Cowardice or Wisdom

Even Superman needed a secret identity.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don’t give your name and home address out to fucking murderous nutbar fanatics.
once again WordPress refuses to format as I want -with apologies to Jim Croce

I’ve been in a bit of a flame war recently with a guy named Neil C. Reinhardt (proudly his real name, apparently) over at George W.’s blog, Misplaced Grace.  The eloquent Mr. Reinhardt, who likes to post in all caps “JUST TO PISS OFF YOU RETARDS”, spammed a eulogy that George posted in honour of the recently deceased Canadian politician, Jack Layton.  It was the equivalent of showing up in a plaid suit at a funeral and using the gathering of grieving mourners  as an occasion to sell snake oil.  George reacted accordingly and tore a strip off the troll,  leading to 121 comments, so far, every second one by Mr. Reinhardt in all caps.  This has forced George to develop a comments policy, which I think is excellent and which I am thinking of adopting.  And it has caused me to think about my anonymity.

You see, one of Mr. Reinhardt’s big things is calling anybody who hides behind a screen name a coward.  He uses his own name, and even posted his real address with an invitation to come and visit him and a promise that we’d be pushing up daisies (yes, he really talks like that) if we did.  I explained to Mr. Reinhardt the reasons why I am anonymous.  This only served to alert him to what he sees as a sore point he can poke at.  He’s not interested in understanding anything.  He’s only interested in inflicting pain on those he sees as his enemies.  Of which I’m rather happy to be one.  So he seems incapable of addressing me without appending the term “coward”,  and this makes me more convinced than ever that he is an idiot.

Recently, Bruce Schneier of security fame posted a link to a Kee Hinkley article about pseudonyms.  It’s long, but it’s really good and worth reading.  It says everything I could want to say about the reason we should value anonymity on the Internet.  It isn’t just a matter of keeping people civil.  I don’t actually care all that much about civility.  It’s because no matter who you are, there is somebody in this world who hates you and would like to plant your ass six feet deep.  It’s fine to post on Facebook or Google+ using your real identity if all you are talking about is where you are having dinner, or your plans for the weekend.  It’s an entirely different thing is you want to post about your religious convictions, your political position, your sexual orientation, or the blow job you gave in that interstate rest stop washroom.  There should be some place on the net where a person can be real, and very few people can be real using their real name.  Not without the potential for terrible, possibly lethal, consequences.Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed.  When posting something like this can get you killed, don't tell me it's cowardice to be anonymous.The smug argument that we have no reason to hide if we aren’t doing anything to be ashamed of is specious in the extreme.  I’m not the least bit ashamed of my opinions or experiences.  But this doesn’t mean I want to invite the world to judge me, in person, possibly with violent intentions, endangering not just my life and livelihood but also those I love.  Only a chest thumping fool like Neil C. Reinhardt would see it this as cowardice.

4 Comments »

  1. George W. Said,

    September 15, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

    I am the furthest thing from anonymous on the internet, and I still get accused of anonymity every time a Birth Certificate troll comes knocking at one of my regular haunts.

    My full name can be found on every page of my blog- including my middle initial! I finally capitulated and put it in my comment policy- now I guess the trolls are entirely without excuse. My name is simple to find if you have the capacity for deduction, and I bet anyone who wants to use it maliciously lacks that critical skill.

    The reason I don’t use it in comments is because I have been commenting as George W. since before the Bush administration, and everyone knows me as such- except the brief period where I went by “dubleya” as a way to try on anonymity (though that, even, is my common meatspace nickname). I don’t care to be anonymous- I am blessed to be a straight white male atheo-socialist in a country that doesn’t really make religion an issue and is relatively socialist. That said, I understand all too well why others choose to use a pseudonym on the internet, and so long as they consistently use the pseudonym, I don’t mind at all.
    I do occasionally struggle when having to refer to someone by an adjective, like Random, or a verb, like Sinned- as though they were nouns. It offends my English sensibilities- yet Darwin works just fine. (I actually tried desperately to talk y wife into naming our youngest son Darwin Huxley- alas, to no avail)

    I just don’t think “real names” are all that important, and the Birth Certificate Trolls- those commenters and bloggers who invariably insist on commenting using their “proper professional names”- always, I may add, with their middle initial and any credentials they have earned- seem to be almost shouting their identity. It is the salutatory equivalent of ALL CAPS.
    They are saying “here is my full given birth name, I dare you to try and find me, because if I had your name, I’D FIND YOU.”

    By the by, thank you for the link and your kind words. I have to say I have enjoyed your voice over at my blog, and my blog needs someone like you there. There are too few “moderating atheists” around, and I can get too caught up in the shitstorm.

  2. Darwin Harmless Said,

    September 16, 2011 @ 1:10 am

    My pleasure, George. I enjoyed your original rant against Neil the troll, and I’ve enjoyed the comments. I had brief hopes that we might elevate the guy slightly, get him to admit just one place where he was inappropriate, his initial spamming, and maybe go from there. It’s not going to happen. No surprise, really. Converting a troll would require a brain transplant.
    This reply got long, so it’s turned into a new post. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Godlessons Said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 3:15 am

    Well, I’m sure Niel has a huge mailing list. I somehow got on it, and can’t get myself off. He posts all sorts of crap to it all the time from multiple email addresses.

    Suffice it to say, I just got an email from him talking bad about you and linking to this post, so I decided I would come over and say GOOD JOB, and I say that in all caps. :)

    As for the idea of anonymity on the internet, I go by a pseudonym, but I am not in hiding. People just know it from my blog, my comments, my youtube channel, my twitter, etc. It’s still very easy to get my info though.

    Although I’ve been physically attacked merely for saying I’m an atheist, I am not terribly afraid of backlash. The attacker didn’t realize that my calm demeanor didn’t mean I was unable to defend myself.

    I see many reasons one may require anonymity, I don’t have any of those issues. I am self employed, and the work I do doesn’t get people worried if they find out I’m an atheist. I live in a small town, so chances of there being a psycho here are much slimmer. I don’t plan on running for public office, and I am not hiding anything from my family. I really have nothing to worry about.

    I say who cares if you’re anonymous?

  4. Darwin Harmless Said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 5:32 am

    Welcome, and in your case I really appreciate the all caps. Neil C. Reinhardt is doing me a real favor encouraging fellow atheists to visit my site. Thanks for dropping in. I almost posted a response to him, just for entertainment value, but I don’t want to feed the troll. So he’s been banned from my site for being derivative, repetitive, boring and stupid.

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