The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune:

or, The Hazards of Being Published in Cyberspace

And now for a little philosophizing...

Most of us have noted how the organs of the popular news media manipulate the words of those they interview or otherwise appropriate for source material. In many cases this manipulation is simply motivated by a desire to find the perfect "sound bite" or catch phrase, rather than by any desire to deliberately distort the words. Regardless of the motivation, the result can be a terrible distortion of what was intended by the speaker or writer. It is one of the risks of having one's thoughts and research recorded. And redress of wrong (even to the extent of a correction in the next edition) is generally not forthcoming.

I do not mind if people use my material and I am not hung up on proper attribution (though it is courteous). Self-promotion is not my object (you'll note that my name does not appear anywhere on this site). Still, I do not wish to have anyone get the impression that I would like people to think that I am some well known author, so please don't blame somebody else for my conclusions (they may resent that). I also really hate to be mis-quoted (doesn't everyone?). So, if you use my material please get the facts (or my opinions) as straight as you can. Better still, just quote the text in sufficient depth to avoid misunderstanding (at least those that I didn't create on my own). Or, perhaps best of all, form your own judgments on the basis of verifiable facts.

But if there is anything that I dislike even more than being mis-quoted, it is being used as a weapon to bludgeon someone else - especially without my knowledge and when the offender deliberately distorts the facts for his purpose. If you have an argument with somebody, please don't drag me into your dispute. In my experience, people in vehement disagreement infrequently exercise the utmost of self-criticism and tend to latch onto words like bar brawlers latch onto empty beer bottles as they thrash across the floor.

It is lamentable, albeit inevitable, that there will arise hacks, frauds and poseurs who will attempt to garner attention and credibility by blatant plagiarism, endless debates without any substance or merit, and baseless attacks on the credibility of anyone who dares to question their fatuous claims. Such people are (blessedly) rare, nevertheless most of them find their way into cyberspace, which has become the pulpit for the 21st century mountebank. Journalists routinely (in the US at least) escape responsibility for their published words under the principle of "absence of malice". [Too bad engineers and scientists can't all have such a golden parachute. Or can you imagine hearing the corporate executives of Enron complain to the Senate investigators that they didn't intend to crash the economy?] Absence of malice is a dubious defense at the best of times, but every now and then it becomes apparent that malice is definitely the motivation behind what is said.

I have tangled more than once with such individuals on the Accurate Reloading web forum and elsewhere in cyberspace. These are almost invariably people whose ambition is recognition for being an expert and they will brook no contradiction from anyone (the more so when it is grounded in reason and fact), unlike true intellectual professionals who are accustomed to debate and the skepticism of their peers. Voice any doubt of their allegations and the immediate responses are false assertions attributed to their antagonist and accusations of imposture - an intriguing leap of thought. [One of the most infamous of these cyber-hooligans has variously claimed to be a professor of mechanical engineering, a world-traveled hunter of big-game, a nuclear certified welder, an expert machinist, and a member of a SWAT team - whatever suited the argument at hand] Arguing with these types is a circus. The retorts to serious questions tend to be of the "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" variety - off-topic, unfounded and intended to divert attention away from their crumbling credibility.

Once exposed in their deceits (even privately or obliquely) these people become vindictive and obsessed. They will devote themselves to dogging your heels with monomaniacal zeal. It is not worth refuting all the mis-quotes, distortions, and misunderstandings (or even outright lies) being promulgated. Your labors will see no end. In doing so, I have unwisely afforded one hack with more celebrity than his pretensions warrant. Most of these fools will inevitably be hoist by their own petard, their exaggerated claims becoming too incredible, too inconsistent, too insubstantial. As satisfying as it may seem to be responsible for their downfall, it is best to let them ruin themselves. Perhaps better still to let people come to their own realization that the truth stands on its own merits; it doesn't need defending, and ballyhoo is a dead giveaway that somebody is selling snake oil cure-alls.

If exasperated, sooner or later, most of these maladroit miscreants will implicitly or overtly convey a threat of violence; the last desperate, pathetic stand of a defeated and bankrupt imagination. As I indicated to one such who had expressed a desire to plant a Ka-Bar in my forehead for sharply rebuking his fascist declarations (literally fascist, not figuratively), I am not the running kind and I do not back down from arguments of importance, even in the face of violence. But there is a proper basis for making a stand. The vindictive obsession of an egotist, whose ignorance and irrationality are made manifest by his own ranting, is not the casus belli for me. In other words, pick your fights. These are invariably about the ego of the poseur, not any matter of substance and you may actually damage a valid argument or truth by associating it with a fatuous, senseless debate.

When you find yourself in a confrontation with such persons it is best to simply walk away, even with your ears stinging amid their outrageous taunts and declarations of victory - even when you clearly see the opportunity to refute all that they have said with undeniable arguments. The only effective exit strategy is to just exit. Reason can avail nothing, and it is a waste of your time and energy to make further assay to turn their minds to a better understanding. Pride is a trap for fools. Just walk away.

Solomon said long ago: "Instruct a fool and he will hate you."

I might add this to the sage counsel of the Preacher: "...but he will shamelessly quote your words as though they were his own, when it serves to make him seem wise." Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. That's life.

My Dad (another wise man) has often observed that it is foolish to wrestle a pig because you will only get covered with the stuff that the pig wallows in - and the pig enjoys it.

All of the above was written some time back with a strong feeling of righteous indignation. Turning 40 and holding a baby in your arms presents an opportunity for reflection on life. One of those reflections is that, in addition to all I have said above, there is, it must be admitted, the question of why one ever got into the debate in the first place. Possibly innocently, perhaps with the noblest of intentions, yet still there is a chance that ego played a part.

One of the mistakes we make as humans is to attribute actions to a single motivation and to polarize motivations for ease of judgment. People do things for complex reasons; sometimes for reasons that they do not recognize in themselves; often for reasons that are not apparent from the outside. It is easy to judge. It is just as easy to be dead wrong in that judgment, or at the very least to be unfairly simplistic.

Solomon also said: "A gentle word turns away anger."

I have had to confront the truth within myself that too often I have not been as concerned with the reception of my words as with the force of them. I have reproved with too much enthusiasm. If conveying truth is the genuine intent, one can be far more successful in doing so by speaking in a non-confrontational way. I have known this for a long, long time, because I have turned a number of professional adversaries into allies in my career, but it is a truism that needs to be remembered.

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