A US blogger, Ed Whelan, who blogs under his own name so that his legal CV bolsters his credibility has outed a pseudonymous blogger, publius, who lets his arguments stand purely on his writing. He attempts to justify his act on the basis that publius has been criticising Whelan’s blog posts and that he didn’t deserve the “shield of anonymity” to do so.
Leaving aside that perennial rhetorical favourite of conflating anonymity and pseudonymity, Whelan appears to be unpleasantly surprised to find that most commentary finds his action to be firstly unjustified and secondly an unedifying display of petty bullying. His response? Shorter Ed Whelan: “I had the right to do it, and no obligation not to, so STFU.”
He is indeed correct in terms of rights and obligations. The elephant in the room he’s missing is the common civility of simple good manners. When one displays bad manners, then one ought not to be surprised if other people react with annoyance/disgust.
Respecting a pseudonym in correspondence/commentary has been a writing convention considered to be simple good manners since long before the internet’s tubes came to our living rooms. Pseudonyms are adopted for a variety of reasons, some deadly serious (anti-oppression opinions can be dangerous to one’s health), some ethical (wanting one’s words to stand on their own rather than on a reputation), some merely caprice (liking the sound of a playful nom de plume).
Whatever the reason, one needs a very good public interest reason to justify breaching this social convention if one wishes to remain in good social odour. Breaching the convention in a fit of retaliatory pique just because one can is not a good public reason, so many, many people will think that one who does so stinks. Most people older than eight know this.
I say this as someone who jumped to conclusions and displayed very bad manners indeed to someone IRL this week, and who is currently reaping the consequent opprobrium. I feel bad about being confronted for behaving badly, of course, but it was all my own fault. Did I have the right to complain contemptuously about something that had made me cross? Of course I did. Was it constructive behaviour? No, and criticisms about my tone of voice and lack of respect for the person are all entirely appropriate. I generally am far more polite and considerate, and am ashamed that in this instance I was not.
Manners matter as well as rights. Ed Whelan is well and truly old enough to know this.
Categories: ethics & philosophy