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I Tried

This is an exchange between Richard Bennett and me in the comments for an entry on Jeff Jarvis' site:

Richard, it's hard for me to comprehend that, after all that has been written, you either don't understand or refuse to acknowledge the problem that people on Joi's blog have with you.

You state that "Emergent Democracy advocates aren't willing to tolerate" scrutiny. Without offering an opinion on emergent democracy myself, its core idea of direct democracy through decentralized, collaborative, Internet-based structures itself gives the lie to this statement. What its advocates cannot tolerate -- and unfortunately, to which they eventually responded in kind in some cases -- is argumentation based on red herrings and personal attacks.

As I pointed out in my own entry on this topic, your first words to Joi were, "I was impressed by your total lack of any awareness of how legislative bodies function, about how governments function, or about political theory generally." What sort of reaction did you expect? No rational person genuinely interested in the intelligent exchange of ideas begins a debate by personally insulting his or her opponent.

To my mind, had you been interested in such an exchange of ideas, you could have written, "Based on what I've read of it, I disagree with fundamental aspects of your thesis on emergent democracy. I'd like to understand your ideas better and engage you in a discussion about them." But that's not what you did.

Did you -- do you generally -- take argumentative positions on issues while insulting people out of choice, or do you do so out of habit? Either way, I respectfully suggest it to be a counterproductive strategy, unless your overriding goal is simply to be known. Certainly there is no shortage of depressing examples of people following this strategy becoming famous... but is that what you want your life to stand for?

You don't know Joi personally. I do. He's not a coward -- far from it. He's intimately familiar with political processes, at least in Japan. Your criticisms and insults of him are inappropriate and uncalled-for.

I don't think it's too late for you to salvage this situation. Although I don't seriously believe you would be willing to follow this course of action, I offer it anyway:

Make a statement, either on your blog or on Joi's, in which you stand by your critique of the emergent democracy document, but in which you withdraw any insults or personal attacks you may have made in writing and defending your critique, and in which you apologize for anything you may have said that was inappropriate. Let Joi and the other people on his blog know that you genuinely wish to exchange ideas with them. I'm sure the reaction would be that Joi and others would apologize in turn. Who knows? You might actually learn something from them, and they from you. But as things stand, there's no chance of that. And if -- if -- your goal is fame through controversy, then certainly you won't want to follow my advice. Better, in such case, to be known as the guy who called Joi Ito a coward. For whatever that's worth.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 08:19 PM

Frank, are you seriously suggesting that I owe an apology to Ito's man, Adam Greenfield, after he threatend to "break my jaw" if he ever saw me in person?

It is apparent to me that the document reflects a lack of awareness of the legislative processes that I'm familiar with; if Ito is indeed an insider in Japanese politics, I can only conclude that he left his knowledge at the door, or that the Japanese system is very different from the American one, and I say this as one who really does have insider experience in our system.

Joi Ito banned me from leaving comments and trackbacks on his blog, and then continued to criticize me; that's the act of an intellectual coward, and it precudes me from apologizing to Ito's followers for making them threaten me, not that I'm inclined to do so. For the record, I haven't banned him from my blog.

What are you smoking, dude?
Posted by Richard Bennett at February 28, 2003 08:39 PM

It is apparent to me that the document reflects a lack of awareness of the legislative processes that I'm familiar with...

In your opinion. But does that mean you should kick off a discussion of the topic by saying that your would-be opponent has a "total lack of any awareness of how legislative bodies function, about how governments function, or about political theory generally?" You could have allowed that Joi's experience is very different from yours. You could have given him the benefit of the doubt. You could have started the debate without insulting him.

Are you seriously suggesting that I owe an apology to Ito's man, Adam Greenfield, after he threatend to "break my jaw" if he ever saw me in person?

