Monday, March 28, 2005

People are not their arguments

Not-always wrong Canadian weblogger pogge is talking about the pros and cons of anonymous bloggingBBG), and he nails the right answer in the comments at the E-Group.

Set aside the whole secret ballot/democracy portion of the discussion, please. It's a given that most blogs are analysis & argument, not reporting. If you're going to do reporting on non-gossip-related items, then yes, you should be using your name.

But there is absolutely no problem with making arguments under the name X, or Lance Uppercut of 123 Fake Street, or whatever. I might even say it's preferable. Why? Take it away, Evan Kirchhoff:
This is very important: arguments are things. People are not their arguments. Hence, counter-arguments are not a form of oppression. Look at the quotes above, and substitute words like "arguments", "claims", or "assertions" where Moore uses "voices". See what I mean? [...]

Why does this matter? While getting within half a dissertation of a PhD (yeah, I know that's the hard half), I spent a lot of time teaching undergrad philosophy in two different graduate programs. And the main thing that was important to hammer on at the start of every class (after "if you need an 'A', don't take this course" and "if you plagiarize, I promise that we will kill you") boiled down to: people are not their arguments. We don't instinctively think in those terms; we like to emotionally identify with whatever positions we already happen to have, and to similarly identify others with their positions. But the two problems with this mindset are that (i) it makes it difficult or impossible to ever change one's mind, and (ii) seriously replying to somebody else's position is viewed as a form of assault. Constructive debates are impossible until those two roadblocks are demolished.

The problem with "voices" is that a voice is something I only have one of; if it is "silenced", then nobody can hear me at all. But an "argument" or a "position" or a "claim" is something we all have dozens of. Losing an argument is no big deal; I've got more, and I can always change my mind in the face of compelling opposition. In fact, we all theoretically agree that we ought to change our minds in those circumstances -- but the "voice" metaphor neatly eliminates this obligation (the idea that I should "change my voice" just doesn't sound right).

Naturally, if people are their arguments, then you can address their arguments with ad hominem personal attacks, instead of having to get your fingernails dirty with the merits. And surprise, surprise, surprise - guess who the most anti-anonymity guy in the comments section is. (Hint - he reads a lot of newspapers very early in the morning). Read his arguments after reading Kirchhoff's piece, and draw your own conclusions.


At 4:07 PM, Blogger JimBobby said...

Whooee! I reckon yer on the money a hunnert percents worth, JerryMatt. Even if the boog-writin' feller or gal ain't spillin' the beans 'bout their real name, you can tell lots about 'em anyways. You can sure as hell tell if they make sense or they don't.

Fellers like Inspector Norm want everybuddy t' tell their name, rank an' serial number. Like I sed in my own little boog today - who made Inspector Norm King o' the Internet?

Yores trooly,


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