For roughly a year, I've noticed a troubling tendency amongst some political and social commentators I follow: a trend towards zookeeper-like troll-feeding.
I'm not talking about ongoing commentary on an active evildoer — like, say, Craig Brittain, con-man and involuntary-porn sociopath. I'm not talking about toying with the occasional troll who traipses into the comments section.
Rather, I'm talking about people turning an unacceptable percentage of their attention not to the issues that concern them — issues like criminal justice, or war, or budgets, or whatever — but to fights with people who attack them because of their positions on their topics. Fights with trolls, in other words. Soon they have much less time to talk about substance, because they're spending so much time on process — the process of fighting critics. This often devolves into fighting not about disagreements over substance, but fighting about fighting — endless tit-for-tat over who said what about whom and who did what horrible thing to whom, and whether that horrible thing was fair response to what the other guy did, and so forth.
Now, some trolls are simply awful people. Some trolls do truly despicable things. It's entirely reasonable to be repulsed and offended and outraged by some troll behavior.
But nobody ever killed a troll by overfeeding it.
That's why some folks need new strategies. I like a recent one author and blogger John Scalzi has adopted, because it reminds me of my favorite method of dealing with real-world trolls like Westboro Baptist Church. Scalzi, dealing with a trolling critic, has announced that he'll donate to favored charities every time the troll mentions him in 2013. The charities are for causes that Scalzi likes and the troll doesn't. This has led to matching pledges currently totaling $50,000, and to widespread publicity that might lead to more pledges.
I probably agree with Scalzi on political and social issues less than 50% of the time. I agree with the troll's politics considerably less. (The troll is one of those types interested in dividing men into "Alpha" and "Beta" males. My views on that are paradoxical and recursive; I think that being concerned with dividing people into Alpha and Beta males, and certainly being concerned with whether one is viewed as an Alpha or Beta male, sounds like a very Beta way to think.) But whatever my disagreements with Scalzi, the solution is an elegant one.
Some of my friends and acquaintances out there — and you know who you are, I think — have you ever considered not being the zookeeper any more? It's not easy, I know.