In the Time Magazine feature “question everything,” (Sept 21st 2015, Pg 66), the question was posed “Should we let ourselves be anonymous online?” The responders, Ellen Pao (former CEO of Reddit) indicated “yes,” and Jonathan Taplan, (Director of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab)indicated “no.” Their arguments were both sound but as is all too common in news media today, neither was able to provide a satisfying answer. It was a sound byte of a question, a sound byte of a feature and what they were able to provide was little more than a sound byte of an answer—leaving us with the sense that there is no answer—as if all thought is merely opinion. I disagree. There is an answer, but it cannot be found with the question asked. It is too great a topic for a sound byte of a question. It is not a philosophic question—it is not one of life’s imponderables, but rather it is a question of social responsibility and a question with a direct and immediate bearing on liberty and freedom of speech, and the free exchange of ideas that makes any society great.
Pau, being an entrepreneur and having had personal experience with innovative technologies answered “yes,” in favor of anonymity, and citied the personal stories of growth and the benefit of the open communication that often times does result from anonymity. “More voices expressing more ideas with more openness is a wonderful ideal,” Pao says. She’s right of course—it is. She goes on to indicate that there are dangers, down-sides and the potential for misuse and so on, and she’s right about that too. But it isn’t a matter of personal stories, it’s a social matter. It is matter that effects the whole society—many societies, all of them and then every one of us within that society.
Taplan, an academic, cites Plato: “If we were shielded from the consequences of our actions, how would that change the way we act?” He insists, that as a result of anonymity online, we now know the answer, and he goes on to make some very solid arguments, including the argument that undermines the sense of any potential benefit from anonymity—that oppressive regimes can and likely do trace even anonymous users. It’s a strong argument—rather, it is a strong response to an argument, and yet it fails to recognize that an oppressive regime is not necessary to silence a voice. A community standard can silence a voice. A commonly held belief can silence a voice. A belief that blacks should not marry whites can silence a voice. A belief that gay men are pedophiles and perverts can silence a voice.
As authors we all share in a long standing professional tradition of anonymity. Many of us use pseudonyms. Some do this based on the tradition itself, while others use pseudonyms to shelter family and friends from the consequences of publishing what might be construed as controversial in their own local communities. We know that an oppressive regime is not the only reason anonymity is important and even necessary. We have, for the most part, learned the importance of using anonymity to introduce ideas into the public discussion, and those of us who have succumbed to sensationalism have suffered the consequences of doing so. Can you name a single author who supported slavery? Nazism? No, it is not the anonymity itself that presents a social danger, but what we do with it, that determines its value to ourselves and to our society. Authors have learned to act responsibly even though many of us publish anonymously, and now so must the rest of the people in our society.
“Should we let ourselves be anonymous online? “ It’s a weak question. It’s a question with a faulty premise. Recently, Facebook has begun banning authors who operate under a pseudonym. These are not authors of hate, but rather targets of hate. It works like this: Authors of LGBT fiction are sought out by the hateful and reported to Facebook for using “a false name.” They are banned. There is no recourse, no appeals process. Their access to what is arguably a public media is simply denied. Their access to their fans, coworkers and editors and to the public itself is eliminated as easily as that. Imagine the delight on those hateful faces as they take down (in their opinion) yet another pervert. Facebook, like a monolith of corporate indifference, does not respond to the emails, the pleas for assistance or even some reasonable accommodation. A voice is silenced. Then another. Then another. Do we “let ourselves” be anonymous? Ask these authors.
No, a better question might be:”What are your rights and responsibilities in a free society?” We might ask that same question of a monolithic corporation (like Facebook) too. For the same reasons that we must tolerate Klan marches, for the same reason Tenure exists, for the same reason freedom of the press and freedom of speech exists in our country, anonymity online must exist—it must be permitted to exist. It is not a new question or a new argument. We must tolerate the Klan so the NAACP can gather and march—so gay people and all people with a less than majority voice can gather and march. We must have Tenure so a teacher can teach—even those subjects which are unpopular in a local community. We must tolerate the hateful and endure the tiny voices of hate and shame who may also act anonymously, so that the greater louder and enduring voices can speak. Anonymity allows that to happen, not just under oppressive dictators, but right here in America, and right now in our local communities. Maybe the question should have been, “If we silence the hateful, will we silence everyone?”
