So What?

When XKCD first published this comic, everyone who saw it realized how painfully true it was:

Duty Calls 

A lot of people get very passionate about winning arguments on the internet.  No one “wins” arguments on the internet. Rather, the best you can hope to accomplish is to state your position as clearly and persuasively as possible.

It’s no more persuasive to write it ten times than it is to write it once. If the idea has merit, people reading it will recognize the merit.

On the other hand, if it’s not nearly as brilliant as you think it is, then perhaps what people will see is a flawed idea and come to the conclusion that whoever proffered it isn’t worthy of their attention.

If your expectation is that by pounding and pounding the keyboard, someone else will scream out in pain that they give up and you win, it’s unlikely to happen. Let it go.

And disagreement isn’t a bad thing. It’s just disagreement. Confirmation bias often dictates people’s reactions, but most thoughtful people will give ideas a shake before deciding whether to accept or reject them.

Even though I put my ideas here, I have no expectation that readers will agree with all of them, or any of them for that matter. And sometimes, I look back at something I’ve written and even I don’t agree with myself. 

It’s okay. Don’t get bent out of shape by disagreement. Don’t lose sleep over it. Don’t be infuriated that someone called you a name that hurt your feelings. You’ll get over it.

The beauty of the internet is that a few days later, whatever seemed so critically important at the moment fades into the ether and life goes on.  Except when you’ve made such a monumentally big deal of something that it can’t be easily forgotten.  Then you will be remembered in infamy.  It’s not worth it.

26 comments on “So What?

  1. pj_cryptostorm

    Not sure if you had someone specific in mind with this, SG, or not.

    Those of us who have been discussing things on the internet since before fancy new stuff like http (or packet-switched, peer-based network topologies in general) got invented have, generally, learned a thing or two over the decades. For me, one hard lesson is that an awful lot of folks will resort to censorship – colloquially, the “banhammer” – if they start falling behind during a debate & for just happen to have some form of admin power sufficient to delete comments they don’t want to see published.

    This issue goes back to forever, basically.

    In the real world of academia, as another example, that kind of behaviour would get someone laughed out of the room – and the academic community. When you’re unable to keep up with a debate, the “solution” isn’t to try to delete the words you don’t like. That’s one of the (few?) things about academia that one might rightly call healthy. Sadly, in the “blogosphere” it’s as common as pwned Windows machines and poorly-maintained WordPress installs.

    Alas, there’s no sense debating a point with someone who lacks the integrity to stand on equal footing, and who resorts to the delete key to save face. There are places out there where such behaviour is never, ever tolerated – I’ve contributed to a few such places over the decades, and had the honour of helping found & run a few more during that time. They tend to attract genuinely interesting, constructive, and data-rich – albeit occasionally heated – conversations that leave everyone better informed as a result. Conversely, places that have someone with a censorious delete-finger tend to drive off people who know better than to waste time being selectively silenced when things get interesting. Lots of those folks, it turns out, are the ones with the most to contribute. Self-selection bias, that.

    Some “bloggers” (we used to call them site admins, before blogging existed) learn that lesson and come to take a firm stance against selective editing/deletion of participants. Some never do – those folks often find themselves self-appointed kings of a smaller and smaller pocket universe… having driven off the real conversations over time.

    And, for those of us who have been around this sort of thing for enough years to feel crochety just mentioning it, all this stuff is pretty well old hat. Not many surprises left, either way. Some people can stand up to serious, substantive debate. Some can’t. As Kurt said, so it goes…

    This interaction I’ve had with you – the angry, threatened tone you have about “hackers” & the personal attacks to which you resort when presented with empirical data on the subject that goes against your angry-brittle prejudices – has been instructive. Indeed, it’s motivated me to put pen back to paper and write up an article for publication. The animosity that, sadly, a good percentage of lawyers feel towards technically literate folks is real, and it matters. Understanding threat vectors is the crucial first step in successfully neutralising them.

    At a very tangible level, you hate “us” (technically literate folks) and it oozes out of your writing. Why that hatred exists, how it plays out, and what we can do to defend ourselves against attacks driven by that flavour of hate – all useful topics for discussion, in our community. So, for bringing that to the fore in my own thinking, I offer my thanks. It’s good to know where prejudice resides, as ignorance of said is most assuredly not any form of bliss I’d personally recommend.