I'm suggesting that many people owe apologies to many people. Does it matter who apologizes first? If it does, then I offer that not only did you start the debate by insulting Joi's knowledge and experience, you then threw the first red herring into the fracas, linking advocacy of emergent democracy with support of Saddam Hussein. I'm sure you know as well as any of us the grade your collegiate forensics teacher would have given you for trying that in a class debate. It's not only wrong, but irrelevant. So, while I believe far too many people spend far too much time worrying about who should apologize to whom first, if this is a concern for you, I offer not only the reasons already put forward here, but an even better one: to be the first to rise above the fray, the first to attempt a return to civil discourse.

Joi Ito banned me from leaving comments and trackbacks on his blog, and then continued to criticize me; that's the act of an intellectual coward, and it precudes me from apologizing to Ito's followers for making them threaten me, not that I'm inclined to do so.

Joi has only threatened to ban you from his blog, at least when last I checked -- and if you read the item, you'll see that he is engaged in public soul-searching about whether or not to do so.

As for whether this makes Joi an intellectual coward, I submit that it does not. I can assure you that he is not afraid of your ideas, but rather frustrated with how you choose to express them, especially when you choose to do so in his blog.

When Joi refuted your assertions about his lack of knowledge of political systems by listing his involvement in Japanese politics over the last 10 years, instead of acknowledging this, you ignored it. Joi remained engaged and attempted to ask you serious questions; your response was to claim that "he believes that electronic communication over the web or some successor to it will someday advance the human race to a state of hyperconsciousness, where our god-like wisdom will make all problems trivial," a purely conjectural (and insulting in its implications) statement supported by neither Joi nor no one who knows him. Joi still didn't take the bait, responding by saying, "I apologize if you find our nerdy utopian view offensive, but I would suggest you come back and attack us after we've assmiliated the constructive feedback and integrated it into our thoughts. My paper is still weak in many ways and we have a long way to go to build a rigorous position."

At no point in the original string of comments did Joi insult you personally. The most insulting thing I could find was in his post on a potential IP ban, in which he said you were "a good example of 'noise' when we talk about the 'signal to noise ratio.'" Given everything you had said about him to that point, that seems a pretty tame response... and your response was to label him a "coward," an epithet which you surely know to be an extremely serious one.

What are you smoking, dude?

I'm not smoking anything. I'm simply trying to help people to find common ground and engage in productive, intelligent discourse.

Note, by the way, that I have tried scrupulously to avoid insulting you in any way, both in my original post on my blog and in my comments here. Yet you respond by implying that I am impaired in some way. Again, I ask you: is this what you want your life to stand for -- for insulting people? It would be a shame to see you go down such a path.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 09:52 PM

Well, Frank, you're right about one thing - Emperor Ito hasn't banned me from leaving comments yet, as I just confirmed by testing. I had assumed he had since his blog rejects my trackbacks, but that could be some administrative screwup.

I'm not going to get involved in a lengthy discussion of who was mean to whom first because Jeff's already covered that; your standards for rudeness are clearly not aligned with mine, and we aren't going to agree. I see nothing wrong with making observations about Ito's general level of political knowledge, while you see that as a vicious personal attack. People actually engaged in politics don't go around bowing and scraping unctuous platitudes such as your proposed: "Based on what I've read of it, I disagree with fundamental aspects of your thesis on emergent democracy. I'd like to understand your ideas better and engage you in a discussion about them." There aren't enough hours in the day for that kind of crap - watch C-Span sometime, or better yet, Prime Minister's Questions from the UK. Politics is Rough and Tumble, not a rarefied exercise in sissyhood. You believe passionately in your position, and you advocate for it, you don't appease and you don't conciliate.

Your pal Ito and his followers are actually in favor of leaving Saddam Hussein in power, and I'm not making that up; they have lots of reasons for supporting that status quo having to do with pacifism and unilateralism, but the end result is to leave him in power. This seriously undermines their commitment to democracy, in my book, and that's the only one I'm writing.

So no, I'm not apologizing to anybody about anything, and I stand by my position, my phrasing, and my commitment to real democracies for real people. If you think I'm wrong, then make an argument on substance, because your stylistic attack is boring me to death.
Posted by Richard Bennett at February 28, 2003 10:25 PM

I was going to post a response to this, but it's clearly hopeless. I'm done here.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 10:55 PM

And I am done with this.

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