Amanda Chapel Needs Some Tough Love

The original article from Zdnet

July 14th, 2008
Amanda Chapel, aka “Strumpette,” needs some tough love

Posted by Mitch Ratcliffe @ 8:37 pm

Categories: Media Comment & Crimes

Tags: Hacker, Twitter, Amanda Chapel, Hacking, Security, Mitch Ratcliffe
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I had a strange Twitter back-and-forth with “Amanda Chapel,” the pseudonymous authors of a PR blog called “Strumpette,” about the nature of the hacker ethic. I personally don’t think the hacker ethic is very effective as a counterpoint to the system of intellectual property it decries, because hackers seem intent on getting rich one way or the other. “Amanda” apparently agrees, because she/he/they wrote that it was “bankrupt.” Nevertheless, Amanda had to find a disagreement in order to continue her/his/their snarky schtick. I asked “Amanda” why she/he/they thought the hacker ethic, which is characterized by an often over-simplified Hayekian-libertarian approach to markets, exists outside the current economic and philosophical system and ended up being confronted with a number of epithets and was told “[Amanda doesn’t] entertain opinions, period.”

You can watch the unwinding of the dialog here and here.

Amanda’s is small mind(s) in action (and yes, that is grammatically as close to correct as I can get without more gratuitous use of forward slashes). I try to understand where disagreements arise, because that’s how we can all improve our thinking. I tried with “Amanda” to point out that we don’t really disagree about the value of the hacker ethic. The phony distinctions between liberals and conservatives, for example, have prevented real engagement with precisely the same ideas stated in different terms for the past 28 years, when Ronald Reagan abandoned the traditional Republican commitment to liberal principles, at least in word, as the deeds of the Republican administrations have only magnified the power of government vis-a-vis the individual.

The thing is, I have often thought “Amanda” made some constructive interventions in the mindless chatter of Web 2.0 with her/his/their contrarian posting and tweets. It’s as though Godwin’s Law kicked in, in a different form, this time proving that as the length of time a person tweets increases the more likely they are to accuse someone of “blowing arrogant bullshit.” Call it Ratcliffe’s Corollary and think of me well when I am gone.

Our discussion of an unpublished academic article that Amanda said supported her/his/their position that the hacker ethic is a bankrupt extra-capitalist (specifically, she/he/the wrote “anti-property”) movement quickly devolved into Amanda resorting to name-calling. This is the kind of self-important amateurish blowhardism she/he/they generally decries, but it appears “Amanda” is merely playing at controversy without engaging any real understanding in order to appear relevant.

The paper Amanda cites, which she sent me but is not cleared for publication before it appears in a scholarly journal, has a lot of nice quotes that talk about the “anti-property” character of the hacker ethic, which is somewhat true of some of the hackers, and completely true of a few. But its analysis of liberalism is flawed by a neo-Marxist bias that confuses Kantian private reason with Kantian public reason in its examples, and it does not support Amanda’s contention that the hacker ethic is located outside the liberal capitalist system. I’d be happy to go into detail about this in public, but not in private or on Twitter, which isn’t a fit forum for intellectual debate, because Amanda dumped all over the idea that my opinion is worth considering and I would leave it to others to judge the value of our opposing ideas without the interjection of name-calling and profanity.

If “Amanda” didn’t understand my brief critique of the paper, she/he/they should read some other papers and learn something that actually offers a counter-point to my argument. Simply saying that this is an uninformed dismissal and arrogant does not treat the problem, because she/he/they are wrong in the characterization of the hacker ethic as a critique-from-without of the capitalist system. The paper supports my position by repeatedly placing the hacker ethic within the liberal tradition.

I unsubbed her/his/its Twitter feed and she shot back, unsubbing mine. Hardly the height of “social,” let alone “media.” It speaks volumes about the quality of the discourse on the topic of media generally that Strumpette is a prominent voice. I am sure, by the way, that I am not a prominent voice on these topics, though I personally prefer working the real world to blowhardism.

Anyhow, I had invited “Amanda” to debate the issue somewhere not limited to 140 characters, as Twitter is. She/he/that refused impolitely, as I said, to “entertain opinions.” Clearly, she/him/they don’t understand that hers/his/theirs is merely an opinion, too. Perhaps, at some point she/he/it will stop taking herself/himself/themselves so seriously and join in a polite debate.

I will also note that in her/his/their unsub tweet about me, the statement is made that I think I matter because I have a blog. At the time the events described in the paper happened, such as the founding of the Free Software Foundation, the Phil Zimmerman/PGP controversy and the evolution of public-key cryptography involving Whit Diffie, I was covering them as a journalist. At what point did I become self-important about my perception of these events, then, when I was a “pro” or an “amateur”? All I said is that, from the perspective of someone who was there, “anti-property” sentiment did not play a large role in any of these events other than with Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. Phil Zimmerman personally told me his motives were to save lives, the economic consequences of releasing PGP were a secondary concern. By the way, Phil Zimmerman profited from PGP when he cofounded a company with my former employer, Jonathan Seybold—I introduced them.

What “Amanda” really seems to be betraying in the comment about my self-importance is her/his/their own self-consciousness about being “just a blogger.” I believe this is a valid assessment of the personality behind Strumpette, which thrives only on disagreement, not even informed disagreement. Acting out isn’t the basis of a viable publication about ideas—it does support all sorts of crappy and pornographic publications. There’s an entire business model in being verbally ignorant, alas, because of the proliferation of cheap and easy-to-use publishing tools. This, too, shall pass.

All I did was disagree with her/him/them. That doesn’t make me right, but it surely isn’t a crime deserving excremental abuse. So, at the peril of agreeing with “Amanda” that social software isn’t all its cracked up to be, she/he/they definitely proved today that the Strumpette contribution to the social sphere is largely worthless noise. Join me in ignoring her/him/them.

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran journalist, media executive and entrepreneur. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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