Wednesday 8 May 2019

Pseudonyms are bad for bloggers' integrity - Francis Berger opines

In a hard-hitting pot, Francis Berger draws a line under pseudonymous blogging, and states that he personally has decided not to read any more pseudonymous blogs:

I cannot shake my deeply held belief that writers and thinkers who write such blogs under assumed pen names essentially lack moral courage. In my mind, their unwillingness to support their ideas with their true, natural identities reveals a failure of character. 

I have become increasingly convinced that the failure of character and lack of moral courage inherent in pseudonymous authorship likely causes spiritual harm for both the writer and the reader. 

Hence, I will no longer expose myself to anything written by anyone who works under a fictitious name online.

I am much of the same view as Francis, although I do read a few blogs where I personally know the identity of the bloggers; even though this is not known publicly.

But I think we ought to take seriously the warning that it is often an insidiously harmful practice to conceal identity. Insidious means that it does harm over time.

Of course, blogging under one's real name does limit what can be said in the public space, but perhaps it is better (overall, in the long-run) to acknowledge that limit.

For example, if - because of 'hate crime' and other laws - we are deterred from explicitly and freely discussing non-Christian monotheistic religions, or non-biological forms of sexuality, then we should simply say that these cannot be discussed - because illegal, or prohibited with Establishment-supported sanctions.

Which is the case.

NOTE ADDED: The above is not intended as a deterrent to pseudonymous commenters! Your comments are still welcome. But it is a suggestion that they examine their reasons for pseudonymity; and whether it is having, has had, adverse consequences. 

As for impetuous commenters - I have often declined to publish, or edited, comments when individuals get too reckless for their own good. After all, net-anonymity is an illusion under pressure, when the chips are down, or when powerful individuals or institutions are involved. 

Certainly, young people are prone to get carried away with themselves, especially when they imagine themselves to be anonymous - likewise people with various innate dispositions and medical conditions. So in moderating I try to help them avoid nasty consequences. But this is only useful to them if they learn from the experience. 

But there is no safe strategy for being alive, here-and-now. We are like the USSR in that (cowardly) obedience to evil and avoidance of controversy is no defence against persecution. And on the other side, some high profile dissenters operate for many years without being nobbled. 

If They happen-to want-to Get You, for whatever temporary reason currently fits their agenda; and if there is no available 'evidence'; then 'evidence' can and will simply be fabricated. This is just as effective. 

Paradoxically, in a world that is fundamentally incoherent from its pervasive evil; courage on those subjects you personally value as primary in importance, is just as 'expedient' as any other possible strategy! 

(Because nothing is safe, you 'might as well' have integrity!)


Francis Berger said...

Thanks for sharing this post on you blog, Bruce. This is a thorny issue; whenever I have addressed it in the past, I was accused of moral grandstanding, self-righteousness, and condescension, but I feel these accusations missed the main point I was trying to make about pseudonymous authorship.

"Of course, blogging under one's real name does limit what can be said in the public space, but perhaps it is better (overall, in the long-run) to acknowledge that limit."

This point of yours is crucial. Some have interpreted my criticism of pseudonyms as a call for rashness and foolhardiness online - that people should just go out and say whatever they feel under their own names without considering consequences, but this is not what I was advocating for, per se.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - Another line of support is that we have had a couple of decades of pseudonymous/ anonymous blogging - including of counter-cultural subjects.

20-plus years ago, there were all kinds of reasons put forward why pseudonymity/ anonymity ought-to have theoretical benefits. But from actual experience, I think we can see that the potential benefits were exaggerated and have not been very obvious, while the harms have been greater and more influential.

Overall, I think experience teaches that pseudonymity has been net harmful (although also it has done many specific, 'minority' good things).

This fits with my conviction that the single virtue that has most declined in the modern West is courage. Any practice that eliminates the need for courage and encourages a degree of cowardice is therefore likely to be popular and widely defended.

We are not talking about rashness and foolhardiness. But when courage is needed, and because courage is limited; when taking responsibility there is a tendency to fight the most necessary battles. I personally feel that we should be putting forward our deepest positive Christian ideas with courage; rather than sounding off about all the latest controversial media talking points (which are often baited traps).

That is about the limit of my own courage - and by blogging under my name, and wrt the content of that blogging, I am acknowledging the limits. Pseudonymity encourages a fake kind of boldness, and covers-up one's own limits of courage - hence the popularity.

Karl said...

Merely saying that something cannot be discussed because doing so would be illegal, is even more cowardly than commiting the crime of stating illegal facts and trying to escape prosecution by using a pseudonym.

Leaving the matter of courage or cowardliness aside, who is helping his community more? The man who declines to state truths, but says that it would be illegal to discuss any problematic topic, or the man who states truths, but uses a pseudonym?

Some truths are self-evident once you have heard them, but very hard to find on your own. For those truths, at least, the anonymous Blogger is valuable, more valuable than the Coward who refuses to speak truth

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - "saying that something cannot be discussed because doing so would be illegal..." That is Not my point.

I am saying that when someone (such as me) is afraid to discuss something because of some feared consequences (such as legal or violent sanctions), i.e. because of a degree of cowardice; then the thing to do is to admit the fear. Cowardice is only significant (from a Christian perspective) when it is denied.

(There is also a cowardice ostensibly on behalf of others.)

Your argument is about 'social utility' - about who is best serving the community interest (health, happiness, properity etc.) by saying this or that; but my perspective is about Christian salvation and theosis.