Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Obnoxious Obscurity

In my years playing around in various online forums and formats, I have seen behaviors that I don't see much of in what I still think of as my real life. I don't know whether this is because these behaviors are more common online or more visible online or whether in the regular world it is easier to filter these things from your life -- mostly by choosing not to hang out with people whose behavior annoys you (which is not always easy to do while maintaining full participation in online groups). This is both good and bad.

One of the most annoying things that I saw a good deal of in the online discussion group I spent most of my time with was deliberate obscurity. There were people who liked to trump up their own self-image by making references to things they knew that other people did not -- factual knowledge, personal history, references to things they knew the person they were addressing would not know and for which the point of the reference was to be cleverly obscure ha ha. Direct questions ("What do you mean by that?") would be answered in an equally obscure fashion. I suppose this was meant to be funny, or perhaps a form of social bonding (in an in-group sense). I found it to be reflective of profound insecurity, even though the subjects were often trivial in nature.

In this online group there were a number of actual scholars, both credentialed and autodidactic. Interestingly, I would say as a generality that these people were extremely generous with their knowledge and expertise. Then again, I suppose they had no need to stroke their self-worth with an "I know something you don't" sort of remark.

I know that in my own case I frequently write about things that are far out in the cultural margins, and I don't always provide complete background. But I am never trying deliberately to obscure, and I think it's fair to say that when questioned about something I've written I will explain and expound to the point of tedium. To me -- at least philosophically and in theory -- knowledge is something to be shared, to seek out, to admire when others hold it. It is not something that should be used as a weapon -- which is my interpretion of much of what went on.

Which is why I will leave the room if somebody decides to play Mornington Crescent.

[Ok, Mornington Crescent in its original incarnation on the BBC was a fun and clever parody of complicated obscurity. But for years my only exposure to it was in its debased form, of people in the US making in-joke references to it and explaining it quite seriously as a "game" -- which of course was impossible to win or decipher. It lost all its wit and had no other purpose than to make the people who knew the "game" mock the people who did not, as if simply knowing that "ha-ha there are no rules and this is all a big joke" makes you smarter than the people who don't know this.]

I was thinking about this recently because I saw a bit of this in a livejournal comment section, a reference to something that all the googling in the world could not explain but which the people in on the reference could pat each other on the back for. I realized that it had been a while since I'd seen such a thing. I also realized that there are people whose journals I read whom I do not really want to meet.

I can be such a hardass.
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