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General News · 16th August 2012
Ralph Nursall

There is an inelegant tendency for Cortes Islanders to have at one another anonymously when they decide to use the Cortes Marketer to express opinions, especially when counter to those expressed by others. For instance: “Thorns to Director Anderson for criticizing a constituent by name in her ‘Summer Newsletter’. An apology would be appropriate. Shape up or ship out Noba”. What a sourly sarcastic note it is to a named individual, for naming an individual, published by someone safely unnamed – a no-name in the world of Twitter and Facebook.

Perhaps the greatest example of hidden malice that I have seen recently is the half-page, bordered message, set in Bold and Italic font, expressing, indirectly, a dislike of opinions made public by Paul Brewer. It was a captious, perverse and discourteous banner by person or persons unknown, directly involving the Cortes Market and Marketer in its content, while keeping the spokesperson(s) in shadow. It displayed a sort of frenzy without a face.

An anonymous display in an unsolicited publication is equivalent to spray-can graffiti on an alley wall, exposed to a startled world as a new dawn breaks. Anonymous notes, directed squarely at identified targets, often with attempts at derision or ridicule, are the weapons of the unprepared. They reflect a peculiar desire to be noticed, without being seen.

But there is hope in the example of spray-can graffiti. Many of the swoops and sweeps of paint have been recognized to be of artistic merit, with the result that a significant proportion of the compositions in urban centres are now signed, the artists seeking and gaining proper attention. What will it take for people of opinion to publish opinions as their own – or more simply, to undertake identifiable, useful discussion? That is the only way to understand differences, to mediate them, and to establish positions that can be maintained and collated in a sociable milieu.

The Publisher’s Note in the Cortes Marketer is an interesting and paradoxical statement: it runs counter to the view that one cannot be a publisher without taking responsibility. A publisher has even more responsibility than an editor. A publication will take on a personality, which is ultimately the responsibility of the publisher. Certainly everyone has the right to their own opinion and the right to be heard. “Retaliation” is something else. Surely discussion should not be fearful. However, our experience here is that anonymity is what fosters retaliation! The two examples used in this essay are clearly retaliatory! Noba Anderson is being chastised and denigrated for her attitude; by whom? Person(s) unknown! How can we evaluate that opinion?

Paul Brewer is being held up to disdain for his point of view; by whom? Person(s) unknown. How can we evaluate that interjection? Is it only those who are willing to speak up in their own name that are to be subject to retaliation? Is anonymity the key to retaliation? Why not try open (or private) discussion and persuasion rather than “retaliation”? It may always be possible to find levels of agreement that permit association and progress.

Publishing anonymous texts, screeds, personal antipathies is undemocratic, antisocial, insufferable! It is not a matter of a publisher’s feelings; it is a matter of realistic social welfare, which includes the useful attributes of politeness, fairness, lightness of humour, listening with attention to meaning, and a certain recognition of the slipperiness of the slope on which one oneself is standing. Retaliation is the armament of the inept.

Open discussion is the only way in which agreement, or at least some level of mutual understanding, can be reached. When opposed opinions are openly discussed face to face, comment and content and motivations can be assessed. Then it is possible on both sides to formulate the arguments that are required. That is how progress is made: everything a scientist publishes is subject to criticism; every novel written is subject to criticism; every political statement uttered is subject to criticism; every piece of music written, every picture painted, every theory on anything is subject to criticism. When one knows the theorist, or the scientist, or the novelist, and equally recognizes the critic, then there can be dialogue, and we move ahead in understanding. When obscurantism is the mode and sources are hidden, there is no moving on. We sit and fester. That is not any use to anyone!

I plead for openness. If you have something to say, say it, and put your name to it! We can all take sides, and know the company we are in. Marvellous discussions can rage on. Some of us will learn something – and maybe change our minds. Now that would be progress!

