Speaking of costumes, a pseudonym on Twitter works as a kind of costume, a disguise, allowing someone to inhabit a character. Twitter, with a pseudonym, can be a safe space for the writer, who has a real-world reputation and relationships to protect as he works out his transgressive ideas in public.
But Rectenwald was not outed. He chose to unmask himself, to connect the tweets with his name. He gave an interview to the student newspaper, Washington Square News. Two days later:
A 12-person committee calling itself the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, including two deans, published a letter to the editor in the same paper.I don't see any "illogic." Maybe "liberal studies" is a field where "logic" is used loosely. I can see that "liberal" is used loosely. As for civility... well, you know I have a tag for that: civility bullshit. It represents my belief that demands for civility are always bullshit — not really about a neutral value but an effort to get your opponents to tone it down.
“As long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas,” they wrote of the untenured assistant professor.
Anyway, Rectenwald says the dean and an HR representative met with him and "expressed concern about [his] mental health" and wanted him to "leave and get help." An NYU spokesman asserts that the leave does not have anything to do with the tweeting and his opinions. Perhaps the university means that it's not reacting to the substance of the ideas in the words, but the words as evidence of insanity. That would deserve comparison to the political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.
Slate/Inside Higher Ed has an article by Colleen Flaherty on Rectenwald's predicament. I see there that Rectenwald says he is a communist and that he diagnoses the university community as insane:
Identity politics, over all, Rectenwald told the [student] newspaper, “have made an infirmary of the whole damn campus. Let’s face it: every room is like a hospital ward. What are we supposed to do? I can’t deal with it—it’s insane.”So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? The student newspaper interview asked that question because "deplorable" in the pseudonym made him seem like a Trump supporter (something he admits he intended to do). Rectenwald answered:
I don’t support Trump at all. I hate him — I think he’s horrible. I’m hiding amongst the alt-right, alright? And the point is, this character is meant to exhibit and illustrate the notion that it’s this crazy social-justice-warrior-knee-jerk-reaction-triggered-happy-safe-space-seeking-blah, blah, blah, blah culture that it’s producing this alt-right. Now, I’m not dumb enough to go there. And my own politics are very strong — I’m a left communist. But I think that in fact, the crazier and crazier that this left gets, this version of the left, the more the more the alt-right is going to be laughing their asses off plus getting more pissed. Every time a speaker is booed off campus or shooed off campus because they might say something that bothers someone, that just feeds the notion that the left is totalitarian, and they have a point....Rectenwald chose to create an alternate identity on Twitter, to "hid[e] this character in the alt-right" — "because otherwise, the social justice warriors are going to come onto me like flies, and they can be so extreme... It’s a nightmare." That is, he's a lefty, criticizing lefties, but he wanted to disguise himself as a righty. Talk about costumes! When do we get to inhabit someone else's identity?
Quite aside from what's permissible and what deserves punishment — I'd say it's all permissible and unpunishable — when is it effective for a speaker to appear to stand on the opposite side from his true ideology? Does the speaker really know himself? Rectenwald seems pretty certain he's a communist and that the alt-right was his mask. That puts him in the tradition of mobys and false flag operations. But there are far more subtle situations, like this blog you are reading now.