The known unknown on the internet

This was written after reading an interesting article by Firmin deBrabander, “Shame on You,” at the Aeon website. *


deBrabander uses the perspective of French sociologist and philosopher Michel Foucault to discuss some current cultural formations arising in and because of the internet and its ‘social media.’


Foucault was concerned with the nature of power in modern capitalist society. But he held that power is diffuse and not centralized. We learn to regulate ourselves in a society in which our personalities are formed by society, a society in which even our darkest or most cherished secrets are actually available for view and review in particular circumstances.  This creates a web of relations throughout which power, as the effort to control behavior (of ourselves and others) is disseminated through language and shared interests.  One essential aspect of such power relationship has to do with how we seek to be seen, and how we seek to see others.


We may be watched by the state (probably are), but first we are watched by parents, peers, total strangers – your neighbors, the people you meet in a shop or on a bus, your congregation at church (if you attend), etc., etc. However, society has a hierarchical structure, so naturally those who benefit most from social strictures on behavior will be those with money, influence, or authority.


So what deBrabander is asking is how the internet has effected the diffusion of power, normalizing this interplay with what one might call socialized privacy, and how that generated echo chambers leading to a disunity of communication in society as a whole: “The result,” deBrabander remarks, “is a growing conformity within camps, as well as a narrowing of the shared space for understanding and dialogue between them.” And this seems clearly to benefit those with money, influence, or authority.


Self regulation is essential to any society; however in the current environment, you are almost guaranteed to reveal some, perhaps all, of these things to some one; if you do so on the internet – which is always a public forum, no matter how we pretend otherwise – that creates problems, some of which deBrabander discusses. (Although I think there are more as well.)


In some sense everything about us is ‘shameful,’ yet everything must be ‘confessed.’ And we seem to be constructing a culture around this double imperative.


Shame exists as a social function,helping to generate a sense of self with the agency to determine seemingly hidden values and revealed values. However the sense of shame is indoctrinated by parents and peers, and in differing social groups will determine the shamefulness of differing values. Thus anything about an individual may prove shameful in some circumstance. However, in the globalized social media, small groups appear to form around what the participants may think are private revelations that are in fact entirely public. If we take the presumed privacy as a means of protecting the hidden, then everything hidden in the many different groups becomes an object of potential shame. However, in order to participate in any group, one has to reveal what is hidden, even what the person feels ought to be hidden, and so confess. However since there is no real privacy on the internet, what is confessed is done so publicly. , This creates a web of what is hidden from some groups but revealed in others, but available to all in most circumstances,, and in other circumstances, available to those with the proper technology. This web supports the social status quo, and in a hierarchical society especially those at the top of the hierarchy with the wherewithal to leverage technological access to all information in the web.


It’s pointless to get paranoid in this situation; however it helps, in learning to live with it, to recognize that it is, and what it is.


To see this more concretely, imagine a professional football player; last year he signed a lucrative ten year contract, this despite his knowledge (known only to his family) that his mother died of Huntington’s chorea, which means that there is a 50% chance that he will likely not be able to fulfill that contract.


So, he doesn’t want to confess this to his team. But at some point, reluctantly, he confesses to a doctor, to receive proper diagnosis. It’s positive. So he secretly joins a support group with fellow sufferers, which is primarily concerned with confessing the kinds of physical and emotional suffering the condition causes.


Meanwhile, on his off-hours he pursues an interest in gardening, particularly flowers. But he doesn’t want his teammates to know this, because they all say such an interest is gay. That isn’t true, of course; but just as it happens, he is gay – and he doesn’t want his teammates to know this either. However, he certainly wants those who attend his favorite gay bar to know this, since that’s the only way he can make relationships at that bar, to which he goes after spending time at a local horticulture club. But he doesn’t mention this at the bar, because it’s a leather bar, and flowers are considered fey there.


