(of a bird) tidy and clean its feathers with its beak. “reed buntings preened at the pool’s edge.” with object “the pigeon preened her feathers”
also preen oneself (of a person) devote effort to making oneself look attractive and then admire one’s appearance.‘adolescents preening in their bedroom mirrors’
also preen oneself Congratulate or pride oneself. ‘it did not prevent them from preening themselves on their achievement’
Thanks, Oxford English Dictionary.
It was a social media political post gone bad.
The post was seemingly benign: a call for the rejection of base human tendencies in favor of forbearance and toleration, of brotherly love, of embracing that which makes us better as people.
Then the trolls took over.
I usually don’t read those posts, but sometimes the real story is in the comments that follow, not the initial post. The original post hardly had anything that one could disagree with, though none of those posts change any minds, persuade anyone of anything other than that of which they are already persuaded. When the trolls take over, as they usually do, it is sometimes fun to read their comments back and forth. It is fun to see who throws out the bait and who takes it, the troll drooling at the thought of setting the hook on a big one. The purpose of argument is to persuade. The purpose of trolls is to inflame without any intent of persuasion. Sometimes it is fun. Other times, it is awful. I suppose this post would have fallen into the awful category except for a single, pleasant, surprising phrase.
Social media is bona-fide media, just as much as is CBS, NBC, FOX, or the NYT, or the WaPo. It is not, however, professional media. While many publishers, writers, and editors in mainstream media have an agenda they promote, nearly every publisher and writer on social media has an intimate agenda he wants made public, and if not, they soon will when the trolls invade, for the simplest statement of fact or opinion, no matter how generic or gentle, can produce an avalanche of opprobrium, scorn, and vitriol from seasoned, veteran trolls.
I suppose one of the biggest problems is that there are no editors.
There is no editor to tell us, “You may have your facts a bit distorted.”
There is no editor to tell us, “Perhaps that is not worthy of publication.”
There is no editor to tell us, “Your sources aren’t credible.”
There is no editor to tell us, “Go home and cool off a bit. Sleep on it a day or two before you write about it.”
There is no editor to tell us, “Your spelling and vocabulary is that of a repeat second-grader, and you have no concept of syntax.”
There is no editor to say, “There’s no way I’m going to allow that to go through to publication.”
We write in fury, we inhale the things that reinforce that which we already believe like a hound inhales his supper. We regurgitate it in haste and anger, then we hit the publish button, usually labeled as “Send” or “Post.” We visit it again like the hound revisits his supper a second time. Soon, the world’s trolls have our foolishness laid bare before them to harshly judge, skewer with invective, and fight our honestly derived canards with outrageous canards of their own. These sometimes quickly descend into name calling, as there seem to be lots of idiots, dumb-asses, and words far more foul that are quick to come from the minds of others to stimulate their fingers to type them out and publish them for all the world to see, as if they are doing something useful. They don’t even make themselves feel better.
Two trolls hijacked the thread mentioned above. Their tete-a-tete was remarkable in its bitterness. It went on for dozens and dozens of posts, getting thicker and more violent in rhetoric with every response, each troll holding more and more steadfast to his position, until the only position held by either was venomous. If there are such things as “bitter clingers,” as characterized by a former president, these two were no doubt their ultimate and penultimate champions. Bitter cling-age knows no political philosophy or party; it spreads itself about freely among the trollish population.
Finally, one troll accused the other of moral preening. I am glad I read through the garbage to get to that. I laughed out loud at an otherwise near intolerable bit of thread reading. They were both guilty of moral preening, or so it seems to me, and this is my blog, so I can set myself up as judge and jury, and pass judgment without so much as a peep from those assembled in the gallery. I can do so without an editor, too, though I try to be judicious about what I publish. I can do so and block all negative comments, as no comments can come through here without my approval. If I make a link to this blog on some other social media outlet, I can delete any and all comments I don’t like, and I will if I take a notion.
Without any doubt, commentary on moral preening is worthy of publication.
“When was the last time you preened your morals,” mother might ask me, as she might have asked me as a child when was the last time I brushed my teeth.
“You have a loose moral or two sticking up on your head. You should smooth them down with some Vitalis,” said one fellow to another as I herein introduce millennials to the idea that such a thing as an oily hair tonic ever existed.
“Yes, sir,” said the hardware store clerk, “We have several types of moral sand paper. Coarse, medium, fine, extra-fine, and double-extra-fine.”
“Just give me a half-sheet of double-extra-fine so I can polish a dull moral or two. I don’t really need to get at it too hard. My morals are in good shape,” I replied to the clerk. He looked at me with suspicion, my hair dripping with Vitalis. He was too young to know what Vitalis was, but he knew enough about morals that he suggested I start with two full sheets of the coarse and work my way all the way through to the double-extra-fine. He was as puzzled by my lack of interest in properly preening my morals as he was about the motor oil in my hair.
