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April 14, 2009

Comments

I wasn't aware you even HAD another name.

since this is a housekeeping post...

it'd be nice if there was a way to link to your (or other ObWi writers) articles directly.

something like: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/hilzoy

so if each post you did was also in the category of your name (or tagged with your name) that would help people recommend or find your posts specifically.

I wasn't aware you even HAD another name.

Hilzoy's other name is a pseudonym.

Odd. I brought up rectification of names in a blog comment just a few hours ago. Much less cleverly, it's nearly a given.

In any case, once more for the record: on blogs, I would rather be known as hilzoy.

What?!!? Not "hilzoy the magnificent," or "hilzoy her worshipfulness," or "hilzoy the hilzerian, the shape-shifting god of destruction"?

Riddle of the day:

What thought comes into a Jewish hiker's mind when the trail is not as level as hoped for?

I give.

Hills! Oy!

Hooray, slarti! But I'm not sure you get full credit since you quit a minute early.

"They are, however, mine, and I do not think that anyone else ought to take it upon him- or herself to disregard them, especially if s/he does not know what they are."

I agree. Anyone who would so disregard someone's wishes seems to me to be doing something wrong, or at the very least, strangely, obliviously, thoughtless.

One doesn't out pseudonyms on the internet without good cause. If you do, many people will rightfully condemn you.

Or, as is the case here, condemn Linda Hirshman. (Whom I'll note I know nothing about until her comments here yesterday.)

What can I say? I'm a giver.

I really thought that response by Hirshman was awfully weak. First of all, the "out-ing" was gratuitous. I would have thought that Hirshman would have at least asked before posting that. Hilzoy's actual name and professional affiliation are not anywhere on the blog. They're not even in her bio on the blog. Given that, you would think it would be natural to wonder whether she had some interest in her privacy. I don't think there was any malice there. But Hirshman's probably trying to talk up the significance of the dispute by pointing out Hilzoy's professional credentials (better to argue with a professor than with a mere blogger right?). So I think there was a motivation there for her to do it, I think that motivation was what impelled her to not take a precaution of checking with Hilzoy that she would ordinarily take, and I think it was a little selfish.

Second, the complaint is ridiculous and a little offputting:

Individual stories eventually add up to evidence, true, but a personal, revelatory anecdote tends to abort what is supposed to be a political conversation. If we are to discuss the politics of abuse, we need to resist this rhetorical move.

But that wasn't the rhetorical move at all. The personal anecdote was just an effort to explicate the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of certain men. It wasn't a move to abort a conversation. It wasn't an appeal to emotion at all. For one, it wasn't all that emotional. Hilzoy just got yelled at in Ankara, and she left. Just what kind of debate is that bathetic appeal to emotion going to silence?

It takes a pretty tin ear to hear that in Hilzoy's argument. I'm really not sure there is any way of reading that into what Hilzoy wrote unless you simply came to that paragraph with the presumption that she would do so.

I had always imagined that signing my posts 'hilzoy' was a clear enough indication of how I would like to be known on blogs...

That's been my assumption as well. I think this is an MSM bias, that pseudonyms are somehow silly and thus one should write "Duncan Black, who blogs as Atrios" and so on - but even then there's a difference because he has his name right there on the web page under contact information. Anyway, I'm sorry you had to go through this episode, and agree with you on Slate's policy. I would think there would be some specific guideline for correcting misspellings of names, as well as adding middle names or initials when it's unwanted. So I think they should amend their policy to cover pseudonyms and a blogger's wishes on that front.

Bloody Hell.

Linda Hirshman is a moron of Kathryn Cramer proportions, and ought to be (but probably isn't) thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Bah.

I found this strangely cheering, and hope it cheers you too.

Since the toothpaste can't be shoved back up in the tube, best not to waste any more time fretting about it.

"Linda Hirshman is a moron of Kathryn Cramer proportions"

Gosh, that's completely gratuitous. Way to slur someone who has never commented here, with no connection whatever to this, or any other, discussion here, ever.

Classy.

And Kathryn is a friend of mine (I've known her since she was 16), and one of the smartest people I know. (Which isn't to say I always agree with her about everything, but that's another question.)

@ Bernard Yomtov
Interesting etymology, but I always thought Hill Soy was the Tofu equivalent of shade-grown coffee?

It was Hirschman, eh? Wow. At this point, I really am beginning to wonder whether her habitual tone-deafness isn't some sort of mental affliction. If that were the case, I would have a good deal more sympathy for her propensity to offend everybody within a 100-mile radius. She has some thought-provoking ideas sometimes (how women who choose to leave the workforce to stay at home are making working life more difficult for other women, for one*), but they generate so much more heat than light that I've been unwilling to participate in Hirschman-related conversations.

*This argument nearly destroyed Unfogged. It lasted for days if not weeks and ended with hurt feelings all around.

I've stayed out of Hilzoy's posts on the subject, because although I was moved by what I did read I found that I had little to add, and I was very unsurprised to find myself agreeing with what Hilzoy had to say, and because the threads were incredibly long and I'm supposed to be busy.
Still, although I'm aware that I'm coming late to the party, my heavens but the Hirschman post in question is obtuse. I especially like the second paragraph, with its condescending intro and its later implication that women should be blamed for failing to behave like coldly rational actors in possession of all the facts about their partners and their own lives.

