June 12, 2007

Poll: Should PG Die?

by PG

I've been blogging and commenting under my initials for several years, but in the last couple of months, I've wondered whether I should blog under my full name (if I continue to blog at all, which is another question I've been considering). Two De Novo posts -- one now deleted -- that criticized or appeared to criticize online speech or actions by people who spoke or acted under their full names garnered angry comments from the people who were mentioned in the post. Both commenters broke with what I'd understood to be the web etiquette of referring to bloggers or commenters by the names under which they write, choosing instead to refer to me by my full name, which otherwise appears nowhere on any blog on which I've written.

Aside from recognizing that this was done with the intent to be rude or to "out" me, I was untroubled by this choice, only curious as to why it was made. When I asked one commenter, he said, "I, for one, am generally annoyed when people hide behind anonymity or quasi-anonymity to personally attack me by name. ... I find ad hominems from the anonymous especially appalling. I can't comment on how other people react, but there's a general sense (XOXOHTH, e.g.) that people say things under the cloak of anonymity that they wouldn't if they had to associate their names to it."

I've had my name occasionally associated with my blogging and even put my blog on my resume when I thought it might be of interest; anyone who knows my name can connect me with my writing by the first couple Google hits, but someone who only knows my writing would have to dig an inch deeper. My reasons for quasi-anonymity have to do with minimizing irrelevant assumptions rather than with any sense of self-protection, which most people who do know me would say I lack entirely. So I'm not terribly bought into being "PG." I have a lot of good memories about friendly interactions tied to the moniker, but if it's a source of angst to others, it's not worth that.

June 12, 2007 06:06 PM | TrackBack
Comments

AA has no opinion.

Posted by: Armen at June 14, 2007 01:22 AM

Should PG die? Definitely not.

You have the right to call yourself what you like. I agree with your linked post on minimizing assumptions. I believe that you are a young woman of Indian extraction; this might have affected my readings of your posts had I known it before I read the first few. It does not now, since I had an opinion before I knew it.

Further, the complaint that you use the cloak of anonymity as you attack others is baseless. I've not noticed you flaming others, and as you note, you aren't that hard to unmask.

Finally, it would be inconvenient for me to have to think of you by another tag. You're PG. I don't know you 'in real life', and likely never will, and there's no reason for me to know your name or anything else irrelevant to discussions you choose to join.

Posted by: panthan at June 14, 2007 12:31 PM

So long as you continue to blog (to the loyal readers, that's the important thing), either decision seems fine by me. I don't think it will make much a difference either way, though all else being equal I'm curious enough about who people are to want to know.

However, even if you start blogging under your real name, I'll undoubtedly continue to think of you as "PG" (I met the real-life "Belle Lettre" only a few months after she began blogging, and it was still a chore to call her by her real name and not "Belle". And I've read your blog for far longer than hers). I doubt I'll be the only one. So don't expect the weird interactions as "PG" to end.

The third option is to "come out", so to speak, in the about section, but still sign your posts and comments as PG. So on your site it would be something like "PG, also known as Jane Doe, has been blogging since...." That would preserve your well-known web identity while still letting people know who the women behind the initials is.

Posted by: David Schraub at June 14, 2007 03:32 PM

AA,
My name is PG and I am quasi-anonymous...

panthan,
Thanks for your feedback. You are getting at exactly what I was trying to express about my reasons for being pseudo-anonymous. Though it's unfashionable to believe that we can have ideas decontextualized from all of the things that (people believe) make us what we are, I feel that the internet at least gives us the opportunity to try this.
I'm at the same time a little wary of some of the ghettoizing tendencies of the internet: the way blogs by people who aren't white males often get slotted into categories defined by their race/sex rather than what they're talking about, though some avoided this; and particularly the negative tactics used against women only. Michelle Malkin has gotten both race- and sex-based attacks, and *not* putting those qualities much in evidence -- without trying to mask or lie about them -- seems to be one way to avoid that problem, even if it's not the bravest way to go. I've actually had a relatively sexism-free life offline, and if religion can be disaggregated from ethnicity, a relatively racism-free life as well. I don't have a good set of defenses built up for these particular ways in which people behave nastily online to a much greater degree than I've experienced in real life. Therefore I'd rather avoid making it easy for someone, who doesn't read me regularly and thus hasn't picked up all the clues to my identity, to figure all of those out through a Google search of my name. I give honest information about myself where it's relevant, which is why my De Novo "about" tells which year in law school I am, and which school I attend. I know those facts inform all of my posts about what law school and job prospects are like, and those are sufficiently common topics on this blawg that it's easier not to have to begin each such post with "As a Columbia 3L..."

David,
I do have one more reason not to make myself Googleable even through the "about," though I'm embarrassed to say it because it's so arrogant.
Sometimes when you don't tell *everything* about yourself up front, people make some fairly wild assumptions based on what you believe. When I tried to debate trans discrimination with women-born-women who were very committed to their right to maintain WBW-only spaces, several them immediately assumed I was either a MBM or transwoman who'd been born male, because in their worldview, no WBW could consider transwomen to be women. I don't know if it caused any critical reassessment when I told them I was in fact a WBW, but I hope it did. Which, paternalistically, is another reason not to put all of the facts up front: considering the speech before considering the speaker can be a useful experience.

Posted by: PG at June 14, 2007 03:49 PM

There's both a gutlessness and a sense of subtle deception whenever a moniker is used.

The idea that its sole purpose is to minimize "irrelevant assumptions" demeans the importance of identifying the person making the comment, and also allows the cloak of anonimity to hide inconsistent arguments by the same person being presented elsewhere.

I don't care whether the person blogging is male, female, gay, straight, black, white, Martian or earthling. I care about the quality of the argument.

Why assume people are making "irrelevant assumptions" in the first place?

I, for one, am against the deceptive practice.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 15, 2007 10:36 PM

Mr. Mak,

Thanks for your comment.

The idea that its sole purpose is to minimize "irrelevant assumptions" demeans the importance of identifying the person making the comment, and also allows the cloak of anonimity to hide inconsistent arguments by the same person being presented elsewhere.

I care about the quality of the argument.

Isn't that internally inconsistent? On the one hand, you declare the importance of identifying the person making the argument and of ferreting out whether that person has made different arguments elsewhere. On the other hand, you claim to care only about the quality of the argument. If the quality of the argument immediately before you is all that matters, why is the identity of the person making it, or another argument made by that same person, important at all? Those things are important only if what you really want is to evaluate a person rather than an argument.

And I'm hardly *assuming* that people are making what I consider to be irrelevant assumptions, given that I just gave an example in my comment -- one that can be checked simply by clicking through the links -- of someone's making such an assumption. You also have a rather wide concept of a "deceptive" practice: I use my real initials and never give information about myself that is not accurate. That I choose not to present some information that others do choose to present does not make my practice a deceptive one. Some people post pictures of themselves online; I don't. However, many of those people would not wish to publicize the law schools that rejected them; I have. Picking and choosing which information to give, and at what time to give it, is not deceptive unless it is done in order to give a false impression. If commenting on transphobia without saying whether I am a WBW (like those whom I critique) or a MBM or a transperson means that I must be trying to deceive people, I plead guilty and don't give a damn.

Posted by: PG at June 17, 2007 04:57 PM

You are surprisingly adroit in your arguments and I can see your point of view.

No doubt "irrelevant assumptions" can be made by a small number of readers on a whole host of issues, including your name, your sex, your writing style, your ideas, your expression... the possibilities for confusion never end. Idiots will always be idiots. No one can save them from themselves.

However I continue to (respectfully) disagree on whether this is a justifiable basis for (superficially) hiding your "Clark Kent" identity.

I do not consider attacking someone's hyprocrisy an illegitimate ad homenim attack. It highlights the shallowness and insincerity of their original position. This can be devastating if used to proper effect, at the right time.

The cloak of anonimity can hide a multitude of sins - insincerity, feighned outrage, recklessness, and (most intolerable of all) inconsistency.

Putting "Persia Googlemann" to your name doesn't change my opinion of your views (or you) one iota.

However it does at least mean that the person blogging has the guts to attack me "face-to-face", and accords me the respect to put a (real) name to the criticism.

That's not an "irrelevant assumption". That's just asking for plain, everyday, vanilla courtesy.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 19, 2007 06:12 AM

Mr. Mak,

I do not consider attacking someone's hyprocrisy an illegitimate ad homenim attack. It highlights the shallowness and insincerity of their original position. This can be devastating if used to proper effect, at the right time.
The cloak of anonimity can hide a multitude of sins - insincerity, feighned outrage, recklessness, and (most intolerable of all) inconsistency.

I assume by your qualification of "illegitimate" that you consider attacking an individual for hypocrisy, inconsistency and/or insincerity is a special, legitimate type of ad hominem. Even if you are correct about this, it nonetheless remains a criticism of a person, not of an argument. The reason ad hominems are held in low regard is that they allow the critic to ignore the argument itself in favor of finding a weak spot in the arguer.

Nor am I sure that I agree anonymous criticism is inherently less courteous than "face-to-face" criticism. I don't think I've ever refused to disclose my name to someone who e-mailed me to ask, but in some situations, not putting a name to criticism reduces social discomfort (which generally is what courtesy -- as opposed to ethics or morals -- is supposed to do). If a male superior at work thinks I dress inappropriately, passing this criticism through the medium of someone at human resources and making it anonymous means that I don't have to worry that someone I worked with was staring at my breasts or something, nor do either of us have to feel uncomfortable at our next interaction. Anonymity takes away those contextualizing concerns and forces me to evaluate the criticism objectively instead of trying to hide from it by thinking, "Well, that's coming from an old-fashioned fuddy duddy" or "Hmph, he's probably just uncomfortable working with someone who isn't a secretary!" Attributing a criticism to someone's biases makes it easy to ignore the criticism, and putting a name to the criticizer makes it easy to find a bias.

Moreover, I have trouble being as blase as your are about idiots being idiots, given the way women seemed to be singled out for attack in online fora. Being even momentarily a subject of dislike on the AutoAdmit site, for example, made me very glad not to be using my full name on this blog, because judging by the AutoAdmit users' past behavior, they quickly would have posted links to photos and any personal information they could find about me. Again, given the very behavior that I was discussing, I was slightly worried that if any of my classmates who frequent the site had chosen to post my name on AutoAdmit, I would become a target just as those other young women had been. Because the internet allows others to be anonymous in their threats, maintaining some thin veil while online makes me feel safer. I welcomed the AutoAdmit users who left comments on De Novo, and tried to be receptive to their ideas, because those people were about the argument. With no easily-accessible material on which to make ad hominem attacks, all of the AutoAdmit affiliates who commented at De Novo (except for Jarret Cohen) stuck to debating the merits and demerits of my argument instead of me.

Posted by: PG at June 20, 2007 01:06 AM

Sexism is demeaning, objectifying, dehumanizing and ultimately a form of violence against women.

Racism has similar pernicious effects.

I trust (hope?) you agree.

Do we fight against it "up front" by breaking down the assumptions every time we experience them, or do we accept them as an inevitable and unchanging fact of life, and hide behind monikers and pseudonyms to superficially and clandestinely empower ourselves with the freedom to express our "true" selves on-line, without some animal looking at our skin color (or breasts)?

It's a difficult question.

I've certainly paid the price for going down the first track. I wish you better luck going down the second.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 21, 2007 06:24 AM

Mr. Mak,

I would be interested in how you have broken down others' assumptions by always presenting your race, sex and other identifiers immediately to people before presenting any of your ideas. As you say, I have been trying the opposite tactic -- ideas first, identifiers second -- and I must say that it does seem a more likely way to break down assumptions. As panthan is honest enough to say, "I believe that you are a young woman of Indian extraction; this might have affected my readings of your posts had I known it before I read the first few. It does not now, since I had an opinion before I knew it."

I don't think my "true" self is utterly divorced from my race and sex. I do think some people unconsciously make erroneous assumptions about that self based on their beliefs about race and sex, and a few people feel freed by their own anonymity online to behave in ways they otherwise would not. I'd sincerely challenge anyone to point to blogging I've done that's more severely critical/attacking of people or ideas than everything I have written under my full name. I don't use my initials to behave differently; rather, I use them to encourage others to behave differently by thinking of me first as a speaker of ideas, second as a person with a particular race, sex, etc. I'm hardly creating a secret identity here, either, given that (as I've already said) several people have linked to my blogging using my name, which they knew because I had e-mailed them using it.

