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Thursday, January 28, 2021


If I include the time I spent as a graduate student teaching fellow, I taught for 54 years. During all of that time I would meet my students face-to-face, get to know them as best I could, lecture to them, respond to their questions and comments, meet them during office hours, and in general interact with them in a way that people did, at least in those days. I had the same relationship with my colleagues at the various institutions where I taught. When I retired 12 ½ years ago I waited a bit and then started this blog as a way to continue my lifetime of teaching and discussing.


The blog has been great fun but in one important respect I have found it unsatisfying. I cannot really consider blogging a form of conversation because I never see the people with whom I am talking and all too often I have no way of knowing the identity of the people who comment on the blog, even those who comment almost daily. I find this very strange, I confess, but more than that deeply troubling. Blogging is in this way more unnatural than emailing or even engaging in that most recent of modes of communication, zooming.


So I have a request to make of all of you who comment on the blog. I would like you please to identify yourselves by your real names when you post comments – not by initials, like “LFC” or by what I assume is a nom de plume, “Marcel Proust,” but by your actual names. This is not the same thing as the two of us being in the same room talking to one another but it is a step in that direction. Some of you do this of course. S. Wallerstein and David Palmeter and Chris Mulvaney and Warren Goldfarb, for example.


I gather, though I do not understand such things, that in some cases Google does not permit you to put your name on the comment but you can always add it to the end of a comment.


Some of you may be hesitant to put your name to politically charged comments which can then follow you for a lifetime in the cloud. As someone who achieved life tenure at the age of 30, I am in no position to be critical of such hesitancy. But I really would prefer whenever possible to know with whom I am talking. 


jeffrey g kessen said...

Thanks for mentioning me, Prof.. I know my Comments are a little off the wall, but you might have at least thrown me a bone!

Cricket said...

Could you not allow people to email you their identities and continue to use a pseudonym publicly?

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

Dear Prof. Wolff,

I can understand you very well. I feel the same way when I read the comments here. With the exception of you, whom I have been able to see and hear for hours on YouTube about Kant, Marx and ideology, all other commentators are anonymous. I am using my real name here, but that doesn't add very much to what you're missing. This is partly in the nature of the internet, partly in the blog software that only allows comments and not least because of the fear of Big Brother and the usual suspects who are looking for every possibility to find personal data about everyone and everything.

I have to admit, I don't see any real solution to the problem. I would be very happy to send you an email in which I would like to introduce myself.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

My profound apologies, Mr. Kessen [Dr?], You are quite right, I should have included you in my short list. I was writing quickly and just called up the first names that came to mind. As for cricket, by all means do that if you feel more comfortable. I just have this desire to put a name and sometimes even a face to my interlocutors. Very 20th century of me, I know.

Howie said...

Let people email you their real names behind the pseudonym

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Yes, a name by all means. What could go wrong? Someone revokes my PhD? Forces me to walk barefoot? Yours truly, Andrew L. Blais, PhD, for now....

BTW, the Applebaum piece has passed over my desk several times over the last few days, and I was thinking how the seeming heterogeneity of the crowd that stormed the Capital building makes for a different appreciation of the crowds of the French revolution....

Robert Paul Wolff said...

By all means, Achim, I would love to hear a little bit about you. Do send me an email.

Dear Andrew, there is a wonderful old book, I think by Geroges Rude, called The Crowd and the French Revolution, Which is fascinating on this topic. Of course, I read it 60 years ago, so it may be a tad out of date :-)

s. wallerstein said...

Leiter requires that those who comment in his blog identify themselves. In other philosophy blogs internet aliases are accepted, but this is the only philosophy blog I've frequented where one can comment as Anonymous. I think that it's reasonable that all the Anonymous commenters adopt a "permanent" internet alias when they comment in this blog and identify themselves personally to Professor Wolff by email.

marcel proust said...

Everywhere I comment, I use the pseudonym Marcel Proust.* I have been doing so for nearly 20 years now. You can find my comments at Crooked Timber and gnxp, Kevin Drum's blog (going back to his time as Calpundit) and numerous other blogs, most of which no longer exist (including Coates' blog starting from around the time Obama was first sworn in). If you would prefer, I will cease commenting, but for reasons of my own I prefer not to comment under my own name.

*Not that I know much about literature. It started as a joke from a HS friend who knows much more about literature than I but recalls many fewer trivial details about our lives back then.

Ridiculousicculus said...

I think Labor-Theory-of-Value Chris persuasively articulated the rationale behind many of the regular commentator's reluctance to post under their real names, so I don't see the point of rehashing those arguments here.

But if you would like to "get to know" your blog participants in a more intimate manner, Professor Wolff, you might consider setting up a Facebook page (if you do not already have one) and a Facebook group for your blog.

In that case, regular commentators could join your facebook group under their real identities and engage with you on that platform with reference to their blog handles.

I've seen that approach work for other forums, such as video games.

s. wallerstein said...

This conversation about the professional managerial class (pmc) from Jacobin seems to have some relation to the number of anonymous commenters insofar as it touches on the pressures that people in professional positions (and those studying for those positions) undergo these days.

Eric said...

Prof Wolff, you already know my real name.
If I were to post it here I would not be able to share my honest opinions. My heterodox views could be used against me in the future in my professional work. Or might become a problem when passing through border control (I've been detained for questioning at US border control in the past, as well as at borders outside the US).

Many of the leaders in my field (chairs of departments, for example) are politically very conservative, at least to the extent that tending to donate heavily to conservative politicians—including Trump, WINRED, and the Senate Conservatives Fund in this past cycle—is an indication of political conservatism.

I shared related thoughts in my post on January 9 here.