We all know about trolls. They leave insulting or profane messages in comment threads not because they believe in their own outrageous statements, but in order to observe the chaos as other users reply to them. But while anyone can leave a post questioning another user's sexual orientation or calling them a fucktard, a special breed of troll exists to distill chaos into its purest discernible form. Popularized and raised to a fine art by now-defunct website Adequacy, the Adequacy Style Troll, or AST, brings a blender to the ordinary practice of shit-stirring.
Components of an AST
The AST achieves its goal by a combination of proven techniques:
The hard part of creating a successful AST is making the last item flow naturally from the preceeding ones. The successul AST leaves a typical victim, who is not versed in the minutae of logic, sputtering and flustered as he finds himself almost tempted, for however brief a moment, to believe in the unacceptably outrageous conclusion of the argument.
- A tone of calmness and rationalism is maintained. This creates an enhanced contrast between the AST itself and the responses, which are likely to be emotional and less thoroughly considered.
- The initial starting position for argument is unassailably sensible.
- Each step of the argument is completely reasonable.
- Substantial, even excessive, documentation is provided.
- The final conclusion is outrageous and completely unacceptable to the target victim group.
The AST is not bound to any particular political theory, as the amusingly contradictory mission statement for the now-defunct Adequacy site attested. An AST works toward a conclusion so outrageous that absolutely nobody anywhere in the world (except maybe for a few total kooks) would accept it. Some examples which either did or should have appeared on the now-defunct Adequacy site might be:
I could go on, but I'm not really very good at this myself. You should get the idea.
- Paedophiles perform a public service by accelerating the rate of maturity of our kids
- Jeffrey Dahmer was actually a swell guy who is routinely misunderstood
- Mister Rogers was actually a criminal pervert who should have been locked up
- England would greatly benefit from joining the USA as a new state
- Vermont should secede from the USA
- Senator Joe McCarthy was a great patriot who only had the USA's best interests at heart
- The USA should invade Norway
- The death penalty should apply to misdemeanors
The title should be bland and reasonable, a bit mysterious, and should carry just a hint of challenge. For example, let us take the title of this piece, which I shamelessly ripped off from a currently practicing master of the form.
To the left of the colon we have the actual title, which is vague enough that if you don't already know what I'm talking about you don't know what it means. This is important. I spiced it up by adding a nonexistent acronym as if it is something you should be familiar with; again, if you don't get the joke immediately this subtly implies that you are ignorant right from the start.
To the right of the colon we have the real artwork. The first lie is the word Brief. I am actually going to carry on about this at nauseating length but the title implies that I could have really gone on for a lot longer if I wasn't just tossing this off the top of my incredibly well-educated head as a favor to you poor uneducated losers.
Then we have Refresher. Here is a brilliantly chosen word that accomplishes several things. First, it implies that I'm not telling you something new, I'm simply refreshing a knowledge I assume you had. Wait, you didn't know what an AST was? Well you must be some kind of real lunkhead then.
Refresher also implies that I'm not just going to drone on at you, I'm going to open the windows and let a little joy flow into your life. Like a breath of fresh air, I'm going to give you something interesting and useful to ponder.
Refresher also implies that what we will be discussing is breezy and uncontroversial, a low-level discussion that will be entertaining and easy on those hung-over brain cells.
Remember, a troll is a memetic assault. The title should be like the moment before the brawl where you pretend to be concerned, so concerned about a stain on your victim's shirt -- right before you sucker punch him.
Another good title example comes from history, from what is in fact both the first and greatest AST ever perpetrated: Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If We Would Be Republicans by that all-time champion troller the Marquis de Sade. This was such a brilliant troll I used it as a starting point the last time I indulged in a troll of my own.
Sade's title implies that, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, with such vast gains in liberty having already be made, that only another small push could realize his own perfect vision of liberty -- which turns out to be no laws at all, including those against theft, rape, incest, and murder.
There is a similar coyness in the title of that more familiar historic troll, A Modest Proposal in which Jonathan Swift advises the Irish to solve their famine problem by eating their children. While Modest Proposal is deservedly well known it doesn't really qualify as an AST, since it doesn't seem that Swift anticipated the large number of very stupid people who would think he was serious. Sade, by contrast, leveraged the chaos of revolution and his own reputation into a deliberately ambiguous statement that leaves people arguing about his intent more than 200 years in the future.
The AST must start with an assertion nobody reasonable can find disagreeable. Sade began Yet Another Effort with an assault on religion, which was well-tuned to the mood of post-Revolution France; I began my homage with the universal complaint that "there are too many damn laws."
