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The death of the private citizen? (spectator.us)
134 points by apsec112 11 days ago | hide | favorite | 115 comments





I think that ideological groups "naturally" seek to quell all differing groups. Like dueling beehives.

In decades past they could exist peacefully, insulated by a natural inability to communicate. An inability to rub against each other.

But now we are in the age of communication. We have the internet. The sensitivity and power of the hive has grown vastly. It touches much that it never touched before. Various ideological groups are now crowding each other. Grinding cheek and jowl. A thousand new "threats" become apparent. A thousand new demands for quelling.

So now we see more of that inter-ideological friction happening.

This is not a conscious act. It's more like gravity. Gallivanting glaciers. Or weather.

Charles Fort examined this phenomenon a bit. Check out his "Book of the Damned" for more on that.


As a counterpoint, I would say it is a conscious act... but on the part of those who enable and amplify the ideological friction as a for-profit business model.

Providing a public forum by itself isn't bad, of course. The algorithms driving that infinite-scrolling news feed and recommendations list definitely are, at this point.


The noise is by design, signal is drown out, by design. The last thing the ruling class wants is for the working class to put down their idealogical arms against each other and unite around shared economic interests. A poor white Republican and a poor black Democrat have a lot more in common than either would like to admit, but the focus on things like stretching the roe vs wade debate out over the past 50 years, or gun ownership, are wedges to drive apart what should be an overwhelmingly large and unified working class voting block.

Even if you take away the gun/abortion differences, the poor Republican isn’t suddenly going to be pro-union like be Democrat will.

It’s like scientific communism where factions are set against each other and divisions crated where there were none with no other objective than to win.

Is the solution numerous hyper localized governments, with highly limited federal government, so people can choose the policies they are subject to for the most part by changing where they live?

In the situation where federal government has the clout it does, people feel slighted when they are not in the majority, and may find anarchy better than living under rules they don't like.


You get other issues, such as NIMBYs not allowing new development in their towns as a form of defecting in a prisoners dilemma, which you often need a larger regional body to make it happen.

Or other issues of too many small governments, such as road networks, or regional transit.


I don't see how that would work any better than it has previously. For example, the American South has generally been the more laissez-faire region in the U.S. but the North has remained the industrial powerhouse, despite itself according to mainstream intuition. I think people misunderstand and chaff under many of the very same policies that make them wealthy. We want contradictory things.

Anyhow, mobility is lower today than in recent American history, both in terms of costs but also in terms of desire. Decades ago moving around for a job was normal; it was a common motif in film and television. These days politicians literally run on platforms supposedly preserving your ability to never have to move. We expect jobs (and governance) to come to us, rather than the other way around.


The south isn’t laissez-faire, its cheap due to the legacy of lesser working rights for workers, etc and government organization.

There’s downsides though. Toyota put a plant in Ontario because it would take too long to turn assembly instructions into LEGO like instructions. Literacy was too low in Mississippi or wherever.


The legacy of the South with respect to labor can be interpreted as a leftover element of mercantilism: One of the key elements of many mercantile writers(who would be seen as rent-seekers today) was that labor should be made cheap and highly available for national prosperity, and this idea co-mingled with various legalized denials of liberties(enslavement, debt bondage, impressment). They were not challenged at first: Nobody had put together the argument that rent-seeking might be bad for the nation, and the early modern period is colored by this attitude being normalized. It was not until the late 17th century that you started to get writers like Hobbes and Locke that were thinking about liberties across a society, and they struggled to reconcile the nation, the leadership, the people, and the property as they existed under the merchantilist model into one coherent system, which makes their reasoning often feel alienating or poorly articulated today.

The arguments that ultimately challenged the model and led towards utilitarianism and free trade occurred much later, in the 18th century - Bentham, Smith, Mill, etc. By this time the colonial project in the South was well underway, with established stakeholders under the plantation model; and so the argument proceeds that the ideals of merchantalism have held more staying power there than elsewhere, even as the institutions have changed. The North, in contrast, had fewer ties to bonded labor, and so made a smoother transition into capitalist thinking.


No, it's because the UAW union opposed plants in right-to-work states. Other manufacturers like Hyundai have done well with new plants throughout the South.

It's funny, I was thinking about this recently while reading a (slightly embellished) John Steinbeck memoir called Travels with Charley: in Search of America.

He wrote it when he decided to take a nationwide road trip in the early '60s, and it captured a lot of interesting anecdotes about the birth of modern American lifestyles.

One of those was Steinbeck's fascination with "mobile homes", which are the pre-fab houses that you see in trailer parks. When he took his road trip, they were starting to get popular with factory workers. If/when a town's factories shut down, the workers could easily move their homes to where there was work, and he mentioned seeing a lot of them being moved along the highways.

But you don't see that very much these days. It seems like people prefer to stay where they are and demand or wait for the work to come back to them, even when they live in mobile housing.

There's a lot to be said about the value of a community, but I think this sort of stagnation reflects a precipitous decline in the US' appetite for all sorts of risk over the past few decades. Look at how children are raised, at how strangers are treated, at how slowly new developments proceed.

I dunno. It's hard to argue against conservativism in these sorts of situations, because nobody wants to see more child abductions or worksite accidents. But it's hard to deny that we've collectively lost "It", or whatever you want to call that drive to create a city on a hill to provide a beacon of hope and improve humanity's general wellbeing.


Do you have a source for the statement about “the North has remained the industrial powerhouse?”

