The day of the magnificent rally, a man that considered himself Anonymous was quite enthusiastic about having been chosen from the crowd to give an improvised speech. It wasn’t probably the most inspired moment of the event but, nonetheless, it seemed to fit appropiately with the spontaneus character of a group that would resist defining itself as such.
In retrospect, though, the man was going to regret enjoying that brief taste of singularity. For, not being very aware of the difference between freedom and anonymity, by the end of that day he had already associated his faceless side with the potential of driving his whole life to success.
It is said that a healthy social life requires being able to enjoy the occasional masque ball; but that, when one wakes up the next morning, the mask has to be already stored and locked away. Trying to mix the rules of both games is risky at best, and completely excused only for artists, talented comedians and millionaires.
Unfortunately, this man was so proud of his newfound capability to stand in the spotlight that he deliberately forgot to do so. By breakfast, his family was stunned to discover he was still walking in his anonymous self.
“Is that you?”, asked Bethany, his wife, wondering if she was the victim of a prank.
“I am everybody and nobody. And… some things may be different around here from now on, so you better get used to it.”
As he picked a few waffles, jam and somewhat cold coffee, and sat with a failed attempt of nonchalance, his teen daughter took hers and stood up. Although she had experienced anonymity already, she thought it was tasteless to share it with the family.
“I will finish it in my room”, said she, annoyed. “Are you going to change before it’s time to go to school?”
After a pause, he answered:
“Then I will call Nat. I don’t want anyone to see my father acting like a dork.”
“What? Am I too old to be Anonymous? Is that it?”
“It’s not like that. It’s just…”
“It’s wrong. You are doing it wrong, dad. You don’t… forget it. I don’t want to have this conversation.”
She left the kitchen. An Anonymous individual wasn’t supposed to have relatives, save as part of some mental exercise, and, in any case, it was frivolous to pretend one had no identity among the people they lived with.
He shrugged and said to Bethany:
“What did I do? I should be able to do what I want without… without being censored by my own daughter.”
“It’s… it’s just a bit sudden”, said Bethany. “I don’t even know what you are trying to do, J…”
“Silence! I don’t have a name.”
“Listen. I understand that the Anonymous rally the other day was important to you, but in the end I think you are missing the point.”
“The point is, it’s about time everybody realizes that being Anonymous is the way it should be. Having a name is… what do they call it? Like an accident of how we are raised… an act-de-art.”
“An artifact. Do you really plan to go to work like this?”
“Sure. They will have to deal with it.”
“Then you won’t mind if I spend some time with my friend. She’s about to give birth to her first child but she is still uneasy about the whole process. She’s old fashioned like that.”
“Do you want to hear some jokes about babies?”
“Oh, I’ve had enough of this.”
He smiled in a contorted, sneering way.
“I’ll be working in the studio today”, added Bethany. “And I don’t want to receive any embarrassing message because of you, so try not to do anything stupid, like…”
“Telling jokes about babies to a client, for one thing.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“If they see someone sitting at your desk, in your office, talking with your clients, who do you think they are going to expect you to be? That kind of thing may hurt later your karma.”
“Well, fuck karma. I’m done with that. And as long as I’m Anonymous, they can’t do anything about it.”
“This may surprise you, but they didn’t hire a random person to do your job.”
“It will surprise them, that’s for sure.”
“Whatever. It’s late. If there is any bit of sense left in that head of you this morning, consider leaving for a while too. The children will probably be better alone.”
Little J was still sitting at the table, mostly ignored. He was too young to understand what was going on, except that suddenly a stranger he had never seen was having breakfast with them.
“There is no point in hiding what being Anonymous means to little J. He’s exposed already to enough brainwashing. That little, squishy brain of you. Huh, Little J?”
The boy started to cry. Bethany took him.
“I will leave him tonight at the kindergarten. That better be the only call I make today.”
“You will understand, when you see what we can do.”
“I’m saying this seriously. Everybody knows where is the line, and you are crossing it.”
“There is no line. The line is a lie.”
