Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Any sufficiently advanced troll...

So the coronation of the eccentric playboy who also happens to be Thailand's Crown Prince has been delayed, presumably to buy time for an extreme image makeover. After all, you can't have a loopy head of state who's prone to confer senior military rank on a favourite pet. Or can you?

The case of Foo Foo, the part-time Air Vice Marshal and full-time miniature poodle, inevitably brings to mind Caligula's* plan to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul. So is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as mad as Caligula? Well, maybe, but perhaps Caligula himself wasn't mad (at least when he did the horse thing). The simple reading of the horse story is that Caligula's desire to award a prestigious rank to his favourite horse was straightforward proof of the Emperor's raving lunacy. But there's also a more nuanced reading - that Caligula was deliberately making a ludicrous gesture for satirical purposes. In this reading, Incitatus' proposed consulship was just a memorable way of saying " Those consuls are useless - my horse could do a better job."

It wouldn't be the only time people have spotted method in the apparent madness of elite figures. King Canute, the apparently foolish monarch who apocryphally tried to forbid the tide from coming in, is, in the more nuanced version, the wise ruler, who used the the tides' failure to obey him as a practical demonstration of the limits of human power and a rebuke to the flatterers at court who treated him as some kind of superhuman being.

Go back as far as Solomon and the "wise ruler" reading is accepted without question - of course he wasn't serious about having that baby cut in half - that's why they call it the wisdom of Solomon, dummy!

So was Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn's pet promotion prank evidence, not of insanity, but of wisdom or, at least, of advanced trolling? I'm not convinced, but I do think I'm seeing a variation on Poe's Law here. Poe's Law, you'll remember, is the Internet maxim asserting that certain extreme views (Poe had Creationism, in particular, in mind) are so extreme that it's impossible to parody them in such a way that someone won't mistake the parody for the genuine article, or vice versa.**

In much the same way, a tiny minority people live lives of such extreme privilege that it's almost impossible to tell whether their bizarre acts of self-indulgence are the result of deliberate irony, or just the predictable lack of self-awareness that goes with being able to act out their every whim (see also Sir Benjamin, the beaver-bashing baronet).

* With due apologies to Mary Beard who's been patiently and fruitlessly trying to remind us all that, to the Romans, he would have been known by his proper name, Gaius (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) not his childhood nickname "Caligula" ("little boots").

**Or, in Alan Morgan's pithier version, "Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook."