A word about blogs, and anonymity, and memes

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, June 15, 2007.  Linkrot is left in place this time, because it’s a wonderful snapshot of what I was reading at the time – seeing what’s changed six years on is fascinating.

As you might notice, this thing doesn’t get used quite like a blog should.

I could always do this the easy way, of course. There are HORDES upon HORDES of academic blogs that are published anonymously, which are updated every far more frequently, and where the writer is much, much freer to vent their spleen about whatever sets them off about academic life. (With all appropriate warnings about content if you follow the links, here are any number of fine representative examples – some of these very worthwhile reading in which pseudonymity is essential to making the blog work, some of them not worth a second glance.) Or religious life, for that matter; when he started writing Real Live Preacher, Gordon Atkinson didn’t let his identity be known, and I’m sure if I cared to look very hard I could find a couple of pastors behind pseudonyms online in this day.

But very early on in my internet life, I saw the danger in establishing this alter-ego persona and how that could literally change people INTO the alter-ego, and I made the decision that I would stick my name – my real life name – behind everything I published. Yes, I’ve left a paper trail (or a pixel trail?) throughout the web. But each statement I’ve published reflects who I really was at the time, and as messy as that can be, it’s honest.

And there’s a Margaret Becker song stuck in my head, with a lyric along the lines of “God’s not afraid of your honesty/He can heal your heart if you speak honestly.”

But there’s a catch. The catch is: Words can also hurt people. Words do damage your employment prospects. Words do cause people to change how they see you. There is real talent required to describe a situation and put the words out there in a way that will edify and teach, and won’t destroy others. And when my name is sitting there up top, I can’t escape the consequences of what I write.

Now I’m thinking of Garrison Keillor, telling a story of when the neighbors are coming to visit and everybody in the family is scrambling to “make the house look presentable.” “Make the house look presentable”, of course, is code for “pretend we live neat and pristine lives so nobody finds out we’re really slobs.” And when the neighbors arrive, of course the closests are looking like they’re going to explode with all the stuff that’s been crammed in there at the last minute, and of course the throw blanket looks like it’s been draped over the couch hastily, but of course the guests remark about how lovely the house is, and of course the matron of the family brushes her hair aside like it was nothing at all…

“Sometimes you have to look reality in the face and deny it!

We live in a world that’s good at looking reality in the face and denying it. We see something going wrong, and we want to say something to somebody about it, but there are a lot of feelings wrapped up in that thing that’s going wrong, and we know that if we call it out in the wrong way that we’re going to do damage that’s irrepairable. So we say very nice things about our mission, very nice things about the quality people around us, very nice things about our ministries, very nice things about the person who’s leaving to go to another job, very nice things about the wonderful place where we live and work. And it’s anybody’s guess whether we really mean them or not.

I’m not good about that sort of thing. But I’m not good at speaking the truth in love, either. I know that if I leave myself unchecked, I’m going to damage people.

So I say nothing.

You want to know what honestly inspired this post? Brant Hansen. As a gag, when he posts something out of line, or when he just doesn’t have time, what does he post? Cute animals, that’s what.

And how many people do we know who post cute, entertaining stuff to distract from the real issue at hand? Those are the people who we dismiss as hopelessly shallow, right? They contribute to the “entertain us all the way to hell” faction of society, the people who just want something more fun or more hip or more quirky so they can keep looking reality in the face and denying it.

And I honestly have a hard time doing that.

Unless, of course, I can find a rapping physics geek.

Now, what was I talking about again…?

(Physics Guy permalink.)