Second-Hand Dealers in Ideas
Borsook has been in the news lately as a result of her recently
released book, Cyberselfish:
A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High
Tech. This book contends, in the words of Thomas
Scoville, "that technolibertarianism is a rhetorical
projection of control-oriented, non-communitarian,
arrested-adolescent urges of the preponderantly male geek
book is very badly written, featuring prose gems such as
"...articulating the funnest, extremest, most
organize-to-smash-the-state," and is rife with errors.
Brian Doherty has done an excellent job of highlighting some of
Borsook's many factual and theoretical gaffes in "Cybersilly,"
his review of the book for Reason Magazine. And Eric
a strong case that Borsook has "geek" culture all
of these critiques of Borsook score, but the real problem with
her book (which Doherty points out as well) is that she is
employing an invalid method of argumentation, intended to
preempt, not to engage in, debate. By attacking high tech
libertarians as selfish, sexually twisted, and uncaring people,
her message is that no one need pay any attention to what they
are saying. By logic similar to Borsook's, we can dismiss the
calculus because Liebniz and Newton engaged in a nasty political
dispute over who should get credit for it, and refute the theory
of relativity because Einstein was an eccentric who wore
slippers to his daughter's wedding.
Marxists perfected this style of "debating." Unable to
answer the anti-socialist arguments of the classical economists,
or to show how a workable society could be created using Marxist
precepts, they instead slandered anyone who challenged their
ideas as a vicious tool of the capitalist exploiters.
is not alone in employing these tactics. I recently read an interview
with Borsook by Salon writer Thomas Scoville, from
which I extracted the quote in the first paragraph. Rather than
bring up the unpleasant fact that Borsook had gotten the most
elementary facts about her subject wrong, and didn't seem to
have even bothered trying to comprehend it, Scoville threw
Borsook one puffball question after another. He employs the same
sort of meaningless but important sounding blather as Borsook,
for example: "[She] has broadened her investigation with a
volume of even more scathing ontological critiques."
e-mailed Scoville, curious as to how he would defend himself and
Borsook. As a journalist, wasn't he obligated to ask his subject
how she had gotten so many simple facts wrong? I pointed out a
number of these factual errors and egregious misunderstandings
from her book and from their interview.
however, failed to respond to a single one of my points.
Instead, he offered, on the basis of a few hundred words of
text... a psychoanalysis of me! His one item in defense of
Borsook was that she had, after all, appeared on CNN – and
that therefore she must not be completely off the mark. These
are the standards of intellectual debate that Borsook and
Scoville offer – a theory is valid or invalid based on the
amount of attention it attracts from the mainstream media.
told me that I was just the sort of "angry, abusive
pedant" that he and Borsook were talking about. (His
definition of "pedant" seems to be someone who demands
that a journalist get her basic facts straight.) In fact, he
said, I was merely confirming that he and Borsook are correct
about "technolibertarians." He had predicted, in the
interview, that these were just the sort of people who would
get mad about being characterized as immature, perverse
narcissists. I imagine that if Scoville called the Irish a bunch
of drunken bums ruled by their emotions, any angry response on
the part of any Irishman would confirm that hypothesis as well.
must admit that I'm not particularly concerned about whether Mr.
Scoville "likes" me. And as long as my family and
friends are able to tolerate me, at least some of the time, I
don't go in much for self-analysis. But, while it amazed me that
Scoville was so perspicacious that he could divine my
personality based on such scanty evidence, I couldn't help
wondering why this was relevant. I may be the biggest jerk in
the world, but how does this defend Borsook's dreadful
ignorance, or Scoville's granting her a complete pass on all of
doesn't, of course, nor does Borsook's book contribute anything
to the debate on how society should be organized (or, as a
libertarian would contend, allowed to organize itself). There
are serious questions about libertarian ideas, and there are
those on the left willing to raise them and listen to the
answers. Borsook and her appendage Scoville are not among them.
They are what F.A. Hayek referred to as "second-hand
dealers in ideas." They are warmly welcomed in the
mainstream media because they formerly worked in high tech and
will feed the media the story about high tech that it wants to
hear. Their goal is not to engage and challenge libertarian
thinking; rather, it is to dismiss libertarians as inferior
human beings, whose ideas need not even be considered. This way,
the ruling elite can rest easy at night, knowing that the sleep
of the masses will not be disturbed by those nasty, perverted
Callahan is a regular contributor to mises.org.