Publius Outing Ends In Apology

Ken AshfordBloggingLeave a Comment

Somewhat unexpected but the right thing to do, Whelan apologizes for exposing the identity of Publius.

Publius moves on.

The debate, however, doesn't.  While most in the blogosphere, including many of Whelan's colleagues, understand why a person might have personal or career-related reasons for blogging under a pseudonym, there are still a few who don't:

My view is that "publius." having elected to debate Ed, has no complaint. For in a debate between a blogger who identifies himself and one who doesn't, the anonymous blogger has an unfair advantage — he is not constrained by the full range of consequences normally associated with being exposed as dishonest, sloppy, or unintelligent.

This is a bullshit argument.  First of all, Publius wasn't "anonymous"; he was pseudonymous — and that's an important difference.  As Publius, he has a web presence.  This means that his arguments could be exposed as dishonest, sloppy or unintelligent (if they indeed were), since his arguments are for all to see.

But some conservatives can't seem to separate the argument from the person.  For them, they rail against pseudonymous bloggers because their existence removes one of their favorite debating tools: the ad hominem attack.  The main benefit of pseudonymity is that it forces the reader (or dissenting party) to engage with the IDEA being presented, rather than the personalities involved.

Ironically, the original pseudonym "Publius" was used by Madison, Jay, and Hamilton when writing The Federalist Papers.  They used that name precisely because they wanted to sway people on the strength of their arguments, and not get bogged down in personality cults.  But some in the conservative blogosphere simply cannot poke holes in arguments as arguments; when backed against the wall, they need to attack the arguer, and pseudonymity stands in their way.  Until he came to his senses and apologized, Ed Whelan was such a man.

John Hindrocket adds:

In my opinion, the idea that a goofball like Blevins [Publius] has some sort of "right" to smear Whelan anonymously, without taking responsibility for his assaults, is ridiculous. Be a man, for God's sake. Or, for that matter, a woman…

Anyone who has followed this dust-up knows that Publius' attacks were comparatively mild, as Internet-speak goes.  (Frankly, "goofball" is harsher than anything Publius wrote about Whelan).

And really, isn't "being a man" (or for that matter, a woman) being able to take tiny "epithets" in the course of debating discourse?

Moreover, it doesn't really reflect the facts of this matter.  What happened was that Whelan wrote an admittedly sloppy post, was smacked down (gently) by Eugene Volokh, and Publius merely commented on it, echoing another blogger’s comment that Whelan was a judicial "hitman".  Somehow this means that Publius, by noting other blogger's comments, engaged in an "assault".  [Read the full background here]

There is, to my mind, only one reason where the "outting" of a pseudonymous blogger would be relevant, and that is where he takes a position that is contradictory or hypocritical.  For example, if a pseudonymous blogger takes a position against, say, gay marriage, and it turns out that the pseudonymous blogger is himself gay married, then revelation of that aspect of the blogger's identity may have some bearing on the debate.  But such outtings are lilkely to be few and far between.

This is an entirely different issue than "anonymous blogging" (or, even worse, blogging under someone else's name or under several different names).  But of course, nobody blogs anonymously — they do, however, comment anonymously.  Comment threads, however, typically are where Internet etiquette virtually disappears, and that is generally understood.  Anyone who can't handle that heat should simply avoid commenting or reading comments.  As Publius himself said:

“It’s one thing for an anonymous commenter to come in and just be a flame thrower, but what I do is I write pseudonymously, and I have a reputation of my own. It’s an online reputation. It’s a reputation that I care about, that I’ve invested a lot in, and I don’t want to be embarrassed in the blogosphere. I try to think through my arguments. To say there’s no real world effect, I don’t agree with that, because if I write something stupid, I’m going to get called out for that. In fact, I have written stupid things and I got called out and it affected my reputation. So I do have some reputational incentives to be honest, to be respectful in all these things.”

In any event, I think The Moderate Voice sums it Pseudonym-gate nicely:

His apology shows that “the marketplace” displayed a clear sentiment — and that a consensus did emerge. Whelan took in and considered that consensus and reconsidered.

The result? This unfortunate incident has now established a “norm.” In the future, someone will have to have a pretty good, darn reason to reveal the identity of someone who writes under a pen name and who asks that his or her identity be kept anonymous.