16 Feb 2008

How debate is done in the hive

Rasna is a forum giving non-blogging Etruscan enthusiasts a voice. Here I found some chitchat about me discussed only yesterday: Interesting Links,Books,Articles,Topics, etc etc on the mysteriousetruscans.com website. Delicious! Here's the basic run-down of the conversation:

"http://paleoglot.blogspot.com/search/label/etruscan ... I found this blog spot about Etruscans what you think of it?"

Tanaquil Lupus:
"He might pay some attention to his English while he's at it. He spelled 'Bear with me' as 'Bare with me,' [...] I have no idea from a brief glance what his credentials are and how valid or not his assertions."

Marce Camitlnas:
"Reasonably literate I guess, but the point is that he makes a few basic blunders. [...] Adolfo Zavaroni came up with pava meaning young man independently. I don't know if he's right or not, but he sounds very convinced of himself (warning bell number 1). His grammatical argument is sound as far as it goes, but given than there are 'weak' and 'strong' genitives in Etruscan, he's way too sure of his conclusion. I think he's pushing the envelope too far given that we don't really know how the genitive worked in practice. The other section that had me (even as a non etruscologist) slightly bemused: "Massimo Pallottino hypothesized in 1979 that Tarχies refers to Tages, a child divinity with the wisdom of an old man that popped up in the fields one day. I'm usually skeptical of what many of these Etruscologists say but I think I can swallow that idea nicely." [...] Terms such as 'blasphemous'[1] tell me that it's not exactly a serious site."
As of now, this is where the rather depressing discussion has ended. Sigh. Dare I say, yet another classic example of internet hivemind[2]: a mob of sheepish people hiding behind impersonal names, blending anonymously into the crowd to avoid the responsibility of reciprocal criticism. And then there's this disturbingly unremorseful attitude towards confessing how unknowledgeable they remain in a field they profess to love while still talking about it as though they were knowledgeable or interested. That's the kind of self-defeatist attitude of a pathological nihilist with strong feelings of low self-worth that I'm trying to shake everyone out of because the subtext of their words then scream out: "I'm cool because I'm a zero. I prefer to remain a shallow, happy-go-lucky child rather than take up responsibility for my self-respect, my self-directed education and my individuality. Rather, I will attack people for their own self-respect, self-directed education and strong sense of individuality to make them feel like a nameless nobody as I feel."[3] We all have seen the latest tendencies in modern society to attack visible people as "arrogant", "bombastic" or "full of oneself" when in fact it's often the attackers themselves that aren't psychologically strong enough to step up to the plate and contribute something healthier to society. Warning bells? Right. I'd think the real so-called "warning bells" that Marce talks about would be the use of anonymous nicknames and cowardly ad hominems directed towards others without even a hint of informative value embedded within the jabs. You know, something that actually addresses what was said in full, rather than in teensy-weensy meme-sized bits of irrelevancy?

Let's make something clear. Who I am should be completely irrelevant to everyone. What my 'credentials' are logically take second-stage to the factual validity of what is being said as a whole. How badly I may be said to spell is irrelevant. How ESL my grammar may appear to language purists is also irrelevant. I speak only to express and share ideas for the benefit of others and to attract other like-minded inviduals as well. I want to encourage others to express their own ideas too. And I mean positive and constructive ideas that shouldn't have anything to do with personal politics. I always hope that people have the mental clarity to see that. When I appear to "attack" an academic, it is based squarely on what they say, not who they are as human beings.

Debate is not about a bunch of catty, uninformative, "Fox-News"-like blabber about occasional spelling mistakes, errors in academic trivia and how their knowledge in NewSpeak do's-and-don'ts (e.g. don't use "hypothesize" for anyone other than the originator of an idea no matter how far buried in the recesses of time, apparently) empowers them with a metaphysical prescience to evaluate in some small way who is 'serious' in an academic field in absence of mindful studiousness and profound contemplation of the (un)read material. This is a posterchild for what's wrong with all anonymous networking sites that only encourage flamewars like on Wikipedia, YouTube and Yahoogroups.

Of course, I'll seek and destroy these spelling errors mentioned, and will look up other errors in trivia factoids that I've committed, but it would be swell if people could rise to the challenge of being honestly passionate about their interests and having the consciousness to attack issues head on instead of dismissing people because of how they say something based on subjective criteria. I welcome criticism but only logical criticism. The kind that's a shade more profound than just singing one's ABCs or roaring to hear your echo in the void of inhuman cyberspace.

[1] Marce Camitlnas extracted a single usage of the word 'blasphemous' out of context from Pava and the boy hoax to weave his rhetoric. I specifically said: "I know I sound blasphemous [about my questioning status quo as a non-Etruscologist] but keep reading." Context, people, context.
[2] This fascinating article named Hyper-Real Wikipedia and the Evolution of Mu-lacra delves into the problems of hivemind. One interesting insight: "Present day archeology and anthropology commit themselves to the study of past-human groups which had no substantial cultural changes for many thousands of years. Future such Mu-ologies will be so deeply embedded in these interweaving cyber-realities that history itself will have to be forgotten in order that the present have any identity." and "No-one within the cyber systems destined to encompass this world will be able to see anything but Mu-lacra-like concepts buzzing around their digital heads." Indeed. Now reread the conversation of that forum. Similarities? Notice the lack of diligent critique about anything other than minor details that have been so far presented in the forum by people who admit to knowing little to nothing about the subject they participate in but who nonetheless voice strong opinions about it. The internet makes this mad paradox possible. Sadly, most of these forums rehash the same issues over and over and over years later, even by the same people! Has the mere appearance of knowledge and learning already become more important than knowledge and learning itself? Beware.
[3] As author Jaron Lanier's thoughts in Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism are expressed by Jock Brockman: "Where is this leading? Lanier calls attention to the 'so-called' Artificial Intelligence and the race to erase personality and be most Meta. In each case, there's a presumption that something like a distinct kin to individual human intelligence is either about to appear any minute, or has already appeared. The problem with that presumption is that people are all too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart. Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart (as happens when someone can interact with the notorious Microsoft paper clip,) so are they willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator sites appear to be coherent."

(Feb 16 2008) I've clarified Marce Camitlnas's misreading of my sentence in Pava and the boy hoax. He's A) misunderstood what "hypothesize" means, B) took my usage of "blasphemous" out of context and C) misread "Massimo Pallottino hypothesized in 1979 that Tarχies refers to Tages [...]" to mean that I somehow credit Pallottino "for the origins of the legend of Tages". Indeed it's from Cicero, but nonetheless Pallottino hypothesized a link between Latin Tages and attested Etruscan name Tarchies in 1979. Please, people, calm your little selves down and read first. Thanks.


  1. You have to wonder how many of those faceless individuals are the very academic types you speak against. :P

    On another note, mythical God forbid that you put a bit of personality in your blog posts! ;)

    - Rob

  2. Hahaha, funny thought, but I don't think so, unless they're their student underlings that have nothing to do but shoot the breeze between exams, hence my embedded link to "student depression" ;) I understand how it is. Exams make people crabby.

    And how dare you say that God is mythical, blasphemous Rob! Pastafarians unite! Hehe, while I'm not normally into hivey stuff, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a Mu-ology that I can swallow.

  3. You know, as I read the article on "Mu-lacra", I realize that the author isn't saying anything new. What he describes has been going on for all of human history. Even in recent pre-internets times, people have attributed physical meaning to metaphysical ideas (e.g. Scientology).

    If anything, I think the internets can preserve knowledge better than books or scrolls, leading to a diminished likelihood of people believing in myths.

    - Rob

  4. Rob: "Even in recent pre-internets times, people have attributed physical meaning to metaphysical ideas"

    Yes, this is of course true. Nothing new. However, we have to ponder where we're headed as a species and what "progress" really means. What I've personally observed is the assumption that modern society makes - that "progress" means that we must create bigger machines, bigger buildings and conglomerate into bigger population densities.

    I've come to realize that there's something disturbingly imbalanced about that definition of progress which in effect favours the progress and development of society *at the expense* of progress and development of the individual. Without a balance between the progress of both society and the individual, we diminish ourselves and make society nothing more than "one large, planetary human being" who is no wiser than its constituent parts. A kind of transfer of awareness of self from one level (individual homo sapiens) to another (an interlinked society). It's in that light that I ponder some of these silly forum conversations like on Rasna where history buffs ironically fail to talk about history and are more concerned about spelling mistakes. A hint of the dumb-downed future of superficiality to come if "progress" continues. Oh, I know, I sound like a luddite, but I'm not saying that technology is bad. I'm saying that the masses are just a mob of monkeys and know not what they do, hehe.

