Troll Theory

Hans Van Meegren was a Dutch painter of the early 20th century, ignored partly because he tried to paint in a style of 200 years previous, but mainly because he just wasn't a good painter.

He wanted to be accepted by the art establishment, to be appreciated and celebrated. But he also wanted to humiliate and perhaps destroy that establishment, in revenge for not appreciating his work.

This combination of contradictory impulses I call the Van Meegren syndrome.

He painted a fake Vermeer, intending to put it on the market as a lost masterpiece of the great painter, let the critics fawn over it, then expose the fraud after the sale. In this way he hoped to humiliate the art world. It took him 3 years to create the painting and artificially age it - a painstaking process.

Of course, when the painting was indeed sold, and landed him with a small fortune, he decided to forstall the exposure, and make some more. However, it is the psychological impulses behind the first painting which interests me here.

I suggest that the same syndrome is responsible for the prankster - one who disguises cruelty as humour, one who manipulates others from a position of power, but demands that his victims forgive him and appreciate his cleverness.

Similarly for the hacker. He tries to destroy or disrupt a computer system, but can never resist bragging about it, in the hope that his specialness will be seen and applauded, even by those who suffer from the disruption.

And finally, the internet troll. Here is someone who wants to be accepted as a powerful, respected, loved member of a community, but believes he would always be regarded as an inferior. So, he combines the desire to be at the top of the heap, with the desire to kick the heap from beneath him, in vengence for being at the bottom of the heap.

He becomes one who gains power within the group, by causing tension, by starting arguments, by irritating the group members. He may justify his childish games as 'making the discussion more interesting' or 'toying with lesser beings', but these are transparantly false.

One with Van Meegren syndrome can never win. Either the group ousts him - or ignores him, which comes to the same thing - or he destroys it. Either way he loses the game, or makes it impossible for him to win.

There is the question of why there are so many pranksters, hackers, and trolls around. Even though they all believe they are highly special and guifted. It's obviously true that intelligent or talented individuals are crushed and become resentful - this is a commonplace of modern western culture. However, only a handful of these troublemakers actually are intelligent or talented.

Also, people who actually are in some way special, and who are crushed down, do not in general become Van Meegren syndrome sufferers.

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