I am Jonah Bergan.
Title: Off World
Author: Jonah Bergan
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Cover Artist: Michelle Fairbanks
Length: 240 Pages
Release Date: August 22, 2015
Blurb: What really brought Taine to that backwater little world? Taine’s a hunter. He’s a red-skinned, black-eyed Lowman by nature, and a hunter by trade. Some hunters work in flesh, others in secrets, and some few work to set right what’s been set wrong. It’s a big galaxy and there’s always plenty of work for a hunter like Taine, so you got to wonder, what with all that at his feet, what really brought Taine to that backwater little world?
Off-World is a M/M science fiction action/adventure set in F/M dominated space. The story takes place in an arm of the galaxy where slavery (sexual and otherwise) is legal and commonplace. Strictly speaking, it is not a BDSM novel in that consent is not a matter of concern for the characters, but those with an interest in BDSM should enjoy the story. Due to explicit content, Off-World is not recommended to readers under eighteen years of age.
“You his father?” Taine asked.
“Uncle,” the man said, glancing toward his wife. She looked away, a terse expression on her face. He looked back at Taine, bringing his chin up defiantly. “By marriage,” he said. “I did right by the boy.”
Taine shrugged. It made no difference—these backwater worlds, with their backwater cultures, none of that mattered to him. It was bad enough he had to ride in from the starport on horseback. Bad enough he had to dress the humble part just to avoid offending these rubes. Still, if he’d come blasting into town in his Hover, he’d have found half the doors shut to him, and the other half damned slow to open. Taine was a hunter, a Lowman—a red-skinned and black-eyed alien, and his kind wasn’t welcome everywhere, no matter how much they paid for what they bought. No point in making things worse by flaunting wealth in a place of such poverty.
Taine turned his attention back to the human he was here to inspect. He took a quick inventory of the boy. Pretty face, decent frame, all good starts, but the boy was un-groomed, pale and too lean for his age. Malnourished, Taine thought. Most likely in body and mind both. That might be correctable, might not. Sometimes that kind of damage can’t be undone no matter how much you pay to fix it. Still, the boy looked appealing enough despite the slight frame—long legs, long arms and a pretty face with a halo of wild blond hair like the rays of some golden sun. He’s young, but not under, Taine thought. Taine checked the boy’s teeth, running his finger under the boy’s lips and along the gums. He tugged a tooth or two—still solid.
“How old?” Taine asked.
“Nineteen now,” the boy’s uncle said. “Twenty soon. Been here more’n half that time.”
“Hard worker,” the man snapped. “Wouldn’t have lasted otherwise.”
“So why are you selling?”
“Hard times,” the uncle said, “and harder coming.” This brought a scowl from the missus, but she didn’t say a word. She’d had enough of the gambling, and the drinking, and she’d said so often enough that the words seemed to have lost all meaning. If her husband had saved his earnings, instead of squandering them, none of this would have been necessary. When he said, “It’s him or me,” she didn’t argue. After all, it wasn’t an ultimatum, it was simply true. She consoled herself by thinking about the money. It would help them get off-world before the aftermath of the war came upon them like some kind of tidal wave, and swept both of them away from her. Choose one or lose both, bane or burden. It had been an easy choice, at least until now.
Taine slipped his middle finger deep into the boy’s mouth. The boy closed his eyes, and his face blushed red, but he yielded, relaxing his jaw and taking the finger as though it were a cock. Taine moved his finger in and out, fucking the boy’s face, watching him blush and tear up. Taine had good reason for doing it, but he earned a sharp look from the missus anyhow. She nudged her husband and glared at him. He scowled, and turned back toward Taine.
“You buying or not?” he snapped.
“Maybe,” Taine said. “Hard to tell with him all covered up.”
The uncle grunted and stepped forward. He tugged at the waist of the home weave the boy wore. The coarse trousers loosened and then slid down the boy’s long legs. A gentle tug and the shirt came loose in front. The uncle slipped it over the boy’s shoulders and let it fall the floor.
