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Why would anyone threaten to poison the Mets?

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A man who repeatedly threatened Mets players and staff has been given his sentence. The second part of that sentence is more surprising than the first.

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These are great times for people that act like severely infected a-holes on the internet, at least to the extent that such people can ever really have a great time, what with the severity of the infection and all. Still, this is about as good as these particular severely infected a-holes have ever had it. Seemingly positive technological advances have ensured that there are now more ways for one severely infected a-hole to be worse to more people than ever before. Large swathes of virtual real estate have been ceded to the severely infected a-hole community, in which real estate that community can discuss the specifics of their infections, blame various parties, and so on.

These are crowded, lonely spaces; if they were real, the smell of abused terrycloth and defeated carpeting and ambient soul-deep dudestink would be stifling. Every now and then, the blinds fly open on one of these rooms and the pale seething mass within is revealed and recoils, hissing -- like bloated hairless cats, like lumpy vampires booming "get some" into $230 gaming headsets, like Lenny from "The Simpsons" whinging "please don't tell anyone how I live" when the walls of his house fall down, pick your simile. And then everyone sees what's going on in there, hears the various batshit boiling-mad monologues about whatever the hate-totem in that particular room is, and just -- backs -- away, content to let whatever's happening in that room go on happening, so long as it remains in that room, or at least doesn't happen to us.

This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, provided that everyone leaves everyone else alone; the difference between a respectful distance and a disgusted one is mostly a matter of aesthetics. This seems to be more or less how everyone dealt with Aryn Leroux, a man from Connecticut who fantasized about torturing and murdering members of the Mets front office and threatened a number of Mets players on Twitter, right up until he was arrested for it last October. Leroux's behavior began as that of a disgruntled fan with moderate to severe boundary issues, and eventually ranged into the darker turf of terroristic threats. The team took him seriously -- he was especially fond of talking about poisoning the food in the home team's locker room -- and brought formal charges.

On Friday, Leroux was given a 90-day suspended sentence, and instructed to have no interaction with Mets officials, ex-Met Justin Turner, or Turner's girlfriend, all of whom he threatened online. He can't go to Citi Field, either, although that part of the punishment seems almost cosmetic. Leroux's threats and general sour weirdness seem purely and perfectly in keeping with a way of being and acting that is more or less exclusive to the circa-now Internet. His sentence places no restrictions on what Leroux can or can't do online.

★★★

It is always shocking when some Kasper Hauser-y refugee from those other pissed-off virtual worlds washes up in ours, flat-affected and strange and so, so much angrier than anyone ever suspected. Recently, in the wake of some supremely tragic and awful things in the non-virtual world, these refugees have confronted the rest of us -- who are different mostly in that we are only really more prosaically fucked-up, more diverse or understated in our hang-ups -- with a worldview that is disordered in a strangely and frighteningly logical way.

It's tough to know how to engage a moral universe held in place by a metastatic and rageful narcissism.

Still, it's tough to know how to engage a moral universe that has been meticulously reordered so that it orbits the multiply-aggrieved individual in question, a whole tiny cosmos held in place by a metastatic and rageful narcissism. These worlds are distinct to and defined by their creators, but each comes complete with its own cockeyed gravitational field and graven commandments and various vicious codes.

The shock at being confronted with all this weird vengefulness -- the realization of what a crazy thing these guys were building in there, all alone even while surrounded by the seemingly like-minded -- is now as familiar as the clockwork uglinesses that come of it, and neither is a great feeling, to be honest. It makes even an active citizen of the Internet feel not just old, but so incredibly tired. There is a futile bottomlessness to the prospect of scaling Elliot Rodger's personal mountain of murderous umbrage, or the idea of the long slog through whatever derp-o upside-down righteousness powers the awful and persistent harassment of women online, or the thought of diving into the murky depths of the part of the internet dedicated to the retroactive justification of an unarmed teen's death in Ferguson, Mo.

We all want a home, we all seek community; these are human things, and blameless. More than that, this impulse can help us be good, and the communities we seek and find and make can be a way into our finer and greater-hearted qualities. But rotten communities nurture rotten values, and these recent concurrent eruptions of curdled male rage, online and off, suggest that there are a lot of things wrong in a great many of these uninvestigated rooms, and that there are both more of them and more angry people in them than we knew, or hoped.

This does not sound like a golden age for those livid isolates or anyone else, but there is one way in which it indisputably is, at least for them. We have done better at figuring out ways to be horrible to other people on the internet than we have at figuring out how to regulate any of that; there isn't broad agreement as to whether any of it should be regulated at all. The conversation about it, such as it exists, is high-minded and academic in some corners, and vicious and defensive and self-justifying in the main. In the meantime, a long and savage status quo spools out, one hothouse-raised brutality at a time.