A brief, unscientific look at data from https://www.nam.org/state-manufacturing-data/ suggests that northern manufacturing output has been increasing nowhere near as fast as the south, but I’d love to see better data suggesting otherwise


I actually had in mind total GDP--industrial as in industrialized economy, not manufacturing. In terms of GDP per capita Northern states absolutely dominate. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_and_territories... But even in manufacturing I think they're still ahead. See https://www.epi.org/publication/the-manufacturing-footprint-...

Yes, the growth in Southern states is greater. But growth rates don't say much; apropos HN, an upstart can easily enjoy quadruple digit growth rates while the dominate players only see single digit growth, even when there's no reason to doubt their continued dominance. Nonetheless, for manufacturing the story is definitely changing, because of politics (e.g. Japanese car manufacturers and Airbus being incentivized to open plants in the Deep South), because of automation (easier to relocate plants to rural areas), and because there's less cheap labor in the north (possibly a cause, not only a consequence, of changing migration patterns).

I couldn't quickly find any links that broke down manufacturing by value-add or by technology--I suspect by that measure Northern states tend to still dominate in manufacturing, the same way the U.S. still does well in upmarket manufacturing viz-a-viz cheaper nations. But that's more of an educated guess; I don't remember ever seeing any data directly on point.


>Decades ago moving around for a job was normal

People don't move for jobs any more? When did this happen, to what extent, and what's the source of the information?


The trend has been quietly discussed in political-economic circles for many years. Here's a relatively recent media article about it: https://www.curbed.com/2019/11/22/20976309/migration-millenn... And somewhat recent academic summary: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/1209_mi... (Choice quote: "Back in the 1950s, almost one fifth of all Americans changed residence annually.")

In percentage terms it doesn't seem that large, there's some complexity to the trends when comparing short- and long-distance moves, and of course the primary cause is assumed to be our transition from an industrial to service oriented economy, as well as the closing of the Western frontier (e.g. end of the Cold War and loss of defense jobs put an end to the great California migration). But I think the trends are amplified in our cultural expectations, which is why I brought up the shift in film and television narratives, which makes it apparent even for people who never lived in the 1980s, when migration began to wane. Obviously people still move for work, just not as much they used to. Likewise, the notion that you can and could move to improve your economic position isn't gone, it's just relatively diminished.


I didn't notice the brookings link at first, so I checked it out.

Perhaps you could elaborate on what you gleaned from this. It does have information about work related moves, but I'm not going to digest it tonight.

The first impression I get is that the proportion of people moving for work has gone up, while the overall number of people moving has gone down, but presumably population increased, so it seems to me that the relevant question is which trend is winning?

Having an opinion kind of implies you have looked into it, however I don't mind doing some arithmetic later.


The article [on curbed.com] you link to doesn't seem to focus on people who move for work. In fact the chart titled "The reasons people move" doesn't even include "for work"! I don't see what you think is the "it" that "doesn't seem that large". I mean, yes, the fall in the number of people moving for work, but what is the source?

[Edit] It seems to say the proportion of people moving for work has increased, while the total has decreased. I can't see there's enough information to figure out the net change. When I ask for a source, I mean, I don't see it here.

Maybe looking on a .gov site for census data would be more fruitful, but you could also be candid about where your opinion comes from, which doesn't require doing a lot of research for the benefit of anonymous strangers.

Something that I try to remember when I feel defensive about possibly not having a good argument for something is that I can defuse it by simply explaining how I convinced myself and letting go of overthinking what would convince others.


My opinion comes from the literature I read studying political science and international affairs in college during the late 1990s, the literature I read studying law a decade later (I so miss free journal access), and generally following the academic discourse for the past 20 years.

In any particular year people tend to mine the longer trends for evidence related to whatever is most interesting at the time, thus the millennial angle in the Curbed article, or the extended discussion of the Great Recession in the Brookings paper, but if you go down the rabbit hole, both in the data sources and the academic discourse, discussions about the larger trend come into the foreground. Anyhow, I was asked for some links about the trend in work relocations, and I provided some, trying to balance my own sincerity and convenience. The millennial and Great Recession sidetracks notwithstanding, the prima facie evidence is right there. Who cares what graph they're showing? I provided the links for the words, not the pictures, and the heading of that article says "After 40 years of steady declines in domestic migration, mobility has hit a new all-time low". (Anyhow, if the graph presented the only reasons people moved, it would only make my point stronger.) Follow the primary sources, even (or especially) if you're driven by incredulousness--nothing can motivate hours of sleuthing like Internet rage. That's what makes the Internet so great.

Sometimes I catalog useful links to primary or important secondary sources, but I don't really have any at hand for this topic. There's nothing particularly disputable or even (IMO) counterintuitive about the trend except for the implications, but in this case you merely challenged the basic assertion that people are moving less for work.


Journal access, Google 'libgen' or 'library genesis'

>nothing can motivate hours of sleuthing like Internet rage

Is that your motivation, to produce "Internet rage"?


Personal geographic mobility has been declining for a long time in the us: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2017/...

It’s reasonable to believe that an overall declining mobility rate means that people aren’t moving for jobs.

One interesting note in that data- it appears intracounty moves declined much more quickly than inter-county moves. I suspect that the increasing ubiquity of personal automobile ownership helped drive that decreasing mover rate, as it enabled more work opportunities to be within reasonable distance of peoples existing accommodation (and moving sucks).


