The Ring of Gyges

In Plato’s Republic, one of the characters of the dialog mentions the legend of the ring of Gyges. The ring of Gyges was found by a man named Gyges in the kingdom of Lydia. It had the power to make anyone who wore it completely invisible. Gyges used the ring to commit a series of crimes and ultimately murdered the king and usurped his throne. Socrates and the other characters then go on to discuss whether any man would behave justly if they could be absolutely certain of not being caught.

We don’t have a ring of Gyges. No one can become invisible. But, we do have something almost as good, the Internet. On the Internet one can act with complete anonymity. You can post opinions on forums and website commentaries and no one need know anything about you., So, what are the results?

In any Internet forum of any kind, there seems an almost irresistible temptation for some people to, well, be jerks. They post insults, stupid comments unrelated to the subject being discussed and generally act in a way they would be ashamed to act with people in the real world. As more and more of this sort of troll infests a forum, the decent people tend to leave, and above a certain threshold, the forum becomes a sewer of ad hominem attacks and personal invective.

Right Wing News is a blog I like to visit often. It’s owner, John Hawkins, and the other writers usually have something interesting to say. The comments section has, however, started to become a sewer. Recently one regular poster revealed the real world address and phone number of one of the more obnoxious trolls and practically invited people to harass him. He was immediately banned, and rightly so. Now, John Hawkins is belatedly putting moderators in charge of the comments.

I really don’t know what to do about this problem. It doesn’t say much for human nature that so many people act like jerks when no one knows who they are.


Misleading Politicians

John Hawkins has a column at, 7 Ways Politicians Mislead the Public. A cynic might say that you can tell a politician is lying, whenever his or her lips are moving.

He starts:

Government has become too damn big, too damn intrusive, and too damn lucrative for the good of the country. That’s why so much of the political class in this country is comprised of con men, sociopaths, and fortune hunters. Quite frankly, most of these people would rather that you didn’t understand their motives, what they really want to do, or the policies that they’re implementing because what’s actually good for the country is a much smaller consideration than what’s good for them personally.

Lord Acton said long ago that, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. He was only partly right. The truth is that power tends to attract the easily corrupted; the con men, sociopaths, and fortune hunters that John Hawkins mentions. Although I am sure that there are a great many people in public office who sincerely want to help others, you have to consider that “normal” people really don’t want to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Normal people just want to be left alone. The sort of person who seeks office is either a normal person who wants to serve, or the sort of person who enjoys bossing people around. I leave it to you to decide which type is more prevalent.

Any system of government is going to tend to select the corruptible. Probably the only thing that can be done is to limit the power of government and use checks and balances to set the ambitious against one another, just as the framers of the constitution intended, and keep a close eye on them.

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