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October 1, 2012

We live in an age of hiding our own identity behind personae in order to save it from veritable danger or ignorance. Screen names, avatars, “handles” as we call them – Batman is no longer myth. The imperative to take to the streets as vigilantes, always watching, always fighting, and always speaking has become apparent to the old and the young, the foolish and the wise. We invent ourselves after the models of fantasy. But what are we, but the people invented by the people and family around us? Is this vigil misconstrued? If we hide behind the mask too much, we become the mask. We become what we publicly enunciate in front of millions. They are the pseudonyms of the modern world, published anonymously, without cost, and without anyone knowing the person’s true identity – except the people themselves, if need be.

There are many kinds of personae that people take on – and all for different reasons. It goes without saying that it is empowering, and in no sense debilitating. Suddenly, John becomes “Superbuck” or Geoffrey becomes “Starman.” I will venture to say that the meaning of names have had particular impact on the people of the past. Take Benjamin, from the Bible, for example. His name means “son of my right hand” or “son of my power/authority” (to paraphrase). In the “Mabinogion,” there is an entire section dedicated to a list of people all with different names. There was hardly two of the same name for each person. This exemplifies the weight that names carried in those days, and if the children did not carry out the names that they were given, either they received new names, or they disappointed their parents and kinsmen. This is why Geoffrey becomes Starman. Suddenly, through a name, he has a purpose. He has significance. He is no longer a tired, worn-for-wear icon (and I am sorry if you are named Geoffrey), but something more. Something that is indicative of value and of importance. In that sense, he is a superhero. His name is his identity, and his avatar his costume. The comic book writers were right, just like most writers.

I do it too. Elwin is not my real name. Although it is a pseudonym, it has weighty significance that ties into other literature (namely that of C.S. Lewis). The opinions I express are not Elwin’s, necessarily. But it has more importance than my real name. I have become someone who has traveled through the solar system and has resurrected Merlin, instead of a college student. It makes me feel empowered. It makes me feel realer than I did before.

But is this feeling of realness realness at all, in its truest state? What is to be real? It is time to explore this question straight away. And I think it is important for this day and age. It is my opinion that it is not our outer image which we intentionally express on the internet that is “real”, and in a way we never have had before, exactly as we see it; but it is who we are in fact. This is uncomfortable for most, because most people do not even want to get to know themselves. It’s just too messy. I agree. It is. Who I am is not a college student, and who I am is not my persona. It is something realer, and something deeper. And I am exploring this deepness of the self on a day to day business, scrutinizing it, reconciling with it, and coming to terms with it. It is something that simply is. And not only does this self come out in our interactions on a day to day business, it comes out in every other self we portray on the internet.

But we can transcend the self, and become something more, right? Become superheroes? I want to believe it is possible. But Benjamin earned his name because someone gave it to him. In that sense, our pseudonyms and personae cannot become self-important. It must be earned, or deserved, in some sense of the word.  In the old days, we were given names, and we did not give them to ourselves. A name can go a long way, especially on a human. If we call someone something, it sticks not only in their head, but in ours as well in our perception of that person. So it goes with calling ourselves something, too. Batman went insane a few times because he named himself a creature of the dark. We may as well.

Are we lying by calling ourselves something we are not? No. We are becoming an ideal. We are giving ourselves names that would not be given us by anyone else, and trying to live up to that standard. In a way, we are expressing ourselves, and in that way we are telling the truth, at least about ourselves. To get to the bottom of “what is truth?” is another story for another day. But we superheroes of today tell the truth that we know in our hearts that we give to ourselves, for other people, regardless of the fact that we know something else about ourselves consigned by someone else.

We are not protecting our identity like superheroes tend to do, though. We are reinventing it. Somehow history has a way of going above and beyond storytellers’ prediction. God is the best, most tragic, and most ruthless storyteller.

There is nothing like the Justice League in our world, or the  Avengers (so long as I know), but there is the internet. And as long as we have this fellowship of wifi, ethernet cords, and coffee shops, there may as well be a Justice League. It is the League of Ideas. It is the League of Free Thinking. Blessed his he (or she) who uses it to further the truth.


From → Philosophy

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