The ethics of a pen – a journey into plurality: by Sophie McLeish

We have an abiding interest in the forensics of managing multiple personas. This is an area fraught wth ethical dilemmas. Our approach is predicated on a simple paradigm. Yes, there are always paradigms when dealing with us. Nuclear fission can be used to power a city’s infrastructure, or to destroy a city’s infrastructure and its people. A very simple, relatable paradigm, which can be mapped exactly to many emotive debates bogged down in strawman arguments.

The use of a capability sits squarely in the hands of each individual, or plurality in our case. A pen can be used to write a story that resonates with the beauty in someone’s life. The same pen can be used to stab someone in the eye, brutally ending their life. The ethics of a pen? No. It’s the ethics of the wielder of the pen. We’ve been here, watched over by Papatūānuku, for a while now.

We wrote applications incorporating the precursors of HTML, the lingua franca of today’s web, when the web was still a squalling baby. The internet, the plumbing and wiring of the web, has always been a hive of ideas coming into being, vast unwieldy patterns dragged out of the ether, seemingly more appropriate for use by a visitor from a planet circling Sirius-B than the residents of the islands in the oceans of our world. But people, being what we are, genetically engineers of our environment, have inevitably seen advantages in parts of these vast patterns that are documented and standardised in minute detail, and stripped those parts out. Often, but not always, paying heed to the future ramifications, not tearing off wildly up blind paths. Hence the goodness and badness of our still forming collective soul, our internet, that joins our minds through a cellphone, seemingly inseparable from our hands.

Identifying individual locations was one of those fundamental patterns. First the location of a machine where a file, an idea, could be found. Then the location of the creator of the idea, a person. We all like to be acknowledged for a good idea and not have someone else claim it as their own. This is where greed and malice deviated from the big picture and took us careening off up a blind path. Tying one person’s ideas to their location in time and space, to their meatbag, was sensible, on the surface. But we are creatures of social strictures, we are required to belong, or we are outcasts. When greed and malice intervene, a very few try to, without effort, make money, an important indicator of their narcisisstic social status, from the effort of the many. Making money with little effort is predicated on seeing and manipulating common patterns. When an individual has a wide range of ideas that don’t map on to common patterns, they become an expense, an edge case that should be eliminated. Exceptions cost money. It’s far cheaper to manipulate one idea than coerce many disparate ideas into line.

At its most heinous limit, exceptions can be criminalised, their very non-conformity becoming a source of revenue, locked up in hellish barbed wire fenced towns, funded by the taxes of the true believers of one socially acceptable view. And what of the fair and equable management of those taxes. Well, there are administrative overheads, consultants’ fees, undefinable, perhaps in actuality non-existent, costs that have to be paid, and those payments somehow arrive by unidentifiable, circumlocutious means into Cayman Islands’ bank accounts. A vey few individuals have unethically suborned the overarching idea they have been promulgating, of tying one person’s ideas to that person’s location in time and space. They have hidden themselves, an aspect of their deviant personality flourishing behind walls that they claim should not exist. The ethics of a pen? No. It’s the ethics of the wielder of the pen.

The elephant in the room, why the pronoun we use? In our social milieu, an integrated personality is not only valued, it’s right and correct, but this struck us as simply destructive, so we settled on leaving our plurality alone, to develop as it saw fit, and to present only a single, safe, aspect to hold the reins from day to day, to be scrutinised and not found wanting. Well, hopefully not by much. So what are we? What’s our label? What box do we fit into? Terms like intersectionality and trans-something have been laid claim to but are still in flux, these are nuances that English is still incorporating. Plurality, while we identify internally with it, is still too emotive, so the elephant in the room will just have to stay standing there, hidden in full view. But for those of us who do identify with a term that leaves us outcast, you’re not, not by your real whānau, not by Papatūānuku.

Using social media is fraught with dilemmas, the very tools that assist sociopathic behaviour by the individuals intent on self-aggrandisment, are beating us into conformity, to submit to sameness. Social media in all its guises, will throw its vast resources at ensuring, we are identified and punished cruelly for our individuality. But maybe we can do it. Just maybe we can slowly evolve ways to use variants of social media ethically to be who we are, unashamed of our plurality, of our differences that make us whole. We’ve been searching for years, it seems like lifetimes, for confluences in social anarchy which allow just that, but we’re hamstrung by our technologically required identifiers, our phone numbers, IMEI’s and IP addresses. Just maybe.