I like John Carter. We disagree substantively on a number of non-trivial issues, but he’s got a quick mind, a streetfighter’s mentality, and a flair for language, and I’m inclined to like anyone who’s willing to spar with me and who’s good at it. More importantly, John knows The Rules, and the opportunity to deal with someone like that on a regular basis is a not-insignificant source of intellectual and social satisfaction.
He just put up a post about using one’s real name on the internet, and as it’s about language, I thought I’d take it apart and offer my thoughts.
…And so, in the hopes of understanding the nature of this intangible horror that had possessed this unfortunate world, I acquired a black mirror of my own, and entered the avenues of bottled light and channelled lightning to which all attention and knowledge has migrated.
Eventually, I found my way to Substack.
That was three months ago, more or less. Since then I’ve written something like 95,000 words across 37 posts (counting this post, not counting Substack’s obligatory ‘coming soon’ post, and assuming 2500 words as the average post length). That’s practically a book.
A thousand subscribers in a bit over three months is pretty good, I think (not that I have much basis for comparison, it’s not like I have access to the stats for other substacks).
I’m not giving up my subscriber count any more than I’m going to post pictures of my dick, but that’s girthy. A thousand subscribers in three months? John is that guy in high school who everyone called “beer can” after the first post-freshman P.E. communal shower.
This seems like a good opportunity to say a few words about the strategy I followed in building this subscriber base. So far as I can tell, the usual method is to promote one’s work on social media, sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and so on. I haven’t used Facebook in several years, and deactivated my account over a year ago; I have a sort of vestigial presence via Messenger, which I maintain so family and friends can get in touch, but the platform itself was simply too professionally dangerous given my propensity for contrarianism and debate. As to Twitter, I’ve had a few short-lived anonymous accounts over the years, which I kept losing due to those pesky community standards, and frankly I gave up on that platform some time ago.
Instead, I decided to use Substack itself as a social network, simply by looking for interesting blogs and participating in the conversations in the comments section. That’s been rewarding in its own right, and it seems to have worked pretty well. My reasoning was that people writing comments obviously already have Substack accounts, and can therefore subscribe more easily if they feel the desire; they’re also the most likely to be engaged, and to write comments of their own.
I have followed the exact same strategy, and while I’ve only been on the platform for two months and I post a lot less than John does, I can attest that it works. I routinely pick up four or five followers after commenting on popular blogs.
Given how active the comments section has been I think that strategy has proven itself. Honestly, my comments section is my favourite part of this project. A group of highly intelligent, perceptive, and weird-ass motherfuckers have been collecting in there, and it’s exactly the kind of crowd I like to hang out with. Some of your comments rise to the level of essays in their own right, with some incredibly perceptive insights being shared. Further, so far as I can tell, it’s an ideologically broad base – libertarians, reactionaries, old-school leftists, post-liberals, esotericists – which is exactly the kind of eclectic company that makes for a challenging, stimulating conversation. I’m genuinely honoured that you all take the time to engage at this level.
All that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the role that recommendations have played, which has been substantial. That feature seems to have been rolled out right around the time I started, so I’ve benefited from it right from the beginning. All told, 450 subscriptions have been generated by this feature, so slightly under half. To those who have been recommending me, I can’t thank you enough.
Lest you think that goes one way, my own recommendations have generated just shy of 900 subscriptions, which I’m also very happy about because every one of you deserves that attention.
The way I see this whole ecosystem is that we’re all building a new social paradigm based on old-school masculine values. A lot of people focus on an exaggerated masculine presentation. Those people are invariably full of shit. If you do the job, it shows.
I started writing here after getting in an argument with John over on Doc Hammer’s comments section. Doc boosted me, then John recommended me, which got me started. That means I'm on their team; after all, they took up my cause. They helped me, they challenge me, they give me shit. Same with everyone else who participates in my comments section. It's a little tribe.
I’d like to add that I’ve gotten boosts from a lot of guys (and a few gals) of varying tribal backgrounds through email, as well. Michael D. C. Bowen boosted me after I emailed him and gave him shit because his subscriptions were configured so I couldn’t pay to subscribe and then gave him a thoughtful substantive critique of one of his posts. Like me, he is a Stoic, and along with John and the Doc, he is one of the boys. Holly Math Nerd gave me a free subscription after I emailed her about one of her posts. She, too, is a first-rate human. I’ve emailed back and forth with Doc Hammer. Substack email is a great way to connect with people.
