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On line discussions and anonymity…..

September 20, 2013

 

or, punchin’ the tar baby….

I suppose it is a habit, though I can’t think of one good reason why. I read the article, and then went to the comments section to add my two cents worth on the topic at hand. While there, I took a quick look at what a few other people had written, and while none of it influenced what I had already decided to post, I did find myself muttering insults and other disparaging assessments of my anonymous peers. I sat back for a moment and looked at the screen.

What the hell are you doing?” I asked myself.

So, here I am, and I still have not answered that question. It’s an important question, I believe, and one I need to answer.

I have opinions on issues and events, as do many other people, and I often publish them in one way or another, as I have since junior high school when I started drawing cartoons and signed up to work on school publications. That behavior continued for the next thirty years or so, editing a college newspaper, and later a local weekly, and then continued with letters to the editor, and so forth. As an experienced curmudgeon, I had to wonder while I was staring at that screen what it was about that particular venue that rankled me.

A couple of years ago, against my better judgment, I signed up for the on-line version of our local daily newspaper because I thought it would be interesting to get involved in some of the discussions that follow news items and editorials. The first thing I noticed was that people contributing to those discussions, unlike the writers of traditional letters to the editor, had assumed a broad variety of strange identifications the likes of which I had first encountered on a Dungeons and Dragons game site. Slaying orcs as the BloodSword of Garsche is one thing, but if I’m going to debate with an editor, I want him to know my name.

It quickly became clear that virtually nobody wanted their names known, and why. It’s amazing what people will say and do when they assume a mantle of non-accountability! I stayed on that website for less than a year, during which time a brother in law, one other person, and I were the only ones who used our real names. Why an allegedly middle aged man with a PhD and named after a fictitious animal would taunt me for willfully being identifiable I’m not sure…..but I do have a couple of thoughts on the matter that I kept to myself then and I will continue to do so here as well.

I noticed that when one of us “REAL-namers” would post a remark on that particular site, even if it was silly or stupid, it had obviously passed some sort of muster first. I don’t recall ever personally insulting another participant, though I often disagreed with them vigorously. Nor do I recall the others doing so, either. Any attempts to clarify insults made against me were fruitless. Rabid politics and accusations of every imaginable sort were consistently offered instead of rational discourse by a handful of those I met and observed there. It was best to ignore them.

I have no idea whether those few individuals were fifteen or fifty. They reminded me of the “CB” craze of the seventies when it seemed that everybody owned at least one Citizen’s Band radio. With very few exceptions, exchanges over the airwaves then were pointless, inane, silly, and a lot of fun, but even then there were the few, known as “Weenies”, who did everything in their apparently adolescent power to offend, interrupt, pepper the airwaves with profanities, and generally make pains in the ass of themselves.

Like bell bottom pants and wide ties, some fads are cyclical and reappear periodically. The internet and digital technology have unleashed the “Weenies”, again, it seems. At least they don’t wield a phony Alabama accent and say “ten fir”, and “good buddy has been supplanted by “Dude”, among other things.

***

I never posted my response to the article and I don’t recall what the subject matter was. Nevertheless, I learned something important; about myself. People have many reasons for behaving as they do, both privately and publicly, and even in the most altruistic of instances I believe there is a primary element of self actualization involved.

One may help the little old lady across the street because, in part, she desires to cross it, and in part because it makes him feel good, but there is also likely to be a merit badge of some sort involved. I know it makes me feel good about myself to do something nice for someone, but I don’t make an obsession out of it. I may have retired from a helping field, but I also got paid for my time and efforts.

On the other side of that coin we have people that engage in mean, objectionable, annoying, and sometimes downright obnoxious behaviors, and it stands to reason that they, too, must be serving a variety of motivations. I mean, I know there must be a reason why an alleged adult would assume a false identity so that he or she could beleaguer any and all without fear of consequences. As a retired counselor, it is tempting to move into Lucy’s sidewalk “Psychiatry 5 cents” concession stand and spend all afternoon analyzing and diagnosing these characters with everything but hives, but, for one thing, I’m not credentialed to do that, and, for another I’ve got better things to do with my time.

I guess it is safe to say, however, that skulking behind some fantasy name and launching barbs at passersby isn’t exactly the profile of someone you’d like to have date your daughter or that you’d like to elect to public office. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to live next door to the jerk.

So, to address my initial question regarding “what the hell” I might have been doing as I teetered on the brim preparing to swan dive once again into the cistern of psychopathology, I haven’t a clue.

The internet is a veritable Garden of Delights of “chat” rooms, forums, and discussion groups of every imaginable kind with infinite opportunities to join in the melee. The phenomenon actually presents multiple opportunities for an interesting study or two into human social behavior, too. I’m sure some college psych major already thought of that and turned in a paper while I was fiddling with my Social Security forms; and if not, why not?

For me, such activities are good places to stay away from, or at least to minimize lapses of good judgment when I succumb to temptation. Even though I like to put my name on what I say, if I find myself wondering if that is wise, I should take that as an indication that I probably shouldn’t be there, that I shouldn’t say what I was going to say, or both.

~-~* * *~-~

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