    You’re a good writer – occasionally gifted, I’ll say without hesitation. And you’re heart’s (mostly) in the right place. That said, behaving like an ass when called to task doesn’t suit you – it’s out of character, and it’s beneath your stated standards of personal conduct. And, yeah, making lazy assumptions regarding your interlocutor is a predictably good way to end up feeling silly when the rest of the cards fall… as they surely must. An old lesson, as well, but no less relevant for its hoary history.

    And, with that, I leave to to your work as I have mine to do, as well – my work being of a class that you vehemently state is impossible, or inconceivable, or… something. Un-ac-ceptable, perhaps. Ironically, it’s work that involves a good bit of daily interchange with top-class attorneys of many stripes. Which, as an old boss of mine used to say, “doesn’t fit the model” you’ve so vehemently espoused regarding dumb, nearly-illiterate, poorly-educated, blinkered, world-naive “hackers” like me. But there you go – sometimes life’s like that. Reality trumps expectations, again and again.

    Cheers. 🙂

    1. SHG Post author

      Lest you impute too much, no, this post wasn’t about you. I don’t say this to inflame you, but I hadn’t given you any thought at all.

      But let’s use this comment to see if I can make a point. See the length of an ordinary post here? See the length of this comment? You write very long comments. In the past, you’ve written numerous very long comments on a post. I’ve published a few of them, but here’s where your “understanding” breaks down. This is my blog. It’s my soapbox, if you will. You have chosen to come here and read what I’ve written.

      I didn’t go to your soapbox to read you. And I didn’t commit to letting you (or anyone else) write serial thousand word comments as if it was your soapbox. And again, not to inflame you, but nobody else comes here to read what you wrote. You might get a better reception for your thoughts if you could make them substantially more concise, but you are terribly long-winded and — again, not to inflame you — you don’t have nearly as much to say as you think you do. Much of what you write is naïve, superficial and silly. This is not an ad hominem attack. I don’t call PJ an asshole and therefore dismiss his ideas. I speak to your ideas. They’re just not as worthy in my eyes as they are in yours.

      One of your basic premises, that I either hate hackers or fear them, is grossly misguided. I’m the best friend a hacker has. I’m the lawyer who wants to save hackers from a system they despise. You have no clue who I work with or what I do behind the scenes. You don’t know what briefs are run past me before they show up where a guy like you first sees them. That’s okay, because it’s irrelevant to me what you know. What matters is the role I can play in making computer law better for all users, and hackers tend to be the weakest link in the development of the law at this stage.

      I realize that you’re not easily shaken off your perspective, and as you’ve staked out your position, you’re likely to stick with it. That’s fine. It changes nothing in my world. If you want to use my soapbox to espouse your thoughts, then do it on my terms. If your thoughts were as worthwhile as you think they are, I (and everyone else who reads here) would be rushing to your soapbox to learn your thoughts. See how that works? So try to be concise. Try to recognize your limitations (you are not knowledgeable about the law. No, you’re not). Try not to be an asshole. And maybe you will feel more welcome.

      If not, then I am happy to use the banhammer on you just as I do on others who think they can hijack my soapbox for their own. You might feel this is a grave loss to discourse, but I won’t and I doubt anyone else here will either. I know that the other hackers I work with won’t be crying. It’s up to you. If you want to partake in discussion here, then it’s up to you to adapt. It’s not my job to reconfigure my soapbox to suit you.

      1. pj_cryptostorm

        Mine mine mine… wow.

        Someday, re-read what you’ve just written. It does, indeed speak volumes. It’s discongruent with your other writing, noticeably so.

        I’m sure you’re deeply connected to a vast layer of “hackers” secretly behind the scenes. Indeed. I wish them the best. Your attitude bespeaks contempt – and those of us who earn our living elsewhere rarely prefer to retain contemptuous lawyers. That’s the view from the other side of the table. It doesn’t engender a constructive, successful relationship.

