Amboyna & Anonymity

My brother-in-law’s lecture of the other day wasn’t solely interested in Faraday’s bricklaying skills, the majority of what he talked about was the massacre at Amboyna and what followed.

The massacre was of British East Indies company agents, tortured to death by their Dutch rivals.  A contemporary resonance being the method used to get the ‘confessions’ and ‘evidence’ against the accused.

The Dutch let a number of Englishmen go, and on their return to England they described their experience to the company’s directors, who ordered a written account of the torture and massacre to be prepared.

Miles described the way the directors attempted (and failed) to use the wrong done to their agents to meet the strategic aims of the company, and how they got on when this wasn’t in accord with government policy.

The Dutch company didn’t take this lying down and produced their own account, but they did so anonymously.  Apparently just writing something without saying who you were was considered a libel and the British company spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to trace the pubishers and author of the Dutch effort.

And it was that element in the story I found fascinating.

I wonder if we can see the resonance in what Polly Toynbee had to say the other day:

“Letters used to be quite polite, emails were a bit ruder, but this [the internet] is of another dimension because you can’t answer back unless in public because they’re anonymous. I think that’s wrong — they should have to put their own names up there. It would make them stop and think twice if they thought their colleagues and families would see what they wrote. Anonymity brings out real mischief in us. It is a debased discourse.”

Or in what Tim Ireland complains about in relation to Iain Dale and Paul Staines and their commentators.

I don’t think that anonymous commentary needs to lead to debased discourse, and there different forms of anonymous commentators  on this blog I’m more than happy to engage with.

But I’d like to understand the motivation to stay anonymous and whether any of you think that it gives you license to say things that you might not if you thought others reading could identify you?

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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6 Responses to Amboyna & Anonymity

  1. kate says:

    hi ive seen a few blogs lately all discissing the very same thing. i really do think people that dont leave their names have a liscence to be more rude/agressive/angry/nasty than people with a name. on the other side of things there are blogs that i have to post comments anonymously but i try to include my name. you dont seem to get rude people leaving comments so maybe its more about the type of blog. if someone is raising strong thoughts on issues to provoke a reaction i think people wouldnt leave their names.

  2. Lone Ranger says:

    But what about…..

    “Three ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ were published anonymously in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857, and were an immediate hit. Everyone, including her publisher John Blackwood, thought they’d been written by a man and Mary Anne was only too happy to continue the deception, inventing the nom de plume George Eliot.”

  3. andrewkbrown says:

    I’m not sure I understand the relevance of the reference, Lone Ranger.

  4. Lone Ranger says:

    Polly Toynbee wrote…”Anonymity brings out real mischief in us. It is a debased discourse.”

    Didn’t the Bronte’s also hide behind an alias.

    Would society truely be a better place without the annoymous Batman and Robin or even…..the Lone Ranger?

  5. andrewkbrown says:

    I think that Polly might argue that context is everything, and that what she was decrying is the use of anonymity to insult her without allowing redress.

    If the Bronte’s or Eliot did the same I’d be a tad surprised.

    As for our superheros, well maybe I’ll leave that for another day.

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