My friend Hyacinth, a first rate (and high class) blogger if ever there was one, has been mugged. Someone calling her or himself “Jiminy Cricket” has taken it upon herself to a) discover Hy’s real-life identity, b) threaten implicitly to reveal it (though explicitly, she’s been clear that she has no intention of doing so), and c) call Hy to task for violating some supposedly universal ethical standard. JC purports to be female – let’s say she is, while remembering that even as she threatens Hy’s anonymity, she does so behind her own cowardly pseudonymous veil.
I’m not going to weigh in on the minutiae of JC’s accusations or complaints about Hy’s behavior. At the simplest level, they amount to this: Hy is bad because she writes (or has written) about sex she has had without the informed consent of the partners about whom she has written. And, I think, but I’m not certain, that JC also alleges that Hy has done so in a way that wasn’t necessarily anonymous for the people about whom she has written.
JC purports to have been researching the legal concept of defamation in the context of anonymous sex blogs, and to have been devastated to learn that what she previously had thought a realm of immorality (anonymous sex bloggers writing about the sex they’ve had) populated only by men in fact featured Hy as well.
Here are a couple of my thoughts:
1. Contrary to , JC’s construction of the world, ethics are rarely absolute, universal, objective. We have a word for those who believe otherwise: “fundamentalists.” I don’t subscribe to JC’s notion of ethics – regardless of her irrelevant footnotes and hyperlinks (she confusingly links to the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the conduct of research involving human subjects as if it had salience to the endeavor of blogging). Few questions have “right” answers, as far as I’m concerned, and doubt is the greatest wisdom.
2. Hy wrote for a long time about a relationship with a man who didn’t know she was writing about her. I’m not sure I would do that.
3. I have written about people who didn’t know I wrote about them, occasionally unflatteringly, but mostly factually. (Paeans, my verbal “creep shots,” are the most frequent form of this writing, but several past partners of mine from my CPOS days, and one or two from the times since, have not known that/what I’ve written, not to mention my descriptions of anonymous sex I”ve had, avoided, or seen in sex clubs .) I don’t imagine I’ve ever revealed enough about someone for them to be identifiable, but I’ve skated close. My general position is, if you know about my blog, I won’t write anything about you you don’t see in advance and approve. And if you don’t know about my blog, anything I write will not identify you – although you may well recognize yourself. The Secretary, for example, doesn’t know this blog exists, doesn’t know (I suspect) that I’ve written about her. If she read this blog, she would recognize herself instantly. Have I done her wrong? I don’t think so. JC, you might well think so.
I’ve written and thought lots about invasion of privacy. (See my series on “creep shots.”) This shit is complicated. More complicated than most of us imagine.
But JC, your behavior is simple. You’re bullying, threatening, judging. And I won’t say it’s wrong, but I’ll say I sure do wish you would stop, and can’t imagine what good you think possibly could come of your actions.
Note to my critics: if you don’t like something I say or do, I’m all ears to the extent you want to discuss it. If you somehow suss out my real name, I’d love it if you let me know how you did, so I can prevent that from happening. (That’s happened, incidentally, two or three times over the years I’ve written this blog, and I’m grateful to the kind readers who’ve pointed out my slips.)
But sending implicitly threatening e-mails? Making implicitly threatening comments? These are overt acts of hostility, raw demonstrations of power by way of a barely implicit threat of blackmail. I said I try not to judge, and that’s right. But certain actions ARE hard for me to resist judging, and I think blackmail might be one of them.