Setting me straight

Lessig wags his finger and puts me in my place on his blog comments today. It’s such a fine example of argument by personal attack and obfuscation that I have to capture it here for posterity. As you read this, remember Lessig’s sneer at “Free Culture” critic Stephen Manes: “I love it when non-lawyers talk about the wonderful virtues of “fair use.”

I’m a network engineer, and I love it when non-engineers talk about the wonderful virtues of TCP/IP. Lessig can dish out this kind of arrogance, but he can’t take it:

There are few things in my life more depressing that finding this kind of argument in this space. Indeed, I find myself unable to come back to my own blog when I know this Bennett stuff rages. I love argument, and honest disagreement. I loved reading ?three blind mice.? But Mr. Bennett?s bullshit is too much for me.

When Bennett first posted his wonderfully titled, ?The Future of Mediocrity,? I had an email exchange with him. I told him that the ?review? was filled with simple mistakes, and that however interesting it might be to argue about points fundamental, it was a waste of time if he was going to be so sloppy about basic points.

For example, Bennett wrote

We have to ask whether Lessig understands the Internet as a prelude to examining whether his argument for unique sovereignty makes any sense. The following claims from Future show that he doesn?t. ?The World Wide Web was the fantasy of a few MIT computer scientists? ? p. 7 Most people recognize Tim Berners-Lee as the inventor of the Web, building on previous work on hyperlinked text by Ted Nelson and others going back to Vannevar Bush. Berners Lee?s web site says:With a background of system design in real-time communications and text processing software development, in 1989 [Tim Berners-Lee] invented the World Wide Web, an internet-based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing. while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. This is not obscure information.

Bennett offers this to suggest that I didn?t know that Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web. Well, that would be amazing ? a guy writing a book about the internet who didn?t know that Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web. But of course, as I pointed out to Bennett months ago, obviously, I was not saying that, for as I say at page 37 of the book, ?As the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, describes it?? Obviously, what I was saying in the quote above was that the idea of a web was dreamed of most famously by MIT researchers ? Bush, et al.

Bennett replied to me ?I?ll check your book and see if I got this wrong,? but he hasn?t bothered to correct his multiply flawed review yet. When I first commented upon this, I said there was a ?Rosanne Rosanna-Dana character? to the review ? obvious facts make much of the criticism disappear ? but tht was unfair to Rosanne. At least she had the decency to say, ?nevermind.?

The real, substantive argument that Bennett and I had, and I guess continue to have, is whether the defining architectural feature of the internet was ?end-to-end.? In this email exchange, he told me I was ?seriously wrong? and must have been ?mislead by the ?experts? you consulted.? He backed this claim up by pointing to protocols in the TCP/IP suite that don?t seem to comply with the end-to-end ideas. When I pointed out that the protocol he pointed to was an essentially unutilized spec which didn?t undermine the fundamental point of Saltzer, Clark and Reed, he responded with a typically abusive email that said that proved nothing.

I am of course not a technologist. And of course, the only way I can understand this stuff is to read lots, and ask a lot of stupid questions of friends who are kind enough to waste their time with me. I?m grateful to many who have spent their time trying to explain these ideas to me. And I was extremely eager to understand whether or how I was mistaken about my reporting on the fundamental end-to-end architecture of the internet.

But I?ve tired of this game. Suffice it that there are at least two views out there: one (shared by Saltzer, Clark, Reed, and Cerf among many others) that a fundamental aspect of the internet?s design was end-to-end; the other, espoused by Richard Bennett, that it was not. In light of that split, I?m satisfied with the account I offered in The Future of Ideas.

I?ve had a bunch of emails from people asking me why I just don?t ban Bennett ? making him not only the first person ejected from The Well, but the only person asked to leave the Lessig Blog. (Talk about a career of declining significance ?) I won?t do that. I certainly won?t physically (ie, through the code) ban him, or anyone (save the evil spammers).

But I do want to ban the bad manners that darken these passages. Bennett has gotten better at this, but the point is a general one. Disagree with me, please. Disagree strongly and colorfully (as the mice did so well). But behave in the way you would want your 10 year old daughter or son to see you behave. Because when Google has its way, they will.

? posted by lessig on Apr 10 04 at 9:37 AM

For the record, I wasn’t the first, or the last, person banned from the WELL, not that any of that is relevant to the issue at hand.

I’ll deal with this shortly, but not while the sun’s shining in the Northwest.

One thought on “Setting me straight”

  1. “When Google has its way”….
    Is this some kind of threat? Lessig is a notoriously poor debater, and relies on his supporters and yes-men stuffing Google. Which he then uses as the arbiter of truth.

    The day he actually wins a debate perhaps we can take him more seriously.

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