Anonymous criticism: where is credit due?

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In an age of modern technology, critics often prefer to hide anonymously online.

In all legal procedures, both law and tradition require the accuser to testify in person to preserve the integrity of the judicial process. The Romans took it a step further and required the plaintiff to look the accused in the eye as they inculpate them for a crime. Evidence of this precedent appears in the New Testament in which the Roman governor Porcius Festus refuses to hear St. Paul’s trial until his accusers arrived and met Paul “face-to-face.”

The so-called “Confrontation Clause” of the U.S. Constitution even applies to victims of rape, even if they are children, who must be in the same room as the alleged perpetrator even if they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Accusers are not allowed the luxury of anonymity. Legal tradition grants that the accused has the right to know exactly who pressed charges or is witnessing against them on the record from a legitimate platform.

While this may be a constitutional law in a legal sense, the action of open, verbal rebuke remains vital to the foundation of community, which necessarily requires open, truth-seeking communication.

The University of Dallas community fails to disagree authentically and benevolently because the most prevalent form of public counterargument is created by anonymous or pseudonymous writers who lack the courage to put their name next to their beliefs.

For as much emphasis as the Core places on dialogue, the UD community fails to honestly and effectively engage in reasoned public discourse outside the classroom. The age of the internet has given an off-the-record platform to the unimpassioned “keyboard army” who wish only to create the spectacle of an intellectual “dumpster fire,” rather than carry on a truth-seeking dialogue ordered toward positive change.

Within the UD community, the anonymity of groups like “University of Dallas (Unofficial)” and “The Dirty Irv,” or last year’s “AntiVenom” pamphlet, make any critical comments consequence free. The most poignant example of hateful anonymous slander is “AntiVenom” who launched into personal, ad hominem attacks against the UD LGBT community and Seth Oldham, director of student life.

Outside UD, a fairly recent example is the heavily attacked Fr. James Martin SJ who has had multiple speaking engagements cancelled across the country despite receiving ecclesiastical approval from multiple bishops and his provincial superior. These internet “cyber-militias” berated organizations who offered to host a series of talks on “Building a Bridge” to the LGBT Catholic Community.

In an age where conservatives often criticize actions like protesting Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulos lectures, why is Fr. James Martin’s online “tar and feathering” celebrated as a victory of orthodoxy? If anything, liberals who publicly and vocally protest alt-right speakers have more courage because they take action, but conservatives will still label protesters “snowflakes.”  Conservatives seem to hide behind the safety of a keyboard and computer screen while liberals exercise proactive citizenship.

When people like Fr. James Martin go on the record and publicly perform tasks, their actions are anything but consequence free. Instead, they become a target for pot shots from people they do not know who are so lukewarm in their supposedly passion that they will not even put their name down on a petition, opting to fish for likes on an internet platform rather than bring about any legitimate change. There are many names for people like this: critic, hater, backseat driver or even gadfly.

Although history is filled with anonymous writers like Publius or Silence Dogood, these men risked their lives and livelihoods because they propagated their opinions. Neither of these are at stake for the act of criticizing a small private school in a small suburb of Dallas with only 1,400 enrolled students.

So, to those who are considering making unpopular decisions or openly revealing their distinctive opinions: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. The credit belongs with the man who is actually in the arena, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be among those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat,” as Theodore Roosevelt said.

The honorable deed would be for these anonymous writers to either name themselves and stand by their comments or bring about real change through action. Either would be a virtuous deed. So, the critic has two options: either exit your “safe space” and enter the arena with the rest of us, or remain “among the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” in Dante’s Anti-Inferno.

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