Media

The Gyges Ring and the Local Media

By Mahesh P. Butani
Published February 14, 2011

Mark Cripps, in his opinion piece "My user name is Mark Cripps" of February 9, 2011, writes: "Plato touched on the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges."

Explaining further, he says: "Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly. That's not freedom, that's anarchy."

Two months ago, Julie Zhuo in her op-ed piece "Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt", in the New York Times dated November 29, 2010, wrote: "...Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges."

Zhuo goes on to explain the power of the Gyges ring:

That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he couldn't be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.

Paul Berton, in his quest for the real story of the turbulence set off by an 'onymous donation', instead ends up celebrating 'anonymous commenting'.

Justifying its invisibility, Berton writes: "But it is providing readers with more information, factual or otherwise". And attempting to project power onto "all of us" he concludes: "The days when politicians and newspapers can control the message are long gone."

Is the story here about a happy synchronicity of thought between Cripps and Zhuo? Or is it Berton's bold conclusions, which rest precariously on the illusion of power arising from anonymous commenting?

Or could the real story be about the mythical Gyges ring that both Cripps and Berton continue to wear since the summer of 2010, when an election was thrown by the willful and cynical control of the message by the 'politicians and the newspapers' of Hamilton?

Maybe the real story is about Cripps and Berton, who, under the influence of the Gyges rings they proudly choose to wear, blinked in the face of the voice of 'all of us' screaming back at them in 2010.

In the presence of this unaccountable legacy that will haunt Hamilton for decades, can the real story ever be told by 'all of us' in a city, where living vicariously through invisible anonymous comments is a far safer option than pitching onymous tents in Gore Park to usher in transformational change?

To the many anonymous commenters of Hamilton who misinterpret nausea and bile to be the flickers of fire that once burned in their bellies - the lyrics of Game Theory's: "Throwing the Election", reminds us:

...Don't even waste the man-hours on us
We are finding no solution
Call all the boys in from the fighting fronts
We have lost the revolution...

Mahesh P. Butani is a non-architect, and a developer by default. He is involved in re-developing properties in downtown Hamilton; and has an MA in Arts Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC (1986), and bachelors in Architecture from Bombay, India (1982). Currently he is not an architect in Ontario on account of not having enough Canadian Experience; and does not qualify to teach as he carries too much baggage to fit into the Canadian education system. He refuses to be re-trained to fit in, on a matter of principle, and is a passionate disbeliever of icons and self-regulation of professions in Canada - but still maintains his belief in collective self-organizing behavior; and feels that the large swath of intellectual brownfields across Ontario are far more harmful to the economy than the brownfields left over from deindustrialization - and in response has set up a social network called Metropolitan Hamilton. http://metrohamilton.ning.com/

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2011 at 11:45:36

A few quick points...

-To me, a commenter's identity is secondary to what they're saying. What matters most to me is the content of what's being said. If something is insightful, brilliant, adds to the discussion, I don't care whether the commenter's identity is 'Santa Claus', Louis Cypher...or Mack the Knife. This fixation on 'identity' is a red herring. Because...

-I believe that very little of this discussion would be taking place if there wasn't a problem with 'trolls' and 'Net courage' and a general dearth of civility.

-Finally...

To the many anonymous commenters of Hamilton who misinterpret nausea and bile to be the flickers of fire that once burned in their bellies...

I think you ascribe way too much to those whose real intent is nothing more than to lob the textual equivalents of 'flaming bags of $hit'. So once again, the focus has been jarred off-target. To lump all anonymous commenters into the same pile...and flush, to continue the theme...dismisses a good amount of potentially great contributions on the part of anonymous commenters. And frankly, there's a lot of this 'old school' attitude around in MSM. I know, because I had a lengthy email correspondence with one of the major players in Hamilton this past weekend. To sum things up, the world has changed, things are never going to be the same, and to apply 'old school' notions to a 'new school' landscape is rather misguided...naïve...and silly.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-02-14 11:46:38

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2011 at 14:57:41

Anonymous commenting at it's best.

http://raisethehammer.org/comment/59757

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By WTF? (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2011 at 17:38:00

> On Twitter, my user name is Mark Cripps. As a journalist I feel it is important to stand behind any comments I make.

