minotaur3I’ve received a number of emails asking me why I deleted this post and asking that I re-post it. I guess my thoughts on the matter were that “meta” discussions of how people communicate with one another, how they should communicate with one another, norms of civility, and trolls, gray vampires, and minotaurs have the paradoxical effect of generating more conflict, not less. Luhmann makes this point in his later sociological work, observing that when social discourses turn to discussions of norms conflicts in social systems tend to quickly ensue. However, since others have asked for the post, I here re-post it without further ado.

Riffing on Graham’s remarks about critique in the ordinary language sense of the term, I will say that I have become especially critical of those who participate online without revealing their true name or identity to the public. The standard argument is that a person’s true name and identity shouldn’t matter and we should just focus on the content of arguments and positions. I don’t see it this way at all. The person who does not make their identity public risks nothing through their engagement with others. They can be the biggest asshole in the world, spout the most ridiculous absurdities, engage in the most trollish, vampirish, or minotaurish behaviors without having to suffer any real world consequences for how they’ve participated or engaged with others. This isn’t true for the rest of us who have either a) left enough clues for anyone enterprising enough to discover who we are, or b) who participate with full disclosure of who we are. In these cases our engagement online can significantly impact our careers and future career opportunities. We have to live with the “paper trail” that our interactions produce and which we cannot erase or control. We can have others post our name whenever they might like, thereby drawing Google their way or have to deal with what we write. At the very least, as a condition for critique in the ordinary language sense of the term it should be conditional that the person leveling the critique themselves risk something and be accountable for their critique with respect to their own genuine philosophical engagement. The person being criticized should be able to say x (not the screen name, but the person’s true proper name) argued y and y should be tied to that person. Absent this, I’m not really sure how any discussion is really possible.

trollOn these grounds, I’ve reached the point of simply ignoring comments from assholes, trolls, grey vampires, and minotaurs who do not publicly reveal their identity. As I see it, if they’re not making a real existential risk with their public engagement then there’s no reason for me to allow my blog to be a platform for their remarks. Why? I’m the one taking all the risk and they lose nothing. They are not avowing their position or dealing with the consequences of their utterances. Because they have not entered into discussion publicly and in good faith, they have nothing to lose but I have a lot to lose by entertaining such folks and interacting with them. No doubt I’ll be accused of hypocrisy here as there was a time where I carefully strove to hide my identity. However, even then I made enough comments about my book, conferences I was participating in, and articles I was publishing for any enterprising person doing a search on me to discover who I am. And indeed others did post my name, link to me with my name, and so on such that in certain instances I asked them to delete it.

read on!

NightProjectionist-560As I see it there are one of two possibilities with anonymous bloggers: either a) they make a respectful and productive contribution to discussion while remaining anonymous, or b) they should immediately be excluded from blog discussion if they participate anonymously while behaving in boorish or assholish fashion because they risk nothing and are not genuinely copping to a position that commits them in future engagements. I also believe that other blogs should vigilantly exclude the participation of those who have participated elsewhere in this fashion for the same reason. The closest we have to anything like reputation and credibility here is how others have behaved in this medium. This is especially the case for those who participate anonymously. If a blogger has a history of behaving in this way they shouldn’t be given a platform on other blogs as they are undermining the norms of discourse through their actions. I simply see no other means for maintaining equity in blog discussions or engagements. Since, presumably, we all here advocate some version of equity as a norm of discourse, it follows that anonymous bloggers should be, in some form or another, accountable for their engagements. Isn’t this the core of a Kantian-style deontological argument?

In this connection, I have to give a number of the graduate students that participate online with full disclosure of who they are props for their courage. The academic rat race is already competitive enough– the only equivalents I can think of are the NFL draft or getting a good gig in Hollywood –without having an online “paper trail” following one about. The point here is not that we shouldn’t have a paper trail, but that we should be attentive to the sort of paper trail that we leave. The grad students that publicly reveal who they are really have spine because their engagement online will impact their subsequent career in the form of publishing opportunities, presentation opportunities, and project opportunities with the gatekeepers that happen to witness their meritorious or not so meritorious interactions online, as well as the word of mouth that gets around in the small world of academia when names come up. That behavior will either increase or diminish those job, publication, presentation, and project opportunities, and those decisions will be made through a combination of the merit of the work that folks produce online and offline (publications, presentations) even when being assholish, and the good or bad blood generated as a result of various interactions, their civility, their generosity, their respectfulness, and openness to fair discussion. Potential positions do Google you when you reach the final round for job interviews, and one of the key questions they do ask is whether this person is a colleague they would like to have for the rest of their lives. The academic world is much smaller than our general six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon (I’d say it’s three or four degrees of separation in these networks) and that’s worth remembering. In short, online engagements become a part of a person’s formal or informal CV insofar as potential positions do Google you.

Zizek somewhere argues that the net, far from making us sovereign creators of our own selves, instead hystericizes us, making us perpetually wonder who we are, what others want, and how others see us. In the full contact world of academic blogging I’m not so sure that this hystericization is such a bad thing professionally. What does really perplex me is those graduate students who do have something to lose that nonetheless congregate with the assholes that do not fully disclose who they are. These folks are allowing others to risk their careers and work when the others with whom they congregate are neither risking nor losing anything. It’s a rather odd dynamic. It’s a bit like participating at a KKK rally without wearing a hood. You get smeared with all the stigma of the KKK, damaged in all sorts of ways for participating in that behavior, while those wearing the hood lose nothing (unless their shoes can readily be seen). While clearly you should have never been participating in the KKK rally to begin with– you should have been smart enough to recognize why this behavior is obscene from the start –it’s particularly idiotic, should you choose to participate in that rally, to attend without a hood. And yes, I’m aware I violated Godwin’s law, but if the shoe fits…