A great debate is going on in Australia at the moment over the vindictive decision of the Australian to out the identity of blogger 'Grog's Gamut'.
Grog allegedly deserved his fate, according to the Australian, for having the temerity to criticise coverage of the election campaign by the media, and be listened to by people who matter.
But the case for outing him is dubious at best. And he has written a strong response on the issue.
How should we respond to criticism?
The urge to hit back and seek to destroy those who criticise you through exposure of their identity is perhaps a human one. No one likes having their public actions scrutinised and found wanting. But, speaking as a victim of this mentality, the notion that no one is entitled to retain their anonymity, though popular in this age of ever increasing invasion of privacy, should be rejected.
If someone criticises your ideas or actions, respond on the substance of the issue, not by personal attack. Have a discussion that can be judged on the merits of the case made, not by trading insults.
Because in my view personal attacks reflect the narcissism inherent in our society - a narcissism that we as catholics should reject.
Do we really need to know every detail of a person's life to judge what they produce?
Once upon a time, anonymity was considered to be a virtue.
It was felt to reflect a desire to serve through substance, not claim fame.
Monks and nuns - such as the late Dom Calvet of Le Barroux for example, that great exponent of the traditionalist ethic - published as 'a monk of' or a 'nun of' their particular monastery. Some of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries wrote under pseudonyms. The identity of most composers of chant remains unknown to us.
And even if we did in fact know their names, how much would it really tell us?
True, one can these days become a celebrity to the point that people will hang on your every post be it about the actual issues, or your cooking or bird watching activities. Such information may increase the flow of donations, but does it make what you actually say on substantive issues any more convincing?
True too, that revealing one's identity can be leveraged in real world work - some US and UK bloggers undertake public speaking engagements, go on tv, provide media comment and so forth. But that should be a personal choice, not a job description for an unpaid blogger.
The secularist exultation of the individual
But we live in an age where everyone believes they have the right to know everything about anyone else - where paparazzi plague the famous, teenagers pour out their every thought and move on facebook, and some twitter their every passing reaction.
An age where, it seems, there is nothing more infuriating to some than not knowing all the trivial details of another person's life and being able to expose them to all the world.
Consequences of breach of privacy
Yet there are real dangers to having one's identity out in the open, as anyone who has been following the media over the last few years will know. We live in an era where calumniation and detraction are rife, and where, having been immortalised by the internet, are almost impossible to rebut. Where cyber attacks can take on physical dimensions.
In Grog's case, it turns out he is a public servant, and though he appears to have observed the proper bounds of his position, his work life will almost certainly be severely compromised by the revelation of his identity. And even if there were truly an issue in relation to the Public Service Code of ethics, is outing him in public the proper way to deal with this issue? I doubt it.
If the Australian didn't like what Grog was writing, they have a powerful medium at their disposal to rebut it (as indeed potentially do all of us in this age of blogs). Ideas, actions and arguments in the public domain should be responded to in the public domain on the level of ideas.
Not through personal attacks.