Friday, November 23, 2007

"Transparency"= "Now that we know where you live, maybe you'll shut up about your civil rights, liberal assholes."

Every once in a while I drop Jon Swift a suggestion via Stumbleupon, and sometimes he even takes the hint. Today I noticed that he'd dropped by and so I went to see what, if anything he'd made of my latest study in reasoned incoherence, which is noted for pithy observations such as this:

the only cure for such offensive pornography is, as the saying goes, "more and better pornography." We must not abandon the most reliable handle upon the future behavior of our youth to those who would wank them to destruction.
and this...

Those who seek power over others - sexually, in politics, in commerce, in life - do it because that is a visceral need for them. It's not because they deserve it, or because they can be assumed to be able or willing to do anything useful with that power when they have it. Using power wisely and well is a skill, as well as an under-acknowledged responsibility. Understanding and acceptance that there IS a price to power is, sadly, almost never something that comes with the kink itself. And yes, folks, the need to hold power over others is a psycho-sexual kink, to the point of being a disastrous character flaw if not admitted. (CF. George W. Bush; Hillary Clinton, Wahabism.)

If those who need power like vampires need blood are not trained and guided to seek power wisely and use it well, they will fail - and it will almost by definition be a cascade failure of catastrophic proportions. (CF. George W. Bush; Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabian Justice)

And while Jon made no reference to any of the points I raised here, he did raise an essential point dear to my heart; anonymity on the net, contrasted by the truly bizarre idea that divulging my name, rank and social security number somehow enhances my credibility. This idea, referred to as "transparency," suggests that if you know someone's real name, real job, real phone number and real address, you should somehow find them more credible than someone like Jon Swift, "Publius," famous psudonym of the authors of the federalist papers, or most humbly, myself.

I find it to be a bizarre, if not wildly delusional viewpoint, considering who lives and works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and their established credibility.

Jon asks, rhetorically:
Did Publius lack "integrity, maturity and courage," Mr. McKeen? Publius was the pseudonym Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay used when they wrote The Federalist Papers. What about Senex, who many people believe was Patrick Henry? Or Phocion, better know as Alexander Hamilton? Without these great Pseudonym-Americans the United States would not exist or, even worse, might be part of Canada today. Indeed, many great men and women in history used pseudonyms at one time or another. I don't think Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (better known as Voltaire) was a coward. And Marion Morrison, despite his very effeminate sounding name, was more of a man than Scott McKeen will ever be. At least when he called himself John Wayne. Perhaps we Pseudonym-Americans would feel better about ourselves if we knew how many great people in history, and how many accomplished people today, are just like us. Unfortunately, they don't usually teach this in schools.

Publius would argue, I suspect, that a pseudonym can at times be a useful means to assure that an argument be evaluated on it's own merits, and not upon the reader's prejudgment of the motives, morals and political ambitions of the authors. Jon Swift might add that sometimes knowing an irrelevant personal detail can suck all the fun out of a running gag.

I mean, is the Unknown Comic as funny now that we know who's under the bag? More importantly, what does it say about those who are convinced that they somehow have the right to know who or what is behind the mask?

I have a very personal insight in that matter, because for me, as a multiple personality, it's a matter of more than philosophical significance. At least at first blush, and certainly in more direct and practical terms. My birth name has very little reality to me; indeed, it implies associations that I do not actually have and would have to publicly disavow if they were credited to me. It's a very old and Terribly English name. The use of my birth name would in fact tend to suggest political, religious and cultural associations and beliefs that would be anything but factual, whether or not you thought they reflected well upon me personally.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, because the whole idea of multiple personality has a long history of making the sort of people who insist on knowing who people "REALLY" are experience massive virtual cranial detonation. And second, to illustrate what a truly slippery concept it is.

I'm Bob King. It's a use-name, one so well-used that it may as well be my "real name." Indeed, the only reason that has not become my legal name is the expense and inconvenience. It's the name I sign my artwork with, and frankly, that makes it a good deal more personally "real" to me than the name on my birth certificate.

I started to use the name a long long time ago, not because I was embarrassed about it's frankly adult subject matter as I would have been deeply offended and embarrassed at family reactions to "airing my dirty laundry." Like many people of WASP ancestry, the assumption of an impervious facade of denial of a childhood filled with shame, guilt and soul-destroying oppression. And that, I add, is without any presumption of literal incest or physical abuse. Anonomous servers such as made a lot of people feel safe enough to discuss these issues among themselves and realize that there experiences, far from being a bizarre therapeutically-induced delusion, was a depressingly common circumstance that was only possible because it could be assumed that nobody would ever talk about it for fear that they would lose all credibility in every other area of life - and of course, for fear of more direct and personal reprisals.

The very existance of that venerable anonomous remailer shows how very long this tension between annonymity and "transparancy" has gone on, and the history of the service as recorded by WikiPedia and the attacks upon it by the Church of Scientology that eventually required it be shut down should inform you of what sort of people are most concerned about knowing "who people really are."

As far as I'm concerned, unless you owe ME money or I owe YOU money, that's as real a name as you have any right to expect. Frankly, you will find out a lot more about me that's useful to you in evaluating the worth of my written views by googling that name as opposed to a birth name I don't use even in Meatlife social contexts.

But those who are deeply suspicious of the motives of those who wish to hold powerful people publicly accountable for their alleged misdeeds have actually tried to criminalize the "annoyance" of people without a "real name" attached. It's not going to survive it's first court challenge; it's merely one more example of ingrown Republicanism and it's annoyance with the awkwardness of living within the dire strictures of the US Constitution.

Much of this whole thrust toward "transparancy" seems to me both delusional and gutless; the idea that, by being "brave" enough to reveal your "real" name, you are somehow more "authoratative" than someone such as myself, or Jon, who have to rely on the actual content of our arguments rather than the results of a data mining operation to convince you of the merit of our words. Jen (That's My Real Name, I PROMISE) Flannigan asserts this principle in her post called "peek-a-boo."

An even bigger reason not to hide is that there is so little to be gained that way. Even if no one ever invests the effort in finding your true identity and you remain safely masked, what do you gain that way? Making yourself heard is very powerful. But what good is it really if it then can’t be used to connect you to communities and people and opportunities. What kind of power do you really have if all you ever do is hide in an office or a living room somewhere and fire off nameless missives into the void? Isn’t the real power in connecting and opening doors for yourself and others? Doesn’t that require more of a presence than a fake name? What is the goal and the power of hiding behind your own words?

So, essentially, you assume that there is "something to be gained" in terms of personal power and influence IF people can be reassured they know who you "really are" and what strings you can "really" pull - and what shibboleths you will endeavor to help preserve.

It seems to me, then, that people who make a great big fat hairy deal about this "real name" thing are pointing toward that which is, paradoxically, the least real thing about them - their personal and social facade. And by insisting that everyone they deal with accede to these same standards, it seems to me that they are investing in a personal and public "network" much invested in keeping all kinds of unpalitable facts and insights at bay.

Jen is choosing to use her "real" name in the same way as masons who stick decals on their Caddy's - and for that matter, choose to drive a chrome-encrusted codpiece instead of something a little more... erm.. anonymous.

You see, the reason you advocate "transparency" is the exact reason I do NOT want my "real name" out there. I do not want people seeing exactly who I HOPE to impress, and presume to know exactly what personal and social advantage I'm perusing. I'm not fanatical about this - but I want to read my stuff before my "credentials," rather than the other way around. Jen's reasoning is exactly what I would have said about many who make more complicated arguments, and who approve of the "real name" policies of social networking venues such as Facebook.

I understand that she and many others attach credibility with the ability to do a quick "due diligence" on a potential contact, and if I were involved in network marketing or dealing in negotiable securities, I would agree within that limited context. But I'm not. I'm a blogger and an artist and there's nothing in my financial data that would aid you in evaluating the truth of what I have said. There is a great deal in it that could be used to convince me to stop telling the truth. Read the story of again.

The second reported compromise of the Penet remailer occurred in February 1995 at the behest of the Church of Scientology. Claiming that a file had been stolen from one of the Church's internal computer servers and posted to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology by a Penet user, representatives of the Church contacted Interpol, who in turn contacted the Finnish police, who issued a search warrant demanding that Julf hand over data on the users of the Penet remailer. Initially Julf was asked to turn over the identities of all users of his remailer (which numbered over 300,000 at the time), but he managed a compromise and revealed only the single user being sought by the Church of Scientology.
The anonymous user in question used the handle "-AB-" when posting anonymously, and their real e-mail address indicated that they were an alumnus or alumna of the California Institute of Technology. The document that they posted was a police report of an incident that had occurred involving a man named Tom Klemesrud, a BBS operator involved in the Scientology versus the Internet controversy. The confusing story became popular as the "Miss Blood Incident".
Eventually the Church learned the real identity of "-AB-" to be Tom Rummelhart, a computer operator responsible for some of the maintenance of the Church of Scientology's INCOMM computer system. The fate of "-AB-" after the Church of Scientology learned his true identity is unknown. Years later in 2003, a two-part story entitled "What Really Happened in INCOMM - Part 1" and "What Really Happened in INCOMM – Part 2" was posted to alt.religion.scientology by a former Scientologist named Dan Garvin, which described events within the Church leading up to and stemming from the Penet posting by "-AB-".

