suggested in the article, that extended flaming is often the acting out of frustrated, lonely introversion. The only reason I can think of for posting a story as a comment is a feeling that it would get more attention than posting it as your own blog. As Jung pointed out, where power rules, love recedes, and when love reigns, power recedes. With so many of us not feeling sufficiently loved, acting out power games online is a poor, but convenient substitute.

“Delusionaly and vainly believing that they had the ability to stay the evil tide by the power of love. With this psychotic reverse knowledge, and in ignorance of the obvious, they allowed without defense the passage of the hordes, arrogantly believing that through love and empathy they could diffuse the hellish swarms.” —Daruma

More post apocalyptic fantasies followed from Daruma with one consistent theme—-only he was strong enough to survive the post-apocalyptic world of his imagination. Others, including me (by implication here, by direct assertion later), were to weak to cope with it:

“When the hordes came the women and the estrogenized men hid behind their makeshift alters to dreamlike ideals belonging to another time. The cannibals marched on, and destroyed the 12th order, with no narcissistic-introverted loner-psychopath-warrior-sage- types to protect them, they fell easily to the maurading bands of killers. The men stood by, useless in skills of combat and arts of war, only taught to remember lines of peace from old books, chants, and good tidings to others; they could only gasp in horror at the savage butchery they had thought would be spared them if they believed hard enough.

“The blackness crept across the land due to the weakness and ignorance of the 12th order. Delusionaly and vainly believing that they had the ability to stay the evil tide by the power of love. With this psychotic reverse knowledge, and in ignorance of the obvious, they allowed without defense the passage of the hordes, arrogantly believing that through love and empathy they could diffuse the hellish swarms. The rivers of life which had so inspired the 12th order to their ideals turned from blue to red, and the rivers were rendered a cesspool of disease due to the numbers of decaying corpses. After they were annihilated only practical awareness techniques were taught, anything regarding non-violence and adherence to compassionate meditation were set aside for women and the elderly…”

In retrospect, my response was a bit too aggressive, but also offers a new insight about the connection between web rage and psychic entropy:

Daruma’s run-on compound adjective: “…with no narcissistic-introverted loner-psychopath-warrior-sage- types to protect them” may suggest an underlying cause to the acting out that may be true for other pathologizing posters. It sounds like he feels unable to protect himself from himself, unable to deal with the neurotic chaos within as an in-house problem, and therefore he feels compelled to make it a public spectacle. Psychologists like Martin Seligman and others have pointed out that most psychopathology (eating disorders, self-mutilation, online aggression, etc.) happen when people are alone. The reason is that when alone, many people find that they are unable to defend themselves from what Jung called “psychic entropy.” Psychic entropy typically takes the form of looping, negative thought fragments. Unable to protect themselves from theiir own psychic entropy, by directing the negative, fragmentary thoughtforms at others via online acting out, they attempt to vent the chaos into the outer world.

Also, since I was an English teacher for 14 years, and am still a creative writing teacher, that the acting out should be in the form of such garbled fiction writing, writing so in need of remediation, I can’t help but to read it all as an unconscious cry for help. Of course, what any school teacher learns early on is that both positive and negative reinforcement will encourage the continuation of a behavior. Attention to acting out equals more acting out. If attention of any kind is given to pathologized posting, there will inevitably be more. But in this case where pathologized posting is the subject of inquiry, this is a good thing because we are getting revealing specimens. Even as our poster tries to hide his motives in irrelevance, he makes himself the poster child of the neediness that drives this sort of behavior.

Brian Akers, author of the “Stoned Apes” article left a comment praising my efforts and concluded it with an interesting quote from “a fictional character I admire”:

“There’s a dark side to each and every human soul. We want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are. But there’s a little Darth Vader in all of us. Because the thing is, this ain’t no either/or proposition. Because we’re talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into–us. You know, you can run but you can’t hide. My experience: face the darkness, stare it down and own it. It’s like brother Nietzsche says, being human is a complicated gig. So give that old dark night of the soul a hug. And howl the eternal yes.”

My response:

Thanks Florries and Mr. Akers, much appreciated. One of my Zap Oracle cards (interact with it for free on my site) is entitled “LIght and Dark are Interrelated” and has a photo of an optical illusion cube which from one side looks like the complete head of Yoda and from the other Darth Vader. Here is the text:

Your ego may judge the light and dark threads of the tapestry as good or bad, but a non-dualistic view sees them as interrelated. John Toland’s biography of Hitler begins with a quote from a Graham Greene character: “The greatest saints have been men with a more than a normal capacity for evil, and the most vicious men have sometimes narrowly evaded sanctity.”

The dark side of the force is implicit in the Babylon Matrix. We must accept it, but not allow ourselves to be ruled by it. Although history is largely about the dark side of the force, we must not fully externalize the dark side, but must first grapple with it from within. If you are not aware of the dark side of the force operating within yourself then you are in a state of dangerous blindness and the dark force is able to act as an autonomous complex within you. Many people are in a state of denial about this because “dark side of the force” sounds dramatic and exotic, something pertaining to serial killers and Nazis. Actually, it is more often mundane and may be ubiquitous in our thinking. Here’s a very mundane example of the dark side of the force: There is someone I am intensely attracted to but they are unavailable and/or do not return the attraction. I feel a force in me that wants them to want me, wants them not to be who they are, but what I want them to be. I feel a force that doesn’t want them to be free to choose what they want (unless it is also what I want), but that just wants them. There is a rage inside the force because it is not getting everything it wants. The rage is not righteous indignation at some injustice; it is the rage of frustrated infantile omnipotence. The dark force inside of me assumes that the world is there to satisfy my wants and everything I want should be there for my taking. The force wants what it wants when it wants it. How dare anyone else take what is mine, and it is all mine! The example above is just one of the myriad versions of the dark side of the force I can find within myself. Because I also have a will and a conscience and other forces within me, the dark force does not have to rule me, even though I do have to acknowledge and integrate its presence. If there aren’t strong enough countervailing forces within me, then the dark thought forms in the above example could turn me into a stalker, a predator, or some other sort of malignant narcissist. Indeed, this is exactly what the dark side of the force does to many who are out there on the street and in the corridors of power. Here is an example of two people grappling with the dark side of the force, one in what seems to be a mature way, the other in a way that is immature and/or insincere: Pastor Rick Warren asked Obama: “Does evil exist, and if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it, or do we defeat it?” Obama’s response: “Evil does exist. I mean, we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil in parents have viciously abused their children and I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely and one of the things that I strongly believe is that, you know, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world…Now, the one thing that I think is very important for us is to have humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, but, you know, a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil…And I think one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that, you know, just because we think our intentions are good doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good…” One hour later, Warren asked McCain the same question about evil and what we should do about it. McCain’s response began this way: “Defeat it.” Grappling with the dark side of the force means grappling with it within as well as without.

I Stood Upon a High Place

I stood upon a high place,

And saw, below, many devils

Running, leaping, and carousing in sin.

