Brazil: “The Plague of Googlectuals!”


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Writing for the Observatório da Imprensa (Brazil), Luciano Martins Costa decries “googlectuals” and “wikiknowitallls” (my sketchy bad translation).

The coinage “googlectuals” alone merits a translation of an excerpt pra inglês ver.

(I also favor stealing the term internauta (PT-Br) as English ‘internaut.’ It works.)

I find myself interested in what Mr. Martins has to say, even if I do not always agree with him (or know enough about the subject to have an honest opinion). See also, for example,

A mídia anda infestada de uma praga, gerada e disseminada na internet, aparentemente imune aos defensivos tradicionais. São parasitas oportunistas que grudam na casca dos órgãos de imprensa, se alimentam do noticiário e inoculam na opinião pública interpretações de encomenda, invariavelmente calcadas na matriz ideológica que define o núcleo editorial da mídia a que se incorporam. Sua forma mais comum de apresentação é o blog, mas também encarnam em colunas e artigos e, eventualmente, se combinam entre essas variadas formas e a correspondência por e-mail ou através dos comentários ao pé de conteúdos jornalísticos.

Our media is progressively infested with a plague, generated and disseminated over the Internet, that is apparently immune to traditional pesticides. These are the opportunistic parasites who cling to the hide of the commercial news media, sucking their living from the newsflow and injecting custom-made interpretations into the mindstream of public opinion — interpretations that invariously reflect the ideological slant of editorial management at the media outlet they attach themselves to.

Nice extended metaphor. I am a sucker for a well-turned analogy. I think what he has in mind is Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that serves as the unique vector for dengue — about the risks of which the public is currently being alerted by public health authorities.

They most often take the form of a blog, but also show up as columns and articles, and even combinations thereof, or as e-mail circulars or notes left in the comments sections of Web sites.

Essencialmente, esses parasitas podem ser classificados em duas cepas: a mais comum, dos googlectuais, e outra de incidência mais rara, a dos wikieruditos, que mesclam sua atuação na imprensa com incursões no universo acadêmico. Ambos os grupos podem ser identificados pela emissão constante de sinais exteriores de conhecimento, mas a qualidade que melhor os caracteriza é o senso de oportunidade, sempre manifestado no estilo agressivo das patologias que afetam os organismos vulneráveis.

There are two subspecies of these parasites: The most common is the googlectual. The other, a rarer breed, is the wikiknowitall, which combines its activity in the press with incursions into the academic realm. Both groups can be identified by their constant insistence on displaying the trappings of superior knowledge, but the quality that best defines them is opportunism, always delivered in the aggressive style that is the main pathology of the vulnerable host organism.

My favorite example of what might well be termed googlectualism:

The infamous and well-heeled CIA, with its massive networks of human and technical information sources, could not come up with enough names for a State Department blacklist with which to pump up the case for nuking Iran, sooner than now.

So some State Dept. Moonies put an intern in front of Google and told him or her to google up some names of bad guys. Or so anonymous CIA sources claimed. With some backing.

That about says it all, I think.

If that is something like what Mr. Martins means, you might then define “googlectualism” as

a fallacy proper to the “rhetoric of the technological sublime” according to which “The Internet today is a perfect and complete representation of the current state of human knowledge, and the frontier of progress in the Baconian advancement of learning.”

For which reason googling things up is to be understood as a more than adequate substitute for the outmoded, inefficient procedures of critical fact-finding 1.0.

Such as going places and seeing things for oneself, or interviewing multiple eyewitnesses and sources of interpretation and applying critical reason to the results.

This fallacy contravenes NMM Maxim No. 12, of course:

When any idiot, compulsive liar, sociopath, or stealth marketer can publish on the Internet, the vast majority of what is published on the Internet will have been composed by idiots … or worse.

If the Internet is a reflection of the social life of naked apes in general in any sense at all, it is to the degree that it tends to degenerate into a gigantic rumor mill that promotes hysterical belief in nonexistent facts.

Nossa jovem democracia é um desses ambientes vulneráveis, onde a ética – que tem no sistema imunológico sua melhor metáfora – não encontra nas instituições públicas e nas entidades privadas de interesse público, como a imprensa, suas melhores referências. Esses parasitas atuam no organismo social sempre no limite da responsabilidade. Nesse sentido, pode-se até dizer que têm uma faceta benigna, por constituirem uma espécie de prova de resistência das defesas democráticas.

Our young democracy is one of these vulnerable ecosystems, in which public institutions and public-interest private institutions are not the most outstanding examples of what is best described as the immune sysem of democracy: the sense of ethics. These parasites live off the social organism but outside the area of social responsiblity. In this sense, you might even say they serve a benign function, serving as a test of our democratic defenses.

Craig Newmark’s favorite metaphor: “The immune system of the network.”

Perhaps if you had universal literacy and universal access to information and education this sort of thing would seem more benign. But Brazil is still working towards that.

