Archaeology, Assyriology, Anonymity,

Or: two completely unrelated posts for the price of one.

An assyriologist has discovered a cuneiform tablet which is a record of a Biblical person and an event from the Bible. We've spent so much time opposing the Bible as a source of truth and religious doctrine that we occasionally forget that it is also, in some sense, a historical document (although not an immensely trustworthy one).


That comes from this list of the Top 10 most important archeological discoveries this year. Another one, the discovery of urbanization at Tell Brak in Syria, is very interesting too, suggesting that urbanization happened at the same time in both ancient Mesopotamia and in ancient Syria. That's cool because it suggests that cities were just one of those ideas that happen to pop up in several places at once. Like differential calculus, photography or steam engines.

(btw, note that one of the discoverers of Tell Brak is named Jason Ur. Ur, famous for the well-named Great Ziggurat of Ur, which is a huge ziggurat in Ur, is the name of one of the earliest known cities in Mesopotamia. Apopheniaville.)


There's an interesting discussion of anonymity vs. full name in online discussions over at Design Observer. I'm of two minds on this one. While I agree that a major problem in online discussions is anonymous trolling and people flinging unproductive comments out into the aether, I also enjoy some of the benefits of pseudonymity quite often. For one thing, despite much evidence to the contrary, I like not having every single one of my opinions and statements in the semipublic sphere made googleable by merely typing in my full name. At least make the stalkers work for it, I say.

The pseudonym makes people loosen up in conversation. It allows them to be a little more permissive, a little more flexible and a little more creative with their persona and language and so forth. It makes conversations more interesting when you're not thinking of the comment you're leaving as being similar to posting a letter to the editor of a newspaper, but instead as just throwing an idea out into a conversation.

And last but not least: it's not a perfect public sphere of enlightened discussion. In fact, it's positively swarming with jerks, stalkers, trolls, psychopaths and the mentally ill, as well as interesting combinations of the above. This means that there is much to be said for the idea that some things can't be said openly without some sort of personal repercussions.

One important example: women writing about sex or sexuality, particularly their own sex or sexuality. This just isn't done in public without taking fire. Especially if one wants to get ahead in the world. Some discussions can only be had under cover of pseudonymity or anonymity. Bitch PhD. in the sidebar is one such example (she is an academic female blogger, using an aggressive persona to discuss feminism, politics and academia. She's gone slightly public-ish lately, but some of the things she was saying probably couldn't have been said without the cover of another name.

This is why I don't think that full name is the ultimate answer to productive online discussions. I think the big secret can be summed up in six words: moderation, moderation, moderation, community-building, community-building, community-building.


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