Personal Comments on Fr. Hunwicke on “Blogging”

Back in April 2014 Fr. John Hunwicke wrote a customarily pithy piece on blogging. This section struck me in particular when I first read it two years ago.

2. Anonymity/Pseudonymity. I don’t like it. I think people should put their (real) names to what they do. Especially if they wish to express themselves strongly; even more so if they wish to attack vigorously, even for plausible reasons, another named person. I accept that there can be exceptions justifying anonymity; a scholar may wish to float an idea without being held to it in foro academico ... I have been told that some Catholic priests and seminarians are afraid of their bishops or seminary rectors reading their views … I don’t think this says much for the health of the culture concerned, but, well, there you go …Anyway; I have decided that attacks on other living people will not be accepted on this blog, even when thoroughly justified, if the comment is anonymous.

While it had been some time since I allowed anonymous commenting on any of the blogs I wrote, I had spent a great deal of my blogging career “under the hood” so-to-speak. Longtime readers may recall that when Opus Publicum started, I wrote as “Modestinus” (Roman jurist) and, prior to that, “Venuleius” (ditto) during Ius Honorarium‘s run. Granted, my identity was one of the worst kept secrets in blogdom and so it came as no real surprise to anyone when I started using my name. After all, it was quite silly to keep up a pseudonym on here while writing openly as “Gabriel S. Sanchez” for various magazines and websites. The decision to “cloak” who I was had a great deal to do with where I was professionally between 2007-12. As most know by now, I was a faculty fellow at DePaul University in Chicago where, inter alia, I taught international-law courses and wrote about aviation law. I didn’t think it was wise to have students peeking behind the curtain to catch my views on a range of social, political, and legal topics, especially not if I wanted them to be candid but serious in the classroom. (It should surprise nobody that a course like International Trade Law gives rise to strong, often ideologically charged, feelings.) By the time 2014 rolled around, I really couldn’t justify the pseudonymity anymore, especially since an increasing number of posts “named names” when it came to criticizing certain ecclesiastical and intellectual trends. And even though I try to avoid attacking (wrongheaded) individuals personally, I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Hunwicke that I should stand behind my strongly held views and, from there, accept what comes.

Unfortunately, this is not the way of things for a surprising number of Catholic and Orthodox blogs. While Fr. Hunwicke is correct to point out a very real culture of fear which often keeps priests and bishops from coming out into the open, very few clerics run full-time weblogs. Given that, the “fear of reprisals” excuse which is often bandied about by pseudonymous bloggers who glibly “name names” and attack other people’s positions with vigor loses a great deal of force. Cowardice, not legitimate personal concern, likely animates the decision of many (though not all) masked bloggers to hide their identities while feeling entitled to call whomever they please to the carpet.

It seems to me that if whatever these pseudonymous bloggers are writing about is so important that it must be said, then it’s important enough to suffer the consequences for saying it. If, however, what they are writing is largely derivative, uninspired, or petty, then they shouldn’t blog at all. It’s that simple. If one is going to attack someone brave enough to put their real name on a book, article, blog piece, etc., then be brave enough to tell him/her your name in the process. There is nothing wrong with open criticism so long as it is, well, open. Granted, I don’t expect contemporary blogging culture to change anytime soon. We good Christian men aren’t particularly adept from standing out from the crowd with respect to our morals and standards. If we’re noticeable at all, it’s for our hypocrisy.

5 Comments

  1. Samuel J. Howard
    June 25, 2016

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Reply
  2. Bonald
    June 28, 2016

    I don’t understand the distinction between “cowardice” and “legitimate personal concern”. Does it become cowardice when the personal costs are sufficiently small or uncertain?

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      June 28, 2016

      Basically, also balanced off by the value one has to add by writing in general.

      Reply
  3. gzt
    June 28, 2016

    I think there could be something to be said for doing things in such a way that it is very clear how to connect to the “real person” but not including the exact name just so that google doesn’t immediately connect or so people have to jump through at least one hoop before they find your home address. Attendant with this, of course, is that one must be quite open about who you are if asked.

    On the flip side, since facebook is google-able, people using pseudonyms on facebook should be ignored.

    Reply
    1. gzt
      June 29, 2016

      Er, since facebook is NOT google-able…

      Reply

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