“There,” he said. “No need to make a show of it. Buy, or get out.”
Taine felt the boy’s tongue start moving against his finger. It surprised him, and he drew his finger back, but the boy sucked at it, trying to keep it in him. Taine obliged the boy, sliding it in and out a few more times and smiling as he felt the boy’s tongue bobbing and dancing beneath his finger. The boy wouldn’t speak, wouldn’t make eye contact either. His uncle had taught him that well enough, but the boy doing what he was doing with his tongue spoke volumes. That’s him just about pleading, Taine thought. What must life in this little hell be like, for the boy to yearn for a sale off into the unknown?
Taine leaned forward, drawing in just a taste of the boy from the air around him. He sampled the first scents of the boy’s essence. Sweet, Taine thought. Like honey must taste. It was a thick and golden flavor, and it made Taine smile. That’s all he needed to know to buy any boy—that there was something either savory or sweet in them that was still strong enough to reach the surface. The rest would be up to the trainers—the professionals back at the Temple on Taine’s home-world. But the boy’s dancing tongue sparked Taine’s curiosity, and he wanted to know more.
He reached up with his free hand, taking hold of the boy at the back of the head and began slowly moving his finger in and out. He knew he was humiliating the boy before his family, but Taine closed his eyes, and drove his awareness deeper. There were other ways to open a human. Most of those were forceful, and some were downright violent. The uncle and aunt might not understand, but for a Lowman, this was an act of kindness. It was the gentlest way to break through to the only thing a Lowman truly valued.
Taine pressed his awareness into the boy, moving through the ebb and flow of the boy’s many complex flavors. He was careful not to feed, not to take any of it in. As was so with most humans, the boy was a stormy wash of conflict within. Taine found urges and desires and regrets, a mind in constant turmoil, and rife with fear—predominantly fear. Some of that fear had been earned, and some had been instilled and it lurked in the boy, like shadows in some dark wood. Taine pressed forward beyond all that and went deeper, reaching toward the source of the boy. Taine found his way blocked. It was expected, a barrier—an obstacle to turn him back. It had a scent and a flavor—something akin to the bitterness of burned toast, but its aspect was like a sharp blade bearing a dark stain, it stabbed at him, threatening him and warning him to turn back. Taine instinctively flinched away from it, slipping around and behind it, evading it, and driving himself closer to the wellspring. He found and followed the predominant scents—that of seaweed, dark and rich, and the flavor of saltwater, and he found himself standing on hot sand, feeling the sensations of an empty beach, and the heat of a brilliant and golden sun. It was a rich and delicate feeling, and a smell, and a taste—the smell and taste of sunshine. Yes, Taine thought. That is who he is. Sunshine.
Taine slowly opened his eyes and withdrew his finger. He wondered then, and not for the first time, why humans waste their children so, as though darkening them would brighten the world. Didn’t they know the world would be less hard with fewer hard people in it? It’s not an easy thing to change, it takes some real effort, but didn’t they know it could be changed? Didn’t they know those dark urges could be controlled and even used?
The boy had given him nothing but the idea of burnt toast between him and the seashore. Not much to glean from that, Taine thought. To learn more he’d have to feed, and that wasn’t something he’d be doing, not with an uncultivated and feral human. Still, he was curious.
“You about done?” asked the uncle. The aunt had turned away, and the uncle was glowering.
“Not by a long measure,” Taine said.
The uncle shook his head and waved Taine on. “Just get it over with,” he said.
Taine ran his hands across the boy’s chest and down his flat stomach. The boy’s breathing quickened as Taine fondled his cock, teasing it to life. It responded by thickening and rising, though maybe not as fast as it should. The boy never raised his head, never moved a muscle, he just stood there like Taine had every right to touch and use his body. Taine gave the balls a firm squeeze, and the boy tensed, rising on his toes a little, but he never once raised his arms, never once tried to defend himself. Good submissive spirit, Taine thought, that’ll be important if we’re gonna heal him up.
