We were on the coast of Croatia when we saw our first nude sunbather. He was an older gentlemen who probably looked good in a suit but now, skin pruned from the water and his body hair plastered to a half-wiry/half-fat frame, he looked like a drowned cat with an impressive appendage. We kept sailing and saw more of them – an obese woman who showed us her backside as she lolled in the sun, a wizened and naked old man, oiled like a ćevapčići, who was pointing at other boats and yelling things about anchors. On the shore a couple embraced and when the woman moved away the man was as erect as a satyr as he stood on the warm rocks.
I’m telling you this not to titillate or to incite disgust but to explain that what those people were doing in the context of that place at that time was perfectly fine. My wife and I ogled for a bit and we even decided we wanted to come back, this time partaking in the naturist pleasures. Why? Because it looked fun and I was tired of my body dysmorphia and my sense that I’m too fat, weird, and unattractive to even risk taking off my shirt let alone galavant around like Mr. Tumnus on poppers. I thought something like that would help change me, help fix me in some way. It sure as hell helped that dude with the erection.
We – my wife, the nude people, the skipper – were all doing what anonymous Internet mobs do worst: letting others live their lives in peace.
Much lip service is paid to transparency and truth on the web. It is a rare thing to find on the Internet, however, because we’re too stupid to strive towards it. Just as Gamergate mistook harassment for activism, the Ashley Madison hackers mistook being assholes for justice. Sure the app is skeezy. Sure they lied to customers about the “deleted forever” feature. Sure they were absolute and complete idiots for leaving an entire database unencrypted – a database that I, a moron with a keyboard, could download in an hour and install onto my computer in still another half hour. I met and interviewed the AM CEO, Noel Biderman, and he didn’t smell of sulfur nor did he own a harem of drugged-out hippies. He was, on the surface, a nice enough guy who stumbled on a really nice money-making idea and built something cool. He was literally no different than the strivers at accelerators around the world except he dealt in what some of the world considers abhorrent.
What AM did is none of your business. If you didn’t want to use it then Apple and Google didn’t force a download on you. If you downloaded it, created an account, and perused grainy photos of boobs (like I did!) then you quickly realized the prurience was in your own mind. These were lonely people who wanted something. Who am I to judge? If you needed the app it was there for you, just as Tinder, Grindr, Hinge, and Angry Birds are there for others. If you didn’t want to use it then you could quite easily avoid it.
But plenty of people did need it. Old Twain said “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” He didn’t suggest the dark side was the bad side. He said it was the side you never show to anybody. In the vast majority of cases that dark side is harmless. Consenting adults running around with consenting adults is just fine. When power comes into play or age or coercion then the story is changed. But just as marijuana does not lead to huffing paint in the basement of an abandoned mental hospital, taking your wiener out does not lead to animal dismemberment.
So here’s what’s up: if you download that torrent you are a jerk. If you search for your husband and wife on there you deserve everything you get. If you live in a place where being on that list can get you killed then move. If you haven’t spoken to your partner about what is OK and isn’t OK then you’d better open your Calendar app and pencil them in. In short, we all need to react to things like this like adults, not infants. The hackers attempted to discredit an app that is already designed to exist outside societal norms. It’s like yelling that the guys at Mad Magazine didn’t do a good synopsis of Avengers with their “Scavengers” parody. You’re an idiot to assume that the people on AM are worth your ire and you’re a fool if your goal is to discredit them via database. Enough shitty stuff happens in this world. Just because the AM hackers can’t find love doesn’t mean nobody else can.
Because, in the end, we are all basically on a beach on Croatia doing the goofy stuff we want to do. There is no escape for the hypocrite nor is there a firmament upon which the moralist can stand. The point of the Internet was to allow everyone – from the dudes who like to jerk it onto anime characters to ladies who want to learn how to distill grappa – to do their thing in peace. The Internet is where most of the world’s population will soon learn about sex and love and procreation and it’s a force that will degrade outdated dogma like the tide washing away a sand castle. It’s where gay people in oppressive countries go to learn about how to live their lives to the fullest and it’s a place where a bored couple – or even one part of that couple – can feel wanted again. It doesn’t judge – although the people on it do – and it fails us endlessly at creating the utopia that was once promised. But it’s what we’ve got and, for better or worse, we all stand naked in its glare.