One looked up, grinning,

And said, “Comrade! Brother!” — Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

Daruma responds:

“The difference in our approaches to grappling are obvious. My ears are cauliflowered, yours are not. Now hide with the women for there will be bloodshed

  • destroys mutanagenic cyborg cannibal killers with dorje qi manifest demon crushing power of pure omniscient radical dharma stuff.”

On the same day as Daruma’s post were many very positive and perceptive comments to which I responded, but I’m going to skip over all those to focus on his. For the purposes of this article, there’s a reverse meritocracy where the most negative provide the most valuable material as I acknowledge in my response:

I would also like to express some appreciation for Daruma is the only one giving us actual specimens of web rage which sometimes provide revelations about key points I failed to mention. For example, this comment: “The difference in our approaches to grappling are obvious. My ears are cauliflowered, yours are not. Now hide with the women for there will be bloodshed-” This comment illustrates an aspect of web rage that others have commented on—that it is the safest venue ever conceived for a bit of macho posturing. One writer used the analogy of a dog that he knew that would always bark at him from behind a fence. One day the fence fell down and the dog stopped barking. Without the safety of the fence it was intimidated and couldn’t bark. When the fence was put back up it started barking again. A well-known sports writer, but whose name I can’t recall, did his own investigation of a web rage incident a couple of months ago. A sports fan, objecting to something or other he wrote in a column, posted the most degrading comments dripping with venom and that even included insults and threats to the sports writer’s family. The sports writer did a bit of cyber-sleuthing to find out who this guy was and paid him a visit. The offending poster turned out to be this very meek guy who apologized profusely. The sports writer found that despite himself he couldn’t help liking the guy who in person seemed completely inoffensive. Of course I’ll feel foolish if it turns out that Daruma has a titanium alloy exoskeleton bristling with razor-sharp spikes and that he lives under a live volcano surrounded by weeping victims who avert their eyes when he approaches, etc. but that’s the kind of chance I’m willing to take. I think the anonymous fencing of cyberspace is what allows for most of the barking.

The following posting from me entitled “Toys in the Attic Still Rattling” is a bit long and labyrinthine but adds another insight about some forms of web rage. Many of the ragers are fringe-dwellers, people who want to live in a liminal zone between truth and fantasy. If you intrude into their lunar landscape with reality testing you make provoke their wrath.

Some very good points from Mr. Akers. Some of the rattling of the toys in the attic, brings to mind another aspect of all this. There is a particular hazard involved in material that has truths, powerful truths, but that are a metaphorical step or half step back from literal assertions. Time Wave Zero was a failure as a predictive system, but if you take a step back from the faulty literal predictions there are some very interesting and deeply resonating points. One is that there are seasons in time, that time has a varied consistency, and especially that there are zones where novelty is more prominent and others where habit, or a stagnant equilibrium is dominant. On the scale of the timeline of an individual life this is clearly the case. There are certain zones of time when weirdness concentrates—you wake up from a lucid dream and there are three synchronicites before breakfast while other mornings are dull and routine.

What is much less clear, however, is whether these fluctuations in our individual timelines have any collective parallel. Obviously if there is a collective, macro shock like 9-11 there would be, but that wouldn’t be a satisfactory example because there would be an ordinary causal explanation. If there was validity to the interesting idea behind Timewave, that there were zones when novelty intensified collectively, it would be best if those presented themselves without big macro shocks going on.

In 1996 I suggested a very simple experiment to Terence that would not quite have scientific rigor, but would at least be suggestive. What I proposed is that he get a thousand volunteers who did not know in detail the predictions of Timewave Zero and have them keep a daily record, a 0-10 rating of how weird their day was. When these numbers were analyzed would there be days with statistically significant deviations that might indicate a real “descent into novelty”? If so, would such days correspond to Timewave Zero, etc. Terence seemed to agree it would be a valid experiment and added that some suggested a check of the number of articles in Encyclopedia Britannica that referenced a particular year. The idea was that his theory would predict a spike in encyclopedia references for a year that was also supposed to be a descent into novelty. As far as I know, no one ever carried out any of these relatively simple experiments. It made me wonder a bit if Terence was reluctant for the results, because it seemed to me that such tests should be Terence’s next step before investing any more time and energy into a theory that, as far as I was concerned, had just been disconfirmed. (Timewave predicted this huge descent into novelty in the first three months of 96′ and there wasn’t much to show for it. I was speaking to Terence in late May of the same year.)

What a theory like Timewave does for me, and may do for others, is set up a certain charged liminal zone. It is in a between-and-betwixt place, neither altogether true, but not altogether false either. Somewhere there remains a sense that there really are times, at least on the individual scale, where novelty seems to intensify, and intuitively I feel that there is something to the core idea of seasons of time, that time intervals in the human domain have fluctuating characteristics. Whether that notion is true or not, it resonates for me, and therefore there is a wake of novelty for me generated by Timewave. Similarly, if I hear a particular UFO report it stirs my imagination. Any particular report could be false, but I know that there is some core reality to the general phenomena, and therefore the individual instance resonates with powerful, unanswered questions in my mind.

Timewave shifted as a liminal object of contemplation by April of 1996. Before then I gave it a bit of willing suspension of disbelief. I had seen some flaws in Terence’s thinking, but maybe there really would be the descent, etc. By May of 96′ when Terence, who had set up a speaking tour long in advance, didn’t have much to show for the prediction, but still wanly tried to defend it, the liminal zone had largely depotentiated. Reality testing, as far as I was concerned, had collapsed the shimmering wave function of that magical zone where disbelief is suspended and anything seems possible. Timewave, I felt, was Terence’s bete noir in a certain way. In https://zaporacle.com/carnival-2012-a-psychological-study-of-the-2012… I wrote:I last saw Terence alive early in 1999 at the Whole Life Expo in Denver. I remember Terence speaking with a somewhat weary Captain Ahab-like determination about his Time Wave theory. One sentence stuck in my mind as haunting, and it still resonates as such today. Terence said (approximately), “I’ve spent thirty years working on this theory and if it turns out to be wrong I’ll spend the next thirty years working out why I was so obsessed with it.” Unfortunately, Terence did not have a next thirty years. In a few weeks he had his first seizure and a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. Terence had staked so much of his time, reputation, sense of special destiny, etc. on his theory that he felt he couldn’t walk away from it even when there were disconfirmations and people like me pointing out flaws in his thinking.

Unlike many lesser minds, Terence did not spurn such challenges; he welcomed them. He would often tell people that they should be suspicious if a truth was so holy you were supposed to avert your eyes and accept it without question. Terence encouraged people to prod, probe and test every purported truth. “The truth can take it,” he would add. Besides Timewave and a few other areas, his tendency to generalize from the particulars of his individual psychedelic experience—machine elves, etc.—I have found many areas where Terence makes crucial, cogent points. There are other areas where Terence has been disconfirmed for me—Timewave, Stoned Apes, a few others. And there are other areas that are in a liminal zone; I have doubts but some underlying aspects resonante and I have neither confirmed or disconfirmed. This is all leading to a larger point, that transcends the issue of Terence’s veracity.