        There’s dozens of excellent, well-credentialed, non-bitter attorneys with extensive technological expertise. That’s who we generally seek out… which seems to be a point you’re simply unable to hear.

        Then again, it’s your soapbox. Blah blah, etc. 🙂

        All this talk about hijacking, you’d think it was PLO redux. Insecure much?


        ~ pj

        1. SHG Post author

          Well, I tried. I didn’t expect much to come of it, but that’s how it goes. I’m very glad to hear that you generally seek out “dozens of excellent, well-credentialed, non-bitter attorneys with extensive technological expertise.” I hope they’re as good as you think they are, and I hope you aren’t as much of a narcissistic arrogant asshole as you come off.

          1. Ken

            I assume you find this nutjob amusing or you would have banned him already and put the rest of us out of our misery instead of letting him conclusively prove the validity of Dunning-Kruger. But enough already? Please?

            1. SHG Post author

              But don’t you understand, he’s doing it for the children. What about the children!?!

              I hope he’s satisfied that I’ve allowed him to waste enough of my bandwidth today. Maybe he’ll go to 4Chan and make so many friends he will never leave?

            2. Rick Horowitz

              I was thinking the same thing. As a guy who worked in the tech field for years both at the lower tech levels (and the way PJ talks reminds me of my co-workers from that time) before running an ISP and then being the Director of IS at a large company before becoming a lawyer, PJ is boring and irritating at the same time.

              I skim his posts only enough to be able to know what assininity Scott is addressing.

      2. Dan

        The internets, in their infinite wisdom, have given us a phrase to use on these occasions. In fact, I think it might not even be a phrase. Just a little thing, really. But when deployed properly, it can have great effect.

        TL, DR.

  2. Carl H

    I disagree with your statement, “At a very tangible level, you hate “us” (technically literate folks) and it oozes out of your writing. ”

    I do not know to which writings you refer specifically. If you are referring to Mr Greenfield’s recent postings about Lavabit then I do not believe that he does hate technically literate folks. In my opinion he was correct when he alluded to the fact a lot of hackers (in the true sense of the word) are arrogant. There’s no doubt about it; they are. Also, his points about expertise in one field (technology, cryptography, etc.) not translating to expertise in another (law) is apt.

    One may well have the skills and resources to be able to design and operate a system the primary purpose of which is to provide confidential e-mail. I believe Mr Greenfield said that were one to undertake such a task it would be a good idea to consult with an expert in that field of law before embarking on actually building the system. This would seem sensible to me as a system that could be used by “terrists” or whistleblowers will inevitably have some interaction with law enforcement at some point in time.

    Better to understand your legal position and potential liabilities prior to running such an enterprise than to find out later you didn’t understand the law nearly half as well as you thought you did. You can pay up front or pay when the feds come knocking. You will, however, have to pay.

    Had to smile at your reference to packet-switched network topologies. Back in the good ol’ days of bulletin boards and the WELL… :-).

    1. SHG Post author

      As I said to JP, not only do I not “hate” hackers, but the point of this effort is to try and save them, and through them, the law that will ultimately apply to everyone. This isn’t a war of self-importance between lawyers and hackers. Until hackers come to grips (yes, I know some have, but many still have not) with the fact that they can’t win this war on their terms, and that we will all do far better working together and with our respective strengths, to achieve a state of computer/internet law that will be applied going forward.

      We are at a critical point in computer/internet law, and if bad law develops out of bad cases because hackers insist on doing it their way, we may never recover.

      1. Carl H

        Apologies Mr Greenfield, I didn’t see your reply to PJ, it wasn’t there when I started writing my comment.

        I don’t really have anything else to add. I fully concur with your comment; we are at a critical juncture with respect to the law, computing and the Internet – and all electronic or, @PJ, ‘lectronic 😉 – communications networks. The only thing left for me to say is to keep on fighting the good fight, sir. I very much enjoy your writings, although this is the first time I’ve commented.

        1. SHG Post author

          Thanks, Carl. I suspect PJ isn’t really the person he projects himself to be in the comments here, and is just trying to goad me for a reaction. If he felt as he says he does, then he wouldn’t bother reading or commenting. Yet he keeps coming back. It’s all fine with me, as I can just toss his comments when it wears thin.

