Pseudonymity

Roger L. Simon and Blackfive (PoL) and Anticipatory Retaliation have all weighed in on the subject of anonymity and psuedonymity. I blog under a pseudonym. (I used to call it a Nom de Plume, but I hate anything overtly French now.) I have a couple of good reasons to do so, and I have a couple of good reasons why one could or should do so.

First of all, I don’t think it is possible to maintain a blog from a position of anonymity. You can publish a blog under a pseudonym, but so much of blogging is based on reputation that you cannot bounce around. You must establish an identity. That identity may or may not be based on your government name, but it is certainly based on you. “On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.” They do know, however, what your ideas are. The internet is the ultimate meritocracy, because all we are (once you get past celebrity from other media) is the sum of our ideas.

Pseudonyms have a long and prestigious history in American politics. The Federalist Papers were published under the pseudonym “Publius”. The men who wrote it — Hamilton, Jay and Madison — certainly could have gotten more attention for it had they used their names. That is the very reason that they didn’t. The point of the papers wasn’t, “think this way because Madison thinks this way.” There certainly would have been plenty of partisans who did so. The point of the papers were, “think this way because this way is right.” To put these prestigious names on them would have tainted the message by giving it authority outside the words on the paper.

The Anti-Federalist papers were published much the same way. Some of them were published under proper names, some were published under pseudonyms, and some were published in pure anonymity. None of that detracts from the arguments presented.

I have another good reason to publish under a pseudonym. I work in one of the largest law offices in Texas. Anything that I published under my given name would not only reflect (fairly or unfairly) on the firm, but would also come under the entangling ethics laws of the Texas Bar — and I’m not even an attorney. Once my name is linked to the firm, I have a (just) duty to allow the firm to vet anything I publish as long as I am associated with them.

I also have to keep the clients that my firm serves in mind. You think Dick Cheney has some entangling alliances? Take a look at any big Texas law firm’s client list. I want to criticize an environmental group? “You’re in bed with Big Oil.” I want to complain about a new banking law? “You’ve got that giant bank paying you off.” I already avoid talking about groups that we have been involved in (one way or the other) in actual suits — if I had to worry about the extended web, I wouldn’t be able to talk about anything.

I am Phelps. I’ve been Phelps since 1997. I have never written anything on the internet since 1997 under any other name but Phelps. If I wanted to publish something anonymously at this point, the easiest way for me to do it would be to use my given name.

One Comment

  1. Good article (and thanks for the link). I like the emerging distinction between pseudonymity and anonymity that seems to be emerging. Your points are cogent, particularly in light of the amount of blogging that deals with political-military issues, your cautions are well-advised.