Roz Kaveney:

No matter how principled Kathryn Cramer's objections to the pseudonyms of online life, and no matter how bitter her experiences with right-wing idiots trashing her from behind handles over her anti-war writings, you do not break a universally accepted convention - viz. that online handles are sacrosanct - by arbitrarily over-turning that convention in a particular instance. When you do that, and people quite rightly get angry with you, you do not threaten to sue without very good reason, and you above all do not start applying for TOS of people on the other side in a row.

You do not do this because it is a general assault on freedom of speech.
You also do not do this because it makes your 'side' look bad.
You also do not do this because it ensures that a whole area of fannish life is going to be rendered toxic for the forseeable future - OK that had pretty much happened already, but there were, prior to this, some hopes that in due course Wiser Counsels Might Prevail.

RaceFail dragged up a whole lot of issues, but one of them was "People who arbitrarily decide that someone else shouldn't be allowed to maintain the privacy of an online pseud".

I suspect Hirschman's outing was just being moronic rather than actively malicious, though: "Oh I must use her REAL NAME, even though it's fairly clear she doesn't blog under it, because that will be MOAR PROPER".

Well, sod that. Sometimes people use pseuds for a very damned good reason, and even if they have no reason at all beyond "That's how I choose to do it" that's what they should be allowed to do.

I wouldn't have outed G'Kar, for example. Even if I had known no good reason not to.

Kathryn Cramer argued earlier in the year that Aliases Are for People on Wanted Posters. And then acted on her belief.

That's the kind of person who would have insisted on tagging "Samuel Clemens" as the author of Tom Sawyer, while he was alive and well and choosing to write under the name of Mark Twain.

Reading your post reminded me of why I've never felt the need to put my name out there on the trons, nothing dramatic, just a feeling that I'll do it when I'm ready, if ever. Of course, I will have to pay you a compliment, Hilzoy, and say that if there was half a chance in the world that I could do what you do (reason, write, explain everything so generously), I'd probably be spray painting my name all over the damn place... one of those pesky catch 22's of life, which I imagine we can all be thankful for.

BTW, the post caused me to do something I hadn't done in several years. I googled my name. I still got it, nothing that is. That's kinda the way I like it.

This has come up before (though that was deep in the comments to a silly post).

You know how much I hate to say this: but, just for once, Gary's right, I'm wrong. I shouldn't have brought the KC issue into this thread, and I'm sorry I did.

"You know how much I hate to say this: but, just for once, Gary's right, I'm wrong."

Somewhere, an angel just got her wings. ;)

It is hard to tell if Hirshman believes she is making about point about Hilzoy's credibility by invoking her RL name and job, or if she is just obtuse, though she seems like the type who, once she has found a hook to hang an argument on, is unwilling to let it go.

Though I've been busy (or perhaps because I've been busy) I've had a number of thoughts generated by the discussions here in the past week and here's one. I've been wondering if in writing about my life and experiences over at TiO whether I will some day tell my daughters that I have this pile of writings that mentions them in various ways or not? And if so, when?

It could well be that Hirshman doesn't realize that Hilzoy prefers to be referred to as Hilzoy. It could well be that Hirshman doesn't have the familiarity many of us do with blogging culture, where established pseuds are respected.

I am reluctant to assign malice; otoh, you do have to go to some effort to find Hilzoy's legal name before using it in replying to Hilzoy's (far superior) post. Which reads to me like malice, if ignorant malice. Hirshman may well not have understood to what extent she was transgressing the norms of the blogging community.

I still find it rude.

The Law of Names

If you know something's True Name, you have power over it. Peasants do not have control over their names. That's reserved for aristocrats. Media types tend to get really neurotic about this. Reporters, informants and "sources" can hide their identities; the rest of us can not.

On the Net, this simply collapses. How is "Gary Farber" any more of a "real" name than "hilzoy" (or, for that matter, "lightning")? On the Net, we're known by our online reputation; "hilzoy of Obsidian Wings" has a reputation, "Joe Smith", with a "real" name but no online history, does not.

I can certainly understand why you'd want to keep your identity a secret -- your status as the scion of a multi-generational dynasty of pampered college professors and Nobel Laureates certainly calls into question your oh-so-idealistic blogging on the subject of equality and privilege in American society.

"Peasants do not have control over their names."

Speak for yourself, I found if I change mine three times a month, those credit card companies can't never catch up. I just need to scrounge up a new telephone number.

If you know something's True Name, you have power over it. Peasants do not have control over their names. That's reserved for aristocrats.

It doesn't get much more aristocratic then:

(1) Getting into undergraduate and graduate school by virtue of your daddy being President of Harvard. (After taking half a decade "off" in between to live the life of a trustafarian.)

(2) Having daddy pick up the phone and get you a faculty position at a famous school, jumping you in line over hundreds of objectively better qualified people, and then

(3) Blogging under a (very porous) "pseudonym" so that you can convince yourself you "succeeded on your own" -- that you actually accomplished something that Daddy didn't pick up the phone and arrange for you.

I notice you didn't do your academic work under a pseudonym -- god forbid when you apply to that sweet faculty gig at Johns Hopkins your CV should go on the same slush-pile as those from all the other candidates who weren't descended from two Nobel Laureates and a President of Harvard.