Taine took the boy by the shoulders and turned him around. He meant to plunge his finger into the boy, just to check for damages, and maybe make the boy’s cock grow up full-sized, but the two cheeks were crossed with welts, some fresh and still white where the switch had marked him recently. Maybe not born to it after all, Taine thought. Maybe all that submission was just beaten into him. No way they nurtured it, no way they cultivated it, not the way the Lowmen would have with such a delicate specimen as this one.
Taine considered the welts across the boy’s ass. There were older ones across his back, a few sores, in-growns and pimples across his shoulders; nothing that couldn’t be tended to, and probably should have been before they offered him. These people had no idea what they were doing, but that wasn’t a surprise either, was it?
Taine would’ve slipped his finger in right then, but by the scent of things they hadn’t cleaned him, so he traced his fingers along the welts on the boy’s ass instead, and then looked up at the uncle.
“Trouble maker?” Taine asked.
“No,” he said. “That’s just from his dailies.”
Taine nodded. “So, what’s your price?”
“Sixty,” the uncle said.
“Waste of time,” Taine said. He snorted and turned for the door.
“Sixty’s fair,” the uncle said, raising his chin. “More’-n-fair.”
“Yeah,” Taine said, “Not for that.”
“Now, don’t be disrespectful,” he said. “The boy’s family after all.”
Taine turned and looked the man squarely in the eyes.
“I’m interested, so you name me a real price and I’ll consider it,” Taine snapped, “but sixty is just plain fantasy.”
The man stepped close. That was a brave act, or maybe just a desperate one. Not many people dared approach a Lowman hunter, not with their alien looks and their reputation for violence. The solid black eyes and all that red flesh intimidated humans—something about their ancient myths. Still, Taine had gone to a great deal of trouble to make himself approachable to these backwaters, and now he wondered if maybe he’d done that a little too well.
“Boy sucks cock good as any,” the uncle said, keeping his voice low, as if keeping it from his wife.”He’s a good earner, and that backside’s got years of action left to it. I wouldn’t be selling if I didn’t need to, and I know you got your own expenses, so you tell me what’s fair.”
“Ten,” Taine said.
The man grimaced.
“Ten and you’re lucky to get it,” Taine said. “He’s nineteen, nearly twenty, easily a year past prime, and by my guess, he’s spent that time squaring up plenty of your debts. You’ve done nothing to develop him. By the time I’m done fixing what you’ve botched, I’ll be lucky to clear a slender profit. So that’s my offer, ten, or I’ll head over to Jenkins Creek where I hear there are a set of twins coming up prime.”
“I can’t take ten,” the man said, shaking his head. “I gotta have fifteen, and that’s a loss for me, Mister. I had him ten years under my roof. Fifteen don’t half cover it, but I’m willin’ to concede some, if you are. So there we are, it’s fifteen, or I’ll wish you a safe trip over to Jenkins Creek.”
Taine reached for the door handle, but hesitated. He thought about Shilandra, and what he had done to her. The memory returned, unbidden and heavy, like betrayal. He still had some of the boy’s scent with him, so he turned and looked back. The boy was standing there just about trembling—his head down, and face red, and his cock still jutting up. Would she even accept this one? He thought.
The boy was as lean a colt as Taine had ever seen, but the flavor of him showed promise. It’d take some work, bringing this one up, but there was something alluring about him—a hint of what might be found in him by skilled hands. He’d already found the boy’s name: Sunshine, and that was no small thing. Making him live up to that name, that’d be some hard work, and some expensive work as well, but if he did, if the boy did live up to that name, he’d be valuable well beyond his family’s reckoning of wealth, and well worth Taine’s time and investment. She’d recognize that at least, Taine thought.She’d see the value in him, wouldn’t she?
“I know I’m going to regret this,” Taine muttered. “You got his papers drawn up?”
“All but the price and date,” the man said smiling.
Jonah Bergan is a freelance writer living in New England. His publishing credits include a ten part serial, multiple short stories, and a collection of anecdotal humor. He has also published MMORPG game reviews and content, hypnosis scripts, online user manuals, and advertising texts. Please visit jonahbergan.com to learn more about him.
Winner’s Prize: A Paperback copy of “Off-World”.
Runner-up’s Prize: An e-copy of “Off-World”.