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September 02, 2006


Your post makes me think of two things:

1) I can't decide if this is good, bad, or ugly, but I'm struck by how modern ways allow for us to so frequently see people break down in public.

It's of course the rise of unscripted public interactions--sometimes things like talk shows (I recall, for instance, reading about how Farrah Fawcett gave the impression of being fairly far off the rails during a talk show appearance some years ago; or, more recently, Tom Cruise's scenery-chewing declaration de l'amour eternal pour Katie) but more frequently the high-speed give-and-take of blogs, where the desire not to leave a strike against you hanging leads people to frequently reply intemperately.

There's a dangerous and heady combination: part of it is the rising frequency of things that you feel the need to respond to, that in other words, impinge upon you deeply enough that it offends your sense of self not to respond, and part of it is the sense of having a public forum to speak--even those of us who are just commenters know there's a chance that many people may see what we write.

This combination seems to be a sort of devil's liquor for people like Lee Siegel. Lacking your basic decency, though, hilzoy, I feel little but schadenfreude wrt him.

2) Like many people, I almost never argue with the desire of changing my interlocutor's mind. Nor in general do I get any satisfaction of the contest itself (unless I'm arguing about, e.g., when Metallic became teh suxxors or whether the Cubs will ever win a world series). My only interest is in the hopes of persuading third parties towards the views I hold, or at least towards reconsideration of their views that I opppose.

It seems to me that taking the high road, as Ezra has in this matter, is quite a bit more likely to win people to his side--in this case, the side of temperance and reason, as well as assuming that he is a gentleman and Siegel is not, which seems to be a more accurate representation of the world than the converse would be. Of course, there are many people who would view Ezra's restraint as weak--presume that it is a sign he doesn't have the moral fortitude to attack Siegel as he could. But those are the kind of people whose views we should do as little to accommodate as possible.

Right on. I wonder if anyone else here caught Ezra on C-Span this morning? We on the left are lucky to have this guy around -- he can talk as well as he can write.

Well atleast Glenn Greenwald has some company now.

Let me note three things in re my earlier comment:

1) I sort of overused 'frequency' in the second and third paragraphs.
2) I shouldn't have left the final 'a' off Metallica, even if they are teh suxxors now.
3) `opppose' means you REALLY oppose something, so much so that spittle flies from your mouth when you speak (sort of like a Klingon being emphatic.)

The first bit of that comment was provoked by my current reading, Thomas Homer-Dixon's _The Ingenuity Gap_, in which he basically argues that changes in the world are leading to more and more situations in which the need suddenly occurs for great quantities of human problem-solving ability, i.e. ingenuity, and this is very dangerous. Homer-Dixon (allow me to mention tangentially this name makes me think of Homer Simpson fighting the Civil War) actually mentions one of the problems being that our social networks, or rather the number of people with whom we must interact regularly, have grown to very large numbers. He refers to the research that suggests that the optimum size of human groups is 150-200 (mostly by Robin Dunbar, whose _Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language_ is a very enjoyable read), and points out that in these days. our number of regular contacts are generally much higher. I see meltdowns like Siegel's as perhaps owing, in part, to that overload. That's what I was trying to get at.

I appreciate Ezra's point about how the world has changed too fast for Siegel and I would suggest that a lot of the friction we have with some on the conservative side is that they have difficulty accepting this speed of change. However, absent finding a way to have them realize that their problem is with the speed of change, I'm not so sure that the tempered approach that Ezra takes is the best, especially if Gilliard's observation that Siegel wasn't just trying to insult Ezra, but to do actual harm applies. As can be seen by bril's comment, the tempered approach might be pretty meaningless if you've got people who treat someone really losing it as an opportunity for simple tit for tat.

Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than hilzoy will ever be. Who am I? If you knew who I was you and your Obsidian Wings buddies would crap in your pants. Anyway, I really do have two kids, and hilzoy wants to have sex with them.

JakeB: Personally, I have always found that in moments of confusion, the delete key is my friend, and that its existence compensates to some extent for the wondrous public meltdown opportunities provided by the internet. I think Siegel's problem was less insufficient problem-solving ability and more insufficient self-restraint. That said, I think your comments are really interesting.

bril: there is no evidence that Greenwald, as opposed to someone living with him, used sock puppets. As I'm sure you know.

Oh, and as Atrios pointed out, and Eli Sleeg already knows, Sprezzatura has a blog.

"...to explain how they see things clearly but without malice, and to treat their attacker more fairly than he would ever dream of treating them."

"Obviously, many folks here are unaware of the technique of smiling as you drive the blade of your knife home..." ...Petey, over at Ezra's in comments. I don't know if this is fair or true, but Petey's been around, and this strikes me as more true than sainthood. Ezra may understand that personal grudge matches are rarely profitable, which makes it interesting that he is engaged in one with Jonah Goldberg.

I really preferred your earlier description about the quiet observer avoiding the pitfalls. I am not saying Ezra is passive-aggressive or anything; I am just saying he is no saint. The only blog saints I know hang out here. It is interesting that we all to a degree become interested in each other's personalities (and personas) but it was inevitable when tens of thousands of words got written.

As someone who has mistakenly been called magnaminous, I do understand that like all virtues, magnanimity and compassion can be an escape, a defense, and even a vice. I don't much believe in world of mostly nice people and a few jerks; just a bunch of people, a lot of styles and strategies, and the comforts of objectification and categorizarion.

I like everybody. I don't like anybody.

I assume that's imaginary cat pee you add.

you're hitting on the meta-question (sorry) that I was aiming at. That is, not only is there the issue of whether Ezra or Der Siegel is the "good guy", but there's also the more general question of how do you act in general. Ezra in this case acts like a gentleman, without even the deeply enjoyable but slightly more questionable wit-rapier use of a James Wolcott, for instance. Personally, being a little old-fashioned, I hope that such examples tend to give people the idea that there are advantages to behaving that way when possible. (I'm thinking of this, of course, in light of the utterly base behavior of certain prominent politicians in this country. That's in part why it seems like an important question more generally. I find the sacrifice of civility to be deeply disturbing as a trend. Public manners are too important to be left to politicians. Or something like that.)

I'm not up on the particulars of any personal grudge/feud between Ezra and Goldberg, but the difference in the Siegel case is that Siegel seems to be a genuinely disturbed individual, whereas Goldberg is simply vile; hence, Ezra's magnanimity.

you're hitting on the meta-question

Woo, woo! JakeB, if you'd like to put up a guest post at TiO (formerly HoCB) 'where we do meta and it does us', I'll put it up. (I think Jackmormon and DaveC won't mind). Let me know at my gmail.

Sock here.

ho boy. A sad day all around. For my buddy, Sprezz, to begin with--but I've said all that already


Now I see this is going to raise all the old stereotypes against us socks, and the process of educating has to start all over again.

Like this bril character. He doesn't seem to realize that there's nothing wrong with sock-puppets. It's what they say that matters.

You saw what DeLong did, right? He took each of the posts that Sprezzatura wrote, and then he by-lined them "Lee Siegel". It's devastating. It just reinforces the impression you get from Siegel's own posts--the creepy self-obsession, the imbalance, the paranoia, the whiny self-congratulation.

Do the same thing with all those posts that Greenwald is *alleged* to have written, and I don't think you'll find the same effect.

Look, we're socks, okay? It's a living, and it's more than that: it's a calling. We just ask to be judge by the content of our posts, rather than by the company we keep.

