Monday, January 15, 2007

anonymous blogging and the dangers of nonconformity

A local newspaper has an article on blogging, and Krum, Orthomom, and my wife have already weighed in. I just wanted to add my 2 cents on the issue of anonymous blogging, also recently discussed here and here. From what has been written it seems to me that anonymous blogs are a symptom of a far deeper problem. There are lots of bloggers out there who I find to be insightful, balanced, and intelligent people who seem afraid to attach their names to their opinion because their views would render them persona non grata in certain circles. The Orthodox community has become so insular, so conformist, that any voice of dissent questioning the party line is ostracized, not because it is necessarily disagreed with, but simply because no one wants to be tarred with the brush of being labeled a rouble-rouser, a non-conformist, or associated with someone of that type. When your friend asks who you invited over for Shabbos lunch and you say “Ploni”, who wants to have to defend their association with “Ploni” who holds such-and such views outside the mainstream? And G-d forbid if you hold those views yourself – much better to let things go unsaid, or if said, said by some unidentifiable source.

It’s easy to dismiss views as nonconformist when we can break the world up into simple dichotomies – me, my shule-mates, parents in my kids’ school, all of whom think like me, vs. the rest of the world. But it becomes much harder when people realize that the guy who holds view X is not just some nut “out there”, but is the guy sitting next to them in shule, or their neighbor, or chavrusa, someone who they know is a decent, well meaning, intelligent individual. Attaching faces and names to opinions can help break down some of the stereotypes that society too often reinforces.

The sort of change needed to create a more tolerant environment perhaps needs to start at the top and filter its way down. Why do blogs that second-guess Rabbis proliferate? Show me a Rabbi who is not willing to repond to questions about public policy, who is unwilling to engage in open discussion as to why and how he arrived at his views, who reinforces the culture of conformity rather than a culture of open minded discussion, and I will show you bloggers who may obey in public fearing the taint of non-conformist, but who freely question the system in private. Pick your own recent controversy of many about books/stores/issues being debated in the j-blogspehre, and I think you will find the lack of clear explanation for what the leadership decided fueled the controversy continuing. The amount of second guessing is inversely proportional to the degree of open communication that exists.

If leaders are tolerant of discussion and open to questions without fear of their authority being undermined, then people in the community might feel more open about attaching their names to opinions and comments. I am not a practicing pulpit Rabbi, but one commentator here is and he has a great blog. I don’t know him personally, but I admire his willingness to publicly “go at it” on the internet, putting his opinions on record and defending them against criticism and replying to comments. Ultimately, Orthodoxy demands agreement or obedience to certain tenents, but there is a great difference between an agreement reached by enforcing superficial conformity, and agreement reached through genuine respect and understanding that is arrived at through learning and discussing ideas. The gemara (kiddushin 30b) uses harsh language to describe the initial relationship of teacher and student as intellectual enemies - only the open clash of ideas can lead to true understanding.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for your kind words. I enjoy your blog immensely as well (I hope you noticed I added a link to it recently).