I have more vices than it does any good to list, except when I am home doing my examination of conscience and trying to decide whether to resign the papacy or not. One of these vices, in particular, seems to be shared by a growing number of people. Or, at the very least is more in evidence than it used to be, as we interact and argue more and more in the virtual world: in comment threads, via Twitter, Facebook, and the like.
There are the run of the mill vices of being an ass online, of addressing people in a way that one never if that person had to be faced. And, there are real reasons to avoid those vices, and the vices of turning a discussion or argument into point-scoring, one that arises much too often in face-to-face argument, too—and, one of which I have too often been guilty. There is the vice of being an online or in-person troll.
But, it is just as vicious to rise to the bait that the troll offers. Quite apart from the way that this feeds the troll and encourages him to continue engaging in his behavior, it speaks poorly of me if I let myself be goaded. Why do I feel the need to respond? Of course, there is value in advancing a discussion. This might sometimes require correcting someone. Sometimes. But, that isn't what is usually going on. It is usually what I tell myself I'm doing; without self-delusion I wouldn't be fully human.
It might be a very different phenomenon for others. In my own case, I am doing one of two things. Sometimes, I am really no better than the troll herself. The reason I rise to the bait is because I want to win. I want to defeat the other person and be recognized as right. I am doing the same thing the troll is, except the troll is usually more disinterested than I am. It is very important to me that I win and less so for the troll. To exactly that degree and in that respect, the troll is less vicious than I am.
In other cases, I want to demonstrate to the other person that I understand what is going on, that I have something to offer, that I am intelligent, or something else. But, then I still want to prove something to someone, but someone who by my own judgment is not trying to forward an argument. So, here is a person that I have decided isn't engaged in the same activity I am, who isn't that interested in the same thing I claim to be interested in, and I am worried about how I appear in their eyes.
So, it appears that my self-esteem is so low that I need validation from people that I don't know and who I judge to be rather an ass—this may well be true, but it doesn't speak well of me. That can be nothing other than vicious.
Or, I am not anymore interested in truth than my opponent. And, we are right back to the first problem.
I like to repeat to myself: Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio.
Sometimes, we all need to practice that; it's the virtuous thing to do, even if it lets others think they have won the argument. What, really, have they won?