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I Hate To Break It To Some Readers, But You Don't Know Me

It is, I suppose, the preserve of professors of philosophy to tie one up in logical knots, but Professor Brian Leiter has outdone himself. In his latest "look how dumb someone is" rant, he bloviates:

In the conservative pity fest for Mr. Non-Volokh back in late June, this right-wing blogger . . . charges me with having displayed "ignorance of blogospheric custom and history."

Ignorance of blogospheric custom and history?

How old is someone who writes things like this, and apparently means it seriously?

(links removed)

I don't know, let us ask Professor Leiter: how old is someone who writes this kind of thing and means it seriously? He should be able to tell us.

Some time ago, after making various dark threats and suggestions that some unnamed Columbia professor was ashamed of my blogging, Leiter "thanked" me for respecting the confidentiality of the correspondence. I replied that I was unaware of any obligation to do so, upon which Prof. Leiter himself responded:

I'm sorry, I guess we'll have to end this correpsondence. [sic] I had understood confidentiality of e-mail exchanges to be one of the universally adhered to norms of the blogosphere.

(emphasis mine) Now, perhaps the blogosphere has universally adhered-to norms, but not "custom and history." And perhaps Professor Leiter knows those norms, but is as confessedly ignorant of the customs and history as he is of that of "CB radio, . . . Dungeons & Dragons, Pokemon, fantasy baseball, and so on." Or perhaps he can explain how a norm evolves--and is understood--in an environment that has few written rules and does so outside its culture and history. Or perhaps he just picks and chooses the norms he wants to believe in depending upon convenience.

In any event, I don't feel particularly bad now about publishing a part of that email of Leiter's, given his view on such statements.

But wait, there's more from the Professor in the same post:

Has anyone else noticed that the blogosphere is full of folks who don't seem to have real lives? . . . They don't appear to have real-world status, accomplishments, skills, knowledge, attachments. Blogs and their relationships with others who have blogs appear to be their lives. And if they're suitably reactionary, as this joker clearly is, then InstaIgnorance links to them and gives them a "life."

I'll give you a few seconds to collect yourself while you brush the specks of Leiter's bilious arrogance off your lapels.

How full of yourself do you have to be to cast judgment on the whole of someone's life because you read what they write on a website, or to think you know what they "seem" to be like? A long time ago, when discussing why anonymity wasn't that useful, I wrote:

But [readers] won't get [an authentic idea of what law school is like through your blog:] at the very best, they're getting facets of your law school experience, filtered through your own particular opinions. Unless you're going to spend an inordinate amount of time blogging in a day, your readers will get disconnected vignettes, small glimpses of the highs and lows of your experience. They're not getting 'authenticity' anyway, they won't miss it because you decided not to slam some gunner you didn't happen to like.

There's a lot of topics that are dear to my heart that don't make it to here. There's some political issues I won't address, not because I don't have feelings on them, but because I do and I know they'll offend some people unnecessarily. Much as I'd love to tell you about my love life, my relationship with my family, or the juicy gossip of the law school, it's not getting published.

And indeed, recently a lot hasn't been getting published, for reasons varying from Model Rule 1.6 to simple lack of time.

If I, or anyone, reads a weblog, they know some aspect of the author that they're willing to put online. I've been pleased--indeed, privileged--to meet many of my fellow law bloggers while TYoH has been running, and they're never entirely what I would expect from just reading the blog: they're fuller, more deep, more real than they ever could capture by putting fifteen minutes into a page every few days, or even every evening. Even Stay of Execution, which is more heart-on-your-sleeve than most of what I read, pales in comparison to the author herself.

If blogs and blogging appear to be the life revealed on a blog, well, that's the nature of the medium. And as for those who would stand in judgment while sitting in glass blogs. . . .


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Dunno about the rest of this nonsense, but I'm totally with him on the email thing and it has nothing to do with blogging. It is very bad form indeed, in my opinion, to publish the contents of a private email. Had you asked me, I would indeed have said that this was one of those fundamental points of netiquette that everyone picks up in their first few months. Clearly my perception was mistaken, but I nonetheless recommend the policy of not publishing things written privately by others. Without this policy, people will resort to barbaric practices like eschewing email in favour of telephones. I'm not putting up with that !
Check out Iraq War Wrong's take on Leiter:


Bateleur: I would think it's a matter of courtesy more than a customary rule. For instance, if I mail something to you, and you publish it, I probably would feel a bit affronted: we're friends, after all, and there's certain bonds of trust that one should be able to take for granted. On the other hand, if you send an inflammatory physical letter to someone, particularly uninvited, there's quite a bit of precedent for the recepient publishing it. For one thing, it encourages authors to keep their missives civil. Neils: That's hysterical, but I'm going to have to remove the cut-and-paste you put in and just provide a link: no point risking a copyright transgression.
Well, there is an interesting book, Order without Law, How Neighbors Settle Disputes. Seems like it is ripe for an update in terms of the Net. Regards, Steve
So when are you going to post the email(s) that Leiter sent you? Please do.
Actually, I'm surprised that someone as technically-minded as you *doesn't* recognize this custom. It has nothing to do with the "blogosphere"--it was a norm that I know personally was widely recognized on Usenet a good 15 years ago and think dates considerably further back. It's eroded considerably with the participation of everyone and their grandmother in the Internet, but it's of great antiquity. (If nothing else, everyone owns the copyright on their correspondence and posting it elsewhere would be an act of unauthorized distribution.) None of which should be taken as reflecting approval of Leiter's other opinions.
Sarah, I'm not saying that I don't recognize that it's a custom that was frequently invoked, particularly back in the days of USENET. (Technically, that includes now, but you know what I mean.) And as a norm, it dates from well before the internet: it's not really done to publish someone else's letters. But custom or etiquette are less likely to be upheld in favor of someone who doesn't recognize the same. If Bateleur had told me something in an email correspondence, I'd ask him before I wrote about it, much less quoted it. But if he'd started invoking "blogospheric custom" and then specifically noted there was no such thing, and did so after sending some quite rude emails, I don't think Miss Manners would be too particularly useful. Basically, I think etiquette should require a degree of reciprocity: one can't both claim its protections and simultaneously claim it doesn't exist. That's not to say that one should be purely "eye for an eye," but Leiter's made a career out of being abusive, and I'm not sure how much slack he deserves. The copyright point, on the other hand, is legal, not prudential. I'm not sure I buy unauthorized distribution: it's one of those things that's illegal in the strictest sense of the term. I quoted a whole letter up there, but in court, I'd think one would play merry hell getting damages, given that it probably has no commercial value to begin with.

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