Josh Evans: you have obviously never met my Dad.

Of course not! How could I?

I'm sure the security guards would have orders not to let community-college rif-raff
like me on campus in the first place.

OK forget it, I'm sorry I was mean.

But as a long time fan of your blogging, I am incredibly pissed that you thought it was OK to conceal information that your blogging was so grossly at variance with the way you lived your IRL.

But I did go overboard -- SORRY.

I can certainly understand why you'd want to keep your identity a secret -- your status as the scion of a multi-generational dynasty of pampered college professors and Nobel Laureates certainly calls into question your oh-so-idealistic blogging on the subject of equality and privilege in American society.

This is, of course, absolutely wrong.

Anybody who's done large amounts of social work, philanthropy and charity work knows this has it exactly backwards.

But then again, character assassination, not truth, is the object here.

Funny, the last I knew, which was two weeks ago, the Harvard campus was sitting with its gates and grounds wide open for anyone in its heavily populated urban neighborhood to walk through. Not only was no one checking to see whether you were a community college student, no one was checking anything.

Josh Evans: apology accepted. The information was not very well concealed -- I've never had a problem with people knowing what actual person wrote these blog posts; it's more that I don't want people, and specifically my students, to find it easy to get from my actual name to my blog posts. And until TypePad stopped taking email addresses, my email address was available to anyone (as it still is over at the Monthly.)

"I can certainly understand why you'd want to keep your identity a secret"

Hilzoy's identity is no secret. However, as she's written a number of times, she prefer to not have her students find her political opinions immediately turning up under the name she blogs under, if she can help it.

(I think the biggest step she could take to ameliorate this would be to get her pseudonym taken off her Wikipedia entry, myself.)

That seems an entirely reasonable POV to me, but perhaps you disagree, and prefer to assume insulting, stupid, reasons.

The rest of your accusations are unsupported, unfounded, scurrilous, insulting, and outragous.

"Sorry" doesn't cut it: you've been a complete and utter jerk.

Hilzoy wouldn't say it, and wouldn't do it, but such unfounded personal attacks warrant banning.

Oh, and I have no idea which "Josh Evans" you are, or if that's even your real name. Please post a link where we can check your personal information, such as address, phone number, social security number, and other identification, along with a CV, and family background, including CVs on all your immediate relations, so we can evaluate how much relevant information you are concealing.

What, you want to keep concealing this entirely relevant information?

Well, then, obviously you have ulterior motives, and your comments should be henceforth disregarded.

F*ck off Farber, no one asked you.

"...certainly calls into question your oh-so-idealistic blogging on the subject of equality and privilege in American society."

Why does Hilzoy's background "certainly" say anything at all? (Except, perhaps, remind us of the luck of the draw.)

I don't know Hilzoy or who she is or what she teaches or who her family is etc etc. But let's assume she had a "privileged upbringing" — so what? I don't see how it calls into question anything at all much less her sincerity. Her family background is irrelevant to a consideration of the wisdom (or lack) of her writings. It may be interesting to conjecture about why some people are able to see outside the filters they inherit. But without a whole lot of data it seems incorrect to question any person's sincerity because of their background.

But as a long time fan of your blogging, I am incredibly pissed that you thought it was OK to conceal information that your blogging was so grossly at variance with the way you lived your IRL.

I don't think you understand how hilzoy lives her "IRL". Not that I've met her in person, but if you've read her and corresponded with her as much as I have (which is not nearly as much as I should, probably) you'd know that she's as genuine as it gets. I would be very happy to call hilzoy friend, trust fund or no, pampered academia or no. None of that, you see, has much bearing on who she actually is.

I say this as someone who regularly disagrees with hilzoy on politics, or at least I imagine that I do.

I'm sure the security guards would have orders not to let community-college rif-raff
like me on campus in the first place.

Posted by: Josh Evans | April 14, 2009 at 08:19 PM


And, Josh: if sneering nasty blogposts like the ones you've presented here are any indicator of your attitudes and demeanor IRL towards people you don't know, one can easily understand why they wouldn't....

I suspect Hirschman simply didn't think. People whose professional reputation rests in their byline aren't likely to appreciate the notion of google-proofing. And there's a bias against pseudonyms: "also known as" carries an implication of untrustworthiness.

The reporter who covered Major Olmsted's funeral for, was it the Rocky Mountain News?, used Hilzoy's other name. It was obviously (to him) the appropriate level of formality. "Hilzoy" would have felt wrong.

Let's hope Hilzoy doesn't have any more self-proclaimed longtime fans waiting to express their appreciation.

jim: that reporter gets special slack. ;)

Hilzoy, I'm sorry -- that Slate article was a cheap, nasty way to try and intimidate you. There's no way in hell they didn't realise publishing your name was inappropriate. And they should have made the change.

"F*ck off Farber, no one asked you."

I'm sorry, you seem to have intended to send someone email, rather posted to a public blog centered around discussion. Perhaps you'll remember how to use email next time you desire to have a private conversation, and exercise your charming talent for sparkling conversation, and substantive intercourse.

Josh Evans --

Yeesh, man! What got the bug up your arse? She's got a Wikipedia page and you don't? She writes stuff that's worth reading and you don't?

