In the last week I’ve had the dubious privilege of dealing with hundreds of alt-right trolls on a few selected posts on the FB AS page. This has obviously not been my favorite thing—not sure where they all came from, honestly. But since they came along, it was actually pretty helpful (if disturbing) to see the quiet parts the more covertly right-wing folks I came up with said out loud. In thinking about it, one of the things these (now banned from the page) extremely rude peops drew attention to is just how much the entire right relies on what Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly calls the Viking or Victim mindset, and how much that ties in with some of the things I talked about earlier when talking about far-right conspiracy rhetoric.
Give me a few minutes and I’ll unwrap a few of the connections for you.
It’s Almost Like I Was Raised and Trained to Deal with These Trolls
As always, I’m approaching this as a pastor’s kid in a right-leaning moderate church who went on to get a PhD in Communication—you know, that discipline that’s pretty invested in unwrapping persuasion and propaganda concerns so we can understand how things like the Holocaust happened and try to prevent it happening again.
As part of my doctoral program, I also took an entire course on the rhetoric of conspiracy—a disturbingly relevant topic that’s been entirely much too relevant and helpful the last few years (I previously talked about conspiracy rhetoric in a whole series you can find here, here, here, here, and here, to start).
Defining the Viking or Victim Mindset
I’ll get back to conspiracy rhetoric in just a minute, but let me first quickly define this Viking or Victim mentality thing that Brene Brown lays out in her book Daring Greatly. So in this mindset, which Brown believes is powered by shame and a refusal to make space for vulnerability, a person is either a Viking—in other words, a winner—or a victim. In this mindset, there’s nothing between these two positions in society.
This kind of perception is enormously unhealthy, naturally. It puts huge amounts of pressure on people to be extremely aggressive so as to be on the top of the societal heap lest they immediately slide to what they perceive as the complete bottom of society as victims.
A Quick Note on the Use of the Word Vikings Here
As a quick side note here, I’m using the term Viking as part of this phrase Brown coined, and using it here to reflect on unhealthy colonizer mindsets, which definitely seems to be a thing all of us who have descended from white Westerners often have to combat in ourselves, right wing or not. I do think the historical Vikings participated in that movement, but of course the historical Vikings were much more egalitarian in terms of gender, etc., than this phrase implies. Please don’t take it to mean all Vikings were bad or everything about Vikings, past or present, is to be equated to the current right wing of politics in the US.
That said, naturally all of us who were descended from white Westerners who colonized should especially be looking out for this mindset in ourselves. I know that I was socialized into some of it, whether I wanted to be or not, and have had to consciously work to shed some of it.
But yes, my usage is meant to use it more in Brown’s sense from Daring Greatly than in any other sense or to refer to a specific people.
Viking/Victim and Persecution Narratives
That means that if you win a point over someone with this Viking/victim mindset, they immediately claim to be persecuted.
That’s because someone who has this mindset is trained to think they are required to be at the top of things, with all the perks. (Which is why in unhealthy systems and mindsets, calls for equality are seen as attacks.)
Because of this, if you don’t give them everything they want, well…there’s only one other option in this frame.
Never mind if their wants stomp on other people’s equity or equality. They should be able to do everything they want and conquer all the territory so they can claim success.
Not Much Space for Health or Assertive Collaboration Here
It’s rather hard to work with this mindset, needless to say. There’s absolutely no ideas here that mutually beneficial outcomes could remotely be reached, even when they’re flying around so strongly that they practically hit you in the face.
Back to Those AS Facebook Page Trolls
Let me just say that I saw this in many of the trolls that were unrelentlessly commenting on the AS Facebook page over the last week. This particularly came home to me after I had figured out how to give myself a break from them after changing some settings and one sent me a message.
The message said that “having to restrict and delete comments shows you lost the argument.”
Hmmmmmm. So let’s break this down a bit.
Breaking Down the Viking/Victim Assumptions in This Message
The purpose of my project, as I’ve conceived it, is to encourage reasonable people to work against toxic messaging and policies toward a healthier world.
Does that mean starting arguments with people? Sometimes, sure.
But sometimes it means using the agency I have in my power to restrict people from bullying people and spreading disinformation on my watch.
Endless Arguments (Strangely???) Aren’t My Primary Goal
In order to do that, I don’t have to endlessly engage in arguments with people who aren’t there in good faith just because they want me to.