According to the [curbed.com] link provided by the sibling comment, the proportion of people moving for work has increased significantly.

At the same time, it didn't provide detailed information.

So when you have trends going in opposite directions, you can't say a priori if they cancelled out.

People are clearly moving less; if the information posted is accurate, more of the moves are for work.

But why can't we start by examining the source of the opinion? My instinct was that it is ill-founded, but who knows if I am right, because I was guessing.

What is the reason that you believe people are moving less for work in the first place? It doesn't take research or debate tactics to simply say "this is what convinced me".


Who can afford it? The price disparities between locales to too great, and the de-industrialization of the country eliminated the need.

That's not enough, because these social movements are already more powerful than national governments in many ways and cross national boundaries freely. We already see people getting fired in one country because of outrage in another.

If you’re correct, then democracy will devolve into mob rule, which means anarchy. That’s not a pretty thought.

Mob rule is not anarchy.

Arguably, it's one of the risks of democracy that motivates anarchists. (Now, there's a case to be made that anarchy also risks devolving into mob rule by a different path than non-anarchic democracy does, but they still aren’t the same thing.)


Good point. Mob rule is arguably much more dangerous.

Anarchist movements reject representative democracy, but often want direct democracy, with no delegation of powers to hierarchies of leaders or managers. It seems a bit paradoxical, compared to the stereotype of anarchists rejecting all forms of authority, because direct democracy is likely to lead to arbitrary restrictions imposed according to the whims of the majority.

I think the idea is that if you don't like where the majority is going, within a particular community or group, you move to a different group, or found one yourself, so you will be part of a group which is doing what you want.


Mob rule is not anarchism (the ideology).

It is however anarchy (the term), which is much older, and used to convey precisely lack of order and mob rule.


> It is however anarchy

No, it's ochlocracy; there's a reason the same people who named anarchy made a separate word for it.


Ochlocracy is mob rule.

Anarchy is lack of rule - not the same as anarchism (the ideology and ideal for self-government), as several oppressors can and are still at play in a state of anarchy, or everybody might be fighting each other and there can be constant power shifts...

Ancient Greeks used the term with this meaning, not to describe some anarchist utopia.

So ochlocracy is like the people turning into a mob carrying pitchforks. They are the law...

Anarchy - in the ancient Greek sense - is like there's no state and no all-encompassing rule of law to turn to. It's the "law of the jungle".


What does 'mob' mean and how does it differ from 'majority'? The fact that the speaker is not part of it, maybe?

In a city with million people, one can organize a mob of thousand people that will try to destroy things or kill specific victims. Despite the power to do harm, they are still a minority. It's just that hurting people is relatively easy, especially if you can quickly organize a large group.

Anarchy means "no ruler"; it's the opposite of mob rule.

There is never “no ruler”. Someone always emerges who sets the pace, etc.

True anarchy can only exist in very low density situations where population is very low and very sparsely settled. Let’s say fewer than 5 people per square mile actual (not average) on good land. One or fewer would be better. Rural Siberia -Yakutiya, Rural Mongolia. Colonial era trappers and such when they were not in town.


Beautifully demonstrated in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

DENNIS: I told you. We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week,...

ARTHUR: Yes.

DENNIS: ...but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting...

ARTHUR: Yes, I see.

DENNIS: ...by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,...

ARTHUR: Be quiet!

DENNIS: ...but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major--

ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!


You seem to be confusing "leaders" with "rulers". It's fine to have someone around who "sets the pace" so long as they are willing to leave other people alone who aren't interested in doing things their way. Anarchy is about the absence of power relationships, not maximizing uniformity of roles or social disorder.

I think you’re starting to get into semantics. But I agree that basically the only way to achieve it is is very low density situations where power relationships can’t be manifested.

It’d be an idealized primitive culture -technology will produce power relationships. So will density (water rights, hunting rights, fishing rights, etc)


There can never be an absence of power relationships.

In that case, the anarchists would try to find/develop a society that minimizes the number of power relationships.

That’s exactly what an advocate of liberal democracy would say that they are doing.

The anarchist sees all power relationships as a problem, and would eliminate them all given a chance. The non-anarchist advocate of liberal democracy sees some power relationships as legitimate (if only to prevent other, presumably worse ones) and is seeking an "optimal", rather than minimal, level of power relationships. The difference between "anarchist" and "minarchist" lies mainly in what you consider to be the "minimum"—it is perfectly possible to be both, if you define the minimum as zero.

The difference is academic, of course, so long as the current level of power relationships in society is well above what even the liberal democracy advocate would consider "optimal".


A good distinction, and I agree over all, especially with your final paragraph, although I am not sure it’s completely academic.

I have never heard any articulation of how the minimum can actually be zero that is anything other than a straw man.

I think that anarchism is an idea that necessarily leads to minarchism. Once you get to minarchism, the debate is then back to ‘what is legitimate power?’ which is the perennial question.


> I have never heard any articulation of how the minimum can actually be zero that is anything other than a straw man.

I'm going to start out with the disclaimer that I am not personally opposed to all power relationships in the very broad sense used by some anarchists. I believe that there are universal natural rights, including both self-ownership and property, and that people have a right to enter into ongoing power relationships with others so long as they do so voluntarily of their own free will. So instead of "power relationships" the rest of this comment will use the term "force" or "aggression"—by which I mean power relationships involving violations of the individual's natural rights without their freely-given consent, except as a proportional defensive response to actual or imminent aggression by the other party. This is more-or-less the standard libertarian, anarcho-capitalist, or voluntaryist definition of aggression.

