April 05, 2004

Stephen Manes vs Lawrence Lessig

Just as there are focused blogs for reporting on everything from gadgets to sex, at times I think there should be a blog which reports seriously on flame-wars. Not snarking, but akin to war reporting. That is, treating it as a serious topic, examining the reasons the parties took it to that level, the strategies involved, violations of unwritten laws, and so on. Note in war reporting, there's often NOT an assumption of moral equivalence, but that one party is right and the other wrong (which one is right or wrong is of course the whole debate, but it's possible to at least grasp that there's a moral difference between assault/battery and self-defense, even if both involve acts of violence.)

The merits of Manes v. Lessig are well-examined in the comments of Lessig's blog. (My view: while Manes scores a minor point or two, he's almost exclusively attacking a strawman, and Lessig wins overall on substance). Below I'm deliberately just giving a quick sketch of the flaming itself:

"The Trouble With Larry"
("Contrary to Lessig's rants" ... "Freeloader Culture: A Manifesto for Stealing Intellectual Property")

"TalkBack: Manes"
("The only thing this claim demonstrates is that this reviewer didn't bother to finish reading the book")

"Let's Have Less Of Lessig"
("... when it comes to copyright law, Lessig is Moron.", "Lessig claims I clearly didn't finish the book. I admit it took longer than I expected, given all the "idiot!" and "buffoon!" outbursts I kept penning in the margins, but I did in fact get all the way to the very last page.")

"It's Simple" says the MANes
("I hadn't realized how sensitive Mr. Manes is. For a guy who feels no hesitation in calling someone a "moron," "idiot," and "buffoon," it's a bit surprising he'd find this as "blustering and bloviating" or filled with "rage." Once again, his colorful abuse while funny, if a bit overworked, is still wrong.")

Note, in terms of journalistic levels, Lessig *does not* have to settle for being told to post his rebuttals as an obscure comment in a noise-filled forum, or on a website nobody reads. Nor is there much finger-wagging at him, saying nyah-nyah-nyah, you weren't perfectly polite, that proves you're in the wrong, the proper thing to do is: take it, take it, take it.

Expecting people to be saints is simply not dealing with reality. It only adds to the misery of the powerless.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on April 05, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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Things that make me go, hmmm. Should I take it personally, this sly bit?

I was pretty foolish to advocate the high road to someone arguably smarter than I, but it seemed incredibly stupid that Lessig's intellect was being squandered on cleverness.

Or attempted cleverness... Getting cute with Manes name? Far from being un-saintly, it's being silly.

I read this reality as Lessig venturing dangerously close to shit slinging with a pundit. Channeling Yoda: akin to leading the Boxers rebelling, this is.

Not that it matters, but if you must respond, you should be clear what is more important, ego or issue. Note how Richard Clarke has performed as a proponent of his ideas, even though he faces provocative interrogation.

Meanwhile, venturing into the Lessig-versus-Manes debate was hardly educational. Those familiar with Lessig's proposal would likely shake off Manes' arguments as being beside the point. But anyone less informed was completely snowed, the point-for-point and look-at-me posturing obscured the real issues, and consequently, Manes won the exchange. Actually, this was a great opportunity for issue advocacy, due to the attention, and Lessig fucking whiffed.

I don't think we disagree, really, what I proposed in the Lessig forum was that if you're at a high-"level" (and not a journalist or pundit), perhaps you should *play it straight*. You have a *lot to lose*. You of all people should empathize with that...

Koan moment: The monkey laughs, at you? You frown. The monkey mocks you. You become angry. The monkey throws shit at you! Should you pick it up and throw it back?

Posted by: sean broderick at April 7, 2004 12:50 AM

No, you shouldn't take it personally, at least to the extent that I didn't have you in mind at all (no particular person, except slightly one free-speech activist who has privately criticized me intensely, but he doesn't read my blog anyway).

What you're missing, particularly in saying "You of all people should empathize
with that...", is I'm writing exactly the above because I do empathize.

Look, to be hyperbolic for a moment just to make the point, imagine someone is being physical tortured, and on top of that, they're also being berated:

"Don't scream. Don't cry out. No matter how much it hurts, no matter what the pain, I'm telling you, *DON'T REACT*. Show you're better, show you're smarter, don't let them get to you. See what a chance you have to demonstrate the mettle of the cause, to show them what you're made of. Remember, the most dignified person wins the moral high ground. Oh, wait, you screamed. I told you not to do that - that proves you're just the same as the torturer. Because you're both involved in torture."

This isn't helpful. Because it's not dealing with the fact that very few people are martyrs.

Speaking of koans, I was just reading about Zen. The Zen master said the first thing he recognized was that everybody had his face.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 7, 2004 06:30 AM