Isn't this the same guy that writes his opinions as "Hamilton Community News Editorial" all the time?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2011 at 19:20:51 in reply to Comment 59771

I believe you'll find that those editorials are actually composed by the staff at large. Certainly from all the offerings I've read from this byline over the past year, there's been a distinct difference in style, in tone and even in standpoint between them and what Mr. Cripps has published on the same or similar issues.

I'll see what I can do about confirming this.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 07:36:03 in reply to Comment 59774

Turns out that I'm only partially right.

Mr. Cripps writes the majority of these editorials, while staff write the rest.

Which of course brings up the entire notion of 'anonymity' (or at least clarity), the very topic that prompted Mahesh to compose this piece.

Life, huh?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2011 at 23:45:39

Every single post you make online under your own name goes on the permanent record. Even if the original server takes it down, it's often cached or archived elsewhere. Any or all of it can be used against you by any number of people - legal authorities, employers, or random crazy hotheads.

Making public comments about controversial comments is not something everyone can do safely under their own name. Especially when we all live nearby.

I thoroughly respect everyone who chooses to share their own name, but I'm not going to hold it against anyone who doesn't.

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2011-02-14 23:51:26

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 09:05:06

Quote from a Salon.com article about a possible on-air medical incident by a reporter, when the comments began getting nasty:

"The Internet is an awesome tool...for both good and the shallowly evil. That's not news, no matter how much it sucks."

(Here's the article: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2011/0... )

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2011 at 14:25:26 in reply to Comment 59796

Sad. I am not sure if I feel this way becuase I read the story first and know what was actually happening, but she isn't slurring or stumbling or stuttering, she has lost motor functions here and looks scared.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 10:27:30

For the sake of argument, let us say that this story was about anonymous bloggers and their legitimate needs to be recognized :-) --and not really about-- a broader exploration into the minds of those who have come to lead our city while being under the intoxicating spell of the Gyges ring.

Let us indulge here a bit. Most good anons acknowledge that they do come in two varieties - which is a good start! It would follow that good anons have the potential for great conversations, while bad anons take down entire discussions. So if an on-line conversation were to progress constructively, it would make sense that the good anons are acknowledged, while the bad anons are contained humanely!

The lack of fear among bad anons - of getting caught by human intervention has seen many a conversations spiral out of control. Zoo keepers across the world have tried and failed to prevent incidents set off by bad anons, which then go on to ignite the passions of many good anons who are threatened by the specter of being thrown out with the bathwater.

In the words of Game Theory: "...We are finding no solution..." in spite of the many good onymous & anon commenters in our city - many a revolutions have got corrupted, co-opted or simply wimped out - not because of human beings deep desire to remain anonymous, but because of the overpowering energies of those who choose to posses the Gyges ring.

So for a moment - if we were to define the problem as being that of a 'human design failure' to handle the power of anonymity - and not anonymity itself; and if a non-human software code based on semantic recognition were to be implemented on blogs -- which automates the separation of the anonymous "flaming bag throwers" from the "potentially great anonymous contributors" into two literal columns, (a break from the flat or nested commenting model) -- what then would this on-line conversation field 'look' like?

Further if this hypothetical code - lets call it 'Plat-O', had the ability to prevent commenters from crossing the columns, once being assigned to a column - based on their user name and quality of post on any topic -- what then would this on-line conversation field 'feel' like?

On the face of it, the resulting conversation would appear to have one column containing all the Gyges ring wearing good anons who are freely sharing thoughts with the onymous; and the other column would have the Gyges ring wearing bad anons enjoying their version of the same conversation with the like minded.

The question then yet remaining, would be: Do you think our new school Plat-O would be able to totally satisfy the old school Plato's grave doubts concerning the human character …which led him to conclude: "even a 'habitually just' man who possessed such a ring would become a 'thief' -- knowing that he couldn't be caught."?

Being assigned to a column by smart non-human code instead of getting grayed out -- would surely no longer give cause for crying out: Aha! Censorship! Nor would the good or bad anons fear being caught or jostled, as their deeper needs to keep their identity a secret is respected while being given equitable air-time.

