Moderation or Mind trick?

February 24, 2009

kendo(Before we start, I just want to give three cheers to our friendly Malaysian side kick Cowboy Caleb for helping us out – yeeeeeeeeeha! Meanwhile take some time and check out our new Brotherhood Press portal here – – go on blow your mind out! Check out the cartoons – they’re hilarious!)


In these few days; an obsession with moderation and self regulation of internet material has mushroomed all over cyberspace and the MSM – you know what? I am actually in favor of moderating the internet; that’s why I was looking forward to it; only I can’t help feeling something is amiss……


Don’t believe me, then read this and try to figure out what’s wrong with these statements:


Anonymity in cyberspace is an illusion. You will remember in 2007, we prosecuted three persons under the Sedition Act because of the blogs they put up which denigrated the religion of one of our communities in Singapore. ” – Vivian Balakrishnan Feb 2009


“But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful. That is another range.” Lee.S.L Feb 2009


Question: what does anonymity have to do with the broader subject of moderation and self regulation?


Well the miniskirt prognosis is nothing actually.


This leads us to consider: what really accounts for this mish mash then?


Well, if you want to understand what’s going on here; then you really need to think like a weapons specialist; it’s not designed to be a weapon of shock and awe; it quite the opposite really – like a submarine or nerve gas, its supposed to operate just beneath the periphery of our consciousness where it helped along by being odorless and colorless and unseen – we should all decide to shirk off our anonymous tags like wet blankets; we’ve come of age; if we don’t step forward into the light, then we must all suffer from some grave defect of character (which shouldn’t be too hard proving a few times over in my case).


What really accounts for this strategy of reductionism and simplification? My feel is we may be dealing with a classic case of good odle fashion scare mongering, and. We are not even talking about the smart variety either; as it smacks of the same dumb & dumber variety that Christian fundamentalist usually resort too whenever they suggest the spread of AIDS is due solely to the permissive gay lifestyle; that may be palpably true if truths are gleaned from one level of intelligence, if only you didn’t realize, the predominant cause for the spread of HIV these days is due to the sharing of infected needles by junkies and it’s in fact perpetuated by heterosexuals who have no concept of safe sex – African women these days are the main carriers of HIV.


That I suspect could be why the subject of anonymity is slipped alongside the broader issues of moderation and self regulation as an adjunct; apart from being a great way of establishing guilt by association; its also a very effective way to muffle the truth, cook the logical accounts and distort the whole debate into something which it obvious not meant to be – criminalizing anonymity – stands the test of reason; give a dog a bad name and you have every right to shoot it on sight – consider this: if the whole idea of the feral and brutish net could be easily explained away by just fingering anonymity as the culprit and root of evil; who stands the most to gain from it?


You get my drift now – instead of government having to deal comprehensively with the cogent question which require keeping scrupulously close to the evidence (which might incidentally incriminate them, could this by any chance have something to do with how many people they have put in jail and bankrupted? No, surely not – I am sure anonymity and the army of 12 monkeys are to be blamed) – the whole debate about how to drive out bad and seed the greater good is effectively reduced into a declaration of faith – a fait accompli –where none of us may even feel the need to ask: why do so many people feel the need to remain anonymous? What accounts for the pull factor?


Not having to own up – simply means responsibilities can be shirked away surreptitiously – and ‘no regrets’ galore can be invoked with impunity – along with perhaps perpetuating the mantra; its business as usual. No need to streamline government policy, attitudes and outlooks either to find ever more inventive and creative ways to stop the incentive for anonymity. The attitude towards progress is reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s wartime satire piece about the mind numbing pathos of  war in Catch 22 – “….scrub out battle fatigue and soon all the symptoms disappear along with the disease and hospital beds and soon everybody is good to go again for another round of hell. No need to even explain, no need for long reports, a broad tip marker would do the job nicely – scrub out the word, I say! That’s an order!”


That may sound comical; but it isn’t when you consider; if the imperative is to get right down and created a better platform to facilitate online discourse then why are we eliding whole sale the deeper underlying reasons which may yet account for online anonymity? 


