Claremont Insider: We Wear the Mask

Monday, March 23, 2009

We Wear the Mask

per⋅so⋅na /pərˈsoʊnə/ [per-soh-nuh]
–noun, plural -nae  /-ni/ -nas.

4. (in the psychology of C. G. Jung) the mask or façade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual; the public personality (contrasted with anima ).


Meg over at M-M-M-My Pomona has some fascinating comments on the ideas of anonymity and pseudonymity, and she makes a distinction between the two. The difference may sometimes be a subtle one. Lord knows, much of the time the local blogosphere and those in local politics don't do nuance very well, or at least no better than those on the national scene, so the sort of parsing Meg does certainly brings some clarity to the matter.

As Meg points out, the truly anonymous voices are those that pop up with a comment or two, then disappear into the Internet's ether, as opposed to voices that develop personae and audiences over time. Readers and critics flesh out those personae with the clay of their own choosing, until the reading audience conjures up a living thing wholly out of its own imagining.

Meg goes on to say that its wrong to assume that anonymity is a shield against accountability:
The take-away point here, I think, is that when we participate in an online community, we stake the reputations of our personas. Opponents of so-called anonymous blogging huff and puff about accountability, but all bloggers risk the good opinion of others when they post, regardless of the name they do it under.

The only form of accountability that pseudonymous bloggers avoid is the kind that allows irate jerks to accost them at their homes or offices -- the kind that encourages retribution in an unrelated sphere. If I'm bloviating on the web, I'm happy to put my web-cred on the line, but don't be calling my boss and trying to get me fired for something I said online (unless, of course, I've dooced myself). What happens online should stay online.

Really, what we've seen here at the Insider is that it is possible to establish a sort of street cred by trying to give our views of what's happening out there in the real world and by supporting those opinions with linked source documentation in the form of images, reports, or video. There is a sort of scientific methodology to our mad ramblings here, if one takes the time to examine them carefully.

In taking on an issue facing the City of Claremont, we look at the evidence in the form of records, reports, past statements by elected officials and city staff, and then match those up to the what actually happened or make predictions about what will happen. For instance, the City insisted on spending $1.29 million on the Downtown Claremont Trolley, with staff and a specially appointed citizen committee, touting the economic benefits with people using the thing to get around downtown. We, and others, predicted that no one would ride the thing.

Now, when you go downtown and see the empty trolley circling the Claremont Village, who is going to have more credibility in the future, the city staff and citizen's committee led by former Mayor Judy Wright or the anonymous bloggers who long ago voiced the skepticism the majority of the community was thinking anyway?

If this happens enough times, people will come back to read more. Conversely, readers and voters will start to ignore the people making the false claims and wrong predictions. It's that simple. There's no magic involved. It's just a matter of dueling narratives competing in the marketplace of ideas. The public weighs whose version of events conforms more closely to the actual reality and goes with the more accurate one.

We should point out, too, that the people who ran Claremont, whom we and others have called the Claremont 400, themselves have personae. For too long, they've used their names as bludgeons: Claremont needs to do such and so because We say so. And then the city staff goes on to backfill the reasoning with reports that advocate the desired position, ignoring or downplaying any contrary evidence.

And, that's how bad decision-making happens.

Another aspect of this name business is the 400's frequent use of whispering campaigns to spread false rumors about people on the opposing sides of issues. Gadfly Mike Noonan, for instance, used to get painted as a nutcase - which, okay, if he was off his meds and having a bad day, you might be inclined to think - but Noonan was right a certain percent of the time. Yet, the 400 would tell people, "You don't have to listen to him because he's Mike." So, they'd end up ignoring the important, accurate information because they didn't have the maturity or patience to sift through what Noonan (or anyone else) was saying. They didn't act as careful, educated, impartial listeners.

The Preserve Claremont campaign in 2005, too, was a nothing more than a glorified, well-funded whispering campaign that got flushed out into the open. Former Claremont Mayor and current Chamber of Commerce board chair Paul Held helped lead that charge, making unsubstantiated claims that his fellow councilmember, Jackie McHenry, was rifling through city employees' mail at City Hall. The Preserve people also claimed, again falsely, that current Mayor Corey Calaycay had been fired from his job with State Senator Bob Margett's office.

The whole idea behind PC was that you were supposed to believe them because of their names. These were pillars of the community, not McHenry, not Calaycay. It didn't matter one bit if what the PC'ers was saying was a lie.

The burr in the 400's saddle over anonymity is that it has taken away their greatest weapon: their names. As time goes on, we suspect those silly names will mean less and less simply because there are more discerning information consumers comprising the community now than 10 years ago. The 400 has been wrong enough and often enough on a myriad of important issues that people now question whether or not they should really be voting for whomever people like former Police Commission chair Helaine Goldwater is supporting. Don't believe it? Ask Bridget Healy.

Moreover, information has become much more readily available online now than back when you had to go to City Hall to make a document request. Now, it's a fairly simple matter use that information to deconstruct the history of a City blunder (or predict one), and that ability has made the City accountable in ways never before possible. The identity of the person or personae examining the subtext of an issue has very little to do with their credibility. Accuracy and truthfulness have become the determining factors.

We would argue that until the Claremont 400 resolves to deal fairly, honestly, and openly with issues, to fundamentally change the way they've done business, they will continue to bleed what little remaining credibility they have. The "new" reality arrived quite some time ago, and our advice to the Claremonsters is that they'd best get over it and get used to a much more democratic community than they one they've run in the past. The alternative is that they will be left in the dust.