Archive for March, 2006

Agendas and More

Everyone has an agenda. Some are overt, some less so; some noble, some not. Many are subtle about it; some aren’t. The important thing to realize, however, is that the basis of an agenda is for all practical purposes irrelevant. Actions are more important than motivation.

This is closely related to anonymity and pseudonymity, two closely-intertwined subjects I’ve been writing about frequently this month. Anonymity and pseudonymity are – as should be obvious to most – important to me. Whether this is because I’m a pseudonymous blogger who writes occasionally inflammatory rhetoric, a subversive plotting to overthrow the government, a producer, distributor, or collector of ch1ld pr0n, or just a long-time privacy-rights advocate, is immaterial. My agenda is clear.

Kelly Ramsey thinks pseudonymity equals “irrelevance”. He writes:

For much reporting and analysis, though, reputation matters a great deal. Almost no one takes the time to independently confirm every presented fact or interrogate the logic behind every offered premise… As galling as it may be to admit, everyday information-gathering and assessment often runs on faith. As a result, the ability to evaluate an information-provider’s reputation for trustworthiness is indispensable.

At best, this seems to be disingenious reinforcement of bad habits; at worst, a patently flawed attempt to play “blame the victim” with the great unwashed masses.

Regardless of the fact that it’s widespread habit, people should not judge the veracity of a statement based entirely on the identity of the author. Rational, objective information-gathering should not “run on faith”. That is often does is not an argument against the creditability of anonymous and pseudonymous authorship, but, I feel, an argument for better education and instruction of critical reasoning and thinking skills.

Kelly addresses this as well:

Consider…the social constraint of time. Few, unfortunately, have the time to evaluate every single proposition on its own merits. People filter. Those information-providers who develop reputations for quality will, like it or not, rise through readers’ attention filters to the top. Those who develop reputations for uselessness (from, say, a propensity for vituperation or a habit of mindless agreement) will sink to the bottom.

I believe this is very nearly true. The problem lies in “reputation for quality”. To far too many, this is synonymous with “popularity”, and popularity has nothing to do with honesty, truthfulness, or accuracy. Bill O’Reilly is wildly popular, and considered by many to have a stellar reputation for quality. So too are Atrios and, for that matter, Anne Coulter. Their reputations have no bearing on the accuracy of their statements.

They’re hardly deep thinkers, I admit, but neither are your typical newspaper staff, magazine columnists, or, yes, bloggers. This isn’t a problem, though. The problem is that people let these folks’ ideas rise to the top, not based on the merit of their ideas, but because of who they are.

This isn’t a case of sour grapes on my part. I would much rather people learn to objectively evaluate information presented to them than hang on my every word. I’m not trying to become famous, get on television, and sign six-figure book deals. (If I were, I’d have a much more original pseudonym than “Nemo”.)

“Filtering” ideas based on an actual, individually-developed reputation of worth is one thing – critically approaching the work of a writer and deciding that it has consistent merit, then later accepting, if only provisionally, his or her future work as having value. Running with the herd, and mistaking popularity for worth is quite another.

Kelly again:

Consider the social constraint of respectability. As regrettable as it is, the longstanding online practice of using fanciful pseudonyms (whether as supplements to one’s real name or substitutions for it) has yet to gain acceptance among the most influential individuals and institutions. A real name is still a necessary credential for getting one’s foot in the door outside of the blogs, forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, and news groups. The most famous blog authors are those who maintain public identities. Journalists cite people, not screen names. Public intellectuals, private experts, and politicians currently have little incentive to take heed of nameless commenters.

And this brings me back to agendas: Kelly, as is evident from reading his blog, wants to be a Somebody. He wants attention. He wants a reputation. He wants to be respected, and creditable, and influential. He has a very firm idea of where he stands in society, and the strength of his disdain for those beneath him is matched only by his desire for upward mobility and importance. As such, he would like you to believe that his ideas, opinions, and vitriol have inherently more worth than those of others, because he signs them with his own name. (At least, he says it’s his own name…) It sounds like a reasonable position to many, and it serves his ends far better than telling his readers “Reason critically! Learn to evaluate things on their own merits!”.

The point is, you don’t need to know who I am – or who Kelly is – to spot our agendas. You don’t need to know who anyone is to spot their agenda. All the personal identity might do is help give you a reason for the agenda, which is immaterial.

It’s all fine and dandy to want to be “someone”. It’s easy to use your own name to help reinforce the system you want to be a part of. It’s remarkably easy to be yourself when you are trying to support the status quo, or being critical of straw men, stereotypes, and generalizations. Yet it’s painfully self-serving to dismiss anonymity and pseudonymity as “irrelevant”, to deny those who would rock the boat – those who would like some degree of privacy – or merely those who would like to promote unpopular ideas – the ability to do so in a meaningful way without personal risk.

Is this highbrow? Pretentious? Hopefully not. But maybe – if I’m lucky – it’s honest and open. Considering the subject at hand, that would be kind of ironic – which is truly irrelevant. :)

Published in: General, Meta | on March 31st, 2006 | 2 Comments »

Atrios Weighs In

Atrios weighs in, in typical Atrios style, on the pseudonymity issue.