Ralph Nursall
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I am grateful for the editorial assistance of Hanna (second year college) and Conor (Grade 11) who read a draft of this essay at my request and, in the guise of editors, made several suggestions which I incorporated to improvement of the meaning and form of the text. This is a peer-reviewed article. JRN

With all due respect....
Comment by Walker Evans on 1st September 2012
I get what you are trying to say but respectfully disagree (anonymously). Anonymity has it's place. The police are quick to take anonymous tips and almost nobody refuses an anonymous donation. You say "Is it only those who are willing to speak up in their own name that are to be subject to retaliation?"
That is the key to the issue. If you offer an opinion that is in sharp contrast to the alleged opinions and purported values of the community be prepared to be ostracised, slandered, denied employment and in some cases 'run off the island.' Generally people say what they think they are expected to say even if they think differently. Nobody wants to make enemies who might be neighbours so they decide prudently to keep their traps shut. For me this is the worst thing about communities. Although by definition a community includes all who live there, in practice communities are shaped and run by a small group of would-be visionaries and leaders. Speak your mind at your peril. Of course this note will not be printed because I choose to remain anonymous.
And so it continues...
Similar thoughts
Comment by John Mottishaw on 24th August 2012
I found myself expressing similar thoughts just over two years ago under similar circumstances. Here is a link to what I said then:

I have heard the argument that the New York Times publishes anonymous opinions in their editorial section. This is true, however, the Times stands behind these opinions as editorial policy. They are the considered opinions of the Times management, the people who publish the paper. All submitted outside opinion pieces are signed.

What we have in The Cortes Marketer is a very different and destructive policy. To my mind there is more to be lost by hiding in fear of retaliation than by expressing honest, even if unpopular, opinions. Yes, this island would be an even better place if we stood behind our words with our names.

John Mottishaw
Excellent Article!
Comment by Becky Knutson on 20th August 2012
Thank you, Ralph, for putting into words what I have been thinking about this past couple of weeks. You know, it isn't hardly anonymous when you pretty much "know" who is doing the postings. It just makes it so you can't talk about it with the person. Personally, I am really sick of seeing such negative diatribes spew forth from the Marketer. I feel really sorry for "Anonymous" if all they have to do and think about is how someone is always doing them wrong. What a waste of energy and it is bringing all of us down. Anonymous, if you have issues with the RD or anyone else for that matter, have the courage to take it up with them! The community does NOT need to be brought down on a weekly basis with your complaints of victimization. Stand up! Deal with it in a more constructive way and quit subjecting the community to your venom. It is poisonous!
Wonderful letter Ralph
Comment by philip wood on 18th August 2012
With more compassion, curiosity (in other perspectives) and less need to be RIGHT from all of us, perhaps co-creativity could flourish on Cortes Island. Who knows if we all become more invitational than confrontational, then those people who don't sign their names to inflammatory comments, may feel safe enough to happily come out of hiding.

This poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, expresses the spirit of my perspective:

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-Four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

Cortes Community Advocate
Comment by Heather Bruce on 18th August 2012
YAY, Ralph!

Having been the brunt of anonymous negative commentary in the Marketer a few years ago, I am pleased to see that you and others are offended by this sort of anonymous venom. One of the main reasons we love Cortes Island is the sense of community that most people support in one way or another. There are some, though, that undermine that by publishing anonymous criticism of others. What is even more annoying is when people attack the PERSON and not the idea. As Ralph points out, we can have different opinions...and will. While I know that the Editorship of The Marketer is trying to "be fair", I really think it is "unfair" to support the unkind postings and not expect the authors to take responsibility for their "zings and arrows". This sort of behind the cloak behavior creates division and suspicion and worse, where there does not need to be any, if we are all above board and honest. It is okay to differ, it is not okay to slander or attack. Thank you, Ralph, for having the courage to step forward and comment on this destructive issue and thank you to those that posted (and signed) in response.

Heather Bruce
Thank you Ralph !
Comment by Denise Gibbons on 17th August 2012
Thank you Ralph for your thoughtful and insightful words! This issue continues to undermine our community in such a negative and hostile manner.
Hear! Hear! Ralph and his peer reviewers
Comment by Mary-Lu Lorenson on 17th August 2012
The idea that freedom of speech allows anonymous commentators in a public circulated weekly work is highly questionable. If our island has a zero tolerance toward such cowardly works, we could be even more proud of ourselves than we currently are. To my mind it is the publications responsibility to not allow this to happen. Even thought I realize the motive for this policy has been of the highest caliber, all the points that Ralph raises could be actualized.
in agreement with Ralph Nursall
Comment by Stephen Reid on 16th August 2012
I agree with his article about some of the anonymous and borderline slanderous comments published in the Cortes Marketer. I find some of those derogatory comments rude and cowardly. Publicly ridiculing someone, while hiding, seems unproductive and detrimental to our special community.