Meanwhile, his alcoholic brother has sobered up thanks to the intervention of a fundamentalist church, and insists they attend some meetings there together, which he does to support his brother (who doesn’t know he’s gay), despite the fact that he’s an atheist, which only his gay friends and his fellow horticulturalists know about him.


Now it might be said to him, that these various social groups in which he participates put him in a tense and precarious situation, which can be ameliorated considerably if he would only confess all of his issues to everyone involved. But of course while his sense of shame in certain groups would be alleviated somewhat, he would be effectively making himself a focus of attention, some of which he would rather not have (especially if his team decides that his Huntington’s chorea invalidates his contract).


But here’s the problem. On the internet, under various pseudonyms, he begins participating on sports site; on sites for sufferers of Huntington’s chorea; on gay sites; on horticulture sites; on Christian sites for the support of families with someone suffering alcoholism; on atheist sites. On each site he confesses some aspect of himself and his situation he thinks he’s keeping hidden from others – from different others in the different groups in which he participates.


But he’s not. That myth is maintained by the acceptance of the pseudonyms he uses, and the fact that most of these sites do not communicate with each other. But in fact all his pseudonyms can be traced back to him; everything about him can be known.


The ease of access to the internet, the rapidity with which we can post on it, the ‘friending’ and ‘liking’ on many sites, the seemingly protective allowance for using pseudonyms, ‘handles’ and the like, have misled us into believing we have control over our presence on the web. That’s not true. To socialize at all we surrender something of ourselves to the groups we address. But on the internet, we may end up surrendering everything about ourselves to people we don’t know, and don’t even know exist. Remember, even without posting on the ‘net, our browsing is tracked to provide us with advertisement ‘recommendations.’ These are provided by programs; but the information can be accessed by the advertisers themselves. So there is no invisible presence on the ‘net. We enter it revealed, already ‘confessed’ by the websites we visit.


And as the construction of the surveillance state continues apace, there may be a time that everything we’ve revealed on the ‘net will be registered in a data-base in some government agencies main-frame.


Again, there’s no point in getting paranoid, because in contemporary society, there’s no way to avoid these interactions. But one should always post on the ‘net prepared for the consequences of public exposure.





I  noted this article through a posting at Plato’s Footnote.*  The above includes a comment made there: and since posting this, I’ve felt impelled to write another comment, which I expand on here,  discussing some of the possible motivations for this problem:


In a society with few naturally formed communities, such as one used to find in homogenous small towns, we are ever trying to find communities of interest to which to join.  These can be support groups, hobby-interest groups, religious groups, fan clubs, sports clubs, or just the neighborhood bar.  In the process of becoming a member of such a community, one chooses what to reveal and what to conceal about one’s life as a whole.  This will often take on something of the nature of a confession, while involving anxiety something in the nature of a sense of shame concerning what is not revealed, although this is always a matter of degrees.  An alcoholic in AA is certainly confessing, but in a presumably safe environment.  A recovering alcoholic attending a book club ‘confesses,’ even professes a love of books, but may feel too much anxiety about his/her alcoholism to reveal anything about that.  However, in the process of attending AA he or she might discover someone who likes books; attending the book club might lead to discovery of someone else with a similar issue, and friendships are formed; each community grows tighter together.

But on the internet, the communities we join, while still needing professions, confessions, and silence on secrets, social interactions necessarily change.  Our recovering alcoholic begins posting on an AA oriented website.  The conversations involved are for all those to see, not just recovering alcoholics.  The other participants to discussion are unknown to our poster.  Some of them may not even be recovering alcoholics, they may be trolls trying to attract attention to their own site to accumulate ‘clicks’ for sales to advertisers. Meanwhile, at the book-club site, where the participants are required to provide a list of their favorite books, our recovering alcoholic unthinkingly includes the Big Book as a favored text.  Soon, it goes the rounds ‘Are you an alcoholic?’  ‘I think Fakename21 is an alcoholic!’  ”My father was a drunk, I hated him!’  ‘Why don’t you show some will-power?’ etc. etc.  If our protagonist wishes to remain in the online book-club. suddenly we see a confession concerning his/her alcoholism.  It might be made angrily, or sorrowfully, or, if done with rhetorical finesse, will earn responses of approbation: ‘good thing you joined AA, keep it up!’

