So here’s some bile from commenter Dawn Kwicksoat that is one part common, one part unique:
And you guys… we have to stop arguing by telling others what the believe instead of arguing with what they actually believe. It’s useless and destructive.
I guess when you use a different internet handle at other locales, this general prescription doen’t apply to you, eh Fred?
But who can blame you? You have angst to release, and that’s so hard to do when you’re being an academic rhetorician writing convoluted, dry and boring jargon-laden essays. An academic has to avoid even passive aggression, and must stifle those nefarious urges to snark and ping and smack.
Thankfully one can inhabit as many alternate personages as one can imagine and manage separately, and those devices allow a lot of room for releasing the pent-up feelings whose expression academia proscribes when speaking to fellow academicians.
The first part, that I have other “handles” that I comment with online, is a new one on me. In large part, that’s because I’m fairly notorious for commenting on other people’s blogs and sites using my real name. A fair number of professional writer types have made fun of me for the practice; I guess the thinking is that commenting is for the rabble, not for the pros. Luckily, I’m not a pro. I comment using my own name because being held accountable for what you say is a cherished value to me. The only times I have deviated from this practice was back in like, 2005-2006, when I first started reading blogs, I had no blog of my own, and essentially nobody commented under their own name; and I also have occasionally commented at The Atlantic under a commenter handle because my Facebook-connected account got banned. (Totally unfairly, by the way.) I have since gotten a new account under my real name there. So I have no idea what Dawn here is talking about. I have had, in the past, people post intentionally offensive things under my name in comments sections as a way to discredit me (think, like, blatant anti-Semitism, racial slurs, etc.) but that was mostly a short-term thing when I had attracted the attention of some conservative cesspit.
I mean, I’m used to a lot of abuse, but the idea that I’m unable to be public about my feelings, or that I have to take to pseudonyms to express what I don’t like is… odd. It’s been the advice of many that I shouldn’t argue about politics as a graduate student, as that could unnecessarily disadvantage me for jobs in an already brutal market. But while some of my opinions are controversial, I don’t think any of them are offensive in the traditional sense, and I believe that basic academic and intellectual freedom should protect political expression. I also think that academics need to be more willing to express themselves publicly, not less. If there are negative professional consequences for that stance, well, I can live with it.
As for the second bit, making fun of me through making fun of the study of rhetoric, this one is quite common. It’s also a very bad tactic, because I don’t, by and large, study rhetoric. I’m in a rhetoric and composition program, yes. But just as you might, for example, be in a Film and Theater department and focus almost entirely on drama and not on film, I am focused on the composition side. My research, currently, explores hybrid approaches to writing education that involve techniques from applied linguistics and textual processing. I also have a strong focus on literacy education policy, particularly when it comes to empirical measures and assessment. I have taken extensive coursework in rhetoric, and I very much value the field. I find the notion that there’s something inherently unserious about studying the way we argue and persuade each other to be pretty nuts. In a democracy, these questions are of vital importance. But regardless, I don’t consider myself a rhetoric scholar, and it’s a very weird, scattershot way to go after me. So everybody who does this, please adjust your invective accordingly, OK? Lord knows, there’s plenty of material out there if you’re looking for avenues of attack.