People routinely confuse the medical terms Schizophrenia and Multiple Personality disorder. Both are very serious conditions with millions of sufferers and limited treatment options. So, one should hope that most people who use the internet do not suffer from these conditions. However, I have read and heard too many times online people state that they adopt a different personality when online. This is mostly used as an excuse when a perfectly nice person turns into a raving psychopath as soon as she hits the keyboard. Whether or not the split of online and physical persona is sustainable in the long run where more and more of our real life moves online is a different discussion (I think, anonymity is overrated, privacy is underrated).
So, while the interwebs provide the ability, they do not provide the motivation for this self-inflicted multiple personality disorder. Ender Black commented yesterday on this and -eerily enough- pre-empted this half-written blog post with his comment:
[…] Essentially, I deny the theory of “The Duality of Man.” I deny that theory because it implies that a man is binary when in truth we are all lovers and killers, tormentors and nurturers. It is the situation that we choose which to be that decides in the end if we are lawful or chaotic, good or evil (to steal from D&D). […]
Exactly. Could not have said it better.
So, Ender is conceding that we all have an evil streak and a good one, a desire to rescue the damsel-in-distress and one to shoot her in the face with a sawn-off shotgun. There are two questions. Why the mean streak? Did we not learn as children to be nice to others? Say “thank you” and help old ladies across the street and not to steal their purses? Is the mean streak hardwired and we are just suppressing it by adhering to society’s laws and convention? And the second question of course is why we release the self that we can not display in real life onto the anonymous internet crowds?
Centuries (nay, millennia) worth of discussion have failed to bring consensus whether someone is born a criminal or nurtured into one. The truth as usual is somewhere in between and of course in today’s climate of syrupy political correctness is almost impossible to discuss (no offence but not-discussing science for political reasons has never worked. There are still fruitloops out there disputing evolution). Ok, so there is no “crime” gene, as there is no distinct phenotype like the phrenologists for decades wanted us to believe. There may or may not be genes that together increase the likely hood for anti-social behaviour but even suggesting that as a research topic will have your grant rejected. Ok, lets agree that it is a mix of both nature and nurture (btw, that is the classical cop-out for all of these discussions. Followed by request for more research money)
This leads back to the second question. Why should a perfectly sane, competent, nice and caring librarian turn into into a foamy-mouthed cussing thing when he logs into an online game? Why not be nice to his fellow man as he has been all working day? Well, that’s where conventional wisdom may just be right. If a person has to work against his conviction all day, penned up emotions desire to be released. A sales person has to be accommodating irrespective how stupid his customers are, a telemarketer, policeman or traffic warden endure the worst insults all during their working day, often for years just to pay the mortgage. An unemployed man sees his self worth diminished by his girlfriend bringing home the money. At night, these people may want to release all the penned up anger and suicide-charge into a Hulk. The victim in the Hulk becomes the representation of all who insulted him during the day. Revenge is taken. Shits are given.
It is rare for me to concede that conventional wisdom may be correct but in this case, I make an exception. Have been a full-time sales person I fully understand the self-control required to deal with complete idiots (=customers) all day and be meek, kiss their feet or other body parts and hide my emotions. Being insulted by 20 year old college kids with zits whose professor I could or should be. I digress.
My question goes to Mme. Thalys who comment on my last post with these words
[…] For many people, the ability to destroy something lends them a fleeting feeling of power that works like a fix. Eventually you need more to sustain that feeling. The more such acts you commit, the longer the list of people who eventually might want to get even becomes.Your in-game existence becomes dominated by violence and paranoia. […] (my emphasis)
How fleeting is this really? Does a FHC resident whose entire vocabulary seems to consist of swearwords desensitise eventually? Wanting him to advance his character and become a wholesome and balanced person as you describe? See the futility in his verbal vomit and pick flowers for orphans? Some, sure, yes. Others, I am not so hopeful. They find in this environment an welcome release valve for their frustration, pressure, self-hate and angst. They may continue to be asshats as long as the internet stays anonymous.
And I want them to! I do! Really! If I mine in EVE Online and someone manages to scam me, suicide gank my miner, blow me up, pod me, steal all (ok, not all…) ISK but through that action receives lasting satisfaction, happiness and can go to work the next day and deal with imbecile customers again, I rate my loss as a cheap community service. I really, really do. I just try to see the fellow man on the other side of the internet and imagine his joy, his success and elation. I am happy for him and just hope it lasts and that he does not need another fix soon.
But no, it does not mean that I fly a fleet of hulks during hulkageddon.
Lastly, quick personal note why I appear holier-than-thou. I am not known to be a nice person in real life. I am impatient, arrogant, impulsive, aggressive, pushy, ambitious and have insulted many friends by just being myself. Maybe I try in the game EVE Online to bring out the better part of myself. In other words, maybe I encounter the exact opposite scenario from the one described above where a genuinly nice person seeks an outlet for their frustration. Maybe I just want to create a team built on trust:
[…]Because EVE is a game where violent aggression is very easy to do and gets you instant recognition (killboards), but building things and securing them by trust and defensive force is difficult, I consider the latter approach the real challenge. [..] Mme. Thalys
Ok, ok, I bring it home.
The online and the real life personae are parts of the same human being and how people conduct themselves online directly originates from and is an integral part of their real world. Saying “oh I am an evil scamming pirate scum online but a nice person in real life” is creating a false split personality. It is the same person acting out different and valuable parts of himself. Value and love all sides if you want to value and love yourself.