But the fact remains that what seemed to be a secret has now become a confession in an entirely different community than the one it was intended for.  And further both the AA site postings and the book club postings are now public property.

Such issues are magnified ten-fold on ‘social media’ sites like Facebook.  There, the communities are shallower, and less grounded in shared interests, and the public access more open, less controlled, yet frequently unnoticed by those posting to their page.  They think their sharing with family and ‘friend’ (whom they’ve never met or actually talked with).  But their audience may include trolls, their employers, sex predators, government agencies, and certainly includes advertisers tracking their browsers.

So I don’t think its largely fame or attention such people are looking for, although that may be part of it.  Frankly, I think loneliness is what drives most of them to the internet.  It is ever harder to find real communities to join in one’s vicinity, and of course joining those requires the effort to get out, drive the car or take a bus, get jostled in a crowd, etc. all the unpleasantness of real human content – the internet is so much more convenient.

That tells me that something has changed, is still changing here.  I can’t say that it’s a bad thing, I may be a grumpy old man concerning such matters.  But it doesn’t look like much of a good thing over all.


Goodbye for now (… and thanks for all the fish)

I’m going on hiatus.  That is, for a while this blog will be an empty space.  Because, well, because, I thought entry into the blogosphere would allow me to speak the truth of what I’ve learned over the past 30 years.  Now, it’s apparent that truth has no place here (has it ever found such a place?).

At his blog, The frailest thing, Michael Sacasas writes: “This is not an easy decision to come to. Writing in this space has been one of my great pleasures over the last few years, and the conversations I’ve been able to participate in through this blog have been the closest thing I have to an intellectual community. I’m deeply appreciative of my little band of loyal readers and commenters, some of whom have been hanging around for quite a while.  I should say that this is only farewell for now. I do not intend to permanently shut down The Frailest Thing. Consider this an extended hiatus. Most likely for a few months, perhaps a little longer. Also, I’ll probably pop in occasionally during that time to give an occasional status update.” :

I couldn’t put the matter better.  Our reasons here are considerably different – Michael needs to complete his doctoral degree; I, on the other hand, have pretty much said all that I wanted to say – for now.

The blogosphere is both a wonderful space for communication and – a mess.  It’s pretty much a shot in the dark to find anything interesting in it.  Sometime the shot rings true; oft it misses its mark.

And one wants to say wonderful complicated things; but short blurts of suitable sound-bytes attract greater attention.

I note that the new configuration of the WordPress blog-zone, which no longer allows re-blogging, comes just at the right time for me to go on hiatus.  Re-blogging allowed communication and dissemination.  Without it, we are left voicing private thoughts into the websphere.

So I’ll have to rethink my being here and the kind of sharing I want to engage.

I hope to be posting a new ‘blog’ – but it will be simply the reproduction of a novel I wrote recently.  And because it is a pastiche of a heavily copy-righted character, there’s the likelihood it will not be up for reading for very long.

But that’s the nature of web-posting: ephemeral, without impact, negated by its very existence.

Which leads me to the blog post I would have re-blogged if that had been allowed: a post by nannus he offered to rebuttal to my recent post on Heidegger:

Complex and requiring much thought to reason through, as is true of his best posts.  Often I spend a week or so thinking through his posts, and by the time I feel I have a grip on it, the moment to reply has passed.  That’s a good thing!  Where thought is not demanded, no need to think.