With all that said, the answer depends on whether you're talking about the minimum amount which is actually present or the minimum amount which can be considered "legitimate". It would be nice for both to be zero, of course, but I think we both agree that some amount of aggression is inevitable in practice—we aren't likely to eliminate all violent crime, for example, no matter how hard we try. The minimum amount of "legitimate" power, however, is trivial to simply define as zero. We are under no obligation to consider any act of aggression legitimate.

The distinction between anarchism and minarchism lies in how much aggression is deemed legitimate, not how much is present. The anarchist recognizes that aggression exists but does not consider any aggression to be legitimate, even when the goal is to reduce the overall level of aggression. The minarchist is willing to sanction a certain amount of aggression in order to achieve what they consider to be a greater good.

In my opinion the minarchist approach is neither principled nor pragmatic. It makes you an accessory to the aggression, normalizes it, and sets the stage for others to argue that ever increasing acts of aggression can be justified "for the greater good". Humans readily justify atrocities on the basis that a society organized "the right way" would somehow be free of violence or other ills. It doesn't work out well in practice. Better to aim for no aggression and consistently oppose such acts wherever you may find them rather than making exceptions.


That's anarchism.

Anarchy means no established order / ruler -- there can be tons of ad-hoc ones.


Isn't mob rule what we have now? Isn't democracy effectively mob rule? Where the mob is the majority - being a majority is how they become the mob.

No, we (the United States) have a system that is supposed to protect against mob rule, and why we don't have a pure democracy. This is why we have a constitution that takes more than a simple majority to change.

The whole idea of laws being ruled unconstitutional is that there are some things that even the majority can't do.


More like demagoguery

"Making the world more open and connected"

This happened in the early 20th century. Eventually things will be regulated and locked down.

It would be naïve to believe the west is immune. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution

I am curious what (if anything) OP wrote that leads you to believe OP thinks the west is immune?

OP says:

> This is not a conscious act. It's more like gravity. Gallivanting glaciers. Or weather.

I'm saying it's naïve to believe this, along with the other incidents mentioned within the article, aren't intentional. As if the west is immune to concerted censorship efforts and the only explanation is unconscious bias.


We might intentionally choose to quell the infidel, but the quelling-urge is implicit to ideology-attachment, I think.

So, the SSC outing/doxxing story is now hitting the Spectator, National Review, Washington Examiner and Free Beacon websites, at least. It will probably spread to other parts of the mainstream media soon enough. How the NYT will react to this whole ruckus is anyone's guess, but sticking to their previous policy of publishing the article without removing sensitive info would be pretty hard at this point. Quite amazing, regardless.

It doesn't really seem they ever had such a policy. Not in a meaningful way anyway. There's a twitter thread filled with instances of the NYTs respecting pseudonymity.

https://twitter.com/hradzka/status/1275460707069210624


So the individual reporter who spoke with Scott Alexander was just lying?

This is par for the course for mainstream media outlets. In 2017, CNN threatened to dox an anonymous Twitter user making political memes.

I don't know why people continue to speak to these outlets while their records, actions and ethics are appalling.

The slide into clickbait and yellow journalism over the last few years has been devastating to the industry. There isn't a major outlet left that hasn't been behind some whopping journalistic errors (usually repeatedly). Not even self-described neutral outlets like AP are immune.

At this juncture, I'd sooner trust an independent journalist with 50k followers and a handheld camera on YouTube than a major news outlet.


Sadly NPR, and I don’t mean the local programming, are also prone to lapses in journalism—even though I give props to Greene and Shapiro. They’re usually pretty even keeled, unlike Bob Mondello who seems a bit narcissistic.

Less than 3 days ago NPR deleted a tweet (with no retraction) that heavily implied a person who was violently attacked in his vehicle and then sped away to avoid the violence was a "right-wing extremist" involved in a "vehicle-ramming incident" [1] -- with zero reference to the violent attack initiated on the vehicle.

[1] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EbEIlsUUcAACYht?format=jpg&name=...

Additionally, the protesters who attacked the vehicle were arrested, including one who brandished a gun at the vehicle and another who assaulted the driver. [2]

[2] https://www.wave3.com/2020/06/18/protesters-arrested-followi...

NPR's tweet came after the arrest and live video footage of the incident. They chose to run the story anyway.


>CNN threatened to dox an anonymous Twitter user making political memes.

I don't know what the particular context of this is, but there may very well be public interest in the identity of someone tweeting if it was controversial or political content reaching a large audience.

If you're posting on twitter and you're speaking to tens of thousands you also become part of public discourse, and that, generally means someone will investigate your identity. It never was any different.

The idea that one can speak publicly to a mass audience anonymously is a pretty new invention, and arguably not a good one.


There's a great guideline: Always be at least two of: kind, necessary, or true. Publishing Scott's legal name is truthful, but neither necessary nor kind.

This isn’t really new.

Based on the few encounters I’ve had with journalists, I cannot imagine a reason I would voluntarily interact with one unless I was reaching out for a reason.

5/7 interactions, the reporters were a lazy turds who strung together some drivel to meet deadline, missing key facts and mangling the story.


