About four years ago I produced an article about Trump on a popular social blogging site; it was neither for nor against him, although it gave my honest opinion and so was somewhat complimentary. This post—quite unexpectedly—then went viral and racked up about 200,000 hits in a few days. I was immediately bombarded with comment after comment broadly split into two groups, as you would expect. The article was either “the first intelligent thing I’ve read in years” or “dangerous and irresponsible”. There was nobody in between, as you would expect; there are two teams in American politics—at this level, anyway—and if you said anything that was remotely complimentary towards Trump you were “enemy” for the Democrat camp.
The upshot from this article was that I gained fans; and not just in the comments—the more determined ones emailed me. Now, this did not bother me at all; nor did all the comments really, although it was giddying to be on the receiving end of comment after comment of adulation or hate; although I knew exactly what was going on, and that the people behind the comments were not, in a sense, autonomous—just reacting according to their team affiliation. The real fans, however, were a slightly more interesting type.
I write about various topics—including quite personal ones—in a very direct and honest way, pretty much reporting my immediate thoughts and feelings no matter how contradictory or embarrassing or foolish. Montaigne did much the same many centuries ago; and so he is widely credited with the creation of the idea of an individuated voice. When people read material presented in this way—encounter it in any medium—they tend to find catharsis in it. This is because it is pleasant to see thoughts and feelings that are generally suppressed expressed in any form; hence Montaigne, despite writing centuries ago, seems fresh and modern today; and that is because man’s basic thought-forms have not changed.
This leads to fans who say things like, “Oh, how do you know these things? You say things that I always knew were true but nobody says.” This is largely because you have expressed thoughts and feelings that people generally suppress; actually, the thoughts and feelings are pretty common and there is nothing remarkable about them or particularly insightful, except that you rarely see them represented as an external object. However, the downside from this is that you also get fans who want to attach themselves to you or claim you have changed their life. By “changed their life” they really mean, “I am so happy to see this expressed and it brings me some psychic relief.” They do not mean their lives have actually changed. People do not particularly change: not height, not intelligence, and not their personal problems; and any possible change comes from within—not from reading an article.
These types want to play what Eric Berne called, “Gee you’re wonderful, Mr. Murgatroyd.” This is an insincere social “game” where Mr. Murgatroyd is flattered for his perception while his worshipper fawns over him. The danger with these people, especially when they write to you and are depressed or want advice, is that they want to catch you in this Murgatroyd-worshipper dynamic; and often this goes along with self-pity and probably the desire to drag you down as well.
They will say, “You were depressed; how do I get better?” If you tell them what you personally did they will come back and say, “I did all that and it worked; it was great”—except they obviously did not. What they really want is to carry on the game where you give them insights and they pretend to get better; ultimately, this can turn poisonous. If I were less lazy or more ruthless it would be fairly easy to manipulate these people for money or other gratification and that is how cults start, although to be surrounded by weak-willed toadies must be quite trying.