‘Against The Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob’

I’m reading this new book by Lee Siegel.

It seems like a lot of twaddle.

Here’s the incident that led to his book:

In September 2006, Siegel was temporarily suspended from The New Republic, after an internal investigation determined he was participating in misleading comments in the magazine’s "Talkback" section, in response to anonymous attackers on his blog at The New Republic’s website.[7] The comments were made through the device of a "sock puppet" dubbed "sprezzatura", who, as one reader noted, was a consistently vigorous defender of Siegel, and who specifically denied being Siegel when challenged by an anonymous detractor in "Talkback." In response to readers who had criticized Siegel’s negative comments about TV talk show host Jon Stewart, ‘sprezzatura’ wrote, "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep."[8] The New Republic posted an apology and shut down Siegel’s blog. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Siegel dismissed the incident as a "prank." He resumed writing for The New Republic in April 2007.[9] Siegel’s critique of Web culture, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, was published in January 2008.

Here’s the foundational premise for Siegel’s book: "Things don’t have to be the way they are." His example? Ralph Nader’s 1965 book "Unsafe At Any Speed" unleashed a revolution of safer driving.

This is nonsense. There’s no correlation with a lower number of deaths per mile driven and Nader’s book. What we do know is that the increased regulations spurred by Nader’s book led to this:

The impact of the safety regulations that were spawned because of the book became the basis of a paper by economist Sam Peltzman. Peltzman’s conclusions that the regulations actually caused additional deaths became known as the Peltzman Effect. Peltzman argued that because regulation made cars safer, getting into an accident became less risky, providing a rationale for some drivers to drive more aggressively, leading to a higher incidence of accidents and thus an overall rise in risk of accident for all drivers (See Risk compensation).

Peltzman also argued that car safety was already improving, though at a slow rate, since the invention of the car. These improvements tended to be minor but had a huge impact in improving safety (such as a rearview mirror mounted on the outside of the car and automatically canceling turn signals).

Siegel’s biggest objection to the Web seems to be that it is full of porn. He’s appalled that "your immersion in this online world of forbidden images takes place on your home computer." Why is that any more appalling than that the lips that kiss your children goodbye in the morning are soon employed for less wholesome purposes on the Mexican gardener?

Siegel quotes Christopher Lasch’s definition of the narcissist as someone "whose sense of self depends on the validation of others whom he nevertheless degrades."

Sound like anyone you know?

I’ll give one example of Siegel’s shallow thought (from page 159).

Open Secret Number Two [about blogging]: The individual news blogger’s lack of an institution’s ethical framework encourages the mutation of rumor into fact. Examples run to the hundreds, even thousands. Here are a few of the most colorful or consequential: In February 2004, the blogger Matt Drudge falsely claimd that John Kerry had had an affair with an intern on Capitol Hill who then fled to Africa.

First, Matt Drudge did not claim this. He reported that journalists from the MSM were investigating this.

Second. How does Siegel know that the allegation of the affair is false? He does not. How could he possibly be able to declare so definitively that no such affair took place? He can’t, but because Kerry and the woman deny it, that to Siegel is conclusive proof that no such affair happened.

Siegel had months to compose and edit his book, yet he routinely tosses off such shoddy accusations.

His book is pretentious nonsense from beginning to end.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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