2014 minus 38: Secrets and lies

Posted: 24 November 2013 in life, don't talk to me about life, personal

I wrote the other day on public persona vs private truth, and a friend picked me up on it. “Well, it’s not as if you’re wildly open about yourself on the blog, is it?” she asked. And she has a point. But I’ve always acknowledged that, especially when asked about it.

A while back, well, to be fair, some years back, I stuck a poll up on my previous blog asking whether readers thought they were the same online as offline, and also whether they thought other people were. The results were – at the time, though less so to me now – quite surprising.

Almost without exception those who responded said that they thought they were pretty much the same online as offline, with a few exceptions, such as stuff they never talked about online, but would happily talk about with friends. (Work-related issues tended to be the favourite there.) And they were equally certain that other people were quite different online and offline.

Apart from me – again, with the notable exception of work, almost everyone thought (or at least said they thought, not necessarily the same thing at all) that I was very much the same online and off. That’s not to say that I was entirely open and transparent online, quite the reverse: there were things I wouldn’t talk about online and they were, by and large, the things that I didn’t talk about offline. Interestingly, the word “predictable” was used by some, even “reliably predictable”, which I still don’t entirely think was a compliment.

Sure, the frequency with which subjects came up was different (it was notable, one friend said) that I occasionally mentioned Laura (the lady I was then married to, and now still one of my closest friends) or my son Philip online, but I often spoke about them in ‘real life’. And work was similarly rarely mentioned online but quite often offline. But other than that, other than with very close friends? Stuff that I felt, stuff that mattered to me? Rarely in either environment.

Another friend at the time said of me, and particularly the blog:

Someone can read your blog for a year and while they’ll know what ‘budgie’ thinks about any number of issues: comics, politics, religion, they’ll reach the end of the year not knowing any more about what you feel about things than they knew at the start.

I think that’s quite true, and even in this era of disclosing everything, I maintain there’s a huge difference – particularly online – between actively lying about something on the one hand, and allowing others to draw conclusions by their silence.

On a slight tangent, strangely – or maybe not so strangely, given that I was married at the time – I never, ever discussed sex on the blog. Partly because my son, when he got old enough to go online, occasionally read the blog, but that’s no real excuse seeing as I could lock an entry so only those I’d marked as ‘friends’ could read it. Mainly because I think that when you’re single, your sexual preferences and choices cannot necessarily be taken as those of someone else’s. When you’re in a long term relationship, or married, it’s kind of implicit that your preferences are probably* those of your partner, and I believe no-one has the right without explicit permission to discuss or reveal someone else’s sexual preferences.

[* Yes, I’m more than aware that a couple’s sexual preferences may not be identical, but I also think it’s perfectly reasonable that unless you specifically state that to be the case, readers may infer from a stated favourite sexual position, or preference for bondage, say, or threesomes, that their long term sexual partner also enjoys it.]

However, I’ve come to realise that at least where that’s concerned, nothing’s really changed. Yes, I have a son who is now 18 and reads this blog sometimes, and I’d not want to subject him to any more nightmares about me than he already has. And while I’m in awe at those parents who are (and have managed to be) entirely open with others about their feelings, views and sexual preferences, I’m not one of them.

I’ve effectively been single for a very long time (partly from choice, partly through circumstance) but there are things – not only related to that that I do stay quiet about; there’s a reason – at least as far as I’m concerned – why a “private life” is called that.

Do I keep secrets? From you, dear reader? Of course. Some are trivial, some are hugely serious. Do I keep secrets from people I know, from my friends, from my closest friends? Again, yes, of course. I’d be astonished if everyone didn’t in respect of some things.

Am I lying to you and them? Quite possibly. But I’m not responsible for conclusions that others draw any more than you’re responsible for the conclusions I draw from your and their silences.

Of course I’m aware of the quote from Edmund Burke reads:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil in America is for good men to do nothing.

OK, the quote limits it to America, but I think the principle applies internationally and for life as a general rule. Similarly, Father Martin Niemoeller’s poem is well-known by many, many more since the age of the internet:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

So the lesson is pretty clear, yes? If you say nothing, you’re complicit in the evil that happens (with, I think, the fair caveat that you’re responsible only if your actions would genuinely have made a difference). So if they’re one side of ‘the argument’, what’s the other?

While there is a latin maxim of qui tacet consentire videture, which means “he who is silent is taken to agree”, I’ve mentioned before my utter contempt for the view that “silence indicates consent”. The formal environment of contract law where the principal that silence can never be taken as consent was established in English Law as far back as the 1800s, although you can get ‘acceptance by conduct’, one of my favourite legal concepts. However, you can’t take mere silence or apathy as acceptance of the premise.

In the less formal atmosphere of campaigning, again, I don’t accept for one moment that silence on a campaign always implies in any way support for (or acceptance of) the thing that the campaigners are, well, campaigning against. Sometimes, yes, but not always. There are lots of reasons for not joining a campaign and actively participating; one of them may be that you disagree with the campaign; others might be that you have a problem with the methodology/ideology of those campaigning, or you might not have the time to participate, or you just don’t care one way or the other. One problem I have with many campaigns is that they believe (or at least promote the idea) that unless you participate you actively support the other side. Whether it’s racism, sexism, party politics, or taking someone to bed, silence does not indicate consent. Ever.

I dredge the following example up every so often, so you’ll forgive me if I resurrect it one more time.

A meme did the rounds some time ago, viz:

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” – Ernest Gaines

We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on Livejournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post “gay rights.” If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.

Simple, easy to do, so you should do it, right?

Not in my book. No. Bloody. Way. It’s trite, insulting, patronising emotional guilt-tripping. And it’s wrong.


Well, suppose the message was this:

We would like to know who isn’t anti-Semitic on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you’re NOT anti-Semitic, then repost this and title the post as “I hate anti-Semitism”. If you are anti-Semitic, then just ignore this. Thanks

I’m supposed to then, presumably, believe that anyone who doesn’t post the comment in their own blog is anti-Semitic?

Utter nonsense.

But you wouldn’t know that from the reaction of some.

So, bringing this back to me, if there’s a secret you’re curious about, something you think you’d like to know, ask me. I’m not thinking of “what’s your favourite colour?” or “how come you almost exclusively dress in black?” I mean, the real secrets, the one’s you’ve always wondered about, the things you actually want to know.

Now, I appreciate that such an invitation carries its own risks: for a start, you may not want to ask the question in public, or be identified as the questioner, although that’s hardly fair, I think. But certainly the first part of that may worry you. No worries, I assure you.

You can ask either below in the comments attached to this blog, or if you’d rather, you can email me the questions; and I promise I’ll answer them honestly… if I can, or at least reply that it’s something about which I’m not comfortable discussing even by email.

OK, I think that’s about it for today. More tomorrow, hopefully neither secret nor a lie.

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