Want to be anonymous?

Equality as a civil right comes at a high price. We can imagine what we do to obtain equal protection as stepping into an opaque box. When the eyes of the law look towards us, safely ensconced in the opaque box, they cannot detect anything about our appearance, our skin color, our clothing. All they can see is the letter C printed on the box—C for Citizen.

But the Equality Box must do more than mask our appearance. Justice must be deaf as well as blind. The human voice can in almost every case easily be identified as masculine or feminine. Except in very young children, an androgynous speaking voice is more difficult to imagine or represent than an androgynous look.

Most voices also present indications of a regional accent or dialect, and of the speaker’s ancestry and cultural affiliation. Speaking with our own voices, we may be identified as different and then subjected to different treatment—to discrimination. Discrimination means first of all noticing differences. If we don’t want our differences noticed, the Equality Box must be soundproof as well as opaque.

How then shall a well-protected citizen communicate with others? Isn’t it obvious? By what is in any case the currently preferred medium—text-messaging. In modern democratic society we have developed technologies and habits that enable and indeed draw us to communicate with each other in faceless, voiceless anonymity.

By blocking out how a person looks and sounds we do not gain any better access to the essence or substance of human being—to the contents of character, or to human nature. The only way to approach knowledge of a person’s character is through face-to-face, living interaction.

A group of people, a lucky monkey at a keyboard, or a computer may pass the Turing test. We will read the text messages we receive in response to our own and assume that we are “talking” with a person—perhaps even with a particular person we think we know. But we cannot get to know that person’s character; no character is there to be known.