On Having the Name ‘Z’.
An edgy essay by Z
Originally published 1 October 2015.
Recently, in reply to what I thought was a very friendly, polite, and even slightly amusing e-mail letter telling him about APP, a well-known Analytic philosopher of science–whose name I won’t name–sent me this fairly nasty little note:
“Dear X,Y and Z,
I tend to prefer opinions, good, bad, inane as they may be, with names attached.”
–Well-Known Analytic Philosopher of Science Whose Name I Won’t Name
Note, particularly, the fairly nasty conversational implicature with respect to ‘inane’.
I think it’s possible he was annoyed by my critical disdain for professional philosophy’s scientism and obsession with normative measurement.
But at least I was friendly and polite.
In any case, I wrote him back almost instantly, in a friendly and polite way, simply attaching my other name.
Shortly afterwards, however, it also struck me that he’d failed (or rather uncharitably refused) to see that in my original letter, I’d also “attached my name.”
Here’s what I mean.
1. Being nameless is having no name. Its contrary is to have a name.
2. Being anonymous is not-being-named. Its contrary is being-named, which is not to be confused with having one’s name named by an anonymous source, which is to be knifed in the back by a coward.
3. Being a variable of quantification, e.g., “For all Z, if Z is F and Z is G, then….,” is being an inherently generic term, ranging over an entire domain of discourse, and also a substitution-frame, all of whose substituends are names.
4. But having the name ‘Z’ and attaching that name to my APP posts and e-mails is neither being nameless nor being anonymous nor being a variable of quantification.
Triply on the contrary, having the name ‘Z’ is having a nom de guerre, a nom de plume, an underworld name, a stage name, a philosophical pseudonym, an artistic pseudonym, an alter ego, and a comic-strip superhero’s secret identity — like Kierkegaard’s A the aesthete,
like Philip K. Dick’s Bob Arctor,
like Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo,
like Costa-Gavras’s Z,
or like Banksy,
— all rolled up into one….
2. But there’s also a deeper point about my having the name ‘Z’.
It’s a symbol of the fact that the other members of the APP project are all younger than I am, at various earlier career stages, and they love real philosophy with all their hearts and want to be able to earn a living as philosophers–but they are genuinely afraid that if their names became known, their careers would be ended, or at least seriously damaged, by the power elite and/or coercive moralists of professional philosophy.
Sso in self-protection they’ve adopted the pseudonyms Abelard, ASU, Boethius, FK, GA, Ishmael, L_E, M, Q, not-Q, Double-Q, SK, Snaut, V, W1, W2, X1, X2, Y, etc., etc.
And in my opinion, they’re absolutely right to be afraid.
Contemporary professional academic philosophy is so titanically fucked-up that even its most committed, talented, and idealistic people, especially the young people, are genuinely and rightly afraid to say out loud, and especially in print, what they really think, as this APP post from April 2015 makes self-evidently clear–
So while it’s sanctimoniously shooting fish in a barrel for The Well Known Analytic Philosopher of Science Whose Name I Won’t Name to demand the attaching of names to opinions “good, bad, inane as they may be,” in fact this demand is functionally equivalent to Mao’s notorious “let a hundred flowers bloom” campaign for cultural and political openness, which was actually just a way of smoking out problematic critics and radicals so that they could be smashed.
So we’re going to keep our noms de guerre, and The Well-Known, etc., can simply stick them in his, well, well-known ear.
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, and Z, Wednesday 16 August 2017.