Looks like hilzoy has acquired herself a stalker.

I can't decide whether the choice of "Josh Evans" as (I assume) a pseudonym is brilliant or disturbed. (Josh Evans was the pseudonym of Lori Drew et al. in the so-called Myspace Sucidie case.) In any event, even assuming that JE is even half-accurate as to Hilzoy's background, I draw the exact opposite conclusion from JE's story. By blogging under a pseudonym, you can separate the messenger from the message more easily. If the message is worthy, it wins out.

Of course, I may be biased.

Sucidie = suicide, of course. And, dammit, Lightning beat me to the reference.

substantive intercourse

Dear Prudie: Is it wrong for me to be looking forward to getting rid of the kids for the weekend so that I can engage in some, ummm, substantive intercourse?

Heavens. I missed the reference.

It must be comforting to find yourself moneyed all of a sudden, hilzoy.

herd of cattle
murder of crows
rectification of names

Von --

Synchronicity! Usually, I'm the one on the slow end of it.

The business with "Josh Evans" shows a couple of other little fishhooks in the "real name" issue:

* Everybody realizes that "von" and "hilzoy" and "lightning" are not the names on our Government Issued Identity Documents. But "Josh Evans" is a perfectly ordinary looking name. There's no a priori way of telling that it isn't (in whatever sense) "real".

* If "Josh Evans"'s name is really "Josh Evans", he now has a real hole to dig himself out of. How does he prove, to anyone's satisfaction, that he's him, and not just some troll using a rather sinister pseud?

The Net is based on reputation. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a reputation. I've read a lot of blogs by "big name" people, and most of them are as boring as any other random person on the Net.

"You are what you write".

Slarti: yes. And those trustafarian years (two), during which I held such jobs as ironing shirts for about a dollar an hour. (This gave me a lifelong aversion to ironing.)

One thing that makes me a regular reader (and occasional commenter) here is the intelligence and civility of the comment threads. This one ought to be put forward as a perfect example of what those features mean, in part because the opposite has, in this case, been so well illustrated.

I assume that Hilzoy's hypothetical, of an author including a phone number, would never make it past the editorial process in the first place, because the editorial staff would know that this might put them at the wrong end of a lawsuit, just as defamatory material would. So part of the "problem" (in quotes because good manners should have kept Hirschman from doing this in the first place) is that the law doesn't yet cover blogging names as private matters. I would have expected the editors of an online publication to be more sensible, though.

I have never referred to Hilzoy by name, although I have referenced her profession once (in a post where I pointed out that if a professor of ethics could see the credit crunch coming on early 2007, the Jim Cramer of CNBC and his equally clueless associates didn't have much of a leg to stand on). And I respect her wishes not to have her identity widely published on the Internet.

But I do have a couple of comments about anonymity. It does not bother me that people choose to keep their identity private on the Internet. But I would ask an ethical question: do those who enjoy various advantages of anonymity on the net have any responsibility to those who sign our names? This proceeds, of course, from the more basic question: does signing your name to what you write serve any good?

You can probably guess I personally answer yes to both questions. I answer yes to the second question because I believe that making the Internet into an environment where anyone can say anything from behind a handle, and suffer no consequences for it, would mean in the long run that nothing said on the Internet would have any meaning at all. I believe that if the idea that only idiots and egotists sign the name on their driver's license to what they post on the net, and everyone should feel free to write anything they like gains general acceptance, the Internet will turn into a much less pleasant place. I have interacted with people who quite explicitly had that attitude: they said any mean and ugly thing they could imagine, and when their handles got too radioactive, they changed to another, the way most of us would change a compromised password. Needless to say, the corner of the net they inhabited did not have much to recommend it.

Given that I affirm the right of anyone to choose a pseudonym, what then do I ask of those who make that choice? I note, by the way, that those who would lose their freedom of their career by expressing their opinions openly fall into a different category. From those who choose to put their opinions forward under a pseudonym, I ask three things, and the second and third follow from the first. First, please do not treat my signing my own name as a folly, a self-indulgence, or a sign of egotism. Secondly, I would ask you to accept that you cannot invoke your personal credibility from behind a pseudonym; if you send out your argument anonymously, it has to stand on its own. Third, anonymous personal attacks have an infinitely pathetic quality; obviously, Hilzoy wouldn't make such attacks, but I would go further and ask her to take note of personal attacks elsewhere, and to join in the work of making them unacceptable.

John: I answer yes to the second question because I believe that making the Internet into an environment where anyone can say anything from behind a handle, and suffer no consequences for it, would mean in the long run that nothing said on the Internet would have any meaning at all.

But that's nonsense, John.

I can say anything I like on the Internet, true. I use a pseudonym, I have done so since 2002, it's the same one then as now. What I say brings consequences. True, the consequences do not (in general) apply in the "real world": they apply in the environment of the Internet. I have a reputation, it's firmly attached to this handle.

True, I could "just" adopt another pseudonym, change my ISP in order to change my IP address, and abandon 7 years or so of online interaction: oh, and hope no one recognized my writing style and identified me as formerly-Jesurgislac (or that when they did - as they would - they contacted me to ask before outing me).

But this would be "just" in the sense that I could do it. Just as you could, if you wanted to use a new handle. But it would carry consequences, and considerable ones, especially if it was thought I had adopted a new pseud solely to dodge the ire coming at me for things I'd said under the old one.

