French blogger Philippe Lemoine recently wrote a Twitter thread defending the idea that those with views against the dominant faction should write under their real names. Though I cannot judge each individual case, I must lay out why widespread posting of political opinions under real names is so damaging to current discourse.
All speech not written under a pseudonym is either an expression of power or an expression of obedience to power. The question of whether real names are appropriate is thus a question of if the system of power is built to advance correct views or works along different incentives entirely. The answer to this is clear enough. Politics is not academia; academia generally seeks truth; political discourse, even in its most academized form (court opinions) has no relation to it whatsoever. Indeed, it is a truth doubted by noone that the rise of real names on social media resulted in the dominance of the current bioleninist cult, due to the ability of those writing under their real names to more quickly advance their personal power. A strict real name policy does not reduce the existing asymmetry in favor of the dominant faction, it only expands it (would the “frogposting” wave of 2014-16 been possible under a real name policy?). It is no coincidence that Econ Job Market Rumors, one of the most anonymous forums on the Internet relating to personal power, remains one of the best and free, where purity of argument rather than one’s personal reputation is decisive in persuasion.
Also, the expression of any political truths in this current climate is, without any doubt whatsoever, absolutely personally catastrophic if one is in any sort of public position subject to elite competition. Just look at Harald Uhlig, sacked from his post at the Chicago Fed for making the most banal and self-evident conservative remarks. Consider David Shor, one of the most learned of men, who was fired from his job for expressing the least objectionable (if, this time, largely wrong) of centrist opinions. Even pseudoerasmus has been forced to mouth the slogans of the cult as he has come closer to publicly revealing his identity. As Spotted Toad writes, “what produces better writing? To write under your “real name”- (your slave name!)- to staple your job, your mortgage, your college, your family photos to every word you post”? In the realm of academic publications, this is largely beneficial, as academics search for truth, and each paper either cements or destroys one’s personal reputation as a dedicated seeker of truth. But politics is not about truth, it is about power and status. Consider the multitude of ways xenocrypt, one of the greatest of men, might have suffered had his identity been more public. It is, thus, no wonder that I fully support Scott’s recent decision to shut down his Slate Star Codex blog in protest of the New York Times’ attempted use of its institutional power against him.
Power structures promoting personal accountability to power, in short, do not always create good incentives.