P.L.: Yeah, he refuses to admit that there's a connection there and you know with his technical work in linguistics, it actually is very difficult to see some sort of connection there and I think, I understand why he wants to create that firewall because he doesn't want people to try and read some political interpretation into his empirical work.
R.K.: Yeah I guess that's just fine I guess really to have different worlds that you're working in. So, what are you going to write about next?
P.L.: Well, I just finished a book that's coming out from Oxford University Press and it's on how we shift or change or modulate word meanings and the idea is that we don't come with word meanings intact when we have a conversation but we form a little micro-language together and we negotiate the meanings of words.
So you ask me what do you mean by hero? What do you mean by evil? And in doing that we build a little language together. So that's one project and then I'm doing another book or co-writing on griefers or trolls, people who basically are engaged in pranking people online. It's connected with Anonymous and it's about how some social consciousness can emerge from that.
R.K.: Ah, and you bring this up like three minutes before we got to finish the interview here. I run Opednews.com which reaches about two hundred thousand unique visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of comments on it. And trolls are a challenge. So give me some nuggets about trolls and you used another word, griefers? What was the other word?
P.L.: Well griefer is a word that gets used in online worlds where a griefer is someone who will do something in the online world to disrupt your game play or just to be transgressive in some way or other. So they might, in a virtual world like a video game where you have control over what you build, they might litter your property with obscene objects for example. That would be a griefer in that environment.
I'm just very interested in the fact that I saw a lot of these griefers come in from 4chan and they sort of evolved a kind of weird political consciousness about the same time that Anonymous started to evolve a political consciousness and so what I'm interested in is the kind of connection between the selfneed that these people have to sort of push back and grief, and be at times scatological and at times transgressive and see how they evolved in to these very socially conscious individuals.
Barret Brown would be a case in point. He was a griefer in a virtual world called Second Life and eventually over a period of a few years evolved in to this individual who became very concerned about the way in which private intelligence companies were conducting their operations against the America population.
R.K.: So you're saying that griefers or trolls have some positive aspects?
P.L.: I think so. I think in any political movement you have these people so a classic example would be Abbie Hoffman and the yippies in the 1960's. I think they played an important role because one of the things that they do, they're not merely challenging the conventions and mores of society but they're also pranking the state and the power system.
In doing that, by showing they're not afraid of them, they pierce this veil of invulnerability. Who is this person that's out there making fun of this incredible power? This incredible Empire? And so those kinds of people become critical in any sort of movement to make that organization more responsive to people or if the goal is to get the sociopaths out of government and get people back in control of government, you're going to need people to not be afraid of the sociopaths that are running the show.
R.K.: So it sounds like you're not really talking about the kind of trolls who you see in comments which are people who engage in ad hominem comments or who are paid to be there to disrupt the conversation. I think you're talking more about digital jesters, court jesters.
P.L.: There you go. That's right. That's a better way to put it. That's exactly right and there is a difference. The problem trolls, they're another problem for another day I guess. Which we'll have to talk about some time but you're absolutely right. It's better to think of these people as being tricksters or a jester. Yeah that's right.
R.K.: Cool. Well it's been a great conversation. We're going to wrap it up now. I've got to see this book on griefers, it sounds fascinating and to the whole idea of digital court jesters makes a lot of sense to me. I would love to have a further conversation about the media, too. I have a feeling you've got some thoughts on that as well.
R.K.: But we're going to have to do that another time.