Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity They seem more afraid of life than death. – James F. Byrnes
There was no security in this world and only damn fools and mice thought there could be. – Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road
These past two days, I’ve encountered several articles about the proprietor of a site called Slate Star Codex. I know relatively little about that site and its proprietor, who goes by “Scott Alexander.” Apparently that’s not his full and correct name. He reserves his actual name to himself. His reason is one I’ve heard many times before: safety.
But it doesn’t take much effort to unearth the full name, and most of the other personal particulars, of anyone who has a site on the World Wide Web. The anonymous user is “safe” only to the extent that his potential assailants are and remain lazy bums. If Jones wants to know the full and correct name of anonymous, moniker-wielding Smith, he can get it, and much else about Smith besides. What he might do with that information is a separate subject.
However, “Scott Alexander” is unhappy that the New York Times has revealed his full and correct name. Now, in his position, I’d be irked too: not for reasons of “safety,” but because my express wishes had been violated by a low organ of yellow journalism that hopes to intimidate everyone whose perspectives and opinions it disapproves. Still, this is what the Times does. We who’ve been watching it for a while should be unsurprised, especially since Slate Star Codex appears to have attained some influence among Silicon Valley technologists and venture capitalists.
The Times would not have been able to affect this person’s “safety” had he adopted a somewhat different posture. The first approach that comes to mind is this: he could have announced that “Scott Alexander” is his full and correct name. The misdirection implicit in doing so would frustrate many a curiosity-seeker, especially if the approach were combined with a little misinformation about locale. It wouldn’t provide a perfect shield for his identity, but it would be better than allowing the public to know that “Scott Alexander” is not his full and correct name.
But there’s another approach that’s even better: the one I prefer and employ. My full and correct name, which is linked at many points to my home address, is associated with every word I write. Along with that I’ve let it be known that: 1) I’m well armed; 2) I shoot first and worry about the paperwork later. (I also have three large, protective dogs, and a wife who shoots as willingly and well as I. Can’t be too well prepared these days.) My willingness to “expose myself” in this fashion also increases the persuasive power of what I say. An opponent knows he cannot intimidate me into silence. Attacking me physically would probably cost him his life. Therefore, he must argue against me or retire from the field.
Those who want to limit the reach or effectiveness of your thinking and writing have many ways to do so. They can argue against you, whether honestly or otherwise. They can slander you. They can associate you with all manner of low creatures and causes. And of course, they can attack you physically if they can find you – and if they’re willing to court the potential consequences. There’s no way to remove all those tools from an opponent’s reach, but if you’re staunch in your convictions and willing to defend yourself in the clinches, you’ll be all right.
The one thing you must never, ever do is show fear. Just as in the animal kingdom, potential attackers are excited and emboldened by the scent of fear – and the resort to anonymity is one of the most reliable signs of fear.
This is not a defense of “doxxing” or an exculpation of those who practice it, hoping to intimidate others out of the national discourse. He who prefers privacy and anonymity should be allowed the enjoyment thereof. But the belief that anonymity on the Web confers a significant degree of “safety” is mistaken. People who write from behind anonymizing monikers can be slandered just as effectively as those who go about with their identities in full view. As for physical safety, the 20-gauge / 9mm Parabellum approach has served me well, though each should choose his chamberings and calibers according to his tastes.