I also want to recognize blogs that I have followed regularly:

Most importantly, – I have bounced off posts and topics at this site so often, really, Massimo Piglucci should pay me for advertisement! – one of the most amusing, informative, and insightful of the blogs I follow. – a news blog, that keeps tabs on events in the most coherent and direct way available on the web. – keep up the good fight! – A different, more focused fight, but no less worthy of fighting. – makagutu’s best quality is that he shows forth thinking in motion – when he reads it, he brings it to us; when he has an argument with another, he checks it with us.  That sort of inquisitiveness is what intellection is really all about, both in and well beyond philosophy. – One of the most amusing satirists in the blogosphere, sincere, even passionate on occasion, but always irreverent and (strangely) self-deprecating. – actually, I stopped following Jerry Coyne’s blog some six months ago; I got tired of his deprecation of philosophy – and, frankly, I just hate cats -smelly, uncaring beasts with no consideration for others whatsoever.  But this was an important blog for me once, and still has some interesting information to share.

Well, that’s it.  I’m glad I had my say; and when I think of anything more to say, it’ll show up here (should WordPress allow – feel free to reproduce anything I’ve posted or written as long as it’s not taken out of context and attributes its authorship properly).

Otherwise, and “proximally and for the most part” (as Heidegger would say) –

So long – and thanks for all the fish.

So long and thanks for all the fish
So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all that your dead

You may not share our intellect
Which might explain your disrespect
For all the natural wonders that
grow around you

So long, so long and thanks
for all the fish

The world’s about to be destroyed
There’s no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the planet dissolve(around you)

Despite those nets of tuna fleets
We thought that most of you were sweet
Especially tiny tots and your
pregnant women

So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

So long, so long and thanks
for all the fish

If I had just one last wish
I would like a tasty fish
If we could just change one thing
We would all have learned to sing.

Come one and all
Man and Mammal
Side by Side in life’s great gene pool

(oooohhh oooohhh oooaahhhhh- ah ahh)

So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

So long, so long and, !Thanks!
for all the fish!

(Lyricist: Hilary Summers)

Everything or nothing blog (Conspiracy Theory 1)



We blog because we must, because if we don’t, we don’t.  Why not?  Be honest!  Be joyful! Be real!  Whatever that means.  OR be nothing at all.  So, accordingly, I have decided, for the nonce, to not pretend being a somewhat skeptical inquirer into the nature of things, and instead accept my absolute certainty concerning everything.*  Really, it is patently absurd to presume not to know practically everything there is to know, when the fate of the entire planet, and the many human species inhabiting it, depend upon my keen insights into the basic ground of absolute being. So pay attention people, and heed the TRUTH. This theory (which is mine, which is a theory that I have) is not just a Theory of Everything, this is the FACT OF EVERYTHING.

Being: Being is all that is being and there isn’t anything that is not being, except those things that aren’t. Now you know.

And this Being is made up, not of sub-atomic particles or energy fields, but strings – shoe strings from another universe – the fourth from the left as you enter the 9th dimension. Everything that is has been worn on the foot of an nth-dimensional alien who suffers from mycotic toe-nails. It is the fungi spores in these second-hand shoe-laces that finally gave rise to life on favorable planets in our own universe. Yes, now we know the truth about life – it is fungus. This intelligent fungus called human must therefore be under an illusion, imagining itself some form of mammal with consciousness.

Indeed, what is consciousness? Tiny little fleas with flashlights have burrowed deep into our fungus-gray-matter and are shining flashlights on our neurons. They have hypnotized us to respond to stimuli in a pseudo-mammalian way – salivating every time we see a fast-food commercial, and getting randy about the letter “L” – Limburger, lightning, luminosity, lexicon, laundromat – feel the tingling in your groin? that’s not lollypops, that’s the letter “L” – yes, Sesame Street reveals the secret code – brought to you by the letter “L” – WAKE UP, FUNGI!

So now I must solve all the problems our presumed humanity faces – but isn’t it obvious? WE MUST EAT EACH OTHER!

Edible others are the only Other we need to know, as our epistemologically savvy taste-buds warrant!