“Just give me what I asked for,” I said, a bit testy, I might add. I paid for my half sheet of double-extra-fine moral sandpaper and walked out the door.
“Who does he think he is?” I asked, hair oil dripping down my neck and onto my collar. As least my loose morals were glued down in something slightly less thick than tar, yet thicker than olive oil, though it was waterproof, which is a side benefit, but it took three lather, rinse, and repeat cycles with dish-washing detergent to mostly get it out. Mostly, I said. A good dip in acetone might cut it some, but naptha wouldn’t so much as dull the sheen.
Preening, I looked in the mirror. I did not see one moral out of place, but the immoral seldom do, seeing, instead, only legalistic justifications pasted all over with a flour and water paper mache and painted with glossy, pastel colors. I strutted like a gobbler. I drummed like a gobbler. I crowed like a rooster as I raised my colorful feathers to make myself look bigger and more handsome. While this is natural for a bird, as natural as preening its feathers, it is a ridiculous trait in a human. I saw no hint of ridiculousness, blinded as I was by preened morals reflecting too brightly in the mirror, preened to appear comely, but as empty as a last year’s wasp nest.
However empty, I was preened and preened well. I looked good to me, so naturally I must look good to others. I could hardly wait to get out and expose my newly preened morals. I suspect the world could hardly wait, either. I would set morals to right everywhere I went. Those whose morals were a bit shopworn would flock to me for inspiration. Those who could not see that theirs needed preening would get the full wrath and fury of my morally preened self. They would likely not deserve it, but that wouldn’t matter, they would get it anyway, as if I were spraying Febreeze on unwashed morals to cover their smell.
Moral preening. Moral preening. Hmmmmm! Come to think of it, moral preening only serves the preener’s feelings. It changes no morals, only their appearance. Sometimes appearances, known in politics and advertising as “posturing” is all those preened are concerned with. They are all about the fluff, not the substance.
Moral pruning would be a much more useful activity. When we find morals that produce rotten fruit, perhaps we should prune them rather than preen them. A fruit tree needs pruning to bear the most fruit, but if the fruit tree could talk, I suspect it would say that it doesn’t like getting its limbs cut off.
“What are you doing up there?” the startled persimmon tree down by the pond asked me as I climbed up the ladder with the lopping shears in my hand.
“You’re a bit out of shape and not producing many persimmons, so I am going to prune you,” I said, having an image in my mind of what the tree would look like when I was through, and a final mental picture of it loaded down with sweet, ripe, September persimmons.
“Well, couldn’t you just preen my limbs a bit. Perhaps hang a fern basket or two on the non-producing limbs, rather than cut them off. I might respond better with preening,” it argued desperately, shaking as if it were trying to throw me off the ladder.
“Preening? Nope! I’m pruning,” I said.
“But I’m not a prune tree,” it said.
“There’s no such thing as a prune tree,” I replied. “Prunes are dried plums.”
“Maybe you could prune the plums so you could get more prunes and leave me alone.”
“I don’t like prunes, but I do like persimmons,” I said.
“I have some persimmons now. Why don’t you have one of them?”
I looked at the green persimmons. “Nice try!” I said, looking at the should-have-been-loaded waving limb that held only two or three of the green persimmons, not taking the proffered bait as I got to work on the bad limbs. The persimmon tree had nothing further to say. Eat a green persimmon yourself sometime and you’ll know what I’m talking about. A ripe one is as sweet and delicious as anything I’ve ever tasted. A green one is an alkaline astringent that will suck all the moisture right out of your mouth, leaving you puckered and barely able to speak. Its greenness has none of the delights of a green apple. While green apples are best enjoyed in strict moderation, green persimmons are best avoided entirely. Nothing will eat them. You can preen a green persimmon all you want. You can wash it, tint it with food color, put sugar on it, dip it in honey, coat it in chocolate, soak it in vinegar to get rid of the alkalinity…you can do anything you can think of to it, and it will still be a green persimmon. One bite will obliterate all the preening. They are best left to ripen in the early autumn sunshine.
A lot of social media posts are similar to green persimmons. They leave an awful taste in your mouth. Some posts would be better if they were left to mature and ripen.
So, here’s to moral pruning, not preening. I am working on pruning all the bad morals I have that hinder me. Yes, I have some. Some are obvious to the onlooker, but some have been carefully preened so that they are disguised, camouflaged, and not what they appear to be. It is those I want to prune, no matter how painful, for sweet fruit will come forth with the pruning.
If you’re of a mind, turn to Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Sometimes, it takes a lot of pruning to bring forth this fruit. None of the pruning is pleasant, but with work and time, the harvest can yield bushels of fruit.
Preening won’t get you a half-a-peck.
So, today is “Thank a Troll” day. To the one troll who accused the other of moral preening: Sir, you have my enduring gratitude.
More prune, less preen, please.
©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp