Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some Net Pet Peeves

Okay, a few pet peeves. I suppose these can be traced to the nature of the net, which affords everyone the opportunity to air his two cents irrespective of an addle-pated, baseless content. The main peeves to which I'll confine attention are: 1) drive by comments, in response to blog entries, and 2) extensive and annoying carping about certain online book reviews being "too long" or "off the mark" , and 3) more 'negative for the sake of negative' comments on, including with deflective personal overtones irrelevant to the review's actual contents.

Some readers may wonder, indeed a few have emailed to inquire, why this blog was changed from a free-wheeling one (accepting all comments as written and posted), to a moderated one. The reason is simple. I got tired of having to address one or more of the clueless faction of the commentariat who either couldn't read properly or were unable to muster coherent arguments for their criticisms.

I discovered this early, not long after the blog got underway, with an article entitled: 'Further Speculations on the Nature of UFOs'. This entry hadn't been up three days when it drew the attention of a "John Hyatt" (not sure if that is a real name) who felt obligated to write:

"Did you ever hear of occams razor? What a load of wordy crap.You might as well be talking of fairys and elves. Pathetic."

In response to this 'drive by' comment, which is how I regarded it - as all he did is sling mud without validating or supporting his charges, I wrote that "Ockham's Razor" - compliments of William of Ockham, was a most useful adjunct when one is proposing or formulating HYPOTHESES. Such as a hypothesis for the inception or triggering of a solar flare via stressed magnetic fields. However, the title of the article clearly states: SPECULATIONS on the UFO. The implication being either "Mr. Hyatt" couldn't read, or was an imbecile.

I added, in response to his "load of wordy crap" charge:

"When I entertain speculations, I am under no compunction or obligation to impose any economy of method such as would be apropos for a HYPOTHESIS. "

And also:

"Why the need to be so belligerent and acerbic? You know it IS possible to object without being objectionable. I do it all the time.If you can summon reasons as to why you regard the article as a "load of crap" I would be most interested in seeing them, minus the emotional piffle and knee-jerk reactions. "

I expected Mr. Hyatt to provide some semblance of coherent and rational rejoinder, but what I actually received in his next comment was more typical of a beginning, third form English student:

"I hesitate to characterize any of your endeavors as I have no idea what you are trying to say, therefore I would rather be succinct and say you have no idea what you are talking about and as such should not waste the time of those trying to understand the role of intelligence in the universe. My criticisms are not meant to offend, only to inform.I have neither the time nor energy to explain what you have got wrong"

Of course, logically, it isn't possible to claim to offer criticism if one fails to understand what's been written, as Hyatt even admits. While he wails about the need to be "succinct" he fails to put this in context, i.e. as to HOW being succinct improves on the speculations. He also fails to grasp - again!- the piece is not a scientific paper but a speculative essay. He then concedes he "lacks the time and energy to explain" what he's convinced I got wrong. At this point I, and some others, dismissed him as an idiot or imbecile. (He did get some support from a "Michael" also commenting, but those who found the blog piece met its indicated marks, let him have it too.)

Now, so we get this clear, I have NO complaints about people-readers exercising their free speech rights and making any sort of comments to do with blog articles, entries. Even critical ones, provided the criticism is accompanied by sound reasoning and coherent formulation of WHY they proffer criticism. NO cop-outs by saying "Sorry, but there's no time to explain". Then the writer will be dismissed as a pest or an idiot.

What I simply can't abide is the nihilistic, 'drive by' critique that advances nothing, sets no standards, and merely amounts to a self-indulgent barrage of complaints, such as John Hyatt demonstrated. In the end, I had to offer the only advice I could to him, since even after being pulled up as being somewhat less than a Mensan he continued his complaining:

"My best advice to you, for what it's worth, is to look for greener pastures wherein your informational needs and priorities are more likely to be met- since obviously I am unable to provide them"

Some time later, with Pastor Mike and his holier-than-thou sidekick Renee barraging the blog with their comments, I opted to change the dynamic to ensure all comments could be moderated. No, this was not the ideal I had originally in mind, but it met the practical need of permitting me to act as the gatekeeper and filter out unwanted comments (especially drive bys) - including dozens bearing incomprehensible kilobytes sent by some person or persons of the Chinese persuasion, unable to express themselves in English.

Now, as to the commenters on the book review forums, what can I say? Well, many of these people also display the yen to fire off dismissive, drive by takedowns without explanation or a single reason to vent as they did. Since there is no way to moderate or filter these, even when the writer knows absolutely nothing of what s/he is complaining about, all one can do is respond and try to impart some manner of order to a disorderly mind.

Yes, it is also possible to offer no comment, but what I've found from experience is that ordinary lurkers, readers will then conclude you have no answer to the criticisms.

One of the more annoying cases involves a book review I did several years ago on a purported theology-cum-anthropology monograph ('Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief ') by anthropologist Roland Stark. Amazingly, crtitical comments are still issuing forth, though admittedly not anywhere near as many as in the wake of the book review's publication. About 70% of the complainers have vented that the review was "too long" - or didn't do the man justice. Interesting, despite the claim it was so long, they still managed to get through it.

But as at least one common sense commentator (Denise Watson) pointed out, I believe on page 2 of the six pages of comments, to do less would have been almost a herculean task given I had some 14 baseless claims of Stark's to address from his first chapter alone. As she put it, to really neutralize ALL the Stark points likely would have taken a small thesis, of maybe 25,000 words, but I did it in less than 3,000. So that had to count for something!

What most annoyed me, however, was a recent comment (yesterday) from a person calling herself "Ivy M. Godfrey" who - instead of attending to the core reasons why she (obviously) detested the review, chose instead to zero in on my qualifications for writing it:

"Do think you're more intelligent than Dr. Stark? perhaps more qualified? How many published peer-reviewed journal articles do you any field? When did you receive a Ph.d from an accredited school?"

This prompted my response:

"Actually, none of these is any of your business. (Though yes, I am a member of Intertel and Mensa). YOU are not an inquisitor, or a lawyer. This is not a court, and I'm not obliged to attend to any diversionary, insipid, busy body questions that have nothing to do with addressing the core issues or arguments salient to my review.

Either: a) the arguments I submitted have merit in the review, or b) they do not. Which is it? If YOUR perception is (b) then submit a rational, coherent rejoinder explaining where and how I've fallen short. Can you do that? As opposed to spurious personal inquiries (a form of ad hominem) which accomplishes nothing.

These are merely transparent efforts on your part to deflect attention and indirectly impugn my review, possibly because you're unable to make even a rudimentary case of your own (in Stark's defense) or write your own review. If you can't write your own review to defend the great man Stark, then at least post a comment bearing arguments that logically neutralize my points, and we'll engage on that level. That, as opposed to the sterile, personal and peripheral one of how many qualifications I have, from where, and so forth. "

Her comment aroused my ire because more and more I've been seeing and reading this sort of claptrap on assorted net forums, usually pulled out when the critic is too lazy or brain-dead to mount a proper, logical response encompassing what exactly their grievances are - and why they felt so compelled to offer them. It's more economic to try to deflect attention using the (ad hominem) ploy of the reviewer's or writers "qualifications", suggesting that if these are below a certain standard (.e.g a Theology Ph.D. degree to critique a theology text- which is unadulterated gibberish, it isn't on)

But the pursuit of truth is independent of how many degrees or certificates one has, or what level they are, or even what subjects they're in. But that is how corrupted our present day dialogue in the cultural wars has become, that now people look for "qualifications" even if simple logic and being able to use English would enable them to pinpoint and express the reasons for their dislike of a blog piece or book review.

But because they are too lazy or mentally inept, they attempt to take the easy path and reduce the issues to the target's "qualifications". Then, of course, the argument becomes one of "qualifications" of the reviewer or author as opposed to the epistemology, or underlying logic and ontology inherent in the content.

People, if they have comments, ought to try to strive for the highest standards, especially in the realm of critiquing public reviews of serious monographs on science, philosophy or theology. When they expediently choose the drive by or personal attack gambit instead they not only do an injustice to the reviewer, and the original book author - but to themselves as well. They do this because they convey the impression of possessing an inferior intellect when that may be the farthest thing from the truth.

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