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    Say my name

    Eric cites LaShawn Barber, who in turn is reacting to this Kathleen Parker column, about blogger conduct:

    But unrestrained power coupled with little to no accountability is a dangerous thing. As a blogger who’s been the subject of nasty and false statements made by bloggers and in comment sections by anonymous cowards, I know what people are capable of saying when they get caught up in online anonymity. When you’re not man or woman enough to stand behind your words using your own name, high ideals like accountability and responsibility are mere afterthoughts.

    I’d soften that just a little. There are people whose political positions would threaten their jobs if known at the office, or who feel that blogging under their full names would compromise not just their own privacy but their families’. I don’t see why they should have to absent themselves entirely from the public debate. But what the anonymous bloggers who are honorable and civil understand is that they are under different constraints from the named. If you’re anonymous, you get less leeway if your criticisms start to drift over the line from stern to insulting. You also get less credence if you’re asking readers to accept your unsubstantiated account of something and have to do an extra-methodical job of laying out your case. Here’s how Eric puts it:

    If only the world of opinion consisted of verifiable facts! But it doesn’t. Even the distinction between fact and opinion can be tricky. Many people believe what they want to believe despite evidence to the contrary. This leads to assertions of being wrong, of lying, and of being stupid or evil. In general, people who are willing to acknowledge that they have said what they said and are willing to defend it in a sincere manner are less likely to resort to insulting ad hominem attacks, they are more accountable, and less like the kids in Lord of the Flies.

    BTW, that goes quadruple for gay bloggers, though I know Eric wasn’t thinking specifically in those terms (and I’m approximately 110% certain that Ms. Barber wasn’t thinking in those terms when she was writing that paragraph above). There are all kinds of good reasons not to post under your own name, but you’re only inviting honest folks to laugh aloud at you if you sign yourself Jason the Raving Invert so you can stay closeted at your cushy I-banking job…and then freely take potshots at others and go on and on about what a daring truth-speaker you are.

    Parker, for her part, is worried that a lot of blogs are all potshot and no truth-speaking because there’s no one playing official referee:

    What Golding demonstrated–and what we’re witnessing as the Blogosphere’s offspring multiply–is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves. Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding’s children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.

    I’ve frequently enjoyed Parker’s columns since 9/11. She can be sharp and intelligent in a plainspoken, unfussy fashion. However, she also has a weakness for cutesy metaphors that aren’t as clever or, more importantly, telling as she thinks. The Lord of the Flies reference has emotional appeal, but what it fails to convey is that unearned power doesn’t have to arise from a free-for-all. I don’t think that even the screechiest, most self-important bloggers believe mainstream journalism is populated by loose-running willful tricksters like Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke. They think it’s populated by conscientious, by-the-book mandarins who nevertheless don’t recognize their own biases and are often out of touch with the people whose interests they’re claiming to serve. (And their writing can be just as adversarial as that of bloggers.)

    My blog is too small-scale to be one of those that Parker is thinking of, but for my part, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that reporters do a lot more work writing their stories that I do translating and linking to them. But I also know from ten years of adulthood that many Western journalists fall back on cheap, easy, and unilluminating clichés about Japan; that articles about gay topics will frequently cite two or three extreme, grabby opinions by activists as if they represented the full range of what gay people believe about very complex issues; and that pieces about working-class life tend to strike a tone that evokes an anthropologist who’s just returned from doing field work on Pluto. I dare say that most journalism that gets knowledgeable readers exercised isn’t really inaccurate on a sentence-by-sentence basis; it just gives a distorted overall picture by emphasizing some factors at the expense of others. Blogging, with its variety of commentators, can help to correct that. It hasn’t solved the problem of rampant incivility in society, but then, neither has anything else anyone’s tried.

    15 Responses to “Say my name”

    1. Connie says:

      From your mouth.

    2. In defense of the right to defend La Shawn Barber

      La Shawn Barber is an excellent blogger as well as a friend. While I don’t agree with her all the time, that is completely irrelevant to considerations of friendship. (For starters, I don’t know anyone with whom I agree all…

    3. Mark Alger says:

      Short story long:

      Standing in the non-public areas of the old Three Rivers Stadium before a Genesis concert with SWMBO and Number One Daughter, we chanced to encounter Phil Collins, who was warm, genuine, friendly — all those nice-guy things.

      This experience fits with my other encounters with many of the famous, powerful, influential, etc… that most of them are genuinely nice guys.

      You can understand this when you think about it in relation to politics. Politicians have to be nice guys. It’s in the job description. If they weren’t, they couldn’t get votes or campaign contributions. (Although Jim Bunning was wittily cutting toward my (Democrat) boss once in my hearing. But everybody laughed.)

      I suspect the pattern holds true in other areas of life. With the exception of brutal, thuggish dictators, (who may also smarm with the best of them), the bigger they are, the nicer they are — or can afford to be.

      I remind myself of this periodically when I set out to thrash someone in my blog. Michael Barone never calls someone an idiotic arsehole (He would say “arse,” too — wouldn’t he?). You never see Charles Krauthammer reach over and smack Mort Kondracke on the back of the head whevever the latter gets on a hobby horse of ignorance and wrong-headedness.

      But here’s the question: are you nice because you’re big, big because you’re nice, or does bigness attract nice people, or does it take nice people to make it big?

      Or is my connection here … erm … fallacious?

      Oh — and Happy New Year!


    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Happy New Year!

      I think the formula’s probably different for different people. Some people are able to get away with having outsized diva complexes that almost no one else could get away with. Sometimes it’s because what they say is usually unassailably accurate; sometimes it’s because they’re extraordinarily physically comely; and sometimes it’s because they’re funny. And then sometimes that wild card, charisma, comes into play.

      In any case, your point that having everything you want makes it easier to at least affect magnanimity is definitely a good one.

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