Friday, March 15, 2013

Just ranting about the dangerous invisible man (or woman)

As I alluded to earlier, there is a reason that I worry about letting people speak their mind without having to show their face.

Are you familiar with the story of the Ring of Gyges? Or maybe The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells? If so, then I'm not going to be saying anything new to you. However, there is a reason classic tales about morality like that stand the test of time. Morality isn't something we've ever been able to completely figure out as a race. As old as these tales are, many people never truly learned their lessons.

Great thinkers have always understood what terrible things people are capable of when they think there will be no consequences. Now today, we have the glorious and powerful Internet. Its most wonderful feature is that it gives us the ability to share thoughts and information with people all over the world. Its most terrible feature is that it often lets us do so without perceived consequence.

Anyone who has spent a length of time on social websites can tell you how people will say things to each other online that they would never have the nerve to say in person. This is purely because when they meet you in person, they become aware of the social and legal limitations on their behavior. Actions have consequences. If you say or do something offensive in real life, people can make you pay for it. If you do it online, you have little to fear.

Now granted, we do get cases of people saying stupid things on Facebook and losing their jobs over it, but that's not the norm. At least Facebook gets (most) people to show their real name and face. Go on a site like Reddit, or YouTube, or some other online forum; all you are there is an alias. Hell, on 4chan, you don't even need that. Nobody has to know who you are if you don't let them. That kind of power frees people to behave as they truly want to, and that often means revealing their ugliest, cruelest and most selfish inner thoughts.

The irony is that, when you see someone's real name and face, they feel less free to be themselves. They wear a mask, curbing their words and behavior to adhere to social expectations. When they're given anonymity, the mask is ripped off. They let their darkest id run wild, and they don't care who gets hurt as a result.

In America, we love to talk about our freedom of speech. People will get very upset if they feel like their innate freedoms are being infringed upon. We love to talk about freedom as if it's a universally positive thing. Well, it's not. Freedom is good when given to a good person who can respect the power they hold. Freedom is also terribly dangerous. I'm not just talking about hurting someone's feelings by saying something unkind anymore.

What I'm ultimately saying is, there is a very sound and just reason for limiting people's freedom. Without rule of law, without fear of consequence, there is no civilization. For many years, much of the Internet has functioned more or less like the old wild west: no central rule of law, no fear of consequences. So, while some people may shout about freedom of speech, or that no one should have to fear retribution for what they say or write online, all I can say is... well, shouldn't they?

If people think they can say whatever they want without consequence, what do you think they'll say? I'll give you a hint: nothing good.

Well, there you have it. I've come out against freedom of speech. I think I've successfully washed away any possibility of people mistaking me for a "conservative." Or wait, was it "liberals" who love to fight infringements on freedom of speech? In my experience, political folks of any kind only cry "freedom of speech" when their own viewpoint is the one they want heard. Gotta love when our so-called moral and political leaders are as short-sighted as naked mole rats.

Anyway, I'm just a hypocrite myself. I show my face here and elsewhere, but I do still have some anonymity in certain parts of the Internet. I still allow myself some privacy. It's not so much out of shame as out of a desire to avoid talking to some terrible people who think their narrow view of the world is the only valid one. Suffice it to say, I'm not an open book myself.

I will add this, though: my sense of morality goes a hell of a lot further than just avoiding judgment and retribution. I like to believe I would still be a good person if I had the Ring of Gyges. It's hard to prove that, obviously, but I have my reasons. For one, I genuinely dislike hurting other people. Well, I mean, most of them...

Okay, this is getting a little too verbose now, and I'm running the risk of discovering something unfortunate about myself, so I'm going to stop here. I hope this was mildly amusing or informative. I also hope you'll remember that your actions in life always have consequences, even if you can't see them coming.

That's all. Until next time, don't do anything I wouldn't do (so long as someone was watching). Peace and love, invisible readerfolk.

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