Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Flight Risk verdict is in...

So if you haven't been following, Isabella herself graced us with her presence in the comments to my post on the blog 'She's a Flight Risk'. I feel perhaps a little like the atheists in Rowan Atkinson's great sketch on hell - "you must be feeling a right bunch of nitwits". If you didn't read 'She's a Flight Risk' in time, it's alas gone back into the ether - jwz took it down, as he explained.

Way back in the day, AL once observed that the idea that people crave privacy was not exactly right. Instead, quite the opposite is true - as he put it, 'give people a chance, and they can't wait to tell you everything about themselves.'

The urge to confess our secrets is quite a deep one. People are wary, of course, of whom they can trust. But if you give them the right circumstances and audience, nearly everyone wants to tell their story.

I think the reason people get so misled on this point is that they keep thinking of privacy in terms of the desire for physical privacy. If I'm taking a shower, my desire for privacy may be best expressed by Mr Franklin's formulation of the right to be left alone. But the main privacy question these days is that of informational privacy. And here, people want something quite different - the ability to shape the narrative about one's self that the world has, and control the flow of information.

Suppose, like Isabella, you were on the run in strange foreign countries fleeing from pursuing relatives. You knew nobody, you could trust nobody, and revealing any details about yourself, even inadvertently, would spell disaster.

Can you imagine what a crushing burden that would be? You have only two options, both terrible.

The first is a superhuman effort to construct an entire fake back-story, and stick with it every minute of every day, for ever. Every true fact about yourself has to be substituted with some false story, a false name, an entire false identity. This would require not only enormous feats of self-control, but memory too - you have to keep track of everything you've told people already about your previous life.

And even if you manage this, the cognitive dissonance of the whole thing would be overwhelming. As soon as you finally start to get to know somebody well enough that you consider them a friend, you'll feel increasingly guilty about the fact that everything they know about you is a lie. You would desperately want someone you feel you can trust, but the only way you can get there is by demonstrating through long periods of stone-faced lies that you yourself are unworthy of the trust being reciprocated.

So what's the other alternative?

Isolation. Keeping to yourself, bearing the whole burden alone, and feeling yourself slowly being submerged, drip by drip, with the loneliness of unsought solitude.

Reading back over my original post, one bit of the reasoning now stands out as clearly wrong. I previously claimed that if you were going to run away, it would seem unlikely that you would you start a blog to describe your experiences.

The mistake is to assume that the relevant question is "if you were writing down the optimal list of how to disappear, would this include starting a blog about your experiences?". To which, the answer is obviously no.

But from the perspective of human nature, if you were on the run, the urge to do something like start an anonymous blog to describe your experiences would be overwhelming.

In addition, doing it on a blog is likely safer than telling some local person - at least on the blog, even if they know who you are, they don't know where you are.

So consider instead a comparison that I can't believe it took me this long to realise. If one is writing on a pseudonymous blog  questioning why someone would write a story like 'She's a Flight Risk' that might come back to haunt them, on some level this shows an embarrassing lack of self-awareness. Why are you writing stories you clearly don't want attached to your name for all to know?

This blog, unlike 'She's a Flight Risk' is of course located at blogger, and not at a domain registered in Lichtenstein to a specially set-up shell company. This tells you most of the differences between the two of us.

Partly, I have less at stake that needs hiding. But also, unlike Isabella, I know that I would not have the self-control to run everything in the meticulous way needed to completely cover my tracks. This is of course highly related to the fact that I also would not have the nous to run away and cover my tracks physically. I take some precautions, I retain my risks with others, and I tread each day between the Scylla of saying something that might be taken out of context and used against me, and the Charybdis of limiting one's remarks to the banal, the uncontroversial, and the trivial, laced of course with a lingering sense of cowardice.

'She's a Flight Risk' was exciting to read, and the vicarious thrill of throwing away all of one's past and living in exotic parts of the third world has a definite allure.

But at heart, running away is almost always an unhappy story, especially when one is running from something, rather than running to something. Even if we readers never find out the end, I'm glad she's (presumably) no longer on the run. I hope the story turned out well.


  1. Hi there. Email me? I'm curious about something.

    isa at aflightrisk dotorg

  2. Sent you an email, but just in case, I'm at shylockholmes2 [in the care of] gmail dotcom

  3. So now I'm curious if you ever heard back from the illustrious and elusive Isabella V?