Nor am I required to write them a dissertation or give them a free university class on why I’m choosing the strategies I am (especially when reading this blog or the many many other easy to read sources out there would catch them up easily if they really wanted to know). If they have good faith questions I’m happy to answer them, but if not, well….it’s better both for me and the reasonable people on my page AND for them if I strongly encourage them to go work out their stress energies elsewhere.
Breaking Down the False Dichotomies Here
Since the AS Facebook page is a place where I have some of the most agency in my little sphere of influence, banning and preventing trolls in reasonable ways is absolutely a win for me, if we have to think of these things as a win/loss type of thing.
But usually, I don’t think of it that way. See, I believe in an awful lot of grey area between winning and losing, and often both things can be true at once.
Yes, I was able to remove a bunch of trolls from my little space this week, but sheesh, no one wins in a society with that kind of bullying behavior loose in the world.
Refusing to Believe the Premises of Aggressive Debate-y Honor Culture
Let’s get back to this person’s perception that one loses an argument if you have to remove people from a space though. Because there are some strong assumptions behind that perspective.
Specifically, the idea seems to be that the only reason to post an opposing idea is to provoke aggressive fight responses from others so you can offer them in return. And so on and so forth, until one person has conquered the other linguistically in some way.
In this type of culture, which I’ll call Aggressive Debate-y Honor Culture, you don’t actually engage in disagreements to work out differences, but as a sort of intellectual form of boxing, in which one person HAS to win sooner or later. That person often wants to make all the rules themselves and use the other person as a sort of intellectual punching bag.
Switching the Frame
Under that schema, yeah, one can see how refusing to engage according to those rules could be seen as “losing.”
But strangely enough, I actually don’t see it as shameful to save my energy to do things like live my life and do my teaching and research and writing work.
I don’t see it shameful to use the agency I have to refuse to be terrorized and insulted by people who aren’t remotely there to hear what reasonable and empathetic people have to say.
Saying the Quiet Things Out Loud
The thing about the mindset of these folks that I was dealing with this week on the FB page is that they really do say the quiet things out loud. Things that were there lurking under the surface in my childhood right-leaning upbringing as well, but weren’t said out loud there most of the time.
One of those beliefs is the premise that everyone in certain groups should be trying to conquer the world all the time (thus the Viking thing). And that everyone else needs to step back and let them do that. And that anyone who is fighting for a different perspective on things—say, that people should work together as much as possible to solve real problems—must necessarily be an enemy.
Hmmmm…Progressives as UnAmerican????
One of the trolls said this this week flat out—that progressives were not, and never had been, American in their view.
Boy did that statement bring me back to the demonization of liberals and progressives I had swallowed in my youth.
In Which I Remember Back to the Bad Old Days of My Youth….
Ahhh, the good old days, when I too had internalized that to vote Democrat was to be, maybe not unAmerican, but definitely deeply suspect and at least faintly morally disgusting.
That perception came up an awful lot in the troll comments this week. HOW DARE, the comments said, we suggest that gun culture and Trump or Trumpism might have flaws in any way. After all (and this was all sooooo predictable to someone who had grown up there), ABORTION, friends. (Deep sigh—I’ve previously talked about that topic here, here, and here, and I could have dropped those links or pointed them to other sources on the subject had they had ears to hear, but these people clearly weren’t open to that.)
Oh Yes, And New Wrinkles I Had Predicted Because of…Waves Hands at Everything
And, to add the new trendy scapegoating talking point, you know, I’m also a groomer, didn’t you know? (All the eyeroll emojis here, as I had already talked about where all of this was going in that direction here, here and here. Not so excited to have had these trolls prove me right on any of this, I must say.)
Vicious, Sure, But Sort of Mechanical-Sounding
All of this material tossed at me by this week’s trolls was extremely disturbing, but also incredibly tired and predictable. I mean, I’ve been writing about this stuff for years, and studying it for longer. Living it from both sides of the party lines for longer still.
And here’s the thing—they weren’t actually coming up with anything creative or interesting to say the large majority of the time. Certainly nothing in the posts of these trolls that could actually solve problems in ways that would respect the needs of vulnerable groups.
Most importantly, whether they were humans or bots, it was clear they weren’t there to engage in good faith dialogue and problem-solving in any way. They were there, as the Viking part of the Viking or victim mindset phrase suggests, to, well, invade and conquer using set talking points.
They were there to colonize this project. And to waste my time with the seeming goal of making it so I couldn’t actually live my life and do the rest of my work (something I’m glad to report they did not achieve, though I’m a little tired and relieved to have found ways to reasonably stem the tide). As one of them put it, once again saying the quiet part out loud, in their view I should delete my account. (Again, all the eyeroll emojis here.)