Sock, that sucks, man, I feel for you, but don't forget to keep upgrading those skills, like being able to do links, as being able to deliver searing prose, but not being able to link to it is like some metaphor that I can't come up with. You are your body of work, and not being able to link would deny everyone the pleasure of seeing your full tapestry.

Of course, I should be working on upgrading my linking ability. Here's my retake on the test. Darn it.

Not that anyone cares, but I just realized I'm short an 'e' and I wanted to apologize. That's just lazy anagramming, is what that is. I'll go back to just reading what other people say now.

thanks, lj.

simple kindness always cheers me up.

As someone who has mistakenly been called magnaminous...

Maybe they were mistakenly calling you mcmanimus, not magnanimous? Still a mistake, of course.

Have to agree (admittedly on very little evidence) that Seigel merits sympathy more than condemnation.

What exactly was the point of this post? Who is this moron, and why exactly are we supposed to care?

Your 9th grade english teacher wants to know.

Radish, I can't agree. I write here as someone with severe depression, and also come-and-go cognitive problems that come out of neurological and autoimmune problems. I know what it's like to literally be unable to think straight, and I do have sympathy for that.

But Siegel didn't suddenly get this way overnight. I do believe in cutting people some slack for the time it takes to realize "I am not thinking straight" and to get some help for it. Furthermore, I know from my own experience that the realization of trouble is very often not driven from inside, but from outside, with friends, loved ones, or colleagues insisting that there is a problem and that I've got to get it checked out, even if just to get them off my back. This is all hard stuff, much of the time, and I don't want to sound like I'm downplaying that.

Nonetheless, there comes a point when even sickness is not a good excuse. Siegel's apparently been riding this schtick for years. There comes a point when responsible adults have to look at their own writing and say to themselves, "Wait a minute, advocating the guillotining of everyone wearing a baseball cap in public is stupid. I am not in sufficient control of my emotions, if I'm serious, and if I'm kidding, I really have to work more at my delivery."

Of course blame also has to go to his editors for at least allowing this stuff to go into print and likely egging him on. They too have a responsibility to say "This is not sane or well-balanced. Are we exploiting another writer's instability for the sake of a quick thrill?" There's plenty of good thrills to be had that don't hinge on the babblings of untreated depression and other mental illness. Both they and he should have drawn a line long since, and he should have done something useful about it.

If he'd been otherwise okay at the start of 2003 and that Salon journal were the record of his early descent, then I would have sympathy for him then. From the sound of it, it wasn't, and in either case, the time to have realized a problem was long past by now. We wouldn't admire someone who refuses to get a broken bone set or an impacted wisdom tooth removed; I think we should regard the refusal to deal with depression in exactly the same light.

I also suspect that depression isn't the (main) problem, narcissism is. Clinical diagnostics here:

"A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes"

The question how much sympathy one should have for narcissists is a tricky one. On the one hand, the (small number of) people I've known who clearly fit the bill, notably including the person I talked about in the main post, pretty clearly have something badly wrong with them. On the other, what's so wrong is a combination of things that are, arguably at least, not so much clear incapacities that no one could possibly overcome as things that make someone unwilling to behave like a decent person.

I mean: is it impossible for someone who is not cognitively impaired to recognize that he is behaving horribly, manipulating people, attacking them for no reason, and so forth? Narcissists don't suffer from psychosis or delusions; they don't think that the people they attack really are (for instance) the Devil, or something. They just assume that other people, not being as special as they are, simply don't matter.

(For years before the person I described in my main post went after me, I was pals with him; we had a professional relationship, and I was just as glad to be able to get along with him, and also, on occasion, to try to talk him down from some of the things he thought of doing. He thought that only brilliant scholars mattered at all, and that morality was something one only needed to be concerned about if one was one of those ordinary non-brilliant non-scholarly people. As he thought he was a brilliant scholar, he assumed that he had no need for common human decency. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that I was brilliant too, and regarded my interest in ethics as a sort of quaint but endearing quirk of mine.)

There are bits of depression about which it's unclear whether they're forced on you or chosen, but large swaths of it -- the changes in affect and energy, the frozenness, the replacement of all one's normal emotions with nameless terror, self-loathing, and deadness -- are not. In the narcissist's case, this is not true. It's more as though things that most of us can control -- a desire to believe things that are flattering to us, the temptation to disregard the interests of others when they interfere with our emotional needs, a capacity for self-deception, a need for some sense that we are important or special -- have been allowed to run unchecked for so long that the narcissist has forgotten how to control them, or even that there is an alternative to letting them run riot.

There are dangers we all run, psychologically, that we can usually get ourselves out of, like letting ourselves kid ourselves about something important: it's dangerous to give yourself over to falsehood, but most people can and do find their way home somehow. Narcissists seem to me to be people who, perhaps quite early on, dropped the thread they were relying on to get out of the labyrinth. And once Ariadne picks up her strings and goes home, it's very hard to find your way back again.

I am a little skeptical of personality disorders, seeing as how:

1) psychiatrists & social workers tend to use them in conversation as substitutes for "b*tch" and "assh*le".

2) there isn't so much a treatment, and in at least one case, there's a dispute over whether you should tell the person s/he has this diagnosis because they might use it as an excuse for their behavior.


1. They might do so jokingly, but there's a real difference. There are plenty of b's & a's out there who have a reasonable sense of self-interest; they just like being mean, or are overly forgiving of their own meanness, but they can more or less calculate what they can get away with, and they may be genuinely loyal and affectionate to their friends and loved ones. Personality disorders don't show that kind of flexibility - the normal human range is not available to them. Sociopaths can fake empathy, but not well, and they tend to get unbearably bored if they're not doing something harmful. Borderlines are consistently manipulative and destructive in ways that rarely help them at all. Paranoids (the non-psychotic kind) have huge difficulty reacting to anything as other than a threat. Most laymen, after spending much time around these folks, would tend to call them "crazy" rather than a B or an A; the notion of personality disorders is a slightly more sophisticated way of describing the craziness.

2. There are plenty of diagnosable conditions where there isn't a treatment, and where knowing about it might not help; what's your point? But psychotherapy for personality disorders is not unheard of - in the rare cases where the person has some insight into their harmful pattern & a desire to change it.

Katherine: I'm with Hob on this one. That a diagnosis has no treatment isn't an argument against its being a good one; we diagnosed cancer for ages before there was any treatment at all. And similarly for the fact that it's overused, maybe seriously overused.

Back in the day, when I was a counselor, I felt the same about codependency: I had read the literature, and thought there was a real syndrome out there, but that neither stopped me from thinking that there were people who used the term a lot too often, nor did their overusing it stop me from thinking that it was useful if used properly.

What exactly was the point of this post? Who is this moron, and why exactly are we supposed to care?

Forgive me if I am missing some sort of subtextual humor here but I read this brief comment a few times and I can't quite figure it out. Hilzoy rather obviously tells us who "this moron" is in the first paragraph and contextualizes the controversy surrounding him in that same paragraph. Her point is all the stuff she said after that. She even goes to the trouble of writing a concluding paragraph that summarizes here point beginning it with the phrase "the point of all this is..." I am not sure how any of this could be clearer to an 9th grade english teacher or anyone else for that matter.

I am honestly confused by Johanna's comment and I normally wouldn't care except that it has the mysterious quality of seeming cryptic to me despite being a brief and rather straightforward comment.

brent: a mystery to me too. But then, no one ever said I got to understand everything ;)

Psst, Hilzoy, check your email.

Hilzoy: I agree that it's tempting to see such people as wilfully deranged rather than helpless. If someone is literally seeing or hearing imaginary things, an irrational response seems more excusable. If someone has covered your windshield with an animated poster of the Painted Desert, then your driving will suffer.

But I think this leaves out another important part of what drives our behavior: internal feedback. If your windshield is clear, but your speedometer always shows 10 mph below your real speed - or your turn signals blink inside the car, but not outside - your driving will have different kinds of problems, which look like pure carelessness but aren't really. And being able to "step out of the car" to check, when the car is your head - given that most people don't think of a real distinction between the dashboard and Reality - takes an unusual degree of insight, especially if you're distracted by those stupid people who are always complaining about your driving.

You can see this with some drugs: cocaine, for instance, doesn't automatically turn people into arrogant schmucks, but when everything you say and do is rewarded with the internal equivalent of "you're doing a heckuva job, Brownie", you're more likely to stray into that lane (just as the passivity of depression is an understandable response, when the internal feedback for everything is "that didn't work"). I doubt that personality disorders will turn out to have such a simple mechanism, but I don't think people are simple as just "free will" versus "bonkers" either.

Psst, David, check yours ;)

I forget sometimes that I have an idiosyncratic approach to personality problems. For starters I tend not to make any bright line between "the accumulated bad habits of twits" and "the wholly chemically treatable results of purely organic disfunction"; in my experience, the two shade together and often reinforce each other, and success as I've seen it usually involves both getting to good health and getting some sound counsel on not acting like that kind of jerk. I also note that the organic problem can very often be something like low (or high) thyroid, sleep apnea, heart irregularities, insufficient stomach acid, or any of a myriad other things. I'm really serious about regular physicals as a key to a functioning industrial society.

I have a very bad habit of saying "depression" without expanding it out to "and all the vast array of other psychological problems that get in the way of being a successful human being". Like, say, narcissism. :)

I also don't think there's a miracle cure for any of this stuff, nor any magic bullet that gives us awareness into our own brokenness. It can be almost anything. But the more people around us expect decent behavior and reward it, and point out (politely, one hopes, most of the time) and discourage indecent behavior like hyperbole transforming into abuse, the mroe chances we have of catching it in time to do something about it before we hurt ourselves and others more.

To take a practical example: the pause that I sometimes have to give myself before venting as I might wish because of the posting rules here spares me much grief later. I have to make fewer apologies and feel fewer regrets. This is good. This is health-promoting, for a sense of "health" that encompasses both physical and mental well-being. And yes, sometimes it has made me pause long enough to realize that, oh, I need to take extra of the immune-boosting mix I take because I really must have gotten more stressed than I realized, and yes, I'm teetering much closer to a seizure episode than I realized. Taht'st he sort of big benefit a small noodge can be, for those of us in need.

The very hardest part is when I'm so broken I don't even want to be better. I've been there, and it's very hard, and I don't underestimate it for anyone else...but I also see that it's necessary sometimes to work at these things no matter how they seem to me at the moment.

Man. Who could have imagined this topic of all topics generating so much insightful, empathetic analysis? Only at ObWi...

And, radish, thanks for this laugh that has brightened the whole day:
[to Bob]: Maybe they were mistakenly calling you mcmanimus, not magnanimous?

Nell, I'd bet that a solid plurality of us have felt things that would incline us to write stuff like Siegel, and that a significant minority of us have actually done it. Fortunately for us, usually in less prominent venues.

"Maybe they were mistakenly calling you mcmanimus, not magnanimous?"

I am the mcmanissimus or the mcmagnus, sometimes the mcmousimus.

Seeking the etymology of the last name has been a failure, multiple possible Latin and Scandanavian roots. Could be "Son of the Great One". Could be "Fruit of Self Abuse"

bob m: I usually just think of you as the Magnanimagus...

Bruce B, point taken. The only Seigel I've read has been a few articles referred to recently by bloggers, all of which struck me as genuinely delusional and otherwise uninteresting. But yes, there is the accountability issue.

I tend to cut people slack about this because when I was in my twenties I got a lot closer to "losing the thread" (thank you hilzoy!) than I would have previously thought possible for a person without a built-in chemical imbalance. I can't deny that I'm proud in some sense of having (apparently) managed to hold onto the thread. But I think it could easily have gone the other way, plus I've since spent an extended period around a classic bipolar (whose problems were entirely chemical in nature) and another extended period around a classic NPD (no chemical issues and behaviorally pretty much a ringer for W). All of which have meant a lot of "there but for the grace of Whichever Deity go I" moments.

Nell, thanks, and you're welcome -- I couldn't believe it hadn't already been done ;-)

I'd like to point to Sprezz's post here at 2006-08-27 17:05:24 just as a classic case of projection, so we can all observe what it looks like:

You have quite an obsession with Siegel! Sounds to me like you're an envious young writer. I mean, first you have a wife and two kids, and now you're a poor young lawyer with time to write extended tirades against Siegel. Men with two children don't take time out to defend obscure academics from charges of pedophilia, their defense replete with (pretentious) references to ancient Greek categories of desire! If I had to guess, you're this person Mark Greif himself. Or someone in his circle. Every young write in NYC has it in for poor Siegel it seems. They all write like middle-aged hacks. He has the fire and guts of a young man (I assume he's middle-aged himself, or somewhere near there.) Who am I? Someone who knows who you are.
Italics mine.

I have both a great deal to say about a variety of things Hilzoy has written here, but very little wish to say most of it.

Specifically, I've been hated and stalked, at a number of times in my writing life, both by people I don't know from a hole in the wall, to a small degree, and by people I once thought were close friends, who went on to do significant damage to my life, to someone who was once a lover, whom I only slowly grew to realize had a huge sociopathic streak, compulsively lied, compulsively enjoyed manipulating all the lovers she'd ever had over decades, going back to her early teen years, and into her forties (I got to know many of them, and many of us eventually ended up compared detailed notes), and even compulsively manipulating not just every man attracted to her (she's brilliant, charming, and used to be highly attractive), and is also highly admired, immensely popular, and very well-known in her field.

However, only those who got to know her extremely well know how large the sociopathic, malicious, streak is in her, let alone how overwhelmingly it dominates her personality, beyond her famous charm and wit and brilliance. (Both in person and in writing.)

When she eventually turned it against me, I saw, unfortunately, no alternative in responding to her smears of me (which had the benefit of some quarter-truths to give the overall false storyline credibility), but to withdraw from all social and professional areas we had formerly shared. Her credibility in our communities was and is top-notch (save with a handful of people); mine, due to the smears, and some otherwise tangential issues (my depression and screw-ups, basically), was damaged and far less. The only way to fight back would have been to attempt to accurately damage her credibility, and a) I'm constitutionally unable to be 1/100th as vicious as her, or consciously vicious at all -- I just could never, ever, try to hurt someone that way, especially when I once cared about them; and b) it wouldn't have worked, anyway.

So I wound up with my social and professional life severely crippled, and I lost a ton of former friends.

But I simply don't know any better solution to that sort of thing, when the situation is so utterly unequal; not that works for me, anyway.

Which brings me to the one comment of Ezra that I noted apparently makes me entirely different from him. He wrote:

I've been a blogger for three-and-a-half years now, and I well know the business end of an angry readership with instant feedback mechanisms. The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming. Almost. But most of us resist the urge, take the lashing and move on.
Now, the last sentence is the most significant, and I won't make much of this therefore, but the fact is that in a mere eleven or so years of doing this sort of writing and interacting online, and with twenty-three or so years before that of doing the same exact sort of exchanging comments in print via weekly or monthly or bi-monthly science fiction amateur press association apazines, and fanzines, never once has it ever, ever, EVER occurred to me for even a passing microsecond to create a false identity to support myself in an argument/feud/fight/while under attack.

The thought that it should even cross my mind has never, in thirty-five years, crossed my mind, until I read this 'graph of Ezra's some minutes ago.

Now, to some degree I suppose that might be because I've been doing this so long, but the fact is that sock-puppets were just as common/uncommon in sf fanzines back when I started writing in them thirty-five years ago, and were for decades before that, going back to the 1930s.

So it's not that the example wasn't there. I can only conclude that some people lean towards thinking that giving themselves that sort of fake-external validation would feel good, and others scratch their heads and think "what good would that possibly do me?"

Because I certainly very much appreciate actual validation from actual people when I'm being unfairly attacked (as I perceive it): very much!

And I feel quite badly when others don't stick up for me in a fight, as a rule; at least, if it's any sort of serious attack from anyone with credibility (mere trolls I don't care about).

But I can't imagine why I'd feel better faking a response from a non-existent person. I don't mean to be self-righteously indignant here, which is probably what I sound like, but I literally don't understand why it would make me feel better. It would make me feel far worse! I'd feel unbelievably pathetic if I thought I had to create a sock-puppet, that I was so far out of line that no one would speak up for me, and I had to pretend to be someone else.

These are the sorts of things that make me feel like an alien, if even a fine fellow like Ezra says that "temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming."

Because to me it's about as tempting as jumping in a toilet bowl filled with s**t, and yelling "look at me!"


Do many people here feel an overwhelming temptation, at times, or any sort of temptation at all, to create sock-puppets?

Then there's also the question of how to deal with a paranoid person, whom you like, but whom frequently seems to decide, for no visible or externally explicable reason, that your comments are about them, and are hostile, when you actually have little but positive feelings about them, and weren't even talking about them in the first place. I don't know much about what to do about that, either, other than try to, regretfully, limit conversation with them so as to not feed the paranoia more than you have to, even though you're sad that you can't, apparently, have more enjoyable conversations, given that you share a lot of interests. (I've known at least a handful of people over the decades of whom this was true.)

But then there are so many other social problematic questions I could bring up to wonder about.

Of course, my slight inclination in the direction of Asperger's, as measured by this test, is likely relevant as regards me in particular. (Although I've noticed that other people I know scored even higher.)

Gary, I scored 128/200 on that test, but I concur with your skepticism on it. Question 22: "Can you read between the lines?" I thought, "What are you getting at?"

Gary, there's a reason I said plurality and minority. I don't think that sock puppeting is all that common an urge. It's just that I don't think it's a totally alien one to some fraction of the people who think about the problem of verifying identities in online media (like their predecessors who thought about the same issue for print).

Solely a desire for sock-puppeting, I can't say, but acting different roles? Being a different character? Casting off the strictures of who you were and becoming someone else? Wanting to create a group that is 'in' on a joke, so acting in a way to fool someone? Pretty common, I'd say, and I'd suggest that sock puppetting (puppeteering?) comes from that. The growth of the internet (and the decline of civility on it) isn't fueled by people anxious hewing precisely to who they are IRL, but to lots and lots of people writing lots and lots of stuff that they would be embarassed to say in front of their colleagues or friends. The problem with sock puppeting is that because it lacks any feedback mechanisms (because of its very nature), it is going to be resorted to by people who aren't going to be able to draw lines.

Or what Bruce said, sorry about not hitting preview this time.

"The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming. Almost. But most of us resist the urge, take the lashing and move on."

Worth remembering that this is Ezra in magnanimous mode.

So when "even a fine fellow like Ezra says that "temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming"," it's worth keeping in mind that he may not feel it, himself.

Can't speak for him, of course.

"Solely a desire for sock-puppeting, I can't say, but acting different roles? Being a different character? Casting off the strictures of who you were and becoming someone else? Wanting to create a group that is 'in' on a joke, so acting in a way to fool someone? Pretty common, I'd say,"

I'd agree, but I regard those was entirely different characteristics.

But I experimented with showing a somewhat different aspect of my personality pretty much every year of elementary school, I'd say, as I tried to figure out a way to be "me," and not too unpopular. One year I was class clownish; the year I was Mr. Smarty-Pants Know-it-all didn't work out too well; another year I was just very very quiet; and so on.

And I like being a member of a group sharing a joke and other characteristics as much as the next person, while being slightly irritated at not being in on the joke as much as the next person.

And while I'm largely the same person in writing wherever I go, that's as much out of long experience and laziness and having gotten experimenting with putting forward different sides of myself largely out of my system by the end of my teen years, I've never ever ever, as I said, considered creating a sock puppet.

"Question 22: 'Can you read between the lines?' I thought, 'What are you getting at?'"

I did my best to try to interpret the questions as much as possible as reflecting the unsaid assumption "in ways beyond that normal people do," since it's my understanding that that was the intention, but I agree that it was un-stated, and some of the questions were therefore obscure in intent, and peculiarly or badly worded (not to mention occasionally mis-spelled).

But I've always had these problems with almost all verbal tests, since early childhood, in objecting to, in many questions, lack of clarity, apprently unintentioal ambiguity, and so on. Which is, I think, both valid, and part of being slightly Asperger's-inclined. :-)

(Similarly going with being slightly so inclined are, I think, my being, as people familiar with me here and elsewhere know, nit-picky (punctilious! exacting! careful!), somewhat oblivious at times to being unintentionally condescencing or obnoxious, and so on.)

"The growth of the internet (and the decline of civility on it) isn't fueled by people anxious hewing precisely to who they are IRL, but to lots and lots of people writing lots and lots of stuff that they would be embarassed to say in front of their colleagues or friends."

An interesting thought, and supported by the widespread use of pseudonyms; the fact that I pretty much amn't motivated by that at all goes along with the fact that I've always written and posted under my real name, and never for a moment have considered doing otherwise.

On the other hand, my making a fool of myself under my own name is hardly, as we know, utterly uncommon.

Digressing back for a moment to that quote of Sprezzatura I gave earlier I'm amused to note this part: "He has the fire and guts of a young man (I assume he's middle-aged himself, or somewhere near there.)"

Rather revealing bit of detail, innit? Complimentary, but also assuming knowledge not particularly in evidence.

But gosh, imagine slathering one's self in praise like that, and the other Sprezz comments -- which is archtypical sock-puppet behavior, of course.

There's naught so queer as folk.

"Worth remembering that this is Ezra in magnanimous mode."

Fair enough. And I wasn't trying to pick on Ezra, to be very clear; I enjoy and admire Ezra's writing; I was just startled at that sentiment.

For what it's worth, I have never had the desire to sock-puppet (leaving aside the (to me) completely different matter of using an obviously fake (= non-hilzoy) name like, oh, "rilkefan's conscience piping up again", or some such thing, as part of a joke.) Generally, if I want to stick up for myself, I do; it never occurs to me to try to seem more numerous than I am.

I also assumed that Ezra was either being magnanimous or talking about some completely trivial whim, the sort that appears as if from a random thought generator in your head, and is immediately batted down.

"it never occurs to me to try to seem more numerous than I am."

obligatory Whitman quote.

(you can find it in any Sampler).

I'd agree, but I regard those was entirely different characteristics.

Binary characteristics, when viewed from a distance, tend to look like gradients, though that might just be because my glasses are always like factory windows.