This is the direct approach, and it has a flaw; somewhere in the AST you must commit logical violence to drive the argument over the line to insanity. If someone identifies this linchpin of illogic then your troll is ruined. A superior technique is to start by admitting to some small bad thing about your eventual argument (e.g. paedophiles are really bad people) and then gradually erase this assertion of badness through logic, say by over-generalizing between paedophiles and "average" people. In this technique your linchpin is off stage because it's the other bad stuff you could have said about paedophiles early on, but didn't; like stage magic, the successful AST is often about what isn't said.
Chain of Argument
Each argument in the chain must appear solid even if it isn't. One technique has already been mentioned for directing the argument into la-la land; a few others can be summarized readily:
- Make use of the copious documentation available from biased action groups, corporate sources, and net.kooks to bolster your argument.
- Blather on at long and ponderous length about things that aren't really important and bury the linchpin of illogic in a couple of sentences that most people will be too tired to read.
- Make use of anecdotal or potentially biased evidence that supports you, but do not accept such evidence that does not.
- To whitewash that which is repulsive:
- over-generalize between subject and that which is normal.
- mention and whitewash small flaws as cover
- imply that large flaws are unbelievable or impossible
- To demonize that which is well liked:
- over-generalize between subject and that which is repulsive.
- seize on every small flaw and complain that it is a sure sign of some much more important deep character deficiency
- imply that virtues are unbelievable and unlikely
- Use these techniques sparingly and in as few passages as possible, preferably before or after something else much more interesting and distracting.
Within an AST, there are no rules of documentation. Now that we have the Internet you can simply overwhelm your victims with information. Some of the champion trollers at now-defunct website Adequacy would hyperlink every third or fourth word, sometimes to things that had nothing to do with their topic at hand.
When using biased sources, it is helpful to pick those whose biases aren't immediately obvious. Deep-link to pages that support your position without readily identifying the page's more obnoxious purpose in existing. On the other hand if you can bolster an argument with a real source that is widely respected, be sure to lean on that heavily. The linchpin of illogic should be as small as possible, a safety pin in a forest of I-beams.
The correct venue for deploying an AST would be now-defunct website Adequacy, but obviously there is a problem with that vis-a-vis the now-defunct part.
If you choose to deploy on K5 you have a choice: Diary, Story, or Comment.
- Diaries have the advantage that they can't be voted down or hidden. They have the disadvantage that only a few dedicated masochists read them.
- Stories have the advantage of a wide and satisfying distribution. A well-constructed AST can usually survive at least for a while in the queue, since it takes a 20-vote preponderance to vote off. Only the most brilliant AST will make FP though, and it takes a really good one to make section.
- Comments have the advantage that they can double as parasitic sucker-punches on the poor schlep whose story you've commented, especially if you leave a late, high-level, very very long comment. While comments can be hidden if they're offensive enough it's almost impossible to get a well-constructed AST downmodded below 1 because of the number of admiring co-trolls who will mod you up.
If your AST is successful it will draw a shitstorm of outraged responses. The most skilled AST'ers leverage this by careful management of the reply threads; the really great ones get far enough to strain the Scoop engine's recursive threading ability.
Most of the guidelines for drawing out the comment stream are similar to those for creating the argument chain, since you'll be countering arguments. There are some subtle differences, though, since you have less control over the direction of things.
The Life: Pros and Cons
- Never accept documentation that disagrees with you. All 'net documentation is suspect, unless it supports you of course.
- Seize on every small error by any critic and use it to hound them mercilessly. After all, anyone who can't spell "the" must really be a moron.
- Casually dismiss such criticisms of yourself, even when it is proven by multiple documentary sources that you really fucked up and your linchpin of illogic is hanging out in the breeze.
- Always have the last word, unless your critic has done something really stupid that makes them look bad.
For every prostitute there is a first time you have sex for money, and for every troll there is a first time you just cut the hell up for the purity of the chaos instead of any real belief in the topic at hand.
On the Pro side it is always safer to ridicule passion than to surrender to it. Although reading AST's from the victim side is only amusing the first four or five times, perpetrating them can remain amusing for many years as the now-defunct website Adequacy demonstrated. The world is inhabited by an unending procession of marks who will fall for a well-constructed troll, and as not just a troll but an AST you will own them. You will own one of the loftiest perches in the idea-space of humanity, a position unassailable because of its very mutability.
On the other hand once you acquire a reputation as an AST'er you will never be able to claim any passions you might develop. Sade's troll was marvelously effective but he still spent half his life in jail and mental institutions, a price Internet trolls fortunately do not face.
An ordinary troll can always start a new account but one price you pay for AST'ing is that your style will identify you. The AST is like a short story or informative nonfiction work; done well you must put enough of yourself into it that you may not be able to leave it behind.
The AST also poisons the well of discourse, that really being its reason for existence; and too much poison can kill any well. If you doubt this, all I can do is ask, why is the now-defunct website Adequacy, in fact, defunct?