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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Signs of the Apocalypse

It is worth noting that today was an especially newsworthy  if you are worried about the apocalypse coming.  To wit.

Take cover folks.

Posted by Dave Hoffman on June 21, 2005 at 05:43 PM | Permalink

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I should add that I found Mr. Hoffman's original post very funny...though since I'm going on a blogging hiatus shortly, the apocalypse will have to wait!

Posted by: B | Jun 22, 2005 8:27:18 PM

I thank Mr. Gowder for his comments, and he raises interesting issues. As I noted, there are occasions where anonymity may be justified, for example, when someone fears political violence, or where someone would be defenseless against abuse of one kind or another. Someone who is a tenure-track academic in law, hooked into the Federalist Society network, as Mr. Non-Volokh is, is not at any risk. I have written about the tenure standards in law schools (they are low), and it is inconceivable that someone would be denied tenure for their right-wing political views. Indeed, the only cases I am aware of in which tenure-track academics were denied tenure because of their political views, those views were on the far left. The "pity fest" for Mr. Non-Volokh going on at various right-wing sites is just preposterous.

The basic facts here are simple, as far as I can see: Mr. Non-Volokh misrepresents--on a law blog with a very large readership (that's the only reason I replied)--my views and my competence, and would like a free pass for having done so. He deserves to have his reputation damaged for his stupidity and his incompetence, much as my own reputation is being smeared by right-wing dopes at various blogs as a consequence of my having called him on it.

One of the curious discoveries I've made in the blogosphere is that if you call people on their ignorance and stupidity (think Lawrence VanDyke, the shill for creationism I dealt with last year), they object, "Oh, that's a personal attack." If the person is ignorant and stupid, and there is evidence to that effect, then I suppose it is personal, but certainly not in any sense suggested by the connotations of the phrase "personal attack."

I am not a Kantian, but I wouldn't, as it happens, endorse your proposed universal law. There are contexts where anonymity is warranted. This is not one of those cases. However, for the reasons I gave (though I'm not sure they are really "ethical" reasons!), I think I'll probably sit on my knowledge.

I want to commend Prawfsblog for running a very good comments section. I rarely post comments, as some of you know, but I find it fruitful to do so here, and I commend the moderators for maintaining high standards. Thanks.

Posted by: B | Jun 22, 2005 8:17:43 PM

(even though I apparently can't spell to save my life. See, now I wish I'd send that last comment anonymousounsuohtly.)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 22, 2005 6:48:12 PM

Mr. Leiter: I respect your work a lot, and while I generally agree with your position in this fight (I think Non-Volokh did misread your post, etc.) I have to dissent on the question of it being reasonable and just to make people own their words.

As long as the words at issue don't actually cause any cognizable harm (assuming it didn't), it seems entirely just to me to permit the person who spoke them to make the decision as to whether or not they want to remain anonymous:

First of all, "own[ing] their words" goes both ways: if you blog anonymously, you don't get the blame for stupid things you say, but neither do you get the credit for smart things you say. It seems like a fair trade for most people.

Second, an anonymous blogger could be under some unknown risk. Non-Volokh could work for a school where the dean has a policy against blogs (if there are any, which would be obscene, but stranger things have happened), or is the brother of someone he criticizes, or is known to hate right-wingers, etc. etc. (S)he could be afraid of a neighbor, whatever. I don't think it's fair to require someone to take that kind of risk for the right to participate in the public discourse.

Third, anonymous speech has the benefit of permitting people to look past the identity of the speaker and judge the content of their speech alone. It's kind of an anti-discrimination measure. If David Duke were Non-Volokh, this might be the only way he'd get a chance to have his words read and considered by non-racists. Now, perhaps Duke doesn't deserve that kind of a chance, but I'd lean toward providing it on the (albeit minimal) off-chance that he might have something worthwhile and non-racist to say.

Of course, he can't actually enforce that anonymonity against you, but I (for what zero credibility that adds) urge you to respect it nonetheless, because of the above.

Would you will that outing anonymous bloggers by people who they disagree with be a universal law?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 22, 2005 6:46:45 PM

Plainsman is another bad reader, I see. I nowhere stated any attempt or desire to harm Non-Volokh's career. If someone is going to be a serial misreader of what I write--especially if that someone is an academic whom I might encounter--I'd like to know who that person is, for all the obvious reasons that have nothing to do with anyone's academic career.

No one has a right to blog anonymously (at least not a right enforceable against other private individuals), and it is reasonable and just to make people own their words, especially when they make a habit of reading badly. (So far, oddly, only conservatives seem to think Mr. Non-Volokh was balanced and fair and not misreading.) My reasons for thinking it not worth publishing the information about who Mr. Non-Volokh is are given in the Update to my original posting, to which Mr. Gowder alludes.

Posted by: B | Jun 22, 2005 5:40:02 PM

Then good for him; it shouldn't have taken him so long to retreat from an obviously brutish piece of behavior, but if he does so, then I'm glad of it.

Also, while it's a minor point, Leiter implied that he got multiple pro-inquisition emails beyond the one he quoted. He thanked the "various readers" who had "written since yesterday with words of encouragement and tips" on how to do something that the tenured Leiter had stated he believed might damage his non-tenured critic's academic career.

Posted by: Plainsman | Jun 22, 2005 4:17:52 PM

Funny, if you actually read Leiter's update, you'll note that he's backed off from the outing position, recognizing its ethical problems. And the "gleeful would-be informers" he quoted came out 2-1 against outing.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 22, 2005 3:50:42 PM

What a false equivalence to say "they're" somehow jointly "going nuclear." Juan N-V did not insult Leiter in either of his posts; he just criticized the substance of one of Leiter's posts, and in a moderate tone. "Haven't we had enough of these sorts of comparisons?," asked Juan -- not my idea of bitter polemic.

To which Leiter immediately responded by:

1. Vowing to discover Juan Non-V.'s identity and "out" him (in which he is apparently being encouraged by some gleeful would-be informers in his readership -- see the Update to Leiter's post); while

2. Threatening that such disclosure would likely invalidate any future grant of tenure to Juan. (An empty threat, but that's not the point.)

I'm not sure how much sharper the contrast has to be for you guys to acknowledge it. The two sites aren't "going nuclear" at all. Leiter is behaving unilaterally in a bullying, grotesquely illiberal manner.

If you want to stick to the international relations analogy, it's as though Juan's nation issued a communique protesting that Leiter's nation had made some intemperate remarks at a recent press conference; to which Leiter responded by immediately massing his troops at the border and making threats about the nerve gas and dirty nukes he hopes to lob onto Juan's cities.

Does Leiter, a tenured law professor, think the proper response to reading material that one strongly dislikes is to try to sabotage the career of the offending speaker? And are you guys cool with that?

Posted by: Plainsman | Jun 22, 2005 1:20:58 PM

Wow, they're indeed going nuclear. Where's the betting pool on the winner? I've got fifty bucks on Leiter!

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 21, 2005 5:56:39 PM

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