Pseudonymous Bloggers In The Crosshairs

Steven Den Beste has a scathing piece criticizing Demosthenes for blogging anonymously. Usually, Den Beste is one of the best bloggers and a very astute individual, but there’s something about this attack that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In fact, there are a number of ad hominem attacks in the piece that warrants some rebuttle.

Den Beste’s criticism of Demosthenes hinges upon the notion that since he’s anonymous, he can’t be an effective advocate for his positions. (I’m assuming Demosthenes is male for the sake of argument here.):

By refusing to reveal his identity he indicates that he’s not actually as committed to what he says as he pretends to be, and more importantly that he is not as committed as he wants others to be. He is attempting to convince others to do what he himself isn’t willing to, and this kind of hypocrisy has always reduced the persuasiveness of any messenger. He is reduced to delivering his message only to those who already agree, because most who are undecided will discount him. (Which probably helps explain his low traffic levels.)

First of all, we have to consider that some people simply don’t want their personal information out on the Internet for everyone to see. The fact that someone can fairly effectively hide their identity on the Internet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor does anonymity mean that one’s argument should just be brushed aside. The Federalist Papers were orginally published anonymously, and they’re among some of the best political documents ever written. The fact that they were published anonymously be people with active interests in their adoption does not tarnish that reputation. Nor does Demosthenes deciding to keep his identity secret necessarily mean that his ideas are any less worthy of consideration. Nor does it mean that he’s a hypocrite, for all we know he could be just as active in his offline life as he is online. Granted, there’s no way to know, but simply dismissing the argument doesn’t seem to be appropriate.

Nor does the charge of having little readership stick. Demosthenes’ web statistics are available for public examination, and they show an average of 4,121 unique vistors per month. Granted, by USS Clueless standards that’s not much, but that isn’t necessarily too shabby either. (My traffic is significantly less than that, and I’m pretty happy with my levels of readership for a relatively new player in a crowded field.)

Granted, I chose to blog under my real name, but there are times when I wonder if that was a smart choice. If I were to apply for a job with the State Department, I’m not sure my vocal criticism of that agency would be something I want under my name. Others might not want to take that kind of personal liability, and they’ve every right to do so. Just because they exercise that right doesn’t mean that their arguments are instantly less valid. I linked to Demosthenes because he’s a good writer who does a good job of challenging the prevailing wisdom of the blogosphere, even if I don’t always agree with his positions. The content of his arguments should be the criteria by which his blog is judged, not the name he uses.

UPDATE: Jane Galt, who is also a (semi)pseudonymous blogger has another very
well put response to Den Beste’s criticisms
. I’ll agree that anonymous bloggers do lose some amount of credibility, but good writing and thoughtful argument can easily make up for that.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Lawrence Simon also
tackles the issue with his usual snarky common sense

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