7/2/2010 8:14

Clarity of purpose, sharpness of aim

If I were searching the world-wide web for a debate between fighting terror with fear of censorship and fighting terror by means of fear of firearms, and was looking for an exchange of idea which is expressed using demeaning, sexist, and scatalogical terms, how would I know to look for a blog page about heavy-handed corporate attempts to control former employees with threats of lawsuits? True, all these topics share contact with fear, but then fear is a fundamental experience in actual reality and will be a theme on millions of pages.

I wasn't looking for such an odd mixture of discontinuous ideas. I happened on the page by following odd links off another page. Following the link in the first place was a poor play; the other web page wasn't very interesting, either, and I suspect the chances are low that an uninteresting page would link to an interesting one.

It is interesting that people take off on wild tangents this way. It appears that the first turn was a deliberate attack by an organized group which is actively looking for openings to throw out their opinions. The interesting thing is that other people simply accepted the revision of the topic. Presumably none of them were originally looking at the page in order to discuss terrorism cloaked in Islamic trappings. (At best, someone might have been looking for something about corporate terrorism cloaked in legal maneuvering.) Yet when the new topic was introduced, the content of the comments veered onto the new agenda.

This illustrates how terrorists, propagandists, and advertisers are able to shape the public conversation and to limit the discussion of important policy issues. If you are going to play the actual reality game well, you need to make use of this tendency or to defend against it.

Not only the topic is mutable by a strong voice, but the range of tactics is also set by the most visible example. One commentator attempts to battle a terrorist group by making threats against third parties. Another commentator suggests that if you want world peace you should get a gun and start killing people. Even the language and style is quickly shared between the disputants (as they echo low-grade insults to each other).

The participants in this debate oppose each other but they share both methods and style. Warriors can battle warriors, but only in the context of war. Threats may attack terrorists but cannot lesson terror.

Stepping outside the current terms of engagement is hard, and maintaining clarity of purpose is even harder. The web log postings illustrate the pitfalls, but we will have to look elsewhere for examples of a more effective way to play the game.

A few excerpts from the blog

wooga Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 9:50 am

Why is DreamHost knowingly hosting “Voice of Jihad," an AL-QAEDA website?

Ask your lawyer what happens when you knowingly provide support to a designated terrorist group.

Here's a clue, the 1st Amendment offers no protection. Have him read Gillars v. United States, 182 F.2d 962 (D.C. Cir. 1950). Then crap your pants.

Redjack Donovan Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 10:08 am

Really bad karma in taking money from terrorists, Josh. You'd better nip this in the bud and delete “Voice of Jihad." I expect you don't care about the moral ramifications of supporting our enemies, the brave jihadi babyhunters, so consider the business ones.

Mike Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 10:52 am

If every site was taken down that someone else didn't like, there would be no more web sites. You sissies need to get a life and spend less time googling for terrorist sites.

Want to fight terrorists? Quit being pussies and go join the service. Whining in blog comments isn't going to achieve world peace.


Mike Says: May 27th, 2007 at 8:36 am

If those little pussies cared half as much about terrorists as they claim, they’d be running towards them with rifles as soldiers–not spamming for them from keyboards.