Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fair Game for tests, and for blogs -- usually

Once, in eleventh grade English, the teacher said, “Anything covered in class is fair game for tests.”

Again, it’s necessary to reiterate a few points about blogs, mine at least. One is that any subject is “fair game.” No topic, by itself, is off limits as subject matter for a blog if somehow it connects to an important liberty-related (like First Amendment) issue. Some readers know that last week a man in Los Angeles was subject to a civil restraining order because of his blogs, but the best information is that this went way beyond just a subject as an intellectual matter. Anyone does have a legitimate right to argue publicly for a change in laws through political or judicial processes, including age of consent laws. That particular person apparently went way beyond “argument.” Yes, presenting one’s interests in certain contexts with certain specificity goes beyond community standards. (Link).

Why get into so many things? I covered that before, how I started with the “gays in the military” problem and found the arguments getting into basic areas about the sharing of burdens – external, and internal, like family responsibility – and the inability of many people committed in marriages to tolerate cultural distraction or competition from others with different personal values. That gets to cover practically everything in politics. Anything can get to be a threat to freedom. (Even the idea of the restraining order, above.)

And, yes, it goes on the unrestricted Internet, for the search engines, for anyone 12000 miles away to see. For some people, that can present some issues. For example, as often noted, employers, at least for some jobs.

One issue that comes to mind is confidentiality. I stated my own confidentiality policy on May 14 on another blog, here. That still holds. Again, I will not take a job to “expose” a company (I did resign from one job in 2003 when I discovered illegality. That’s right, quit immediately.) Of course, I respect business confidences and trade secrets (and some laws, like HIPAA, have real teeth in enforcing confidentiality). Normally, I don’t expect the humdrum customer details in the workplace to be of any concern to my political beliefs, and I avoid employers where I think something the employer does could expose me to a risk like that. (That’s “conflict of interest”.) My arguments do touch so many areas that I can imagine some concerns. A health insurance company, for example, could view “in-network discounts” as of political interest to someone as verbally aggressive (on the Net) as me.

Another issue is objectivity. Normally, I am not able to go to work for some entity just to represent that entity’s point of view and restrict myself in public to their position. Objectivity requires completeness, not baby talk to win converts. (I remember that 11th grade history teacher who took points off on his essay tests for missing any pro or con argument for anything that he asked about. I’m not sure if he was training activists or journalists.) For example, many GLBT organizations emphasize that gayness is biologically immutable, and that leads to simple arguments. But it is much more correct and shows much more integrity to talk about the “fundamental rights” and “shared responsibilities” and go through all the painful existential stuff.

That also means that I don’t avoid something just because merely talking about it could endanger my “reputation” with a guilt-by-association logic (which sometimes spreads to other people). I won’t allow another company to manage my online “reputation.”

I remember a certain paradox with the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 1970s: the books by Paul Rosenfels and the content of the talk groups were an "open secret" and yet nobody it except those who wanted to see it. During those pre-Internet days, people who went there tended to live with a low profile. With globalization of communication, suddenly new ideas and the people connected to them become "viral." Yet, there has often existed a culture of "secret knowledge," as within the cultural fraternities (the Masons, the Rosicrucians, etc). The idea seems to be breaking down today.

It is possible that, in advancing the goals that I have discussed earlier (basically improving “journalism” by enabling visitors to connect the dots on their own without leaving authorities to do it for them) that, if someone is paying the dime, I could have to remove material. I might even have to remove everything. But I won’t have a profile just to let someone else misrepresent or package me for their purposes. I’m 64, and that’s just too old for appearances.

Update: Aug 20, 2007

Should IT consultants blog on their own with their own domain names? I've taken some pretty hard stands on the past that there are serious ethical limits, but here is one piece from Tech Republic, "Should consultants blog?" by Chip Camden. His answer is definitely, Yes. You may need registration to view this. Link is this.

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