Tag Archives: identity

Is Online Anonymity a Respectable Expectation, or an Escape from Accountability?

The push to discredit online anonymity has gained some traction since everyone and their grandmother jumped on the social media craze.   For us millennial old-timers who grew up loitering around–or, more aptly, dicking around–on BBS sites like TOTSE through the 90s and early 2000s, the idea of showing due deference to another’s online moniker is seen as an almost unbreachable right of the internet (in short, doxxing is the cardinal sin of the internet).

Nowadays, however, where our online activity is evermore linked in with the various areas of the internet we roam (both to facilitate personal comfort, as well as make it easier to be targeted by advertisers about our interests and potential purchasing preferences), the topic of online anonymity has morphed into a more shady issue for some.  The concept of trolling, which (for the two of you out there who don’t already know this overused term) is essentially trying to get a rise out of people online by leaving any comment that you believe will insult, demean, or hurt them.  For people who use the internet as a legit medium of communication, trolling is always used as a pejorative, and always frowned upon as a major downside (if not the downside) of the internet.

The argument for eliminating, or at the very least minimizing, the presence of anonymous contributors online can, I believe, be characterized most fairly as the following:

Don’t you think that if you wrote under your real name your opinions would be seen as more respectable? Some would say that by writing under a pseudonym you are afraid to attach your opinion to yourself as an individual, because you know that what you are posting online is either wrong, misleading, or outright malicious.

When I first started writing this blog I took a few moments to consider how much I wanted to reveal about myself to readers.  At first, I flirted with the idea of excluding any direct reference to my gender or nationality, but this seemed disingenuous on account that it denies the reader the opportunity to get an honest idea of the factors that shape my perceptions about my surroundings.  There is still a part of me that ultimately beliefs that if arguments and commentaries are to stand on their own, then the identity of the individual providing them should be irrelevant to the reader.  However, there is something to be said about building a rapport with one’s readers by trusting them enough to disclose something very personal with them (like one’s identity, even if on an impersonal medium, like a blog).

But an equally valued argument can be made about how pseudonyms allow an individual to feel safer about expressing her/his true opinions, free of the daily restraints s/he might feel inclined to adopt in real life.  When it comes to using online monikers, I consider this to be a very salient point, and would like to add that if someone is honestly willing to engage the points raised by a writer, then it shouldn’t matter under what name s/he chooses to go by in her/his cyber-life (after all, would not a rose by any other name smell just as sweet…).

But I understand that this can seem like a cop-out to some; a means by which to rationalize one’s unwillingness to cease hiding behind the relatively safe anonymity of the internet.  Nonetheless, despite understanding where this sentiment is coming from, it’s a point with which I will cordially have to disagree, as I think the reasons for a person’s decision to remain anonymous online are too varied to be so easily dismissed.  Also, even if the stated reason is the correct one, I don’t personally see anything inherently wrong with taking advantage of “the relatively safe anonymity of the internet” in and of itself, because in a world where so much of our online identity is so readily available for determined, potentially deranged individuals to found out life-threatening information about us for no other reason that some random opinion we shared online didn’t sit well with their delicate sensibilities, having a wall of separation in place between the person and her/his freedom of expression can be a valued tool of communication, rather a deterrent of it.

All the best,

Sascha

P.S. Yes, Sascha is my name.

P.S.S.  Yes, I am in fact male, and living with what is a predominantly female name in North America.  Very trendy of me, indeed.

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The End of Revolutionaries

A century ago, if someone was referred to as a revolutionary, there was nothing obscure about the character of the person being talked about.  Sure, the cause for which he or she was dedicated to may vary anywhere from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum, but there was no doubt that the individual revolutionary was a person who had drastically altered public consciousness (for better or worse).  Moreover, a revolutionary was an individual that had usurped (or at least had attempted to usurp) an existing political order, in favor of a fresh one; in short, a revolutionary was one who actually took part in revolutions.

Nowadays, the original implications of the term have completely been lost on us.  Revolutionary has become a filler word, utilized for both derision and adulation.  A clear example being the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  Right-wing pundits made headlines comparing it to some sort of Bolshevik takeover (when, in reality, if there was a Bolshevik regime in charge you would already be either silenced or dead), while left-wingers hailed it as the dawning of a revitalized new era in American history (when, in reality, the political system was entirely unchanged, occupied by the same individuals, the same groups, with the same interests as always).  The problem is that we use the word revolutionary, when we actually mean transitional.  A transition is simply a modified carry-on from what preceded, while a revolution is a wholehearted discarding of the previous order.