Some ideas, and some thinkers, visionaries and also charlatans, may live in a liminal zone between confirmation and disconfirmation. Similarly, Casteneda—even reading the first book I wondered about the veracity, but Carlos had not been disconfirmed at that point, I could give him some willing suspension of disbelief, and I benefited from that. I didn’t wander out in the Sonoran desert looking for Don Juan, but the early books really came alive for me because I could at least entertain the idea that they might be true. Although the wave function has now collapsed, and Don Juan who once, like Schrodinger’s Cat, might have been alive or dead, real or fantasy, is now decisively determined, I’m glad that I got to read those books before the disconfirmation. Don Juan is a great literary creation, and whatever pastiche of appropriated materials Carlos used to create him, he was a great character and he inspired me to further research and writing about the philosophy of the warrior. (For example see: https://zaporacle.com/the-way-of-the-warrior/ ) I still quote the warrior aphorisms of Don Juan, even though I know that Carlos was a hoaxer and a kind of cult leader. He also happened to be a genius in some ways, and if you step away from his books as literally true, there are still many aspects that resonate with core truths. Unfortunately, Carlos set himself up to have a short shelf life. Once the curtain got pulled back and we saw the little man pulling the levers, the disconfirmation seemed to overwhelm the literary merit. A parallel case is David Icke, a man who is probably sincere, but also a showman, and also deluded, but who says things that while most unlikely to be literally true, have a metaphorical resonance. While I find it vanishingly unlikely that members of the Bush family, or the British royal family are actually shape-shifting reptilians who apparently dine on live fetuses for breakfast, etc., if we interpret what Icke says mythologically/metaphorically there is a certain resonance. Certainly history has been dominated by persons who shape-shifted into monsters dominated by the reptilian part of the human brain and who ruthlessly pursued territorial aggression. So now we get to the larger point and another reason why Stoned Apes stirred up so many toys in the attic that are still rattling away—-there are many fringe-dwellers of a sort who are drawn to those liminal zones, to half-right visionaries, to inspired charlatans, to ideas, prophecies, etc. that are not literally true but have a certain resonance with underlying truths. These liminal zones are like brightly lit carnivals open for business in the collective unconscious. They are especially attractive to fringe-dwellers who want to live in the unconscious, a world that is often much more stimulating and imaginative than the mundane world. The zone of rigorous investigation and reality-testing is over-bright and dry for them. The harlequin-colored world of the nocturnal carnival, where there are freaks and magician’s tricks and so forth is far more suitable. Someone from the world of rigorous reality-testing enters such carnivals as a trespasser and a party-pooper. They are like a waking person trespassing into the dreamtime asking questions that threaten the dream. If they intrude into the carnival and start shining a bright flashlight on the carnys and the stage magicians and start announcing they are fakes and that they are doing tricks, etc. well, obviously, they should expect to get angrily kicked out of the carnival. They’ve missed the whole point of the carnival. It’s like a TV critic who once reviewed the Sixties-era Batman TV show and ridiculed an episode where Batman rescues himself from a snake pit by throwing his batarang around a chandelier. “What is a chandelier doing over a snake pit?” asked the critic. The answer is that if you are going to ask questions like that, you’re not ready to watch Batman. Or as Aleistier Crowley said, “If I tell a man something he’s not ready to hear, it’s the same as if I told him a lie.” I happen to like liminal zones, and I like, sometimes, to visit the nocturnal carnivals of the collective unconscious. Sometimes, willing suspension of disbelief, like at the movies, makes the carnival more entertaining. If I impose reality-testing on the magician’s show people will find me a bore. Some people are sleep-walking through various carnivals, and if you attempt to awaken them, accidentally or on purpose, you may get violent reactions, the toys in the attic may rattle over your head for days or weeks because you’ve agitated the unconscious.

Terence is a liminal figure, a visionary genius who often used the vocabulary of science to spin out these shimmering, poetic sentences. Some of his creations, like Timewave Zero, are more of a carnival attraction at this point, but other insights he made still hold up to reality-testing and are not reducible to carnival artifacts. The toys are still rattling because you’ve trespassed, as I often have, into that interesting liminal zone where carnival worlds and carnival dwellers overlap the waking world of rigorous inquiry.

“Jimcross” responded to some of the posters, especially Wild Thing who was especially garbled, rambling and incoherent:

“Comments are rambling, stream-of-consciousness.

Some seem to be speaking in language they and their friends may understand but with invented words and terms with meaning only to themselves.

Some complete thoughts and paragraphs might help.

Starting sentences in lower case doesn’t make what you are saying more profound.

Putting a hyphen or a slash between any two random words does not create a new concept.

The ellipsis… only tells us that your brain cannot make all of the connections it should be making.

Perhaps some of you are devolving?”

Wild Thing responded with a ramble in which she compared herself to Allen Ginsberg, Lewis Carroll, James Joyce and other literary figures. Here’s the first half of what she wrote:

“as if stream of consciousness, is bad and a put down “rambling” added on.Oh Horrible! they use stream of consciousness…and and….they RAMBLE!!! Ohhhhhhhh terrible terrible, what

it really is saying …..I can’t be bothered to read it, because well there might actually be something there that I do not understand, so blame the person.This is another kind of rage.Notice that I

mentioned Alice in Wonderland

, it’s not just a children’s story.Or Finnegan’s wake that most people would blame it for being “stream of consciousness” Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was accused of being obscene, but it was attacked also for using languge that was “stream of consciousness” they did not use that term but they tried to say that it had no literary meret.What is so terrible about “stream of consciousness?”

jimcross responded with admirable brevity:

“I’ve read James Joyce, Wild Thing, and you’re no James Joyce.”

I responded:

Tower of Babel Syntax

Thanks jimcross, you are right on target. You have correctly identified a key red flag that someone is writing for themselves, not others. This could be a great project for a linguist, codifying some of the key signs of the self-referential writer—the disdain for coherent syntax, the obscure, rambling, garbled, stream of consciousness approach (see wildthing postings). What seems like high comedy is the rambling, garbled defense of pre-rationalism in a way that demonstrates its every downside! I’ve seen many examples of the highly aggressive pre-rational attacker and give some other funny examples in https://zaporacle.com/reality-testing-is-politically-incorrect/ . Barliman and Mr. Akers recognize the key question of “how do we respond meaningfully to what we see as wrong.” First, we need to establish a couple of key pre-conditions necessary for our response to be useful. We have to establish that what is wrong relates to the content of what a speaker or writer provides. If what is wrong has mostly to do with acting out psychopathology of the writer/speaker then any response is unlikely to be useful except to reinforce the Tower of Babel. As mentioned before, both positive and negative reinforcement encourage acting out and therefore no response, or simply a link to this article or some other on web rage is appropriate. If the wrongness relates to the content, then we respond to the content without ad hominem attack. How much we do or don’t soften the edges of our disagreement is a case-specific judgment call. We continuously monitor the quality of responses we get from the other, coming forward with responses when they are appropriately focused on content, retreating if they start to get personal, irrational, etc.

