NO ANONYMITY WITHOUT RESPONSIBILITY


“I can’t find a goddamn parking place in this  f——- town!” we heard, while walking to the Prefontaine Classic.

The middle-aged man walked away from a series of parking meters that were good for 2 hours, not quite long enough to see the event.  On the other hand, had he been willing to walk a few more blocks, he would have been able to park for free.  Had he anticipated the potential problem parking, he might have left home earlier, wherever home was.  He had “skunk anger,” and I quickly recalled my arm, after I had begun to point out parking spots.  Nowadays, it doesn’t take much to set some people off, and with the only restriction on firearm possession these days appearing to be price, I thought it wise to quietly walk away.

Public displays of anger are scary.  I vividly remember a fist fight breaking out over who was next in line at a gas pump during the 1973 oil shock.  I saw a man pummeled in Nairobi once, and stayed far away.  Over the phone, it is too easy to express anger, for one doesn’t see the effect upon the other person.  Sadly, many who receive these nasty calls weren’t involved in setting up the faulty system or designing the flawed product.  Highly paid executives are shielded from much of the difficult work that is “customer service.”

Letters may also be hurtful. Virtually everybody has regretted at some time hitting “send” too soon.  Angry letters require rereading and preferably should sit 24 hours before being sent.  It is remarkable what will be deleted after waiting.  Many such letters I never sent.  Still, angrily written letters have a name and an address; they are not anonymous.

The Internet has brought anonymity to public discourse, which I find both disconcerting and dangerous.  Read the comment section of an online newspaper article.  The comments do not sit for a day before posting, the grammar and spelling are often atrocious, the venom almost visible, the comments close to libelous, and the points often not factual.   Anonymity allows every frustrated individual to write whatever he wants: a free pass for hate mongers, the ne’er do wells, a public voice for those who used to say their indecent words in private, or at least not in my presence.  People I never will meet vent about all sorts of topics, truth being the greatest casualty, the beautiful English language a close second.

Letters to the editor are difficult to get published, because they require knowledge of basic English grammar, which many do not have.  These letters have an approximate 150 word limit, requiring careful thought, not a long-winded exposition.  I find it ironic that many who decry the use of Spanish—a language I wish I could speak fluently—cannot write a decent English sentence.

Online, every time I read one’s advocating physically fighting the government or secession, I wonder why these people don’t have their IP addresses tracked and informed their comments are treasonous. Many say the government is incompetent, rather than taking the small step to say some people who work for the government are incompetent.  Yet, this same “incompetent government” is somehow able to keep secrets about Area 57, currency reform, 9/11, the New World Order, and faked the Moon landings.  The inconsistency of these two concomitantly held viewpoints baffles me.

What I almost never read in diatribes are detailed suggestions how we might fix problems.  Perhaps many of us have given up. Ideas are seldom seriously considered by any organization I’ve sent them to.  Message to those in power: you do not have a monopoly on good ideas; they can come from anywhere, not just your staff or the same people that have been in the public eye for decades, some of whom need to move on.  You might be surprised what we have to offer.

Simplistic suggestions: “Deport all of them,”  “lower taxes,” “repeal Obamacare” are not solutions.  Mandatory national service, encouraging national volunteerism and using the experience of older people are starting points. I have been open to different ideas, so long as they have data, inferences, margin of error, ways of tracking effectiveness, and are well thought out.  My name is visible, and information about me is available.  It’s is clear what I believe, and it is clear that I may be influenced.

I had no idea the jerk I heard—and the man was a jerk, continuously swearing at the top of his lungs in a quiet neighborhood about a city I happen to love—would lead to an article.  It didn’t quite, until I read online in the Green Valley News (Az.) that a Hispanic shot and killed by the Border Control was an unarmed US citizen.  He had a prior record, was stopped and allegedly fled on foot, not at all a physical threat.  He was hauling marijuana, not human flesh.  He broke several laws, no question, but he didn’t deserve death.  I wonder whether those who have decried illegal immigration will speak out against killing our own citizens in these circumstances.  I chose not to read the comments, because I suspected I would read “the man deserved it”, “most of these people are illegal,” “his papers were probably forged”, “we still need a wall”, and of course “this is only one instance,” which in the issue of death happens to be irreversible. Is there no shame?  The Border Patrol has a difficult job, but we cannot use that as an excuse.

Anonymity is used by cowards.  My name is on my posts and letters; I don’t hide behind “Blueheeler2”. Stating comments in public requires thought. I suggest we edit these sites, in order to make some of the comments readable, shorter, and enforce common decency.  We used to, and violent threats online ought to be investigated.  They have led to shootings, which takes me full circle.

Some say anonymity is the price we pay for the Internet.  I say we shouldn’t pay it. If WordPress wants to edit me, fine.

Please, however, don’t have your editors make grammatical mistakes in their comments.  That annoys me no end, but I will try to be polite in my letter to you.

 

Michael S. Smith, MD MS (Stat.)

 

 

 

 

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