And a lot of bigger names do office hours. I signed up for Curtis Yarvin’s, but I got gastroenteritis two days before and I didn't want to get him sick. The War Nerd isn’t on Substack, but the way I met Dolan and Ames in person was a meetup, which is analogous to office hours, and I’m incredibly glad I did. Meeting other heterodox thinkers in person is a joyful experience that reminds us we’re not alone.
A while ago I promised Winston Smith that I’d address the pseudonymity question. We’d both recently been taken to task in the comments by the same individual, who seemed to take it as a form of cowardice that we hide behind noms de guerre. I don’t know that I have anything particularly novel to say about this, but it’s worth talking about, and given that this post is already metacommentary this seems like a good place to bring it up.
I haven’t had any really rude commenters, which is nice. I’m an argumentative SOB in comments sections myself, but I draw a distinction between disagreement and disrespect. On the one occasion I went into someone else’s comments section with the intention of picking a fight (with a third party) I deleted my comment after five minutes and haven’t been back; I was and am ashamed of myself for having done it. There’s another human on the other side of the monitor, and going to someone else’s house and disrespecting them there is shockingly bad form.
There are three ways to engage with the world through the written word.
The first is onymity – to do so under your ‘real’ name, which is to say the name bestowed upon you by your parents at birth, the name by which your employers and the government know you. It wasn’t long ago that facefags were a rarity on the Internet: in the old days of BBSs and IRC no one used their real names, but the advent of Facebook normalized the idea of putting your thoughts out there under an identity that can be tied back to your place of employment and your residence. Using your real name is all well and good if you don’t have anything particularly spicy to say ... for instance, if your main goal is to share pictures of your cat on her birthday. If you want to say something heterodox, something which challenges the prevailing attitudes or beliefs, then you open yourself to ridicule or even professional consequences should your naughty words be traced back to you.
Even those self-employed as professional gadflies observe certain limits in what they say under their own names. The pressure of societal opprobrium is intense, and it leads to internal censorship. “What would Aunt Martha say at Thanksgiving? Hmm, nah, I don’t want to deal with that, best keep this spicy thought to myself.”
Now, some people are totally comfortable taking the heat that comes from expressing crimethought out in the open. I applaud those who do. They’re willing to suffer whatever consequences come their way, and their bravery serves an important function in society by pushing ideas that challenge normative dogmas.
I disagree with this. The limits you should place on yourself (and I think you should place these limits on yourself) are formal, not substantive. Being abusive or rude is counterproductive. But that’s to do with how you say a thing, not what you have to say.
One of the principles I’m willing to fight for is free speech absolutism, and another is the idea that one should put one’s money where one’s mouth is. If I believe it, I don’t have a problem saying so. However, I’m not insensitive to the fact that others don’t like some of the things I have to say if, for example, Jordan Peterson also espouses them. But if you don’t use language the same way Dr. Peterson does, suddenly the people who dislike him personally don’t have a problem with the idea in question.
A side issue is if you argue the same ideas using different moral axes, people will very often see things your way. I’m in the habit of arguing issues based on what my audience cares about rather than the aspect of the issue I care about personally, which I learned from Dale Carnegie. That’s how compromise and getting along with people work, both of which seem like lost arts today.
If you do those things, there are very few things you can’t substantively advocate for.
On the other end of the spectrum there’s anonymity, of which 4chan is the preeminent example as the default option is for posters to be entirely anonymous (thus, their habit of referring to one another as ‘Anon’). The overwhelming majority of the content on 4chan is the digital equivalent of wall graffiti in the men’s room, which is a large component of its darkly seductive allure. Severing all connection between identity and expression has a number of advantages. Secure in the knowledge that there is no possibility of embarrassment, people say what they genuinely think; even if what they genuinely think at the moment is basically, ‘it would be funny to troll the board by saying this ridiculous thing’, it’s still genuine in the sense that the internal censor is entirely removed. This enables the collective id to break free through the shell of the superego, exposing the raw collective unconscious of humanity. Anon becomes, not no one, but everyone – a superposition of humanity’s group psyche.
The other advantage of total anonymity is more subtle, but more profound. No one post is privileged over any other by the identity of its writer; anonymous posters, by their very nature, do not build audiences; there is no such thing as clout. 4Channers like to say that there are no girls on the Internet, which really means that on 4Chan you can’t use your identity to buttress what you say; while there may be girls on the Internet3, there certainly aren’t any credentials on an anonymous forum. The result is that the posts that stick around, that get screencapped, saved, and reposted as images, are only those that are especially insightful, interesting, funny, or deep. Anonymity diverts attention from the arguer, and focuses it firmly on the argument.