Another response of mine:

The Pope in Birkenstocks

I loved this sentence of Mr. Akers I just found in a new post on Stoned Apes: “I found out what’s under the ‘psychedelic matriarchy and blessings, grooviness’ mask a long time ago (in a galaxy not so far away).” because while I was reading the recent posts I found that my visual intuition was creating this dual layer image, like one of those 3D lenticular postcards. At one angle was the image of a counter-cultural person, tie-dye shirt, Birkenstocks, rumpled, baggy look, etc. holding a bong and at the other angle it was Pope Ratzinger in full regalia, one of those white phallic hats on his heads, holding a scepter. Peering through both images were Ratzinger’s eyes glinting with Germanic disdain as if judging some vile heresy. At a middle angle the two images superimposed, phasing into each other, sometimes the pope, sometimes he hippie in the foreground, but always that Ratzinger glint. In recent years I have been struck by how often the New Age person, the environmental activist, the radical leftist, etc. turns out to have the rigidity, the dogma, and the brittle, acerbic reactiveness of a Medieval Inquisitor. Instead of finding their inner child, some need to recognize their inner Pope. Just because someone hates the hierarchy of the patriarchal order does not mean that they are immunized from such tendencies themselves—just the opposite! Often what we hate in the outer world turns out to be our shadow. Such types are likely to become irate posters spinning in frenzied circles like a dog yapping and snapping at its own tail. Such types are often so unaware of their own patriarchal tendencies that they will often reveal them in a single statement I’ve had thrown at me in the severest, most judgmental tones: “Don’t be judgmental!” Which of course is a judgment that rules supposedly nonjudgmental folks as superior to judgmental folks. So even the counter-cultural psychonaut may have their own unrecognized, implicit religion. And woe to the infidel who dares questions its tenets and patron saints!

An excerpt from one of Daruma’s subsequent postings:

“There is no such thing as Zep and Akers, I created them in order to have obstructions to fight against to become strong for times to come. Its almost guaranteed that this is a dream, so I can say what I want about the fictional characters Akers and Zep, as they are just temporal abstractions, extensions of the ‘The Rationalist Shadow’. Id, like to dream up some new characters that aren’t so boring and redundant.

Sorry for the offense everyone, I will try to wake up so you can all go away.”

“feral thoughts” posted some very interesting observations:

Zap One of the problems as I see it is the failure to see the medium of the comment section for what it is, and use it accordingly. I’m all for people expressing themselves, using non linear thought, but it does not translate to anything intelligible in this format. Wildthing, you mention Joyce, Burroughs, Blake and many others, but the one thing you do not mention is they were writing as individuals. People knew who they were. As a avatar no one knows who you are. That is not to chastise you, it is just how this particular system operates. People could find clues in Joyce’s meaning in his love of language, his knowledge of everything Irish. Burroughs in addition to writing cut up, wrote straight forward criticism of his work. Blog comments do not warrant this level of scholarship, and even if they did will not receive it anytime likely (maybe my great grandkids will take a early 21st century blog- lit course in college). Add to this mix the idea that so much of communication is non-verbal. Simply put, other than the words you type, there are no other clues to what you are thinking. If you want to be taken seriously, or even understood, you really do have to be a bit less “Stream of conscious” in this format. I think the crux of what is happening, and I say this with the knowledge I could be wrong is much of the online rage (in general, I’m not referencing this site or anyone in particular) is people are trying to express themselves via a medium that is too restricted to what they are trying to do. Maybe I’m a bit too much of a Mcluhanist , but a message will never transcend the medium, at least to me. As long as you are using the wrong medium for what you are trying to express you will be met with frustration. This goes for politicians expressing policy through twitter, people using anonymous avatars to express what’s in their soul, or the classic example of using a car horn to try to facilitate better traffic flow. Wrong tool for the job.

My response:

Feral Thoughts, True Thoughts

That was an awesome contribution by Feral Thoughts to the principles of good online communication. Self-referential writing, stream of consciousness writing works for Joyce because, for one thing, people reading Joyce know what they’re getting into so there is implicit permission to experience writing that will take considerable decoding. Surrealism in any art form requires a master to work. It works for David Lynch, but rarely for film students. Stream of consciousness posting indicates that the writer is exclusively writing for themselves and that we are just puzzled bystanders witnessing an inner tantrum or indulgence. Essentially, it’s a boundary issue, and these are folks who probably have boundary issues in their lives in general. Although they may seem to be battling specific persons they are actually, as Daruma seems to acknowledge, battling their own ghosts. A key part of courtesy, respect for others, a key aspect of appropriateness, is to make your maximum effort to be comprehensible to others. For example, if we noticed a parent speaking to their toddler with polysyllabic words and scientific jargon we might well wonder if they were a fit parent. Making yourself comprehensible to others shows integrity. To be fair, some people are just comprehensiblity-challenged, they might like to be understood but lack the language skills to make it happen. Others, and this turns up a lot in low-quality poetry and student films, use stream of consciousness and other aspects of incomprehensibility/surrealism to hide mediocrity, inner confusion and a lack of original ideas. I noticed, especially on “Stoned Apes,” that when he wanted to Daruma could be a lot more comprehensible, but more often chose incomprehensibility apparently as some sort of passive-aggressive attack. So when we find someone getting incomprehensible online we should ask ourselves: Does this person have a language deficit and/or what are they trying to hide?

Clarifying the Boundary Issue

To clarify what I meant by a boundary problem above—If a poster is confused about where their psyche leaves off and those of others begin then they are likely to vent their fragmented self-referential thinking into a manic attack on their keyboard. They forget about the crucial translation process than any comprehensible writer must make between his or her own thoughts and what can be languaged in a way that others can understand. The translation process takes some effort, it acts as a time buffer between feeling and expression, but this is exactly what someone in a state of hysteria doesn’t want. They want speediness, they want their toxic feelings of rage, frustration spilled out at someone else NOW! Because of their lack of boundaries, the unexamined presumption is that other people are responsible for their frenzied feelings and those other people need to get theirs NOW!! Because they haven’t actually located the other person, the resulting attack may just show up as a nonsensical tantrum that, while revealing unwanted, embarrassing aspects of the poster, has little or nothing to do with the other. Using the road rage analogy once again we can formulate a new principle: Speed kills! If you find that you are driving so fast that your braking distance exceeds what your headlights can illuminate, you are putting yourself and others in jeopardy. If you’re typing faster than what the headlamp of your awareness can thoughtfully illuminate, filter, edit and translate than you are probably spilling out something that is merely sound and fury signifying nothing.

