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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Doubts Regarding The Anonymity Of Anonymous

[Norma photo]
I have, over the past year, posted some scholarly articles about Anonymous. They have been received well by the academic community. There has been welcome constructive criticism: Where are your experimental results?; Please qualify your references; Go jump in a lake. There has also been some reticence of response. Reticence is excusable, considering the volatility of social issues attendant to Anonymous, but much of the criticism, although well-meant and often helpful, is what we philosophers call Uva Acerbus*.

In the photo above, you can see my lab assistant (and distinguished graduate-student) and I conducting an experiment with butcher paper, crayolas and other precise philosophical instruments. True, he and I are related and hard to tell apart so I should specify that I am the one walking on my knuckles. We drew randomly on the paper, stopping only for snacks and a nap, and found each graphic figure had a name almost before it was completed. A scribble with a head was a "Nilduck", while a head with a scribble was a "Snoit" etc. By the time his mommy came to collect him, my collaborator had named everything several times over. So we must ask:

Anonymity, is it possible? Is it really? This is the question we will address today.

Two Greek words, An (without) and Onoma (name), compose the appellation preferred by the user of anonyms. In fact, Aristotle would have considered Anonymous a "privative name", a name denoting a lack or absence of a name --but a name none-the-less. This coincides philosophically with the "negative name", indicating a term of the complimentary class --the collection of all things that do not belong to any given class. The question is settled mathematically by (Bertrand) Russell's paradox: Is a value, belonging to a set of values that do not belong to any set, a member of its own set?

Well, if that isn't a cue to dash out and experiment I give up.

In order to maintain objectivity I enlisted the aid of longtime friend Wendy to conduct the following test. My wife and stunt-double, Norma, would simultaneously declare herself anonymous and hide her identity with a big hat. She was immediately attacked by tropical birds, lorikeets I think, and that should settle the matter to the satisfaction of the scientific community.

[photo by Wendy]
From data collected, it is the conclusion of this researcher that Anonymity is not only theoretically impossible but also practically unfeasible. Practitioners may find temporary success saying they are not themselves but, once the birds come down, the game's pretty much up.

*Latin, acerbus=sour, uva=grapes


  1. And the birds are coming down like on Tippi Hedron these days.

  2. Indeed, Austan, a movie with a moral: Always wear a hat!

  3. Admittedly, my laughter is not annonymous.
    My hat (minus birds) is off to you for brightening my day with humor.

  4. I dare say, anonymity and wished-for invisibility are only feasible when we don't seek them. That is, it seems the more someone may seek fame and fortune, and a Big Name for himself, the more likely he is to remain in obscurity. However, a person, say, wishing to unburden himself of unwanted intestinal gas, and of course, wishing to do so anonymously, and if at all possible, silently and invisibly, is most likely to draw another human being to that hitherto empty department store aisle. What's more, the odds of that person being an actual acquaintance rises exponentially with the stench level of that odoriferous gas. Might even be his minister. So much for anonymity.

  5. it is a very interesting and informative article. I think I will add your site to my favorites.

  6. My God, I just realized that I spelled "anonymous" wrong.
    At times like this, I wish I was anonymous.........

  7. What a lot of wonderful morning comments! Thanks all. Gosh.

  8. No words are necessary. The picture at the top tells the whole story.

  9. I like the sound of your thoughts. I will join with Anonymous and add you to my list...

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Thank you,DB. Welcome, Lady Mondegreen.


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