But Gary, we once had this discussion about real names and pseudonyms after you gave a ringing defense of you being you,and only you to the point of telling people to come on over to your place if they had a problem, and I think Jackmormon pointed out some important caveats with that. The fact that you are the exception rather than the rule (and I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong with that) tells us something, I think.

And it's not that everyone rushed to the internet with the idea that they were going to be fitted for a new persona, but as it became apparent that you were basically responsible for framing the window thru which people viewed you, it was a gradual but inevitable process and the temptation to move the window a few inches or to punch out a whole new window might have been too much for some. I've always tried to be honest (I hope), but I believe everyone has had the desire to 'wind the clock back' and start an argument over again, like replaying a card game when you played the wrong card. (Or, when younger, that failed romantic opportunity?) That desire for a 'do-over' seems to be linked to the sock puppetry, especially with Siegel and Lott, as it seemed that they wanted to restart their arguments afresh.

lj: I completely understand the idea of adopting a persona online. (Consistently.) When I once tried a MUD, before giving up in utter boredom, I was a windowless monad. That's like wearing a costume on Hallowe'en.

What I really don't get is the idea of trying to drum up support for myself by producing a chorus of voices saying 'gosh, hilzoy is being more than usually wise and wondrous today!', or something.

Those who do not learn from Usenet are doomed to reinvent it...badly.

Had Siegel some basic understanding of the history of the medium he could have simply stated that "the lurkers support me in e-mail" and been done with it.

But, was Siegel trying to drum up support, or was he just trying to get in a shot at people he didn't like? Assuming that he was 'drumming up support' gives his behavior a rather benign gloss. It seemed clearly driven by anger. I too am impressed by Ezra's calm, but I think it is important to realize that Siegel's actions seem to have been driven by much more base motivations and thinking that there was a motivation that didn't involve humiliating Ezra is part of that 'playing nice' conundrum that I have been obsessing about.

With Lott, while much of what he wrote as Mary Rosh appeared to drum up support, that sort of stuff appeared in relation to Amazon reviews, when the system was emerging and could be gamed. (I don't know what it is like now, I haven't seen anything). I also think it appeared after Lott's tortured explanations of how his computer ate his data. So I think it is important to realize that the underlying impulse is not to drum up support but to make up for perceived slights and loss of credibility. In this case, as in so many others, the first rule of holes always applies.

lj: true enough. But then I still don't really get the temptation to do a withering put-down as someone else.


obligatory Whitman quote.

(you can find it in any Sampler).

Ah, yes, the Walt Whitman's Chocolate Quote Sampler. One of my favorites. But, really, I wouldn't mind if there were more numerous chocolates.

"but I believe everyone has had the desire to 'wind the clock back' and start an argument over again, like replaying a card game when you played the wrong card. (Or, when younger, that failed romantic opportunity?)"

I certainly understand that desire, and have had it, in both situations.

"That desire for a 'do-over' seems to be linked to the sock puppetry, especially with Siegel and Lott, as it seemed that they wanted to restart their arguments afresh."

In these examples I kinda don't see the connection, though. In both cases, and in many or possibly most sock-puppet examples, the motives strike me as being more along the lines of being able to be more abusive than their official persona would allow (although that more in Lott's case than Siegel's to some degree, since he was originally fairly belligerent), offering self-praise (both slathered themselves with it), and helping "win" their arguments by simply adding to the "numbers" supporting the original persona, as well as being more vehement and offering further arguments.

That is, I take "want[ing] to restart their arguments afresh" as indicating -- and this may not be what you meant -- a desire to make a better argument than their original persona made, and do a better job, and thus recover from an original argument they regretted, which doesn't strike me as the case either in their examples or in most examples of sock-puppetry; instead it seems to me to typically be about these other motives, and about simply supporting the original argument they made, which all you unbelievably stupid people are far too dunderheaded to realize the pure and magnificent genius of, since [ORIGINAL PERSONA] is far too overwhelmingly awesomely huge a thinker, writer, human being, and near-god, for infantile numbnuts like you to begin to understand, let alone appreciate, in his extra-dimensional splendiferousness, which has rarely, if ever, been seen in the history of humanity, and it is therefore to weep that he should deign to honor you with his existence.

"Had Siegel some basic understanding of the history of the medium he could have simply stated that 'the lurkers support me in e-mail' and been done with it."

And then we could all sing Jo Walton's immortal song. (Originally here, but it's gotten around, as it should.)

I think Siegel's problem is less clinical than socio-technological. Yes, he is (and apparently always has been) greatly self-absorbed. Reading his work (esp. the cringe-worthy Slate diary) indicates that his own idea of who is depends almost entirely on his status as a writer, critic, thinker.

He functioned perfectly well within the near-microscopic world of the "little magazines," composed of a few hundred people, and they all knew Lee and put up with his chronic egomania because 1) that's what people do in an insular culture and 2) within that culture, his self-obsession was well within the normal range. He had tens of thousands of readers who could respond only by sending a letter to the publication, which was enough of an effort to screen out all but the most deranged detractors. Had that model continued to the end of his working life, Siegel would have been just fine.

But he was thrown into the internet thresher, and suddenly he's exposed to hundreds of thousands of readers who don't know the rules of the club. They're rabble: shabbily educated, monolingual, obstreperous nobodies. And yet they dare to criticize his writing!

It reminds me of a passage in Listening to Prozac, (I know, I know) in which Kramer describes one of his grandmothers -- rigid, reserved, compulsive. He outlines a society in which those characteristics are desirable, which is totally at odds with ours, which rewards gregarious, adventurous, flexible types.

He thought that only brilliant scholars mattered at all, and that morality was something one only needed to be concerned about if one was one of those ordinary non-brilliant non-scholarly people. As he thought he was a brilliant scholar, he assumed that he had no need for common human decency.

This reminds me of the Picasso Fallacy, which apparently is part of the core curriculum for a fine arts degree. For some students, it is the core curriculum.

Picasso was a great artist.
Picasso also was a tremendous narcissist.
I'm a tremendous narcissist, so I'm a great artist, and losing my tremendous narcissim means I can't be a great artist.

Oh so many layers of idiocy there, and during the years with my ex, I drilled down through them all. Dry hole (in oil bidness terms, you perv) which is why he's an ex.

Good points gary. Clearly, a notion that 'I am so obviously correct, and you can't see it that I have to create a new persona to get you to see it', is another way of looking at it, but I hope that initially, no one is that egotistical, though for some, it is not a big leap. And the notion that you proles are too stupid to know that I'm right suggests the complete absence of support.

It's just trying to figure out how these things happen. I don't think I have had the urge to sock puppet, but I'm not really positive. (this is not to say that you or Hilzoy should reexamine your statements, I just don't think that it is as open and shut a statement, at least for me.) To make a stark example, I have never wanted to kill anyone, but it happens enough that I can't think that I am made of better stuff than other people, so it's important to understand how one gets to that point, if only to make sure to not go near such a path.

hilzoy, he wrote insults as someone else because he'd already had his hand slapped for insulting Ezra writing as himself.

"Picasso was a great artist.
Picasso also was a tremendous narcissist.
I'm a tremendous narcissist, so I'm a great artist, and losing my tremendous narcissim means I can't be a great artist."

A lot of wannabe writers have this, or a variant, as well, let me assure you.

Some also clearly believe that a necessary part of being a writer is to hang out in coffee shops a large number of hours per week, and make notes (it used to be in a notebook; nowadays it's as apt to be a notebook computer) on people, and generally be Arty As Possible; actually writing an entire piece, finishing it, and submitting it anywhere, is largely extraneous to the job description, they clearly believe, which otherwise usually also consists of a lot of complaining about how the publishing system is stacked against True Art so that Only Writers Who Are Hacks And Friends Of The Editor can get published, as well.

Good comments, vetiver.

LJ: "To make a stark example, I have never wanted to kill anyone, but it happens enough that I can't think that I am made of better stuff than other people, so it's important to understand how one gets to that point, if only to make sure to not go near such a path."

I'm certainly not trying to say that I have never had the urge to make a sock puppet because I'm a Better Person; I have no lack of other character flaws; I just don't appear to have that one.

And one of the reasons I'm chatting about this topic is to try to better wrap my head about it and understand it more clearly, precisely because it does seem so alien to me.

I'm with Gary: not making any claim to moral superiority, any more than I would about my more or less total lack of temptation to gamble. It's just lost on me. Like being tone deaf, or something. Other temptations, alas, I'm quite prone to.

But does that keep me from speculating? Hell no! -- Possibly some part of it is that I think you'd have to take criticism and ridicule more seriously than I do to even have the idea cross your mind. -- Or rather: I take it seriously when the critic is right, but I don't particularly get bent out of shape when it's not, unless it rises to the level of real hatred and viciousness, in which case I feel shaken, not vengeful. I suspect this has something to do with coping mechanisms developed while I was an unpopular kid -- if I had minded people not liking me, I would have had to kill myself or something. -- In any case, though, I think one would have to be the sort of person who broods over insults and slights to get into sock puppets.

But since I have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm even more likely to be wrong than usual.

dbomp could be absolutely correct: sometimes the simplest explanation is the actual one.

As to whether one might ever be tempted to sockpuppet on one's own behalf: I don't have a blog, but I did have a livejournal for a while, and I've written and posted fanfic. In neither case did it ever cross my mind to create a sockpuppet "audience."

It's not the inherent dishonesty of the exercise that stopped me. I never even got that far in thinking about it. It's that sock puppetry makes a mockery of why one writes at all. Or (in light of the hypothetical narcissism involved) maybe I should say, sock puppetry makes a mockery of the usual, normative reasons one writes at all. It does so in much the same way, though using very different tactics, that plagiarism does.

I write (and I imagine that most people who write do so) in order to communicate with other people. To tell a story, to air your thoughts and opinions, and share them with other people - because you have, or think you have, something worth sharing. Maybe your only aim is to amuse; maybe you hope for something more valuable. Whatever the reason, you want to present a creation of your own self, of your own mind and insight, and see how other people respond to it.

Plagiarism is presenting other peoples' thoughts and insights as your own. It's stealing, of course, but it's also an admission that you don't think your own mind, your own self, has anything worthwhile to say. That you're incapable of insight, basically.

When (for example) Ben Domenech's defenders dismissed his plagiarized movie reviews as trivial offenses, my reaction was: Good Lord, the man couldn't even be bothered to see the movie himself?? The whole point of writing a review is to explain, in your own words, what the movie meant to you, said to you; whether it lived up to your standards or not; whether it moved you or not. That Domenech apparently felt that minimal effort either beneath him or beyond him didn't strike me as "trivial," but as pathetic.

Ditto sockpuppetry. If you're not writing published works in order to communicate something meaningful with other people, if your goal is to applaud yourself by proxy, what is writing giving you that you couldn't get simply by daydreaming that you're a respected, admired and adored writer? Other than the fact that you've put words down on paper (or on screen), what's the difference, and what's the point?

It just boggles my mind.

"In any case, though, I think one would have to be the sort of person who broods over insults and slights to get into sock puppets."

That might be a necessity, but I'm sure it's not sufficient, because I sometimes brood over insults and slights. At least, while I don't much care about the opinions of people I don't care about, I am disturbed no end when I do one of my patented accidentally offending someone I didn't mean to when I care about that person, and care about their opinion of me, and they insult me back. Then I usually, after unsuccessfully trying to apologize/make up for it, go into some level of funk and depression and brooding about it for some time, ranging from hours to a week or so, sometimes letting it put me off writing comments entirely for that time.

But in those cases, which arise all too frequently (I ticked off someone I like and admire just yesterday, purely unintentionally), what I seek is some way to make up for the offense. A sock puppet would be of utterly no use in that situation.

Basically, there are no situations I've experienced where a sock puppet would meet my particular combination of neurotic responses to any given set of unpleasant arguments or situations with another person, is what it seems to be.

In any such cases where I'd like the support of other people, I need them to be real other people, from whom I'd take comfort in seeing that I'm not the only person who sees the [GIVEN ARGUMENT] that way. I'd be of utterly no use assuring myself that I'm right, as I already either think that, or don't (and presumably I do or I wouldn't be arguing whatever the point is).

And as regards making the argument, whatever it is, per se, I suppose I either feel somewhat confident that I can, or I fear that I'm not able to put it well, or observe that I don't seem able to be adequately communicate my thoughts on the subject. Again, repeating myself under another name wouldn't seem to help in the slightest, there.

But possibly part of it is that I rarely intentionally abuse and insult other people, and even in those cases where I feel that withering sarcasm (beyond my sometimes invisible-to-myself default norm, that is) is appropriate (at least at that moment, if not ten minutes later, looking back), I don't see where doing it under another name would be helpful at all.

But maybe part of that is again a combination of egotism, pride, and honesty, that if I write something, it's me I want to get the credit, blame, or responsibility for it, not some fictional, non-existent, third party.

And lastly, I couldn't contemplate making a sock-puppet without being crippled by hopeless giggles just thinking about how stupid and silly it would be. First would be visualizing a literal sock puppet, which alone would be enough to crack me up beyond all hope of possibly doing it. Then I'd just be stuck contemplating how silly the whole idea was.

Then, if I somehow hypothetically managed to get past that, and somehow convinced myself it was a good idea (I don't know how, but hypothetically), I suspect I'd be stuck endlessly contemplating exactly what sort of personality to create, what its traits should be, why, and I'd be indecisive or stuck doing that until I gave up. I think.

Digressing, I doubt it's significant that like Hilzoy, as I'm fairly sure I've mentioned here before, I also never gamble for money, and have never gambled a penny, or ever bought a lottery ticket. It's slightly amusing that we have both these things in common, though.

CaseyL: "It's that sock puppetry makes a mockery of why one writes at all."

It does seem to, yes, which is why it seems peculiar to me that a significant number of people who write for a living, or as part of their living, get caught doing it.

On the one hand, one might put it down to the inventiveness that goes with a creative mind, I suppose, a la Siegel's musings about "imaginary creatures" or Gunter Grass's referring in his Nobel Prize speech to his "addiction to lying for its own sake rather than for mine because sticking to the truth would have been a bore."

On the other hand, I've known an awful lot of fiction writers, and relatively few have, so far as I know, generally been compulsive liars or significant liars, or created sock puppets.

I suspect the narcissism is another necessary, but insufficient on its own, ingredient. But it's looking to me like a cocktail of specific traits are necessary to engage in sock-puppetry: tendency towards playing with other personalities and identities, narcissism (particularly the desire to put one over on other people together with a lack of ethical concern about this, and a key element of feeling that one's worth isn't being properly appreciated by others) combined with some lack of self-esteem, maybe some grandiosity, and likely some additional factors, as well.

"...if your goal is to applaud yourself by proxy, what is writing giving you that you couldn't get simply by daydreaming that you're a respected, admired and adored writer?"

Just so.