“Psirider” left a post that suggested that Akers and I were using psychoanalysis as a weapon. My repsonse:

Thanks Ohm and Psirider:

The last post brings to mind a question I’ve been asking myself and that has much bearing on the topic—when is psychoanalysis a tool in communication and when does it become a weapon, a sadistic mind game? Sometimes there is only a slippery knife’s edge between the two. Some psychoanalysis clearly falls into the later category—the method acting teacher who, under the guise of instruction, is really playing out power dramas, breaking down the self-esteem of aspiring actors, etc. Anytime psychoanalysis is directed toward a particular person, unsolicited by them, you have to raise the red flag about this hazard. On the other hand, psychoanalysis aimed at a group phenomenon that uses individual examples, say what motivated a particular suicide bomber, may be quite useful and necessary. I’ve long recognized that I must always be mindful of that slippery knife’s edge because I grew up in a world that was enriched with a lot of psychology but also where put down artistry was admired as well—-the NYC of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Rhetorical skill in competition was a formal part of my life for a while when I was on the Bronx High School of Science debate team, the number one debate team in the country. So, as you’ll recall, I began the article with numerous admissions of my own tendencies toward on-line road rage. The comments, as I expected, were a kind of free-form experiment where I expected lots of web rage to erupt and wanted to see how it affected me as well as others. Here’s what I’ve found so far. Unlike other online situations I’ve been part of I haven’t found myself feeling any rage or anger at all, quite the opposite. The ragers have provided invaluable specimens that revealed new aspects of web rage I hadn’t thought of. Often these specimens provided insights in ways I found truly hilarious and I wanted others to see the joke as I saw it. But I have also tried to apply psychoanalysis to slice open those specimens so as to reveal the new aspects they revealed. I don’t know anything about the actual people, the specimen providers who operate these over-heated blog avatars. Very likely the are lovely people in other contexts. True, I haven’t in tone or emphasis tried to be particularly healing or compassionate toward them—that may be my deficiency or it might be an appropriate choice because it would probably be very patronizing, ineffectual and even smarmy if I tried to heal them online. Unwanted healing of the other is often a maximal case of the power-oriented, inappropriate application of psychoanalysis. My main purpose is to provide insights for the reader, like Ohm, who wants to learn about the underlying psychology of some of this behavior and some people, at least, report that this is working for them. Others may have reactions polarized all the way in another direction as in Psirider above. On the other hand, I must admit that sometimes people are silly in ways that I can’t resist poking at. Since I was raised in a world where there was a lot of reinforcement for snappy comebacks, etc. some remarks are a bit irresistible. It feels like you’re a batter used to dealing with hundred-mile-an-hour fast balls and now someone is tossing you this underhand, soft ball that just floats in the air in front of you and begs you to swing at it. But I am certainly very interested in feedback from readers as to where I have been on the right side of that knife’s edge and where I might be only entertaining myself with tempting targets. In another forum I would respond to web rage by ignoring it, or in mitigating cases trying to achieve empathic rapport with someone, but this is a special case, since it is the topic at hand, so I have allowed myself to experiment. I’m still evaluating the ongoing results, but would love to hear how others evaluate the continuing experiment. Experimenters are always affected by their experiments and both experimental results and experimenter, in this case at least, are open for peer review.

And another post by me does more self-examination and includes a valuable post by Tony V.

Goethe would not be Pleased

Most of the more recent posts have been too far afield from the original subject for me to comment, but Tony V left a post on “Stoned Apes” that is about web rage, more about web rage than “Stoned Apes” so I’m going to take the liberty of pasting it in here plus my response.

I appreciated your essay, Jonathan, though I dismayed over its disintegration within the comments as it resuscitated what had been a swiftly fading headache. I do have one question for you, and I tender it in full acknowledgment of your work, our mutual friends, and my respect for your powers of introspection: Did you intend to align yourself in a brawl where no one was really innocent, or was that merely an artifact of who posted what first and how you responded? Perhaps my reading is incorrect, but it seemed as though you almost immediately traded what might have been a disinterested, mediating role for an Akers apologia. I think you deserve the benefit of the doubt, for it seems to me that the insights of your essay apply equally across the spectrum. I myself participate in these forums only intermittently, and usually to great disappointment. I resigned from this discussion some time ago, only to review its relentless reiteration here and there for an occasional flabbergast. I have come to believe that this medium—without a habit of disclaimers and manners, as well as a structure to support it—is simply damned to slapdick gasconades, which I suppose can be amusing, and even, as you’ve admitted, great fun to write, but ultimately a tremendous waste of our precious time. While my own (later) comments on Brian were hardly free from seasoning, I think the lesson to be learned here was aptly preambled in your own essay: Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be. –Goethe And echoed by Jeff: A gentle answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger. –Proverbs 15.1 Despite these high literary references, many here—authors and commentators alike, self included—ended up becoming both the victim and the crime. It does not appear that this has been fully acknowledged, and doing so would go a long way toward soothing this seethe.

Hey Tony V, Some very good points. I don’t know if you read my post of 4/23 on Road Rage, but I did acknowledge some of that. Did I live up to the Goethe standard? Definitely not, though it’s hard to relate to someone’s highest potential unless you’ve met them face-to-face. Could I have done better in at least reaching toward that standard? No doubt, and I got into some of that in my post of 4/23 in the other article. As far as mediating the dispute, that was never my intention. My intention was to make observations about web rage that I noticed in myself and others and to draw out possible general themes and sources. I’m all for mediators, but I never saw that as my role in someone else’s article. I did notice that RS is now advertising for volunteer moderators and I think that’s a great move. As far as aligning myself with Akers, I can see why it might seem that way, but that’s not actually what’s occurred. Related to the content of the discussion here, I would have preferred that Akers (whom I’ve never met or had any association except what you see here) been wrong as I’ve been a Terence loyalist since about 1989. In my discussion of TM I pointed out some areas where I differed with TM, and discussed those with him face-to-face, but also pointed out the great value I see in his work and his gold standard setting openness to challenge. I think the perceived alignment comes from my having more criticism for some of Akers attackers who are much more clearly exhibiting symptoms of web rage, the phenomenon that I am most interested in. For my purposes, the Akers attackers have been far more valuable than Akers as they provided the original inspiration and new revelations about web rage in some of their continued postings. At some point I’m going to provide a summary of what I’ve learned. I am most definitely not an evolutionary biologist or scientist of even an amateur ethnobotanist. So when it comes to the claims and counterclaims about the content of this article, I am mostly a bystander. I invited Michael Garfield to participate because he does have a background in the above and tends to be well-mannered so I thought he’d be an excellent choice to contribute to the content.

New Insights about Webrage, Looking into the Devolutionary Abyss

For all the devolution of the conversation as Tony V correctly observes, new aspects of web rage are still surfacing. This is part of the paradox of this article, since it is about a devolutionary tendency in online forums, devolution here may also be evolutionary as it provides material directly related to the topic at hand. Tony very eloquently describes the default case:

“I have come to believe that this medium—without a habit of disclaimers and manners, as well as a structure to support it—is simply damned to slapdick gasconades, which I suppose can be amusing, and even, as you’ve admitted, great fun to write, but ultimately a tremendous waste of our precious time.”

