Friday, August 28, 2009

Dowd: Still Terrible

Whatzisname was gabbling on about how amazing this one piece by Maureen Dowd, she of the famed Clenis obsession, was on the nature of the Internet. So I gave MoDo a read, against my better judgment, hoping against hope that it wasn't just due to his apparent desire to drop SLAPP suits on everybody in sight.

No such luck.

The column is about that model who sued a blogger for calling her a skank. Seems a bit of an overreaction: I got called a megalomaniac once, and I hadn't even dreamed sued anybody, but MoDo was inspired by it. Why? Well, for the same reason anybody with a bully pulpit gets inspired by unmasking bloggers: because they want to bully, and they've got the money, connections, and power to do it.

(Whatzisname himself loved this one line about how the Internet is full of angry drunks, but screwed up the attribution. He handed credit to MoDo when she was pretty clearly quoting Leon Wieseltier. Leon is an editor at The New Republic—that's the "liberal" publication notorious for shouting down Iraq-war-reluctant liberals and progressives. Leon himself is one of those I-supported-the-Iraq-war-but-not-Bush types. So take it for what it's worth.)

The column itself is incoherent, though. Take a look at this bit:

Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.

As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”
Absolutely! Well put!

But look what preceded it:
The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.

Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.
And what follows it:
But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.
What the hell is she on about? She answered her own question. What is the "mentality" of the pseudonymous? The same "mentality" of those people she named. Were people like the Federalists and revolutionaries and dissidents "shredding somebody's character...and not being held accountable?" Yes, but they did it for reasons that she herself found laudible! So clearly she thinks that it must be valid some of the time. What's the dividing line? When are we being "constructive" and when are we being "cowardly"?

She doesn't say. She probably doesn't know. Even if she did, who is she to tell the rest of us? The rights of privacy and expression that she (and whatzisname) hold in contempt are not intended to protect her. She has lots of well-paid people to do that for her. They're for everybody else. They're for the people without high-priced lawyers, or independent wealth, or powerful allies.

They aren't for modern nomenklatura like MoDo, or whatzisname, or Wieseltier. They're for us. They're to protect us. That's probably a idealistic attitude, but it bears repeating.

The threat is not those who would exercise their rights. The threat is those who would take them away.

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