Rebirth of Reason


Discussion Forums
by Erich von Dietz

Here is an idea I had for a play many years ago. I was inspired to write it after my close observation of a half-dozen Objectivist websites/forums. It never progressed beyond the rough draft stage. To be honest the play will never be completed. I realize now that the story is an old one that nearly everyone who has ever become a discussion forum member is overly familiar with.

Rough Draft for a play: The Discussion Forum

The Setting: an internet website created for the purpose of bringing together people of shared interest; in this case the forum is centered around: Objectivist philosophy. The forum is supposed to serve as a vehicle by which people can express themselves on a wide range of topics (from the trivial to the highly complex) within the context of an Objectivist perspective.

The Protagonist: the long suffering Website creator desperately trying to balance his heartfelt conviction that his Website should allow for a wide range of views and passionate debate, while simultaneously struggling to keep it from spiraling out of control into member factions who have dropped civil debate in favor of personal agendas. This character knows that there is an effort to undermine his creation; he can see that his Website is slowly losing its original flavor with an ever-decreasing number of benevolent Objectivist themes being discussed; replaced instead, by a never-ending series of debates that focus on the trivial and whose overall tone betrays its malevolent intent. Inherent within this character's philosophy (and incorporated into his website) is the concept of tolerance. It is that tolerance itself which will be used against him.

The Antagonist: the central foil in the play. An articulate master from the school of intellectualized evasion. He must be a determined, untiring, and eccentric character whose motives are hard to discern.  While the play will give hints and possible rationales for his motives – a definitive reason will never be given. The character's eccentric nature and manner of articulation must be able to convey the psychological appeal of a traffic accident in order to explain how he came to dominate the Website. You don’t want to look, you know what you will see is mangled and distasteful, but the melodrama of the scene compels you to stop and look anyway. While the antagonist’s inner motives remain a mystery, the one overriding element of his personality that he is unable to hide (even an avalanche of words and rationalizations) is his overwhelming need to control others.

Secondary Characters:

The Sentinel – a long time forum member who has invested a great deal of time and effort into the website's success. He unflaggingly follows the antagonist around, responding to his every word in every forum. Regardless of how badly a discussion may have deteriorated into a vicious cycle of personal insults and intellectual “one-up-manship’’ – he tries to bring it back to the website's original intent. He appeals to reason and civility. He rarely succeeds, and quite often his efforts result in his becoming the object of ridicule. The Sentinel is the tragic figure of the play.

The Hitman – unlike the antagonist, the Hitman is neither as articulate nor as practiced in the art of intellectual evasion. His forte is the art of ‘mockery’. What is aimed for here is an Ellsworth Toohey-type character who couches his mockery in Objectivist rhetoric. The character consistently portrays himself as an innocent victim of a “conspiracy” against him personally. The Hitman will always get the last word in any discussion, no matter what it takes – his rationale being that what he cannot win by argument or confusion he will win by endurance. Although the Hitman will from time to time display a masterful ability to exaggerate, mock, slander and distort – he is nevertheless a very transparent character. His Achilles Heel is the inner knowledge that in reality his intelligence is a fraud. His greatest fear is that he will be unmasked for the intellectual mediocrity that is his essential character.

* The following characters are yet to be fleshed out: The Sniper, The Stoic, The Lamb, and The Lurker.

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