In what constituted a remarkable feat in his largely indecisive life, J… kept his determination throughout that morning. He drove to work secretly wishing that a road control would stop him, which he intended to follow with an epic rant against cops and their lost link to humankind. But all he found was a highway full of drivers with the same morning face, something he might have noticed earlier if he hadn’t been so oblivious about the existence of other people.
He wasn’t stopped either when he arrived to the office building. The gatekeeper didn’t look at him, and the gate was happy enough registering the ID of his car, which only him was assumed to be able to drive. He had took off the mask earlier just to start it, but he hadn’t realized how much anonymity that action already had given away.
“I guess it’s time to use the public transport”, he told to himself, with a bit of a conflicted feeling, for, despite his rebellious attitude, he was still quite fond of his old middle-class lifestyle.
To his relief, he finally managed to cause some confusion when he entered the building. After all, it was not unknown for shooters or homebrew terrorists to disguise as Anonymous to perform their crimes, even though they never were as successful as back in the day, when people were invisible just by the nature of our massified societies.
“Sir, I don’t think you are authorized to enter this building”, said one of the guards. “Please identify yourself or leave at once.”
“Problem, Mr. Guard? Buildings are meant to be open.”
“For security reasons, only identified personnel is allowed in this building. May I accompany you to the exit?”
“Stop! I’m not some criminal scum! I’m posting this on YouTube!”
The guards, who the most action they had ever seen was some hot coffee spilled, stood away, startled by the sudden outburst. J… drew his mobile and wielded it, camera forward, like a fiction character fencing vampires with a religious symbol. Luckily for them, the cleaning service ―an old man and a tired woman carrying the tools of their job―, stepped in to restore the order.
“Oi, what’s up?”, said she, annoyed by the nonsense of the situation.
“Please, don’t interfere. We are dealing with this issue”, asked one of the guards, to no effect.
“Who’s that? What’s going on?”, insisted her. “You, say something”, she ordered J…
J… wasn’t used to being bossed by ordinary people. He considered, as an educated and reasonable assumption, that the group he knew as the common people would automatically side with him in his personal fight. Hence his surprise, for not only the woman was interrogating him, but she was using such a reprehensive tone he almost couldn’t help but look down and cooperate with anything she said.
“Who…? Why you… I don’t…”, babbled he.
The old man, who had been paying attention all that time, snapped his fingers as he managed to recognize some subtle speech mannerism:
“I know who you are… What was it? J… J-something…”
“Oh yeah. It’s him”, agreed the woman.
“Can you identify this man?”, asked one of the guards.
“Sure”, said she. “That’s cubicle 43. I don’t know what’s this about, but you could, you know, just put him in front of his computer. ‘cos he has to login to use it.”
Both guards relaxed immediately. They smiled softly at J… and made him an indication to follow them to his desk. J… was about to start a rant about his privacy, but since he had already planned to walk to cubicle 43, sit and login in front of as many dumbfounded eyewitnesses as possible, he didn’t have the proper words ready for it.
As J… walked past her, the woman from the cleaning service mumbled:
“I should have applied at the zoo. Animals are less messy than these office people.”
A while later, despite the overwhelming absence of any manmade sound, all the client could do was stare at him, too polite to express his confusion. At first J… was exultant, leaning back in the chair, hands in the pockets, but then he started to hesitate, and finally he became outright scared by the abysmal strangeness in the expression of his client. J… had expected to play the situation like a boss, but now it was so awkward for both that he actually wished to be left alone for the rest of the day.
In the end, it was the client who spoke first:
“I… err… hum, was interested in… meeting…”
“I’m not something to be scared about, you know?”
“This is business. We don’t need to know each other. Do I care about who you are? Do you care about who I am, what I eat for breakfast, what sites I visit, what size of tits I like? You should worry only about getting things done. We are big, aren’t we? We are… there’s many of us. We can make what you need.”
It took a while for the client to find an answer.
“Excuse me. I didn’t mean to offend you. But we really, if you don’t mind, we really would like to meet your developers. This is a complex project… we would like to make sure that your team feels comfortable with it. Certainly, you are aware about the consequences of any mistake, given the precedents.”
“The consequences will never be the same. I’m sure we can build it. We have the technology.”
“Look. I wouldn’t like to be impolite but… may I talk with someone else? Perhaps we can save time if I can meet directly with an engineer.”