There is nothing but personal values and human shame preventing people from being as terrible as they want to be to other people online, and if the values and shame are not doing their preventive work, then there is nothing at all. And that is how we get our thousand feral comments sections and disposable hate-speechifying egg-avatar Twitter accounts and the unique school of pissy loathing and cheap violent fantasy native to Facebook, and actual things worse than that.

Pieter Bruegel

"The Triumph of Death," Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Museo del Prado (Wikimedia Commons).

In public, we have official and unofficial ways of regulating this sort of thing, which is why it is so much easier to find online than on a given city block. We simply do not often see men screaming profanities in women's faces on mass transit, or yowling racist epithets and loaded threats at minorities visiting an ATM, and this is because we've (tenuously  and not unanimously) agreed that those are just not things people should do.

To be in a city, or even at a game, is to see this in action. People will tell the screaming person to stop. They will call the screaming person a jerk, and if the screaming person does not stop they will call the cops, and the cops will tell that screaming person to stop under penalty of law. That, or everyone will just sort of move away, leaving the offending dipshit all alone with his awfulness. It's not perfect, but there's a sort of rough justice in this.

We remind each other how to act in public. Those who will not or cannot conform often find themselves alone.

There are laws on the books, and there are laws that are not on the books, but we know what these are and mostly abide by them. We enforce them together, with varying degrees of effectiveness and zeal, and we're mostly better for it. We remind each other, always and everywhere, how to act in public, and those who will not or cannot conform often find themselves alone. This is not necessarily good for them, nor is it necessarily safe for us to leave them festering in either darkness or daylight, but it's not quite unjust, either.

We are less good at this work --  are, in fact, extremely shitty at it -- online, which makes for a conversation that's less governed, to be sure, but not nearly as open as its more utopian prophets imagine. One freedom chases off another as it's abused, and so the suddenly sacred right to say frightening, threatening things to a woman winds up infringing on that woman's right not to be subject to frightening threats.

More disturbingly, there is only a tentative and heavily qualified consensus online that all this is actually a problem. We start new conversations about things previously agreed upon -- things like, "could it ever somehow be okay to threaten to rape a stranger because you do not agree with her thoughts about video games?" or its subordinate question "are the toys you like more important than other people?" -- and those conversations are not good. When they are undertaken at all, they wind up dishonest and disordered and generally pretty selfish and awful -- so much so, in their more extreme iterations, that it's hard not to wonder how we ever agreed to enforce all those old golden rules in the first place.

It's unclear whether this truly reflects an inability to understand how real the internet and the people on it actually are, or whether there's simply a self-serving refusal to understand this. It's clear on its face that "those were just multiple tweets in which I threatened to kidnap and murder your family, it wasn't like I actually said it to you" is an idiotic evasion; it's obvious that deflecting responsibility through some dim catch-all -- somehow Political Correctness remains in circulation, here -- is a retreat so total as to be more or less a defeat. And yet: there it all is, over and over, stubborn and wrong and ugly and as loud as it ever was, on a goddamn loop.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

"The Blind Leading the Blind" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568. (Wikimedia Commons).

To see people be this awful in the defense of bad politics and childish materialism, to see how small these various reflexive partisanships can make us -- this is depressing, but this is the internet, and it is not new here. But for all the ways in which we (happily, willingly) let sports make idiots of us, what's fundamentally chilling and fundamentally off about what Aryn Leroux did owes not just to its odiousness, but that it belongs to the larger, uglier world. As stupid as the conversation about sports can be, it should not be -- and generally is not -- consumed with the rage and fear that defines so many of these other conversations. It just shouldn't be this dark.

What's valuable about sports, I think, and what keeps us coming back to them as we do, is that the way they serve as an antidote to the abstractions and stresses and repressions that define so much of adult life. They remind us that we're human by opening up a range of feeling that's greater and deeper and brighter than the usual; love and friends and art and music all do this, too.

Caring about a game is, at the most basic level, a sort of play... it should defuse what's darker about it.

Even at a loss, even booing, we are vibrating differently, and working on a different and safer emotional frequency; we lose perspective, and that's the fun of it, but we are also safely in context. The Mets are an infuriating team, which of course does not justify or explain anything that Leroux did. But the frustration they inspire is, for most that feel it, a different and safer fury. Caring about a game is, at the most basic level, a sort of play. That is not at all to diminish what's good about that caring. But it does, or should, defuse what's darker about it.

Sports do not exist outside the greater world, of course, but they can offer an escape from it, to feel things we ordinarily wouldn't and be different than the world otherwise lets us be. It is maybe too hopeful to think that that the versions of ourselves that exist when we're gently and happily buzzed on sports are something more like our true selves. It is maybe too hopeful to think that we don't forget ourselves in the games we care about, but instead remember ourselves more fully. It would be a good thing to be like that all the time, of course: to feel that safe, and to feel safe in feeling so much. For the most part, though, we might as well just take that wellbeing and secret safety where we can get it.

It's one of the few things you can get for free at a game, and it's worth a lot.