First, please do not treat my signing my own name as a folly, a self-indulgence, or a sign of egotism.

Why should I do so, when you are treating my signing my comments with a pseudonym as sign of lack of credibility? If you want not to be mocked or insulted for your own personal and harmless choices - such as signing what you claim is your own name in RL to your comments - why are you not prepared to give the same in equal measure? What makes you think you can ask for respect when treating others with contempt?

Secondly, I would ask you to accept that you cannot invoke your personal credibility from behind a pseudonym; if you send out your argument anonymously, it has to stand on its own.

You are confusing "anonymously" with "pseudonymously". That's a mistake. An anonymous comment is one left unsigned. Mark Twain, as an example, was not anonymous. Nor was George Elliot.

Third, anonymous personal attacks have an infinitely pathetic quality; obviously, Hilzoy wouldn't make such attacks, but I would go further and ask her to take note of personal attacks elsewhere, and to join in the work of making them unacceptable.

I'd agree with this, providing you are not confusing (as you appear to be in your Secondly) anonymous with pseudonymous.

I remember the time Hilzoy had her book published, and wrote a lot about it here - I was very curious about this book, but I couldn't find it, as I didn't know Hilzoy's real name then!

I respect your decision, Hilzoy, but I hope you change your mind one day. Facebook has shown me that while pseudonymity may be the norm on the net, appearing under one's real name has many underappreciated benefits.

I have what I'd call one-way pseudonymity for my blogs and comments. If you read my blog, it's possible to work out who I am, partly because I sometimes blog about my historical research, which is very specialist. What you can't do is input my name into Google and find my blog. This is because I sometimes discuss my child, and I don't want it to be easy to find details about her which might embarass her in later years. (I have also been reluctant to have possible employers googling me, though that's less of a concern now I've given up on an academic career).

What I haven't assumed is that pseudonymous blogging allows me to say what I like and not take the consequences to my reputation of this. (I've always had members of my family reading my blog, which has influenced me on this). It's if pseudonymity is used for this reason that it's potentially irresponsible, not the use of a pseudonym itself.

As for the complaints about hilzoy's social status negating her views, I'd say that she's fairly frequently referred to her having a privileged lifestyle as a child. The exact details of this privilege may not have been obvious to regular readers, but are there any of us who hadn't worked out that she had prosperous and well-educated parents and the kind of background that makes success more likely?

Can someone link to the Slate article? I can't seem to find it.

Ugh: Sadly, I found it by googling on Linda's real name and Hilzoy's pseud.

here you go, Ugh.

John, I agree with Jes that you're confusing pseudonymous posting with anonymous posting. Like Jes, I've had the nickname "von" on the web since 2002 -- and, in personal life, prior to that. (It's a play on my real name.) I suffer consequences when I write something that doesn't make sense, is idiotic, or is inflammatory.

Moreover, although I cherish being pseudonymous for a variety of reasons, I try to always write with the assumption that I'll be "outed" some day. That's why, for instance, I don't blog on certain matters that may have professional consequences for me. I don't blog regarding client matters -- either in support of those matters or in opposition to them.* I don't blog regarding areas of the law that may affect my clients, or on which my clients may have different (including conflicting) preferences. Indeed, I tend to avoid legal blogging in general -- my last gay marriage post notwithstanding. I also don't take sides on certain public policies where my clients may have an interest (e.g., the auto industry bailout).

The foregoing may not be strictly required by my ethical vows as an attorney, but they make good practical sense.

*I did make an exception when I linked a decision in favor of a client some years ago, in which I won a case in a relatively unusual way. (When I say "won", I mean that I took the deposition that set up our victory, not that I did all the work or deserve all the credit.)

your status as the scion of a multi-generational dynasty of pampered college professors and Nobel Laureates certainly calls into question your oh-so-idealistic blogging on the subject of equality and privilege in American society.

Now that's sticking it to the man! Off the pigs!!

Equality cuts both ways, dude.

OK forget it, I'm sorry I was mean.

For "mean" read "an ass".

But wait, that hole is not quite deep enough yet!

F*ck off Farber, no one asked you.

I don't recall anyone directing any questions at you, either.

It may be that you actually have something worthwhile to say. If so, you have about three times your body weight in crow to eat before anyone will take you seriously on any topic whatsoever.

Jes, von:

I take your point about pseudonymous blogging versus strictly anonymous blogging: once you have a body of work behind your Internet handle, you do have something to lose.

That said, I still insist that while someone who signs a consistent handle on the net puts more on the line, all other things equal than someone who does not. Once, a while ago, someone perpetrated a fraud on one of the academic newsgroups in an effort to wreck my professional reputation and that of two other people (this happened way before blogging started as a general practise). That may explain why I do not want to see people begin to expect the use of anonymity, or even the use of pseudonyms. The day we say of someone who suffers an attack on their career or reputation that they deserved it for signing their real name, that day we lose something valuable on the net.

Jes, I don't think I gave you any reason to doubt that I post here and elsewhere under my own name. On the subject of credibility: it seems you interpreted my comment more broadly than I intended. I did not say that anonymous or pseudonymous postings have no credibility. I do not believe that. I said you could not invoke your personal credibility if you do not sign your name. Your postings, or if you have an established pseudonyms with a number of postings, your body of postings, have to stand on their own.

