From the blog of the International Culture and Cognition Institute.
Yet more or less impersonal discussions did exist before the creation of Usenet (1979) – in newspapers or gazettes, in the public places of big cities, etc. We should find Trolls there too. Indeed, we can find them in some of the first public places where free conversation between strangers was allowed, on a variety of topics : the antique Forum, grandfather of the virtual forums of today, womb of all Trolls. There you may find the antique equivalent of Trolls : what people at the time called ‘sophists’ or ‘philosophers’ – two words that were used interchangeably by the man on the Forum. Many Sophists did not want to endorse the label – sophistry was frowned upon or downright illegal in many places – and insisted on being called Philosophers. But the average citizen did not distinguish much between all these varieties of arguers. It is clear from most outsiders’ accounts that sophists/philosophers were perceived as disrupting the usual rules of conversation in a noxious way.
Two important men are having a careful conversation on military training. What do you call the guy who, having no particular competence or interest in the matter at hand, jumps in the conversation, systematically contradicts everyone with contrived arguments, ridicules the two competent discussants, orients the conversation on a completely different topic, then leaves the audience baffled and walks away, laughing? That Troll is Socrates in Plato’s Laches.
One man’s muops being another man’s bridge-dweller. I hope John Emerson is happy …