Trolling for success, and the paradox of "outrage"

I think I've figured out what may be going on with the Philadelphia Inquirer writer whose recent column argued that white people should not be allowed to vote, and because it touches on a longstanding paradox, I thought it merited a post.

This is not about the merits of the deliberately inflammatory argument that white people should not be allowed to vote. (More on that in M. Simon's post and in this one from Newsbusters.) Rather, I think it touches on one of the paradoxes of the nature of success.

I suspect that the author (Jonathan Valania) seeks success as a writer, and that he hopes that his inflammatory editorial will become an important stepping stone in his career. If this is any indication, the author may well realize that his music column is not doing well, so he's seeking to be fired for a sexy reason:

"OUTTA THERE! Taking my shit to the Inquirer. More coming... standby," he said today in an email. Inky arts desk, we do not envy you today. And if we may address our prodigal son directly for a moment: Like we said before, Jonathan -- it?s not that we wanted you to get fired, it?s just that, well, you deserved to.
As I speculated in a comment to M. Simon's post, he seems to have moved up from music reviews like this. Might the Inky staffers have been getting tired of him, so now he's seeking "martyrdom"?
If they fire him now, he "wins." (Beats being a washed up music reviewer, eh?)

Nice way to launch a blog? Two words come to mind.

Professional troll.

(I've been blogging long enough to know it when I see it.)

Certainly, the author is smart enough to know that Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney won't be taking kindly to his editorial, which has drawn angry comments like these:
Posted by fgomarty 11:18 AM, 10/26/2008
That the Inquirer would give space to a column like this tells one all one needs to know. This column is absolute trash, the type of thing one would find on the internet, but not in a formerly respected newspaper. What substance was being ingested when the editorial board approved this? The writer is obviously seriously mentally deranged and I would recommend immediate professional help.
Posted by Xi Jah 11:26 AM, 10/26/2008
Great. PNI is now giving crazy people space in their failing papers. That should save them.
Posted by BlairW 11:49 AM, 10/26/2008
Mr. Tierney, seriously? I honestly thought this was an article from the Onion.
Posted by Casca 09:43 AM, 10/27/2008
And this from the same fishwrapper that a few weeks ago published an incredibly incendiary piece from some woman replete with threats of riots in the event of an Obama defeat. While it is unpleasant to see them inflict their pathologies on their subscribers it is useful as a window into the minds of the leftist wingnuts that are about to become our masters.
It's quite predictable that people will be canceling their subscriptions and I think it's quite possible that Valania hopes he'll go out with a bang. On the other hand, his piece has probably brought a much larger share of traffic to the Inquirer web site, and it will be widely linked. (By discussing it, I am of course helping give the guy what he wants. Another paradox.)

IMHO, the man is a troll. (I'd compare him to Ann Coulter, but the latter is a better writer.)

This touches on a larger issue though. Why do trolls so often succeed? Is it because appeals to reason, logic, or common sense are seen as more boring than red meat?

As someone who aspires to be a voice of reason, I have to say that what I just wrote is depressing to contemplate. The fact is, I've seen countless trolls succeed. Many of the big leftie blogs are written by them (although there are of course the Ann Coulters on the right.)

And there is no arguing with success. It speaks for itself.

Perhaps the concept of "troll" is a bit like "thief." On a small scale, being either is pathetic. But on a large scale, it represents something else. Caesar Augustus observed that the larger the theft, the more it tends to become legitimate -- a point which can be illustrated by comparing someone who steals a small amount of water to someone who manages to divert an entire river. Perhaps being a troll on a grand scale is similar.

Does this mean that if I wanted to become a big time successful troll, I should endorse, say, the Ayers plan to murder 25 million Americans, then later claim it was "satire"?

Nah. No one would believe for a moment that I meant it.


I guess I'm stuck. I wouldn't even be taken seriously if I offered (as the ultimate form of "red meat") a proposal that all Communists be rounded up, tortured, and then executed, would I? Well, considering that a lot of leftists already think that's what's being done to them, a few people might think I was serious, but I doubt regular readers would be fooled. (Considering I can't even go along with the more conventional red meat conspiracy theories, I don't think I could do it and keep a straight face. As it is, I even get into trouble with commenters for simply trying to debunk such conspiracy theories -- or for that matter even trying to debunk Andrew Sullivan's assertions.)