The confusion is made worse by the large number of individuals who see fit to assign the revolutionary label to satisfy whatever narrative they wish to present.  A year ago, I read a horribly self-aggrandizing book called The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost its Way (a work I cannot in good conscience recommend even as a tool of torture against my worst enemy), within the book the author refers to himself as having once been a revolutionary in his youths.  But this is clearly nonsensical by any conceivable measure.  What actual revolution had he personally taken part in?  None.  What revolution had he influenced?  None.  So, how does he fancy himself a revolutionary?  Apparently, because in his youth he identified as a Marxist, and yearned for some fanciful social uprising that he couldn’t be bothered to actually lift a finger to bring about.  In America, we have a word for such a person, poser (though, failure would also be quite appropriate).  It is possible to be a failed revolutionary (such as Guy Fawkes, whose idiotic plot literally blow up on him before it went anywhere), but many of those in history who have been pinned with the revolutionary label are not failures in this sense, but complete nonstarters.  Take for instance Emma Goldman, held in high regard as a revolutionary figure by the extreme left.  Goldman spent all of her active years living in America, contributing written works promoting anarchism (among other social causes).  Last I checked, the government functioned through her life unharmed by her “revolutionary” prose, so in what way is she really a revolutionary?  None that I can see.

The last point I want to make will be the most controversial one; namely, that to be a revolutionary one must by definition be unreasonably dogmatic.  No, revolutionaries are not critical thinkers, or clear thinking in any imaginable way.  They are uncompromising, and unwilling to reevaluate the positions and values they hold, blindly proclaiming their doctrine of ideology as infallible in the great scheme of history.  That makes them the intellectual enemies of all sensible persons.  I don’t care what ideology it comes from, a lack of self-scrutiny is an admission of idiocy.  And revolutionaries never self-scrutinize, which is why I’m glad that the word has lost all meaning in Western thought.  I welcome the mild, watered-down facade that has been erected in its place.  We’re better off for it.

The Value of Patriotism: A Rant

This is going to be a rant, brought about partially by the brain-draining ennui of the seemingly never-ending election season.  So bear with me for a second, please.

I believe it is important to own up to one’s ignorance on a topic, hence I have to admit that I don’t understand patriotism.  I can understand the desire individuals might have to closely associate to one group or another for the sake of feeling a greater level of security, or even just to provide some reference of possessing a “greater” identity.  I can also understand how this might develop into a sense of protectiveness towards one’s place of birth, which (after family) is usually the most common form of self-identity for a person.  But what I don’t understand is how acknowledgment of the fact that we are relatively dependent on the communities we reside in, translates into a perpetual need to proclaim the superiority of one’s arbitrary nation of origin over any other.  After all, no one chooses the place he or she–or one’s ancestors–will be born in.  The accomplishments that have been achieved by individuals who happen to reside within the same borders as you were done wholly independent of your existence (and even if you had a direct participation in some grand achievement, would it be fair to attribute your accomplishments to something as random as a place of birth?).

What perplexes me most about patriotic sentiments is the manner in which most people accept its value as a self-evident fact.  “You need to be proud of where you come from”, “My country, good or bad”, “Any man who does not love his land, and the land of his forefathers, is a man who does not love himself.”  The message propagated by all sides is one that denounced all who do not feel the fervor of patriotism as possessing some kind of defect in character.  That if you don’t show an innate defensiveness about your nationality, you are thought of as somehow deprived of a matter that is (for some reason or another) vital to a person’s psychological health.  This I don’t understand.  And simply repeating to me that it’s important to feel pride towards your country of origin is not an argument, it is a demand–worse yet, it is a command.  A call for assimilation, in favor of a value that can not be defended outside of baseless tautologies (i.e. “being patriotic is good, because it is good to be patriotic”).  I pay my taxes.  I follow the laws of the land.  So, why must I stand in union with the rest of you as you shout meaningless slogans, sing eccentric hymns, and salute pieces of cloths as if they were the very fabric holding the universe together?  Why must I prove that I deserve to be a part of this community through such flamboyant means, when I am already doing my all to keep society functioning at the individual level (the only level I have any authority on)?

I am not ashamed of either the country I was born in, nor the one I currently reside and identify with, but neither am I overtly proud.  In truth, I am forced to be neutral on it as a whole, since it holds no uniform identity from coast to coast, from city to city, from person to person.  Perhaps, the patriots are right, and my apathy is causing me to miss out on something spectacular here.  But then again, I can’t really miss that which I’ve never had.

Conflating Cause and Identity

When we care enough about a particular issue (be it social, political, religious, cultural, or recreational) enough to devote a noteworthy amount of our time and energy into addressing it, we naturally start to relate with said issue on a deeper level than mere interest; in short, it becomes a cause for us to identify with.  And, in and of itself, this is not a point at which I would raise objections.  People looking to find and promote remedies to a problem they feel is serious enough that it needs to be addressed, and are willing to invest themselves into finding reasonable solutions to address it, can all be very praiseworthy (depending on the issue and the sort of solutions being proposed, of course).  The concern for me is when the adoption of an issue (the promotion of a particular cause) starts to take on an omnipresent tone in a person’s life.

