Many years ago in The Immortalist (now Long Life), there was a column authored by one Robert Brakeman. If you’re a fan of Seinfeld (and I’m not) then Brakeman was a genius, because he did in print what Seinfeld did on TV; wrote a column about nothing that a lot of people found entertaining.
Brakeman’s column was not controversial, or technical, or sentimental, or political, or artistic; it was just a well written column about, well, about nothing. Except that every year or two he would casually discuss how he and Bruce Springsteen had decided that cryonics was a really good idea. Or it might be some other, equally legendary celebrity. The first couple of times this happened I didn’t pay it much mind. Cryonics is a quirky business, after all. However, after the third or fourth time, I wrote a letter to the editor of The Immortalist, Mae Ettinger (then Mae Junod) and I asked her if anyone there had ever met, or even spoken with Robert Brakemen, or otherwise vetted him?
Mae Ettinger did not normally refer to me by name, preferring instead to use the moniker “Evil Genius,” when not calling me the “Great Satan.” The subsequent correspondence between us was neither cordial nor long. Brakemen continued to write in The Immortalist until, eventually, I, or someone else (I really don’t remember the particulars) called Mae out in public over who Brakeman was and whether it was really true that all these celebrities were, in fact, true-believing cryonicists, as claimed by Brakemen in the pages of The Immortalist. After that, there were no more columns by Robert Brakeman. I never did find out who he was, but I would not be surprised to find out today if people were accusing me of being him. If so, I’ll happily take the credit: that guy was one hell of a writer.
In the history of cryonics there have been many pseudononymous individuals and nom de plumes. This is to be expected in any area of endeavor where there is controversy and risk to one’s career and reputation. However, in the early days of cryonics and up until the advent of the Internet, the presence of anonymous actors was extraordinarily rare. To be sure, people changed their names; I’m one of them. But that is very different than being an anonymous actor (IA). There is nothing sneaky about being Mike Darwin or Max More or Bette Davis, for that matter. People get to pick their own names as long as they stay people; discrete, identifiable beings who are responsible and accountable for their actions. People who don’t like that are entitled to their opinion, but the act of adopting another name isn’t illegal, so long as you don’t adopt another identity in the bargain.
Sometimes, rarely, the use of another name to create an AA is, arguably, justifiable. The Lone Ranger, “V,” the Three Musketeers, the list of anonymous heroes created in response to tyranny is endless. In cryonics, it could be argued that Corey Noble, PhD., once served that role in response to the tyrannical actions of the Society of Cryobiology. But the need for anonymous actors in daily life is pretty rare. Today, as far as cryonics is concerned herein the US, it is virtually over.
And yet, the reverse has happened. Whereas until the advent of the Internet in the 1980s there were almost no AAs in cryonics, now, that is almost all there are! What gives? The list is endless and I can’t begin to catalog them all: unperson, Finance Department, Desert Rat, and the more distant past, Clarissa Wells… Most of these names are “handles” and this practice has its origin in a related technology: radio. An important difference is that radio, unlike the Internet, operated in the realm of limited bandwidth. The electromagnetic spectrum is inherently limited by physical law. That meant regulation and licensing. And that meant that “handles” were ultimately, at least in theory, traceable back to real, responsible people. With the Internet this is not the case at all.
Of the list of anonymous actors I’ve just given, I’ve been accused of being Clarissa Wells, Finance Department (FD) and unperson. I eventually found out who Clarissa Wells was (and it wasn’t me) and I have had extensive correspondence with FD (I’m not that crazy), so I suppose that still leaves unperson as a possibility. But the fact of the matter is, other than as a one-time prank, I’ve never used a pseudonymous person or an anonymous actor, on or off the Internet. I find it deeply offensive: so offensive I’ve even turned down significant sums of money to do it for hire.
Over the past few days I’ve been thinking big thoughts about the ‘how and why’ of the recent emergence of this phenomenon. Finally, today, I realized that there is no big philosophical reason for it. People do it for a single, simple reason: BECAUSE THEY CAN. It is a whole hell of a lot easier to be able to say and do whatever you want and not be accountable for it. It turns out that even if you are bright, talented, and have a great deal to offer and be rewarded for, it still easier and more rewarding to act outside your primary sphere of professional and personal action in an anonymous way than it is to jump through the hoops all over again and gain recognition in a small pond the hard way, just as you did in the big one. And to that, I have the following response: fuck you and the fish you swam in on.
So, from now on, the following rules pertain here in the Chronosphere pond. No handles are allowed. Only real people can post or comment here. Maybe Eugen Leitl can help me figure out how to implement that. I’m not looking for something elaborate – just something as “real” as a letter used to be. No more wackywackys from the ether. If that’s the end of Chronosphere, or comments on Chronophere, so be it. I respect peoples’ rights to geographical privacy. I’m not trying (no do I want) to know where any person is at any point in time or space. I just want to know I am dealing with a real, accountable, person, not a cyberphantom.
Mike Darwin, Ash Fork, AZ