As a general rule, when I communicate with people whom I consider authorities relative to myself (at the moment, law professors because I am a law student), I use my full name so that professional orientation is maintained. Also, in such cases I don't have to worry about online hostilities because of the mutual interest, due to the small world of U.S. legal academia, in both parties' being polite. When I have built up a history of friendly relations with any blogger, I'm delighted to make myself more well-known to that person. The same is true when I have invited people to join De Novo. In the case of some others, even including those who might be deemed my colleagues, I have not seen such an inclination to hold the line of courtesy and therefore feel no obligation to make myself any more vulnerable to discourtesy than the act of having an online presence already does.

Posted by: PG at June 24, 2007 03:58 AM

"I would be interested in how you have broken down others' assumptions by always presenting your race, sex and other identifiers immediately to people before presenting any of your ideas."

By using my real name when engaging in on-line correspondence. For a start.

I have never said gutlessness doesn't work. It does. Often spectacularly well. Ask Ralph Lauren, Woody Allen, Iggy Pop and countless others who have sacrificed their "real" identities for wider social acceptability, by "adapting" to the prejudices of the day.

I don't look characteristically "Asian", any more than Keanu Reeves does. I've been mistaken for "all-white" (which occurs most of the time), Mexican, Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, Scottish (someone assumed my name was a shortened version of McDonald or McDougal). I would have certainly avoided the "So where the hell does 'Mak' come from??" questions if I'd changed by name to "Marks", or "Mack" (this would have been especially useful on first dates with - very - attractive women, some of whom, when told of its true origins, looked at me with less approving glances).

But that would be denying my true identity.

For a small, dwindling, near-extinct group of humans, truth, consistency of principle and (dare I say it?) honor matter more than social acceptability. Or (even) money. I know that must sound like madness (or blasphemy) to someone living in NYC, but it takes all kinds.

I suppose that's what "diversity" is really all about.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 25, 2007 01:07 AM

Mr. Mak,

While Timothy is a typically male name, there's nothing about "Don-Hugh Mak" that would signal your race to the average American; indeed, "Don-Hugh" looks British. Certainly I knew you were Asian when I wrote about your amicus brief, because you put that fact about yourself -- specifically, your claim of having been discriminated against on that basis -- front and center. But how does anyone manage to mistake you for anything other than what you are if you're always putting your race before ideas? Then again, I didn't catch anywhere you mentioned ideas, but thanks for the peek into your dating life. Pity that your honesty kept you from being able to date racists.

How has Woody Allen sacrificed his real identity to social prejudices? He made himself the archetype of Jewish neuroticism, then married his lover's daughter. If he's sacrificing for social prejudice, I shudder to think of what the "real" Woody Allen would do.

Posted by: PG at June 25, 2007 02:11 AM

Early career choices are very different from later ones. It takes guts to keep your real (Jewish, Asian, Greek, Indian, Martian) name starting out. It doesn't take guts to say "to hell with the world" when you've already made it. A few million always assists in giving one the "guts" to tell others to "f**k off". Ask any Wall Street banker.

You may learn this once you actually have a career.

I've dated racists, and you (apparently) are genuinely afraid of sexist, racist bloggers - sufficiently afraid not to give your real name upfront, in the hope that they can be "turned" by the undoubted quality of your arguments. Thanks for the peek into your own fears and prejudices.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 25, 2007 02:46 AM

Psychological research has been pretty consistent in showing that (most) people have reactions below the cognitive level to other people (I vaguely recall a study that concluded that men want to please attractive women, but distrust very beautiful women, for instance). Allowing for this sort of thing is not "gutlessness", but acknowledgement.

A fairly straightforward example might be that many Americans will assume that somebody from India has more experience with poverty, in a more extreme form, than do Americans. This assumed background will be brought to bear in considering comments on the topic.

Mr. Mak, I applaud your ability to eliminate all traces of these reactions from yourself. However, your characterization of PG's decision, flawed though you believe it to be, as following from the moral failings of "gutlessness" and lack of honor argues that you may suffer other limitations.

Final comment:

Do we fight against it "up front" by breaking down the assumptions every time we experience them...
It might be (and has been) argued that a better way of breaking down the assumptions is to allow someone to come to respect you, and then to find out that you belong to the despised group. This is likely more effective than being ignored as a member of that group in the first place. Again, you may disagree.

Posted by: panthan at June 25, 2007 10:22 PM

Another anonymous blogger to the rescue! You guys are nothing if not breeders (again, gutlessness works - or at least it certainly replicates well).

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at June 26, 2007 05:09 AM
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