Many seem to think that only those with nothing to fear are allowed to have (or at least voice) opinions. Sadly, this quickly leads to a situation where people only voice ideas they’re not afraid to be identified with.

Much more on anonymity and pseudonymity to follow…

Published in: General | on March 31st, 2006 | No Comments »

Elitist Prigs

Seems some elitist prigs have yet to develop irony.

When I peruse a blog that is composed soley of snide and contemptuous remarks – no matter how far back in it’s archives I search for redeeming qualities – I’m inclined to dismiss it as ignoble juvenalia. There may potentially be a pearl of insight buried amid the excrement, but wading thru the latter is, most can attest, never worth the chance of the former. Because I’m neither a useless ivory-tower academic nor pretending very, very hard to be one, I can make the time in my busy day to point out their silliness, ignorance, and hypocrisy with a comment or two, as much due to my being of base birth as to a desire to punish such behaviour and those knaves who perpetrate it.

Narcissism is prevalent, even endemic, among would-be academics; the condition is common to the rich, lazy, inbred, those from broken homes, and those who can but aspire to such heights of angst and ennui. It’s a defense mechanism to help the starry-eyed idealist avoid coping with the painfully disappointing realities of their lackluster existance. Good therapists can usually hasten the inevitable removal of wool from the eyes and lead the sufferer to a more palatable state of disillusionment, but the stigma of therapy is, alas, generally most abhorrent to those who need it most.

Friends and loved ones can also stage an intervention, but the constant trickle of snide comments and other positive affirmations from the narcissist’s mouth generally preclude the existance of the former while fostering apathy in the latter.

The accessibility of the world-wide web as a publishing medium makes them terribly attractive to narcissists; all the self-importance and self-indulgence of vanity publishing, without the bothersome expense or easily interpreted quality metrics.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on March 29th, 2006 | No Comments »

More on Pseudonymity

Kelly Ramsey yesterday jumped on the “pseudonymity is bad” bandwagon, opining:

Bloggers often, but not always, publish under pseudonyms. So do teenagers, college students, and other random citizens of no intellectual import.

Judgemental much, Kelly? Whereas I believe opinions should be weighed and valued on their own merits, it’s clear that – as I pointed out before – for some, who’s talking is more important than what’s being said.

A well-maintained pseudonym also allows one to disappear, if need be. People who can readily disappear are not dependent upon their reputations.

Any number of people have written any number of interesting and noteworthy things – under their own names – and later disappeared. Online, you can be anyone, and anything, you wish. For all I know, “Kelly Ramsey” is a pseudonym for, say, Norm Coleman. Hey, I can’t prove otherwise, can I?

Why can a pseudonymous author not be “dependent” on their reputation? For that matter, why care so much about authorial reputation? Grow some critical thinking skills, and evaluate everything objectively. It’s much more productive than character attacks on pseudonymous personas…

Published in: General, Meta | on March 28th, 2006 | 2 Comments »

On Pseudonymity

A passably interesting, tolerably-written, relatively articulate but widly meandering attack on online anonymity that completely fails to get it.

She (?) completely fails to understand the point of online pseudonymity, nor how it differs from anonymity:

No publication considers a truly anonymous source — one whose identity is unknown to both reporter and readers — a usable one for any purpose other than further inquiry. And yet reporters, including myself, have routinely cited the writings of pseudonymous commentors, in grave violation of that standard.

There’s a huge difference between “anonymous” and “pseudonymous” sources. Just because a person’s name, address, birthdate, and social-security number aren’t known doesn’t automatically discredit them. There are any number of people who write under pseudonyms and whom have a great deal of respectability and creditability.

Indeed, in the sphere of politics, pseudonymity may actually do more to advance discourse than full and open disclosure. With the near-religious attachment many seem to get to various politicians, and the way they hang on their every utterance, treating them as sacred Truths, coupled with equal, if not greater, degree of animosity and disdain towards other politicial figures and their ideas, and varying degrees of bigotry and discrimination prevalent on both sides of the aisle, pseudonymity – or even anonymity – encourages, and to an extent requires, one to objectively approach the writer’s ideas without bias or preconceived notions.

Critical thinking isn’t a bad thing. The identity of a person presenting an idea – the knowledge of their identity – shouldn’t affect our reaction to the idea itself. Donald Rumsfeld’s insane blatherings aren’t insane blatherings just because they come out of Rummy’s mouth, they’re insane because, well, they’re objectively at odds with reality, i.e. really insane. Ben Domenech occasionally (very occasionally) has an idea that’s almost worth listening to, but because he’s Ben Domenech, many will accept everything he says as gospel truth, and many will immediately dismiss it as the drivel of a juvenile plagiarist.

Indeed, I’m strongly inclined to dismiss all of Garance Franke-Ruta’s ideas… just because they were written by “Garance Franke-Ruta”.

-Nemo de Monet

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General, Meta | on March 27th, 2006 | No Comments »