Human beings being what they are, famous people attract fans. Human beings being what they are, famous people also attract haters, the dark obverse of fans. If you are famous, normally your fans are going to be more visible to you than your haters because your fans will have more tendency to seek you out; but the Internet changes that by lowering the cost of hater behavior.
Here at Armed & Dangerous we’ve seen our share of fanboys (and, though with regrettably lower frequency, fangirls). We’ve also seen our share of haterboys (hatergirls are far more rare). I’ve now seen a large enough sample over the years that some interesting patterns have emerged. There follows, accordingly, a taxonomy of basic haterboy types.
If your first reaction to that lead-in is “Why not a taxonomy of fanboys first?”, congratulate yourself on having asked a good question. Because the first interesting thing about haterboys is that they hew much closer to a small set of identifiable stereotypes than fanboys do. Another way to put this is that I see more variation in the behavior of fanboys, more individuality. Fanboys may be annoying in their effusiveness sometimes and try to praise me in ways I don’t necessarily think I always deserve, but I seldom get from them the sense of monomoniacal and faintly robot-like narrowness that haterboys often exude.
While we’re on the subject of differences between fanboys and haterboys, one obvious one is that haterboys are far more likely to use handles that mask their actual identity. The reason may seem obvious; haterboy behavior is not generally considered a good thing, so the people who do it have social-status reasons for wanting it to be deniable. But I think that anonymization – that refusal to be known – reveals something else; a haterboy’s relationship to the subject of his fixation is less personal than a fanboy’s, less about who the subject of hate actually is and more a projection of the haterboy’s own interior dramas.
Another difference that goes with this: fanboys have a much easier breaking out of their normal behavioral pattern to criticize the subject of their veneration than haters do executing the reverse maneuver. Indeed, one of the diagnostic signs of haterboyness is an unvarying emotional tone and intensity. The haterboy’s hate is always on, like 60-cycle hum in a bad set of speakers.
Use of handles and this relentless flatness of affect are two aspects of haterboy behavior that make them easy to spot right off. Often, on this blog, they make themselves obvious on first comment.
Now let’s examine some of the common haterboy types…
First, the Peevish Adolescent. This is the most common and least interesting form of haterboy. There’s almost nothing there except a juvenile desire to fling feces. This is the type that is most likely to have indifferent-to-poor writing skills – crappy spelling, difficulty forming coherent sentences, run-on paragraphs – and most likely to use an anonymizing handle.
The Peevish Adolescent’s dominating emotions are all about primate posturing for status. One often gets the sense that any authority or high-status figure would do as a target for his feces-flinging and one has been chosen for the role almost at random. The Internet enables him to demonstrate belligerantly at a silverback male without fear of actual consequences; this thrills him and helps him feel marginally less inadequate.
The polar opposite of the Peevish Adolescent is the Embittered Old Fart. This type is much less common and much more interesting. Tends to be middling on the language-competency scale, and may have interesting things to say if you can mask out that 60-cycle hum.
The dominant emotions of the Embittered Old Fart are envy and resentment. The EOF fails to hide the fact that he thinks he could have been as famous and successful as you, or should have been; in order to live with his own comparative failure, he has to try to tear you down and trash your reputation. The amount of effort and intelligence an EOF may expend on this project is a very sad thing to see; one can’t help thinking he’d have much less resentment in him if he’d directed his energy more constructively in the past. Accordingly, where the Peevish Adolescent is mostly just ridiculous, the Embittered Old Fart is genuinely tragic.
Next we come to the Zealot. The Zealot thinks you are an articulate advocate of evil and must therefore be discredited at all costs. He doesn’t hate your success other than consequentially, and isn’t mainly concerned with posturing for status. No; his problem is that you have associated yourself with the wrong operating system, or the wrong political ideas, or the wrong religion, and that you commit the intolerable crime of persuading others to do likewise.
High-grade zealots are the most articulate variant of haterboy; indeed, they often run over with immaculately grammatical verbiage. Of all the haterboy types, they are most likely to try to pack a PhD thesis into a blog comment, complete with numerous hyperlinks. The thing about them, though, is that no matter what their particular idée fixe is, they all sound alike after awhile. The 60-cycle hum drowns out the idea content.
Zealots are also the least likely type to use an identity-concealing handle. Sadly, the appearance of honesty often deceives; their citations are apt to be thin and hyperpartisan, and their arguments to have gaps or even tactical falsehoods at crucial points. You are more likely to learn something useful from an Embittered Old Fart than from a Zealot.