J… felt angry at the attitude of the client. He was angry too at the cleaning service woman, and at his wife, and at his own daughter, and he suddenly realized he hadn’t found a suitable target for all that anger with until then.
“Why this now? What’s your problem? Yeah, I’m asking you. What have they done to you? How did you let them turn you into a sheep, all worried about Anonymous people. I know, of course, they ask you and you say, sure, you are ok with it, it’s very respectable, everybody is free to live their way. But inside your head you are hating it. Oh yeah, don’t look at me like that. I know it. You are thinking it’s something that will go away. Like a fashion. Or something. You go to the net, when the kids are sleeping, and post anonymously in the forums, and you like it. Damn, you like it! But you wouldn’t ever take the next step. In the morning you are Mister 84357… some ID number. You are born with the number in your head, and you will die with the number in your head. Because you can’t pick your own name. Because you let the system tell you who you are.”
The client stood up and picked up his jacket.
“I will leave now. Thanks for your time.”
J… pointed at him over the desk and followed him, spelling letters like bullets.
“Wake up! This is the truth! The truth is A. N. O. Y… onymous!”
The client sped up across the lines of cublicles. J…, deranged, shouted:
“Hey, Mister Number! Did you know why did the toddler drop it’s lollipop?”
It was the first time in as long as he could remember that J… found himself in the street at mid-morning, and it was a cold and dull day. It didn’t help that, even though there were some legal protections for people working under anonymity, he already believed to be out of job.
There was a part of him that found that situation appropiate. Now he had a legitimate story to tell. That would make people side with him, even try to cause enough mayhem to force the hand of the studio. Things like that had happened before. Random nobodies became heroes without a name, all wrongdoing was restored, and justice was served to those that believed to be above them.
But, no matter how much he tried to think like that, the gray prospect of losing his standard of life and becoming one of the least favoured Anonymous ―or, as he imagined them, overweight jobless basement dwellers copying and pasting badly drawn comics―, creeped in his guts and choked his throat trying to kill all the spirit he woke with that morning.
It was a familiar feeling. Before his soul was succesfully crushed by the 9–5 routine, he used to be haunted by the same devil, and back then he knew only one way to fence it.
“Vlads, Rickrolls, Catsplosion”, was saying the corner guy. “Vlads, Rickrolls, Catsplosion”, he repeated again.
J… stood near him for a while, but the corner guy didn’t seem interested in acknowledging his presence. Although J… was still wearing the mask, he knew it was normal for drug fiends to be Anonymous, even to the point of forgetting their own name.
The corner guy seemed annoyed, but he still didn’t look at him.
“Hey, I would like some… some of that.”, insisted J…
“Go home, man. We ain’t selling what you need.”
“Come on. I’m a customer. I can pay.”
“You have problem written all over you.”
“That isn’t true. You can’t tell who or what I am.”
“Right. Listen, you ain’t getting nothing in the corners like this. Get some cred first then we see. Everybody knows each other here.”
“This isn’t fair. I could be anyone.”
Even though the corner boy was sixteen at most, J… felt he was starting to complain like a child that had disappointed his father.
“You want to be nobody”, said the corner boy, “unplug yourself, shut your mouth and hide at home, so nobody gives a shit about you. Everything you do says: I’m a loser, I don’t know better, I’m gonna cause trouble. If you screw us and we have to find your name we gonna be real pissed for all the trouble. You come with your own face, you know you don’t want to cause trouble, we deal with you. You come without face, you think we can’t find you and make you pay, all for nothing. ‘cos you think you are worth the trouble, but you ain’t. Reputation is everything, even for a fiend. The streets are watching. Everywhere.”
“This is idiotic! The game has rules!”
J… didn’t finish, because the corner guy was ready to skin him off his Anonymous self and hang the remains to dry.
Luckily for J…, somebody came out of nowhere and pulled his elbow.
“I take care of him”, said the voice of an elder woman.
Somehow, the old woman, despite having all the wrinkles of her age, still had the looks of a young artist girl that had eloped to lead an alternative lifestyle.