POWER TO THE ‘SHROOMS! We must organize ourselves into giant lunch-baskets and dive in! Eat hearty and party! do be a glutton – it’s what you always wanted, admit it – that nice succulent buttock you’ve been eying – that’s not lust you’re feeling, it’s hunger – so get started – take a bite!

Eventually, there will only be two people left in the whole world – and one will eat the other – then there will be peace.


There’s the manifesto. The logic of it is quite plain – it is digitally encoded – dit-dit-dit-dat-dit-dat – you can listen to it on the magic radio your mother bought for you that horrible Christmas when Doctor Who regenerated into Peter Capaldi and started swearing foul-mouthed at the Impossible Girl. (You remember that because I told you it would happen!) But enactment of this great project will require stamina. We must begin training now! Send me all your money and I will write the book explaining how. ***

* This is also me at last revealing myself as the fount of all wisdom – and then some. Upon my receipt of all your cash, You will become my faithful follower – you will laud every word I say – when the book is published, be sure to pour thousands of words of praise onto Amazon reviews and blog comments everywhere. Chastise all who disagree! You were born free – but now I have released you from that terror and you must support me at every turn. give up the will to live – prepare to be eaten!

** See:

*** If you have no money, body parts will do. I’m hungry.



ejwinner says: Sir: Follow you? I’d rather drink the Bob Jones kool-aid. What is this monstrous fantasy you think you “know?” It flies in the face of everything science has taught us in the past 400 years.

Let’s analyze the ‘logic’ of it: ‘IF dit-dit-dit-dat-dit-dat, THEN we are all really fungi.’ Does this make any sense at all?

I’ve read saner ‘manifestos’ written by lizard-alien conspiracy theorists.

I think you are just trying to develop an esoteric excuse for your recent penchant for cannibalism. Look, you’re addicted. Give it up. Just get into rehab; there’s no shame following a twelve step program. “Just for today, I will not eat my little sister.” Oops, I forgot, you already et her. And they say you have no taste for family values….

Frankly, I suspect you are engaged in a giant scam, and I will have no part of it.


Hi ejwinner,

you slimy bucket of shit! Insanity is what comes out of your mouth after you drink piss while eating live worms! The drivel you puke up as commentary here reminds me of your mother’s farts – while I was boffing her! If you had any sense of decency you would dunk your head into a pool of toxic waste and keep it their until you drown, you pedanditic piece of fried fungus-doo!



ejwinner says: Sir, have no sense of decency? I have tried to engage you in civilized debate, simply reminding you that sucking on blood is a major source of infection of the brain, and offering you suggestions about seeking help for such urges. You needn’t be contentious, this is simply a matter of polite conversation between equal intellects.


Hi ejwinner:

You couldn’t be equal with my butt-hairs! You can take your fucking pretentious offers of help and shove them up your ass – one by one, each wrapped in sand-paper! I don’t need help, I need money – oh, and virgins – the consumable kind – baked in a pie, like the 21 blackbirds, only with mushroom gravy!



ejwinner says: Sir; it is quite clear that intelligent conversation is not to be had on your blog. I will leave you to your frankly disturbed fantasies, and seek enlightenment elsewhere. I only hope you get the help you need, or get arrested, whichever would be in the best interests of the community.


Hi ejwinner:

Good riddance, get outa here, we don’t need mudfucking syphilitic dipshit bastards like you in MY community of disciples, followers, sycophants, and lichen! I can use help, alright – a helping of virgin’s menstrual blood – with salt and garlic powder, yum yum!



AnonymousUserWithAmusingPseudonym says: Ejwinner, so when you say, “It flies in the face of everything science has taught us in the past 400 years,” I take it you mean that you hate science? Please explain where I am wrong; but Africans were brought here as slaves 400 years ago, so clearly the time-line indicates a bias. Have you evidence otherwise? Please link to sources.

OP, I couldn’t agree with you more. My check is in the mail. If it bounces, please accept my left leg.

Thanks for graciously reading my insignificant comment on your most excellent blog!


Hi AnonymousUserWithAmusingPseudonym: