Socrates, the Philosopher
Leonidas Drosis, 19th century. They stand at the Academy of Athens, Greece.
Incivility on the Internet, The Ring of Gyges, and Practicing Virtue
I’m certain that most
Tumblr users are aware of the phenomena of Anon Hate, trolling, and cyberbullying.
It’s not unusual for a completely innocuous post to receive one
or more comments deliberately designed to be offensive. You probably know of
Tumblr users who have deleted their accounts as a result of these things. Maybe you’ve heard about the Tumblr users who have attempted suicide as a result of such harassment.
Psychologist John Suler termed this the Online Disinhibition
Effect. He cited six factors that contribute to this form of aggression:
· Dissociative anonymity (“my actions can’t be attributed to
· Invisibility (“nobody can tell what I look like, or judge
· Asynchronicity (“my actions do not occur in
· Solipsistic Introjection (“I can’t see these people, I have
to guess at who they are and their intent”)
· Dissociative imagination (“this is not the real world,
these are not real people”)
· Minimization of authority (“there are no authority figures
here, I can act freely”).
There was a parallel to
this in ancient Greece. In the Republic, Plato’s brother Glycon relates
to Socrates the tale of the Ring of Gyges. Gyges was a shepherd in ancient Lydia
who, like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, discovered in a cave a magical ring that
made the wearer invisible. He subsequently used the ring freely and
unscrupulously to usurp the throne. Glycon asserted that
not even the most virtuous person would be able to remain so if there was no
chance that their unscrupulous acts would ever be discovered. Socrates
countered this argument by asserting that anyone who takes advantage of the condition
of anonymity not only becomes a slave to their desires, but lives in constant
fear of being discovered and punished. Those who live virtuous lives, however, retaining
self-control, do not live in fear, and live happy lives.
It is especially painful to see and to
experience incivility in the pagan/polytheistic communities online. When we choose not to model excellence in discussions of our practices and beliefs with others, then our words become
worthless to those who read them, we discourage further inquiry, we demoralize each
other, and we deter others from seeking the gods whom we profess to worship and
But if we truly believe there is a way of life that is pleasing to the gods, then it is worthwhile to consider what that means in terms of our online interactions. If we respect the virtues of wisdom and moderation, if we admire the reciprocity of ancient cultures, it becomes important that we strive to practice sophrosyne – prudence, moderation, and self-control – in our interactions with others.