What do you call a person who sits at a computer for hours at a time opining into the invisible wind? A crank. If their main purpose is not to wrestle with difficult issues, making rational arguments and citing sources for any facts they refer to, but to rile up those they hate, you can call this peevish type a troll.
The crank may call itself a citizen journalist, if he bellyaches about current events, or by some other high-minded title, depending on the object of her crankiness. The fact remains, unless they are employed by reputable journals, and paid well for their opinions, they are, as a general rule, merely cranks. Trolls, on the other hand, need no introduction. Their only purpose is to wind people up.
You can find some beautiful music on youtube, whatever your taste. Listen to some that moves you and then read the comments below. There will almost always be trolls. They will tell you why the beautiful thing you just enjoyed was a fraud, a hack job, theft, ham-fisted, dick-fingered. Count on a troll to tell you the many ways you suck, your taste sucks, people who like the things you like suck. They have troll farms, I understand. Dark forces have unleashed mechanized armies of these energetic attack creatures, troll bots, robots programmed to troll. When the cyber-world is a popularity contest where value is determined by likes and shares, trolls play an outsized role.
But I came here not to speak of trolls. I am speaking of cranks. A well-spoken crank, well, so much the worse for him. The world is complicated, threatening, it comes at you fast, can fuck you up from multiple angles. The forces of greed and repression are on the rise in the world today, as the tide of hopelessness rises proportionately. Hard fought century-long battles for things like clean air, clean water, safe working conditions, the right to fair pay, and reasonable work hours, and to a pension, and a social safety net are being undone here in the US by the wealthy appointees of a spoiled billionaire of limited concern for anything but his own misguided quest for glory.
Our dysfunctional political system has produced enough despair to drive masses of people to a feeling of hopelessness. Our economic system serves only the very wealthy, everyone else is on a treadmill of insecurity. At any moment those who are not very wealthy can lose most of their life savings on a few bad turns of the roulette wheel everyone must keep their money on these days, since banks no longer pay interest on savings. What would you rather do, sit around pondering these fearful things or dash off to work to make sure you can pay for your hospitalization after your stroke?
Most people don’t have the luxury to sit around being full-time cranks. Even if they did, most people would still rather do many other things. I myself, in many ways the prototype crank these days, would rather be writing of the wonders of this miraculous world than the slops that get dashed in our faces every day. Or at least finishing the first draft of the memoir of my father’s life, a massive work of creative non-fiction.
The essence of the crank is isolation, I think. This is also the essence of the writer’s life, I suppose. A writer needs large tracts of time accountable only to the ideas they are trying to set down. Setting out ideas as clearly and vividly as possible takes as much time as we can give it.
We know the world through stories and framing these stories can be thirsty work. People are doing it brilliantly every day. We live in a golden age of television drama, for example. There are so many well written serials these days it’s like the art itself underwent a renaissance recently. Not everybody has stories they want to tell, just like not everyone dreams of painting, or singing, or dancing like Fred Astaire.
I’d love to ask somebody like Charles or David Koch what they really love to do, what they dream of doing. I imagine it would be something like seeing the greatest living cellist play a command performance, surrounded by precious art treasures, and then, going into another room and counting all the money in the world. Rolling naked in all the money in the world, I suppose. These two are eighty years old and they have more money than the Catholic church, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia combined. What is it they really love? Nobody is calling them cranks, but then again, they have very important work to do every day and they are very, very successful at it.