Very interesting article. I'd hypothesize that this comes out of the fact that this is rooted in the idea that "the personal is political". This has led to the growing idea that not taking a stand on an issue is supporting the status quo and therefore just as political. Therefore, everyone must "pick a side". This is reflected in the attacks on people who don't condemn political movements, but refuse to support them.

While this isn't directly related to the situation with Scott Alexander, it sets the precedent that everyone is now "fair game".


>I'd hypothesize that this comes out of the fact that this is rooted in the idea that "the personal is political".

A lot of these concepts are derived from the French historian Michel Foucault (he was not a philosopher or a "critical theorist", he was the chair of history at a major French university) and bear out the interpretations that won out in American humanities departments and trickled down to street level as a generation of grad students hit the streets after 2008 as humanities depts shuttered left and right.

Occupy Wall Street wouldn't happen today because it was the last vestige of '68 style old school European Left politics. In 2008, good ol' class consciousness was the last thing critical theory and Humanities depts were discussing. 'Identity politics', itself the evolution of 80/90s Critical Race Theory, had already started to dominate academic circles in the late 90s/early 00s, to the point that the popular, heralded Slovenian Marxist Slavoj Zizek dedicated a whole book to the topic, arguing on behalf of good ol' universality as pivot point for politics against popular writers like Judith Butler (gender/sexuality) and Wendy Brown (race).

Coming to software as I did from continental European philosophy study it's been quite fascinating watch a species of Foucault interpretation become the mainstream Left ideology in America (and one that differs in my reading by quite a bit).


"The death of the private citizen who publishes publicly with their own personal information attached".

First name + middle name + occupation + city isn't "private".


The article states numerous examples of media outlets outing anonymous and pseudo anonymous identities.

Good article. I find the reaction of the “private citizen” symptomatic of a larger rejection of the idea that people can be multi-faceted, and that different facets can be valued while others not.

Just like the Gawker case.. To decide to pursue a story that may not be all that newsworthy, or to unmask someone and say it's just presenting the facts, must have some emotion driving that. Because if there is no emotion driving those decisions, then it's a really rotten way to run a newspaper.

I am in no way a fan of the Failing New York Times (if I may quote a prominent contemporary statesman), but am I missing something by thinking that this is overblown? They haven't printed his name, only asked if they may do so. I also don't see where they threatened him with exposure, but the article claims they have.

They didn’t ask. He asked them not to, and they refused and said they were going to publish the article about him even without his cooperation.

So NYTIMES policy is to Dox their sources ? I don’t see them dox the opinion column of the famous “anonymous” government official or other tyrants.

I was always under the impression that journalistic integrity was staked on providing anonymity to anonymous sources. In the past it was something the most respected journalist would have gone to prison over, but in today's world I guess it's whatever keeps those click rates high.

Well, yeah, for anonymous sources. A random blogger they're writing an article about usually isn't an anonymous source.

The ethics publishing name etc. are absolutely debatable, but the anonymous sources you are talking about are something completely different. Those are people who only agree to be sources for the story on the condition that their anonymity will be protected.


Journalists are ethically obligated to keep sources anonymous once they have promised anonymity.

They are not obligated to offer anonymity to every source.


> anonymity to anonymous sources.

That is a trade. The journalist is trading anonymity for information as if they don't they will not get information.


> So NYTIMES policy is to Dox their sources ?

Both revealing facts about the subjects of news pieces and offering the subject the opportunity to contribute at iroutine in journalism, and, yes, that generally includes clarifying the identity of the subject if possible.

A subject, merely by being offered the opportunity to be heard, does not transform into a protected source.


This is right. Given the same source and the same testimony, the journalist should prefer the source be public. It's when a source agrees to speak on condition of anonymity that a journalist should protect that anonymity. If you ever speak to a journalist, remember that they are not offering you anonymity unless it's stated explicitly.

None of which is terribly germane here, where Scott Alexander's involvement in this story is principally as subject, not source. Protecting the privacy of subjects isn't really a thing, outside of minors and such. Whether particular choice of subject is reasonable is certainly up for discussion. We also may need a new category of "public figure but not". But this is not "doxxing their source".


It really doesn't matter if he's the subject.

> It may surprise some readers to learn that "Scott Alexander" is a pseudonym. Alexander tells us that he omits his last name for privacy and safety reasons:

> > I have a lot of reasons for staying pseudonymous. First, I’m a psychiatrist, and psychiatrists are kind of obsessive about preventing their patients from knowing anything about who they are outside of work. I am not one of the big sticklers on this, but I’m more of a stickler than “let the New York Times tell my patients where they can find my personal blog”. I think it’s plausible that if I became a national news figure under my real name, my patients – who run the gamut from far-left anarchists to far-right gun nuts – wouldn’t be able to engage with me in a normal therapeutic way. I also worry that my clinic would decide I am more of a liability than an asset and let me go, which would leave hundreds of patients in a dangerous situation as we tried to transition their care.

> > The second reason is more prosaic: some people want to kill me or ruin my life, and I would prefer not to make it too easy. I’ve received various death threats. I’ve had dissatisfied blog readers call my work pretending to be dissatisfied patients in order to get me fired. Although I realize I accept some risk of this just by writing a blog with imperfect anonymity, getting doxxed on national news would take it to another level.

> These concerns are tragically well-founded: Alexander tells us he recently learned that someone on SSC got SWATted in a way that they link to using their real name on the blog. While it's common to want to attach a real person to a pseudonym, piercing that veil publicly is not without serious risk.

That is the responsible thing to publish.


> It really doesn't matter if he's the subject.

It matters to some questions, not to others. The accusation up thread was ill treatment of a source. That's not what is happening, and that angle muddies the water.

The question is what privacy we deserve, even when we choose to engage with society at large scale. It's worth discussing in water as clear as we can manage.

> That is the responsible thing to publish.

Sure, probably, lacking some aspect of Scott's identity that makes his full name important I think I agree.


In general it’s not a bad policy.

Jayson Blair at NYT, Janet Cooke at WaPo, Stephen Glass at the New Republic all fabricated people and stories. Putting in a real name is insurance against that.


[flagged]


Do we cancel every org that makes a misstep? It might be more beneficial to write to NYT if you're a subscriber asking for change.

The best way to ask for change is to not patronize them.

I saw a comment on Twitter that what you're really seeing here is dueling philosophies, and I agree.

Ever heard the expression, Sunshine is the best disinfectant? I think you're seeing it's logical endpoint with the SSC story. And while it seems to have fallen out of fashion, for the most part, I agree.

It seems to me that no matter where you turn, when it comes to 'the truth and nothing but the truth' about someone or something, you face bad choices.

The problem with allowing some people to be pseudonymous sometimes is that immediately all kinds of bad actors will rush in and try to claim that in their defense. Polluters claiming anonymity because they don't want to be targeted by eco-terrorists, for example. Rather than parsing ever-smaller hair-thin rules about - legitimate - illegitimate - legitimate - and getting docked on every one on charges of political bias - there's an easier solution. Give no one pseudonymity. Problem solved.

The only exception - national security - doesn't require your agreement to accept; it just takes a willingness to not go to jail. It's an appeal to power, really. So you don't have to debate it on moral grounds, it's the law.

Incidentally, for all those stories where the NYT allowed pseudonyms, I agree there was an inconsistency, but my conclusion was: resolve it by publishing them all. Publish Bansky's name, publish Ferrante's name, publish the name of whoever wrote that tell-all book. Make that the norm, instead of half-applied psuedonyms.

Now if you arranged an interview with them about something other than their identity, and they agreed to talk to you on condition of you not revealing it - that's different. That news outlet can't break the story. But another one can. No exceptions. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

I do believe this in principle, believed it long before this story broke, and could be brought around to disallowing most anyone's pseudonymity, before this news became news. It doesn't matter to me at all what the content or leaning of the blog is. Whether they're left or right or 'good' or 'bad' - I believe in the secular version of 'you shall know the truth & the truth shall set you free.'

There is a cost, a real human one. But, rather like capitalism and democracy, it happens to be less than every other alternative. It's not great that people can't be pseudonymous - but it prevents worse problems.


>but it prevents worse problems.

Like you, I also comment on the internet under my real name, so pulling back the curtain on everything else is an exciting prospect.

But for that not to ever bite us, that requires that we never offend too many people, even for a brief second.

I naturally stay within bounds, so that is fine for me, but I suspect many opinions would need to remain hidden if a war were waged on anonymity.

Why can't ideas be allowed to exist on their own, detached from any known person?


> Why can't ideas be allowed to exist on their own, detached from any known person?

Perhaps because their formation was coloured by someone else's experiences and prejudices. Why is it wrong to want those who propose these ideas to take credit and responsibility so that we can examine the idea and the nature of the person who conceived the idea. These ideas exist to persuade; they should be examined as the rhetorical sophistry that they truly are and not in some pretend world of spherical cows and platonic ideals.

If you temper the ideas you propose to the public it could be because you are afraid of offending someone, or it could be that you are simply someone who is capable of feeling empathy. Given the similar result does it matter which reason is the source of such self-regulation, and are we worse off for it?


You're making an oversimplification of generating offense. You can be afraid of offending someone, but the idea that generates the offense can still be correct.

Well, I'd like to thank you for engaging me; you've thought about this too, and I respect that you post under your own name. I worry about that myself sometimes but I've decided it's worth it. But if you don't choose that - why can't you?

One thing I wanted to highlight is, I really think this is a thorny problem. There aren't easy answers. So here's a case that illustrates that.

Do you remember this story from a couple of months back, about the Worker's Traditionalist Party? The guy behind that got 'doxxed' and lost his job. But there was no outcry, because of his politics.

Now, I'm not dumb, and I know the real-world difference between that and SSC is, their politics were very different. But that's a problematic answer! It requires the NYTimes to gatekeep and it invites a thousand conflicts of interest of the worst kind - 'he's good, let him stay pseudonymous' vs. 'he's bad, so doxx him.'

One way to cut the Gordian knot is to say, there are no pseudonyms. There are no problems of fairness and partiality if you apply that rule to all.

It's also a simple rule to mentally hold in mind. Everybody is accountable for everything that they do. There are many forms of doing, like writing, and protesting. And anything that anybody does can be considered newsworthy.

I am sympathetic to SSC, and I hope he finds another way to continue - possibly by handing off the reins to others who can go public. I agree that it is a loss for his voice to no longer be heard. I'm just uncomfortable with making an exception for anyone, for the reasons outlined above.

Incidentally, for anyone posting under psuedonyms, please do take a moment to contemplate that, as this story illustrates, for better or for worse, you aren't truly anonymous. If you have some problematic posts, or writing you might regret, maybe consider deleting it? Consider this a kind tip while you can still do something about it.


Please, no. This is the same constricting paradigm that brought us all-sharing Faceboot with its "real name" policies. Many people use nyms to separate facets of their personality when interacting in different communities and contexts. If you don't personally do this that's your choice, but you don't get to make that decision for others who do.

Specifically in this case, Scott Alexander mentions that leaking his blog persona into his patient relationships would seriously impair them. And of course it would - patients should be talking to him about their own problems, not whatever topic he's written about on his personal time.


Sunshine is the best disinfectant is true if and only if someone thinks there is an infection.

What is your real name, bank account numbers, home address, employment history, medical records?

I strongly recommend against posting those, but I ask rhetorically because as a true believer in this philosophy you presumably would wish to disinfect yourself by doing so.


Maybe it’s not a bad thing.

Look up the etymology of idiot.


I think it got misunderstood

I still have no idea why people are making this whole thing about a political point or 'controversial opinions'. The facts are:

-The NYT wanted to write about SSC notably because SA warned about covid ahead of time, wrote a nice piece about the effectiveness of masks, etc.

-The NYT did not care enough about Scott's pseudonymity to keep it intact

-Scott, fearing that his relationship with his patients might be jeopardized if they got linked to his personal blog, deleted it.

Where do 'the mob' or 'controversial opinions' or 'ideological differences' factor in this at all? It is not 'the mob' that triggered this, in fact Scott upset a lot of people over the years with some of his articles and that hasn't deterred him from keeping them up blogging further. The NYT isn't reporting on the SSC commentariat's curious obsession with the IQ of black people either. So why do 90% of posts on here are making it about politics? If I were not charitable beyond reason I would start to believe HN's love of neutral, level-headed and impassionate discussion might be an act.


Scott didn't take down his blog just because of his relationship with his patients. It's one of his core arguments, yes, but it's tied with modern cancel culture, where speaking your mind if it deviates from accepted norms and ideas can result in significant personal and professional consequences, even if your intent isn't to oppress, spread hate speech, promote racism, etc. and even if the ideas you express are valuable in some way. It's dangerous nowadays to toe the line of what's "acceptable", where what's acceptable is decided by what people happen to feel on any particular day and how something can be spun into something it's not. Any number of character assassinations we've seen (such as the attempt on Stallmann) show that there are risks to being visible if some people suddenly decide they don't like you. Which connects with his other concern, that he may become too much of a liability for the place he works if some group or other finds something he's said controversial and tries to punish him or his employers for it.

At no point did he mention cancel culture or 'the norm'. In fact, his argument entirely revolved around his relationship with his patients and that has little bearing on what he believes about the IQ of black people, since, as he says, his patients run the full gamut of the political spectrum (so any opinion would be controversial to some of them). It's more about the fact that psychiatrists are apparently supposed to act as blank slates to their patients and his blog contains a lot of deeply personal stuff. Even without the politics stuff it'd be a problem.

Are you sure you read his blog entry?

> The second reason is more prosaic: some people want to kill me or ruin my life, and I would prefer not to make it too easy. I’ve received various death threats. I had someone on an anti-psychiatry subreddit put out a bounty for any information that could take me down (the mods deleted the post quickly, which I am grateful for). I’ve had dissatisfied blog readers call my work pretending to be dissatisfied patients in order to get me fired. And I recently learned that someone on SSC got SWATted in a way that they link to using their real name on the blog. I live with ten housemates including a three-year-old and an infant, and I would prefer this not happen to me or to them. Although I realize I accept some risk of this just by writing a blog with imperfect anonymity, getting doxxed on national news would take it to another level.

He doesn't name cancel culture, but it's obvious it's a part of what he's worried about.


There's no evidence all of this comes from cancel culture. As I said in a previous thread, the main doxxing comes from an alt-right dude who angrily posted Scott's personal info and clinic because he believed to be shadowbanned.

Seriously, look at Scott's post where he quotes disparaging opinions about him. You'd be surprised at how much of the vitriol comes from the alt-right, calling him limp-wristed, a beta cuck, as well as any number of Jewish slurs. And the alt-right does have a far more prominent record in actually killing people than blue-haired people on twitter.


All of the examples in the article are people who spoke up about various things online that are clearly in the public interest. If you want to maintain a blog about a subject, if you want to speak out publicly and gain some sort of online rep, then you risk your identity being released. That's freedom of speech. If you are the author of a meme that becomes nationally significant (ie the president adopts it) then CNN will be on your lawn.

If you want to be actually anonymous, I suggest not using facebook or any other online identity tied to your real name. Get a VPN. Learn to use tor. It isn't very hard, just inconvenient. Don't post on facebook.


I don't think anyone's arguing that doxxing should be illegal or that doing news-worthy things doesn't make people interested in unmasking you, but that's kinda orthogonal to the main point that, generally, doxxing someone is a shitty thing to do, especially in a context like this where it has a solid chance of doing serious harm to public discourse. It's like codes of journalistic ethics: few to no violations are actual criminal violations, yet we look disfavourably at news orgs that don't publish retractions or whatever.

Your advice is good advice for the status quo, but it highlights how fucked up the status quo is. "Just have perfect opsec and do everything through tor" is hard/inconvenient enough in practice even for tech people that the barrier to entry it poses to other groups is significant. There's your chilling effect.

So, yeah: I can get behind raising awareness around/increasing usability of anonymizing techniques, but without societal/political legs to match that tripod just tips over.


