Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 7, 2009

CLASS ACT, ALL THE WAY.... On Friday, publius -- Hilzoy's Obsidian Wings co-blogger and someone I've known for several years -- had a blog post criticizing something National Review's Ed Whelan wrote. As blog criticisms go, the piece was acerbic but hardly outrageous -- Whelan made an observation about judges pondering policy outcomes, and publius referenced a Volokh item that took issue with Whelan's assumptions.

Whelan, publius said, is "a smart guy with outstanding legal credentials," adding, "He just enjoys playing the role of know-nothing demagogue." The same post referenced a quote from Anonymous Liberal, describing Whelan as "essentially a legal hitman."

Yesterday, Whelan decided to help prove the point.

So there you have it -- I've been officially outed by Ed Whelan. I would never have done that to my harshest critic in a million years, but oh well.

And to be clear -- the proximate cause was that Whelan got mad that I criticized him in a blog post. More specifically, he's mad that Eugene Volokh made him look rather silly -- and he's lashing out at me for pointing that out, and publishing my name.

Even by the standards of conservative bloggers, this is surprisingly cheap, petty, and unnecessary.

In email correspondence between the two, publius, who has guest-blogged for me here at Political Animal, explained to Whelan that he uses a pseudonym for "private, family, and professional" reasons. Whelan published his name anyway, because he could. In an email to publius, he asked, "Now who's the hitman"?

Under the circumstances, the rhetorical question seems rather ironic.

Whelan's feelings of frustration are not surprising. There have been a number of bloggers, including publius, who've challenged his arguments of late, and at times exposed Whelan's errors of fact and judgment. For someone with Whelan's background -- former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, former Supreme Court clerk, successful attorney -- that must be exasperating.

But to respond in such a childish and cruel way makes Whelan look far worse than any critique from publius could have.

In a post last night, A.L., noting the "Hannity-esque" partisanship of Whelan's recent efforts, added, "...I think that's why he's so thin-skinned. Getting called out on your hackery is tough if you're someone who takes pride in your intelligence. It's embarrassing. So Whelan reacted by lashing out and 'outing' one of his most thoughtful and persistent critics. It's school-yard bully kind of stuff. An act of extreme insecurity."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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Comments

Whelan really burnished his professional cred there, didn't he? Just what we all want in a lawyer: pure id.

Hoo.

Posted by: lotus on June 7, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Typical Republican raised in the Bush era which values laziness and thuggery ahead of hard work, research, and fact-oriented debate.

This isn't insecurity as much as it is lazy. Instead of taking time to develop an argument and a response, Whelan just blurts out the first mean thing he can think of. It's so parallel to Bush invading Iraq rather than gathering facts. Invading is lazy because anyone can do it. It's the easy way out.

Whelan - another lazy Bush thug. At least this guy doest have a military.

Posted by: glutz78 on June 7, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

One of the more offensive things the Right has been doing of late is cling to a double-standard on privacy and respect for the opposition. One only has to look at the shenanigans of O'Reilly, Coulter and the others to see that while any of their opponents are fair game for exposure, public shaming and other invasive attacks, their own privacy has to be respected and those who fail to respect that privacy are without ethics or decency.

As the wingnuttery increasingly is proven false and misleading, I fear we are only going to see more such vicious attempts by these people. They can't silence their opponents: the herd mentality has (for the moment) been broken, the arguments never did hold up to careful scrutiny, and the malice behind the arguments is being laid bare. Silencing the opposition by "outing" and other similar tactics is all they have left.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on June 7, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

It's the blog version of a childish temper tantrum; they don't get their way, so they lash out without any care about who they harm. It's always all about them.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on June 7, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Ed Whelan is a dick. And I published my name along with this comment, so he has no way to retaliate. Hah!

Posted by: David Bailey on June 7, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

ed whelan obviously has no respect, no honor, no sense of responsibility when it comes to "professional" relationships. this is obviously something to take into account when one deals with ed whelan professionally, whether on the internet or in life. weith ed whelan, there are no scruples there. he relishes being a "hit man."

what i wonder about people who make these outings, like ed whelan, is what it say about about them if they would end up in front of a huac someday, or some other repressive governmental investigating agency...

in other words, how close is their lack of "professional" loyalty to a propensity in them to have absolutely no personal loyalty to anyone other than themselves?

Posted by: neill on June 7, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Blevins wants his comments to remain anonymous because he didn't want to get in trouble with his law school, embarrass his family, and offend his students. If you think your words will get you in trouble, or you think your words are embarassing and offensive, maybe you should not say them.

What Blevins didn't want to do, is take responsibility for his comments. I find that to be immature and childish.

Posted by: AllenS on June 7, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Just like a jilted high school boy publishing a less-than-flattering pic of the x-g/f on FB.

Brilliant, Eddie, just brilliant.

Posted by: MissMudd on June 7, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Allen S.

You and Whelan are both fucking morons--degrees notwithstanding. Publius published under a *pseudonym* you idiot, not "anonymously." Somewhat famously Publius used the pseudonym associated with our own *founding fathers* in the Federalist Papers. Not because he thought it gave him protection to be an asshole--clearly Whelan's entire career demonstrates that one can be irresponsible, partisan, hackish and assholish under his own name as long as he's a republican and can get paid for it. But because writing under a pseudonym gave him the ability to be honest, direct, and thoughtful without letting his personal life be destroyed by baseless personal attacks, hate mail, and the usual shitck employed by right wingers who don't like to read critiques of their work.

A persona's blog history is open to all and I think I can speak for every sane person who has read Publius's work in saying that its outstandingly civil in an, at times, uncivil blog world. The accusation that he was in any way rude or intemperate is simply false. I wonder if Whelan has ever submitted his work to a journal with anonymous reviewers? Did he try to strip their anonymity to attack them if they offered a little polite criticism? He's very thin skinned for a Lawyer.

aimai

Posted by: AIMAI on June 7, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Being an anonymous blogger always comes with the risk of one’s identity being exposed. Especially when the blogger is intelligent and when he/she exposes the hypocrisy of the folks on the right. I am sorry that Publius true identity has been exposed. However, it is probably something that he thought would happen some day. I only hope that it doesn’t stop him from blogging. His voice is too important to lose.

Posted by: Sheridan on June 7, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

AllenS,
What's your last name, and place of employment?

Posted by: OnusBone on June 7, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Two values underlie the use of pseudonyms:
Right wingers and domestic terrorists use them to hide behind to anonymously and cowardly hurl invectives and ad hominems because their arguments are hollow,and they lack reason and evidence. They don't fear liberals because they understand that liberals value tolerance and so do not practice discrimination on those with whom they disagree, unlike the bigoted conservatives.

Liberals use them to protect themselves and their significant others from the discrimination of conservatives.

At this point, it would be more fruitful for all liberals and progressives to publish under their real names and confront together the hate, bigotry, lies and dishonesty of the right wing.

That is what must be exposed so that its corrosiveness and fundamental harm can be addressed by an army of liberals and people who acknowledge a common enemy: those who use tactics of intimidation and dishonesty to propagandize the public.

Posted by: tm444 on June 7, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

If you think your words will get you in trouble, or you think your words are embarassing and offensive, maybe you should not say them.

Setting aside that "embarrassing" is your own characterization, maybe what one should do in those cases is state them under a psuedonym. That way, one's words can stand or fall on the strength of the arguments that support it. In a world where intellectual competence matters, the responsibility that one takes for one's argument is a willingness to defend it on the basis of its rhetorical strength, irrespective of one's identity. In a world of thugs and morons, "taking responsibility" for one arguments means relying on one's identity to bolster a case and subjecting oneself to personal attacks that are irrelevant to any particular dispute. It seems you have chosen the latter except that you have not provided all of your personal details so that we can test the efficacy of your argument using your particular standard.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I e-mailed Whelan and he said that it was ok to out someone despite being asked not to do so if the blogger was "irresponsible," but he never said what counts as irresponsible. Whelan was not threatened, just criticized. He didn't agree with the criticism nor, I suppose, the tone, but in what rhetorical world is that beyond the realm of responsibility? What specific sorts of statements were irresponsible and how do these compare with other rhetoric?

I hope people will ask him to explain when he thinks it is acceptable to out people writing under pseudonyms as well as when it is ok to reveal personal information about people they would like kept private. As the head of a center on ethics and public policy, one would hope Whelan has thought about such issues.

Posted by: Amy on June 7, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Since Volokh has at least one pseudonymous co-blogger, I hope he's letting Whelan know how unacceptable that kind of behavior is.

"Irresponsible" is not, according to most responsible bloggers, a category which would justify outing. Illegal behavior, harassment and stalking, violations of certain blogging ethics (sock-puppetry) or rank hypocrisy pretty much make up the list as I understand it.

Aside from sock-puppetry, I can't recall ever seeing a liberal blogger expose a pseudonymous conservative, though I know several whose bad behavior goes well beyond "irresponsible."

Posted by: Ahistoricality on June 7, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

What can you expect from Whelan? He once wrote a post titled: "Former Foetus Barack Obama" explaining how the president should be grateful he was born pre-Roe, as in all likelihood his mother would have aborted him if she had the chance.

A thug and a coward. Total jerk.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MGFhMWUxZGZiMGQ0YzI4OWVmMTA1ODRhY2VhNmNlOTM=

Posted by: crossdotcurve on June 7, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Irresponsible.

Sounds like what I heard Red Guards say. Or what the Chinese government said about the Tianemen Square protestors.

Posted by: gwangung on June 7, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

While not ordinarily a defender of Whelan and his ilk, on this matter I have to side with Whelan.

1. Whereas Anonymous Liberal and Publius were public or quasi-public figures operating in the political blogosphere without explicitly shouldering the risk of personal and professional blowback, Ed Whelan's name was attached to all of his posts. It makes sense, given those facts, that Whelan called Publius a "coward".

2. Ed Whelan offered substantive criticism of the record of a judicial nominee; his opponents attacked his character with cheap, grade-school level psychoanalysis, uncharitable distortions, and petty ad hominems.

3. Ed Whelan has clerked for the Supreme Court and worked for the Executive branch, so he has a firsthand view of how policy is made and an accurate understanding of what public officials consider proper. The critics attacking him, for the most part, are opinionated private citizens who post anonymously on the Internet.

4. When responded to substantively, Ed Whelan engages or adapts to criticism. Note how quickly Whelan modified his claims about policy considerations at the Court after Eugene Volokh, a respected former clerk and noted law professor, critiqued them. Had the rest of Whelan's critics so limited themselves to the content and form of Whelan's posts, perhaps his rejoinders would have reciprocated.

As a personal matter, I fail to understand the criticism of Whelan's "outing" of Publius. What is the ethical argument in favor of Publius remaining anonymous while maintaining a public website that personally criticizes public figures in the course of discussing public affairs? Is there a moral argument in favor of trashing Ed Whelan's reputation while selfishly preserving your own? Worse, given the shoddy legal reasoning behind Publius' posts, I would think he ought to be ashamed of his attacks on Whelan. His posts most certainly do not inspire confidence that he is a high-quality law professor. One might have expected a law professor to expose holes in Whelan's reasoning, demonstrate how one ought to properly argue, and use the free Westlaw/Lexis at his disposal to back up his claims. Instead we were treated to childish sniping.

Lastly, the notion that one not ought to punish one's critics is ridiculous. If free speech means anything, it means protecting speech we hate and curing speech with more speech. Precisely for that reason, you should expect criticizing a person to result in hateful speech directed toward you. If Publius desired to remain anonymous, he should have kept his mouth shut.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

You know, every time I've run across a pseudonymously-written defense of Whelan/attack on publius this morning, my reflexive assumption has been that either Whelan or far fewer supporters than there are pseuds wrote them.

It's a shame the people writing them don't have the courage of their convictions.

Posted by: julia on June 7, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

1. Whereas Anonymous Liberal and Publius were public or quasi-public figures operating in the political blogosphere without explicitly shouldering the risk of personal and professional blowback, Ed Whelan's name was attached to all of his posts. It makes sense, given those facts, that Whelan called Publius a "coward".

If he had left it at namecalling, no one would much care. It would just be one more thing that he was wrong about.

2. Ed Whelan offered substantive criticism of the record of a judicial nominee; his opponents attacked his character with cheap, grade-school level psychoanalysis, uncharitable distortions, and petty ad hominems.

Setting aside the fact that the entire dispute was precisely over whether or not Whelan's criticism of Sotomayor was indeed substantive (it really wasn't), the substantive response to "petty ad hominem" or "uncharitable distortions" is to point out the fallacy in those sorts of arguments, not to engage in the behavior one is criticizing.

3. Ed Whelan has clerked for the Supreme Court and worked for the Executive branch, so he has a firsthand view of how policy is made and an accurate understanding of what public officials consider proper. The critics attacking him, for the most part, are opinionated private citizens who post anonymously on the Internet.

Despite its frequent use on the internet, argument from authority is still the fallacy that we all learned about in grade school and still unpersuasive.

What is the ethical argument in favor of Publius remaining anonymous while maintaining a public website that personally criticizes public figures in the course of discussing public affairs?

Its very simple and you have probably heard this before: "two wrongs don't make a right." I don't happen to think that publius is wrong and I don't believe that there is anything particularly wrong with pseudonimity but the fact that Whelan thinks so is no reasonable moral justification for outting those he disagrees with. As publius said and has demonstrated over his time as a blogger, he wouldn't do such a thing to his very worst enemy.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

This issue brings to mind what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

Posted by: Doug on June 7, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Again, John Hancock, you are simply demonstrating a total ignorance of the clear distinction between "anonymous" and "pseudonymous" speech, and especially public speech about political issues. And the rest of your argument, such as it is, is similarly misconceived.

The courtesy bloggers extend to each other when they don't *out* other pseudonymous bloggers is actually the same courtesy they extend Whelan and other writers who publish under their own names of refraining from stalking, attacking, or harming those authors. Traditionally journalists and professionals have been able to publish what they want in a cocoon of professional protection of high status. Bloggers and the reading public broke into that cocoon by being able to respond, publicly, on the internet. Whelan simply doesn't like "reader response." He prefers to write and publish, under his own name, and receive the rewards of doing that but not the verbal brickbats. Not surprisingly thats the same authoritarian attitude that leads (some) Supreme Court justices to refuse to allow their deliberations to be taped--to make sure that the argument and discussion flows in only one direction rather than back and forth in a true dialogue.

Whelan had two choices when faced with criticism--he could ignore it, or he could rebut it, but simply and essentially firebombing the author's house is not a legitimate response. Whelan's excuse is that his feelings got hurt by Publius's criticism but criticism, especially analytic criticism from a co-professional, is not a real "harm" to anyone--not to a blogger and not to Whelan and to pretend that it is is childish and false.

Publius doesn't owe more transparency to the public because he comments on matters of public record. It is rather public figures like Whelan who owe their readers a little more honesty and thoughtfulness because that's their stock in trade. If Whelan doesn't mind publishing false and misleading pseudo legal analyses under his own name more power to him. But publishing under his own name doesn't protect him from rebuttal and the public's right to criticize him for it.

And, of course, you moron, "If free speech means anything it means protecting speech we hate and curing speech with more speech." Refers to *government action.* Whelan acted as a *private citizen* and he specifically didn't "protect publius's speech even though he hated it" or "cure it with more speech" he fucking tried to *shut it down* and take Publius's platform away from him by stripping his pseudonymity. It was simple thugishness, not a form of "more speech." It was *anti speech.*

Jeezus, John Hancock, as I read your post again I am reminded of how collossally stupid undergraduates and late stage republican thinking can be. I mean, from a legal, moral, political and historical perspective your post is literal gibberish.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if "John Hancock" is real? Doesn't seem like it, but maybe. If so, he's the only conservative blogger here criticizing pseudonymity with the balls to not be blatantly hypocritical.

While sympathetic to publius's concerns, I remain convinced that an increase in responsibility and accountability would greatly improve civil life—particularly discussion on the 'net—and that pseudonymity on the 'net does far more harm than it does good.

Furthermore, my own experience of writing online under my own name for 25 years indicates that the fears most people have about writing under their own names are very exaggerated (womens' fears of stalking being the notable exception). I've written provocatively throughout this period, have made my address and telephone number available on my website since 1994, and have never been harassed in any way besides email during this time...and, even then, very rarely.

The modern, urban experience of privacy is extremely unusual in human experience. For most of the history of human experience and even today, privacy isn't enforced by law or by technical restraint. It's enforced mostly by social conformity which insists that we respect other's privacy. Opportunities to invade privacy abound with everyone we know, everyone we interact with daily. Yet we refrain from reading diaries, looking in desk drawers, reading mail, eavesdropping on conversations, and numerous other things because most of us instinctively know that community would be impossible otherwise.

Because of Google and social networking and other easily available Internet records that reveal personal information, the concerns about this are increasing. Yet, at the same time, there's a culture of anonymity/pseudonymity on the Internet that creates a false sense of privacy along with a resistance to find better solutions to these problems. The better solution is what has always worked in the past and works in our daily lives: social conformity for the respect of privacy.

Just because it's possible to Google someone's name and perform other sleuthing about someone and learn a great deal about them, doesn't mean that it's a good thing to do, that one has a right to do so. Publius and others shouldn't have to worry about concealing their public writings on the Internet behind pseudonymity because A) not everyone who is able to read what he writes ought to read what he writes (students, coworkers, employers, family who are aware they might be offended by his contrary political beliefs); and B) the greater the fame and public influence, the less one should expect to or have the moral right to be shielded from negative consequences from one's public behavior.

But as long as we continue with this Internet culture of "security through obscurity" then the less pressure there is to evolve the same sorts of privacy mores on the Internet that generally serve us very well in the rest of our lives.

Privacy on the 'net shouldn't be the concern it is and responsibility and accountability on the 'net should have much greater emphasis than it has. Anonymity/pseudonymity encourages less responsibility because of a lack of accountability; and that, in turn, exacerbates the privacy problems.

Whelan is clearly in the wrong here, he's behaving badly. Whatever my arguments are about pseudonymity on the 'net, "outing" someone, in every use of the term, is something to be done only with the greatest reluctance and never vindictively. Whelan has embarrassed himself, and we can be glad he did it under his name and not a pseudonym.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 7, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

From Whelan's blog: "I copied the e-mail to the separate e-mail address, under the pseudonym “Edward Winkleman,” that publius used to respond to my initial private complaints about his reckless blogging."

The second pseudonym publius was using, Edward Winkleman, is the name of a highly respected blogger about art.

I can understand a liberal blogger from Texas who teaches at a public institution wanting to write under a pseudonym to protect his career, but the more visible one is, the less likely it is to remain protected behind a pseudonym. Whelan is a vindictive ass for doing so, but didn't we know that before this?

Posted by: jen f on June 7, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if "John Hancock" is real? Doesn't seem like it, but maybe. If so, he's the only conservative blogger here criticizing pseudonymity with the balls to not be blatantly hypocritical.

Well, the same post is repeated over at obsidian wings and signed as anonymous blogger. Of course it could be the case that someone, who is not John Hancock, cut and pasted the comment from here over there as a joke.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

The Cause makes its own rules. Everything must yield to the Cause.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 7, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Ed, er John Hancock, to fully respond would take too much time and bandwidth, but that response is both disappointing and yet exactly what I would expect from a modern conservative.

As otherhs have already pointed out, your appeal to free speech principles is grasping at nice sounding straws. The Founding Fathers themselves used pseudonyms to engage in political speech (why do you hate America's Founding Fathers, John?) Moreover, your appeal to "answering speech with more speech" is completely bastardized when you say that the "more speech" should predictably be "punishing" speech -- punishment is inherently an effort to chill further speech, not encourage it. Bullying is not a useful form of speech. You can't have it both ways.

But rather than a point by point rebuttal, since others have beat me to it, let me note that why your post doesn't surprise me is that it seems to fit into two broad themes of modern conservativism.

First, your arguments (and the disagreements between you and Ed on one side and the rest of us on the other) are another data point for my theory that conservatives don't value words for their linguistic value, but rather solely for their symbolic value. "Ed Whelan" means more to you than "Publius" not because of what they each say, but because you associate "Ed Whelan" with a set of credentials; with "Publius" you cant be sure. You dont trust your analysis of what they actually say absent the ability to know if they hold indicia of "nobility" - the name becomes a symbol representing indicia conservative elites value. This is all part of the same phenomenon that results in Obama talking in Cairo about "extremists" and "violence" and yet being denounced from the right for not using the word "terrorist": to you, the word itself is more important than what the word actually means. THis is also why Republicans emphasized "Hussein" in the campaign - despite the fact that one's middle name, over which one has no choice, accordingly has no bearing on one's credentials to be President. Its all about symbols, which in many ways is lazy thinking.

The second broader theme your post represents is the Republican antipathy toward personal autonomy (ironic for a party that was once largely libertarian). The fundamental, threshhold difference between your view of "outings" and mine (and I suspect many others here) is that even if we agreed with your arguments that pseudonyms are cowardly, that users of same tend to engage in more abusive argument (current facts notwithstanding), etc, we would argue (a) then discount the value of those posts but (b) we honor that individual's decision - we have no right to make that decision for him or her. You/Ed on the other hand arrogates yourself to making that decision for someone who may have very good or personal reasons beyond your knowledge for their approach. Your suggestion that Publius likely knew he'd be known sometime is akin to a woman seeing rape statistics and knowing the odds are uncomfortable that she could be raped at some point. It doesn't make it less tragic or traumatic or criminal when it happens. But of course, like same sex couples or reproductive rights, conservatives don't believe in individual autonomy - it is subverted to the needs of the ideology.

There really is no defense of Whelan's egocentrism in deciding he had the right to make that decision for Publius in this case. Indeed, the cases for violating that personal choice are very few, extreme, and far between. Try and rationalize it all you like, it just makes you sound less rational and more bullying. But at least you can sound that way as "John Hancock," and not have to let everyone know who it really is that things they can screw with other people's privacy.

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 7, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

I tried to give Ed Whelan a piece of my mind on his blog, but the brave man doesn't allow comments.

Posted by: Snarla on June 7, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Despite its frequent use on the internet, argument from authority is still the fallacy that we all learned about in grade school and still unpersuasive.

Apparently, your grade-school teacher did you a disservice.

“Argument from authority” is only a fallacy when it's an irrelevant authority. It's both simpleminded and, frankly, ignorant that you shout Fallacy! just because you discern an appeal to an authority. Hancock made a completely valid point because he appealed to an authority that had great relevance[1]. This is not unlike how so many Junior Internet Rhetoricians wrongly throw around accusations of ad hominem even when character is relevant.

If that seems an unduly harsh assessment to you, then consider that by your own standard you committed the very same fallacy when you appealled to the authority of a grade-school education.

That's arguably relevant, however, so unlike yourself I'll not reflexively judge that a fallacy.

However, that harshness is deserved is shown by the fact that you compound your hypocrisy by shoehorning yet another fallacy into your single sentence—an argumentum ad populum. If you're going to take a supercilious tone with someone, try to be competent.

1. However, there are other authorities arguing contrary, so it's a wash. Still not a fallacy, though.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 7, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

The Founding Fathers themselves used pseudonyms to engage in political speech...

Well, yes, and they also engaged in armed insurrection and slave trading.

Facetiousness aside, it is wrong to imply that pseudomymity in public speech is inherently good; rather, it is sometimes necessary but often corrosive to civil spirit. This is acceptable when the civil spirit is already badly diseased.

When the exchange of ideas which is necessary for a healthy democracy is stifled because of a restrictive government or a restrictive social conformity, then the only means to express such speech is to do so pseudonymously. This does not have universally positive effects. It entrenches the divide between what can be easily said and what must only be said circuitously; it sows distrust. Yet when the stifled speech is the equivalent of a gasped Help! when in a stranglehold, then it does much more good than harm.

We live in one of the most free societies which has ever existed with regard to speech. There is no stranglehold. Pseudonymity is not required and it does much more harm than good. The Founding Fathers lived under fear of persecution to death. There were many very good reasons to write pseudonymously in the late 1700s. There are few good reasons to write pseudonymously today. The two contexts are not comparable and it is disingenuous to argue from one for the other.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 7, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Ed Whelan is a thug.

Posted by: kc on June 7, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Aimai's statements:

1. It is rather public figures like Whelan who owe their readers a little more honesty and thoughtfulness because that's their stock in trade.

2. Whelan acted as a *private citizen* and he specifically didn't "protect publius's speech even though he hated it" or "cure it with more speech" he fucking tried to *shut it down* and take Publius's platform away from him by stripping his pseudonymity.

Which is it? Is Whelan a private citizen or a public figure?

You/Ed on the other hand arrogates yourself to making that decision for someone who may have very good or personal reasons beyond your knowledge for their approach.

Uh. No. Publius made a decision to hide his identity. Whelan made a decision to expose it. Publius decided for himself and Whelan decided for himself. Individual autonomy at its finest.

Moreover, your appeal to "answering speech with more speech" is completely bastardized when you say that the "more speech" should predictably be "punishing" speech --

I think free speech includes speech I don't like, even speech that I might classify as "punishment". You, apparently, prefer regimes of authoritarian censorship.

Whelan had two choices when faced with criticism--he could ignore it, or he could rebut it, but simply and essentially firebombing the author's house is not a legitimate response.

Well, no. Firebombing the author's house is a legitimate response. The duel used to be legal and it was perfectly consistent with free speech values.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I e-mailed Whelan and he said that it was ok to out someone despite being asked not to do so if the blogger was "irresponsible," but he never said what counts as irresponsible.>

Criticizing him, obviously.

Posted by: kc on June 7, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

“Argument from authority” is only a fallacy when it's an irrelevant authority. It's both simpleminded and, frankly, ignorant that you shout Fallacy! just because you discern an appeal to an authority. Hancock made a completely valid point because he appealed to an authority that had great relevance[1].

Fair enough. I don't agree that Whelan's experience strengthens his argument in any way given the argument's very weak content, but you are certainly correct as a general point that one specific experience can be relevant to an argument.

then consider that by your own standard you committed the very same fallacy when you appealled to the authority of a grade-school education

I don't believe that I did anything of the sort. My reference to a grade school education was a very small joke about the fact that knowledge about fallacies is something we all attained a long time ago but which many of us, including myself as you point out, often misapply. It was not a serious attempt to claim that grade school knowledge is authoritative. I very much doubt that you really read it that way but, in any case, consider this a clarification.

However, that harshness is deserved is shown by the fact that you compound your hypocrisy by shoehorning yet another fallacy into your single sentence—an argumentum ad populum.

Setting aside that a charge of hypocrisy seems rather overblown, my point was clearly not that JH engaged in a fallacy because most people believe he did and it cannot reasonably be read that way. I believed it fit the definition of a particular fallacy and thus called it that. Perhaps I was incorrect but you seem to be attaching several claims that don't really exist to what was a rather straightforward assertion.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the commenter above who said it was like a jilted teenage boy.
If your argument cannot stand on it's own without personal attacks, then your point isn't a valid one.
Your own credibility is shot.

Posted by: pacos_gal on June 7, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

What are the consequences for Whelan?

That's the only meaningful conversation. We don't need to argue whether or not he's a vindictive loser, he's already demonstrated that by lashing out personally against the people who've shown him to be a second-rate hack.

But what, in the blogsphere, are the consequences for violating the principles of the blogsphere?

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan did not violate any principles. He vindicated the First Amendment. He is a hero.

Posted by: Grand Muff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Not knowing much about the backgrounds or commentaries of either principal character here, this interests me primarily because of what it demonstrates about internet protocol and about the different mindsets of those who spend time with it.

As I write this, a thoughtful and completely developed response is from a "John Hancock", who sides with Whelan. "Amy" contributes a valuable item to advance the discussion, saying she has been in contact with Whelan and summarizing his position for us; she's not in Whelan's camp. A much shorter, but completely reasonable comment also siding with Whelan is signed by AllenS. Eleven minutes later, AllenS is awarded the designation of "fucking moron".

tm444 then instructs us that "Right wingers and domestic terrorists use them [pseudonyms] to hide behind to anonymously and cowardly hurl invectives and ad hominems because their arguments are hollow,and they lack reason and evidence. They don't fear liberals because they understand that liberals value tolerance and so do not practice discrimination on those with whom they disagree, unlike the bigoted conservatives." Oh. Really?

Assuming tm444 is correct, AIMAI at least partially fits the profile of a "right winger" or a "domestic terrorist".

Sheridan, John Hancock, and AllenS seem more sympathetic toward Whelan's side of this debate, and say so in very civil ways. I wonder what kind of satisfaction people get from hurling epithets at others when there has been no personal affront, no abuse, nada. I haven't been tempted to do that, but doesn't it come with a little bit of shame on the side? Maybe not.

glutz78 offers an interesting line of thought when s/he says: "Instead of taking time to develop an argument and a response, Whelan just blurts out the first mean thing he can think of. It's so parallel to Bush invading Iraq rather than gathering facts. Invading is lazy because anyone can do it. It's the easy way out."

Hmmm. We know that uncivil discourse is found in all places along the political spectrum. Here, glutz78 demonstrates that faulty logic knows no political or ideological bounds either. How does glutz78 know that Whelan blurted out the "first mean thing" he thought of? Is it intellectually legit to connect/compare Whelan's acts to Bush invading Iraq? And how does that illustrate "laziness" again? Might it not actually be HARDER WORK (intellectually) to maneuver around plain facts and create a whole contrived context than to just take the data as it lies and apply it?

Run with glutz78's thought process a little. Would we say then that Barack Obama is "lazy" to ignore factual evidence re: the relative historical ineffectiveness of governments' "economic stimulus" efforts and just go straight ahead to do what he wanted --- that is, have Congress slam together in warp speed this "urgently needed" legislation to spend willy-nilly via government bureaucracy? Is he a "lot like Bush" now that we see that behavior (Iraq offensive and Stimulus enactment) as parallel and comparable?

So? Some seem well-served by commenting pseudononymously; it allows them to shout out invectives and epithets and to ascribe motives and/or cast judgement on actions with scant evidence and thin logic. Apparently, doing that must make them feel better somehow, and I am ALL for that.

Others may be well-served by taking cover in a pseudonym precisely BECAUSE there are so many who just like to rip, burn, disparage, accuse, etc. If someone is doing that to a persona you have created for internet posting purposes, it feels less bad than them putting your real name out there and labeling you a "dips--t" or worse. At least that's been my experience personally.

I like the pseudonym approach, and use it myself. BUT, although I am no techie I DO realize that with all the tools and marvelous advancements comes a diminished anonymity. Someone wanting to find out who I am probably could in a few minutes --- or at least I operate with that assumption. I don't think I'd be embarrassed if "outed". I might be characterized as ill-informed in some areas, and even foolish to have said this or that. But I'm an old guy and none of that has ever slowed me down for very long.

But please, in your ouwn interest, don't be self-righteous. It's a turn-off and damages any "cause" or viewpoint you're trying to advance.

Posted by: Terry Ott on June 7, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan did not violate any principles. He vindicated the First Amendment.

Posted by: Grand Muff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Why am I not surprised that Whelan's supporters are
1) idiots
2) who don't know what "First Amendment" means
3) and who think women's bodies are icky?

Same trash, different day. The only thing that's changed over the last few years is that they're losers in the political arena.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Eleven minutes later, AllenS is awarded the designation of "fucking moron".

That's because AllenS doesn't know what "anonymous" means and has made the same assumptions about Blevins' thought processes that you have faulted glutz78 for making. There is nothing "civil" about that.

Defending the indefensible is one thing. Being a fucking moron in the process is what we come to the blogsphere to mock.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

What's a rethuglican lawyer's primary means of birth control? His personality.

And, I would say that that pretty well describes a large group of those who are left to self-identify as GOPers.

They do not play well with others AND they run with scissors!

Dory Previn wrote and recorded some interesting songs about her relationships and people she knew. One of them was titled: Michael, Michael.

It seems to fit Mr. Whelan to a "T". Of course, one can read the lyrics, but it's really best when you hear her voice singing them. The words that come to mind are: sad and pathetic.

Posted by: calvinthecat on June 7, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Ooh! Look! A target-rich environment!

1. Ed Whelan's name was attached to all of his posts.

Which he can do because he's a well-connected right-winger. Pseudonymity developed in the left-wing blogsphere to forestall professional retaliation against free speech.

2. Ed Whelan offered substantive criticism of the record of a judicial nominee

No, Ed Whelan repeated a well-known canard, in the process playing dumb about how courts work, which is especially sad because he used to work on them.

3. Ed Whelan has clerked for the Supreme Court and worked for the Executive branch, so he has a firsthand view of how policy is made and an accurate understanding of what public officials consider proper.

Yes, and this is how we know he's playing dumb.

4. When responded to substantively, Ed Whelan engages or adapts to criticism.

No, he lied about Volokh's argument, which was the point of the post in the first place.

Look, if right-wingers don't want to be savaged for playing dumb, they should stop playing dumb. Whining about civility when someone points out that you're playing dumb (about Obama's "apology" or Sotomayor's "racism," etc.) is just changing the subject.

If you want substantive criticism, have a substantive argument.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Outing" someone on the internet is not the equivalent of stalking or harassing someone. All it does is expose the person being "outed" to the same level of scrutiny as everyone else taking part in the public discourse. That may be inappropriate when comparing a professional pundit and someone who occasionally comments on other people's blogs. That's not the case with publius. The use of pseudonyms seems to be an internet tradition that no longer fits the role bloggers play in politics.

MIke

Posted by: MBunge on June 7, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

All it does is expose the person being "outed" to the same level of scrutiny as everyone else taking part in the public discourse.

Whether or not publius "should" be held to the same level of scrutiny (however we're supposed to measure that), is not really the issue here. The point is that Whelan retaliated for being refuted and mocked.

Is personal retaliation justifiable every time someone loses an argument?

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The "netizen" community upholds a tradition of respecting online anonymity for all but the worst transgressions and indulgences. Let's publicize the plight of poor publius (sorry, I'm allitophilic) so netizens will disdain the Cons and people like Ed Whelan even more. All those webbies saying over and over, "what assholes that crowd its", has an effect on overall opinion.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ ♫ on June 7, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

It goes well beyond that, Neil. As the new post at the top of this blog shows, the only argument the right has left is playing dumb, and as Whelan shows, they can only defend this tactic by retaliating against anyone who points that out.

Weak-minded thugs who lash out in fear. There's your American conservative for you.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

"The point is that Whelan retaliated for being refuted and mocked.

Is personal retaliation justifiable every time someone loses an argument?"


You're allowed to retaliate when someone mocks you, whether you lose an argument or not. Making fun of someone, even when they deserve it, isn't a form of fair debate. It's a form of abuse, harassment and intimidation. Having both done it and been subjected to it, I have nothing against mockery. But if you try and embarrass someone, you can't complain about their attempts to embarrass you back.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on June 7, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about cowardly. Whelan doesn't offer his email or a place to comment on his posts at National Review because he can't handle criticism. Per publius's published exchange, here's Whelan's email: ewhelan@eppc.org.

Posted by: Andrew on June 7, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

"'Argument from authority' is only a fallacy when it's an irrelevant authority."

Dead wrong. And you point out why in the same post:

"However, there are other authorities arguing contrary, so it's a wash."

This is precisely why basing your argument on the authority you assign to someone else who makes the same argument is a fallacy: because others of "equal" "authority" can and do say the opposite. If an argument isn't made on its own merits then it doesn't fly.

"If that seems an unduly harsh assessment to you, then consider that by your own standard you committed the very same fallacy when you appealled to the authority of a grade-school education."

You really need to learn the difference between an *argument*, which can be fallacious, and a *taunt*, which can not.

"If you're going to take a supercilious tone with someone, try to be competent."

Physician, heal thyself. Try to learn about fallacies and arguments before lecturing people about them.

Posted by: Shade Tail on June 7, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Making fun of someone, even when they deserve it, isn't a form of fair debate.

What debate? Whelan was caught playing dumb about how the courts work, and then lying about being exposed for playing dumb about how the courts work. At what point do mockery and satire become acceptable to you? You're confusing lying with debate and fisking with abuse, both of which are absurd. If I point out that Krauthammer is lying about Sotomayor (he is), should Krauthammer sue me? And if he does, shouldn't he be mocked for escalating the confrontation simply because he can't win an honest fight?

Furthermore, your false equivalence is not only moral but factual. The implications of being shown to be an idiot (or, in Whelan's case, simply dishonest) are not the same as being personally exposed. I will not speculate what Whelan's intentions are, but I'm sure he knows what the implications of his actions are.

So, again, to retaliate personally for losing one of the battles of wits that go on in the blogsphere daily is truly pathetic.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

good points gmoff Texan,as usual. I'd also like to ask whether whelan et al's position doesn't remind people of the fox position on torture? Because isn't it essentially saying we did this act to hurt X but don't complain about it because it's no big deal. If it were no bug deal, it would not have had the desired effect. In the case of torture if it were not painful it could not have extracted information. Whelan and his buds know one thing about publius-- that he pregferred pseud to publicity, and they experssly violated that wish for spite because they thought it would silence a critic by promoting fear. They've all said as much. The thing speaks for itself.

Oh and except at publius's home blog obscenities, or let's call them"enhanced commenting contempt" are stylistically approved so fuch off all you fake intellectual authoritarian boot lickers.

Posted by: Aimai on June 7, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Argument from authority' is only a fallacy when it's an irrelevant authority.

Whelan's authority (as laid out, above) is relevant. It shows that he knows better than what he's saying, which is how we know he's lying.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Which is it? Is Whelan a private citizen or a public figure?"

He is both, obviously.

"Uh. No. Publius made a decision to hide his identity. Whelan made a decision to expose it. Publius decided for himself and Whelan decided for himself. Individual autonomy at its finest."

Publius' decision affected only himself. Whelan's decision affected only Publius. Your attempt to equivocate these two completely different things is utter garbage.

"I think free speech includes speech I don't like, even speech that I might classify as "punishment". You, apparently, prefer regimes of authoritarian censorship."

And you, apparently, can't tell the difference between "speech I don't like" and "speech that intentionally damages someone else." The phrase "my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins" specifically describes situations like this.

"Well, no. Firebombing the author's house is a legitimate response. The duel used to be legal and it was perfectly consistent with free speech values."

There is a reason the duel was outlawed: because people capable of understanding reality realized that hurting or killing someone isn't the same as speech.

Posted by: Shade Tail on June 7, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Publius' decision affected only himself. Whelan's decision affected only Publius. Your attempt to equivocate these two completely different things is utter garbage. j

You forget that Whelan is a conservative and that publius is a liberal. That's the only reason there are people here justifying what Whelan did.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 7, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Many of Whelan's critics miss the point that rebuttal to one's critics is supposed to be a defense of one's self and exposure of the critics' fallacies such as they are - not outing their personal information. I hardly think many of you really think only a milquetoast has the right to remain anonymous. Would you expect all grousing commenters here to have to say who they are?

Indeed, even putting up your name (as several of Whelen's defenders did here) isn't enough. There are likely several with that name, even though it is amazing what I can do with whitepages.com etc. in narrowing people down. Whitepages gives 300 for "John Hancock", which one is you, "John Hancock"?

And some of you didn't do that much. AllenS, since you think critics shouldn't talk crap without taking a risk of us knowing who they are, why don't you give us your name, address, phone/email, etc>? Come on now, "take responsibility for [your] comments."

PS: Folks, argument from authority has to be understood in context. Technically it's a fallacy because it isn't a firm logical proof: even real authorities *can be* wrong, and so you can't be *sure* they are right like with a proper syllogism. OTOH, if one has competent authorities with a good track record, you have some high chance they are right - so you can say, "it's very likely true, but they could be wrong." OTOH2, that applies more properly to clear factual issues and not things like etiquette, politics, even history, even science if about what to do with the collapse of the wave function (case in point, the execrable fallacy known as the "decoherence" explanation.)

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on June 7, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

"You forget that Whelan is a conservative and that publius is a liberal. That's the only reason there are people here justifying what Whelan did."

Yes, excellent point.

Posted by: Shade Tail on June 7, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

"At what point do mockery and satire become acceptable to you?"


Uh, did you miss the part where I said they ARE acceptable to me? Although, it does bring up the old debate on why it is wrong for a strong man to abuse the weak but perfectly okay for a smart man to abuse the dumb.

I'm not arguing that Whelen isn't pathetic. I'm arguing against the claim that he's violated some sort of Sacred Internet Tradition. If some pseudonomynous blogger wants to hurl abuse or mockery at a public figure, that's fine with me. But if you want to get on the same stage and debate someone like Whelen, it's not fair for Whelen to be the only one under the glare of the spotlight.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on June 7, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

"You forget that Whelan is a conservative and that publius is a liberal. That's the only reason there are people here justifying what Whelan did."


And what if Whelen started posting under a pseudonym? Not to engage in sock puppet discussions with himself, but to make arguments without having his name attatched to him? Would "outing" that behavior be wrong?

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on June 7, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Furthermore, some of Whelan's defenders make the fallacy of considering only what we have a formal right to do, in terms of broad COTUS permissibility v. what would be illegal/actionable for lawsuits (and BTW those last two are not equivalent!) Most "good citizens"/non-assholes don't consider only what they can legally get away with, re speech or whatever, but also standards of ethics etc. I'd expect conservatives to above all get this, since they think government isn't the measure of everything and private action and mores are the greater realm (and must ironically add even more restrictions.)

Posted by: Neil B ♪ ♫ on June 7, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK
"If that seems an unduly harsh assessment to you, then consider that by your own standard you committed the very same fallacy when you appealled to the authority of a grade-school education."

You really need to learn the difference between an *argument*, which can be fallacious, and a *taunt*, which can not

Since the topic has swung back around to something I wrote, I would like to clarify again. My comment about a grade school education was really not meant as either taunt or argument (although maybe I was taunting just a little bit). I was merely pointing out that relying on the authority of a person making an argument to support said argument is typically a very weak and unpersuasive form of argument that we really all should know better than to engage, most especially in this instance. Whelan is making an argument that conflicts with observable facts and basic logic. However, I will happily concede Keith Ellis' point that it is not necessarily a fallacy to point to the fact that he has some experience that should afford him some perspective on the issue at hand. His authority, such as it is, may be relevant in some abstract sense but it does not work very well as any kind of a reasonable counterargument to the content of what Volokh, Armed Liberal, or publius are saying.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Many of Whelan's critics miss the point that rebuttal to one's critics is supposed to be a defense of one's self and exposure of the critics' fallacies such as they are - not outing their personal information."


1. Criticism is not the same thing as mockery or ridicule. If some pseudononymous person makes fun of you, revealing their true identity seems like one of the first things you'll think to do in response.

2. Isn't Whelen's personal information used as a basis or source of criticism? When folks make arguments against him, don't they frequently make used of know facts about him and his life?

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on June 7, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

"But if you want to get on the same stage and debate someone like Whelen, it's not fair for Whelen to be the only one under the glare of the spotlight."

Why not? It is easy to say that, but I want to see a justification for it. Otherwise, claiming that "it's not fair" just sounds like whining.

Whelan chose not to use a pseudonym (which is too bad, because then his extremist hackery wouldn't be connected to him, but I digress). That's his prerogative.

But the fact is, there are perfectly legitimate reasons why people choose to write behind pseudonyms. Perhaps for professional reasons or because they are worried for the safety of themselves or their families. It doesn't in any way change the merit or lack thereof of what they write.

If the only way a person (like Whelan) can reply to an anonymous person's argument is to whine that their anonymity isn't fair, or to angrily and unilaterally strip them of their anonymity, then that person has implicitly admitted that he or she has lost the argument.

Posted by: Shade Tail on June 7, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Bunge, yes it would be wrong to out Whelan if he posted critique anonymously and wanted to remain anonymous. One of the things you and concogitants (i made it up for fun, sorry) are missing is, that even if it's cheesy or whatever to made anonymous criticism, that doesn't prove that exposing such people is the right way to respond (maybe just ridiculing them could be?)

BTW, you hate anonymous griping so I wonder, are you the "Mike Bunge" in MO, or one of those in MI, etc,; inquiring minds want to know. (But I don't have to say about me, since there's no self-consistency problem.)

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on June 7, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

J Hancock, if the best argument you have to rebut my post is essentially "he made a freewill choice not to shoot me, whereas I made my choice to shoot him - it was an exercise of my autonomy, so it really doesn't have anything to do with him. why am i under arrest?" you've largely proven my point about how conservatives rank the rights of other people versus the desire to advance the ideology.

But what I find much more interesting as a topic than your defense of Whelan's selfishness is Mr. Ellis (and others') assertion that the lack of real names on the internet is inherently bad for discourse and does not truly advance free speech principles. I couldn't disagree more, and I hod up this site (and its predecessor, Carpetbagger) as Exhibit A.

Let me start out with Mr. Hancock as an example. Who knows why he isn't using his real name to support the outing of real names? But lets assume for the moment that he uses "John Hancock" to make a point: to signal in advance to his audience that his posts stem from a belief that one should we so willing to stand behind one's statements that one will not only use a real name, but post it so boldly that a king across an ocean can see it. How would that detract from his message? Indeed, if his real name is Joe Smith, and we know nothing about Joe Smith or which Joe Smith among the millions he is, "John Hancock" actually tells us much more useful information than his real name does.

But, Mr. Ellis argues, using John Hancock makes him less accountable, and it is unnecessary because unlike the 1770s, there is no real harm to be had in being known. Let me start with the latter point.

The risk may be different, but no one here really knows (and hence should not arrogate themselves to make that choice for) anyone else. Now, I strongly suspect that for many - including me - the reason has to do with the freedom to take positions that may not sit comfortably with employers, clients, and family members. In the grand scheme of things, for any one person in any one conversation, blogging is not that important, and so absent the ability to keep peace at work, with clients, or in the family, commenters may either heavily self-censor or just not participate at all. Would that advance the cause of free speech or discourse? A majority of commenters here comment under pseudonyms - and I happen to learn a great deal, and am caused to think a great deal, but what Steve's commenters have to say. I think that silencing thousands of commenters who simply use pseudonyms to create a safer distance between their political views and jobs or family gravely harms free speech and civic discourse, while serving virtually no positive purpose (except to ensure that only viewpoints acceptable to employers dominate the debate - hmmm, that may be why conservatives are taking this position. . . )

Which brings us to the final point: accountability and civility. I think it would be hard to find much evidence on the internet that real names ensures civility; increasingly even in media with not only real names but visuals, and live in-stuido guests, civility in civic discourse is lost. But I think it is a mistake to suggest that accountability is lost absent real names - an error that (as has been mentioned repeatedly) stems from confusing pseudonymity with anonymity. Sometimes drive-by shouters will find this blog and post. They almost never last long. They move on to places on the net that have that culture - everyone yells rather than discussing. why do some places end up like that while others - like Steve's various blogs over time - dont? Because culture can exist even without real names and culture matters. First, accountability can be created through moderators. I happen to find the moderation here a little heavy, but at Carpetbagger Steve would intervene to stop thread spamming, defamatory or obscene materials, epithat filled rants devoid of other content, or certain pure netiquette breaches like handle-jacking (parody handles were allowed, but not posting-as-the-original). Nonetheless, over a period of years there was only about 1 week, at the peak of a heated primary, where the community self-policing broke down. Because there is in fact accountability here. Many of us are long-term regulars. In that situation, the value of "Zeitgeist" being a "good name," a credible commenter, is identical to the value it would have to my "real" name. I know the "personality" and posting traits of a doubtful or a shortstop whom I have shared this community with for a long period of time. People do engage to calm threads down, to ignore posts that violate social norms, to encourage well-reasoned (or just clever) posts -- to create social accountability, no less so than if we all used our real names.

The only difference is that no one is getting in hot water with the boss. But they are adding a lot of very good discourse.

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 7, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

And you, apparently, can't tell the difference between "speech I don't like" and "speech that intentionally damages someone else."

Uh. No. Pubius slandered Whelan, slander is not protected speech and humans usually dislike speech that intentionally damages them, like slander.

J Hancock, if the best argument you have to rebut my post is essentially "he made a freewill choice not to shoot me, whereas I made my choice to shoot him - it was an exercise of my autonomy, so it really doesn't have anything to do with him. why am i under arrest?" you've largely proven my point

You need to learn to read. In any event, Publius slandered Whelan, so Whelan revealed who the slanderer was. That seems fair.

There is a reason the duel was outlawed: because people capable of understanding reality realized that hurting or killing someone isn't the same as speech.

No, actually, duels were outlawed because too many people were getting shot. But people were getting shot due to slander, not merely for exercising free speech rights. Slander isn't protected speech, and slander hurts lives, causes emotional distress, damages reputations, and is monetarily compensable.

He is both, obviously.

Actually, under First Amendment doctrine, private citizens and public figures receive different levels of protection. So claiming Whelan is both makes no sense and also reveals your ignorance and shallowness regarding the topic under discussion. You might try reading a book.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why are you impressed with Whalen's background? A Republican DoJ appointment is positive proof that the guy is a spineless worm, blackmailable, or a clinging loser like Brownie. If he were minimally principled or competent he would have been squirted out of his Fed job like shit from a goose.

Posted by: wormwatch on June 7, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Why are you impressed with Whalen's background

Why are you impressed with your own?

Posted by: wormwatch has a small worm on June 7, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hey "John Hancock" (is that you're real name?), two matters:
1. You say publius "slandered" Whelan. So you are quite sure that what publis said was demonstrably false? That's what slander means. Furthermore, it has to be factual type issues, not "so and so's philosophy is crap" etc. BTW an unsupported accusation of slander is itself slander or libel, right?
2. OK, about public versus private: Whelan is a former US official, so more "public" and hence liable to criticism and exposure than a relative nobody (?) like publius' real person.

WHASM, your question is irrelevant per assessing the people we are talking about.

Posted by: Neil B on June 7, 2009 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

MBunge's point (here below) reminds me very much of an old feminist joke:

"Men are afraid women will laugh at them/women are afraid men will kill them."


There's a reason that joke is funny--because its true. But that joke isn't just a joke, it stems for the difference in the way men and women, and (I'd add) northerners and southerners think about ideas like adulthood, speech, responsibility, honor and reputation. All of these things have been invoked by all the commenters up thread, in almost absurdly different ways. Because we are all coming from different places politically and culturally. The pro-Whelan people (and I'm not arguing they are all southerners, or all right wingers, or even all male) offer a complex of ideas
1) That a verbal "insult" is "intolerable"
2) that it "must be responded to"
3) that "authorities" must be known and respected
4) that anonymity or pseudonmity prevents people from correctly attributing high status, or blurs the lines, and that in itself is an offense
5) that "only a woman"** would need to "hide an identity"
6) that a well known pseudonymous blogger was a "coward" for rebutting Whelan in a public posting, although Whelan could have responded in comments, or directly by email, or on his own public website.
7) that Publius's sin of civilly embarrassing Whelan on a web site known for its strict posting rules and polite commentariat are compounded (and therefore Whelan's actions further justified) because elsewhere on the internet foul mouthed commenters like myself are "terrorists" (eg incivility is a form of horrific political violence)and these, too, should be shut down before they can wreak further havoc on polite society.

These area ll, in their way similar to the complex of ideas explored by historians and ethnographers of southern male culture and honor based societies generally and the southern rightist culture of the republicans specifically. Aristocratic fantasies, intense masculinist fantasies, touchiness about honor, fear of honor's fragility in the face of democratic/non white/female agitation. Violent defence of honor persisted in the South long after it had been entirely discredited in the North and persists to this day in higher rates of violence among Southerners than among Northerners and higher rates of violence inspired by intense fear of shame and dishonor. Michael Lind and, I think, Kevin Phillips as well as others have written extensively about how these characterize modern Republican political culture and we saw a shitload of it, if I may descend to the demotic, under Bush and Cheney.

Despite the mass appeal to a kind of southern male honor complex here Publius's linking to *another person* saying that they thought Whelan's arguments were logically weak and indefensible and that he was, in a hideously frightening phrase, a kind of "hitman" for the right wing is not tantamount to a *challenge to a duel* or require any kind of response at all from Whelan. It just doesn't. Its disproportionate, absurdly so.

**A commenter way upthread generously observed that women bloggers might have a different experience than his own in terms of stalking and harrassment on and offline. Indeed we do. But of cousre Dr. George Tiller who was neither pseudonymous nor anonymous had a very different experience of stalking and harrassment to that posters too. The main difference seems to me to occur, oddly enough, when the right wing and their paramilitary goons start stalking you. I'd say a professor of Law in a texas univesity who gets called out by a right wing shill might very well have reason to be worried. At any rate, its nobodies business but his own if he chooses to try to avoid stalking and harrassment from the goon squads of the right.


Here's Mbunge's quote which set me off:

Uh, did you miss the part where I said they ARE acceptable to me? Although, it does bring up the old debate on why it is wrong for a strong man to abuse the weak but perfectly okay for a smart man to abuse the dumb.

I'm not arguing that Whelen isn't pathetic. I'm arguing against the claim that he's violated some sort of Sacred Internet Tradition. If some pseudonomynous blogger wants to hurl abuse or mockery at a public figure, that's fine with me. But if you want to get on the same stage and debate someone like Whelen, it's not fair for Whelen to be the only one under the glare of the spotlight.

Mike

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

So you are quite sure that what publis said was demonstrably false?

I do not know who publis is.

In any event, yes. Publius claimed that Whelan "enjoys playing the role of know-nothing demagogue." Whether Publius is of the opinion that Whelan is "playing the role of know-nothing demagogue," Whelan has made clear by outing Publius that he does not "enjoy" it. That means Publius's statements are demonstrably false. They constitute slander.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I am not a lawyer, but apparently neither is John Hancock, or at any rate he's not very well educated as this absurd remark makes clear:

Actually, under First Amendment doctrine, private citizens and public figures receive different levels of protection. So claiming Whelan is both makes no sense and also reveals your ignorance and shallowness regarding the topic under discussion. You might try reading a book.
Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Dear John,
Of course Whelan can be both a "private" and a "public" individual--we all are, in varying circumstances. For example, even "public figures" within the meaning of the common law use of the term, worked out in various legal cases, have a right to privacy for some things that they can sue to protect. Totally private citizens may have greater rights--they generally only know that they have them after they sue and sometimes they discover that *for the purposes of the law* they have become public figures unwillingly. The world is very, very, complicated and a mere contradiction in a casual figure of speech isn't legal proof of anything, in blog argument or in a court of law. Go back to school, angry little pseudonymous blogger. Go back to school. Oh, I'm sorry, is making fun of you "slandering you?"

aimai

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

please, JH, no court in the country would find that to be actionable slander. that is the kind of back and forth that happens in the political arena -- although usually much more harshly -- day in and day out.

moreover, truth is a defense: by all recent appearances, Whelan is a know-nothing demagogue. (And since you like authority, let me qualify that by saying that it represents the perspective of an honors grad at a top-20 law school and former federal court law clerk, albeit not the SC).

seriously, on what planet is outing someone's identity a reasonable response to being accused of "enjoying playing a know-nothing demagogue"? how, other than in purely vindictive terms, is publius' private identity even relevant? you don't see how that is perhaps an admission that Whelan had no principled, intellectual defense to the charge? or are you trying to prove aimai's point that you espouse unlimited retaliation in defense of some amorphous "honor," the breach of which causes a temporary insanity fueled by an unfortunate mix of massive insecurity and unchecked testosterone?

(sorry, was that a slander?)

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 7, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan has made clear by outing Publius that he does not "enjoy" it.

Most of what you have had to say here today, and particularly your bizarre understanding of what constitutes slander, is merely wrong but this last statement is just plain silly. Whelan's reaction doesn't prove that he doesn't enjoy the role that publius says he does. It means that he doesn't like people saying that he enjoys it. An insult is not disproven because the insultee denies it. Please stop being ridiculous.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan really burnished his professional cred there, didn't he?

He's a made man in the wingnut welfare hierarchy, with his $200k/year from EPPC. He'll never need to seek another legitimate job again, if he ever had one before.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc on June 7, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Mike: You made the point exactly. "But if you want to get on the same stage and debate someone like Whelen, it's not fair for Whelen to be the only one under the glare of the spotlight."

In baseball after a pitch is thrown toward a head, or even anywhere at the body above the hips, there is likely to be a retaliatory brushback pitch sooner or later. Baseball and politics and business and even academia where I have seen the MOST vicious attacks I have ever witnessed, are all that way.

Reasons I would NOT put my full identity and contact information in a blog discussion:

1. After winning $4.8 million in a lottery I keep a very low profile for obvious reasons.
2. My wife runs a meth lab, and although we have different last names and she lives in motels under yet another name, I HAVE been associated with her via previous arrests.
3. I am tired of getting catalogs in the mail and emails from Nigeria.

Perhaps only one or two of the foregoing are true, but you get the point. Late '60's, my family's safety was threatened by virtue of our visible stands on civil rights and EEO. Were there an internet back then, NO WAY I would give people an easier way to make those scary nighttime phone calls and/or toss more dead rats on our lawn. There are WAY more important things than blog debates, and THOSE things are what I think about ANY time I give out my identity and contact information.

IF I were to rip someone on the internet at a "personal" level, as opposed to simply challenging their arguments, I'd find a way of getting in touch to let them know who I was. Isn't that just courtesy? And if I were NOT comfortable doing that for whatever reason, then I think I would "just shut up."

Tempest in a teapot. And to the extent anyone presents it as a "liberals (would) do this" whereas "conservatives (would) do that" in terms of how they conduct themselves on the web, please be aware:

You sound very silly.

Posted by: Terry Ott on June 7, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

truth is a defense: by all recent appearances, Whelan is a know-nothing demagogue

The statement is that Whelan enjoys being a know-nothing demagogue, and Publius cites to a law professor to substantiate the claim as if it is true and to another lawyer blogger to corroborate that Whelan knows he is a know-nothing and his enjoyment can be discerned by the aid of legal expertise the lay reader would not possess. Whelan has stated the claims are false. Whelan would know whether he enjoys something; indeed, he is the only person who would truly know.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Oh noes! the dreaded mickey kaus style "tu quoque". Jeebus, John Hancock, I'm really starting to think you must be about thirteen. That's the stupidest most illogical rebuttal I've seen since your first posting.

"An insult is not disproven because the insultee denies it" can not be reversed, logically, into the assertion that therefore *when* the insultee denies something/therefore it is true.

Here are some useful concepts: syllogism, some, all, sometimes, never, occasionally and you really are an embarrassment to mammals, you know that?

aimai

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

But Terry Ott up above, Mike's point is absurd. Whelan was not "more in the spotlight" than Publius. Publius was a public, well known, blogger with a well established reputation--hell, he even furnishes an arena for discussion. Whelan's action wasn't meant to force Publius to take some accountability for his postings--he already did so by posting publicly, on a blog that permits comments, and by not removing posts (for example) or hiding his own history of comments. The spotlight of publicity didn't fall more on Whelan than on Publius at any time. Nor was it for Whelan to decide to change the venue and, essentially, remove it from the public domain and drag it into the private by, essentially, invading Publius's home to insult him. What Whelan did was far more in the spirit of pie-ing someone at a public conference than any respectable gesture of dialogue.

The entire conservative argument seems to rest, as I said up above, on some childish, retrograde, notion that important people, with law degrees!, and names! who've clerked for people! shouldn't ever be made fun of. Where is that written? I must have missed the constitutional-right-to-be-an-asshole without people pointing and laughing clause.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, if you deny it, that is no reason for anyone to believe you.

Whether anyone believes my denials is obviously a separate question from whether the denial is sufficient evidence to disprove the accusation. It is incredibly stupid that I even have to explain this to someone who is presumably not brain damaged but if I were to sue you for such an accusation the burden would, of course, be on you to demonstrate the truth of your claim but the fact that I decided to sue you or decided to otherwise harm your life in some way would not count as any kind of evidence that your accusation was not truthful. I choose to give you enough credit to think that you cannot possibly be silly enough to believe otherwise. I assume that you are merely being deliberately obtuse because this is what your absurd argument has come to. Again, I really think it would be best to just stop being ridiculous. You're smart enough to know that what you're saying is just the purest nonsense at this point.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

I posit that consistent pseudonymity (and by that I mean use of the same pseudonym for all of your writings online) is a great source of determining who has authority. Ed Whelan has a blog with the authority of his cv. He has the position because of what he's done in the past. Pubilus has his because he started writing and people were attracted to what he had to say. (which, by the way, I've been reading on and off since before he joined OW.) I read it not because of who he was, but because he had something to say. It's pure meritocracy, content over form. Same as when I started reading tpm, or this one. I didn't know josh Marshall or Kevin from Adam, but they had something to say that I wanted to read. Isn't that the ultimate authority?

Posted by: Northzax on June 7, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

The statement is that Whelan enjoys being a know-nothing demagogue, and Publius cites to a law professor to substantiate the claim as if it is true and to another lawyer blogger to corroborate that Whelan knows he is a know-nothing and his enjoyment can be discerned by the aid of legal expertise the lay reader would not possess.

LOL. So Whelan's defense to the claim will be what? That he may be a demagogue but he doesn't enjoy it. Cut it out man. Really.

Posted by: brent on June 7, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Whether anyone believes my denials is obviously a separate question from whether the denial is sufficient evidence to disprove the accusation.

Not in reality, it is not. If the denial is sufficient evidence to disprove the accusation, that would render unwarranted any belief in the accusation.

Posted by: John Hancock on June 7, 2009 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter John Hancock,
Yes, I am brain damaged.

No, really, that about sums it up. Is English your second language? Because logic certainly isn't your first.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on June 7, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

There's a long tradition in the USA of people publishing their political opinions anonymously to protect themselves from thugs. It was a common practice by the first Americans who were trying to protect themselves from attacks from those still loyal to King George.

Ed Whelan could give a shit. He just wanted some payback from someone who criticized him.

I don't think this will hurt publius' career because I'm betting he does a good job and he's well-liked in his department. On the other hand, there's no longer any doubt that Ed Whelan is a hatchet man. He proved publius' point with his scummy behavior.

I'll say this: Ed Whelan goddamn well better have a squeaky clean personal and professional life, because now there's a highly motivated group of intelligent people who are going to study his secrets like a rabbi studies the torah.

So, mr whelan, if you've got any little thing to hide, now would be the time to start shredding.

Most interesting is the uncomfortable silence on this issue from most of Whelan's buddies at NRO. Even they think he's a scumbag.

Posted by: PopeRatzo on June 7, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Whether Publius is of the opinion that Whelan is "playing the role of know-nothing demagogue," Whelan has made clear by outing Publius that he does not "enjoy" it. That means Publius's statements are demonstrably false. They constitute slander.

That's one of the dumbest things ever written, if you're actually claiming to know anything about first amendment law. But it's not worth wasting time trying to explain something to an obtuse jackass, as others have already demonstrated by their attempts.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on June 7, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Like other cringing mediocrities who flopped to disgrace along with their only hope, the GOP, Whelan is bought and paid for now. He's as marketable at Gonzales, as respected as Brownie. To pay the rent he has to defend the indefensible, stand out in public and take the derision for the rich guys who pay for Whelan's rough trade. His humiliation makes the world a better place.

Posted by: wormwatch on June 7, 2009 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

John Hancock, the last thing we need is a defense of right-wing thuggery from someone such as yourself. Whelan is a thug who came out of the notoriously corrupt Bush administration justice department and he couldn't handle criticism from a pseudonymous blogger who disagreed with him. Whelan certainly doesn't need any defending from the likes of toadying, submissive suckups such as yourself. These sorts of "outings" of private citizens by the rich and well-connected over personal hissy fits and egos is the typical behavior of the right-wing thug and bully. If that's the sort of thing that impresses, you, so be it, but it's more a statement about your moral psyche and angry thuggery so common among insecure right wingers trying to find meaning in their worthless, useless lives.

Posted by: Tyro on June 7, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

There have been three fairly prominent pseudonymous bloggers outed in the last two months (Hilzoy, Alaska Mudraker, and now Publius), all by conservatives. Can anyone name a pseudonymous blogger -- conservative or liberal -- outed by a liberal for something other than vicious harassment or sock-puppetry?

Posted by: Ahistoricality on June 7, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan is long past the apogee of his career which was kissing Scalito's hairy ass and taking out his dry cleaning, and now at EPPC Whelan doesn't like it when he has to talk baby-talk to Rick Santorum's decomposing stillbirth on Take Your Child to Work Day.

Posted by: wormwatch on June 7, 2009 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

John Hancock, you write like a reasonably intelligent person, so your weird, warped fallacies are jarring. You wrote, "Whelan has stated the claims are false. Whelan would know whether he enjoys something; indeed, he is the only person who would truly know." But it doesn't matter that he would know. What matters is that for Whelan to say he doesn't like it, or for Whelan to implicitly "show" he doesn't like being told he enjoys something, doesn't prove anything and would never be accepted legally as a disproof of an allegedly slanderous claim. Finally, claims that people enjoy such and such really aren't easily put into a factual category at all.

PS: Really, you knew I meant "publius" didn't you, so why the pretentious game-playing with a typo? Only assholes do that.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on June 7, 2009 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan has made clear that he is a brutish thug, which probably is why bush hired him into the OLC. It is hard to decide which he does worse, practice law or run smears.
I disagree with Neil B. John Hancock writes like a half-clever fourth grader with daddy's Thesaurus, not a reasonable person.

Posted by: moondancer on June 7, 2009 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan is defending his legitimacy. If the line:

"He's essentially a legal hitman, someone who provides the "expert" opinion that the right wing echo chamber then uses as the basis of its attack campaign."

becomes associated with him, his reputation as someone qualified to comment on judicial appointments goes poof. So, every comment on Ed Whelan should open or close with that line.

Posted by: Eli Rabett on June 7, 2009 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

@John Hancock (2:11 P.M.): "Uh. No. Pubius [sic] slandered Whelan, slander is not protected speech and humans usually dislike speech that intentionally damages them, like slander."

@Neil B (2:39 P.M.): "You say publius "slandered" Whelan. So you are quite sure that what publis [sic] said was demonstrably false? That's what slander means."

@John Hancock (2:58 P.M.): "I do not know who publis is."

@Neil B (6:44 P.M.): "PS: Really, you knew I meant "publius" didn't you, so why the pretentious game-playing with a typo? Only assholes do that."

A little typographical projecting there, eh John Hancock? Kettle, meet pot.


Posted by: JustBeingPedantic on June 7, 2009 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Whelan defended his decision on the grounds that publius "abused his anonymity" via "irresponsible" postings.

But did publius actually disregard a specific, real responsibility he has toward Whelan, or to the blogging community in general? I don't believe so. But if so, what would that violated responsibility be?

Certainly, I think bloggers have a responsibility not to disclose the deliberately withheld personal information of other bloggers -- even if that information includes one's name. Under certain circumstances, of course, other responsibilities take priority over that one. But is this such a circumstance? I doubt it.


In fact, Whelan was the one who violated the implicit compact of responsibility among bloggers. He acted rashly and unwisely, and should be thought of accordingly.


Posted by: Nick056 on June 7, 2009 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Whelan really burnished his professional cred there, didn't he?"