This is precisely the conclusion I had come to about onlne forums and especially the waste of time part. What inspired me to write this was a sudden sense of numinous curiosity about why this medium is so spring-loaded toward devolution. Reading the Stoned Apes postings a couple of weeks ago, I saw an over-familiar abyss. The nastiness I saw was identical in tone to so many other online devolutions, a very small number of which I had participated in, and although the purported content of these were all different, the tone was not. But as Nietzsche pointed out, “If you gaze overlong into an abyss, the abyss gazes back at you.” Certainly to write publicly about an abyss is to also to step into the abyss. As I wrote several years ago in my introductory essay on the topic of “mind parasites”: “Studying the dark side is one of the most classic ways to get sucked into the dark side, and that remains one of the most likely pitfalls for me.” But even the devolution of my approach, from the Goethe standard to being unable to resist swinging at the floating softball pitches as described above, teaches about web rage. I think the following Jung quote gets to the dark center of this particular abyss: “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” — C.G. Jung Online forums are obviously not an ideal medium for love. I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but I imagine that love is more likely to arise when people have face-to-face contact and get to know each other. Anonymous situations are much more conducive to the power principle and its various aspects—-aggression, territoriality, a degraded view of others and so forth. The power principle is devolutionary, it lights up the reptilian part of our brain and puts us in the atavistic mode of struggle for dominance. This devolutionary tendency, spring loaded in anonymous communication, is also greatly exacerbated by a key blind spot known as “loss aversion,” and relates directly to what Tony said about the waste of precious time. Many studies show that people are far more motivated by preventing losses than they are by achieving comparable gains. It is loss aversion that keeps someone at the casino table trying to recoup losses until their life savings are gone. When you realize that an online forum has sucked you into wasting your precious time you become frustrated and enraged while at the same time loss aversion keeps you coming back for more. The activated power principle doesn’t want your adversaries to have the last word. And like the person gambling away their savings at the casino, you feel like you can’t leave without a win. Of course, even worse than the casino, online forums almost never produce winners, and instead produce disgruntled losers who keep throwing good time after bad and the abyss of devolution only gets deeper and darker. Ideally, a good moderator would play a role that would be as if there were such a thing as a loving croupier at a casino that wanted to keep players from incurring excessive losses. Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard, such moderators tend to get burned out pretty quick. It’s a thankless task usually, and you often become the lightening rod for the devolutionary tendencies of others. So now I feel I’ve looked into the heart of web rage darkness and all I can do is quote Joseph Conrad: “The horror! The horror!”

Tony V responds:

Thank you for your astute observations, Jonathan, and especially for introducing the concept of loss aversion, something I’ve long sensed but never before had a term. Brian George, as well, brings out an excellent point: Perhaps instead of burning out moderators, RS can simply demand that its authors–if they choose to participate in the forum spawned by their essay at all–do so with diplomacy and congeniality. I encouraged Akers to do this early on, but was unfortunately rebuffed for offering free advice.

It should also be remembered that–as in all communication–we are constructing identities (social locations) as we participate. This process is amplified by the illusion (delusion?) that there are untold thousands of witnesses to what may actually be a backwater internet forum attended by no one but the vociferous.

So, by way of social psychological praxis, I suggest two innovations here:

1. A “Most Liked” or “Most Visited” article ranking, in contrast or in addition to the current “Most Commented” article ranking, which, it seems to me, elevates the most vitriolic comment sections and perhaps languishes the most thoughtful essays.

2. A “like/dislike” feature enabled for every comment. This provides the commentator with direct feedback, holds them somewhat accountable for their misbehavior, compels them to spend some time thinking before they write, and discourages arrogance and general loudmouthery.

Of course, these structural innovations will undoubtedly introduce other interactional wrinkles I’ve not yet considered, but it ultimately seems better than leaving a roiling cauldron of bad vibes as is.

Tony V

Author of Nine Kinds of Naked

and Just a Couple of Days

www.tonyvigorito.com

Part III ASPECTS OF ON LINE ROAD RAGE

Note: Some of this will repeat verbatim some of the text from Part II, because Parts III and IV are written so as to have stand alone comprehensibility. If you just read Part II, feel free to skim over the repeated sentences.

Barking behind a Fence

One of the safest ways to act out some aggression and perhaps do a bit of macho posturing is on line road rage. Even on the highway, the other guy is also in a two ton steel exoskeleton, or he might get out of his car brandishing a tire iron. If you want to safely act out aggression, anonymous online road rage is the lowest risk from of bullying imaginable. One writer used the analogy of a dog that he knew that would always bark at him from behind a fence. One day the fence fell down and the dog stopped barking. Without the safety of the fence it was intimidated and couldn’t bark. When the fence was put back up, the dog began barking again.

Regression

A number of psychologists who looked into online aggression found that there was a disinhibiting effect of being online and that much online behavior showed signs of regression. Many of the comments I studied showed a disinhibited exhibitionism and other regressive aspects.

Self-Referential, Egocentric

The troll or flamer is not saying anything about others, but about themselves. The words they leave behind are usually an X-ray of their own lonely, tormented psyches. Chaotic syntax, the use of obscure terms and references, stream of consciousness writing are red flags that someone is actually having a conversation with themselves.

Energy Sappers

Some people are conscious or unconscious energy suckers. For example, they will say provocatively stupid things just to stir things up. It’s really a bid for attention. Any response allows them to feel like they matter. I got people to react, therefore I am. As they say: “Don’t feed the trolls.” See https://zaporacle.com/energy-sappers/

Incomprehensibility is a Red Flag–

“Jimcross” responded to some of the posters, especially Wild Thing who was especially garbled, rambling and incoherent, with some great points:

Comments are rambling, stream-of-consciousness.

Some seem to be speaking in language they and their friends may understand but with invented words and terms with meaning only to themselves.

Some complete thoughts and paragraphs might help.

Starting sentences in lower case doesn’t make what you are saying more profound.

Putting a hyphen or a slash between any two random words does not create a new concept.

The ellipsis… only tells us that your brain cannot make all of the connections it should be making.

Incomprehensibility is a red flag that someone is writing for themselves, not others. This could be a great project for a linguist, codifying some of the key signs of the self-referential writer—the disdain for coherent syntax, the obscure, rambling, garbled, stream of consciousness approach. Yeah, some of these people have poor communication skills, but there are plenty of children and simple folk who never got any education but who are thoroughly comprehensible. They make simple declarative statements that tell you exactly what they think. Going incomprehensible says it’s all about you, and you don’t care enough about others to bother to make sense. Other times incomprehensibility is a passive-aggressive strategy. Non-sequiturs are employed to create cognitive dissonance or to hide the fact that the poster can’t reinforce their argument and/or has nothing to say. It can also be an energy sapper strategy—they have nothing to say, but want to provoke responses.

Psychic Entropy

Psychologists like Martin Seligman and others have pointed out that most psychopathology (eating disorders, self-mutilation, online aggression, etc.) happen when people are alone. The reason is that when alone, many people find that they are unable to defend themselves from what Jung called “psychic entropy.” Psychic entropy typically takes the form of looping, negative thought fragments. Unable to protect themselves from their own psychic entropy, by directing the negative, fragmentary thought forms at others via online acting out, they attempt to vent the chaos into the outer world.

Boundary Confusion

–If a poster is confused about where their psyche leaves off and those of others begin, then they are likely to vent their fragmented self-referential thinking into a manic attack on their keyboard. They forget about the crucial translation process than any comprehensible writer must make between his or her own thoughts and what can be languaged in a way that others can understand. The translation process takes some effort, it acts as a time buffer between feeling and expression, but this is exactly what someone in a state of hysteria doesn’t want. They want speediness, they want their toxic feelings of rage, frustration spilled out at someone else NOW! Because of their lack of boundaries, the unexamined presumption is that other people are responsible for their frenzied feelings and those other people need to get theirs NOW!! Because they haven’t actually located the other person, the resulting attack may just show up as a nonsensical tantrum that, while revealing unwanted, embarrassing aspects of the poster, has little or nothing to do with the other.

