The paradox of the rhetorical circle-jerk

A lot of us are familiar with sort of belligerent online ranters who aren’t afraid to “speak their minds,” “stir the pot,” “put it out there,” and so on — as long as they can control the conversation, that is. On their blogs and social-media profiles, these people grow comfortable talking either into a void or to a (typically small) cadre of equally mindless followers. It is usually evident that their toxic views and flights of ideas are fueled by some combination of glaring intelligence deficits or legitimate mental illness. Their output is blatantly dishonest, repetitive, self-contradictory, and in violation of countless rules of grammar and style.

But when someone steps in to offer cutting but fair criticism, mockery, or dissent of any sort, these “brave” souls quickly retreat to the extent the medium allows. They angrily delete comments that are well within the posted rules, make their social-media accounts private, alter or delete their own postings, change their blog settings to invitation-only, and in some cases even delete old accounts and start new ones from scratch. By this time, their nominal supporters have lapsed into silence or disappeared altogether, and, ironically, the only people who remain really interested in what they’re saying are the hecklers who aren’t about to turn down a big helping of free schadenfreude.

In the end, of course, the whole scheme is a cataclysmic failure. Owing to muckraking tattletales and sock-puppets, the ranters can’t keep the hecklers from discovering anything that’s meant for a significant audience, and moreover, they can’t keep their interlocutors from delightfully talking about them, if not with them. They find this abject lack and loss of control infuriating beyond measure, because in addition to being frankly deluded, they are, in the main, narcissists as well. Because they cannot brook disagreement, they find themselves in the maw of a distressing paradox: They want to lead a community-wide circle jerk, but they want it kept a secret. They want everyone alive to hear them, but at the same time they only wish to address those who accept what they say uncritically, and better yet, fawningly.

With some exceptions, they usually give up on the whole social-media/blogging enterprise for extended periods, only to ultimately reinvent themselves as the same people they were before, only more unstable, thereby not only perpetuating the cycle but accelerating it.

That this exact scenario is now unfolding on a very macro scale really shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the known variables, and the fact that it’s heading in the very same direction is cause for concern because not everyone who perpetrates this stuff has the option of simply disappearing from view for a while until the frustration and petty revenge fantasies abate.

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