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Reversed and Remanded

One of the ways you can tell you're arguing poorly about an issue is when people who have little opinion on the issue read your argument and hope things go against you just for spite. I confess to the latter with a recent post on Google+ by "Siderea B", a post which has been floating through my social circles. There are quite a lot of these posts associated with people who are paranoid about personal information, people who want the world to recognise their gender identity that involves learning new pronouns and/or grammar, and so on. This one seems to be getting the most reposts, so...

Read it here first.

And if you like, my criticism follows (harsh language warning):

  • I'm not sure whether she has a point on the terms of service. It's generally nice to spell out as much as possible in terms of service, but not everything's going to fit there and it's not like we're paying for service. It's not really a big deal; if a service isn't working out or if it adds new terms, you might grumble about it (as I have with Livejournal, with much better reason) or leave.
  • Still, as she "cannot abide" and intends to leave, good riddance. Her arguments below are inflammatory and stupid.
  • She claims the requirement for real names is sexist. That's bullshit. Using pseudonyms to hide identity may sometimes be helpful in various social circumstances, but one should not oblige service providers to make that easy/possible. If they say no, that's fine. There are plenty of reasons to require real names, and if someone setting up a forum wants to require that, it is ridiculous to imply that the only reason they might require that is some intent to diminish women.
  • And if she's claiming that those policies are sexist even if the people instating them are not sexist, there's no way that could follow. No reasonable definition of sexism would permit that. Some policies may accidentally disadvantage groups, but that's not always even a bad thing. For example, anti-drug laws might place a heavier burden on religions that have rituals involving altered states of mind. Considering the drug laws to be by that understanding antireligious (or whatever more specific term might be considered) without any specific intent against those religions would be irrational.
  • She claims that the requirement for real names is culturist. This is perhaps true, but being culturist is not a bad thing. We can call anything culture. Anything we do is potentially normative. Any structures we make have cultural impact. We should not try not to be "culturist". We should also not try to be the ultimate hosts, allowing anyone to do whatever the hell they like because to do otherwise would be an undue burden. We're an actor too, and so is google, and so is everyone else. If some of us choose to set something up and set some rules with it, if others don't like those rules, they certainly can complain, but we should not expect the defenders of liberalism, in that role, to join in those complaints. Names are a very basic part of human interaction. It's ok to require them on various forms of ID, online or offline. Some other cultures handle them differently. Cope or don't show up at the party.
  • She claims that the idea of having an actual real name is a "parochial white, middle-class, American assumption.". Well no, it's a fairly common assumption, and posing her dislike of the rule as some kind of lithmus test for how associated we are with the classic source of evils in the multiculturalist flavour of liberalism, it's divisive rubbish. She then adds in that it's colonialist and really gross. Fail.
  • She then talks about her notion of the internet and how whatever slices of it she frequented did not have this policy, and how she hoped this would be the way she wanted.

It's true that this disagreement over policy is very simple, and people might reasonably come to understand how they're going to feel about it (if they'll even have a strong opinion; I honestly don't, although I think Google's decision here seems one reasonable option). There's not a lot of depth she could add to that, but what argument she provided was junk name-calling that the multiculturalist/pomo flavour of liberals, at their worst, provide as a first salvo in an argument. As enlightenment liberals, we reject this as we reject them.

If we were to address Siderea B, we would say, "Good riddance. Your arguments are offensive and stupid and only hurt your cause."


i'm entertained to imagine "Siderea B" as the name of a star or planet.

what do you think about the current gender option (male/female/other)?
I don't really have an opinion on the gender option. I know that there are many different ways to think about sex and gender, I have my own framework of terms, and I will mainly argue to protect the acceptability of diversity of frameworks than to argue for my particular one. As such, I don't really care a lot when it comes to how third parties (like Google) expose their frameworks (even if vaguely) in the sites they lay out.

That said, I do reject-as-bullshit the concern that some have expressed that the broad use of "other" co-opts a term belonging to people who are "legitimately other" for people who just don't want to disclose. I reject it on the basis that "other" is not an actual identity and has little substantive content.

Edited at 2011-07-10 03:37 am (UTC)
I read such statements as less like whining and more like "here is a way in which your service could be better (potentially making yours a more viable service than Facebook)."

I think the particular wording of Siderea B's post is unfortunate (especially the flounce), because there's some things at the foundation of her argument that I agree with. One of them is that being able to unthinkingly use one's legal name on the internet is a privileged position. I don't even mean that in the technical sense of "privilege," more just that, well, you've got a good thing going in life if you're in a position to use your legal name on the internet. There are a lot of reasons that various people might not want to do so, and some of them in particular (such as a history of stalkers) are certainly not situations I'd want to be in.

And while I certainly don't think a legal-name policy would ever be formed with the intent to diminish women, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the reasons why one might not want to use one's legal name online are disproportionately true of women. I don't have any numbers on hand, but the stalkers and the "lack of respect from other posters based on your name" issue both seem like they would affect women more than men. (Though the latter also strongly affects people with non-Western names, of course.) It's well documented that having a female-sounding voice on networked video games earns you all sorts of abuse, for example.

As someone who pretty much never uses my legal given name, even though my own name change was prompted solely by whim and still sort of sounds like a real name, it's not hard for me to see why some people might have strong reactions against using their legal names, especially if they had a deeper reason for the change. My legal name no longer sounds like me to me, and if it were differently-gendered from my current name, I imagine that effect would be a lot stronger.

As an aside, her argument is not that having an actual real name is parochial, etc, it's that having one actual real name is such. Not that I'm saying this is an argument against real-name policies (though what I said above is), but I'm genuinely curious: how many cultures do just use one two- or three-part name per person, especially when you factor in the given name then family name ordering? It seems like those kinds of names are a pretty recent invention, but I am totally founding that thought on vague hunch, not historical fact.
If she would've phrased it that way, I would not have objected. The way she said it made her plea worse than had she said nothing at all. I wouldn't classify it as whining so much as batshit-crazy-flaming.

I recognise that permitting pseudonymity might address these issues, but I think it's a legitimate choice of any service provider whether to provide these things, and there's nothing inherently sexist about making either choice. I'm no stranger to pseudonyms myself; in many internet circles I'm just known as "Improv", and I've sometimes met with internet people while using that name. There are others whom I relate to on their chosen name's basis; I remember your actual first name sometimes (but not always), and there are others I've known for years without knowing their true name. I have a preference that there at least be a field (and that it be searchable) for alternate names in social networks.

The question in your aside is difficult to answer, given how influential some cultures have been; just like sexual mores, some cultures have been disproportionately sourceish (early Hebrew culture, early christian culture (and islamic culture, on another strand), then western cultures (and arabic culture) wiped out local opposition to become hegemonic and then pushed memes into their neighbours. I think Surnames were not universal in Europe until around the 1600s, although they had some presence there and in many other cultures as well. I don't think the ordering of names is particularly significant.

on gender

User bubblingbeebles referenced to your post from on gender saying: [...] over here [...]
As a somewhat-multiculturalist liberal, I want to state for the record how firmly I disagree with you here. We can discuss further, or not, at your preference. I do not expect either opinion to change; if you think Sidera's points are rubbish, you will likely think the same of mine, even if I state them less inflammatorily, and I have already seen your points and they do not sway me.
(Mostly, I think I had the urge to reply just because I kept reading the word 'we' in your post, and as a liberal who has agreed with you many times before, I wanted to make it clear that I am not part of your 'we' here.)
"She claims that the idea of having an actual real name is a "parochial white, middle-class, American assumption.". Well no, it's a fairly common assumption..."

i would like to point out that because you more or less fall under the white, middle-class, American demographic, it is easier for you to say 'it's a fairly common assumption' that people have an 'actual real name'. sure, in a typical white, middle-class, American society, people don't use tend to use mutable, fluctuating, or separated names for themselves. however, that just alienates certain groups of people and makes it undesirable for them to join a space in which they are obligated to choose one, 'real' name for themselves. at the risk of sounding like i'm trying to pull the 'underprivileged minority group' card, i am calling attention to this line because it seems to be a point you are somewhat missing. sure, i am choosing to attend the party, thus i am coping, and the vast majority of the time, i am coping with no complaint or discomfort because it actually isn't an issue for me most of the time---except when people make a point of flaunting the fact that i have to 'cope' at all. it's sort of a 'shut up an assimilate' attitude that, as someone who has more or less comfortably assimilated, i find a bit grating.

additionally, i am a little miffed that you apparently choose to interpret not wanting others to know of one's legal name (and gender) as a silly paranoia; for me, it's not a privacy or security concern that i am not forced to pick and display only one true response, it is just that over the period of the past decade and a half, i have developed a relationship with names and the idea of mutable identifiers that is pretty essential to my self-image and how i choose to project said image to different groups of people. certainly, there are people who are aware of what my birth name is. there are even people who still use it, but i would find it incredibly offensive if someone outside of that group addressed me with that name, for reasons that i cannot articulate other than 'it makes me very uncomfortable and fills me with extreme discontent'.

however, similar as to how no one is forcing me to join a social networking service that requires that i choose one and only one name, i cannot force you to not think that those of us who do not wish to have a publicly displayed real name and gender are doing so out of some ill-formed notion of personal namespace privacy (by the way, if there existed a mechanism to search for alternate names tied to one person, i would find some way to circumvent that with regards to my own account, because there are some names that i use for which i want as few documented connections as possible). i suppose i just wanted to point out to you that, as someone who falls within part of your social sphere, i apparently belong in your 'good riddance' category, not your 'us liberals' category.

i apologize if this comment comes off as needlessly harsh or inflammatory, but this is just my reaction to how you are stating your thoughts on the matter.
I mark paranoia as one possible reason for not disclosing that, not the only one.

Also, I mark Siderea as being "good riddance" because of the way she formed her criticism, not for her position on the matter at hand. I don't have much of an opinion on how google should handle names, I just find their current handling to be one acceptable way.
Without necessarily endorsing all that Sidera B is saying, I have to say that reading your response, one thought kept going through my head:
Your privilege is showing.

(Which I guess is part of what hvincent is saying too.)
Which is not an argument, and not the sort of thing I'm inclined to pay attention to. I don't care for that style of discourse; it strikes me as cheap.

Edited at 2011-07-10 05:30 pm (UTC)
Random question: did the original post identify the poster as female? I noticed you making that assumption throughout, though the text you linked to doesn't appear to profess a gender.
She's a very minor internet personality (unless I misrecognise her), and has self-identified as female in other places.
After talking to someone about your post, I realized that one of the things I find odd about it is that I've always thought of you as "non-multiculturalist", but here you seem more "anti-multiculturalist". Meaning, I've always thought your position was "just because something is from another culture doesn't mean we have to accept it to be properly liberal", but your position here seems more like "to be properly liberal, we ought to reject other cultures". I understand that, e.g., the rejection of Sharia and the associated facets of Islamic culture might be a position not merely compatible with, but mandatory for, liberalism in your eyes. But I find it odd to see the same attack deployed against something as seemingly-innocuous as the choice of how names are formed. Is that choice something that is important in your philosophy, or are you really strongly opposed to using such conventions -- regardless of the topic -- from cultures other than our own, or is something else going on that I'm missing?

(Note that there are plenty of things going on in your post, and I'm really only addressing one of them here; I'm aware, and intentionally just poking at a single subtopic for the moment.)
I think either I'm being unclear or you're reading things into what I'm saying that are not there.

I'm up for permitting as variation any cultural aspects that are not illiberal. I am *not* arguing that real names should be preferred, just that it is reasonable for Google to decide that on its services they should be. It would also be reasonable for them to decide that pseodonyms are kosher. We should not feel obliged to make special allowances for other cultures (we have our own thing going on), but there's no need to make a special effort to reject them either. We can be politely indifferent without being hostile.

The big difference I see between multiculturalist and non-multiculturalist liberalism is that the former makes an active effort to be compatible with the intuitions of those of as many cultures as possible, possibly giving up on the traditional tenets of liberalism and/or creating special privileges (or special consideration) based on cultural/religious identity. Non-multiculturalist liberals want to permit significant personal diversity but will not make special allowances for those of other cultures; any diversity must be applicable to everyone and based on broad reasoning rather than arguments of the form "you are making it hard for me to continue my traditions".

I am not claiming the mantle of liberalism as a whole, rather the label of "enlightenment liberalism".

pseudonyms vs real names

Just in case you still have any interest in this topic, this seems relevant and useful:
Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy?