Why Blog Anonymously?
Jim West recently posted some interesting thoughts on the motivations academics have for blogging. Roland Boer followed up with some valuable comments of his own. In sum, the conversation was about scholars who blog worrying about the effects of their internet activity on their career, and the way in which that results in a sort of self-censuring.
some among our kindred are very, very concerned that what they write in their blog may come to either aid them or harm them. But is that really the reason to (or not to) blog this or that particular thought or idea? Must every post be an academic publication in kernel form and must every thought be weighed in the balance of potential ‘tenure’ issues?
I feel the need to respond, as I blog anonymously because of this very concern—hence this criticism is in part aimed at me.
First, West suggests the concern about blogging harming one’s job prospects or tenure prospects is silly:
Chris Tilling, to turn to another example, is a person of wit and humor and yet a very serious, very gifted academic. He’s blogged some real Dreck and was advised by several to ‘tone it down’ or he would run the danger of ‘failing to secure a position’. Or, in my humble opinion, he was told to shut up about some things or he would lose money.
Yet he was in fact called to a teaching position and quite rightly continues to be himself. As everyone should be.
However, I think this is a real concern. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to post one of these “safe space” stickers on my office door because the college has a policy about putting stuff on doors—but I’ve been told that the real reason is because the college is worried about losing donations from conservative alumni. To their credit, I haven’t gotten in trouble even though I left the damn sticker up there, but if the college is that scared of leftist politics, I think my worries about tenure are somewhat founded.
Second, I don’t blog with the intention of trotting out arguments I’d like to work into journal essays. I usually write when I’m pissed off about some injustice, form of domination, or oppressive ideology I’ve come across. What this usually amounts to is the sort of behind-closed-doors “isn’t this guy an arsehole” kind of talk I have with my office mate. These are things I would never say openly to other faculty or to my students. I say unprofessional things here on this blog, and hence I don’t want these things attached to my “professional” self. It is for this same reason that I don’t accept my students as friends on Facebook—it’s not appropriate for them to see my rants about Dick Cheney or that update about boobs I once made when I was drunk.
In sum, I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to separate out a personal and a professional life, and blogging anonymously allows me to do that.
(I’ll admit that there is something weird or counter-intuitive about categorizing my world wide web presence as a part of my “personal” life, but I think it makes sense.)
Third, I don’t necessarily agree with everything I post on my blog. Anonymity allows me to act like Kierkegaard—I could post stuff I don’t agree with and then log on as someone else and argue with myself in the comments (although I don’t think I’ve ever actually done this). Or I can forward a blog post to my friends over email, saying “can you believe what this jackass said today?” (I have done this.)
I don’t do that very often, and rarely do I outright disagree with what I say here. However, I do tend to overstate things on this blog. I often go too far, so to speak, and on other days I’m likely to backtrack to a less “extreme” position.
Last, blogging is incredibly and unabashedly narcissistic. My blog is all about me and what I think about whatever! I wouldn’t blog if I didn’t assume that I had something of interest to say that you need to hear. It’s for this reason that we check our blogging stats; did my hits go up or down this month? Are people reading my latest magnum opus post? Don’t deny it; you do the same thing too!
I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to remain anonymous so that not everyone knows the depths of my narcissism.
Well, Jim, Roland, whomever, what do you think?
Now begins the narcissitic waiting: Did they read it yet? Did they comment? Is it worthy of comment? Maybe they didn’t comment because it was a stupid post? Wait, it’s only been five minutes since this was posted. I should probably give them at least ten …
UPDATE: I commented on Jim West’s post with a link to this one, saying “you might be interested in my response.”
For those who care to know, this was what he had to say:
“i might if i knew you but my longstanding practice is to pay no attention to anonymous blogs. i just cant justify, to my own satisfaction, their reason for being.”
UPDATE: Jim West posted a comment here noting that he didn’t intend for that to come across in a rude way. I certainly took it that way at the time, but I’ll take him at his word concerning his intentions—I’ve said about a billion things that came across differently than I intended.