I'm so locked into this stupid "logical and reasonable" mode, I couldn't be outrageous if I tried.

I don't think I could even start an outrageous and inflammatory anonymous blog. I'd be bored to death.

What do you do if you find deliberate outrageousness boring?

The answer in my case lies in the recognition that boredom is itself an emotional reaction. And because I dislike emotional reactions -- especially my own -- then the boredom that accompanies outrageousness must not be as boring as I think.

An outrageous paradox, if you think about it. So why am I not more outraged?

UPDATE: Sean Kinsell hails from the cultural background Valania sneers at, and in a post titled "Hold a chicken in the air / Stick a deck chair up your nose" he explains why Valania's hateful screed is a "masterwork of scintillating ninnyism."

You've got to read it all!

(My thanks to Sean for the link. Someone should hire him as a speechwriter...)

posted by Eric on 10.27.08 at 11:42 AM


Is it because appeals to reason, logic, or common sense are seen as more boring than red meat?
Yes. And not just more boring, but less successful.
Who was it who said that you can't be reasoned out of a position you didn't reason yourself into?

And who said something about how it's easier to sway thousands with emotion than one with reason?

Using stuff like truth and facts is so passe and reeks of a bourgeois attitude.

Veeshir   ·  October 27, 2008 12:47 PM

Veeshir, you're breaking my heart, but I don't have a good counterargument.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  October 27, 2008 1:02 PM

This story exposes two important issues. 1..This is exactly why I no longer subscribe to this periodical, despite having been an annual subscriber for over two decades.
2..This is also why the number of subscribers and, not surprisingly, profits continue to plumet.

Edward Lunny   ·  October 27, 2008 4:59 PM

On the surface, Veeshir seems to be right in what he says. Now the real question is whether Veeshir was being in any way "ironic" or "sarcastic"? OR, perhaps just leaderly?

OH!...and the original question is whether Jonathan Valania was being either "ironic" or "sarcastic"?...or a jerk or just leaderly?

For as much as I distain the MSM (herein defined as those whose work it is to bring us the objective facts), I am going to call bloggers on their ability to freely use the subjective as well as both sarcasm and irony in ways that the main stream media can not even contemplate, other than in an editorial role, or in their current role as Darwinian underdogs about to be smashed... fighting for their own lives more than they are fighting for Obama's presidency, or heaven FORBID for the right of the American people to know the facts.

WAKE UP, "players". MSM, bloggers? Leave the sarcasm, the irony, the subjectivity and your power and survival issues behind. Dazzle the American people with FACTS.

This is NOT about you. This is about the grand land we all live in.

Penny   ·  October 27, 2008 10:47 PM

Well, the first three lines were my opinion (not my likes), while the third was sarcasm.

I was going to reply to A V I that it breaks my heart too. And I probably should have commented that I, like Eric, can't sway people emotionally and that's why I'm generally disliked by people who are swayed by emotion.

Take global warmmongers, I've tried to get them to at least look at the pattern of Sun spot activity and compare it to the temperature of the Earth. They refuse. They call me ignorant while they proudly refuse to even look at any evidence that conflicts with their religion. Willful ignorance is worse than stupidity, stupidity isn't on purpose.

They weren't reasoned into global warmmongering, they can't be reasoned out and I'm not mentally set up to try emotion so I just point and laugh anymore. I'll usually try to at least get them to check into the Sun's activity, but as soon as they attack me personally, I resort to being rude, obnoxious and extra-sarcastic. One guy kept forwarding me articles about global warming, I would reply by fisking them and he wouldn't read my reply. He said, and I quote, "You choose to beleve the articles you want to believe and I choose to believe the articles I want". He absolutely could not accept that I try to figure out which articles to believe. Finally, I just kept calling him an ignorant fool until he left me alone. That was win/win in my book. He left me alone and I got him all angry.

I've wasted too much energy in my life trying to reason someone out of a position they weren't reasoned into to spend too much time, effort or energy into anymore.

Veeshir   ·  October 28, 2008 12:31 PM

Thanks for the link and the kind words, Eric. The one pleasing thought I have about Valania's Philadelphia-based piece is that at least he's not still being tiresome in our native Lehigh Valley.

Sean Kinsell   ·  October 28, 2008 10:59 PM

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