Regardless of whether I think something I've written is brilliant and due much recognition, or mediocre, or a piece of absolute crap that I ground out in a rush and wince to reread -- and all three evaluations are amongst those I make -- while it would gratify me to hear/see someone else say the first about the first (but not so much to hear/see them praise something I thought was mediocre or crappy, because then I'm apt to just think they're wrong), it would do my self-esteem no good at all to praise myself, and to resort to praising myself under a phony name would only make me have utter contempt for myself at what a pathetic creature I must be to resort to that. That's what makes sock-puppetry so hard for me to understand, though I'm starting to get a picture of the externals, I think, from this discussion.

Mind, as I said, this doesn't make me a Better Person; I have contempt for myself at times for other behaviors, at times (and getting caught in loops over such is amongst the ways I used to trap myself in depression before I learned some tricks for, most of the time now, getting out of those loops); but that's why I have no need to add new forms of behavior I'd be appalled at myself for engaging in, such as sock-puppetry.

It's that sock puppetry makes a mockery of why one writes at all.

Well, I seem to have gotten tagged with the 'defend the notion of sock-puppetry', so I'll play along. I didn't mean to imply that of one says they have never had the urge to sock-puppet (if it's a verb) they are saying 'I am a Better person than you'. It's just that identity seems to be, paradoxically, more fixed _and_ more fluid these days. By that, I mean that when you read about people 100 years ago, it was much more possible, it seems, to pick up stakes and move somewhere else where you could reinvent yourself. It seems like a great American tradition. Yet now, too florid an invention, when revealed, tends to hold one up to the light, to make the pinning to the board more precise, I guess. The guy on Oprah whose book was supposed to be autobiographical, and then, whoops, its not. Various bouts of resume inflation. Rewriting history and accusations of such (Bush, Kerry, Gore to name three in politics) I just want to suggest that S-P (I can't figure out how many p's to put in) should be seen as related to all of those things. CaseyL links plagiarism, which is another can of worms, and it seems that the percentage of people who have plagiarized at some point is between 24% (self reporting) and 90% (as perceived). So the initial point is that if S-P is related to all these phenomenon, it can't be so outré.

Assuming that it is related to these phenomenon, the challenge is to explain why, which is what I have tried to put forward. This isn't an attempt to suggest that anyone is hypocritical for saying it never occurred to them, just trying to come to grips with it.

To link it to my interest in online behavior, when one looks at the exchange between the sockpuppet Siegel and jhschwartz that hilzoy links to, you note that jh, after making his/her point, leaves it alone. Gilliard suggests that it was the threat of a lawsuit by Kincaid that encouraged the reaction of TNR, so that everything Siegel wrote can be put in the round filecabinet. One wonders if Siegel didn't have such a sinecure that could be taken away, what would have happened. Clearly jhschwartz (unless he wrote to complain to TNR) was not going to take things further. This is the sort of thing that I think of when I think about taking off the gloves, which is continuing the fight a bit (or maybe a lot) longer than we normally think is 'decent'. This crucially depend on the paranoiac theory that the TNR would only do the right thing if there were no other options, but given The Bell Curve, Glass and Zengerle, I'm on the fence.

My take on the whole lure of sock-puppetry is that it's a convergence of two factors: 1) that one's defense is perceived as more credible when it comes from someone purportedly unconnected with the person being defended, and 2) the frustration one feels that the people who spontaneously defend you in public rarely use the words or defenses that you'd like to see used.

This offered not as a defense of its pathetic nature, merely as an explanation from someone who has felt the urge a few times in the past, taken it out and examined it, and put it back where it belongs.

"1) that one's defense is perceived as more credible when it comes from someone purportedly unconnected with the person being defended, and 2) the frustration one feels that the people who spontaneously defend you in public rarely use the words or defenses that you'd like to see used."

The two of these go together interestingly, however, when applied to the comments of "Sprezzatura," since clearly, were that the case, than Siegel would believe that he's more credibly defended by an apparent psychotically loony abusive sychophant than by Lee Siegel.

And I just want to add that Gary's explanation is the most brilliant I have ever seen on the internet! The man's genius knows no bounds! I am always in awe of his unique ability to hone in on exactly the key point and express it more clearly than I ever imagined a human being could express a thought!

And he's always right! It's unbelievable! The man's talents just put me to shame, I must say.

I don't understand why everyone in the world doesn't check his blog every ten minutes! Even when he isn't writing! Just rereading his every word gives me chills!

But I've spent enough time here; I must go reread more of his archives, and wisdom! Every moment I'm not reading Gary Farber is a moment my life is far less worthwhile than it should be!

Why, thank you, testing. You are too kind, whomever you are.

His posts on James Kincaid, in which he basically accuses Kincaid of pedophilia on the basis of what seems to me to be a serious misreading, are more or less unhinged, and also pretty close to libelous.

They weren't close to libelous. They were libelous. In the unlikely event that the case wouldn't have stood up in a US court, he could have won a libel suit without any problems in a UK court. I think Siegel has got off lightly, to be honest. Mental health aside, of course.

alright, Farber, I know you tried to make us think you were putting on a sock with that "testing one two three" stuff.

But it was pretty clearly someone else's prose. I accuse you of getting someone else to ghost-write it for you.

And if there's one thing worse than sock-puppetry, it is ghost-written sock-puppetry.

You know, making believe that you are yourself making believe that you are someone else, when you are actually making someone else make believe that you are you, making believe that you are someone else.

It's vile, I tell you.

Good post, hilzoy.

The Times has an article today with this from Siegel: “I’m sorry about my prank, which was certainly not designed to harm a magazine that has been my happy intellectual home for many years.”

"It's vile, I tell you."

It's true. [hangs head in shame]

I could never write as well, or be as perceptive as, that "testing" fellow or gal. He or she is clearly far more talented than I ever can or will be.

I notice with interest that that NY Times piece (and I'm still getting used to the way the major media now report on our little blog doings) hones in on exactly the quote from Ezra that I did:

Other bloggers noted the disclosure about Mr. Siegel. Ezra Klein, a blogger who had tangled with him, wrote in his blog on Friday, “The temptation to create a new persona and rally support for yourself in comments can be almost overwhelming.” But Mr. Klein said that most bloggers “resist the urge, take the lashing and move on.”
And the next 'graph highlights Siegel's likely claim to blog fame:
Mr. Siegel became a polarizing figure, coining the term “blogofascism” in the midst of a debate over The New Republic’s support of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in the Connecticut primary.
So I'm wondering: if an Islamofascist blog engages in blogofascism, is it then a case of Islamoblogfascismfascism? What if it's an Italian fascist as well? A case of fascist Islamoblogfascismfascism?

Because that sounds pretty alarming to me.

The general direction of comments in re sock puppeteering has made me think again of _Grizzly Man_, and Timothy Treadwell's attempts to cast himself as a defender of the grizzlies, to the point, of course, of getting himself devoured by one of the grizzlies uninterested in the story.

One of the things I liked so much about that movie was Herzog's perspective on Treadwell, as heard in the voiceovers. Those of you who have seen it will recall that much of the film is of Treadwell speaking to the cameras, having carefully set up the camera so as to create a pleasing or appropriate background. Treadwell's narration is partly for himself, and partly for audiences, ranging from environmentalists to schoolchildren.

Late in the movie there's a scene by a lakeshore in which Treadwell is trying to do the summation scene, "It's the end of the summer and soon the bears will be looking for their caves," etc. in which he begin to make a tangential remark about the Park Service, who are responsible for the wilderness area he's in. He starts talking about them and gets angrier and angrier--you can see him working himself up, in the same way men will do as they convince themselves to get into fistfights--and spends several minutes yelling at the camera, flipping the bird at it, all ranting about the evils of the Park Service, how they don't actually care about the grizzlies, and so on.