Entre as duas cepas, a dos wikieruditos é a menos agressiva. Costuma se instalar nas bancas de pós-graduação de algumas faculdades, no corpo das teses e em suas avaliações, é encontrada com freqüência em publicações acadêmicas e prolifera na rede de computadores. Seu efeito mais maléfico é agregar ao agente transmissor valores que ele de fato não possui, o que pode no máximo influenciar carreiras e distorcer o resultado de concursos públicos. Produz um brilhareco de erudição que se extingue com uma leitura mais acurada de seu produto.

Of the two breeds, the wikiknowitall is less aggressive. It tends to attack itself to the back row of graduate lecture halls at certain universities, …

Falso brilho

False brilliance

A outra espécie, a dos googlectuais, é mais danosa para a democracia e para a boa educação da sociedade, porque costuma parasitar a imprensa, apropriando-se de sua credibilidade para catalizar opiniões e influenciar os debates públicos. Sua prática mais comum é bombardear os blogs com artigos e comentários recheados de citações pseudoeruditas e invariavelmente agressivas contra aqueles que expõem opiniões divergentes às da matriz ideológica predominante na chamada grande mídia.

The other species, the googlectual, does more damage to democracy and social civility, because its normal method is parastical on the press. It appropriates the credibility of news sources to promote opinions and influence public debates.

Here is where I might pose a skeptical question of my — genuinely, I am sure — learned colleague.

Do enough people actually believe what they read on blogs to really have an influence on public opinion?

The whole point of a noise machine being to create the (phony) appearance of a large body of consensus around a given opinion.

In fact, what you often have are five guys with 40 pseudonyms apiece trying to create the impression of a spontaneous emergent revolt of countless multitudes!

When the FCC acted against the infamous Janet Jackson nipple-slip during the Super Bowl broadcast, as I recall, the “barrage” of complaints it cited in prioritizing the matter turned out to be a small circle of little old ladies from Lake Woebegon getting paid piecework rates by some stealth marketing operator to do the service.

There are, after all, concrete indications that blogs simply do not matter nearly as much as the blogging-industrial complex would have you believe. See, for example

The best illustration of this in the fictional realm may be that marvelous sequence in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which the political machine against whom Jimmy Stewart is doing solitary battle orchestrates a letter writing campaign, the results of which the crooked Senator has brought onto the Senate floor, sack after sack after sack after sack.

As “proof” that no one supports what Sen. Smith is doing.

At the same time, you have those heart-rending scenes of suited goons smacking around the little newsboys who are trying to put out a broadside in defense of their hero, and stealing their homemade newspapers.

Os googlectuais não se entregam aos debates pelo prazer de esgrimir idéias. Eles atuam no sentido de arregimentar correligionários para seu viés, pela desqualificação agressiva do oponente. Exibem o falso brilho de uma erudição fast food construída ao instante, em consultas rápidas ao Google. Têm como ídolo e modelo o falecido colunista Paulo Francis, o que não representa necessariamente uma homenagem a ele. Francis, ao contrário desses imitadores, era um leitor voraz de livros de verdade.

The Googlectuals do not engage in debate for the pleasure of fencing over ideas. They work to regiment their co-religionists behind their specific bias through aggressive disqualification of their opponent. They exhibit the false brilliance of fast-food learning, made up on the spot, in rapid consultations on Google. Their idol and model is the late Paulo Francis, which is not necessarily a compliment to Francis. Francis, unlike his imitators, was a voracious reader of real books.

For a case of a “senior scholar” who is unscholarly enough to base an argument on a phony etymology of the term “fascism,” see

I have a volume of Francis’ crónicas from New York in the 1970s. Before his sad decline, the man unquestionably wielded genuine erudition and intellectual honesty, in his contrariety, that make that period of his production well worth re-reading. He was sort of the Christopher Hitchens of his day.

A lendária agressividade verbal de Francis se reproduz no universo dos googlectuais como o gesto humano entre os símios. Sem o estofo que seu ídolo construiu em uma vida inteira de estudos e produção intelectual, eles se resumem à realimentação contínua das controvérsias, das quais nunca brota uma idéia conclusiva, porque seu único objetivo é a controvérsia em si, não o conteúdo. A qualquer ameaça de esfacelamento de suas teses, sempre no extremo do conservadorismo e da resignação ao status quo, agitam a “ola” de ruidosos correligionários, cujos comentários são reproduzidos como referendo às idéias que não encontraram epílogo em si mesmas.

Paulo’s legendary verbal aggressiveness is reproduced in the universe of the Googlectuals as a human gesture exchanged among apes. Without the substance that Francis built up over a lifetime of studies and intellectual production, they simply reheat the same old controversies in which no conclusion is ever produced, because their only objective is controversy for its own sake, not the content of the controversy. At the slightest threat to the acceptance of their thesis, which invariably advocate extreme conservatism and resignation to the status quo, they activate a “wave” of noisy co-religionists whose comments are cited as …

Translator’s brain-fart. I cannot complete the complex thought expressed here.

