"In claustrophobic calamities, communication gets perverted."
- Marcel Proust, quoted by Michel Foucault
"State of anonymity brings out one's embedded vulgarity." Long ago when I first read this statement in The Guardian, London, it didn't have me thinking. But somewhere in some crevice of my mind it remained, to germinate at an opportune moment. And again, in the same daily, I got to read very recently that faceless communication has increased manifold during the ongoing pandemic as people are either confined to four walls or they're trying to combat the sheer ennui and inertia, triggered by uncertainties.
The faceless intangibility of today's communication mode, esp. in times of coronavirus-induced boredom, has made it amply clear that we all can stoop to unthinkably low levels of communication, especially, when we interact with the opposite sex on the net or phone. The smug assurance that the other person is unable to see you and vice versa, emboldens us and unleashes our vulgar selves. The prevalent uncertainties of a catastrophe also add to behavioural audacity — it's psychologically proven.
It is so spontaneously volcanic that we are unaware of this latent aspect of our personality that comes to fore in such iffy situation/s. Carl Gustav Jung, student of Sigmund Freud, observed this phenomenon and wrote about it in his book, The Secret Self. There's a poignantly true incident in it. A woman used to write letters to her son's long-lost friend. She lost her young son in the Second World War. She never told that guy that she was his slain friend's mother. Their correspondence, which began on a very decent note, slowly degenerated into outright vulgarity, crossing all conceivable limits. The guy started insisting to meet that lady and make love to her. She kept avoiding him but had to yield to his entreaties when he threatened to commit suicide. They decided to meet at a specific place. It was a rainy day. The guy saw a mature woman standing under a tree. They saw each other. And before the guy could react, she shot herself. There was a chit in her fist, which read, "Sorry, son. Forgive me.....I led you up the garden path. And now I'm going forever as an atonement for my transgression." The boy was transfixed and after a few years, he died, completely out of his senses in Vienna's mental asylum.
"Faceless existence brings out our true essence," wrote Jean Paul Sartre. Culture, sophistication, decency, language and refinement are all fake words. We're all capable of doing and speaking utterly obnoxious things in the secrecy of four walls. The key-hole morality that we are what we are when nobody's watching, is eternally relevant in judging all people without an exception. Yours truly has also gone to the pits while interacting with people he has never met in life. I've often forgotten that I'm degrading myself to the extent of feeling utterly ashamed afterwards and at the same time, demeaning the other person as well. Why do we do this? Can we call it just fun? NO.
Perversion is a trait human beings are born with. Some can suppress it, most of us cannot. We're always looking for having some kind of cheap distractions in life. Our whole energy is invested in unleashing or hiding our most intimate desires. According to Freud, there're only two motivational forces in an individual's life: Eros and Thanatos. The former signifies our carnal side and the latter implies our wish to die as Thanos is the Greek god of death.
The word 'erotic' originates from Eros. Society puts pressure on us, so we've to curb our feral desires. Like a character in Russian master Gogol's novel, we try to find a corner to live out our darkest fantasies, to put it mildly and euphemistically. That's the reason, we love dark corners and keep deceiving ourselves as ‘enlightened ones’. We're perpetual self-deceivers, too lowly to call ourselves even truly 'educated’, let alone enlightened.
Why do we prefer anonymity?
From childhood we are schooled in good behaviour and good manners. No one asks what one really feels or thinks. The minute you express an opinion, most folks are bored. So, we prefer anonymity.
In anonymous chat rooms you have great fun because there are no rules and it is no holds barred. It's no man's land. Just because a machine can connect us to the other end of the world does not mean it can read our thoughts.
In anonymous conversations, we become what we aspire to be. In most rich countries, anonymity is preserved for fear of being tattled upon. It must be very frustrating. So anonymous conversations act as safety valves. It allows unaccounted thought to find space in regular conversations.
There is a Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in each of us. It is better to acknowledge the need for the other to surface. If anonymous conversations help, so be it. Some acknowledge its power and need. They find nothing wrong in it. Anonymity is good for imagination and creativity. It had a unique raison d'être.
Finally, to quote Jane Mansfield: Anonymity lends respectability. Point to ponder.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.