A Level Gaze

"What effect must it have on a nation if it learns no foreign languages? Probably much the same as that which a total withdrawal from society has upon an individual."
--G.C. Lichtenberg



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Monday, August 12, 2002
 
I was all ready to ignore the anonymity debate now swirling through Blogspace. It's a choice you make when you start your blog, that's about it. In the end, unless you are already well-known, even 'real' names could be faked, as you don't need to present ID to get a Blogger account. This is the first time I've done anything, er, onymous, on the web. It's an experiment, more than anything.

I agree with Demosthenes and Atrios, in the context of blogging, whether or not one is anonymous is largely irrelevant. Whether the writer makes sense, is a bearable or entertaining read, and his/her sources check out should be the main criteria for judgement. It's really not worth discussing much further than that.

One of the reasons cited for anonymity did, upon reflection, hit me like a ton of bricks. Atrios writes:

I'm anonymous because I worry about employment and personal consequences of what I write here. Given the excitability of certain online elements, I don't think the latter concern is that unreasonable. As for the former - maybe that's paranoia but given the long memory of Google I don't want my current and future employers being able to hold my words against me. A casual overview of what other Bloggers do tells me that many are either self-employed or otherwise have either financial/job security or careers which appear not too likely to be impacted by doing this type of thing. I don't make a living doing this, so I have to worry about that.

Reading that paragraph brought home to me just how intolerant so many people are of contrary opinions. We Americans (along with Canadians, most Europeans and Japanese) pat ourselves on the back for the freedoms we enjoy, but they aren't worth all that much. As it turns out, we only value freedom of expression in the abstract. We'll go on and on about how damned 'superior' we are to other countries that officially censor their citizens, but it's all just hollow claptrap unless, as free citizens, we honor, or at least tolerate, those who actually do express themselves.

I guess I've always taken for granted there are situations that demand of people that they keep their cards close to the vest. Although we have the right to express ourselves free from governmental obstruction and/or discrimination, no such restriction is upon private citizens. Employers can (and certainly do) Google job applicants and possibly reject them based on what pops up. Some nut can look up your information and publish your home address, and encourage others, say, to "go see him and give him a piece of your mind." Nothing illegal there.

With a shred of neither shame nor irony, corporate and moneyed interests buy the actions of politicians and the opinions of the masses. Lobbying and campaign contributions are seen by most as a necessary evil at worst. They're just "protecting their interests." The Supreme Court has equated the money used to buy politicians to speech, and protected it under the First Amendment. But some schmoe, writing his opinion for free on a web page somewhere, because he truly believes in it, lives in fear that his professional and personal lives will be trashed if the wrong people find out.

Has it really come to this? Assuming 'the other guy' isn't going to play fair, must we act by any means necessary to defeat him? Or can this great nation withstand the terrible battering assult of contrary opinions?