One may digress here and ask: But why such a need for anonymity in this age of transparency?

Well, that is simply not our question to ask here - as there could be many private reasons, it may be because some are shy, some are not confident, some are afraid of something or someone, or merely because some haven't yet developed a well founded reason for turning flaming onymous.

So moving on from such digression, I am quite sure that Plato being who he was, would have pushed his software engineers to the limit to develop such a system to test his theory. But the unintended consequences of such an non-human exercise may well have finally led him to give up his pursuit and fall back to the much more universal principles of the 'Gyges Ring' -- with the hope that some among us would eventually get his story and self-correct our position without human or non-human interventions - after having come to the conclusion just as he did -- that all humans are fallible, and the mere possession of the power of invisibility is condition enough to stray.

Now if there are any code developers out there in our city with the curiosity to develop Plat-O -- if only to disprove Plato's old school observations of the human condition -- they just could be the one to bequeath a made-in-Hamilton gift to the Blogosphere and reap its many benefits!

Mahesh P. Butani

Development notes: #001 - Plat-O must be coded to seamlessly turn long winding comments to tldr form - for the benefit of those whose afflictions fall outside the scope of good or bad anonymity. :-)

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-02-15 10:55:05

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 11:01:27 in reply to Comment 59799

The question then yet remaining, would be: Do you think our new school Plat-O would be able to totally satisfy the old school Plato's grave doubts concerning the human character …which led him to conclude: "even a 'habitually just' man who possessed such a ring would become a 'thief' -- knowing that he couldn't be caught."?

Or, taking things back into the realm of the uncomplicated (I'm laughing here, believe me...), how about simply looking at creating a world where those-who-are-so-inclined-to-be-'thieves' aren't as inclined to do so?

I'm just sayin'...

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 12:43:54

DIY Guide to Creating a New World in 3 minutes:

“…how about simply looking at creating a world where those-who-are-so-inclined-to-be-‘thieves’ aren’t as inclined to do so?”

A Teacher, a Wise Man, two Punks, and a Chicken

"There was once a wise man that was so smart, he knew everything. The townspeople would line up on Sundays in front of his hut and would ask him for advice. People from all over the province, from all over the country, would make a special pilgrimage to seek the wise man’s advice. Young women would ask him when they would meet their soul mate; young men would ask him how much money they would make; young couples would want to know how many children they would have, and old couples came to him wanting to alleviate their pain and suffering. And for each question, he would know the answer.

Then one day there were these two boys from the village, punks they were; bad boys who liked to fight and swear. They wanted to trick the wise man and humiliate him in front of everyone. So they stole a chicken from one of their neighbors and said to each other, ‘let’s do this. Let’s put the chicken behind our back, like this. We’ll go to the wise man and say, is this chicken alive or dead? If the wise man says that the chicken is alive, we’ll wring its neck and give it to him. And if he says it’s dead, we’ll throw the live chicken in his face.’

So the two punks walked over to the wise man’s hut with the chicken behind their back and stood in line. When the two punks finally reached the wise man, they looked at him and asked, ‘wise man is this chicken behind our back alive or dead?’

The wise man looked at the two boys and said, ‘the answer is in your hands."

…the word ‘educate’ originates from the Latin ‘educere’ meaning “to bring out; to lead forth.” ~ Steve Schertzer

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 12:55:57 in reply to Comment 59804

So...

Was this guy related to Schrödinger? He had a cat and this wise-guy had a chicken?

Cool.

: )

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 13:17:44

I guess Schrödinger cat was about quantum entanglements - while the 'wise' guy's chicken was about facilitating disentanglements to unleash growth.

:))

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By Zot (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2011 at 19:40:15

Well, I'm certainly not claiming to be an expert, but it seems to me that any philosopher worthy of the name should, if nothing else, at least be internally consistent in their positions.

In this ring story Plato would have us believe that we act justly only insofar as we are accountable; But in the "Republic" he posits that ultimate authority be vested in "philosopher kings" who would decide based not on their selfish interests but only out of "love for the city"

To me that seems like a pretty big contradiction

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted February 18, 2011 at 11:17:25 in reply to Comment 59822

"...To me that seems like a pretty big contradiction ~ Zot"

Well Zot, I am no scholar either, but I’ll try and give it a shot!