If I need facts, I establish those facts independently of my own word. That's just plain good journalism. I very much try to avoid situations where the whole point relies on the objective factuality of my own experience, although I'll admit that there are special interests of my own - multiple personality, asperger's/autism and all subjectives filtered through those particular wetware biases that must simply fall into the category of "believe it or don't."

But frankly, I cannot imagine how knowing my "real" name or my home address helps you in deciding what value to place on my purely subjective experience. It's only real value is in it's potential to be used against me, or to discredit me, should you or some powerful entity decides I'm a threat. So, this insistence on "transparency" is, I think, not so much about making those decisions about the credibility of insight into socially awkward issues as a "gentleman's agreement" to never raise such issues in the first place.

Remember that my "real" name is attached to many data points that have little or nothing to do with the facts or reasoning of what I might say, but there are many pointy-headed people out there who think that my socioeconmic status, my ethnicity or my age provide them compelling reasons to not be bothered to consider my arguments in the first place.

But, by insisting that I put those things out there, by insisting that internet communities behave as if they were small towns in Siberia, mid-America or Saudi Arabia where everyone knows everyone else's business, what IS assured is that the very conventional values of conformity and intolerance for significant differences in values will be upheld in public by all, no matter how patently and obviously false those values may be.

For myself, I don't see any good reason to make it easy for for stalkers and saboteurs to use virtual or actual force against me. I'm not particularly paranoid about it, but I'm of the opinion that waving your personal details out there for any idiot to use means that some idiot is likely to use it.

Let us remember that there are people like Ted Kaczynski out there, who in their delusion think an explosive device is a reasonable response for opinions and views they find offensive.

Or indeed, those who think that a gang rape is an appropriate consequence for a woman who choses to associate with a man who is not a direct relative.

Goddess forbid she have the choice to engage in premarital; possibly even recreational sex that doesn't actually hurt. And this is aside from the religious and cultural rationalizations and justifications which I dismiss as being just that - justifications and rationalizations.

But for every Ted, or even more odious wankers who think it's their religious duty to rape uppity women, there's a far greater threat; people who think they have a right to interfere in your personal life based on what you have said in public against their treasured causes.

Faux New's John Gibson, who asserts White House deserves medal for outing Plame, in essence arguing that Plaime's "higher duty" was to her Fuhrer Leader President, and NOT to the Constitution. Recall that she took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. As an intelligence professional, concerned with the very vital issue of nuclear proliferation, that very explicitly does NOT exclude would-be "Dear Leaders" of any nationality - especially not our own.

Aside from the utter immorality of such Brownshirt Media apologias I can't even begin to summarize the towering stupidity of Gibson's argument, any more than I can imagine what news organization with any remaining pretensions of journalistic integrity and independence would air such nonsense. We tolerated the Iraqi Information Minister because everyone knew perfectly well what would happen to him if he did not dispense his twaddle with all the sincerity he could muster. One could even admire his ability to play the game so well, knowing that everyone knew it was a game.

But one does wonder why Gibson is playing the same game with no greater hope of success. Is it because, in having sold his soul and integrity to Faux News, he has the uncomfortable realization that he could be a victim of "Transparency" himself?

I didn't use the term "Brownshirt Media" as a simple or casual insult - go look up on what happened to the SA just as soon as Hitler consolidated power. It is a cautionary historical allusion that all who presume upon the gratitude of those they help place into unquestioned, totalitarian power.

I've tried for a day or two to find an angle to respond more directly to the Gibson video, but this parenthetical aside is the best that I can come up with, that Gibson and his ilk are the people most concerned with knowing who is responsible for observations of their moral and mental failures. Them, and the Bush Administration - to the extent there is a distinction between the two, of course.

Again, the actual history of the Brownshirts doesn't give one much comfort - knowing what happened to people who's addresses they, the SS and Gestapo knew at various pivotal points in German history. Nor does one have to rely on German history for such incidents - it just happens to be a rather good, accessible record of some very old ideas implemented with - I must say - a great deal more competence and determination than exhibited by George Bush and people who could only be compared unfavorably to Joseph Goebbels.

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