Recently I had an exchange with the estimable scientist John A. Davison, who is also an iconoclastic, full-time gadfly to anyone involved in the Darwinism-Intelligent Design Debate for Loquacious Yahoos, which I will simply abbreviate as DIDDLY. (The practical significance of this debate is, indeed, DIDDLY-squat.)
Having spent a lifetime annoying orthodox TENS evolutionists and orthodox Christians, Davison is very concerned with the current state of Internet discourse, specifically the problems of banishment and anonymity.
I have been banned from both “liberal” and “conservative” sites, just because I stated an opinion that made the blog owner uncomfortable. I have also been completely blocked from viewing a site. What is the point in that? Such priggish insecurity is pathetic. I have found that evolutionists in particular have little tolerance for dissent, so when I go to their forums I veil my criticism in velvet words.
I have concluded that many blog owners are trying to create a kind of social experiment as art. That is, they imagine that they can attract enough supporters to make them feel loved, as well as enough detractors to make them feel important. In the end, however, they expect everyone to bow to their rhetorical authority, like characters in a novel that are strongly delineated but ultimately work out the author’s intended plot. They are “Howard Roark” types who want full control over their creations, that is, their precious blog posts and the derivative comment threads.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with this as such, since each blog or forum is a kind of “private property”; but it does denigrate the idea of the “public forum.” The problem with the World Wide Web is that it has become a grotesque version of a Jeffersonian democracy, in which everyone is a small landholder and a supposedly a direct political participant, but there is no single common space where each one can be heard by everyone else in a meaningful way. This bloated global populism is ultimately rather unfulfilling for someone with the sensibilities of a New England town-hall populist. (Jefferson, by the way, ended up advocating a “New England town-hall” style democracy that he called “ward government.”)
Davison is convinced that the intolerance of blog/forum owners is related to the prevalence of “anonymity” on the Internet:
There is a clear correlation between anonymity and intolerance which characterizes every weblog of which I am aware. The higher the percentage of anonymous users, the lower the quality of the dialogue.
However, he doesn’t really mean anonymity; what he really means is pseudonymity.
Anonymity is what you get in a crowd of corporate clerks, communist laborers, Black Friday consumers, football fans, soccer hooligans, revolutionary sans-culottes, blipvert victims, Hitlerjugend, ants, cancer cells, Agent Smiths, Democrat/Republican straight-ticket voters, and mass-suicide cult members. The way of the crowd is broad, and it leads straight to hell.
Pseudonymity comes from abandoning the identity conferred on you by your parents, your traditions, your government, your employer, or your marketing demographic profile, and choosing to create an identity from scratch. Naturally, since it lacks depth and breadth, such an identity is going to be insecure. It is made even more unstable if it is based on an idealistic social arrangement that follows the American Idol model: that is, a blog.
Concealing one’s “actual” identity is admittedly discourteous, as everyone instinctively knows in real life. What has happened on the Internet is that “identity” has taken on a new meaning that looks a lot like an archaic meaning.
In the distant past of Euro-American culture, and yet today in some tribalistic cultures elsewhere, identity was wholly dependent on family unit and place. In such a culture, “individual” identity was unthinkable, and tribal identity plays out in modern terms as resistance to the concepts of intellectual property and plagiarism, as well as obsessions with “saving face” and ritual conformity.
Other traditional Euro-American concepts of identity have included national, ethnic, religious, regional, imperial, and global identities. All of these traditional identity paradigms are now being challenged as arbitrary and superfluous. They are being replaced by a kind of neo-tribalism that is situated in webspaces and characterized by intentional family units. Neo-tribalism (or Neo Tribalism, if you prefer) also has little regard for 19th-century American ideas about intellectual property, and is obsessed with blog buzz and netiquette.
Thus, humans are now attempting to supplant their biological and ethnogeographical origins as sources of identity, by using ephemeral technological constructs that perform the same function. Marshall McLuhan, where are you? You died too soon.
Without the guiding hand of a global imperial government, it is now impossible to establish and verify a “true” identity in the traditional sense. That is the way in which we are achieving a form of the tribal model, in which identity is confirmed by the testimony of those who “know” you personally. Yet, if it is merely a biological/geographical referent, it means nothing to someone on the other side of the world who sees you only through the lens of the Internet.
That is why Davison’s Internet adversaries are so unhappy with him: he throws off the equilibrium of their arguments, on which their identities depend. He is unquestionably an accomplished scientist and professor who could trash an intellectual lightweight like Myers or Dawkins in a matter of minutes. His existence as a scientifically credentialed evolutionist who argues against natural selection is acutely embarrassing to the phony political animals who are trying to promote collective sanctification through evolutionary theory indoctrination. Yet, he also maintains that there may not have been a single divine creator or creation event; that any divine creators of the past are probably dead now; and that we are now poised to take over that role by becoming transhumanists. So, he also has no friends among creationists; and he even causes friction among his natural allies, the somewhat incoherent advocates of intelligent design.
Davison, an anarchist at heart, responds to this commotion about DIDDLY with a standard line:
I don’t need a fan club and I thrive on abuse.
I love it so!
Go in peace, buddy.