The Republic is a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher - Socrates, and Plato's brother Glaucon. Possibly one of the grandest of 'aporetic' gestures, Plato’s -dialogues of refutation– has the speaker pose doubts about questions signifying 'insoluble contradiction' ~ ('a paradox in a text's meanings').

The main arguments of this work are about justice and happiness. And at the end of Book 1, Plato has Socrates pondering: "...not knowing what justice is, one can hardly know whether it is a virtue; nor whether its possessor is happy."

'Aporia' as a device was used by Plato most effectively to search for higher truths. Rather than deliver instant packaged truths that many seek in our times – he left an approach for discovery by subsequent seeker of truths which formed the very basis of dialectics.

Many scholars respecting his process of arriving at truth via ambiguity - call him a ‘wise’ guy. While there are many more, who take deep offense at the contradictions arising from his process of seeking truth-and not finding well packaged propositions at the end of his inquiry-end up calling him a ‘wise-guy’ :)

His writings have allowed discerning readers over centuries to think for themselves, and apply his process to draw meaning for their time and context. His works continue to remain under-construction, awaiting fresh participation from successive generations to complete the grand search for truths he initiated.

... “Then you must not insist on my proving that the actual State will in every respect coincide with the ideal: if we are only able to discover how a city may be governed nearly as we proposed, you will admit that we have discovered the possibility which you demand; and will be contented. I am sure that I should be contented --will not you? ” ... “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, --nor the human race, as I believe, --and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing”. ...

So, if Undustrial's "invisible man writes a paragraph on your whiteboard at a meeting" -- Does he feel 'just' about his need to be invisible? and was he 'happy' about taking the silverware on his way out - as payment for having made a point, or for thrills, from being invisible?

Or, were he not invisible, and chose to participate in the meeting to make a point - and then picked the silverware on his way out, would he still be happy?

... "The origin of the evil is that all men from the beginning, heroes, poets, instructors of youth, have always asserted "the temporal dispensation," the honours and profits of justice. Had we been taught in early youth the power of justice and injustice inherent in the soul, and unseen by any human or divine eye, we should not have needed others to be our guardians, but every one would have been the guardian of himself. This is what I want you to show, Socrates;--other men use arguments which rather tend to strengthen the position of Thrasymachus that "might is right;" but from you I expect better things. And please, as Glaucon said, to exclude reputation; let the just be thought unjust and the unjust just, and do you still prove to us the superiority of justice." ...

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-02-18 11:21:30

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2011 at 22:51:22

If we're going back to the Ancient Greek, some mention of the Ad Hominem logical fallacy is needed. The validity of an argument is based on facts and logic, not the person putting it forward. Or to put it another way, if an invisible man writes a paragraph on your whiteboard at a meeting, he might have a point. Even if he also leaves with the silverware.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2011 at 07:12:45 in reply to Comment 59836

Or to put it another way, if an invisible man writes a paragraph on your whiteboard at a meeting, he might have a point. Even if he also leaves with the silverware.

Several years ago, I forwarded an essay to a colleague. They dismissed what the person was saying because of the writer's reputation in an entirely different area. They insisted on throwing the baby out with the bath water. No matter that what had been written was brilliantly insightful. So sometimes anonymity has its strengths. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, 'The message is the message.'

I do believe there are several issues at play with this whole 'anonymity' discussion. Two are this fixation on 'verifiability', and civility. In the example Undustrial cites, both of these are brought into play.

Although I'd be inclined to re-word it as "...writes a stunningly brilliant paragraph on your whiteboard, leaving everyone gobsmacked...and then he farts up a storm as he exits." : )

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-02-16 07:16:02

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2011 at 15:37:14

So the big man above posses this Ring of Gyges and has become morally bankrupt and has suffered irreparable failings of character, while those that have chosen willingly not to use it, although penniless and powerless, are at least at peace with themselves, and are surrounded by something far greater than the ring of invisibility - love.

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