Out, Out, Damn Spot Blogger
By now, you’ve likely heard that National Review personality Ed Whelan outed Obsidian Wings’ Publius over the weekend. The rationale that Whelan cited for the outing was that Publius’ posts were “irresponsible”, “irresponsible” apparently being an Old English word meaning “me no likey”.
What ended up happening was that Whelan wrote an admittedly sloppy post, was smacked down (gently) by Eugene Volokh, and Publius commented on it, echoing another blogger’s comment that Whelan was a judicial hitman. I do take issue with that characterization of Whelan, as “hitman” implies a level of finesse, savvy and composure that Whelan has rarely, if ever, displayed; I would be more inclined to describe him as a raving asshole who would call Jesus Christ a pedophile to salvage Robert Bork’s reputation. Alas, reasonable people can disagree.
Anyway, Publius’ posts became a source of ire to Whelan, because Whelan is a conservative columnist and the thing you apparently do to prove your mettle as a conservative columnist is wildly overreact any time anyone criticizes you, because each and every person who disagrees with you could either be al-Qaeda, seeking to find the last chink in the armor of American manliness, or a billionaire who’s evaluating your intestinal fortitude before he gives you his fortune and his wisecracking manservant.
As Whelan has come under fire, he has again and again tried to justify why he outed Publius. The main rationale seems to be that Publius violated Ed Whelan’s sense of Ed Whelan being fucking awesome; as such, Ed Whelan violated Publius’ privacy. It’s pretty much the same thing, all told. I mean, someone on the internet saying that you’re wrong is directly equivalent to someone on the internet revealing your name and place of employment because they lack the ability to properly teabag you.
What leapt out at me the most was this:
A blogger may choose to blog under a pseudonym for any of various self-serving reasons, from the compelling (e.g., genuine concerns about personal safety) to the respectable to the base. But setting aside the extraordinary circumstances in which the reason to use a pseudonym would be compelling, I don’t see why anyone else has any obligation to respect the blogger’s self-serving decision.
Any desire for privacy is, in fact, self-serving. I don’t list my mailing address because I have a self-serving desire not to have crazies show up at my house after they’ve been banned. I’ve had death threats, false rumors spread about me at my places of employment and education, racist and sexist slurs thrown at me, and a variety of other things. And I know every other person who writes for this site has as well. We’ve made concerted efforts to find the actual identities of people who pose threats to us – not threats to our ideas or threats to our sanctity of our mental images as warrior-monarchs, but actual motherfucking “you could break in my house and smother me to death because I thought Glenn Reynolds said something stupid” crazy.
What Whelan essentially wants is for ad hominem to be the rule of the day. Because he is a highly accomplished person (and I mean that seriously), his credentials should suffice where his arguments don’t. He has a highly developed sense of his own righteousness, and a countervailingly thin skin to go along with it. Everyone who comes to face the Whelan must be broken down to a biography, and no matter how many times he states the Constitution was drafted in 1776, your counterargument is moot because you didn’t go to law school.
It also justifies an oddly intrusive philosophy about argumentation – the point of conservative argumentation is wholly personal and about the person, as evidenced by this wonderfully creepy post from MacRanger (his Christian name, by the way):
Fact is that I have a “bio” list of just about every mainstream or otherwise liberal bloggers, names, addresses, phone, cell, employment etc, if for no other reason than to know who they are.
Yes, I could out many who I know would be in both legal and employment jeopardy if their information were leaked, but I won’t do that. I’ve been attacked, slandered, lied about, yada, yada. I’m a big boy, I can take it it. It’s part of the game we play. Unless they committed slander against myself, or an illegal act, their secret is safe with me.
Now, I’ve never, ever thought about assembling a list of biographical information about every conservative blogger I read, for two reasons.
1.) I am not the kind of person who amasses dossiers of information on people “just to know who they are”.
2.) That shit is fucking creepy. Really.
Fundamentally, Whelan’s case for outing Publius is that the person is the argument, and that Publius’ blogging was “irresponsible” because he didn’t back it up with his personal credentials. Unfortunately, this only stands if your primary concern in life is Ed Whelan’s ego, which has never been the case for me except for that one time in college I got drunk, but I don’t like to talk about that. Publius was outed not because his pseudonymity was masking an externally self-serving agenda (see Lott, John) or because he was using an alias to lob threatening or damaging information at another person without consequence, or because he was secretly embodying the very thing he was arguing against. Publius was outed because a small man with big credentials was pissed off that a commoner would dare tug at his cape, and the only way that man knew how to get back at his critics was to turn the entire debate into the intensely personal slap fight that Publius sought to avoid in the first place.
That Whelan’s National Review compatriots don’t understand the distinction between a pseudonym whose assumed name still carries a reputation and accountability and the anonymity that lets you advocate for the marginalization and degradation of entire classes of people that you actually belong to doesn’t surprise me. That they will never try to understand this, and will continue to view the realm of debate which they voluntarily entered as little more than an exercise in ego fulfillment…well, that doesn’t surprise me, either.