I don't think I gave you any reason to doubt that I post here and elsewhere under my own name.

Indeed, and it wouldn't even have come up had you not tried to make a distinction between people who post under a pseudonym (myself, Von) and people like you who claim to post under your own name.

You see, all you can actually do is claim that the name under which you blog is the same name you use in RL. And I do not care, in fact, whether it is or it isn't. You are the one claiming that you are my superior in credibility because you post under "John Spragge". You are therefore the one on whom the burden falls to show (a) that John Spragge is, in fact, the legal name you use on and off the Internet, and (b) that this use of "John Spragge" as your handle all by itself makes your assertions more credible than mine.

That may explain why I do not want to see people begin to expect the use of anonymity, or even the use of pseudonyms.

Too late. May not be too late for straight, white, cisgendered men with job security that isn't threatened by what they write on the Internet, but for the rest of us plebs - too late. I adopted this handle in 2002 because an exceedingly bad experience in another online forum made it clear to me that I was simply not safe if I continued to engage in online discussion using either an obviously-female name or any name that could be linked to my real name. I have only ever met one woman who did not understand that as a given - regardless of how much we like engaging in discussion on the Internet, your physical safety comes first. If you've never feared being raped or physically assaulted because you comment as "John Spragge", that's nice for you: that it has never occurred to you that people who are not as privileged as you have damned good reasons for using a pseud, well...

I could dismiss Hirshman's mentioning Hilzoy's name as stupid and inconsiderate if not for the nature of her post.

Hilzoy wrote a long and detailed rebuttal to Hirshman offering several different explanations to why people stay with abusers. Exactly one quarter of her explanation referred to something that happened to her personally (I checked the word count!), clearly as an illustration.

Hilzoy did not in any way attack Hirshman - her tone was very respectful.

Yet, Hirshman's response chose to highlight Hilzoy's personal experience first and foremost, INCLUDING her real name. She barely addressed Hilzoy's larger arguments.

I'm sorry, there's just something very passive-aggressive about that behavior. Publishing Hilzoy's real name was not cool. Publishing Hilzoy's real name in the context of a touching personal story is some sort of a violation.

Could have been worse, though. Could have been a spelling flame.

I can certainly understand why you'd want to keep your identity a secret -- your status as the scion of a multi-generational dynasty of pampered college professors and Nobel Laureates certainly calls into question your oh-so-idealistic blogging on the subject of equality and privilege in American society.

Okay, am I just making this up, or am I accurately remembering that in many posts hilzoy writes where class/privilege would be relevant that she usually mentions she didn't exactly grow up poor?

I don't have the patience to do the research right now. But I'm prrreeeeetty sure if anyone does they'll find I'm right.

So, um, I have to doubt that another long-time reader like myself would have, you know, ENTIRELY MISSED that.

Just sayin'.

Reader: I'm sorry, there's just something very passive-aggressive about that behavior. Publishing Hilzoy's real name was not cool. Publishing Hilzoy's real name in the context of a touching personal story is some sort of a violation.

You're right. I am somehow unsurprised that Slate tries to claim that they can't "rectify" this, though.

Jes:

On my identity, if you follow the link under my posts, it leads to my blog, which goes back to my profile with picture and other details. I also have a number of blog entries about my work on First Nations justice in South Dakota. If you then go to CPT.org and look for their photos, you'll find the CPT photographs of the South Dakota project. If you look carefully, you'll see the picture on my web log profile roughly matches the pictures in the project album. I suppose you could argue that I might simply have stolen the identity of the person in my pictures, but I think by Occam's Razor you should accept that I probably do post under my own name.

On credibility: this actually pertains to von. As an pseudonymous blogger, he can't draw on his personal credibility: the friends who would vouch for him, the specific experiences he's had, and so on. That doesn't mean he has any less credibility than I do; he may have better arguments and more compelling facts, and my life might not lend itself to credibility anyway. I simply mean that I can refer to my own life in a way that von has chosen not to.

On privilege: Jes, I said right in my first post that my comments on this do not apply to people who have any reason to fear they will lose their careers or their freedom if they speak out on the net. By your own account, this would include you, so none of the comments I made apply. I have the greatest respect for everyone's safety, and for those who post at risk to their lives.

For those who claim they have no reason to fear for their lives or careers-- as I read their comments, that would include Hilzoy, Von and Publius-- I completely respect their freedom to use pseudonyms. I ask only two things: that they accept the limits which come with that choice, and that they support people who do use our real names when we come under personal attack for what we say. I don't consider that too much to ask of someone who has all or most of the privileges I do.

If the net develops into an environment where we all need a handle for protection, they we won't have any kind of community, and ultimately only those people, mainly professional reporters, pudits, and a few academics, who can establish their identity will have the ability to get anyone to listen to them.

John: For those who claim they have no reason to fear for their lives or careers-- as I read their comments, that would include Hilzoy, Von and Publius-- I completely respect their freedom to use pseudonyms.

Wow. That's very, very condescending of you. How nice.

(If, on the other hand, this was meant as an apology and retraction of your contempt and disrespect earlier in the thread, I think you need to practice expressing apologies and retraction a bit harder.)