    Since most people I find are, dare I say, un- or even anti-individualistic, the thought of this future doesn't really bother them. It only bothers the minority of individuals that are self-aware enough to realize their impending disadvantages in the society of the future.

    Rob: "If anything, I think the internets can preserve knowledge better than books or scrolls, leading to a diminished likelihood of people believing in myths."

    It can only work if most citizens seek to empower themselves and empower others through things like knowledge-sharing and an emphasis on logic. However most don't do that, and this is probably why democracies (if we can call them that) inevitably devolve back into tyrannies. The internet is a temporary 'democracy', shall we say.

    Regardless, my personal mandate is to seek out and maintain personal autonomy in all aspects of my life independent of societal developments. Perhaps that's the Borg in me talking. ;)

  5. Hey, I was just wondering whether you had noticed that you've been plugged at Languagehat.

    According to one of the commenters you have an Anti-Dravidian bias. Where exactly he's getting this from, I don't know. What I do know, is that Languagehat is a very nice blog to be plugged on, so congratulations!

  6. Phoenix: "Hey, I was just wondering whether you had noticed that you've been plugged at Languagehat."

    It was hard not tell when my hits suddenly jumped seven-fold! And thanks! I'm of course very flattered and grateful because it's a very respectable blog to be plugged by.

    Phoenix: "According to one of the commenters you have an Anti-Dravidian bias."

    Yes, I decided to comment about that because John Emerson is what I would describe as a Dadaist comedian that attacks scholarly individuals online as a form of mean-spirited self-gratification. That behaviour requires less effort than saying something intelligent and valuable to readers.

    Some commenters have attempted to infect my blog with this same sort of harmful rhetoric but I've made it a policy early on to reject anything that lacks informative value. My philosophy is that satyrical comments without any point to them belong on comedy blogs, not linguistics blogs. If anyone finds that their comments have been rejected on this blog, they now know why! <;)

    That being said, I *do* accept humorous comments that stick to the topic at hand. Levity is important but not at the expense of coherence.

  7. Glen Gordon


    I was googling Carlos Quiles (a name you will remember) and I wandered into your blog.

    omigod, an actual linguist. I hope to read more of your site, I might actually enjoy it, having slogged through reams o' dreck on the net and elsewhere.

    Anyway, I thought you might think this was funny. I've been rewriting a page on Wikipedia (a name you will remember) called Proto-Indo-European religion, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_religion and they've shut down the actual page ("they" being David Bigot Bachmann) rather than let anyone who knows anything about PIE or religion post anything on it, so I'm posting the PIEr page on other pages on Wikipedia now. They are not handling this well. In the meantime netkooks are vandalizing the page with gibberish about a cosmic thunderer.

    Be that as it may, I check the PIEr page periodically to see if anyone has anything useful to add to it, and lo and behold, someone (possibly posting as "Limeton") put a note on there that the Wik page was violating copyright by quoting from Carlos Quiles without crediting him. So Mr. Limeton very helpfully went through the PIEr page and footnoted every sentence that was also found in Mr. Quiles' book which is on the internet in all its glory, and is available for sale through Amazon. The link to Mr. Quiles's chapter on PIE religion is linked from the PIEr page, but it's too complicated for me to carry the link in here (I'm sure you're dying to read it). Anyway Mr. Limeton apparently failed to notice that Mr. Quiles had lifted his chapter on PIEr bodily off of the wikipedia page, probably before the summer of 2007, which is when I dumped the Fantalov reduction (a fringe theory that sat on the PIEr page for months). Mr. Quiles' book wasn't copyrighted until 2007, whereas the PIEr page had been up in substantially the same form for several years (I'm too lazy to check). So now the PIEr page has millions of little footnotes documenting every sentence or half sentence which remains on the wik site and is also found in Mr. Quiles' book. How helpful! In the meantime anyone who suspects that Mr. Quiles may have violated copyright, if not the most miminal standards of scholarship, need not worry, because he has solved that problem by printing the entire GNU license at the end of his book. I was actually looking for references (ha, ha!).

    So how many assholes does it take to screw up a wikipedia page? Quite a few, apparently!

    As I was saying, I found your site quite refreshing.

    Very Anonymous(ly)