There is an old, informal anthropological term that has always amused me: Bongo-Bongoism. A Bongo-Bongoism is the refutation of any argument by asserting: “Well, the Bongo-Bongo do it differently” (where ‘Bongo-Bongo’ is replaced with your obscure culture of choice). This is usually employed by an anthropologist who feels a need to underline the fact that there are blessed few characteristics shared by all cultures. If I remember correctly, there are 2: language and incest taboos (some cultures actually do allow for incest, but only in special cases, like for royalty. Kind of asking for it, leadership-wise).
Until fairly recently, Bongo-Bongoism was well on its way to fading into obscurity. Even among anthropologists, the ability to give a crap about such nit-picking was on the fast track to obliteration.
But then, of course, the mantle got picked up by the Internet Douchebaggerati (with a hefty assist from Wikipedia). You know the type – the ones who think their pathological devotion to irrelevant detail will convince the world that they have an above-average intellect, are physically quite attractive, and probably play a musical instrument. Update: I just realized why the Douchebaggerati adopted Bongo-Bongoism. Amongst the Douchebaggerati there are three basic cultures (with many sub-cultures): Windows, Mac and Linux. These cultures love to reverse the anthropological process and point to themselves, saying something like “If you used a Mac, you wouldn’t have to worry about that.” Different ground rules, but still just as stupid.
I bring this up because one such Douchebag resorted to Bongo-Bongoism in a recent discussion of anonymity. You know – that tired old Facebook crap again. And the same old bullshit idea came up: “We have a right to anonymity.”
Um… no. No we don’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. And the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that it’s by design.
Here’s the basic difference – Privacy is about personal identity and information and (more importantly) exercising control over personal identity and information. Anonymity is the lack of personal identity and information. It’s the difference between unknown and unknowable.
True anonymity is pretty rare in modern society. The illusion of anonymity, however, is fairly common. For example, life in an urban setting certainly seems to be anonymous. It’s quite easy to feel anonymous when walking down the street in the average city. However, this feeling of anonymity is not a true one. It’s far closer to apathy than anonymity. It’s not that the city cannot identify you, it’s that it doesn’t care to.
The same can be said for much of the internet. While it may feel anonymous, it really isn’t. Computers are really quite honest and forthcoming when they talk to each other. Anonymity can be achieved on the internet, but it isn’t easy. And, for the most part, it’s unnecessary. Most people don’t really care if they’re anonymous on the internet, and for those who do care, usually the illusion of anonymity is enough.
And I’m pretty sure that modern society depends upon a certain lack of anonymity in order to function. Allow me to explain:
Human beings are not, by nature, moral creatures. In fact, most are rather immoral (amoral at best). In short, the average person is lying, thieving, raping, murderous scum, and the only thing keeping them in line is the threat of retribution. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at any situation in human history in which the rules were removed. Wars. Riots. Blackouts. To a much smaller degree, pay heed to the fashion in which most people behave while driving. Do you think they’d act like that if they met you face-to-face in the street? The internet serves equally well as an example of how-people-would-never-dare-act-if-their-noses-were-actually-within-reach.
The sad truth is that most people will only treat their fellow human beings with dignity and respect if they are forced to. The upside is that forcing them to do so is usually pretty easy. In most cases, all it takes is the lingering threat that someone may be watching.
And don’t think for an instant that the Founding Drunkards were unaware of this. They were very (personally) cognizant of the depths of human debauchery, and I’m sure they were also quite aware of the ease with which the average person is controlled from without (far easier than instilling control from within). I daresay there are damn good reasons the Founding Paragraphs don’t mention privacy or anonymity. Society functions rather more smoothly if people feel a little more personally accountable.
Believe me, folks. If real anonymity were to become commonplace and/or easily achieved in modern society, it would spell the end of civilization as we know it. Because civilization really is just a very thin coat of manners painted onto a bunch of angry barbarians.