. I ask only two things: that they accept the limits which come with that choice

You seem to think you have the right to dictate limits to people. Again, where do you get off trying to profess some kind of superiority because you claim you're using your real name on the Internet? (Okay, actually, I don't really want to argue about this, because I don't care if you're using your real name or not.)

and that they support people who do use our real names when we come under personal attack for what we say.

Why should anyone offer personal support to someone who won't reciprocate? If you're claiming superiority and privilege, John, you can deal with attacks from your position of superiority: why should you demand support from people you consider your inferiors, for whom you claim the right to set limits, to whom you will not offer reciprocal support?

If the net develops into an environment where we all need a handle for protection, they we won't have any kind of community

And why should the rest of us care? You and whoever you include in that exclusive "we" may feel that you won't have any kind of community. But we will, as we always have had.

If you hadn't noticed, John, Obsidian Wings has four front page posters, none of whom use their real names, and many, many commenters, most of whom don't use their real names. Yet this blog is a community. So are most of the other blogs I have listed on my blogroll.

and ultimately only those people, mainly professional reporters, pudits, and a few academics, who can establish their identity will have the ability to get anyone to listen to them.

Again - why should the rest of us care? I did not agree with at least half of the front page bloggers here - and that's been true for as long as this blog has existed. Indeed, there have been periods when I didn't agree with any of the front page bloggers here. But not a one of them ever had to "establish their identity" in order to get me to listen to them.

I had no idea (just as a for instance) that G'Kar's legal identity was Andy Olmsted. And Andy once referred to me as "my nemesis". But I listened to G'Kar, because agree or not, and usually not, G'Kar had something worth saying. And would have done, under any name.

If the net develops into an environment where we all need a handle for protection, they we won't have any kind of community, and ultimately only those people, mainly professional reporters, pudits, and a few academics, who can establish their identity will have the ability to get anyone to listen to them.

I share your concern that the net not evolve into a place where folks regularly have to use pseudonyms to protect their safety. That would suck.

That said, I don't share what appears to be your sense that posting under real names makes commenters more credible.

I've participated on blogs for probably five years or so now, here and elsewhere. Some people use their real names, some don't. Some who use their real names are well known outside of blogs, most aren't.

I have to say that, in my experience, a commenter's credibility has generally been unrelated to whether they used their real name, whether or not that name was well known.

People win credibility on blogs by generally not being full of BS. That means presenting arguments clearly, fairly, and in reasonably good faith, listening to and responding to what other people say, using cites or other supportive materials in relevant ways, and generally not being knuckleheads.

If you're comfortable using your real name, that's great. Not everyone is, and folks don't need to justify their reasons for that. Some folks just get a kick out of using a witty screen name.

In my experience, none of this has any bearing on whether their posts are credible or not. Credibility is as credibility does.

I've always assumed that if I say something that draws on personal experience, it might be trusted because the reader has been reading me for a while and decides that I'm trustworthy, or distrusted for the opposite reason, or else taken as something that might be true, and should be assessed based on whether it's plausible, illuminating, etc. E.g.: what I said about my brief experience of emotional abuse might make someone think: oh, I see, it might be like that -- even if they didn't have any view about my trustworthiness. And if it made them think of possibilities they hadn't previously considered, it might be useful.

I will of course stick up for people who are unfairly attacked, with or without pseudonyms.

Jes:

Just for the record, I don't see any reason why I should apologize for posting a comment on the ethics of using pseudonyms, or the effects of doing so on the way we succeed or fail at building communities on the net. I've made no personal attack, and expressed, from the beginning, respect for everyone who uses a pseudonym out of necessity, particularly safety concerns.

I don't know where you get your conclusion that I come from a position of greater privilege than publius or von. As for whether I support them, in the situation I described, I would not need to. If someone posts a hoax to a professional forum using their Obsidian Wings pseudonyms, no clients or employers will associate "von" or "publius" with the name on the business card or the resume. If someone does that to me (as someone has done) and people believe the hoax (as some did) it could affect my life in a real way. If that kind of behaviour gets accepted, and if people start assuming that anyone who objects to it should just use a pseudonym, then I think we will have lost something important.

John, I certainly agree with a lot of what you write. FWIW, my "real" identity is a little less of an open secret than Hilzoy's, but it is pretty well known. Drum, Trevino, Moe Lane, most of the original RedState crew [I was on one of the early calls, before it switched from a .org to a .com) -- they all know who I am or could figure it out. But I prize avoiding the Google trail for a number of reasons, including that I'm more likely to be evaluated based on my words if that's all you have.

"I was on one of the early calls"

Calls? I'm just curious what this means, since I'm not understanding it.

John Spragge: "I don't know where you get your conclusion that I come from a position of greater privilege than publius or von."

From your candidly-expressed presumption that the correct thing to do on the Internet is to use your real name, and your casual assumption that this is just naturally "better", more "credible": from your use of "we" as if the group to which you belong, that of people who use their real names on the Internet, were the only people to whom "anyone" might listen. All of that strongly suggests to me a person speaking from a position of privilege that he has never questioned or had challenged.

"If someone posts a hoax to a professional forum using their Obsidian Wings pseudonyms, no clients or employers will associate "von" or "publius" with the name on the business card or the resume."

