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Why Blog Anonymously?

May 27, 2009

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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.

West writes,

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 rainbowpolicy 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.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    May 27, 2009 1:13 pm

    i hope that didn’t sound rude. i must clarify- i do read- i just dont do MUCH interacting (as i have now interacted with you after all!) with anon. blogs.

    email me your name- i’ll keep it secret. and then i’ll interact with a nauseating regularity!

    ;-)

  2. May 27, 2009 3:52 pm

    I find that Jim’s blog sometimes illustrates the blurring between the value of anonymous and signed blogs.

    :D

  3. Roland permalink
    May 27, 2009 4:06 pm

    Contrary to Jim, I like the twist in pseudonymous blogs, especially when I don’t know the identity of the person blogging. Here you do get the ‘real’ person, or at least a persona that is far more interesting than the professional one. It’s as though I’m having a few drinks and a good long open discussion at the pub, except that the person wears a mask. Fantastic!

    However, I do worry about trying to make it work at a conservative colleges. I worked in one once. Well, it wasn’t so much conservative as stuffy and there wa splenty I was warned was not acceptable. Couldn’t hack it in the long run and had to go, but I hung on for 6 years since there 4 young kids to feed, clothe and educate. So i can sympathize. This is when I wish I knew some billionnaire leftie (they exist) willing to say, ‘Roland, I’d like you to run an institute an dhire who you want. Cost is no hindrance.’ Then I’d hire you, MM, and many others.

  4. Jim permalink
    May 27, 2009 8:25 pm

    hire me!

    (and i have no idea at all what scott is implying)

  5. Jordan Wilson permalink
    May 27, 2009 11:52 pm

    Please remember that Dr. JW never actually attended a real university, so his insights of the politics of academia is limited.

  6. steph permalink
    May 28, 2009 12:47 am

    I’d email Jim your name mm. He’d never tell a soul and he’s good fun to interact with. And good value and honest and not precious etc etc.

  7. May 28, 2009 5:38 am

    I do worry about trying to make it work at a conservative colleges

    Shit, Rolboer, you should hear some of the stories from a mate of mine who works at a college attached to a conservative evangelical church. It’s a properly Stalinist reign of terror there – anyone can get fired for anything at any time. You don’t know what you’ve done until you’ve done it.

    That’s another reason to blog anonymously. To protect the innocent. Or at the very least so as not to further incriminate the guilty.

    P.s. funny the queer safe space sticker what with Jim West being an out n proud bigot.

  8. May 28, 2009 6:39 am

    This post could be titled “Why not to go for a career in Academia”.
    I think I might like to be a farmer… or perhaps a forest ranger… yeah, that would rule.

  9. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 28, 2009 9:26 am

    Well, I’ll look forward to Roland hitting the lottery and starting his own university!

    About the conservative school thing: my school is not actually conservative, per se—I’d say that the faculty is a bit more conservative than most colleges, but still overwhelmingly democrat. The faculty don’t have any problem with me putting up a safe space sticker. It’s just that many of the students and alumni are very conservative, and the administration doesn’t want to do anything that would decrease enrollment or spoil donations.

    Sophia: Yes, there are many days when I wonder if I shouldn’t have chosen another career path. I coulda been a rock star.

  10. May 28, 2009 9:44 am

    I wonder whether the competition for rockstar jobs is worse than that for forest ranger jobs?

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