No name, no responsibility | AspenTimes.com

No name, no responsibility

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

On the first day, my mom and dad walked me to the front of the student union at what is now the University of Northern Colorado, wished me luck and disappeared into a brilliant late-summer afternoon. Even though I’d spent many nights by myself in the mountains above Woody Creek, I’d never felt so totally alone as I did for the next few days. It was a period of treasured anonymity that I will never forget, one that I tried desperately to hold onto, but alas, saw absorbed and dissipated by the fabric of higher learning.

The First Amendment to the Constitution apparently gives us the right to anonymous speech, although it doesn’t specifically say so. Interpreting courts have said it does, so we’re compelled to follow suit, although some modern corporations have begun to break the sanctity of anonymity by suing people who say disparaging, anonymous things about them, invoking trademark infringement. But that’s another column in itself.

A friend of mine sat down at a community table during a local get-together and began to extol the virtues of Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” to a group of disinterested, if not hostile, folks. She soon saw the discord and stopped talking, leaving a long stretch of silence, which eventually was broken by someone asking her name. Gracefully, she replied, “Oh, that’s OK, you wouldn’t know me anyway.”

I’ve never had a particularly good feeling about anonymity, framing my thoughts instead with historical knowledge of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and how they couldn’t exist without secrecy and anonymity. If one cannot be held responsible for his views, then personal accountability takes a backseat to irresponsibility, which allows the growth of negativity and hate. At least in my view.

But before you get your butt clinched up about the KKK, know that private fraternal and social organizations sometimes invoke the principal of the “blackball,” the black marble used to deny membership in groups. Voting is done in secret, one at a time, the participants putting either white (for) or black (against) marbles into a wooden ballot box. Usually, if even one black marble shows up in the tally, the prospective member is refused acceptance and is forever known for having been “blackballed,” an unattractive term at best. No one may ever know who cast the black marble, which seems akin to not knowing who had the live round on a firing squad.

There is, of course, anonymous sex, defined by a lady acquaintance of mine as the inability to remember the name of one’s partner (or much else) the next morning. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, reasonably alleged to be cruising for anonymous sex in a Minneapolis airport, found that anonymity is fake if “anonymous” exists in only one direction. He also discovered that just thinking about that type of sex may suck, to use the vernacular.

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With the arrival of the Internet, there is a plethora of anonymous “bulletin boards,” which allow anyone to say almost anything without personal accountability, in reply to almost anything, including articles in this paper. Most of these comments are cogent and informative, offering differing and sometimes unique viewpoints, but some clearly miss the mark when it comes to the spirit of anonymous discourse.

If you have the urge to warm up your computer keyboard with anonymous remarks, stroke lightly and remember that the First Amendment only guarantees free speech ” it doesn’t compensate for lack of erudition or conscious thought. Frankly, I’m gonna stand behind what I say.