Monday, February 13, 2006

Further Thoughts on Anonymity

So, I'm googling stuff about anonymity because I'm tired of doing multiple choice questions, but this is interesting. I was trying to find out more about Juan Non-Volokh, a pseudonymous blogger on The Volokh Conspiracy, and found this commentary by Brian Leiter:

Mr. Non-Volokh gives as the reason for anonymity concerns about getting tenure. I confess I wonder about the prudence of that rationale: I would think a tenure process deprived of the information that the candidate had been writing about legal matters for years on a very public website would be invalidated once that information became known. But I am not, obviously, much interested in what counts as professional prudence for Mr. Non-Volokh.There are occasions, to be sure, where anonymity is warranted, but, in general, I am of the view that people should own their words--among other things, they tend to behave better when they must own their words (and when they don't behave well, they also get to own the consequences, which is only just). The idea that Juan Non-Volokh should get a free pass to be a venal misreader of what others write, as well as a serial spewer of insults, strikes me as deeply unjust. He can insult and misread all he wants, but he ought to own his words, so that he can enjoy their consequences as well.

First, there are occasions, as I said, where anonymity may be justified, for example, when someone fears political violence, or where someone would be defenseless against abuse of one kind or another. Someone who is a tenure-track academic in law, hooked into the Federalist Society network, as Mr. Non-Volokh is, is not at any risk.

The basic facts here are simple, as far as I can see: Mr. Non-Volokh misrepresents--on a law blog with a very large readership (that's the only reason I replied)--my views and my competence, and would like a free pass for having done so. (Oddly, the only folks who don't think he misrepresented what I said all turn out to be conservatives. Imagine that!) He deserves to have his real-world reputation impacted in proportion to his own stupidity and incompetence. (Readers may be the judge of the relevant proportions.)

So who is Juan Non-Volokh? I intend to find out and to post that information here in due course. I welcome your help...and I promise to keep my sources secret!

First of all, despite hate-sites devoted to him, I'm a big fan of The Leiter Reports. Then again, I'm a lefty. But it's realy excellent legal analysis and distillation of legal philosophy (man is a J.D/Ph.D.), and some good fun. But he is kind of a bully sometimes...I would not want to get on the wrong side of him. Outing a pseudonymous blogger is a bit childish and mean. Also, I actually hate most of the writers on the Volokh Conspiracy, they're all kind of too Federalist society and right-wing for me, but I read them anyway to get "the other side" and sometimes, truly extraordinary constitutional analysis--it's the pure opinion pieces I hate. But I think JNV's (a play on Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict) concerns about tenure are valid no matter what Leiter says. That said, I admit I feel a bit cowardly for not "owning my words." Then again, those with the freedom to shout from the rooftops can and will, and the rest will whisper and mumble. It is amazing to me the opinions expressed from the seat of privilege--the senior faculty to the junior, the secure person to the insecure, the male academic to the female academic.

I still think that much of the world operates under "it may be okay for you, but not for me" unfairness. I mean, the unspoken rule is that having an early baby impacts your tenure chances, but only for women. That you can be a homosexual professional, but not a professional homosexual (from Kenji Yoshino's Covering). It's harder to feel like you can speak with your voice and agency when well, you don't have any. So good for you established male academics who don't have to worry about how maternity leave will impact your teaching load and tenure-track process, how to raise kids and write your tenure piece, how to go to all those conferences with a child to watch and no long term baby-care. It's still a world where mothers are the primary child-care givers. You can change that one family at a time, but it's still going to take a while to change the big picture and level the playing field between male academics and female academics (not to mention their numbers, their tenure-track status, their pay...). If it's harder for female academics to get positions, get tenure-track, go to conferences, do al that networking, get tenure, then it's surely harder for them to engage in "risky" behavior like blogging under their own name.

So that's yet another reason for my anonymity. Then again, it's mainly because I get personal, rather than not wanting credit for using my blog for ad hominems, or inappropriately trashing other people's ideas (critique as in opinion yes, but I'm not attacking and breaking down other's arguments). I'm not afraid to, it's just that when I do so I write under my own name. If I'm making a scholarly argument, well, it should be in a scholarly paper. And I definitely have strong beliefs about having a collegial, detached tone, avoiding ad hominems, avoiding straw-man arguments, and just contributing to civil discourse. I try not to get things wrong, but inevitably I will. So if I'm trying to deconstruct and tear apart Dinesh D'Souza, I would do it in a principled way. Attack the argument, not the man. Try to frame the original argument correctly at least. And then go for the legal jugular. But you know, in a nice way.

Still, you have to admit that Leiter raises good points. While I would never out the identity of a blogger even if I hated him, I wouldn't use my blog for insults, ad hominems, hot-tempered writing masquerading as analysis. I would use my blog for good. Or at least try to.

But it bears repeating that if you do something that impacts your reputation (or the reputation of others) you should own up to it. I guess I owe my ex-boyfriend an apology in that respect, although he really did have appalling taste in music. So maybe no more immature flippancy about the ex-bf. But then again, it is my personal experience that I'm writing about. I'm not making defamatory remarks (only statements of opinion) about him or his family. I mean, defamatory would be "he has leprosy" or "he cheats on exams"--because they are untrue, malicious, harmful to reputation. But "his CD collection sucked"--a little immature, but not defamatory. Still, the real life me wouldn't like to be known to her colleagues for obsessing over an ex-bf and for having ugly academic crushes. But because my conduct is harming no one, but mine were I to go public, I feel like I'm entitled to some white space to ramble and have fun. Maybe that's one benefit of having a "personal blog"--public diaries are as old as the world, and people can distinguish from you as writing about your life and you writing as an academic/public official/etc. I think even Leiter would agree that my romantic history shouldn't factor into the tenure committee's decision (but it could, so that's why I'm incognito), but my remarks about other scholars, my shoddy arguments, and my uncollegial behavior should.

So go ahead, write about yourself--but treat other people and their arguments seriously. Wait, does that mean I can't say Ann Coulter is Hitler in Heels anymore? Oh well. I guess "I politely decline to agree with Ann Coulter about..." will have to do.