When someone stops being “John, who happens to be an environmentalist” and starts being “The Environmentalist John”; or going from “Jane, who cares about tax reforms” [either conservative or progressive, it makes no difference in this scenario] and becomes “The Tax Reformer Jane.”  When the issue being discussed takes precedent over the individual/s promoting it, that’s where I believe people’s judgments are liable to being skewed and easily misled due to an emotional investments in their favored cause.  (Even if the cause itself remains a laudable effort.)

One can look to the revolutionaries of the 19th and 20th Centuries, and deduce how the majority of average persons who made up the ranks of these movements were people who truly, genuinely, cared about promoting an issue, whose benignity they wholeheartedly believed in.  Even the precursors to what would eventually become the Bolshevik faction did not begin under the assumption that it would institute a repressive regime as its end goal.  It began as a movement looking to (in their eyes) elevate the dignity and ensure equal prosperity for the hitherto oppressed segments of society in Imperial Russia.  However, somewhere along the way, for the people driving and participating in the cause, it seized being about addressing the legitimate issues of the cause, and more about upholding the perceived righteousness of the movement inspired by the cause.  This happens when the advocacy of a particular topic stops being just one attribute (amongst many) of a person, and becomes an extension of the individual her/himself–the individual identity gets sacrificed for the benefit of a greater Identity Movement, where identifying with a cause serves as the primary function of the cause itself.

The severity of this depends largely on the scope and power of the Identity Movement in question, but regardless of its impact on the population-at-large, its affect on the perception of the persons who partake and become engrossed with the prospect of having a message with which they can empathize–moreover, with which they can identify–works to create a false impression of the issue which they were originally seeking to address/remedy, as it causes the participants to internalize what is essentially an external problem.  Making the likelihood of ever achieving a solution to the initial issue unfeasible as a development that will be noticed by participants in the cause, because by this point their interests have already (unbeknownst to them) shifted from promoting answers to a cause, to just simply having a cause.  And having their individual identities defined by it.

To avoid charges of plagiarism (and indulge in shameless narcissism), I’ll summarize my own interests in this topic by quote myself from a previous post  when I first wrote my thoughts on “The Sacrifice of Identity”:

Perhaps, this trend is not widespread enough to cause alarm for most people, but I shutter to think about the great minds the world may have lost to such misguided reasoning.

Not to mention, those that it may still end up losing.

The Sacrifice of Identity

Identity is a flimsy concept.  Most people encompass a wide variety of viewpoints, which hardly fit into one concise narrative or another.  However, many people also seem to go out of their way to adopt (at least externally) specific traits for the sake of living up to ideals of a particular identity.

It starts with a cause and/or message that appeals to a person.  Subsequently, this will lead to a desire to seek out like-minded individuals who are equally enthusiastic about the topic at hand.  The next step is direct involvement; an active participation in the interests of the cause/message.  At this point, it is safe to deduce that you’re involved in an Identity Movement.  The nature of Identity Movements range from hobbies, to cultural and political pursuits, but they all share the characteristics of forging a sought after niche for the individuals who wish to partake in its subcultural communities.

Something that is unavoidable in Identity Movements is the emergence of groupthink.  A clear example of this can be witnessed by looking up any piece of music that has been uploaded to YouTube (in particular the lyrics videos), and read the cohesiveness of the comments that follow.  The vast majority of them will follow along a similar tone of, “This is what real music sounds like, not that other shit that most people listen to.”  What has made these individuals the arbitrators of “real music” is their identification with one particular genre or another, and nothing else.

Often adopting a particular identity can lead to the adoption of other interests that one would personally enjoy, and this seems perfectly reasonable, in and of itself.  But, I can’t help wondering how many are truly adopting interests and attitudes that suit them, and not just adapting to the interests and attitudes that surround them.  In other words, are they taking on an identity simply because they feel they need to, in order to be part of a greater movement/cause/culture?

The problem I see with all of this is the potential it creates in individuals (especially adolescence) to habitually sacrifice certain aspects of their personalities that do not fit in with the narrative of the Identity Movement they wish to uphold–a form of self-conditioning for the sake of representing a pure ideal (an ideal, which, of course, does not exist outside the Identity narrative being adopted).  This becomes most worrisome in Identity Movements that encompass a cultural or political message, because it works to counteract the original desires that led up to the need to create the identity; the goal of achieving normalcy within popular opinion.  However, the more of a subculture an Identity Movement becomes, the more antagonistic it gets towards mainstream opinion.  And without the strive for recognition and acceptance in greater society, Identity Movements become insulated in their own narratives, with little divergence of thinking allowed.  At this point, the individual has been sacrificed for the sake of an identity.  Perhaps, this trend is not widespread enough to cause alarm for most people, but I shutter to think about the great minds the world may have lost to such misguided reasoning.