Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.
One thing that commonly irritates me is the abuse of identity inherent in a lot of irrational worldviews. Humans have some inherent authoritarian, hierarchical biases. It’s not hard to understand in our more primitive days why a child’s obedience to his parents would provide a survival advantage. The same thing is true for a tribe member obeying the generally more experienced leader. On an instinctive level, it’s understandable that if someone tells you you’re wrong about something, you would demand to know who they are so that you can establish their position within the hierarchy and presumably their trustworthiness.
But once you think about it critically, it doesn’t make objective sense. Sound arguments are sound arguments, no matter who presents them. Sometimes when a culture has been indoctrinated into a wrong belief, it’s the innocent child who notices something doesn’t add up. Sometimes the chief’s experience closes him off to better alternatives offered by a novel thinker. Ideally, arguments should be judged by their merits on a case-by-case basis. There are times when it’s expedient to dismiss ideas by someone known for bad logic or deception. There are times when it’s expedient to dismiss arguments because the advocate has a likely ulterior motive.
The problem with consistently being expedient is that it’s at the cost of thoroughness. Our thought processes are full of time-saving shortcuts that emphasize efficiency and risk reduction over accuracy. Our tendency towards hierarchy and authoritarianism is one of these shortcuts. In the wild, such instincts helped us to survive in a hostile world, but in the safer, civilized, intellectual world, they can hamper us from finding accurate truths. Sometimes, good arguments come from unlikely sources. If we had infinite time and resources, it would make sense to judge all arguments by their merits, with no special treatment toward their advocates. It’s important to be aware of your hierarchical instincts so that you can resist them. Especially if you’re going to devote time to actually argue it out.
That’s where this doggerel comes in. An anonymous person, or someone who speaks under a pseudonym can’t be placed into the perceived hierarchy. This often has the side effect of limiting the available information about this person. To those who judge arguments primarily based on their origin instead of their merits, this is intolerable. They will often invent stereotypes, force the discussion into a preconceived narrative, or otherwise try to create an excuse to expedite his dismissal of an anonymous advocate or dissenter. It’s much the same process people use to quickly dismiss known opponents, but wild guesses about an anonymous opponent, based on limited information, can help expose those methods much more clearly and potentially raise consciousness of them.
That is one reason why I choose to blog and comment under my pseudonym of “Bronze Dog.” It disrupts the use of the ad hominem fallacy if they don’t have easy access to personal information. It also encourages me to pay attention to my arguments, since I can’t use my personal status to prop up fallacious ones. A rational person should recognize that my use of a pseudonym doesn’t change anything about the arguments I make or the evidence I present. If an opponent fixates on his fantasies about my personal or professional life instead of what I’ve said, it should make observers question his rationality, or at least his argument methods.
There’s always going to be a segment of society that seeks to punish people for doing the right thing if it goes against their selfish interests. The cloak of anonymity allows some people to “play the hero” and speak and act according to their conscience without intimidation from that corrupt segment. I hope to maintain that mindset until I’m ready to out myself. I do recognize, however, that there’s a dark side to anonymity in that some people, freed from accountability for their actions, will indulge in their worst desires. I hope to avoid that. The fact that “Bronze Dog” has a reputation with the people I admire, even if it’s a small one, provides some check against that. Doing something shameful and having to start over with a new name would be a waste of my invested time.
Advice to my opponents: Don’t fixate on identity. That way lies tribalism and closed-mindedness. Keep your focus on the arguments and the evidence. It’s not inherently cowardly to be anonymous. Sometimes it’s the sensible thing for good people to do if they fear being punished for good deeds. If they’re mistaken, show them exactly how they’re mistaken by pointing out the flaws in their logic and evidence. If you genuinely believe the blogger’s identity or anonymity inherently invalidate his arguments, why should you devote any additional time to the argument?