pseudonymously writing in public

As you may well be aware by now, pseudonymous blogger Publius, who writes at Obsidian Wings, was outed as law professor John Blevins by Ed Whelan on his TNR blog. The NY Times has a post with various opinions about blogging pseudonymously, which is worth reading.

Whelan writes that not signing your name in public is irresponsible: “One bane of the Internet is the anonymous blogger who abuses his anonymity to engage in irresponsible attacks.” “Irresponsible attacks” is probably an ideologically charged way of saying, “I don’t agree with him and so he’s irresponsible,” but to put that aside, Whelan seems to charge that it’s simply irresponsible to be anonymous (never mind that anonymous and pseudonymous are different). But I doubt Whelan would agree with this larger generalization, unless he’s not a big fan of the Federalist Papers. There’s a long lineage of writing anonymously or pseudonymously in public forums, for a variety of reasons. In Rhetorical Refusals, John Schilb explains how Foucault gave an interview without attaching his name, so that his ideas can be considered w/out the influence of his celebrity. Blevins explains that he protected his identity so that his conservative students wouldn’t feel alienated by his liberals views and to protect his conservative family members who have jobs in politics.

A few years ago a friend of mine revealed the identity of another blogger on his blog. His rationale was in some ways akin to Whelan’s, though from the opposite side of the political spectrum: He felt this other blogger was irresponsible to issues of social justice and was outright homophobic and subtly racist—and this was important in the profession that both of them shared. To this day, I’m not sure how I feel about the “outing.” Foucault’s dreams of a time when it doesn’t matter who writes, which some have touted as a possibility now with the Internet, seems like ill-thought idealism.

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