Incognito Intelligencia

The leaked private Journolist correspondences of David Weigel has resulted in two alleged tragedies.  The first is the loss of one of the foremost analysts on the conservative movement at the WaPo.  I am positive Weigel will land on his feet, being one of the most prominent bloggers out there, having ascended to one of the highest echelons of blogging, a regular on network news.  In reality, this is more of a career hiccup then a tragedy, and I believe that almost everyone in the bloggosphere would trade places with him in a heartbeat, even with everything he has going through right now (even though having had a brief moment in the national spotlight, I would definitely not count myself among the ranks of the envious).

The second, and real tragedy is the assault on intellectualism that this leak has resulted in.  True open intellectual debate has become a rare commodity and a great luxury within the political sphere in America.  Most journalists have some amount of self censorship for different reasons, for fear offending people, fear of being wrong, or fear of being labeled an ideologue     Even the ideologue’s self censor some of their views.  The reason Helen Thomas’s statements were such a revelation was because she had maintained a level of professionalism over the years to hide her extreme views.  I do not begrudge her of that, after all, only a saint holds no bigotries, be they spiritual (talk to a hardcore Catholic about Protestants), racial (listen to Avenue Q’s Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist), or political (see what Weigel said about Rush Limbaugh).  The point is, regardless of your reasons, unless you are someone with very little professional credibility, when you write something down for the world to see, you are going to censor some of your thoughts.

The problem with that is that when we hold back our ideas, it changes the evolution of a debate.  Some of the most enlightening discussions I have ever had were when one person involved would play devils advocate to an untenable position, or when someone shared their innermost controversial views.  The rewards of such intellectual vulnerability is the discovery of new ideas.  New ideas come from when we can discuss freely and safely, the conversations that take place at 2am in the common room of your dorm between a physicist, a biologist, and two religion majors.  I would actually say that is the one thing I admire about Rand Paul.  He has an intellectual honesty about him that is unique in the modern political environment.  Unlike most, he actually seems to says what he believes, and challenges the world to change his mind.  A dangerous characteristic in a politician.

Ezra Klein created Journolist as an attempt to create a safe place for people to express their ideas without the worry of their political enemies.  It is in this safe environment that David Weigel typed some things he probably should not have, however, he made the mistake of actually trusting a group of professionals to obey the rules.  Someone didn’t.  And now we all suffer.  As of yesterday, Journolist is no more, and I believe that any other similar list serves are currently seriously questioning whether they want to remain active.  Without intellectually safe environments for society’s thinkers to debate ideas with their peers we are doomed.  I am not exaggerating.  The death of a society comes when our thinkers are not free to think, ideas stagnate,  and innovation gives way to dogma.

So I would like to present a new idea, a solution to help get us through this hyper partisan age.  I doubt Mr. Klein will ever read this, however if he did, I would urge him to create an incognito list serve, lets call it Incognitolist.  In Incognitolist, only the administrators would know who was actually on the list.  Each member would have a randomly selected user name.  If you wanted to further increase security, the user name of the entire membership could rotate on fixed time intervals to protect individuals in case their username happened to be leaked somehow (lets face it, people talk, who talk to people…).  This would perhaps allow a continued open debate, and while it may not be perfect, it would be better than nothing

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