The results you produce in life are inversely proportional to the degree to which you are intimidated.
– Robert J. Ringer
Fear is, perhaps, the greatest daily enemy of mankind. It wages a continual war against our minds – much more so than many of us either realize or understand. It is ambient in the minds of most humans; perhaps in all of our minds, to one extent or another.
One type of fear is the obvious – fear of overwhelming external forces. We are understandably afraid of things like fire, bombs and bears. But while this is common enough, it is not the type of fear that I am addressing in this article. My concern here is the fear of other humans – and not physical-level fears, as in being attacked – but the fear of being shamed, rejected and excluded.
For reasons far too complex to cover in a single article, this type of fear/shame is what intimidates us. It is particularly potent when we are young – a time when we feel vulnerable in general, due to ignorance, weakness and reproductive concerns. (Still more complex subjects!) And when our minds are intimidated, we are shut-down from operating at our capacities; excluded from being what we are and what we should be.
THE BLESSED HEDGE – ANONYMITY
If we are to be introspective and honest, I think we must all admit that the fear of what other people might say has stopped us from expressing ourselves many times. Not so much a fear of being wrong, but a fear of the consequences of being publicly shamed. Thus, intimidation is clearly the enemy of growth.
Anonymity protects us from this enemy by removing any path for consequences to reach back to us.
Online anonymity allows people (especially young people) to put their ideas into a virtual public square without suffering the shame they would face in a physical public square. That means that people are – for the first time ever – generally more free to speak their minds.
Bear in mind that a great many of these newly-public thoughts are not good. This is to be expected. The importance of putting such thoughts into a public square is that they can be tried, convicted, and improved. It is profitable to us that this should occur without the humans involved ruining their lives and reputations.
Anonymity is a technology that allows human minds to be corrected in private, rather than being exposed, ridiculed and shamed publicly. This makes correction and growth fear-free, which is superbly important.
If people have no place to speak their young-and-dumb thoughts except for the permanent record, most of them will pull back from expressing them. That helps a little in keep silly things out of the public square, but it also means that bad ideas will probably remain in these people’s minds, and that is not good. It freezes the mind in an unimproved state.
THE BATTLEFIELD OF IDEAS
Once feedback to humans is removed, ideas stand more on their own. Ad hominem arguments are never, in my experience, entirely removed, but they are defanged as regards the meatspace lives of the people involved.
In anonymous-space, ideas can compete with minimal collateral damage to humans. This is important. Ideas are tried, contrasted, extended, defended, absolved and convicted. We need this! This is how the best ideas are discovered, in exactly the same way as the best physical products are discovered via free market competition.
Anonymity can be used badly, but the fear of anonymity is ridiculously overplayed. Sure, bad guys use anonymity to do bad things, but they also use cars to do bad things, and computers, and pens, and paper, and they take medicine, they read newspapers, use telephones, and so on. Shall we just eliminate everything that can be abused? There would be nothing left!
The abusers of fear like to attack new things, not long-standing things. Since new things have no history and are incompletely known, they are subject to demonization. Those who use fear as fuel for their plans will always find the scariest aspects of new things and abuse them. In so doing, they utterly ignore the beneficial aspects of those new things. This is what has been happening to anonymity in the public square. If this article subdues that to any extent, I will be pleased.
So, does Senator Fearman think that anonymity is a threat to the Republic? Let him state his case. But let us all point out the other side as well: Anonymity allows us to develop as free, uninhibited human beings. Might that be of some importance too, Senator?
How many lives are likely to be safeguarded by your war on anonymity? Now, how is that more weighty than allowing every human mind to develop without intimidation?
Maybe you should fight the criminals directly, Senator, rather than attacking a peaceful technology. Is this about the benefit of mankind or about making you appear powerful?
© Copyright 2008 by Paul A. Rosenberg
Paul is the CEO of Cryptohippie USA, a highly regarded provider of Internet anonymity technologies.
This article was first posted at Digital Gold Currency Magazine