Monday, March 23, 2009

Politics And Ego Puppets

I have a friend. We’ll call him Bob. Bob is a Liberal. He is also my best friend. Bob and I have weekly debates at his place that sometimes end in heated but amiable disagreement. We understand each other, we know where the other one is coming from, and we (most importantly) respect each other.

Sometimes we come to conclusions and a general consensus in regards to current events, politics, and social trends. It is fairly easy to do when you apply basic human decency and conduct yourself in a manner that promotes a mutually beneficial outcome.

Recently, we formulated a theory that would help to explain the increased divisiveness of the country over politics.

Assuming that our initial analysis is correct, and the country is becoming more divided as opposed to an increase in the perception of such, we agreed that the culprit is in fact a very real and growing presence in our lives as Americans:

The Internet.

When you are on the Internet, you assume a pseudonym, a fake name to disguise who you are. This is (or was initially) for your protection, as you do not want to be posting your personal information for all to see. We came to the idea eventually that what you create in the Internet to represent yourself is basically an “Ego Puppet”, a creation that is no more the real you than a sock puppet or any other construct that acts as your proxy.

When dealing with people on the Internet, you aren’t dealing with a real person. You are not speaking to a quiet mother of four who lives in New Jersey, and cares greatly about her kids, her husband, and the general well-being of her fellow mankind, you are arguing with “jerseymom1622”, an Ego Puppet that is easily offended and lashes out at any perceived threat with vicious aplomb (any reference to a real “jerseymom1622” is not intended, but feel free to leave a comment…).

Eventually, you begin to make a “name brand” of sorts for yourself, and soon the shy, withdrawn, and unassuming real life persona has an outlet for frustrations, pent up anger, and a strong desire to be heard. We are all becoming a nation of ego-driven Internet Super Heroes. We finally have as a race the means to exercise our own personal Walter Mitty Complex.

In commenting on various sites, I have seen some arguments that take on a truly vile and disturbing edge in no time at all. You have seen it too, I’m sure. The post thread that takes on a life of its own and spawns some of the most hateful rhetoric you have ever witnessed.

All thanks in no small part to anonymity, or the perception thereof.

Sometimes it becomes truly silly and just plain ludicrous. Surely you’ve seen the threats of physical violence against someone who may be in another state or even country? How about the requests to “Come here and say that”? Or the ever popular “Why don’t you give your name, you coward”? Commenters using the name of “Guest” or “Anonymous” are usually given grief or “lose legitimacy” for not giving a fake name, and yet they may be considered more honest than those who give fanciful monikers to identify themselves.

Examining these outbreaks of verbal violence, I am struck with one very solid thought:

You wouldn’t say these things to a real person face-to-face. Not if you wanted to retain your present facial features, or in some cases your legal right to remain at-large.

I think that we all need to realize that on the other end of this glowing box thingy is a real person with feelings and beliefs that may differ from your own. Someone who, if you truly just sat down with them, might be much more reasonable and human.

Ignoring the folks who are bored and enjoy seeing the ire stirred up by one tasteless comment, or the occasional “Troll” who exists solely to smear the other visitors would go a long way towards making the Internet a better place for real debate that may actually bear fruit in the way of results.

I realize that my naïveté is showing, but you get the picture.

Hide yourself from harm and ID theft sure, but bear in mind that an Ego Puppet is not a license to “check your humanity at the door” and act like an egregious posterior to your fellow Human Beings.

“Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage…to listen to his own goodness.” ~ Pablo Casals