Também existem os googlectuais de “esquerda”, reconhecíveis pela linguagem viciada e por certo messianismo na repetição de mantras libertários. Igualmente autoritários, estes, porém, têm o discurso diluído no infinito horizonte do inconformismo sem esperança de conciliação com a realidade. Em um e outro lado desse impossível dueto de surdos, pontificam afirmações de uma auto-suficiência intelectual que é freqüentemente uma ficção. A mais comum delas, que segue sempre uma citação, é a afirmação: “lido e catalogado’, como se bastasse ao autor afirmar que leu tal obra citada para que o leitor o considere intelectualmente qualificado.

There are also googlelectuals of the left, recognizable by their adulterated language and a certain messianic tendency in the repetition of libertarian mantras. Though equally authoritarian, their discourse tends to dissipate on the infinite horizon of complaint without the hope of reconciling themselves to reality. One both sides of this absurd duet of deaf sopranos, affirmations of intellectual self-sufficiency are trotted out that are often purely fictious. The most common of thsese, which always follows a quotation, is the statement: “Read and recorded,” as if it were enough for the author to state that he has read the work in question for the reader to consider him intellectually qualified.

There are. The nearest gringo equivalent I can think of are those Moonies from the Bloggers for Dean crowd, and the whole “Red State-Blue State” blogging industry in the U.S., dedicated to the perpetuating the Manichaean allegory of the two-party system as an actual reflection of the diversity of political opinion.

I am neither a Republican or a Democrat. I have voted for candidates from both parties, and third parties to boot. I support candidates on an a la carte basis, depending on who I think is the least insane and more apt to get practical things done that I think should get done.

I actually tend to think that the major political parties themselves, run on the model of the modern multinational bank-brokerage, are mainly the problem, and hardly ever the solution to anything. If they were, this Iraq debacle would never have happened.
I am looking for credible, organized, independent alternatives. (Unity08 does not seem to be it: Its spokesman is a TV actor who only PLAYS a legal eagle on the boob tube. What we need is the real McCoy.)

Still, I do tend to be one of those people who — despite some differences of opinion with the guy — tend to really admire old Bloomberg’s turning his back, first on the Dems, then on the GOP, to become an independent.

I bet you there are a lot more people like me out there, too.

My favorite example of this is Richard Edelman’s reading of Kurosawa’s Rashomon as a fable who moral is that “it is impossible for anyone to escape their own subjectivity in order to establish objective truths.”

We are all a bunch of stinking, stupid naked apes and there is no point trying to do anything about it.

Human beings suck. Original sin, maybe. So you might as well accept it, make the best of it and wallow in the filth that is our lot in this Hobbesian state of nature we have the audacity to call a civilization.

Which pretty clearly indicates that he has not seen the film.

It is a complex whodunnit in which we do, however, in the end, discover whodunnit.

Remember? The Shinto priest is in despair, tormented by the Edelman thesis, and tempted by a fatal pessimism of the kind just described.

But the film ends with him saying, “My faith in humanity is restored!”

Em geral, é mentira. A citação pode ser facilmente rastreada no Google, como fazem os professores ao verificarem a autenticidade dos trabalhos de seus orientandos, e as pistas estão sempre no próprio texto que o autor pretende referendar. A rigor, trata-se apenas da velha e conhecida desonestidade intelectual, agora potencializada pelos recursos da web 2.0 e temperada por algum talento performático. Pura micagem, destinada ao efêmero da memória randômica.

In general, this is a lie. The quotation can simply be looked up on Google, much as teachers do to check whether their students have been plagiarizing, and the evidence are invariably in the text the author is trying to refer to. Strictly speaking, it is nothing more than old-fashioned intellectual dishonesty, turbocharged by the resources offered by the Web 2.0 and helped along by some theatrical talent. Pure piffling monkey-business, destined for the dustheap of random-access memory.

The stock answer to which tirade would be, of course: “Look who’s talking! Martins is the biggest googlectual of all!” Whether it is true or not.

When a Republican lawmaker gets borked for corruption, the inevitable reaction is a noise-machine campaign to the effect that “the Democrats are corrupt!” George Will can often be found in the middle of such efforts.

I have done an incredibly bad and lazy job of translating this.

But hey, you get what you pay for.
Micagem is a marvellous word, for example, but for the life of me I cannot think of a good, equally colorful English expression off the top of my head. (A mico is a small monkey.) More thesaurus-surfing would be required to discover la mot juste.

Sorry. I like to take on a more challenging text from time to time — most of my translation work for money is just formulaic business and bureaucratic prose — but then I wind up not having the time to spend on actually doing it right. But you get the gist.

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