Angry Fringe Dwellers

Many of the ragers are fringe-dwellers, people who want to live in a liminal zone between truth and fantasy. If you intrude into their lunar landscape with reality testing you make provoke their wrath. Conspiracy fundamentalists, fundamentalists of whatever sort —-there are many fringe-dwellers of a sort who are drawn to those liminal zones, to half-right visionaries, to inspired charlatans, to ideas, prophecies, etc. that are not literally true but have a certain resonance with underlying truths. These liminal zones are like brightly lit carnivals open for business in the collective unconscious. They are especially attractive to fringe-dwellers who want to live in the unconscious, a world that is often much more stimulating and imaginative than the mundane world. The zone of rigorous investigation and reality-testing is over-bright and dry for them. The harlequin-colored world of the nocturnal carnival, where there are freaks and magician’s tricks and so forth is far more suitable. Someone from the world of rigorous reality-testing enters such carnivals as a trespasser and a party pooper. They are like a waking person trespassing into the dreamtime asking questions that threaten the dream. If they intrude into the carnival and start shining a bright flashlight on the carnys and the stage magicians and start announcing they are fakes and that they are doing tricks, etc. well, obviously, they should expect to get angrily kicked out of the carnival. They deserve to get kicked out because they are being inappropriate. They’ve missed the point of the carnival. Avoid the temptation to try to wake up such sleepwalkers. They will only lash out at you for your trouble.

Power Principle in Ascendant

I think the following Jung quote gets to the dark center of this particular abyss: “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” Online forums are obviously not an ideal medium for love. I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but I imagine that love is more likely to arise when people have face-to-face contact and get to know each other. Anonymous situations are much more conducive to the power principle and its various aspects—-aggression, territoriality, a degraded view of others and so forth. The power principle is devolutionary, it lights up the reptilian part of our brain and puts us in the atavistic mode of struggle for dominance.

Loss Aversion

This devolutionary tendency, spring-loaded in anonymous communication, is also greatly exacerbated by a key blind spot known as “loss aversion,” and relates directly to what Tony said about the waste of precious time. Many studies show that people are far more motivated by preventing losses than they are by achieving comparable gains. It is loss aversion that keeps someone at the casino table trying to recoup losses until their life savings are gone. When you realize that an online forum has sucked you into wasting your precious time you become frustrated and enraged while at the same time loss aversion keeps you coming back for more. The activated power principle doesn’t want your adversaries to have the last word. And like the person gambling away their savings at the casino, you feel like you can’t leave without a win. Of course, even worse than the casino, online forums almost never produce winners, and instead produce disgruntled losers who keep throwing good time after bad and the abyss of devolution only gets deeper and darker. Ideally, a good moderator would play a role that would be as if there were such a thing as a loving croupier at a casino that wanted to keep players from incurring excessive losses. Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard, such moderators tend to get burned out pretty quick. It’s a thankless task usually, and you often become the lightening rod for the devolutionary tendencies of others.

PART IV PRINCIPLES FOR TRANSCENDING ON LINE ROAD RAGE

Preface:

A few disclaimers— “Principles” might be too confident a word so feel free to consider these merely tips and suggestions. One of my strongest convictions is that the case specific approach is much better than “one-size-fits-all” and that’s why I don’t call these rules. In most cases it’s better to diplomatically withdraw, but there are some other cases where confrontation is appropriate. As with anything, you need to be guided by your inner truth sense. Also, I do not present myself as a paragon of these principles. I am codifying them as reminders to myself. I’ve found myself doing the wrong thing on both sides of on line road rage so these principles are designed for me as well as for anyone else who wants to make use of them. My tendency is to be confrontational, so I emphasize withdrawal. Someone else might need principles that emphasize assertive boundary defense and the need to confront bullying. Also, Part IV does not work as a stand alone. Reading Part III is a minimum prerequisite. The first set of principles (IV A) is aimed at ways to avoid becoming web ragers ourselves, and the second set (IV B) is advice for dealing with web ragers.

Part IV A—- Watch out for your own Tendency Toward Web Rage

Tone Filter

Relinquish some of the coarseness and aggression that often come with anonymity. When you leave a comment try to remember that in addition to higher and lower options you have in the content of what you say, you also have higher and lower options in the tone with which you convey your content. Before posting ask yourself: What does my tone say about me and where I’m coming from? Tone is a big problem for me and part of my troubles are cultural. I grew up in the Bronx and then worked for years in the South Bronx as a teacher and the building security coordinator in a public high school where abrasive tone and dissing was the norm. It’s an ongoing, decades long effort for me to undo the heavily conditioned inner city mode of communication.

Putdowns in the Guise of Psychoanalysis

When is psychoanalysis a tool in communication and when does it become a weapon, a sadistic mind game? Sometimes there is only a slippery knife’s edge between the two. Some psychoanalysis clearly falls into the later category—the method acting teacher who, under the guise of instruction, is really playing out power dramas, breaking down the self-esteem of aspiring actors. Anytime psychoanalysis is directed toward a particular person, unsolicited by them, you have to raise the red flag about this possible hazard. On the other hand, psychoanalysis aimed at a group phenomenon that uses individual examples, like what motivated a particular suicide bomber, may be useful and necessary.

I’ve long recognized that I must always be mindful of the slippery knife’s edge of outer-directed psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytical mode is the norm for me. I have greatly benefited from six years of Jungian analysis and decades of ongoing psychoanalysis of myself, but that does not mean, whatever my intentions, that it will be beneficial if I do unsolicited psychoanalysis on someone else! Mistakenly, I have often thought that I am giving people respect when I talk to them the way I so often talk to myself in my own mind. As a thinking-intuitive type I am much more likely to have an accurate intuition about someone, than to have the feeling-toned awareness to correctly locate what the other is ready to hear.

If you are giving someone unsolicited psychoanalysis you are on very dangerous ground. Even if what you are offering is correct, and not a projection of your own inner conflict, it may cause collateral damage and blow back. Watch out if you or others begin statements with “To be honest…” It is not enough that a statement you make to the other is honest or true! For it be helpful, you must first locate what the other is ready to hear. As Crowley said, “If I tell a man a truth he’s not ready to hear, it’s the same as if I told him a lie.”

Even worse, if you are using psychoanalysis as a weapon, you are being very unpsychological! A grey area is that sometimes someone is acting out in such a psychopathological way that once in a great while it may serve a purpose to, unsolicited, confront them with what they are doing. Sometimes that actually works, especially if the person you are confronting has a commitment to consciousness and you know them really well, have a long established rapport with them, and you get your tone and words exactly right. If you are psychoanalyzing a stranger on an online forum, however, you may entertain or inform other participants, but it is extremely unlikely that you will awaken the acting out person.