He's a made man in the wingnut welfare hierarchy, with his $200k/year from EPPC. He'll never need to seek another legitimate job again, if he ever had one before.

Whelan sold out cheap! But if the blogosphere pushes this story to the point where the MSM regards it as news, I'm betting that Whelan will be history by the end of June.

Posted by: Ruthie on June 8, 2009 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

The blog-world is a society. There are rules. Everybody knows them. But when somebody chewed on one of his opinion pieces on the Internet - imagine that, someone on the Internet disagrees with someone else, OMG no! - little Eddy Whelan had a hissy fit and stomped all over those rules.

You absolutely can't trust this little creep as far as you can throw him; not only does he not play fair, but after he cheats in front of everybody, he stands in the middle of the playground with his fists on his hips and yells "I did nothing wrong!", as though if he shouts this loud enough, enough times, it will make his wrong doings OK.

From which we conclude that Whelan is a conscience-free dick, a blog-world sociopath, whom everybody must henceforth distrust and shun.

Posted by: W. Kiernan on June 8, 2009 at 6:51 AM | PERMALINK

This is precisely why basing your argument on the authority you assign to someone else who makes the same argument is a fallacy: because others of ‘equal’ ‘authority’ can and do say the opposite. If an argument isn't made on its own merits then it doesn't fly.

You're just making shit up—which is ironic considering that you exhorted me to “learn about fallacies and arguments” (BTW, I've had numerous college courses on philosophy and rhetoric, and have read the classical books discussing rhetoric and logic. That is not to make the claim that I'm necessarily correct; but rather to rebut your implication that I'm not learned in this matter and to support my claim that I'm correct in my arguments regarding it.)

As I've written, when argument from authority is a fallacy is when it's an appeal to an irrelevant authority—for example, “The President says that global warming is not man-made.” When it's an appeal to a relevant authority, it's not a necessarily a fallacy—for example, “The NSF says that global warming is man-made. An appeal to a relevant authority is a fallacy only when there's the implicit or explicit claim that the authority must be correct merely by virtue of being an authority. That's an appeal to authority qua authority—just as in the case with an appeal to an irrelevant authority. Both are fallacies because they are not appeals to an authority, but to authority.

Whether the commenter did this or not is a matter of opinion. I read his comment as “Whelan has extensive competence in this area, so it is a mistake to simply accept Volock's claim that he is wrong.” On the other hand, his comment can be read as “Whelan was a SCOTUS clerk and Deputy at DOJ. He must be right!” Perhaps the person who made the fallacy charge reacted not to the appeal to authority, but to the arguable implicit claim of infallibility. I doubt it, especially given that he learned about fallacies in rhetoric in “grade-school”.

Your contention that it is a fallacy because there can be competing authorities is nonsense. In any argument that isn't either entirely a matter of logic or a matter of the direct experience of those arguing, there will always be an explicit or implicit appeal to authority. In this particular discussion, none of us who aren't Constitutional scholars are competent to argue whether or not Whelan's assertions were wrong. To make an argument at all requires an appeal to authority.

Also:

“You really need to learn the difference between an *argument*, which can be fallacious, and a *taunt*, which can not.”

It's so hard to tell the difference between taunts and argument on the Internet. Please assume that all my comments aren't arguments, but “taunts”, and therefore exempt from scrutiny.

Finally, I'd like you to contact an authority on classical rhetoric—say, at your local university—and ask him/her if it's the case that argumentum ad verecundiam is determined a fallacy “because others of ‘equal’ ‘authority’ can and do say the opposite”. I expect that he/she will explain to you that yours is a pragmatic, not logical argument. The notion of fallacies are in the logical, not pragmatic, realm. An authority qua authority is not necessarily correct; just as popular opinion is not necessarily correct. We do not decide an argument tactic is a fallacy merely because sometimes in practice it is flawed.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 8, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not real happy that my argument against pseudonymity is being taken, in any way, as a defense of Whalen or that I'm a conservative. This is one of the more pernicious traits of Internet discourse: everyone must line up on one side or the other with no ambiguity about anything.

zeitgeist, you wrote:

In the grand scheme of things, for any one person in any one conversation, blogging is not that important, and so absent the ability to keep peace at work, with clients, or in the family, commenters may either heavily self-censor or just not participate at all. Would that advance the cause of free speech or discourse? A majority of commenters here comment under pseudonyms - and I happen to learn a great deal, and am caused to think a great deal, but what Steve's commenters have to say. I think that silencing thousands of commenters who simply use pseudonyms to create a safer distance between their political views and jobs or family gravely harms free speech and civic discourse, while serving virtually no positive purpose (except to ensure that only viewpoints acceptable to employers dominate the debate - hmmm, that may be why conservatives are taking this position. . . )

I addressed these points in the rest of my comment. Firstly, I strongly believe—from experience—that the more serious safety and harassment concerns people have about identity and the Internet are greatly exaggerated. For example, a few months ago on an Yglesias thread, someone challenged a commenter taking the same side that I had taken to include their name and address and phone number. I don't recall the context, somehow it involved this accessibility of true identity. And so I responded, and I did. I expected at least one person to call my number just for the hell of it, but nope. Not a single call.

As I wrote, I've been on the 'net for a long time—I recognize your pseudonym (probably you, assume we peruse the same sites), you probably recognize my name. I have never been harassed or bothered in any way associated to my name—and sometimes phone number and address—being readily available. For many years. Fifteen years on the Internet proper; another ten before that on online services.

Almost nobody writes under their own name on the 'net, almost everybody uses pseudonyms. And almost everybody is certain that all sorts of bad things would necessarily happen to them if they wrote under their own names. They have little or no experience to prove this, yet I have quite a bit of experience proving otherwise (at least with regard to myself).

Secondly, I do agree that there presently are less severe problems with being yourself on the 'net. I've not experienced them, but I've not worked in nine years. However, I assume (because I've heard accounts) that employers are Googling people's names and such. And I'm sure that family and friends Google me and read all sorts of things that I've written that they don't like. (I've only had one bad consequence of that, with my sister; but I assume that some family and friends know things about me that I otherwise might not want them to know.)

But the other part of my comment addressed this.

I think we should be clear on the fact that even with the culture of pseudonymity we have on the 'net, with Google making it easier for people to suss out real identities and link them, and with social networking sites which use real names, and other things—well, the idea of anonymity on the 'net and having one's privacy guaranteed by technical considerations is already taking a beating. So the status quo isn't working, anyway.

A year ago I decided to make it a personal policy to think of unrestricted Googling (and undiscriminating perusal of results) of individual people as an invasion of privacy. The current culture is that if it's available, it's okay to read it. My argument is that all sorts of things in real life are "available". Whether it's the letter on the table not addressed to oneself, someone's diary in a drawer, or even someone's records available down at the courthouse...we don't just get into other people's business willy-nilly, unless we're unapologetic snoops. And snoops are rightly thought of badly.

I believe that the division between Internet culture and “real world” culture is narrowing all the time and it will soon disappear altogether. It's an artifact of a very young medium. And the only way to preserve any privacy at all in a world where everything we do in public is available to the eyes of anyone who decides to look is to establish a strong culture of voluntary privacy...just like we already have in our pre-high-tech lives.

Not everything will be voluntary. In the cases of employment and such, I think there should be laws passed that limit or prevent employers or prospective employers from looking up information on employees on the 'net.

Anyway, the point is that with a culture of voluntary privacy, most of the concerns that people have about it on the 'net will be invalid.

Finally, I very strongly disagree that the accountability of identity would not moderate most peoples' behavior on the Internet relative to how they behave when they are, essentially, anonymous. (I find the argument for distinguishing anonymity from pseudonymity disingenuous with regard to anyone except those very few, like publius or hilzoy, who are properly pseudonymous.) We have much of human history to prove that most people are cowed by social conformity and that they are, in part, because of social consequences. When one is anonymous, there are no consequences beyond the nearby and immediate.

Sure, there'll always be people who have no problem being extreme jerks as themselves. They must be dealt with in different ways. But, come one—has anyone ever seen such widespread, extremely rude and angry, even very hurtful, speech anywhere else like we see on the Internet today?

And nowhere else do I think this is as important as I think it is with regard to civic speech. Civic speech is debased and unproductive these days, and a large part of this is lack of accountability. Maybe the folks on TV and talk radio that are uncivil, or extremely rude and provocative are such even though their identities are public...yet, it's no accident that all of them are otherwise excluded and reclusive from public life. The press certainly doesn't hold anyone accountable. And they live in gated mansions, have bodyguards, etc. Because, you know, there are negative consequences for saying the sorts of things that Rush Limbaugh says. He just manages, with his money, to mostly avoid them.

Also, as I already mentioned, I think Whelan is a good example of how this is supposed to work. He is an authority and, as someone wrote, because we know he is, we know he's lying. This has hurt his credibility...not the credibility of some pseudonym. I don't doubt that what he's written will haunt his career in some negative sense. While he's ensconced in the GOP/Conservative professional world of commentary or think-tankdom or other hackery, maybe not. But he's never getting on the SCOTUS. And I am sure that there are people who will have power over his career who will either a) assume he's incompetent for saying things about the law which are false; or b) lying about the law. This is good.—Keith M Ellis, 4701 Irving Blvd NW, Apt. 1504, Albuquerque, NM, 87114, 505-715-5217

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on June 8, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

From the hypocrictical National Review Online, "the bench:"

"In the course of a typically confused post yesterday, publius embraces the idiotic charge (made by “Anonymous Liberal”) that I’m “essentially a legal hitman” who “pores over [a nominee’s] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist.”

Not only that, You are Ridiculous

Posted by: Conservatives are Desperate on June 8, 2009 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

Tautology, thy name is John Hancock.

And please learn the difference between Libel and Slander, before you sign your name, John

Posted by: Jamey on June 9, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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