Anonymous

Phil Ford

I posted a few new non-music, non-academic links a few days ago, but then I changed my mind and de-linked them — too many categories and too many links, especially since I keep discovering (and adding) music links I didn’t already know about.

For example, Terminaldegree, a site where a new assistant professor of music relates two-fisted tales of academic life. Anyone who has taught a large college lecture course will sympathize with Terminal’s frustration at her ill-mannered class and applaud her absolutely brilliant response. Have you ever noticed how often academics are portrayed as sexual predators and borderline psychotics who ignore or abuse their hapless students? (Law and Order, I’m looking at you.) Terminal is representative, I think, of the less exciting reality — she cares about her students, gives ’till it hurts, constantly puts out small fires that other people start.

So far as I can tell, Terminaldegree is entirely anonymous, with identifying details carefully changed or expunged. Which is only plain common sense, given that she’s writing about her day-to-day experience of teaching. (Knowing that your students are reading your comments about them would limit your candor, to say the least.) I don’t think this is a bad thing. Some situations call for anonymity — peer review, for example, though it would be interesting to start a debate about the pros and cons of that system. People can post anonymously on this site and I’ll never know who they are, and that’s all to the good, too, since academics work in an economy of peer review and have to consider everything they say in public. (Referral logs show you which websites have linked to you and are giving you traffic, and they will show you the search terms people use to get to your site — someone once came here with the search terms “wife discipline,” which I thought was kind of funny — but other than that, you really have no idea who’s out there and reading.)

In this morning’s Sunday Times magazine, the disgraced New Republic columnist and blogger, Lee Siegel, answered Deborah Solomon’s cheeky questions about his posting comments to his own blog postings under the name “sprezzatura” and writing things like “Siegel is my hero.” And, of course, he blamed the medium. “Putting a polemicist like myself in the blogosphere is like putting someone with an obesity problem in a chocolate factory,” he says; the problem is not his own behavior, but the behavior of those who find themselves empowered by anonymity. “Anonymity is a universal condition of the blogosphere, and the wicked experience is that you can speak without consequences. What was wrong was that I did it under the aegis of the New Republic, as a senior editor of the magazine.”

Lame. LAME. Saying “blogs bring out the worst in everyone, including me” is a way of shifting the blame from one’s own individual self to the deforming power of a medium — which is actually an intellectual’s move, rather like Marshall McLuhan’s way of looking at media effects. But it’s still lame because, while anonymity might have a certain aggregate effect on discourse, we are all responsible for our actions, aren’t we? And when individual bloggers click the “publish” button they’re not acting as epiphenomena of “the blogosphere,” they are doing something themselves, even if it’s ill-advised or stupid or mean and hidden under a cloak of anonymity. Terminal is anonymous, but the conscience that guides her teaching also guides what she writes: it is writing that takes responsibility for itself, even if it is anonymous.

James Lileks once pointed out that anything sounds extra-sinister if you add the words “on the internet” at the end. “Doug collects Nazi memorabilia.” “Doug collects Nazi memorabilia on the internet.” See? The new moral panic of the punditocracy is about how it’s “bloggers” who are ruining the nation, “[stripping] argument of logic and rhetoric down to the naked emotion behind it.” (Siegel, again.) No, people do that. Blogs just bring us face-to-face with the fact that that’s how people are — good, bad, and indifferent. The great boon and curse of blogs is that they make it harder to put discursive responsibility off onto someone else, some editor or organization. It’s all on us.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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2 Responses to Anonymous

  1. anon says:

    dial M is my hero
    🙂

  2. Dial M is my hero. 🙂
    Thanks. You made my day.

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