I love blogs, especially Catholic ones. I started reading them in 2008 shortly after being confirmed in the Church and they have been a vital part of my post-conversion formation, helping to negotiate my way through Catholic teachings. What I love most about them is how articulate so many of the blog-writers are, combining passion for their faith with an engaging view of the culture and a deep love of literature and the written word. Indeed Elizabeth Duffy, writing on The Anchoress distinguishes Catholic mommy blogs from many of their secular counterparts precisely because of this sophistication:
Most Catholic married women expect to be mothers, so there’s no need to fetishize their choices or even to identify with them overmuch. They are mothers, who by and large enjoy being mothers and who make great investment in their children, but “Mommy” is not their persona.
Rather, they’re talking about Brahms, they’re reading the complete works of Shakespeare, they’re writing novels, reviewing books, and blogging the Wasteland. Some love fashion, but I suspect most would have scruples with becoming a fashionista, or an anything-ista. Almost all of them reference Christ, or aspects of their faith with regularity, or if they don’t talk openly about Christ, he is the hidden center of their thought.
For me, reading Catholic blogs was like stumbling by-accident into an awesome dinner party full of people with whom I had an instant rapport. These writers, men and women, were so much like myself and through them I was able to see how joyful it is to be both a Catholic and an intellectual, to love the beauty of human creation and see it as a reflection of the divine.
Invariably, because of the Church´s stance on certain issues, Catholic blogs attract both people who love the faith and people who don´t. Of those who don´t, it seems there are three types. There are some who come merely to troll, leaving one-line, badly spelled insults and disappearing. There are others who are able to respectfully disagree with the blogger and state their reasons for doing so, all the while listening and discussing the blogger´s points. And then there are those who engage in dialectical masturbation.
The difference between dialectical masturbation and trolling is not all that obvious, in fact most assume they are one and the same. Trolling, however, is usually done just to stir people up. A troll pops into a blog or news article, leaves an insult or inflammatory comment and then vanishes. Occasionally they return and repeat the process, and might even actually start to engage in a discussion, but these moments are rare. Usually a troll´s job is done once the comment is posted, wherein they sit back and watch the fireworks.
A dialectical masturbator however, is altogether different. The dialectical masturbator frequents blogs, usually more than one, with diametrically opposed political or social views to their own. The purpose of visiting these blogs is, not, as they tell themselves, to engage in a debate with someone whose political views are different from theirs, or even to get people to think about things differently, their purpose is to stir themselves up into a state of pleasurable indignation and repeatedly post about how the views of the blogger and other commenters are, how such bloggers are motivated purely by hatred and prejudice, and how his own views are superior.
Indignation might be seen as the one form of anger which is pleasurable to experience. To be indignant is to be confirmed in one´s own superiority, to raise oneself up a few inches, point a strident finger at an offender and say “How dare you!”. Immediately the offender is reduced while the indignant is elevated. There is no parity between them in which the offender can be equal to or identified with the indignant. The indignant says “You are vile! I am not like you!.” The brain is flooded with a tiny hit of adrenaline, conscious thought is pushed aside and all energies are focused into this moment of accusation. It makes the indignant feel important, erases any self-doubts he might have and allows him to forget his own life for awhile.
And the internet facilitates this “stoking up indignation as entertainment” the same way as it facilitates physical masturbation through the dissemination of pornography. One can work themselves up about issues and faceless names on a blog, get the “hit” they are looking for, without having to face a real human person, or real-world implication of their views. Just like physical masturbation, the dialectical masturbator can seek out this hit again and again, with little cost to himself other than time spent in front of a screen.
Like physical masturbation, there is no sense communion, of reconciling opposites, of coming together. It is an isolating and addictive practice, merely meant to make the indignant feel good about himself. And its a plague which one finds on Catholic blogs everywhere, because hating the Church is an enormous source of pleasure for many people.