Namely Coincidences

One of my very first posts on this blog was about how I am not the Steve Wiggins who is a gospel singer.  There I mused on the coincidence that we share fore and surnames, as well as an interest in religion.  He is far more prominent than I am.  I don’t sing.  Since that time the most prominent Steve Wiggins on Google is the one who shot a police officer in Tennessee.  We don’t even share the same name, technically.  My given name is Steve, not Steven.  The branch of Wiggins I come from, however, is from the south.  Stephen F. Wiggins, even further removed in the name-spelling department, was CEO at Oxford Health Plans.  Now, I work for a publisher that shares one of those three words, and it’s the one that’s most specific.  Are Steve Wigginses drawn to the same places?  Another Steve Wiggins, just a couple years older than me, lived in Russellville, Arkansas.  I grew up in Rouseville, Pennsylvania.  Coincidence?

Our sense of individualism is, it seems, socially conditioned.  If we try to imagine life in earlier human social structures, such as hunter-gatherer society, it looks as though people tended to function more as a collective organism.  The benefit of the group was the deciding factor, rather than what an individual wanted.  No doubt this was a more harsh environment for those who liked to think for themselves, even though evolution had given us that capacity.  Biology, however, seems to have species survival as its goal.  Individuals die while the organism lives on.  In modern society we consider individualism as one of the highest aims.

Our names individualize us.  I sometimes think of countries like China that have a combination of very large populations and a tradition of short names.  With limited numbers of possibilities repeats in names becomes inevitable.  It’s a prominent aspect of our western society that we want name recognition.  We want to feel special.  Unique.  We work against evolution, but evolution has vastly more time than we do.  Perhaps we’ve gone too far with our individualism.  I hope we don’t have to step back as far as The Matrix, but maybe a movement in the direction of the social good over individual wants would be the right thing to do.  Our psychology makes us want to feel special.  Our biology wants us to play nicely together.  Who, in the end, wins out?  It could make a world of difference.

Don’t Google Yourself

The internet has made us all less significant, in some ways.  Specifically I’m thinking about names.  “Wiggins,” when I was growing up, was an unusual surname.  In fact, people in Pittsburgh would sometimes send me clippings when a Wiggins appeared in the paper, it was so unusual.  Now with the internet I find plenty of Wigginses out there, and, in my case, several Steve Wigginses.  Not only that, but there are other academic Steve Wigginses, prompting to send me emails asking if I was the Steve Wiggins who wrote this or that article, often about agriculture or some other aspect of anthropology.  Who would’ve guessed?  There’s actually at least a third Steve Wiggins academic out there, an applied mathematician.  Perhaps there’s some mystical draw to higher education with a name like this?

But not so fast!  The most popular Steve Wiggins online seems to be the one who shot and killed a Dickson County, Tennessee deputy.  His act of violence, probably not for a Herostratic motivation, has nevertheless placed him in a pool of internet of fame.  So much so that a supervisor emailed me, jokingly, in June 2018, asking why I’d done it.  It’s difficult to build a good family name when some of us are going around shooting people.  A simple web search reveals that he is currently the best known Steve Wiggins in the country.  It could be because his trial was just last week, but still, but still…

One of my earliest blog posts here on Sects and Violence in the Ancient World was about the gospel singer named Steve Wiggins.  Prior to the murder of a police officer, this Steve Wiggins came to the top in any Google search.  To become well known you must release content.  In my world, which is small, that still means in print form.  Widely distributed.  And reasonably priced.  It’s clear I’ve got my work cut out for me.  The lessons we learn when we’re young have a way of staying with us.  It’s still easy to believe Wiggins is an uncommon surname—people still have no idea how to spell it—but the internet shows that’s just not true.  Even with both names there’s a significant number of both famous and infamous Steve Wigginses out there.  We all like to think we’re unique.  That we all have some kind of contribution to make.  Maybe mine is in the realm of horror movies.  Or Doppelgängers.  Only time will tell.

Who are you?


It’s disconcerting. Being mistaken for somebody else. I suspect I’m not alone in having shown up somewhere I’ve never been before only to have people mistake me for a local. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and what with the recent Steve Wiggins incident in Tennessee, it’s enough to make me question my uniqueness. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of undergoing identity theft some years back, and floating myself out here on the internet is something the wisdom of which I sometimes question. If I’ve got enough doppelgängers running around out there, perhaps I should be careful of revealing too much online. Such problems my grandparents never had.

A long time ago I turned off the warning alerts on my phone. It’s not that I don’t care, but rather it’s that I keep odd hours. Without revealing too much, I think I can say that I’m awoken somewhat often by those who don’t go to bed so early, or who don’t think about timezone changes before hitting “send.” We here in the American orient awake earlier than others. So I switched off my alerts. Then I started reading that other people were getting “Steve Wiggins alerts.” Was fame passing me by in the night? While this wasn’t the kind of fame I’d hoped to attain, a few stray visitors to this blog couldn’t hurt. When I searched Google for information on “Steve Wiggins” I found myself listed in the Google box on the right as “other.”

Some people who’ve written only two books are listed as “author” on Google. In my case it seems Google can’t figure out why anybody would be searching for me. “Other.” They say Google knows everything. It certainly knows how to flatter the self-seeker, at least most of the time. What does it mean to be an “other?” The unclassifiable? My work, indeed, falls into the “other” column, like that of many people who’ve made plans only to run into the cold reality that fate has laid out for them. Not being a professor any longer is a source of constant confusion to me. Books I read state that x or y knows about a subject because university z or w has hired them. There are those kinds of experts, then there are the “others.” And because of recent events, there are those instantly famous for killing another man and running away. Who am I? I’m not legend; I am other. What exactly that means I still haven’t sorted out.

Who We Were

Once upon a time there was no world-wide-web. The only computers in existence were industrial-sized military and research-based units that kicked off enough BTUs to heat Bar Harbor. Those of us interested in religion found our information by stalking shadowy library stacks and clawing through ancient tomes of arcane information. If someone wanted to find you, they shoved a letter in the postbox and trusted that the U. S. government knew where you were. I never used a computer regularly until I began my Ph.D., and then it was only a glorified typewriter, qwerty on steroids.

Suddenly I found myself in the technological age. Jobs were announced online and the preferred method of communication was email. Cell phones hadn’t hit big yet, but you could search for someone online using search engines that weren’t really engines at all. And then the information could be displayed in color, for those who could afford it! Pictures could be uploaded, but this took about an hour per shot on dial-up. Within a decade everyone trusted internet information like their best friend. Somewhere along the way I searched for my own name, figuring Wiggins to be somewhat unusual. To my surprise, I found another Steve Wiggins, and one involved in religion, no less. To my horror, he turned out to be a Christian rock musician! Now I began to wonder, as my career bumped along the bottom of the academic deep-ocean floor, never finding that fabled full-time teaching career that is said to exist, if I might be the victim of mistaken identity. Have deans and department chairs searched for “Steve Wiggins” and brought up my internet Doppelganger?

Not me! Notice the fancy hair, brown eyes and lack of a serious beard.

Not me! Notice the fancy hair, brown eyes and lack of a serious beard.

Technology has changed even the way we practice religion. It has changed the way we perceive reality. As I sit here blogging away, still seeking that mythic fulfillment of an academic job that will pay the rent, I wonder what the other Steve Wiggins is doing. Has his career suffered from being cross-wired with that of a liberal ex-professor who has an interest in ancient goddesses? Maybe miracles do occur after all!