I disagree with the first para and agree with the second. I don’t think we have an underlying self. I think most people have a lot of cognitive dissonance, which means they have self-contradictory beliefs. As such, I don’t think what people say on 4Chan is what they “really think,” I think it’s one of many things they think. (One of my life goals is to eliminate my own cognitive dissonance entirely; dissonance causes mental inefficiency and I value clarity and consistency.)
The idea that anonymity restores primacy to ideas and debate, though, is absolutely true, and important. On a personal level, not knowing any more than you can deduce about the person you are sparring with from the way they use language makes you sharper. On a societal level, anonymity subjects ideas to evolutionary pressure.
Pseudonymity is in the middle between the two – those of us writing under pen names establish an identity, and can therefore build a reputation and, hopefully, an audience, but we do so with our secret identities at least partially protected from the consequences of our masked antiheroism. Namefagging gives us much of the freedom that Anons have to be outrageous and provocative, in a way many of us would hesitate to do under our own names ... particularly in the current para-Victorian atmosphere of censoriousness and rigid social conformity, in which the smallest public step outside of the approved bounds of discourse invites savage reprisal.
There are downsides to pseudonymity. It’s a much more vulnerable defense than anonymity. Let enough personal details slip, and a dedicated sleuth can often put the clues together and establish your real-world identity – once doxxed, one faces the full set of consequences that one would have faced for posting under their ‘real’ names. In fact, the punishment is often worse: with the liberty to speak as we please behind a mask, to be frank in a way we could not if Aunt Martha, the HR department, and our professional colleagues were listening in, we often range far outside the Overton line segment of permissible discourse, and the Inquisition summarily convicts us of heresies for which forgiveness cannot be offered4. That means there’s a degree to which we tone ourselves down, as compared to what we might allow ourselves to say were we fully anonymous.
I have a very different take than John does on pseudonymity. I focus on the possibilities inherent in being able to choose your identity.
Names mean things. If you expect others to call you “Silvertail Lightcloud,” for example, I can deduce a number of things about the persona you’ve adopted. I know you probably are (or want to be perceived as) a furry. I suspect that you are (or want to be perceived as) either female or effeminate. I know you’re young (or at least immature). I also know that you probably have pronouns and that if you do, you’ll insist on telling me what they are. Finally, I know that regardless of the specifics of your gender identity, you’re almost certainly a fucking jackoff I don’t want to talk to.
But there are places people will really like the kind of person who calls themself Silvertail Lightcloud, and in those places, that is absolutely the right choice of name. The assumptions those people will make about you are positive, and those assumptions are a more reliable start on the path to social success in those spaces than calling yourself “Jay Rollins.” See, I already don’t like Silvertail Lightcloud. But my opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t matter to them. And their opinion of Jay Rollins doesn’t matter to me. I’m in favor of pseudonymity in part because I believe in the principle of minding your own fucking business with regards to what people have to say to their friends.
I’ve noticed that there’s something of a generational divide when it comes to the Onymity Question. Boomers and older grew up in a much freer society, and their basic assumption about the world is that they should be able to speak as they please, goddamnit, and if you don’t like it that’s your problem. I envy them this belligerent innocence, and hope that we can return to such a society in the near future. For now, however, here at the ascendancy of the Great Awokening, where a single wrong word can render one unemployable, it’s a simple fact that pseudonymity is an absolute necessity for many of us.
Our choice is essentially to hold our tongues as the world descends into darkness, or to engage in guerrilla warfare from behind the cover of the trees. Demands that we should come out and fight openly are essentially the same as telling the troops that not mounting a frontal bayonet charge on the concrete machine-gun nest is cowardice. We aren’t even regular troops with air support, artillery batteries, and armoured units. We’re partisans with hand-me-down black market Soviet AKs and home-made IEDs. We don’t take out the pillbox by rushing it screaming in the full light of day; we need to sneak up in the dead of night, hoping the sentries are sleeping, and drop a satchel charge through the rifle slit. Better yet, we slip past it entirely, sneak our way behind enemy lines, sabotage their supply chain, and then melt back into the civilian population.
I return to my point about free speech here. The way you say things and the way you argue them matters. I’d rather be in the habit of arguing things in a way that results in me winning consistently than insist on a particular choice of words. Spreading, learning, and synthesizing good ideas and accomplishing my goals are much more important to me than using any particular phrase. Telling me I can’t use a particular set of words is irritating, but it’s a challenge, and not even close to an insurmountable one; I like that kind of challenge.
All that said, there’s another reason I like to use a pseudonym, and in particular, the pseudonym I use:
I’m having fun with it.
Once again, thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to this Substack, and especially those of you who engage so beautifully in the comments. You weird bastards make it all worthwhile.
The world is more interesting with you in it, John.