You make your own Big Brother

Posted by – August 15, 2009

One of the quotes that randomly appear near the top of the sidebar of this blog is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Whatever side of yourself you most want to present to the world is what your future self will be more like. I can feel that happening to myself right now, and I’m not sure I like it.

Blogging feels very different than it did when I first started on Livejournal. Back then it was a very personal, expressive, “teenage” thing. The vast majority of those entries underwent a Stalinist purge when importing material here. It was not very far from a true reflection of myself – not that it was purely a description of my personal life, but a form of self-broadcasting nonetheless (like self-reflection but outwards). Now I feel uncomfortably restricted, very aware that everyone I come into meaningful contact with will google me and make a quick judgement based on the first things they see.

The safest things from that perspective are technicality, glibness and distant commentary on something someone else thinks. The worst things are bubbly emotionality, being uninformed, honesty and being boring. As a result, I don’t suppose this blog is terribly representative of me as a person. In real life, I often am pretty expansive, impulsive and eager to sound out on things way beyond my expertise.

One might ask why I would want to “be myself” here – after all, the market for persons is very much a buyer’s market – but ultimately, I don’t have any reason to do do this but self-expression. Besides, the really fun things to read, even when they’re strictly business, always have a powerful personal flavour. I want to (learn to) write that way.

The weird thing is that when I meet people in real life, even the new acquaintances whose googling I dread, I don’t particularly restrain myself – and nothing bad happens! People like me fine, and the ones who don’t I usually don’t feel bad about. I haven’t had the experience of missing out on a job opportunity because of my personality or what I think, whereas the opposite probably has happened.

Still, when I’m alone, thinking about how to seem, the sterile, defensive self-projection comes through and is even gaining ground inside my mind. It’s like I’m being persuaded by what I think a person should appear to be like. Propriety is taking me over! On the whole, this conflict has made me less eager to blog or to really think about what sort of a person I am. I don’t know how to solve this yet.

Partly this is due to the widespread tendency to be somewhat ashamed of oneself deep down, something that for me goes away when I’m caught in the moment, socialising and trying to get everybody to like me. But another part is the clear message some other expressive people have gotten (and is also one of the quotes in the sidebar): You’re WRONG and you’re a GROTESQUELY UGLY FREAK. I’m not a truly ugly freak, but I have my ugly sides. Socially, I am almost proud of them, but they somehow become scary when written down in pixels.

As for the really ugly freaks – well, I have some reading habits I am wary of admitting to; widely excoriated things on the Internet I’m drawn to for whatever reason. I guess it’s often a simple curiosity of “dangerous things”, plus the fearlessness and force of personality of their authors. In Finland the writings in question have led to legal prosecution and conviction in some cases (most famously Jussi Halla-aho will soon be on trial for his opinions). In one fascinating case in Canada it led to public self-flagellation, humiliation and removal of the blog in question, one which I had happily (often disagreeing) read for years unaware of what a heinous thing it would turn out to be in a Canadian university.

Such things sometimes make me catch myself – it seems perfectly possible that I’m one of these sick, terrible people who deserve to be run out of civilized society. And then there’s the reality where I feel like I’m acting normally and get along with people. I don’t know which reality is more accurate, and it’s making be a boring coward and I want to break out of it.

4 Comments on You make your own Big Brother

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  1. Incestuous Jihad says:

    You are pomo. I suppose you haven’t read much Foucault?


  2. sam says:

    Your guess is accurate! Believe it or not, I have been planning to read some at some point, particularily the book he wrote about prisons.


  3. Incestuous Jihad says:

    Discipline and Punish is badass. It lacks scientific rigor, but as a cultural document it’s as interesting and insightful as 1984 or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You don’t merely create your own Big Brother, but create it in light of prevailing social views and under pressure from institutions that have an interest in normalizing you. Obviously if institutions can’t use you they will want either to change you into something they can use or to set you up as an example of grotesque ugliness to be avoided. If you’re feeling shame over your “ugliness,” it’s probably because you believe you might not be the sort of person society can profit from. The rational response is to make explicit the assumptions underlying this social notion of “profit” and to evaluate whether they in fact characterize a desirable outcome. Of course, if you fear your perversion runs too deep to allow you to evaluate society’s assumptions, there’s no help for you.

    Anyway, you remind me less of Rousseau now, since I would have thought you’d have an outright preference for authentic ugliness over integration. But you’re still young; plenty of time left to get perfectly comfortable with your perversions.


  4. Veikko says:

    My personal mantra/party trick/ice breaker for this year has been “there is no irony”, which, in essence, is same thing as the quote you quote in this post.

    Although, “if you wear it, it so isn’t ironic” is closer to my pov in these matters, but it’s close enough.

    It’s amazing how angry all the self-conscious hipsters get when confronted with thinking along these lines.