Uncategorized | February 21, 2004

Since rude comments have been posted on our blog recently, I’ve been thinking about the anonymity the internet provides and what that anonymity means. My favorite church sign (at least my favorite sign that isn’t absurd or unintentionally funny), which I saw while driving home to Columbia from Arkansas once, read, “Character is who you are in the dark.” No matter how we cast ourselves when others are watching, we are in many ways only as good as we are in our worst moments–what do you say, how do you act, when no one can trace the action back to you?

Of course, in many ways that anonymity is what fuels writing. As we write, we can expose our characters to their worst selves; that exposure enables us to enact our worst thoughts, to surprise ourselves with the vivid badness we usually keep bottled up. Think of Iago, and how he embodies cruelty and ambition; in the same play, think of Othello and his torturous split between his best self, the noble, honorable man, and his worst self, the jealous husband moved to violence because of the betrayal of honor. Iago is so compelling, as is Othello, in both his best and worst moments, because as we read, we are aware of the imaginative effort put into that badness. Part of Shakespeare’s brilliance was his ability to enliven such behavior and pull the reader (or theater-goer) towards it. As I write (I know, I know, I’m putting myself next to Shakespeare, how arrogant!), I find myself drawing away from the worst selves I put on the page even as I’m moved to engage with the world from their perspectives. It’s not that I’m interested in evil; on the contrary, I’m interested in the balance between how we view ourselves and how others view us, and how that view changes when we have the rare moment of acting unwatched.

This, of course, is the locus of civility–people watch. Anonymity, especially in a public forum like the weblog, requires even more civility for ideas to take shape because of anonymity’s freedom. By ignoring the civility that anonymity requires, we restrain our own ideas from compelling others and ourselves to think.