Actually, as Von notes, many people do in fact know his legal name. I would guess that while those people would respect his clear preference not to outed so long as this was just a matter of his natural wish not to be found via google, were he to try to take advantage of his "anonymity" by using it to post a hoax or otherwise commit fraud, someone would out him. (I can't seriously imagine Von doing such a thing, I hasten to add: I mention this merely as the kind of action that would,in fact, rapidly ensure that the mask and domino of a pseudonym would be blown aside.)

Even people who have carefully avoided ever associating their Internet handle with their legal name to anyone, are frequently identifiable by IP address to the blog's administration.

It is relatively easy to conceal your identity on the Internet if you are doing so for harmless purposes: as many people have found out, if you think social pseudonymity translates to real anonymity if you do something in which the police take a legitimate interest, you're kidding yourself. Even without police powers, a sufficiently interested and focussed technical investigation, with the powers available to a web-savvy blog administrator, will in fact blow a hell of a lot of fog away.

What the social anonymity of a pseud in fact shields against is casual investigation by someone who is merely googling your legal name on the web. Someone who is sufficiently privileged that they don't have to care who does that, is fortunate: someone who assumes that because he has this privilege, everyone else should do what he does, is either incredibly sheltered - or just plain arrogant.

Jes-

I have to conclude you've completely misread what I wrote. I certainly didn't say any of the things you've ascribed to me, and after carefully reviewing what I wrote, I really don't think I've implied them, either.

I did not, for example, say or imply that nobody would listen to people who did not sign their names. I did say that in places where the people have come to accept the use of handles as a substitute for personal responsibility, the discourse has sunk to a level where nobody listens to it. Since my research has taken me into some of those corners of the net, I have read too much anonymous writing of the most vile and cruel kind to have any doubt about that. But I did not say or imply that most people who use pseudonyms had nothing useful to say.

I did not suggest or imply that von or anyone else on this board would ever perpetrate an Internet hoax. I said, and I believe, that his use of an Internet pseudonym makes him less vulnerable to that form of attack than my use of my name makes me.

Finally, not only did I not say that everyone should do the same thing as people who have my privileges do, I took care, right from the beginning, to say the exact opposite. In just about every post I have submitted on the subject, I have said that my comments on anonymity and the use of pseudonyms do not apply to anyone who has a reason to fear any retaliation, against their career, or their freedom, or their life, for what they say online. Further more, I did not say that anyone should sign their own name. I merely said that it made sense for those who could easily choose to sign their names but find it more convenient not to (a perfectly legitimate choice) to support those of us who do take advantage of the privilege of signing our names.

Jes, I looked carefully at what I wrote, and I just don't think I wrote what you read into my words. If I had written what you seem to think I did, I would certainly apologize.

One of the problems with tuning out for a few days is all of the catching up there is to do, which takes too much time.

Fwiw, John, my quick takeaway on what you wrote -- those who blog with their real name do so with more credibility than those who write under a pseudonym.

In the end, as others have stated, the message is what matters, not the name or handle. Credibility is key. That's built up over time: I've valued reading both you and Jes. (I always look for John Thullen's comments and would do so if he wrote as Jedi Master or Mr. Smith.)

Hence, Josh Evans, who came out of the woodwork in this thread attacking Hilzoy, had no credibility.

Interesting that "JE" disappeared after Lightning's Wikipedia link about Megan Meier, which was chilling.

That makes me think that Josh Evans did not choose this name by accident. Or maybe it is his real name and that was just a weird coincidence. Either way, commenter Josh Evans needs more credibility before one could even begin to decide.

---

When I discovered Hilzoy's credentials and background, I was impressed. But I was even more impressed realizing she doesn't throw them around or try to big-time folks, which, of course, would not be in keeping with her persona here or in real life (where, in the handful of emails we've exchanged, she has been just as caring and curious).

Hilzoy -- nor anyone else here, which shows the civility and open-mindedness of Obsidian Wings -- has ever slighted me or anything I've written as coming from a used car salesman. So much for Hilzoy being pampered and or showing off her privilige.

Writing under a pseudonym, I am as honest and open as I am in real life. I feel more free when commenting on the car business; I am sure my employer would not be happy with any negative views I've expressed. (On the whole, it's a good policy not to write anything you'd ever regret or would not stand behind.)

Finally, in rebutting Hilzoy, Hirschman struck me as being both insensitive and cynical about a subject that deserved neither. And "outing" Hilzoy as Hirschman did was disrespectful and an example of dirty pool.

I found out who Hilzoy was IRL because Brian Leiter linked to her using her real name. I then used my knowledge to persuade a friend who I didn't think would read Just Any Pseudonymous Blogger to take a look at this brilliant writing by a Person with Prestige.

Jes, I think there's a possibility that you're mistakenly seeing the words of other Internet miscreants (one of whom you've mentioned) in Spragge's argument--he seems in his latest post to be very explicit about differentiating himself from those kinds of "Pseudonyms are for Outlaws" people.

This is a bit late, I know, but after the Blevins/Whelan, flap, my comments seem relevant. I not only know Hilzoy's real name, but met her a couple of times in person. So long ago, I doubt she remembers me.

But, of course, I will respect her wishes that bloggers on Obsidian Wings address her as only "Hilzoy." It's simple courtesy to do so!

Sincerely,

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