I first got on the Internet way back in the mid-1990s during the heydays of AOL (remember that?). I even started what we would now call a blog through the members.aol.com/yourusernamehere portal wherein I reviewed movies. It wasn’t to make money or to become famous or score free movie tickets, I just did it because I liked it – the same reason I review beer now. I would soon realize just how sociopathic some people could be on the Internet when someone so vehemently disagreed with my review of a movie that he actually said it’s too bad my mom couldn’t have afforded an abortion.
It’s been 20 years since that happened, but I’ve never forgotten that comment because it was the first time I had ever been trolled. I’ve grown extremely thick-skinned over the last two decades, though I must admit I’m still a little surprised and a little disturbed when I see malicious comments on my beer reviews of that extent. Or worse, when people talk about me thinking they’re saying it behind my back. I don’t know how they can be dumb enough to think there’s any privacy or anonymity on the Internet, especially in recent years when the government has openly admitted it’s spying on us.
Reddit, Facebook groups, forums, comment sections, etc.; these are anything but private and/or anonymous despite any avatar or codename you use. Other people absolutely will take a screen shot of the stupid (and possibly illegal) stuff you write and show it to someone you didn’t want seeing it. Also, many people you think are your friends will rat you out without much provocation.
I don’t know what it is about beer that makes people act this way. I don’t think you can blame it on alcohol simply lowering inhibitions and causing recklessness. If it was that simple, people wouldn’t be nearly as competent at spelling, grammar, or even be able to string together sentences as well as they do (relatively speaking). It’s just something about beer that turns people into self-righteous pricks who don’t tolerate dissent or other viewpoints.
So where does this overall lack of chill come from? My theory is that it has something to do with the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I hate to condense an academic theorem down to one paragraph, but for the sake of brevity here goes:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.
|Image credit: Vsauce (with my modification)|
YouTuber “Vsauce” explains it pretty well in this video:
Now that we’re all experts on this theory (just kidding), let’s apply it to the beer realm. Do you notice how people on the left side of the chart tend to have no chill while people in the middle are plenty chill? Those towards the left are, on average, people who are fairly new to beer and are probably the most excited and enthralled by it. These tend to be the people spending their paychecks to get “whales” like Heady Topper, Pliny The Elder, Westvleteren 12, etc. They’re also most likely to be the ones leaving snarky comments on beer blogs and other articles about how the writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about or pointing out every mistake no matter how benign they may be. They’re also more likely to be snobbish dicks whereby they argue that their sense of taste is factual and superior.
There is a well-known troll in the craft beer world called Red Rooster who has been stuck, in my opinion, on the left side of the spectrum for years. As far back as 2009 he would leave the most vile, disgusting comments on my video and text reviews. He would call me every name in the book because I either had the incorrect opinion on a beer, or I had the correct opinion but for the wrong reasons. He inspired me to make this video lampooning him and everyone like him who believes taste is objective and that it’s their job to correct, or even destroy, anyone whose opinion and level of knowledge differs from their own:
Trolls with the passion and sociopathic nature of RR are quite rare, but they do exist. Some of the people I’m thinking of are somewhat legitimate beer bloggers, but almost everything they write is negative, myopic, and condescending. They’re essentially bullies who actually have a following of like-minded sadists who think it’s funny to go around mocking fellow enthusiasts for no real reason. Maybe it’s because people like me aren’t as cool as them, or we embrace our dorkiness/awkwardness and admit our ignorance. But I can’t tell if their followers genuinely think these trolls are funny satirists*, or if they’re threatened and insecure, or just have some kind of behavioral disorder like Autism or Asperger’s and band together as some kind of veritable support group.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes that may help explain this phenomenon:
Remember, misery is comfortable. It's why so many people prefer it. Happiness takes effort.
Also, courage. It's incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don't create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created.
It's so much easier to just sit back and criticize other people's creations. This movie is stupid. That couple's kids are brats. That other couple's relationship is a mess. That rich guy is shallow. This restaurant sucks. This Internet writer is an asshole. I'd better leave a mean comment demanding that the website fire him. See, I created something.
Oh, wait, did I forget to mention that part? Yeah, whatever you try to build or create -- be it a poem, or a new skill, or a new relationship -- you will find yourself immediately surrounded by non-creators who trash it. Maybe not to your face, but they'll do it. Your drunk friends do not want you to get sober. Your fat friends do not want you to start a fitness regimen. Your jobless friends do not want to see you embark on a career.
Just remember, they're only expressing their own fear, since trashing other people's work is another excuse to do nothing. "Why should I create anything when the things other people create suck? I would totally have written a novel by now, but I'm going to wait for something good, I don't want to write the next Twilight!" As long as they never produce anything, their work will forever be perfect and beyond reproach. Or if they do produce something, they'll make sure they do it with detached irony. They'll make it intentionally bad to make it clear to everyone else that this isn't their real effort. Their real effort would have been amazing. Not like the shit you made.
Source: “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person” by Jason Pargin (A.K.A. “David Wong”)
Looking at the Dunning-Kruger chart, you’ll notice that as a person’s knowledge of a subject increases their confidence at first drops, then rises eventually, but never to the point of those on the left (that’s the theory, anyway). That’s not to say experts can’t be arrogant, though. Most commercial brewers and other beer industry professionals I know tend to be pretty laid back and don’t waste much time or effort worrying about what noobs and outsiders think of their beers and/or their company. Their job is to make products that sell, not to cater to the hoity-toity snobs of the world. However, there are still plenty of experts who are just as stuck up as the blissfully ignorant. And I don’t mean strictly pro brewers; restauranteurs, bartenders, sales reps, bottleshop proprietors, etc., can be just as bad. Some of the stories I’ve heard from these people would make your jaw drop, not because of the subject matter, but because of their holier-than-thou attitude. They remind me of the character Randall from the movie Clerks: someone who despises and berates their customers but will gladly take their money.
So is there anything we can do to inject more chill into the craft beer community? I think there is, and I think it’s a rather simple approach. We just need to make our fellow enthusiasts aware that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a legitimate, academic theory. When I first heard about it, it blew my mind and I realized just how pompous I had been about beer when I first got into it. I’d imagine a lot of people who have at least some intelligence will have a similar reaction when it’s presented to them. Not that I think it’s a magic bullet cure; but rather a tool to combat both arrogance and ignorance. It’s also applicable to pretty much all of life, not just beer.