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July 3, 2008

I have just gone through an interview with one Lee Siegel, published in last week’s New Scientist. I had never heard of the bloke before, but NS were kind enough to offer a quick bio of the man, reproduced below (I haven’t asked for their permission to use it, but I’m not making money out of it and I’m not saying I wrote it … )

Lee Siegel coined “blogofascism” to describe the intolerant name-calling on the net. He studied at Columbia University, New York (BA, MA and M.Phil), was an editor at The New Leader and Artnews, then a full-time writer, and went on to win the 2002 National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism. His books include Falling Upwards and Against the Machine: Being human in the age of the electronic mob, published by Spiegel&Grau (US)/Serpent’s Tail(UK).

In a nutshell, during a spell as a culture critic with a magazine, Spiegel’s articles attracted online abuse that his editors refused to remove. To counter the insults he posted some comments, under a nick, that were meant to put him in a good light. When they discovered what he did, he was suspended from his job and shamed. The interview then goes on about what he thinks is bad with the internet as a medium that stunts the growth of our social skills, what can be done to make the internet a better place etc etc.

I was impressed by the fact that he needed to invent the term “blogofascism”. This guy, for expressing an opinion – which he has every right to do, mind you – was abused and insulted by somebody who didn’t agree with him. What’s worse, this was done anonymously.

Whoever insulted Siegel had every right to disagree with what Siegel said, BUT s/he had no right to insult him in the manner s/he did (including calling him a paedophile – now bear in mind that Siegel was the culture critic for this magazine, so it’s hard to see why he was called him a paedophile. It’s not clear whether this incident started the attacks or it was part of the attacks).

A fascist, these days, is more of an insult to anyone holding a different belief and/or opinion rather than a description of a political ideology. This has probably trickled down from Mussolini’s politics that engendered a “superior us and inferior them” mentality. Essentially, anyone who is not like me is a moron, ergo a fascist.

Siegel’s gripe – as I understood it – is that the tool that should have given everyone an equal voice (i.e. the internet) has become a worldwide, and more vicious, version of playground bullying. What’s worse, the bullies have the option of remaining unknown. You can’t confront them and, bizarrely, if you cry foul you automatically become a censor because you are telling people what to say and what to think. Talk of turning the other cheek…

Also, most disturbing, is his claim that people are constantly trying to outdo each other on the insolence stakes. Invective sells blogs and fora (forums), apparently. Although I don’t have any statistics at hand, the idea makes intuitive sense to me. I see a similar downward spiral in the central theme of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which culminates in the death of Piggy. Worryingly, a few blogs here (Malta, EU) are guilty of “blogofascism” too. I think that they do it just for kicks or – at worst – to be admired for their witty put downs. I don’t believe for a minute that they’re being malicious…

Everyone has a right to his or her opinion as long as it corresponds to mine 🙂

OOH … look at the time …

until next time.


From → Misfires

  1. The other day I wondered what it would be like if, say, Mr Borg Cardona sat in a room with his on-line detractors. Would they go for his jugular with the same brutality that they do on-line or would things calm down somewhat in the tete-a-tete scenario?

  2. They would probably try their damnedest to avoid catching each other’s eye in case they’d have to speak to each other …

  3. Claire permalink

    One of the most interesting blogs I’ve seen so far – prosit Reuben

  4. Hi Claire. Glad to see you appreciate my … erm … efforts 🙂

  5. Thomas Falzon permalink

    Reuben, we at LABOUR IN LABOUR meet regularly to discuss our blogging adventure (almost 4 months now) and we found your Blogofascism post of July 3 stimulating and thought-provoking.
    Siegel is, of course, right. There is a tendency for some commenting visitors
    to engage in a mote “vicious version of playground bullying”, possibly because “the bullies have the option of remaining unknown”. And of course (happens to us often) one “can’t confront them and, bizarrely, if you cry foul you automatically become a censor because you are telling people what to say and what to think”. He is also right that “invective sells blogs” and we do have our own “statistics at hand”: no sooner does a visiting commentator switch to f*** you mode that the number of average hits per hour doubles. Yes, we too are saddened that “a few blogs here (Malta, EU) are guilty of blogofascism too”. But we are less optimistic than you seem to be when you say that you “think that they do it just for kicks or – at worst – to be admired for their witty put downs”.
    Come and share a cuppa o’ comments at our place when you feel like it.
    Tom Falzon at

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