I used to share an apartment with a cousin of mine named Graeme (he moved in with his fiancée not too long ago). Graeme is a rather mild-mannered, introverted math major who generally presents himself as a tolerant and thoughtful individual. He is also an avid hunter, fisherman, and all around outdoorsman. Basically, he is good at observing the physical world around him without disturbing it.
It was Graeme who introduced me to the concept of the “Grey Man” back in 2011 (he had apparently chosen the term for his instagram handle). A grey man apparently is someone who does not stand out from the background, who is able to not draw attention to themselves and whatever skills or resources they possess. He (or she, or xe) is generally well prepared for any sort of problem and deliberately acts and dresses in manner that leaves practically no impression. Basically, it seems like a term applicable to a successful spy or a survivalist in hostile territory (unsurprisingly, it is quite a popular concept on various blogs and forums centered around survival theory, disaster scenarios, and possibly the US constitution’s second amendment; links to some that I found are located below).
Naturally, the professional, pragmatic anonymity of a grey man is much different from the anonymity of a mob, a mask, or a web account, where people who just happen to have their identity obscured feel the need to behave in a most noticeable manner. When one’s identity is hidden (or if one thinks that their identity is hidden), then one may behave in a less inhibited manner.
In the case of the internet, there is the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”, which is referred as the Online Disinhibition Effect” in more polite circles. When communicating with someone online, you cannot physically perceive them, nor can you really expect any immediate or severe consequences for what you might say. Therefore, you are less likely to censure whatever message you want to give. Naturally, this has happened even with people on social media who use their real names and share the site with people they know in real life.
Incidentally, general lack of inhibition means that people online are more prone to being flirty and affectionate as well as full of rage and obnoxious opinions. On an unrelated note, disinhibition in general is found in psychopaths (at least according to Wikipedia).
An individual can and will also act with less inhibitions in the physical world when they are part of a larger crowd. The anonymity of being part of a larger whole results in deindividuation, a term that I learned recently refers to lessening of individual identity in favor of blind obedience to a group goal. The size of the group makes it easier to lose the distinctions of individuality and lesson any individual feelings of responsibility, which means each individual has experienced a reduction of risk apprehension and similar behaviors. It is through deindividuation that ordinary people become looters, form lynch mobs, and give in to crowd hysteria.
The wearing of masks, especially identical masks, probably increases the amount of deindividuation and resulting disinhibition that occurs. For the record, I think that deindividuation is required to get soldiers to function properly in a unit, and can potentially be used effectively in nonviolent protesting as well (if the crowd’s objective is to be peaceful, then everyone is going to be peaceful, dammit!).
Obviously, the masking of identity involved in a mindless mob or online antagonisms is antithetical to the grey man, who deliberately crafts and utilizes their anonymity to further a longterm goal of survival, rather than winding up in circumstances where a person feels that they can safely give into their short-term impulses. One of a grey man’s objectives is to avoid the attention of the deindividuated mob.
On the subject of my cousin, Graeme used the moniker for his social media account as a joke about his tendency to stick to the background and go unnoticed when people watching, as well as his decent survival skills. However, he does have an online persona that differs somewhat from his “normal” one. While not an asshole, Graeme is definitely more prone to sarcasm online than he is on real life, and is slightly more willing to share opinions on political and social matters (he also likes to post images and links related to mothman, MIBs, and similar spookiness, mostly due to the fact that “Grey Man” also happens to be the name of a famous ghost, and he thinks it would be in character for his pseudonym to like such things). For the most part, he is still laid back and non-impulsive; he just happens to be developing a distinct online alter-ego as well.
Fortunately, Jekyll and Hyde situations probably have no basis in reality (but I will investigate, just in case…)
Sources from which I gained information: