Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 3, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

AGAINST THE MACHINE....Atrios and Ari Melber remind me today that I've actually read Lee Siegel's new anti-web vent, Against the Machine. Why? Because I was going to review it for the magazine. When I was done, though, I talked it over with our books editor and decided not to bother. Sometimes it's fun to write a nasty review of a bad book, but in this case it would have just been a chore. It was too lightweight to be worth spending time on, and we had plenty of better books to devote our pages to.

However, I had already scribbled down a few notes that I would have used if I had written a review, so why not share them with you? You'll notice that they're disjointed, tedious, sometimes opaque, and occasionally repetitive, but it turns out that's actually appropriate for the subject material. So here they are: my first impressions, unchanged from the day I jotted them down.


Against the Machine
By Lee Siegel

Book is a set of irritable mental gestures. Irked at (a) vulgarity, (b) criticism in the hands of non-experts, (c) lack of true art on the net, (d) overcommercialization, (e) popularity as the judge of everything.

Shoddy research: just a bunch of cherry picking of strawmen. Exactly the kind of thing he deplores on the net.

Seems like a guy who only really discovered the internet a few years ago and came away appalled. Doesn't realize that his critiques are common ones.

Has some occasional sharp insights, but doesn't follow up on them.

History: "The Origins of Blogfascism," sprezzatura, round mockery. So he wrote a book. As revenge?

Mostly takes on the most extreme of the net triumphalists. A worthy endeavor, perhaps, but hardly a unique one. And he truly doesn't seem to realize that he's responding only to the extremists.

Is convinced that he got suspended from TNR because editors are cowed by the blogosphere. Thinks everyone is cowed by the blogosphere. But sock puppeteers have gotten worse than he got in the past.

The book is assertion, not argument, just like the worst of the blogosphere.

Like a long Andy Rooney segment, except not as coherent.

In the end, the book is boring, just a bland repetition of old arguments. Siegel seems to think he's the first guy to discover these critiques of the internet. Actually, they've been the subject of endless argumentation, but he's too ignorant of the culture he's critiquing to know that.

Self absorbed. Example: beginning of book, where he's convinced that after his suspension, suddenly everyone was talking about the internet, and then after a few weeks it stopped. Sheesh.

He's just arguing with voices in his head, not with actual defenders of the internet. His "conversation" about wikipedia is ridiculous, and he never wrestles with the real value of wikipedia, or with the downsides of traditional reference sources.

Bland regurgitation of stale anti-internet talking points that he doesn't seem to realize have been part of the critical conversation for years and years.

Overall: the book is very much like the worst of the blogosphere. Ironically.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Comments

so tell us how you really feel, kevin.

Posted by: LHB on April 3, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting. I posted a comment in the "MICHIGAN AND FLORIDA" thread, just before it was closed due to "pie-fights and unsigned comments." However, I signed my comment as usual, but it (the name, not the comment) was removed somehow. Either there is a problem with Kevin's comments or he is up to some funny business.

[We are having technical issues. Apologies to all affected. --Mod]

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on April 3, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK


It is beyond credulity that an ignorant peasant like Kevin Drum would rise up from the hoi polloi to cast feeble missiles at such a titanic figure of intellect and colossality as Lee Siegel.

I know Lee Siegel personally, and one cannot compare the vigor and penetration of even his most casual insights with the feeble pokings of Kevin Drum at the orifice of truth.

-- sprezzatura

Posted by: sprezzatura on April 3, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Though a truly terrible book, it's been embraced by the press as a worthwhile exposition of "the emptiness of the net." Which I guess goes to prove that the enemy of my enemy is my friend...

Posted by: SteinL on April 3, 2008 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Criticism at the hands of non-experts"

On what subject is Siegel an expert? He writes for TNR for god sakes.

And really, why should he be surprised that he doesn't approve of the tone of the blogosphere? Give 100 random people a microphone and the elite would be annoyed by 99% of what they hear. Not because it is uncomfortable "truth," but because people are often annoying (me included), and generally clueless. But give 100,000 people microphones and you'll definitely find a handful of people who are much more informed on a given subject than Siegel, better writers than Siegel, and could destroy any argument Siegel made.

Yeah, the blogosphere sucks. It's also awesome.

Posted by: luci on April 3, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

If ya don't like the net then don't log on. Say, have YOU called Nan @1-202-225-0100 yet? I called today and DEMANDED IMPEACHMENT, now its YOUR turn.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on April 3, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Like a long Andy Rooney segment, except not as coherent...

Ouch, but great one-sentence review. You might get the hang of this writing thing, yet, Kev...

Posted by: grape_crush on April 3, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

[We are having technical issues. Apologies to all affected. --Mod]

Kevin, call Thersites, he has a lot of experience with forgetting to sign his emails. ;-o

Posted by: optical weenie on April 3, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

A friend of mine got a preview copy and lent the book to me since I read blogs (and have a little one myself).

I got through about a third of it before I had to give it back -- not because the friend wanted it back, but because I realized my time would be better spent doing something more constructive. Like pounding nails into my inner ear canal.

Seriously. The book's just not very good.

What Siegel misses (though he may have addressed later in the book, so forgive me if that's the case) is that it's not the Internet itself that's the issue. It's the fact it's ran, populated, and filled with content by people.

And there are lots and lots and lots and lots of really stupid, idiotic people in the world. Hundreds of millions of them, in fact. Many of them with a Web page.

It'd be like dedicating an entire book to not driving not because it's bad for the environment or causes stress, but because a few asshats cut you off in traffic. It truly is that vapid.

Avoid this book if at all possible.

Posted by: Mark D on April 3, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Weenie, I always sign my emails. Just sometimes I sign them as something else. But not Nurse Ratched, definitely not that.

Posted by: thersites the blackguard on April 3, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

well, almost always

Posted by: on April 3, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Yuh ever wonder about tedious touchy-feely navel-gazing essays? You know the kind I mean. They're probably made by those guys with names like "Lee Siegel" or "Jed Perl." People who apparently didn't have enough of those "big" late-night conversations their freshman year of college and now seem to want to insist on foisting them on the rest of us.

Boy, it makes me mad! I'm just sitting here, trying to live my life, and then alongs comes this pseudo-technophobic bit of would-be existentialist crap getting all up and down in my face!

I say, let these "Lees" and "Jeds" and their ilk stick to writing meaningless gibberish and calling it art criticism at garbage magazines that once amounted to something, and leave me alone.

Why, I haven't even had time to look at all of these junk-mail flyers that I've received, or this leaf-blower, or this, aw, heck, I don't even know what you'd call this thing....

Posted by: Anon on April 3, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Mark D: because I realized my time would be better spent doing something more constructive. Like pounding nails into my inner ear canal.

Kevin, I admire your work, and enjoy your reviews in the magazine. But you could learn some things about reviewing from this guy. Make negative reviews fun again!

Posted by: thersites on April 3, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why thanks, thersites.

Although you should see what happens when I really don't like something, rather than just being mildly annoyed by it.

:-)

Posted by: Mark D on April 3, 2008 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Criticism at the hands of non-experts" On what subject is Siegel an expert? He writes for TNR for god sakes.

The funny thing is, there is actually a valid criticism to be made on this ground. There are plenty of comments threads responding to people who really are experts, e.g., law professors commenting on theories of jurisprudence, scientists talking about stem cell research, foreign correspondents talking about conditions in the country they are reporting on, etc., that are filled with simple-minded commentary by people who don't know 1/10th as much about the subject as the people they are criticizing.

The thing I come back to on this and other criticisms of the internet, however, is why is it such a big deal? Sure, there's plenty of idiocy online, and to the extent it has empowered amateurs, perhaps more than there was in the old days of media gatekeepers. But so what? Where's the evidence that our society is being harmed by it? Where's the evidence that our discourse is suffering because of it?

Posted by: Dilan Esper on April 3, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Dilan Esper: Trouble with the Net is THE TRUTH shows up floating among the shit and ya don't get that in yer daily paper anymore. Politicians especially hate that. THAT'S why they don't love YOU. (and never will)

Posted by: Mike Meyer on April 3, 2008 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

Drum!? Drum did not deserve to smell Lee Siegel's chit!

Posted by: Sprezzalugosi on April 3, 2008 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

The cool thing about the Internet is that, say on Cosmic Variance, I can engage in discussions with scientists all over the world, or with high-caliber economists/political wonks or equivalently high-class thinkers likewise on Brad DeLong (or here!) That is really cool. It makes up for the repulsive (yet often hilarious) freakdom on UseNet for example.

Posted by: Neil B. on April 3, 2008 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

He who is tired of the internets is tired of life.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on April 4, 2008 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

... just a bunch of cherry picking of strawmen. Exactly the kind of thing he deplores on the net

Just the way to mix metaphors, shaken and not stirred.

Posted by: natural cynic on April 4, 2008 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

I am so very glad this assblanket opted out of the panel we were supposed to do together at last month's IPDI conference. I would have had to pwn him - con una determinata quantit di sprezzatura, you may be quite sure - and I don't think he would have enjoyed that in the slightest.

Posted by: AG on April 12, 2008 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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