Finally, the Iconoclast. The Iconoclast is, in his own mind, a fearless and principled speaker of truth to power. You are the idol with feet of clay, the pretender, the false god he must destroy. But note how he differs from the Peevish Adolescent; he is relatively unconcerned with his own status, and more like the Zealot in that he is mainly interested in protecting others from your baneful influence. The core of his complaint, though, is about social power and personal influence rather than ideas.
On this blog, the characteristic accusations of the Iconoclast are that (a) I’m a monster of ego, and (b) I claim a position of leadership in the hacker community that I don’t actually hold. I point these out because they’re issues that matter much less to the other haterboy types. The Peevish Adolescent and the Embittered Old Fart attack me exactly because they see me as a silverback alpha, and the Zealot is only upset by my social power insofar as it assists the infectiousness of my ideas.
As with the other types, what makes the Iconoclast a haterboy rather than a critic is the degree to which his emotional fixation drowns out and damages his critique. Where a refuted Zealot will generally shift to a different line of attack, Iconoclasts have a strong tendency to repeat old ones with metronomic regularity, seeming unable to retain the fact that nobody bought them the first time.
Of course, combinations of these types occur. What they all have in common is what I’ve been calling the “60-cycle-hum”, the tendency for anything substantive they have to say to be overwhelmed by their emotional fixation against the subject of their haterism. The result of this fixation is a kind of self-sabotage; haterboys fling random poo, or make transparently bogus and even dishonest arguments, then seem genuinely puzzled and indignant when their subject fails to be gravely wounded and others call them on these behaviors.
They don’t see, apparently cannot see, what sad clowns they are. As a commenter on this blog recently observed, most of the excrement they fling at their subject of vituperation lands on themselves. Consequently they stink, and they’re covered in shit, and they completely fail to notice that the sane people are laughing at them.
This points up the typical haterboy’s single most besetting flaw – a quasi-autistic inability to reflect on his own behavior and how it is read by others. One consequence of this is that he typically has a sense of humor that is stunted and tending towards the vicious (with an inability to laugh at himself). But, more basically, the haterboy radiates a sense of damage, of behavior that is negative and robotic and limited because he lacks the psychological resources to generate better options.
Again, the difference from fanboys is instructive. Only the most abject specimens of fanboy radiate that sense of damage. Most fanboys (well, at least, most of my fanboys, anyway) seem to be relatively healthy sorts for whom fanboyism is a sort of aspirational maneuver, an attempt to generate the psychological resources with which they can become more like the aspects of their subject of veneration that they admire. Learning by mimesis in that way is a reasonable goal, and I try to support it.
Haterboys, on the other hand, are dead-ended. Some, especially among the Peevish Adolescents, will grow out of this (I often think, on encountering one of this subtype, that his problems would be largely cured by more sex in his life). Others, sadly, will not. Anger, resentment, and envy are not helpful starting places from which to try to generate psychological resources and options; haterboys can change the focus of their ire but have much more difficulty breaking the pattern of fixation and self-sabotage.
Fanboys know they’re confirming their subject’s importance in the scheme of things when they act like fanboys, and they’re OK with that. Haterboys also confirm their subject’s importance every time they rant, but they don’t know this. Again, their inability to see how their behavior reads to others is their most serious blind spot. The result, if one is the subject, is that they’re funny — in a broken, desperate way that one feels a bit low and unclean about laughing at.
I don’t know how to fix these people. My usual policy towards them is this:
Peevish Adolescents I mostly ignore, unless they provide me with a springboard for something I wanted to say anyway. They drift in and out of my view frequently, and are fairly likely to just go away when ignored.
Embittered Old Farts sometimes know things I don’t. To them I lay down the law: be interesting or be banned. I am more likely to invest time in trying to housebreak one of these than any of the other types; sometimes they’re trainable, sometimes they’re not.
Zealots seldom surprise me – the density of meaningful information in their thickets of verbiage is low (as in, far lower than they themselves realize). I generally leave the task of keeping them in check to the more levelheaded of the regular commenters on this blog, and that works sufficiently well that I seldom have to censure one directly.
I treat Iconoclasts basically the way I treat Embittered Old Farts, except that I place a lower expected value on their output and am therefore less willing to spend effort trying to housebreak them.
Finally: Yes, I have multiple examples in mind for all these types, but no I am not going to name them nor respond to speculations about who I might have in mind. If you find that any of these descriptions makes you angry, that probably means you’re it. If you feel like an intended target of mockery, you probably are. Cope with it by changing your behavior.