Mercifully, while you can see Treadwell during most of this, Herzog is doing a voiceover so you don't have to listen to the ranting. Herzog is saying something along the lines of "I've seen this before, when an actor indulges himself too much in a character, and crosses a kind of line."

That encapsulated for me the fascination of the film--Treadwell was trying to tell a story, or rather, to create his own story. His story is his being the noble defender of the grizzlies--a man, perhaps, too wild and savagely noble to live among other men. It is notable that he was a failed actor (his closest shot to the big time was nearly getting the role Woody Harrelson got in _Cheers_.)

The thing is that you can see he wants an audience--but he wants it to be only on his own terms. He wants the respect/adulation/adoration of women yet you can see that it's not real. It's as if he's like the producer, director, cinematographer, talent, and audience all wrapped into one--while, sitting in theatre to watch his own show, he is looking out of the corner of his eyes to see if there are other spectators, and if they like the show or not.

Siegel reminds me of this. His references to his imaginary animals and so forth that seem rather embarrassing--well, who knows until you throw them out there whether others will be pleased or disturbed by the telling. His rage at oppposition is a mark of that narcissism--how dare you interfere with my show, my script! That's why hilzoy's diagnosis of narcissism seems to fit cleanly with these various peculiar games--those of sock puppeteering, plagiarism (as CaseyL notes), and so forth. What the writer or actor seeks is not to create, to give something to an audience, but to make himself happy via a kind of self-stimulation with the hope that others will like watching it. (Yes, the more disgusting interpretation of that sentence is the one I'm aiming at.) Or, as Gary noted, people who want to be writers. Someone once said to me, "A writer writes. Most people don't actually want to do that, they just want to be known as someone who does that."

I don't understand why everyone in the world doesn't check his blog every ten minutes!

Kidding aside, I've been wondering myself why I don't visit amygdala at least every few days. I do have some issues with the typography and color over there, but that really doesn't explain it. I suspect that your [mysterious, but unspeakably brilliant and insightful] commenter anonymousgf got it at least partly right: you're basically just a hard act to follow. You are [mostly] accurate and [frequently] comprehensive. And [not generally] inflammatory either. What are we supposed to say, besides bravo? (though in fairness hilzoy is like that too, so that's clearly not the whole story either)

I've added you to my "feeds" thingy now Gary. Let's see what effect that has.

"His references to his imaginary animals and so forth that seem rather embarrassing--well, who knows until you throw them out there whether others will be pleased or disturbed by the telling."

Actually, when I finally read that diary, and thus the full context, I have to say that I thought he was being rather funny. It's probably rather unfair to pull it out of context, even though it is, to be sure, interesting in the light of the succeeding context.

"Someone once said to me, 'A writer writes. Most people don't actually want to do that, they just want to be known as someone who does that.'"

It's not really hard to tell the difference in most cases. Someone who is serious about becoming a professional writer studies the craft, and techniques, and applies discipline. Most tend to find writing a fixed number of hours or pages per week works best.

Finish pieces, and submit them.

Basically, folks who are apt to become successful at selling their writing will do those three things: study, write in a disciplined or scheduled way, and finish and submit regularly.

There are exceptions, but they're relatively few. Naturally, to succeed, you also need other ingredients, like actually learning that which you have studied, and being able to apply those skills and techniques, having a sufficiently creative imagination and way with words, being clever enough, and so forth, but the largest element is usually simply working hard enough and being willing to keep working hard for years, grinding away at your craft.

Drifting about, plying your Artistic Manner, is a lot more fun, and easier by far, to be sure.

radish: "I do have some issues with the typography and color over there"

I listen to suggestions.

"What are we supposed to say, besides bravo?"

Well, that's acceptable. :-)

As are digressive "that reminds me of..." comments leading to something otherwise largely unconnected. Whatever, so long as it's not simple abuse. I can get that down the hall.

I'll probably be posting lightly today, since not a lot of folks are reading, either, but from a few minutes ago, a post on another firebombing of a Jewish school, and a dive into the cess-pool of comments at LGF and thus a sampling of vile anti-Muslim bigotry, as well.

Thanks muchly for the nice words, radish.

"(though in fairness hilzoy is like that too, so that's clearly not the whole story either)"

A point I'd have made if you had not. That is, sometimes I do some good blogging, I think (and my socks all vociferously agree!), but I wouldn't pretend I'm as generally and consistently as excellent a writer as Hilzoy (or digby, or several other bloggers I could name).

I'd just claim that I'm me, not them, and have my own set of topics, and style of addressing them. (And I don't expect anyone else in the world to care about all my topics; I'd just hope that folks who are bored with some of them would have the patience to scroll past the topics that don't interest them, to get to those that might.)

Amusingly enough, I got a fan e-mail last night from James Lileks about this post about the new, enhanced, Star Trek: TOS, saying he should remember to read me more often.

I've always been popular with a fair number of other bloggers. It's readers I tend to lack....

(And also I've never been popular with the emphatic political partisans of any side, including that of my own Democratic; never been blogrolled by Atrios, or any of the recent major Democratic cheerleading blogs; meanwhile, lots of folks who used to blogroll me, and link to me, like, say, Jesse of Pandagon, or Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber, have quit blogging; Matt Yglesias quit linking to me after he graduated from college; oh, well....)

Wow, that's too bad, Gary! Hey, gang, let's everyone suggest to our favorite blogs that don't blogroll Amygdala that they should! Yay, Gary, you're so fine, you're so fine, hey, Gary!

not a sock puppet

I observe that Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money also commented on Ezra's statement, saying "I found this strange, because I've never felt that temptation," and going on.

I say this more in sadness than in anger, but a careful analysis of the structure, grammar, vocabulary and most of all, the typefaces of the comment in question conclusively prove that t123 is not a sock-puppet, nor a ghost written sock-puppet, but a plagiarized sock puppet. It is clearly a passage written to Gary on his own blog that he has lifted without proper credit and is now passing off as his sock puppet's work. Perhaps we will never know how someone as talented as Gary, writing as his sock puppet, would fall into plagiarization, but I will be opining on that point and other earth shattering revelations to Howie Kurtz, shortly after we declare that Iran has declared war on us. Don't forget to mark TiO as the Time blog of the year!

"the typefaces of the comment"

ahh--the kerning! it was the kerning! that and the strawberries!

Curiouser and curiouser! People are speculating that Gary Farber was sock-puppeting himself (which would be strange enough), yet overlooking the most obvious clue pointing in the opposite direction.

To wit, from this very thread (above):

Why, thank you, testing. You are too kind, whomever you are.

Posted by: Gary Farber | September 04, 2006 at 03:05 AM

Would Gary Farber - THE Gary Farber, Inexhaustible writer, Noble Prince of Nitpickery, Counter of Ellipses - ever use "whomever" (accusative) when the grammatical structure of the sentence cries out for "whoever" (nominative)?

Merely to ask the question is to answer it: NEVER

What we must have then, is not Gary Farber engaging in a little banter with his own sock-puppet, but a Sock Puppet pretending to be Gary Farber doing his - or her, to be fair - utmost to throw us off the trail.

I shall not speculate as to the motives or mechanics of this unseemly maneuver, since there are those here on ObWi far more adept at conspiracy theories than I.

I serve only the cause of truth.

(And, possibly, fatigue.)

The Meta-question? I think Irving Berlin best put that line of inquiry to rest.

"Anything you can do, I can do meta...."

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