For some bizarre reason, I am obsessed with archeology and history as it applies to the Old Testament. I’ve tried to figure it out, but frankly, lost interest in the reasons. Perhaps it supports my real obsession with the psychology of motivation. Tonight, I started a recent Nat Geo issue that was entirely dedicated to Biblical history. The first section, logically, is dedicated to the Pentateuch. I’d never really read the story in such a condensed arrangement. Taking out much of the text truly simplified the message and my wanna-be-psychologist-in-training mind went to work on it.
Taking the theology out of the Adam and Eve text leaves the “forbidden fruit” analogy. Consider for a moment the number of ways humans navigate that particular conundrum. It doesn’t have to be anything as destructive as an illicit affair. In fact, it’s often something as small as cheating on a diet with a piece of chocolate. One, little bite. What can it hurt, right?
When I began writing this piece two days ago, it was poised to follow an entirely different path. But a few things happened yesterday that have inspired me to change tack. In the world before the internet, biting that forbidden fruit affected a microcosm. Today, it can affect that entire globe in a matter of seconds. The biggest problem with the sin of that bite is that once you taste, you cannot untaste, and you are always searching to repeat that initial experience. Religion assumes an immediate and swift addiction to the vice, whatever it may be. Can’t put the horse back in the barn, so to speak. The lesson In the Biblical text is in avoiding retribution by avoiding the temptation entirely, but that is entirely unrealistic. There is infinite fun in forbidden fruit, no matter how small the temptation is.
So, where does avoidance because of consequence end and humanity begin?
Over the last two days, I have witnessed a level of trolling that I could not imagine was possible. I have wondered, over the last few years watching the trend unfold, why it is so easy for people to take up trolling as a habit and in some cases, a vocation. I have concluded that it is the ultimate in forbidden fruit. The first taste is just a simple negative comment, tolerated by someone so stunned by its appearance that they don’t know how to respond, or avoid responding. Once a single opportunity has been successful, the next opportunity will require a more powerful reaction to provide the payoff. And so on, and so on, like a digital Breck commercial.
What I cannot assimilate, perhaps because I don’t share the predatory nature that seems to haunt trollers, is how anyone can exist in such a negative space. I have often watched people whose aspect is persistently negative and wondered how exhausted the must consistently be. It takes effort to be negative.
The second law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created or lost in the universe. It must convert from one form to another. The same is true for psychological energy. If one takes that first bite of negativity, perhaps by psychologically bullying another person, and the need for attention is fed, then another bite will be required. And then another. But it’s all negative energy, and a lot of it.
I have surmised that it is the yin and yang of humanity that allows, and sometimes fosters, the predatory nature that is the troll. The only way to remove that negative psychology from the human race is to avoid creating a human that thrives on negative energy. I didn’t think it was possible until very recently for people to actually find not only gratification, but inspiration, in creating anxiety in others, while hiding behind the veil of the internet. In order to solve this puzzle, the first question is, when and where was the first bite? The second is, when does one’s own humanity arise to self govern?
I believe that is why religion is such an important construct for many people. Humanity as a whole needs a moral compass and regardless what one calls his or her compass (God, Yahweh, Allah, the universe, the self, etc), it is a set of rules that keeps us from wanting to harm others. We have to believe that there IS some consequence, and that that consequence is a line we are not willing to cross. For each person, that line is transient. As soon as it’s crossed, if there is no consequence, it is easier to cross the next time. There has to also be a recognition of the consequence. Someone who cheats on his or her diet doesn’t experience an immediate consequence (unless the diet solves a severe health issue like diabetes). Sadly, there is no consequence for trolling that is severe enough to inhibit a troll from continuing his or her destructive behavior. The consequence would require limiting free speech for the rest of the world, and that is a much bigger problem.
So, as I sit here and watch many of my writer and photographer friends – and of course some public figures – suffer a level of trolling that I consider criminal, I wonder at which point those people begin to feel their humanity slipping away. At what point does he or she squelch that predatory behavior in favor of improving human relations? At what point does the internal compass activate? Does it ever? Are trolls doomed to live in that negative space forever without an equal and opposing force, and what is that force? I have to wonder as well is my humanity a product of the moral compass provided by the living Catholic environment in which I spent my formative years, or am I (not I specifically, but I, the individual) genetically predisposed to kindness and moderation?