She guided him to the nearest park, where they sat on the grass. Busy people was passing by the sidewalks and a few elders were enjoying a walk. They composed a quite odd portrait: and old woman that looked like a girl and an evidently stunned middle-aged man wearing nothing but the Anonymous mask. Even stray dogs couldn’t decide if they wanted to investigate, bark at them or run away.
“So…”, said J…
“So, yeah. What were you doing there?”, asked the girl.
“I think that’s obvious.”
“I don’t think so. Unless you really wanted to get yourself killed.”
J… looked away, with a pinch of hurt pride.
“Correct me if I’m wrong”, added she, “but you don’t seem very comfortable being Anonymous. Is this your first time? How old are you?”
“Why would I tell you?”
She formed a circle with her hands, as if trying to be mystic.
“Gratitude. Give something to get something. Give something when you get something. That’s what keeps the world spinning around.”
“I could have managed the situation alone, thanks.”
“At a greater risk of being beaten, though.”
“That can’t be known.”
“Karma is a stream, not an up or down switch. Most people that wait for completion to share never do so.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Reputation is cooperation. If you are never defined you become indistinguishable from noise. An always-defensive attitude is suboptimal for a indefinately iterated game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.”
“Do you know why Anonymous has good reputation?”
“It doesn’t have good reputation.”
“It does. That’s why you wear it, isn’t it? Because it feels good. But it feels good because many Anonymous actually did something great. All the great things done that way add up, so whenever you say you are part of it, you immediately enjoy your share of recognition. Of course, somebody could wear the anonymous mask like a brand and get extra karma for free. But… it’s actually very hard to hide the fact that you didn’t contribute.”
“Bullshit. Identity is slavery. People has to be freed from it.”
“You have to risk being someone. Anonymity is a safety net for your affirmative action. If you don’t balance your anonymity with action, then the problems of identity are never solved, nothing cool ever happens, and everybody becomes slave of everybody else’s fear.”
J… gave her a blank stare.
“Look: it’s like people living in residential neighborhoods ―nobody knows each other, nobody cooperates with each other, and nobody faces other lifestyle than their own. Their perfectly average homes are their Anonymous mask. But, actually, everybody’s identity is chained and jailed inside, and if it ever made a step into the street, if it ever exposed itself under the sunlight, it wouldn’t be understood, and it would be automatically downvoted by their neighbors. So, because that anonymity isn’t there as a mean for any great action, only as a defensive measure, everybody’s identity pales and rots and becomes bad karma, while they pretend it isn’t so by keeping it always inside. Or, to explain it in a few words, you must not be Anonymous, but act Anonymous.”
“I’ve been acting…”
“And what was the great thing you were trying to make happen?”
“Oh, really.” She stood up, removing some dry grass from her pants. “Did you notice that people that contribute to great things are already protecting their identity against abuse? Because they learn to express a cool attitude, the safety of their own identity, including their ability to quickly engage people in its protection, can depend on themselves rather than on yet another faceless external force. This is what I’m doing now ―I’m teaching you to get involved in something great, so when you need to defend your identity you don’t get bounced around by everybody, even the people with the worst reputation.”
The old girl offered her hand to help him stand up. J… wondered if he wouldn’t be too heavy for the old girl.
“And who are you to pretend you know anything? This is more complicated than that”, said J…
“I’m nobody. I’m using an Anonymous mask, too. Although it has already grown an identity, which, to a great extent, is also my own.”
J… sat in the living room, tired and wondering how to pretend the next morning nothing happened at his job. He hadn’t removed the mask yet. Little J was playing in front of the sofa. His son handed him a toy pot.
“Hey papa. Open it.”
J… opened it. There was a plastic lion inside.
“It’s a trap!”, shouted Little J, cracking up.
J… spent a while looking at the pot, until he suddently realized:
“Wait. How did you know I’m papa?”
“How did you know I’m papa?”
Little J looked at him, puzzled.
“‘cos you look like papa.”
“Is that so? Then… listen. Then why were you scared this morning? Do you remember that?”
“Why were you scared of me?”
“‘cos you didn’t look like papa. But you look like papa now.”
Note: Big thanks to Staticage13 for many editing suggestions at the WritersGroup thread.