Why I Write Under My Own Name

A small gesture towards online responsibility for our words

Image credit: AntCollective

Some folk here on Medium write under their own names and some write under pseudonyms. Some write under the leafy branches of a favorite tree or under the influence of far too much coffee, but those are other matters entirely.

I completely understand why a woman who is writing about sexuality or other potentially contentious topics, would choose to write under a nom de plume. In these days of Internet hysteria and trolling it can be both unwise and unsafe for those who are potentially vulnerable to expose themselves to possible harm.

Fortunately for me, I don’t feel particularly vulnerable. I’m male, I have over forty-five years of experience in unarmed (and armed) combat, I’m thick-skinned so I don’t really care if some people don’t like or agree with my take on the subjects I write about, and if what I’ve written may adversely impact my professional life then that’s fine because chances are I wouldn’t want to work for or with those who take serious exception to my productions.

That said, I also recognize that in our modern era in which one of the most popular sports is Internet Lynching, none of us are really immune to the malfeasances of others. I choose, however, to incur some unknown degree of risk because I believe that whenever possible we should stand alongside our words, online and in real life.

There’s a lot of evidence now to show that when we are anonymous online we behave more badly than we would otherwise. We feel free to become more extreme, more hateful, and more vicious than we’d ever have the courage to be in a face-to-face situation.

Safe behind an anonymous handle and an LED screen, small children of all ages lash out at those they perceive to be vulnerable. Presumably this enables such people to feel, for a few moments, slightly less inadequate. Whatever the motivation, such behavior is deeply destructive for both the online world and the real world.

In some of my own writings I’ve been highly critical of those who promote populism because this is a real-world manifestation of intentional evil. Lying to the intellectually enfeebled, making them fearful of non-existent threats and then stirring them to hatred so they can be massed behind a particular individual or cause, is repellent and highly damaging to society. Real people get hurt when the simple-minded are told to fear and loathe others.

When I refer to Trump supporters, Brexit supporters, and similar groups, as being intellectually sub-par I’m not expressing a personal opinion but simply acknowledging known facts. The independent polling agency IPSOS/MORI has on several occasions undertaken large (>30,000 groups) samplings of Brexit and Trump supporters and has consistently found them to be far less educated than the average citizen, far less well informed about current affairs, and far less healthy (which is shocking, considering the average person today is a mess). These are all strong indicators of low intelligence. It is reasonable, therefore, along with my own extensive exposure to such folk, to draw obvious conclusions — especially when these conclusions have important policy implications.

Aside from that, and some prodding of currently fashionable shibboleths, I consciously avoid singling out individuals and groups to be targets of opprobrium. About a third of my writing is humorous (or at least, it attempts to be….) because frankly the world can often seem so bleak and hopeless that a little gallows humor can serve to lighten the darkness for a moment or two.

The topics I write about are, I hope, of some interest to a small group of others. While I have deep technical knowledge about the English language I rarely write exclusively about it because I know most people aren’t interested in the arcana of word origins or the subtleties of grammar. I’m not sufficiently well-versed in physics or mathematics to contribute anything of real value and fortunately there are those on Medium who deliver the goods on a regular basis. Examples of such are https://medium.com/@jamesmaynard_31595, https://medium.com/cantors-paradise, and the excellent https://medium.com/@KittyHannahEden who writes not only about struggling against chronic and persistent depression but has a unique take on a variety of other topics as well.

Meanwhile for those wanting to know more about cosmology, Leonard Susskind’s Stanford Continuing Education series of lectures on YouTube are an excellent resource and require only basic calculus to follow with ease: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=susskind+lectures

So I stick to the things I’m principally interested in and have acquired sufficient knowledge about to have an informed opinion. It’s puzzling to me why so few in both the general population and academia have so far failed to really understand evolutionary theory and its implications across nearly every domain. Likewise I’m surprised that few have made the observation that economics is, in the general sense of the word, at the heart of biology and behavior (in the broadest sense of the word). So sometimes I’ll write about these things because they seem to me to be of fundamental importance to our comprehension of why things are as they are.

Most of all I write because since our species invented this way of communication it’s been the principal means by which we generate and expand on ideas.

How far would Montesquieu have gone without his expansive network of correspondents? How influential would François-Marie Arouet (known more widely under his nom de plume Voltaire) have been had he not corresponded widely with intellectuals across Europe?

Although we remember the big names, the reality is that every great new idea is the result of many small contributions from those now forgotten. That’s sad for those who may have wanted to be remembered for posterity but gratification of the ego is irrelevant when it comes to the construction of culture. Like diligent ants, we can all do our part by carrying back to the nest some piece of arboreal detritus that can be converted into sustenance for others.

And so, like a diligent ant, I submit pieces to Medium in the hope that a word here or an idea there may be of use to someone else at some point in time. And I do so under my own name because when possible even an ant ought to take some responsibility for its labors.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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