          1. pj_cryptostorm

            We call that “trolling,” and no that’s not been my intent. Originally I was actually seeking out substantive discussion – but that’s not really where things have evolved once your anger got spun up at the temerity I’ve shown in, you know, commenting on “your” blog and “your” soapbox, etc., &c.

            At this point, I’m writing mostly for folks who are following this “conversation” elsewhere; I’d post a link, but those linkky-things are un-ac-ceptable in your pocket universe here. So, oh well. Not trying to keep anything secret, in any case.

            Your bullying, angry, bitter tone – I worry – could actually convince competent technologists that all lawyers behave like this. They don’t. This animosity you radiate is a personal issue, of some obscure etiology. “Hackers,” to some degree, are used to being bullied by folks like you (that was the substance of one of my posts you censored, since archived elsewhere… too close to home?)

            In the meantime, really, I’m participating mostly to help refine my approach to writing on this topic – not for “your” audience on “your” blog with “your” deletion decisions and so forth… but rather for publication to an audience that matters to me, personally. I’m not planning to quote you, nor even mention you by name – my assumption is you’d blow (another) gasket at such a affront, and frankly it adds no value to the piece I’m working on. But the tone, and the anger, and the panicked insecurity? Yeah, that’s what you’ve been contributing with each successive foam-flecked rant.

            ProTip: insecure folks tend to accuse others of their own least-liked shortcomings. To liars, everyone else is a nascent liar. Fraudsters see only fraud. And so on. Those who accuse others of being narcissists – on a blog over which they scream “mine mine MINE!!!” to wit – kind of fit that pattern, eh? Besides, can one even be a “narcissist” posting under a pseudoanonymous pseudonym – or doesn’t that sort of obviate the whole point?

            As I’ve said previously, I follow this blog because your legal writing is incisive and generally well worth reading. This is called being “well-rounded,” in terms of having a desire to gain at least a modicum of knowledge on wider topics. Which, as you’ve so insistently pointed out, is something “hackers” never do. Oddly. I originally commented here because, frankly, you put your foot in your mouth with your enmity towards – and strange stereotyping of – “hackers.”

            You’ve not taken it out since. Blaming me for your ill behaviour doesn’t actually improve your stance, sadly.

            Anyhow, a fascinating configuration – more than worth the time invested, so far, from where I’m sitting.

            Cheers 🙂

    1. SHG Post author

      You make your argument and people (me included) read it. They either agree with you or not. To the extent there is any “winning,” that’s as good as it gets.

  3. Wheeze The People™

    For much of my life, I’ve felt like I was the strangest guy in the room . . . But after reading this exchange, I don’t feel so odd anymore; could it be that I’m closer to the new normal and I now must concede the title of the strangest guy in the room to other, more deserving folks?? . . . Boo! Armadillo, Boo! Armadillo . . .

    1. SHG Post author

      If it makes you feel better, it’s a very different definition of “strangest.” You enjoy the distinguishing feature of wit.

  4. Lurker

    It’s a good thing to remember that “technology” does not change everything. I’m a scientist myself and started my technological career as a computer geek in the early 1990’s. BBS was the dominant technology back then, and Gopher and telnet dominated the internet. Http was but one protocol among many. Social media consisted of the newsgroups.

    Yet, while the scale was different, most issues that are relevant today existed even then. Social media worked quite like today, for the human nature remains constant. And las developed quite as sluggishly and was despised quite as much by the hacker community.

    Nonetheless, the scale is different now. Today, the net is much more important. Twenty years ago, the things that hackers did were less important. Now they are important enough to warrant a lot more authority attention.

  5. Nigel Declan

    PJ Cryptostorm seems to have cribbed his notes for dealing with perceived criticism from Prof. Franks and her ilk: disagreement, or perceived disagreement, equals oppression of one form or another. As a result, anyone who isn’t humbled by their unvarnished truths is an opponent who needs to be called out as such.

    Perhaps the two of them can find their own sandbox, where only their friends and sycophants are allowed to play (a Co Op for the insular communities of Law Prawfs and hackers, or at least those who possess the superhuman ability to always be right about everything).

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