Discover more from Carlson Letter
The Power of Negation
What is the specific gravity of a troll?
There is a sense in which spells—at least curses—work.
Speaking ill of someone can, in fact, harm him.
This is not an argument for censorship, but an observation of human nature.
If you remember the concept of specific gravity, you may recall that it compares the densities of different substances. If you had a cup of water, and a cup of gold, the gold would weigh 19 times more.
How much more does a negative word weigh than a positive one?
Consider your childhood. What words do you remember being spoken to you at school? How many of those that stay with you are painful in some way?
I’ve been thinking about it this week, as in my life and work, I’ve had the occasion to interact with trolls.
Since this is a term that’s often throw about sloppily, let’s define “troll” simply as someone who writes with the aim of provoking you to anger.
The basic tool of a troll is a curse: a wish to do harm.
For a public figure, the aim of doing this is often to cause such personal or reputational damage that the person is shunned, eliminated, broken.
Learning to manage, or at a minimum to ignore, trolls is one of the essential skills of being a writer in the 2020s.
You have to remember that people do it as a recreational sport now. Like fishing.
In many cases, it doesn’t matter what kind of fish they catch, or why: all that matters is hooking one.
How to deal with trolls? Some people—usually those with a large and passionate audience—make a sport in turn out of publicizing and mocking trolls. They wave the game in front of their hounds, and the hunter becomes the hunted.
For most of us, simply ignoring them serves as the most practical method.
But what if they don’t give up? What if they persist?
The most dangerous reaction—the one that gives it all away—is to let them get under your skin.
Worse, to intimidate you into silence.
After all, this is exactly what they want. A silent enemy is as good as gone. Silence is a close relative of death.
The only utility of trolls is that they compel you to find allies and stand up for yourself.
But even when the negative voices are vastly outnumbered by the silent and supportive, one harsh word can haunt you while dozens of compliments are forgotten.
My resolutions coming out of this week: Show more vocal support for those you like. Especially if you see trolls massing. Bullies thrive in the shadows. Trolls hate to be outnumbered.
What I’m Working On
Over the last few months, I’ve been overseeing production of this biopic of Edna Adan Ismail — an extraordinary woman being honored with a Templeton Prize this year. It’s a beautiful piece of work. I’m proud and grateful to have been involved in its creation.
Hope you’re having a wonderful end of spring — hard to believe that summer is almost here.
Until the next time,