The freedoms of an internet gadfly

t (
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 19:42:27 EDT

From: <>
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 19:42:27 EDT
Subject: The freedoms of an internet gadfly

In a message dated 4/13/99 12:33:36 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

>>> In a message dated 4/13/1999 10:23:00 AM !!!First Boot!!!,
> writes:
> >> Jake, mate. Much as I am on your side in this whole
> argument, I have to say that this kind of statement is not
> going to do you any favours: people will stop listening
> pretty sharpish if you say this kind of thing. Sue Blackmore
> is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology who has had a book
> published by Oxford University Press and personally endorsed
> by no less than Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.<<
> And this is supposed to make a difference to me? Should I begin
> genuflecting? Does this suddenly exempt her ideas from rational criticism?
> If I see enough big names behind a book should I cease thought and
> uncritically accept it?

Jake, I've made this remark for myself many times: whoever writes a book, on
whatever subject, of whatever quality, all of sudden is some NAME. Very
interesting subject for memeticists.You are absolutely right: the more big
behind something, the more cautious and critical one should be.

(For clarity: I am not making specific comments on any book here). <<

And of course for this reason, big names tend to be appropriately cautious
when they put their names to something. At this point, I still think that
Dennet and Dawkins were not wrong to endorse this book. Aside from the issue
of "self as an illusion" problem that I have, I do think that Blackmore is
otherwise truly making "the best shot" for the theory of the meme. In
memetic terms, I think that this "self as an illusion" may work as a baiting
technique. Hey look! It worked on me. Despite my vehement objections I
probably bought the book far sooner and at full price (I am generally a hound
for remainders) than I would have if she had been a little more subdued on
the "self is an illusion" message.

I think Joe Dees made a very good point that perhaps this is the way all
shiny new paradigms start out. People get so enthralled with the new idea
that they see all kinds of things that they used to take for granted as now
somehow invalid. It's fun to turn the world upside down, but we have to also
remember that it still functioned pretty well right side up. The
functionally fit aspects of the right-side up world can't be ignored
especially if we claim that fitness is a good idea. If Blackmore hadn't
stuck herself so far out there, then probably somebody else would have.
There is something to be said about making mistakes well, so that others
aren't as tempted to do so again in the future. If the mistake is an
inevitable one, might as well get it out of the way now. Blackmore's view of
memes is very prevalent in the community of people that talk about memes.
Maybe it is about time that somebody put it so front and center like she did,
instead of keeping it a side show.

But anyhow, back to this issue of me just being a bloke on the internet and
Blackmore having such a name. I think it is just sort of beautiful that way.
The only authority that I have to call on is my ability to make sense.
Certainly if I am not making sense, then I would expect people to
appropriately ignore me as just another bloke wasting time in yet another
flame war on the internet. They are all over the internet and I too would
ignore them in favor of a NAME like Blackmore, Dennnet, and Dawkins.

And of course I may even seem harsh, abrasive, or even arrogant at times - to
get people's attention if nothing more. I mean hey I am just this guy named
"Jake", I am an anonymous bodiless, faceless, name on your computer monitor.
It sometimes it takes a little shouting to get somebody to pay attention.
But I at least try to make sense, and that is my only claim to anybody's
attention here. I have Oxes to be gored. No professional reputation to
protect. No grants to try to chase. No books to try and sell. If somebody
attacks me that's fine - at least it is attention, and if they attack me with
something sensible (other than "Jake you are annoying" - like I didn't
already know) then I am honored to recieve it and I am delighted and
challenged to deal with it in a sensible way.

I like this, it is liberating. I can proudly say that I have meaningfully
and with reason publicly changed my position on several important ideas
within the last couple of years. It's a freedom that few big NAMES can
afford too much of. If you get popular for some idea and then you change
your mind, and then you change your mind again, people will start writing you
off as a flake. Especially if you do an about face. In my eyes, that can be
grossly unfair, but then I am sure being a big NAME has it perks that are
well worth the tradeoff. I guess the lesson is, if you think you have at
shot at making a big name for yourself, you better make sure you get your big
ideas pretty close to right the first time, so people won't get to find out
that your are merely a human too who changes his/her mind.

Unfortunately defensiveness is one of the surest ways to stop making sense.
If I had invested a good lot of sweat, tears, and my life (indeed my
spirituality if you can imagine that in a non-supernatural way), in the
development of some ideas, then I too would probably have a hard time NOT
being defensive if somebody attacked my work.

Well anyways, back to Blackmore. Some have complained that I have attacked
her without reading her work. Allow me to assert once again that it is an
IDEA that I am attacking, and that Blackmore is by far not the first to
endorse the idea. After reading her paper "Meme, Myself, I" I am certain
that she has endorsed this idea in a major way in her book. Here is the plug
line at the top of the paper,
"What will do absolutely anything to survive, even trick you into believeing
you exist? Susan Blackmore outlines the controversial ideas that inspired
her latest book."
And in the article she does.

So anyhow, I expect that when I finally finish reading her book, I will write
a review for Amazon. Though some have suggested that I am, I am not
unbearably prejudiced against her work. She is still very thorough and seems
to be covering a lot of territory very ably. So, anyways, enough for now.


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