Avoid Ad Hominem Attack

In general, if someone has written content we disagree with, but seems at least somewhat reasonable in their approach, we respond to the content without questioning the character of the poster. How much we do or don’t soften the edges of our disagreement is a case-specific judgment call. We continuously monitor the quality of responses we get from the other, coming forward with responses when they are appropriately focused on content, retreating if they start to get personal, irrational, etc. To question someone’s character is an extreme step, and there should be a high burden of proof on the need to take such a step.

Recognize the Limitations of the Medium

An anonymous forum is prey to all the tendencies outlined here. High quality communication is very difficult unless people, at least sometimes have face-to-face communication. Trying to intervene with a stranger acting out on line has a very, very low success rate. Similarly, if you are posting in the hopes of being understood and appreciated by strangers you are probably expecting too much from the medium. If you need dialogue that is about you, or about the other person, some form of face-to-face contact is the preferred mode. If that’s not geographically convenient, consider a video call.

Speed Kills

Using the road rage analogy once again we can formulate a new principle: Speed kills! If you find that you are driving so fast that your braking distance exceeds what your headlights can illuminate, you are putting yourself and others in jeopardy. If you’re typing faster than what the headlamp of your awareness can thoughtfully illuminate, filter, edit and translate than you are probably spilling out something that is merely sound and fury signifying nothing. A good rule of thumb is that if you feel so urgently driven to post something that you don’t want to take the time to proofread when you’ve written you need to slow down and reflect. Proofreading shows you care enough about your readers to make a minimal effort to get your words right. A crucial form of proofreading is to read your writing aloud. Reading aloud almost always catches many flaws, from typos to tone, in a given piece of writing.

Avoid Floating Softball Pitches

If someone says something so obviously wrong, stupid, ridiculous, etc. it can be hard for some of us to resist the desire to set them right or expose their ignorance. Earlier I compared it to being a batter and getting this floating softball pitch that you could easily knock out of the park. Remember that if someone is that far off, a zinger from you is unlikely to produce much except a barrage of even more ignorant statements. Floating softball pitches are often a way to get you to waste your energy on someone who is just trying to stir up reactions. You think you are pushing back at someone’s content, but actually your are embracing a neurotic phantom that’s been left floating in cyberspace like a wiggly plastic lure. What may really going on in the poster is: I post, therefore I am. Someone reacted to my posting, therefore I really am!

Cut your Losses and Get Out

Watch out for loss aversion. If a forum is starting to seem like a waste of time, get out! Don’t throw good time after bad. Let someone else have the last word and move on.

Part IV B Dealing with Web Ragers

If you’ve done some introspection, and are pretty sure that you’re not causing or exacerbating the problem, here are some key principles for dealing with web rage from others.

Avoid Reinforcement

This is the single most important principle. What any school teacher learns early on is that both positive and negative reinforcement will encourage the continuation of a behavior. Attention to acting out almost always equals more acting out. If attention of any kind is given to pathologized posting, there will inevitably be more. Web ragers are sometimes energy sappers in fire brand clothing. They want to be taken out of their psychic entropy by getting others to react to them. Reasoning with them, rebuking them, responding to them in anyway, just causes you to sink into the muck. Instead, try one of the following:

Ignore them completely as if their post never appeared on your screen.

Post a link to this or another article on web rage and move on.

Much less reliably: Confront their bullying once and then move on. Usually this doesn’t work unless you can discipline yourself to let them have the last word. Some web ragers are very clever and bait you into continuing the exchange.

Gazing into the Abyss

“If you gaze overlong into an abyss, the abyss gazes back at you.” —Nietzche

Certainly to write publicly about an abyss is to also to step into the abyss. As I wrote several years ago in my introductory essay on the topic of “mind parasites”: “Studying the dark side is one of the most classic ways to get sucked into the dark side, and that remains one of the most likely pitfalls for me.” Examining the topic of web rage (an abyss I felt drawn to gaze into), and publishing an article about it on Reality Sandwich, which has a public forum after every article, was inevitably going to cause the abyss to gaze back at me and lash out with web rage. In this very particular case that was a good thing, because it taught me more about web rage. Usually, however, it may be better not to gaze into the abyss. Attention is a potent form of energy, and web ragers are looking to capture as much of that potent energy as they can. You gaze into the abyss of some vapid comment, and before you know it your fingers are feverishly percussing a keyboard and there’s this wiggly plastic lure in your mouth. You’re hooked. Sitting on the shore of cyberspace somewheres the web rager feels the tension on his fishing line. He’s got a live one. So don’t gaze overlong at the abyss. Glance at it. If it looks like a wiggly web rage lure, move on.

Don’t try to Awaken Sleepwalkers

Recognize that many, many people are deeply invested in irrational convictions. For them, the least bit of reality testing is as unwelcome as the devil at prayers. Trying to awaken them is usually self-important intervention that will cause them to lash out at you. Let them go their way, while you go your way.

Structural Changes in Online Forums

Tony V made some very perceptive suggestions for Reality Sandwich which have much application for other online forums as well.

1. A “Most Liked” or “Most Visited” article ranking, in contrast or in addition to the current “Most Commented” article ranking, which, it seems to me, elevates the most vitriolic comment sections and perhaps languishes the most thoughtful essays.

2. A “like/dislike” feature enabled for every comment. This provides the commentator with direct feedback, holds them somewhat accountable for their misbehavior, compels them to spend some time thinking before they write, and discourages arrogance and general loudmouthery.

Also, some forums employ moderators. A good moderator could help considerably. The problem is that (from what I’ve read and heard) moderators get burned out pretty quickly. They are usually volunteers, it’s a thankless job, and for their trouble they may become the focus of web rage.

9/26/11 Today I read one of the most brilliant articles I have ever read anywhere Synchronicity, Myth and the New World Order . This article happened to be on Reality Sandwich and it’s author was also being subject to over-the-top hostility from many commentators. I noticed a red flag I’ve noticed elsewhere with commentators. When ever you find someone frequently CAPITALIZING their WORDS for EXTRA EMPHASIS it usually means that they are trying to BULLY someone into SUBMISSION. I’ve also noticed that sleazy text infomercials uses this technique a lot.

This is an open document. I expect to add more as I learn more about web rage. Your comments, specimens and thought full feedback are gratefully appreciated. Send to jonathanzap@hotmail.com

I hope that something you have read here will assist you in slipping the surly bonds and fiery tendrils of web rage, so that you can safely journey into the ever more dazzling and expansive reaches of cyberspace.

About Jonathan Zap

Jonathan Zap is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, and writer/explorer of themes emerging from the collective unconscious as we hurtle toward an evolutionary event horizon. He's an author, philosopher, journalist, and teacher who has written extensively on psychology and contemporary mythology. He graduated from Ursinus College with honors in Philosophy and English and received his Masters degree in English from NYU. Jonathan has worked as a staff gemologist and instructor for the Gemological Institute of America. He has taught English in high school and college and worked with troubled youth as the dean of a South Bronx High School. As a wilderness guide, Jonathan has led inner city kids and other young people on expeditions to remote desert canyons and to the summit of Mount Rainer.

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