‘Brendan O’Neill’ is a nom de plume

Or so I have been told by a dreadfully unreliable source. And why not?

Many honourable scribes have used noms de plume: Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, the Brontës, Harold Robbins, C S Lewis, Stephen King…

And not just proppah authors. Tribunes of the people, many of them armed and too many to cite but including Willi Brandt and Tito, use noms de guerre to protect their cause, their comrades and families from deadly enemies. Then we have real biggies like Lenin and Stalin although absolute power FUBARed their pseudonyms’ utility.

Throughout history, there have been anonymous pamphleteers. The US Supreme Court has judged that

Anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.

Your humble servant blogs anonymously because I seek no public office, seek to persuade no-one of anything and value my privacy. While the agreement of anyone with my opinions is pleasant, the prospect of such conversation as I enjoy on the web being bought at the price of my real self becoming public property frankly horrifies me. I would rather become a hermit. Well, yes, as you say…

And if push comes to shove and one day, in defence of Liberty, I enlist in a resistance army, one with more teeth than the present Orphans (saving your presence), will some sanctimonious jobsworth twerp decide that I am unfit to serve, or even blow my cover to a Lenin or a Stalin or a Hitler, simply because he thinks that wearing camouflage marks me out as a coward?

O’Neill writes:

There is nothing heroic about attacking your employers or your enemies or your political opponents (my emphasis) anonymously, launching 140-character assaults on them before scurrying back behind the cloak of invisibility afforded by a site like Twitter. In fact, that is an act of moral cowardice, which immediately calls into question the reliability of what you are saying, and even your motivations.

Harsh, I feel. And daft, frankly.

I reject O’Neill’s aspiration to absolute purity, for only an idealist could possibly believe that such a thing is to be found in this world or in the heart of Man. Nor am I cursed, incidentally, with even a vestigial certainty that I know best what is good for you, never having been a Marxist.

So is the blogosphere part of the literary world in which noms de plume are acceptable? Yes. A battlefield where noms de guerre are sometimes essential? Yes. Just public square conversation in which any may speak without rules made by self-appointed pundits to decide who and how? Yes.

However you describe the blogosphere, there is nothing inherently immoral or shameful about sniping unseen from a foxhole. Whether your bullet is credible is for the individual reader to decide, and Mr O’Neill is just another reader whose opinion has no more authority than that of the bloke he’s accusing of cowardice and who, he thinks, should put up or shut up.

The important thing about any statement, as the mediaeval Schoolmen taught, is not the identity (even if known) of the speaker but whether there is perceptible value in the burden of his words. And so the court of public opinion comes into its own.

Speaking truthfully, as regards claimed ‘fact’, requires the provision of verifiable evidence, which is sufficient warranty of one’s bona fides as far as a blogged (or tweeted) proposition goes. Where evidence is lacking for a defamatory accusation of malfeasance in, e.g., a tweet, well, defamation laws exist in all civilised jurisdictions. If a court is persuaded that an anonymous statement is ipso facto defamatory, it can (oh yes it can) unmask the defamer and require him to justify or withdraw and make amends and penalise any who connive at the continuation of the demonstrated defamation.

Cheap abuse warrants no defence of either itself or the anonymity of its author because, frankly, who cares? Haha-bog-off-we’re-busy-the-end.

Legitimate expression of opinion, no matter how fatuous or contemptible in my opinion or yours, and whether anonymous or signed, should never be punished. Ever.

The ‘outlawing’ of ‘hate speech’ defined as liable to cause someone to feel hated is an abomination. It is an infantile, Utopian legislative attempt to sweep the unavoidable difficulties of human intercourse under the social carpet for reasons for which require another article (at least). Such a law should be anathema to free men and women in a ‘liberal’ society but it is not. It no longer outrages us enough to get off our arses to do anything about it. The only marchers are those who want to silence you and imprison you for saying what they do not want to hear.

As the Silence Them At All Costs virus infects the entire western political class, hope for the survival of our former enlightenment is being snuffed out. The lights of which free speech is the ignition spark are going out across a world which is now divided in three parts: the theocratic fascist zone, the realm of the unblushing political tyrant and the territory of the ‘human rights’ nomenklatura, who alone now decide what may and may not be thought and spoken, and by whom. Mr O’Neill’s censure of those who blog and tweet anonymously gives power to my enemies, who are also his, I would hope.

So, no, I do not give a fig for the identity of whoever it is that is screaming ‘J’accuse!’ Louder, whoever you are. Tell us more.

Dictators come in all sizes. Some are giants like Stalin and Hitler for whom and for whose disciples terror was and remains a legitimate political method – a governing principle whose philosophical pedigree goes back through Machiavelli to the dawn of human thought. Other dictators are just biting insects like Harman, Toynbee and Brown. They grab power subtly, starting by controlling small things like Tweets, but of course not – oh, my, how could you even think it? – for themselves but for your benefit. Yes, you, you gonadically-challenged lump of false consciousness needing to be led out of your cave by the Righteous, if you but knew it.

It is small consolation that all dictatorships eventually end in bloodshed and that some day the enormity of the anti-human, anti-free-speech common purpose of the Righteous… and in particular, since we’re here, of those wielding power over you which you never gave them from prole-control thrones like the ECHR, purposely created by the pigs of our lovely Animal Farm… the outrage of what They have perpetrated will become apparent to ‘the masses’ who will tear it all down amid screams, smoke and the thunder of guns.

Some of the first, brave stones will have been thrown and some of the newly-free people’s weapons forged by little people who never told us their names. I honour them. Even though some among their number are, and will always be, arseholes.


15 comments for “‘Brendan O’Neill’ is a nom de plume

  1. June 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

    As a slightly separate issue, I have noticed that people who use (what appears to be) their real names are far more polite and friendly.

    Most of the death threats and rudeness etc is from pseudonymous people. In fact, I think I’ve only ever had one really rude comment from somebody who uses his real name.

  2. June 4, 2011 at 9:51 am

    As a separate issue, your opening paragraphs are slightly misleading.

    “Mark Twain” and “Lewis Carroll” are pseudonyms (and I assume that most people would know that), but you jumble it up with the Brontës, which was their real name, so I had to scurry off and confirm that Brontë was in fact their real name and that they published under the names “Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell”. So it would have been better to just list author’s real names or just list pseudonyms, but not to mix and match.

    PS, Mark Twain was a Georgist, of course, he thought LVT and Citizen’s Income were great ideas.

    • June 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

      Good spot. Jumble to a purpose 😉

  3. June 4, 2011 at 10:02 am

    O’Neill is wrong on this. The whistleblower will have good reason to preserve his anonymity as the whistleblown (is there such a word?) may well seek retribution. What matters is not who is saying something, it is what is said and its accuracy. Okay, in some instances, the two may be intrinsically linked to the point where coming out is necessary, but up to that point, anonymity does not indicate cowardice.

    • June 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

      What matters is not who is saying something, it is what is said and its accuracy

      Writing a blog – pseudonymous, of course; I’m no coward but I don’t want Year 11 discovering it any more than I want them turning up on my doorstep – has given me cause to think about what I am doing, and I ended up posting the following:

      There was once a famous headmistress who instructed her pupils to ask themselves three questions before saying anything:

      – Is it true?
      – Is it kind?
      – Is it necessary?

      It is my firm belief that a pseudonymous blogger can maintain personal integrity as long as any two of those three conditions apply.

      • Lord T
        June 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

        Only the first really matters.

        The second is up to your conscience and who the target is.

        If you can’t tick the third box then why are you even raising it anyway? It is pure gossip.

        • June 5, 2011 at 6:17 am

          Sometimes ‘pure gossip’ can serve to unmask other misdeeds…

    • June 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

      “Whistleblowee” I guess.

  4. Scan
    June 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

    An excellent article.

    I think the phrase, “there is nothing inherently immoral or shameful about sniping unseen from a foxhole.” is a truly excellent metaphore. It paints the mental picture of the huge imbalance of power in the Vietnam war, therefore, the importance of anontmity and versatility in the blogosphere; realising that the blogosphere is “our” jungle, “our” territory, “our” strength, and that’s why “they” hate it.

    • C H Ingoldby
      June 4, 2011 at 11:15 am

      Sounds like we should prepare for some Agent Orange spraying.

      Twitters now know that they are NOT anonymous and WILL be given up at the first whisper of a highly paid celebrity lawyer.

      • June 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

        I suspect tweeting from different wifi hotspots with a spoofed MAC address is going to be come more popular.

  5. June 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Excellent post and I agree with your conclusions. Some anonymous comments are abusive, but we have to take the rough with the smooth. In some cases it allows people with personal experiences to say more than they otherwise could and we all benefit.

    ‘Stalin’ was of course a pseudonym, but it hardly mattered to anyone. ‘Prime Minister’ is that guy Cameron’s pseudonym and I think this one is certainly unjustified. He’s effectively using as a claim to exercise power on our behalf, confusing no end of voters.

  6. Dave Chatsworth
    August 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Erm, only thing is that Brendan O’Neill is his actual name, not a nom de plume.

    • August 8, 2011 at 12:28 am

      Oh, for f… Irony, dear boy. Irony.

  7. August 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    People that hide behind pseudonym’s clearly have something to hide.


    Lord T


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