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Tag Archives: anonymity

Bryant’s Ring of Gyges: The Social Restraints of Blogging

I dislike these kinds of posts because its more interesting to be talking about this philosopher or that, this line of reasoning or that, but sometimes the content of philosophy comes together with questions of finite community and ultimately of ethics in general. In fact occasions of our own interactions become the best examples or illustrations of why we believe that the ideas we hold are important to the world at large. It is the question of “local ethics”, how Big Ideas and boring everyday stuff touch.

On the Street

I was strolling down my electronic neighborhood today – I usually walk through my blogroll, and then once in a while I then go over to Splintering Bone Ashes who has a nice distribution of blogs and the titles of recent posts outside my usual sphere (SBA never really posts but I like him when he does). So I’m strolling along, down streets I don’t always follow and I run into this bit of rude graffiti chalked on a public wall (I say rude because this posting was vaguely directed towards some anonymous and generalized many, but also with targeted persons in mind, and for those likely walk down that particular electronic street, not unlike other graffiti in the “real” world):

Notes From the Chalk-Breaker

The immediate source for the prejudicial hilarity is Levi Bryant’s site Larval Subjects a post entitled: “Important Theory of Social Relations in New Media”. It has an original source (which a commenter provided), but Bryant initially left it unreferenced as he no doubt wanted it to express his own feelings about the internet contributions of those who don’t write under their “normal” name, a pre-occupation of his and others of circle. Although Bryant once was one of these anonymous types who actually vigorously attempted to conceal his identity (or so I am told, and he admits), he regularly has attacked pseudonymous bloggsters as inauthentic, and in many instances morally suspect. Since coming out of the virtual closet, he has been in the fore-front of uncloaking otherwise cloaked ones. We really must read the meaning of the chalkboard comic as his own intent.

“Larval Subjects”, the name under which he once wrote, seems to feel that if human beings are not restrained by the social consequences of their normal “name”, they will produce what is worst in them. It it not just the Ring of Gyges, but a Ring of Gyges combined with an audience that draws out of human subjectivity what is pejoratively called “total fuckwad” (or those, as Levi Bryant has also grouped: Grey Vampire, the Troll, and inconcordantly as well, the homophobe, the nationalist, the Nazi, the KKK member). We are to imagine that the difference between Fuckwad and the Normal person is simply the combination of anonymity and audience which turns the latter into the former. Leaving Plato’s assumption aside, I have to say that this is a curious, in fact sad view of the world, especially for those who spend a lot of time discussing things on the internet. And it has some rather simple-minded conceptions of what “normal” is and how it operates.

First of all every interaction contains degrees of “normal” nameness, and anonymity. Which is to say the human being has potentialities of in/coherent expression far beyond the name they are under. And the “norm” within the term “normal” is not always something to esteem. And whether “Larval Subjects” posted this comic, or “Levi Bryant” did is a question of community. Most of us don’t really care who “Levi Bryant” is, but we do care (or HAVE cared) who “Larval Subjects” is. The “name” that circulates and falls under community standard consequences is equal to that sphere. For those that wish to give up their nom de plume and attach the products of their writings, including all those interactions to OTHER spheres of normalization are not those who are better persons. They are working on the powers of simply a singular identify.

I refuse both notions that:

1. The only reason why we behave civilly or even altrustically is because we are restrained from doing what we really would like to do.

2. Our “normal” name includes the very best of what we have to offer others.

Autonymy and Anonymous

In fact for those that have experienced writing pseudonymously, there is a definite benefit from this anto-nymy. One simply is able to explore new relations under the context of a new community which do not have much to do with the other communities that can define you (and in defining you, cause you to see yourself in a constricted sense). This is to say, the auto-nym is not so much a freedom from the behavioral restraints of others, as the possibility to redefine oneself in new contexts, under specific projects or trajectories. To discover oneself, so to speak, something beyond the dominant identity that sometimes conflates the “ego” with the proper name. In fact it is quite the case that the virtual intersubjectivity afforded by autonymy is necessarily trans-subjective, pulling at the boundaries of the otherwise regards as whole “self”, opening up possibilities that are entirely creative.

It is important to see that what is loosely regarded as anonymous, when in the context of a regular and interactive (shared) expression is a case of autonymy. And that the “auto” though it expresses the way that one names oneself, the power and authenticity is earned amid a community…it is an autonomy of the name itself, the pseudonym belongs to everyone, and not just you. You are not the locus of its laws. My name here is “kvond” or sometimes “Frames /sing”. I do not own this name. I am made from it, in part, thrown in its direction. It becomes a center of gravity, both for myself but also others.

I had the coincidental experience of name-experiment once that is worth mentioning.  I was a younger man and had romantically dreamed of traveling to and eventually livng in Florence. I saved up a bunch of cash, flew across the Atlantic and headed out blindly to the mesmerizing city. I found a little pensione and resolved to find a job, start a little life there, despite the fact I spoke no Italian (ha). I moved into my pensione where I was to stay for the next month or so and upon registering me the owner read my passport incorrectly. My name is very long and takes up two lines, and she identified a nice Italian sounding middle name as my Christian name, my proper name. She pronounced it, I hesitated, and then I went with it. For my time there, exploring this aspect of myself, this small vector, this line of flight, I was (insert name). It should not make a difference, but it did. Everything I experienced and expressed came out of this new center of circulation, in its orbit. What I was there was not false. It was from a node on a rhizome.

For me the cocooning nature of an experiment of self under name does not generate “Fuckwad” or anything like it (though certainly people can find the me unpleasant at times). When someone is rude to me in text under a specific name I never think to myself “Ah, I wish I had that guy’s REAL name!”  It is much more the case that autonymy propels one forward into interesting spaces. And I think it cool that in those spaces some people are under their “real” names (normal) and some are not. Some people want to say, “Hey! This is me, pay attention to what I really am, and this is what I think.” and other people are like “Hey, forget about who you “really” are, and who I “really” am, and think about this interesting thought”. Try on “this”.

What is extra curious about Levi Bryant’s Normal = Good/ Anonymous = Bad is that it is quite Fascistic in conception. (Levi writes at length how pervasive the so called Neoliberal system of singular subjectivity is, something he equates with Nazism (sigh).) Which is to say the way that illicit behavior is to be controlled is through public exposure under a single register. If we want to control the behavior of others we need to expose them to a panoptical “eye”, an eye that takes its main measurement upon the Name. As a matter of policy, opening up what is otherwise “private” (be it a bedroom, or personal friends, an email) is key to normalizing these aberrations. If one wants to stomp out homosexuality or Communism, let’s say, one exposes what is in the closet, and then attaches it to a “Name” to be regulated. One brings to bear the armature of the Law upon the Name, and does so in a direction tending towards universalization. It’s an interesting theory, but one must acknowledge to where it points.

I side in another direction. I prefer to esteem the long history of pseudonymous writings, and I esteem the virtual world’s new potentiality for micro-climates of interpersonal subjectivity. Here names create vectors for growth and discovery. Yes, in the cloisters of experiment surely there are possibilities for abuse. With freedom from what in Rap is called your “government name” can indeed come a boldness that slips into what is base or simple-minded. This is the risk of freedom itself. It involves the possibility of a regression. But I do not think that autonymy essentially involves regressive expression, nor do I even think that human beings are those that need to be essentially restrained from what is worst. Indeed, the abuse of one’s name, the exercise of its earned and somewhat deceptive power, has as many crimes as the autonymous. The “name” contains no more good than bad.

I sense as well that those who argue that the Ring of Gyges is revelatory of essential human nature are those under a kind of self-confession. They personally struggle with their own anonymity, are uncomfortable with it, and dream that one day their “name”, their real name (that signifier) will hold as much power as the anonymity they both fear and lust after.

INDIRECTIONS offers a harmonizing response to the above, bringing out what I hoped was best in what “kvond” was saying about the auto-nym.

For related but different thoughts on the twists of subjectivity and the subversion of Name, consider a prospective Antigone Complex: What is the “Antigone Complex”? Posthuman Tensored Agency, and More on the Antigone Complex