Don’t wrestle with pigs
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/08/06
“Don’t wrestle with pigs, because the pigs like it and you get dirty”
I was reminded of this useful advice by Ross Douthat’s review of DIGITAL BARBARISM: A WRITER’S MANIFESTO by Mark Helprin (“Into the fray”, New York Times Book Review, 21 June 2009, p. 13).
Helprin had apparently entered Internet exchanges about copyright questions without previous experience of blogs, flaming, personal attacks from anonymous sources, and so on. So he became “the latest distinguished writer to come undone in this way”, like “the sportswriter Buzz Bissinger [who committed] . . . a spittle-flecked rant against blogging” or “Lee Siegel . . . who . . . resorted to ‘sock puppetry,’ creating an online alter ego who hotly defended the ‘brave’ and ‘brilliant’ Siegel”. (See also “Impersonation is a crime, even on the Internet”, 29 June 2009.)
Douthat points out how self-defeating it is to allow the momentary passions aroused by anonymous Internet barbarians to tempt one into getting down in the mud with them in a pig-wrestling contest:
— Helprin’s book is “a furious treatise” that inevitably comes across as “hectoring, pompous and enormously tedious”. [Who, after all, is interested in following rant and counter-rant?]
— That “a Talmud” could — according to Helprin — be written about the anonymous blogging commentariat “does not mean that one should”;
— especially when that involves “the peculiarity of arguing with anonymous comments rather than . . . more intellectually serious targets”.
— Helprin allowed himself to engage in name-calling whose “overall effect is like listening to an erudite gentleman employing $20 words while he screams at a bunch of punk kids to get off his front lawn”.
I had something to say about Internet gutter culture in Beware the Internet: Amazon.com “reviews”, Wikipedia, and other sources of misinformation, 11 April 2009”. From Douthat’s review, I would like to add:
The copyright argument had brought untold numbers of comments; “And since this was, after all, the Internet, most of them were stupid”. Some “feuds are better left unfeuded”.
I’ve expressed views similar to Douthat’s in a number of earlier posts. My attitude toward anonymous defenders of the HIV/AIDS faith bears repeating [“Defenders of the HIV/AIDS Faith: Why Anonymous?”, 6 November 2008]:
“I can’t bring myself to engage in discussion with people who are unwilling to tell me who they are. It throws immediate doubt on their bona fides. Signing one’s name to one’s opinions seems to me the natural as well as proper thing to do, and I’m one of those who always signed manuscript reviews even when the journal policy did not require it. I think it’s a useful form of self-discipline, to ensure that one is being as honest and unbiased as humanly possible.”
Of course I don’t insist that AIDS Rethinkers allow their real names to be published when they comment on this blog, because there are so many potentially unpleasant consequences for those who question HIV/AIDS orthodoxy; but I personally am privy to their identity. Defenders of the HIV/AIDS faith, on the other hand, can offer no good reason for anonymity on the blog, still less for a refusal to identify themselves to me in confidence.