Ahhhh, Back to the “Divine Rights of Citizens”
Where does this kind of, well, entitled colonizer mindset come from, that makes them think they have any right to devote my time and project to endlessly fighting them and doing nothing else?
As I noted in a previous series here on conspiracy rhetoric focusing on William Cooper, the conspiracy theorist who popularized the word sheeple and whose death inspired 9/11 denial conspiracies, vocal folks on the alt-right tend to think of themselves as having taken over the mantle of the “Divine Right of Kings” rhetoric, but in an “American” form that could be called “divine right of (certain) citizens” rhetoric.
When Some People Think Only They Should Reign Over the US by Beating Down Others
That’s right: on the far-right, the concept isn’t that American society is supposed to promote equality or equity, but that certain right-wing citizens have the right to take over as much territory as they can and do what they want to do. (A concept that’s a perfect toxic match for the Viking or victim mindset.)
You know, like Henry VIII proclaimed in England back in the day. (Seems like the right only wants to be separated from England so they can try to control our territory rather than the English.)
Yeah, There’s a Super Long History of This, Not Shockingly
And yeah, as I’ve stated before, this strand of colonizing American thought absolutely has been here since Europeans arrived on this continent. (Again, no shade to the Vikings, but they WERE early explorers here and had a reputation for trying to take over territory.)
Doesn’t Make It At All Healthy
Which doesn’t mean it’s remotely healthy, this idea, naturally.
See, if America is genuinely to be a place where all humans are genuinely created equal, it really doesn’t work for some people to be bashing around thinking they can bully others out of their rights for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s just plain not good behavior.
If You Don’t Let Them Win, Well….
And yeah, this is the problem with Viking or Victim mentality. If the only goal is to take over as much territory as possible to “win” and produce other losers, well, of course you’re going to immediately scream “victim” if someone doesn’t let you have the space to bully them.
I saw that happen over and over again this past week.
And it’s soooo ironic when those who are all about “individual rights” and “property rights” start to complain when you ask them to move off your property because of bad behavior. (Again, all the eyeroll emojis. No wonder these types of people find calls for consent language a threat!)
Easy to Analyze from Here, but Hard to Handle in the Moment and In Large Quantities
The tricky part about all of this is that of course the logic seems incredibly unhealthy from a little bit of distance. But in the moment, the gaslighting can be incredibly hurtful. No matter how strong you are, it’s a vulnerable position, as Brene Brown would say, to be out there in the ring with trolls coming at you relentlessly from all directions.
We All Need Each Other to Deal with Hard Things—And There’s No Shame in That
And that’s why it’s so incredibly important for us all to work together, to support each other in this endeavor of ours.
So Thankful for All the Support
Thanks to the wonderful AS followers, when I needed to leave the AS page to get other things done or do strange things like eat or sleep or other forms of recovery, there were people out there pitching in to help with the trolls until I could ban them from the page.
And thanks to other lovely people in my support ecosystem and other resourcing tools, I didn’t have to be some sort of invulnerable Viking with all the strength and energy on my own to handle the threat.
Let’s Get Angry But Channel that Stress Energy Work for Healthier Systems for Us All
The truth of it is this: I feel angry at the trolls from this week, yes, absolutely. What they’re out there doing is incredibly destructive. (And as I noted in a FB post this week, they’ve stolen one of the memes critiquing gun culture with the aim of fundraising for the NRA from it, so please do work against those efforts by supporting healthy progressive organizations!)
But honestly? I also am thankful that I’m privileged to live a more shame-resilient life than they do. I’m thankful to have so many reasonable and empathetic people in this community and out there in other communities.
Time to Make the Viking or Victim Mentality Unpopular (Again)
And I’m hoping we can all do what we can to work together to create a system where everyone from all walks of life and subcultures can learn similar shame resilience.
That’s the dream—to get to a place where people don’t feel the need for the Viking or victim mentality.
This week taught me how far we have to go toward that dream, certainly. And how hard we all have to work to making that a reality.
Sooooo Important to Keep on Keeping On as We’re Able
But it also recommitted me toward that goal even more than I had been before. I hope you’re willing to continue to move forward with me. We need everyone we can get when it’s that nasty out there, friends.
I know we can do it, though. We have to, if we want to make and maintain healthier spaces for us all, where vulnerable groups don’t get insulted and bullied and discriminated against and targeted on a regular basis.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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