> If you want to maintain a blog about a subject, if you want to speak out publicly and gain some sort of online rep, then you risk your identity being released.

No, you shouldn't risk your real-world identity being released. People have good reasons for having pseudonyms; Scott Alexander gave a number of them in his post explaining why he took down his blog.

Freedom of speech does mean being willing to stand behind your speech and defend it. But that can be done perfectly fine under a pseudonym. The reputation simply attaches to the pseudonym.

> If you want to be actually anonymous, I suggest not using facebook or any other online identity tied to your real name.

You do realize that you just contradicted yourself, right?


That's freedom of speech.

To avoid making an incorrect assumption, and reading this in context with the rest of your post: are you saying it's "Freedom of speech" if someone has a blog or "Freedom of speech" is having your identity revealed as the owner of said hypothetical blog?

Just trying to make sure if I've read and interpreted your comment the way you're wanting it to be consumed and understood by people reading it.


Both publishing on your own blog and publishing true, not-legally-protected facts about someone who owns a blog are exercises of free speech.

It's not either/or.


I assumed that was the meaning, but I'm also trying to defer to authorial intent-a bit risk averse to assume with how hot this topic has been lately and all.

When you become a public figure, the press has the ability to come after you as a private person. That is the press exercising their freedom of speech. Many would say it is actually the duty of the press to investigate public figures and expose things like hypocrisy or conflicts of interest.

Would anyone here argue that an elected official operating an "anonymous" twitter feed for political purposes should not be exposed? What if they are just running for office? What if they are just a backer/patron of a political party? At what point does the public's interest in honest communication on public issues give way to the privacy of an individual wanting to speak publicly?


If the press has a duty to expose conflicts of interest and hypocrisy they should investigate themselves.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The press are political actors and nothing more. That isn’t necessarily avoidable in itself, but we get to decide what norms we expect them to follow.


Let’s not kid ourselves. The press are political actors and nothing more.

"The press" is made up of tens of thousands of people making individual choices (within their individual editorial requirements) about what to cover, how and with what inflection towards a given topic or trend, are they all political actors? I suppose if one takes "the person is political" calculus far enough, they might be.

It's been my experience people tend to like the news sources they've self-selected as trustworthy and reliable, and complaints about "the media" are usually borne out of a specific gripe, not anything that can actually be provably shown as an accurate generalization of every single outlet that generates news content.

This is not to attack or refute your position, this is just idle conjecture and pondering the topic.


people tend to like the news sources they've self-selected as trustworthy and reliable, and complaints about "the media" are usually borne out of a specific gripe, not anything that can actually be provably shown as an accurate generalization of every single outlet that generates news content

I’d say this is just a reflection of people choosing outlets that reflect their views which is politics.

No news organization is immune from this. That is my point. Pretending that news organizations are apolitical is the problem.

Also, the press simply isn’t made up of tens of thousands of people making individual choices.

It’s made up of people working for hierarchical corporations with owners whose direction they must follow in order to remain employed. You can certainly argue that the individuals are just doing their jobs and are not political actors per se, but they are definitely working towards the goals of politically driven organizations.


You can certainly argue that the individuals are just doing their jobs and are not political actors per se, but they are definitely working towards the goals of politically driven organizations.

I get this point, and I can't say I necessarily disagree with it, it just feels like the usual kvetching against "the media" which is such a broad and generalized gripe (even when it is sometimes specifically valid if we could point to specific instances of just terrible coverage of current event n) it feels kind of meaningless?

Like I said, I don't even really disagree it's just: what does one do with such a large and wide-reaching indictment of "the press"? I like solution oriented thinking, but I suppose that's more of a rhetorical question than anything else.


I think we fundamentally agree. Kvetching about the press is largely meaningless.

My position is that it’s meaningless because of the illusion that the press could be something that it is not, and that we would be better off if we just treated be it as what it is.


Hm. Yeah, I think we're very much aligned on this, if maybe for different but not necessarily competing reasons. Cheers

It is kind of crazy how many people can’t - or won’t - connect the dots about this. If you have an online presence you cannot be anonymous. Some of our parents, whether they know it or not, were actually pretty wise to tell millennials “everything you post online is forever.” The corollary being it will be linked back to you eventually.

Things will change. It's not a static world.

The wild west period is over where companies or people could do whatever they felt like with personal data. Forget about privacy advocates, mgmt in many data hoarding companies have suddenly realized it effects them too, their kids, their parents, their employees, clients etc etc.

We just fired someone at work recently for moving customer data off site. Few years back no one would have batted an eyelid. Not only was data moving all over the place, few people had any idea who all had access or in what ways the data could be used. Today after one debacle after another, 200 alerts go off if people touch the wrong data.

But there is so much inertia behind what has happened over the last 10 years that it will take some time for people to see the trajectory change.


> If you have an online presence you cannot be anonymous.

So "The Dead Past" (by Isaac Asimov) is our only option?

I reject that.

The problem is that our laws have not caught up to the fact that the Internet makes some things too accessible. We have too many things which link our personal identities exposed online because of the government which assumed that it was too much work to go to the county courthouse and look up a deed without good reason.

Now, that's not to say that someone determined cannot link things together. They obviously can. However, right now it's simply far too easy.


I guess I should have been more clear. I’m not saying that literally anyone can easily grab anything about you, though that isn’t entirely untrue in the current moment. What I am saying is that once you put it out there, once you link accounts or make a comment or really do anything online, someone determined can find you.



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