I've wanted to say something for a while on the Snarkernacle, but for whatever reason have felt like doing it at Times & Seasons would be a bad idea. Given that I am a frequent target of their love and affection, it is probably best to stay silent, but what can I say, akrasia rears its ugly head. While some of what gets posted over there is funny, the basic thrust of the project leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Furthermore, it suffers from the problem of multiple authors. Some of the posters are fairly light hearted, and manage to be nasty without necessarily being mean. Others, however, clearly seem to be sad and bitter souls. A while back, the snarking powers that be offered this explanation of their project:
SnarkerNacle is here to poke some harmless fun at people who really are big enough to take it. Hey, you go out there into the public, wanting some attention, and you get it. Don't like it, then why in the world are you blogging? In no way is it the intention of the SnarkerNacle to hurt people's feelings, to degrade, or to belittle. The Snarker just wants to have some harmless fun. What? You think you are being unfairly treated? OK, then conact the Snarker privately, and we can work something out. In the past people have been snarked, and have felt unfairly treated, contacted us privately, and we have dealt with the matter expeditiously to the agreement of all involved parties.
OK, now, gentle readers, please go back about your business. You can speculate who the Snarker is all you like, but the truth is, you have all been wrong all along, and there isn't anything that will change that short of us unmasking ourselves. Which there is no point in doing. You see, if the anonymous snarkers were unmasked, then this whole thing would be a pointed personal attack. And that isn't the intent here. The intent is for it to be a pointless, impersonal snark from a harmless source, and just have some fun. Hey, if you cannot laugh at yourself, you have no right to laugh at anyone else.
Fair enough, but some of this strikes me as a bit disingenuous. It seems pretty clear that at least some of the writers are interested in degrading and belittling. I am also at a loss as to why it is that anonymously attacking someone is not personal. I do think that there is something more than a little toxic about the enterprise. There is no actual content, and little in the way of real wit. Just the spectacle of nastiness.
Habermas exalted the way in which anonymous pamphleteers in the 18th century created what he called "the public space," a realm where the identity of the author was irrelevant because reason was to be the only arbiter of disputes. In his view, this was a monumentally important development, and he went on to suggest that one can build an entire political philosophy on this basic idea of the public space. Plato, however, offered a darker view of anonymity. Toward the close of The Republic he tells the story of the Ring of Gyges, which had the power to make its wearer invisible. What we do when wearing the ring, he argued, reveals who we are by freeing us from social pressures. The just man continues to act justly, while the unjust man acts unjustly. Richard Bushman has suggested that the bloggernacle may represent the rise of a kind of Habermasian public space that Mormonism has never had. On occasion, however, it looks much more like Plato's myth.