The Revolt of the Experts
I enjoy my blog and Twitter immensely. They’ve given me new and exciting outlets for my thoughts and sharing them with lots of people who might otherwise never get to know what’s on my mind. I get a kick out of discussions with others, sharing knowledge while meeting some really great people on the way. Like any scholar, I enjoy a bit of intellectual fisticuffs now and then, and I savor learning while teaching at the same time.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that Twitter is reaching a major hinge point where the online wheat is getting separated from chaff. It may develop into something better or, like Facebook, it runs the risk of devolving into a venue for nothing but cat pics and generic self-absorbed mindlessness. It’s too soon to tell but I’m trying to be hopeful here.
We’re already seeing some pull-away from smart people who’ve simply decided not to engage trolls and, in some cases, to cease two-way Twittering altogether. I can understand that, given what an unpleasant time-suck Twitter fights can become. As I said months ago: There are lot of angry and deranged people in the world, and all of them seem to be on Twitter. I think Daveed Gartenstein-Ross said it well yesterday, when he decided to disengage from trolls altogether as an irretrievable time-sink.
Moreover, there’s the larger issue of what my friend and colleague Tom Nichols yesterday termed The Death of Expertise. I can’t recommend his piece highly enough, be sure to take a look. I find myself in agreement with all its main points, especially that we’ve taken democratization of knowledge to an utterly fake and dishonest point. Some people really are experts and others are not. What I know, I know, and I don’t pretend special knowledge of the many more topics where I’m anything but an expert. I recommend others to do the same.
In recent months, as I’ve become one of the very few former NSA officers willing to discuss the Edward Snowden case on the record, I’ve entertained literally thousands of questions about this matter via Twitter. About every aspect of this complex espionage case, from every possible angle. I can state without reservation that the lion’s share of these questions have been simply stupid.
Your grade school
self-esteem booster teacher lied to you: There are plenty of stupid questions out there, and a lot seem to get sent my way of late. And by stupid I don’t mean simply uninformed – because I’m the first to admit that it can sometimes be tricky to get “ground truth” about what intelligence agencies actually do – rather willfully so, and often wrapped in poorly concealed agendas.
Countless times I have been engaged in the game where people don’t like my answer so they keep asking the same question over and over … and over again. Calling this mind-numbing is being charitable. I find this especially annoying when it’s undertaken by soi disant online journalists who are too lazy to do the most basic, Google-based research on intelligence matters and seemingly expect me to act as their research assistant without compensation or even politesse extended my way.
So I’ve gotten irritable at times. My reputation as a minor-league online bully is something my enemies like to throw out there and, hey, I own it. I don’t suffer fools lightly in person, and even less so virtually. I’m into martial arts, I love few things more than a sparring match, and online I can sometimes bring the same attitude if you try to get my blood up.
I want to make clear, as my regular followers know, that I’ve tried to be patient with fools, but it can be tough to remain placid when you have seriously nasty and deranged stuff thrown at you every day on Twitter. Among the things I’ve experienced online in recent months include not just a multi-headed campaign to get myself and Tom Nichols fired from our jobs by deranged persons who think we have no right to free speech, but also regular threats of violence, countless denunciations (being called “NSA shill” is the nicest of them, and the combination of f-bombs added on would impress any moody teenager), as well as suggestions that I should have sex with my mother and/or my children.
I’ve endured a lot more than just dumb questions, and I won’t lie, it’s put me in a pretty bad mood at times. Things such as fake John Schindler accounts and verbal assaults on my loved ones have hardly helped the matter. But I’m a big boy and, more than that, I’m an expert, so it’s time the adults take over here. Its the only hope Twitter has if it wants to avoid becoming a shorter Facebook.
Henceforth I will be doing zero engaging with trolls; at best, you will be directed to my blog, where you are free to comment on whatever you like (as long as it’s reasonably polite), while at worst I will just block you, perhaps with my stock phrase: “Never lose your enthusiasm.”
I look forward to regular engagement with the many great people I’ve met via Twitter – chatting with you is one of the highlights of my day. But I’m a busy guy and I lack the time for pointless Twitter fights. I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do. If you want to engage me, read up and learn your stuff. I’ve already written a lot on where you should be looking. Otherwise, have a nice day. And if this bothers you: don’t have one.