Thought Experiment

This whole post is little more than self-indulgence.  I’m going to be talking myself through a minor existential crisis, only in semi-public.  Feel free to skip it.

I’ve been afilliated with many groups online over the years, in various capacities, and one thing has remained the same.  I’ve always been something of a polarizing figure.  People tend toward the extremes when it comes to their thoughts of me.  If I were to be truly honest with myself I’d go ahead and say they tend toward the negative extremes.  I’ve been told to kill myself by innumerable people online who weren’t necessarily bad people, or mean people.  It’s just the effect that I have.

Perhaps it could be described as an extension of the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory, that Normal People + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad, that those normal people with their anonymity also lose something of their moral sense.  I think it is a generally accepted truth that many things people say on the internet even through the thinnest veils of anonymity are things that would never be said in public, private, or over the phone except in the most extreme examples.

For instance, I can’t imagine being told by someone face-to-face to kill myself.  Is that because I’m a different person on the internet or because the internet just changes the nature of the conversation?  There are jokes, “Internet: Serious Business” and all, and I do laugh at those.  My great failing it would seem, is twofold.  I let myself get personally invested in things that others do not get personally invested in.  My actions therefore carry a greater weight and so do those of others involved.  Meanwhile, I’m holding myself and everyone else up to a double-standard.  While I know I behave differently online, I act out more, I will more readily get into an argument or a fight, and I’ll generally be more of a “character”, I also know everyone else behaves differently online.  At the same time I always at least try to respect these other people for no other reason than they’re human beings just like I am, and a human being is a fragile thing if you’re not careful about how you treat it.

But we aren’t really human, are we?  We’re not acting like our normal human selves.  Even instinct gets thrown aside, during some of my darker times I’ve genuinely contemplated taking people up on their suggestions that I should end my life.  Still there’s that lingering self-doubt when it comes to the things people say about me, the way I’m treated.

“Are they right?”

Are they right, and I wrong?  Am I the problem?  The only consistent thing about my interactions with others online is that they’ve all ended in a similarly bad way.  Am I really an asshole, some reprehensible prick who needs to be driven away for the good of these tiny societies?  Is that who I am as a human or just as a digital projection?

This shit keeps me up at night.  Without going specific, the current community I dwell around online has only ever driven two people out by real consensus.  The first, was the world’s biggest prick, literally and metaphorically from what I can gather.  I didn’t know him.

The second troubles me more, because I did know him, rather I felt like I knew him, a part of him.  Looking at him and his behavior was a lot like looking into a mirror, only the reflection came from the year 2001.  He was personally invested in the community.  Enough that he seemed to care about the future and welfare of many people within it.  He cared too much, and he did too much, ultimately he stepped over lines that you just can’t step over and was banished for it.

He had a hard time letting go.  He felt he’d been wronged, that he’d put so much of himself into this thing, and now it was turning against him, maliciously, as if to specifically harm him.  As an outside observer I know it really wasn’t anything personal at first, it was just a simple case of someone who takes things too seriously and takes them too far.  Again, something dreadfully similar happened to me in the year 2001.  I was only really joining this community in earnest around this point so I didn’t have the full story, and in truth I still don’t.

The guy in question was wounded, emotionally.  He lashed out in writing, at anyone and everyone he could hit.  He tried and tried to get back in, almost like an addict would try and try to get more drugs, if only to quell the pains of withdrawal.  I watched him go through the motions, the ones I knew, and I realized I could predict his path, what he’d do next, because I’d done it all before.  I wanted to help him.

And that was my first mistake.

I involved myself, consciously, in something that wasn’t my business.  I wanted to help him because I wanted to go back to 2001 and help myself knowing what I know now.  I thought I’d be able to get through to him, but I should have known better.  Paranoia, it grips everyone in such states.  Everyone’s with Them, the great big Them that can’t be trusted.  You can’t help someone who’s falling by necessity.  Some people, people like me, people like him, need to learn things the hard way.  There isn’t any other way.  The only lasting lessons are the ones you learn at rock bottom.  Perhaps I’m still projecting myself on to him and he really isn’t anything like me.  Perhaps its because others have projected him onto me, and I can see their points.

Ultimately I did some good in the short term, I managed to “solve” a problem that others hadn’t.  With the respect I’d earned from some of the involved parties I unconsciously started to do the things I didn’t realize he’d done.  Be the sort of person I didn’t realize he was.  Once I figured out what I was doing, once I had the instinctive moment of illumination as to what was going on, I changed course, or tried to.

Really I’m afraid I am him in a sense, that I didn’t learn my lesson and I’m walking that tired road again, knowing exactly where it ends and exactly what will happen to me there.  In too deep, a step too far, and I’m a broken man once more.

I’ve spoken before about there being such a thing as too much introspection.  It’s the natural result of isolation.  I live a very isolated life, largely by choice, largely because of my past, the bits I don’t tell anyone.  It’s 4:34 in the morning as I write this.  I’ll be 21 in ten days.  Since 2005 I’ve accomplished nothing of note, and I’ve squandered my potential.  it may already be too late for me to salvage my life.  Too much introspection, too much analysis.  I can’t know anything for sure.

And it scares the living crap out of me.