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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anonymity: Good and Evil

Recently, I've started reading a book on human evil (The Lucifer Effect by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a topic which comes up when you are dealing with human consciences and confession, not to mention 4th and 5th Step work.  One of the most difficult questions for many people to answer, especially those who have done profoundly evil acts, is the 'why.'  Why kill, why rape, why do harm?

Part of this why involves the how.  Too often, the answer to why is simply "Because I could."  It is the old Mt. Everest explanation of George Mallory... "Because it's there."  

Human curiosity is virtually limitless.  The higher the intelligence, the more we want to know and to explore.  But, there are many things you cannot learn about simply by reading a book or hearing a lecture.  There comes a time where one must do.

Very often, the only thing holding us back from evil are the consequences to us that are not physical, but reputational.  With our name on the line, we won't do something.  That assumes that our reputation is worth keeping.

Let's remember, the police arrest and charge you through your name.  And your name is the key to your records and the remembrance of your past.  If you want to escape your past and how people see you in light of it, you must lose your name.

People go to ludicrous lengths to dodge their pasts.  I still remember watching The Apostle ( and how Robert Duvall's character, after murdering a man, 'baptizes' himself and gives himself a new name so that he could go on doing what he was doing before.  He escaped his crime through a type of anonymity called impersonation.  He took on another identity.

There is another anonymity... blending.  Gang members out here wear the same clothes and shave their heads so that they all look the same.  Can't tell one from another, and that's just enough protection to carry out horrendous acts of violence and afterwards slip back into an amorphous crowd.

This type of anonymous evil was written about more than 100 years ago by Gustave le Bon (  I think it is worth reading for everyone, because it so eloquently describes the madness of anonymity and evil.

Anonymity grants a freedom from the self and the consequences of identity.

Can it ever be helpful?  In the case of Alcoholics Anonymous, the answer is 'yes' to some degree.  Of course, AA does not advocate total anonymity, but a type of anonymity that is designed to free one from a 'bad' identity.  After all, if one's identity is bad, one will continue to do bad things.  But, what if we are afraid to let go of this bad reputation and flawed identity?

This type of anonymity within the group allows someone to let go of an identity and reputation that is false.  The identity built by the addict is a mask.  The identity of a person is a crowd is also a false identity, but the identity of the addict is 'portable' in the sense that he carries it with himself constantly and in every situation.  If you take someone away from the crowd and remove the uniform, he loses the crowd's identity.  However, the identity of the addict runs deeper.  He uses this false identity against himself.

By, giving it up, he becomes free.  He is free to explore himself and do other things that he would not otherwise do because of the restriction of his identity as a 'managing addict.'  

Anonymity can be an ingredient of great evil, but even more profound evil is committed not with anonymity, but total identification with evil.

When the addict totally identifies with his disease, then he needs anonymity in order to escape the source of his destruction.

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