Allergies and trolls: we have met the pathogen and he is us

An allergy is panicked reaction to an intruder. THERE’S AN ALLERGEN IN THE HOUSE! OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD! I HATE THOSE THINGS! The immune system gets alerted and promptly freaks out. Like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, the protective reaction (stampeding for the exit) can cause far more damage than the original trigger (a small fire). The stampede in the body might be something as violent as a cytokine storm or anaphylactic shock. Bad news.

We’ve had millions of years to evolve healthy bodies, and yet immune disorders are among the most persistent, puzzling and difficult to manage illnesses. By analogy, this suggests to me that violent over-reaction is going be very hard to eradicate in human culture.

The video being blamed for the trouble in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere is, of course, not exactly the root cause. It’s an allergen, and sure enough it has provoked a world-class immune response. As with any allergic response, we can solve the problem by removing the allergen or by trying to make the overall system less sensitive. Trolls and free speech mean that an allergen-free environment isn’t going to happen. That leaves us with managing sensitivity. And here we might learn something from internet culture. Online it’s common knowledge that the best way to deal with trolls is not to respond to them. Or, as they say, “Don’t feed the trolls.” A well-fed troll will never go away. The problem is that the aggrieved party has to come to this conclusion on their own, and this can take a long time.

If we consider humanity as a whole, we might even call the current dire reaction an autoimmune disorder. All the cleverness of the species is channeled into harming the species. Autoimmune disorders are particularly nasty because they can deploy the strengths of the body against itself. You can’t just shoot the pathogen, because the pathogen is you.

2 thoughts on “Allergies and trolls: we have met the pathogen and he is us”

  1. Thanks for the link. That’s an instructive story… the troll is weak and wants to feel powerful, but clearly has no idea how awful it is to be targeted. Asymmetry is the key. My game is your hell. The future is all about asymmetric warfare.

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