Why for example do so many netizens find anonymity (real or imagined) so comforting? How does anonymity serve to palliate the acute sense of fear of netizens? What really disturbs me is when the whole issue of online anonymity is served up like a prawn cocktail beside moderating the internet – everything testable, comprehensive in so far as belonging to a universal chronology of cause and effect that would have been able to sensibly explain the root cause for anonymity is simply thrown right out of the window – it’s like wet glass, it even manages to slalom such contentious issues once brought up by Catherine Lim when she wrote about the climate of fear along with it’s corrosive effects how it may retard society as a whole.


My point is simply this; one cannot place the horse before the cart and expect to make meaningful progress; if the imperative is to get people to come out into the open; then its foolhardy to believe this gargantuan mental shift can be purchase on the cheap without having to first discuss and dismantle the culture of fear that accounts for the acute anxiety that makes online anonymity such an attractive proposition – here one runs the real risk of prescribing panaceas which may exacerbate rather than resolve the cognitive dissonance.


Neither does it serve the greater interest – if all government can do is advance the dodgy sound bite theory; all our problems will melt away happily like lemon drops, if only all of us are prepared to step out from our anonymous tags – again that idea is based on the assumption anonymity is the main reason that accounts for the feral and brutish net. No one denies anonymity may embolden some towards unmitigated nastiness just like perhaps binge drinking – it’s a failing common to everything from fruit machine addiction to perpetual masturbation; but to suggest for even one moment stepping out from anonymity alone may by it’self be able to drive out the bad and somehow seed the good has to be at best an overtly optimistic take and a worst a presentist view of a far deeper social problem.


Like all such broad sweeping claims, this medley raises some awkward questions:“will people continue to speak without fear and favor if they don’t have the benefit of the anonymous tag?”


What particular disturbs me is no where in the whole debate about seeding a greater good does this question even feature once (which in my opinion remains the most important question). And yet even many in the net have frequently pointed out – that sufficient people will only step forward out from their anonymous shells, if they believe it is not just useful, but safe to do so – and again this leads us to all to consider – how might the government’s record endear itself to such a happy exodus of mass belief (or delusion)? Again it’s something that must be worked through; if the imperative is to get at the truth.


The perverse effect of all this enquiring could well produce the reverse conclusion: anonymity may yet remain the best way for us to grow holistically as a community; when we recount how even the luminaries of lore so often wore it as a badge of honor to deal with parochialism, narrowness and insularity of their age – I am reminded, things just don’t get picked up for no apparent reason; usually there’s an impulse behind it and it’s coupled with a good reason: African women for example, still carry water on their heads in earthen pots: reason, their well endowed hips swings outwards at 20 degrees as a result of their gait displacing the kinetic energy of the extra weight reducing it to a zero – far more efficient that even military backpack – drains in Calcutta slums don’t have gratings because they double as public latrines.


Similarly, when people plumb to remain anonymous online; its usually for the same good set of reasons – that could be the reason why Galileo Galilee first published his treatise anonymously in direct opposition to the catholic view that all heavenly planets revolved around the earth thereby starting the first internet correspondence with other anonymous medieval scientist who did the same to probably avoid being stretched out on a pelt rack by the Spanish inquisition; the same can be said, of that other famous pamphleteer Thomas Paine who once vigorously cried out for independence against the occupational forces of King George and later went on to be one of the founding fathers of the American constitution – these were the prototypal bloggers of their age; they were the intellectuals who once not only shaped the direction, cadence and verve of the social narrative of their times but they did so under the cloak of anonymity as it provided them a means of speaking out without fear or favor.


The case is too clear to deny; too strong even to displace on a wimp and fancy; its one that even suggest if government really desire netizens to step out into the full glory of light; then they should first dedicate themselves to earning the trust and respect of the online community; start by laying down the hatchet that you once used to knock Catherine Lim, Mr Brown and countless others whose only crime was to speak their mind for the betterment of the collective good; better still beat that hatchet into a ploughshare – then and only then; do you ask people to come out into the open. Otherwise no deal – go and die lah.


Meanwhile I remain yours truly; very happily in Darkness 2009.

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