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Within a Parallel Universe – Monsters of the Dark Web

STOCKHOLM / ROME, May 27 2019 (IPS) - Human existence includes dreams, thoughts, ideas, music, stories, religion, and other immaterial ”things”. They constitute an important part of our habitat, i.e. the dwelling place of any living organism, consisting of both organic and inorganic surroundings. I learned this when I many years ago found myself among the undulating heights of Cordillera Central, which rise diagonally across the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

After days of hard work in fields and garden plots, peasants of the Cordillera gathered on the porches of their bright-painted houses, or ramshackle huts, to chat and play dominoes with their neighbours. While they, around kerosene lamps, joined friends and families, stories were told about dreams and another sphere, quite different from our everyday existence. On an occasion like that, Julian Ramos, a patriarch more than a hundred years old, told me:

    People from your part of the world do not understand that a man like me lives in two worlds. I move between them like someone who walks through sunshine and shadows. I work and toil in one world close to another one that consists of dreams, music and tales; things I cannot see and touch. It is the dwelling place of gods, saints, and miracles. Listen to the dog howling out there in the dark. I tell you, that is not just a dog. Oh no, it is a human being who turned himself into a dog. The butterfly you saw in your room last night, that was no butterfly, it was your beloved who dreamt about you and her dream turned her into a butterfly. The fireflies over there are no insects, they are the souls of dead ancestors. All around us are things and creatures we do not know, which we cannot see, cannot understand. Up in the air, in the earth down below us, in the springs, the caves and the trees, live the mysteries, the luas. What we assume to be our world is only a tiny fraction of something else, something much, much bigger. I know this since I am an old man. Life is a tough and hard teacher and the longer we are forced to encounter him, the more we learn.

Remembering Julian Ramos´s words I realize that a man like me and “people from my part of the world”, actually live in two worlds as well. A sphere of dreams and vodú deities was part of Julian Ramos´s and his neighbours´ habitat, a realm that actually is present in the minds of people all around the world and probably has been there ever since Homo Sapiens developed. However, ”westernized” human beings have for the last thirty years, or so, also become used to live with or even within another habitat, the artificially created, but yet real Cyberspace,1 which affects our lives to an even higher degree than Julian Ramos´s ”spiritual realm”.

Cyberspace´s enormous digital world is a dream world, an unregulated and uncontrolled domain. However, contrary to Julian Ramos´s spiritual sphere it has been created by machines. Cyberspace exists and is accessible to individuals from all over the world. A place both beyond and within everyday life. We enter Cyberspace to interact with others; exchange ideas, share information, provide social support, conduct business, gamble for money and play games, make contact with future spouses, create artistic media, discuss politics and direct, create and influence a wide range of actions in real life. Cyberspace is used and misused for money transactions, purchasing goods and product promotion. It benefits technology strategists, security professionals, entrepreneurs, government, military – and industrial leaders, as well as fanatics and criminals.

As the dream world, Cyberspace is a make-believe environment, visited by cybernauts who may appear to be real, but do not exist in reality.2 In 2017, the Scottish writer Andrew O´Hagan wrote a book in which he decribed how he created a fictive character who through the Internet gained a life of his own.3 He called him Ronald Pinn and received a Facebook account in the name of his invented character; complete with a profile, interests, and hundreds of fake friends.4 Soon Ronald Pinn gained real ”friends” as well, contacts enabling him to enter a vast market place.

O´Hagan became obsessed with his own creation – his Frankenstein monster and while being a novelist O´Hagan experienced how the character he had created began to control him. William Faulkner once said:

    It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.5

Tellers of tales, people who like Julian Ramos, are able to enter spiritual spheres where they do not only meet gods and angels but also encounter monsters. O’Hagan created his own Mr. Hyde, a dangerous doppelgänger. He made Ronald Pinn into a young drug addict, political extremist, and gun fetishist. In Pinn´s name, O´Hagan rented an actual apartment and through the web he purchased white heroin, arriving in vacuum packs costing £ 39. He also bought bundles of counterfeit money that was easily accepted in various London stores. For his web purchases the fake Ronald Pinn used cyber-currency, bitcoins, and as long as he paid he was welcome everywhere in Cyberspace, his real identity was never checked. Ronald Pinn could have been a mercenary, a terrorist, a psychopath – no one cared. He bought false identity documents, as well as several weapons, which arrived in parts to the apartment of a non-existent Ronald Pinn.

The so called Dark Web is a criminal´s paradise made real. O´Hagan found that it is a place governed by ”an anti-authoritarian madness. A love of disorder as long as your own possessions aren´t threatened.”6 The monsters and trolls created in the ”spiritual sphere” of traditional storytellers might not be real, though those inhabiting Cyberspace do exist. The fictitious Ronald Pinn contacted Cyberspace monsters who sold him drugs, weapons and means to contact pimps and killers. Cyberspace is a parallel universe with a potential to cause a lot of damage. We have to be careful not to fall in its traps and have to find means to check and shun the lies and deceits thriving there. We also have to try to help our friends and children to avoid being engulfed by the Dark Web.

1 The concept became common knowledge after the Canadian-US writer William Gibson 1982 introduced it in the short story Burning Crome, developing it further in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, where he described it as a “graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data,” Neuromancer (2016). New York: Penguin Classics, p. 52.
2 From October 2018 to March 2019, according to its own reports, Facebook took down more than 3 billion fake accounts.
3 O´Hagan, Andrew (2017) The Secret Life: Three True Stories. London: Faber & Faber.
4 Fake followers and friends (bots, spam accounts, inactive users, and non-real/invented persons) are common in political propaganda and consumer surveys. For example, Twitter Audit did in 2017 find that of 31 million followers of Trump´s Twitter, 15 million were bots and fake accounts. It was also recently established that 63 percent of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro´s more than four million twitter followers were fake.
5 Fant, Joseph L. and Robert Ashley, eds. (2002) Faulkner at West Point. Oxford MS: University Press of Mississippi, p. 101.
6 The Secret Life, p. 122.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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