I'm deeply disappointed in Scott Adams. The progenitor of Dilbert, prince of wonks and prophet for a generation of corporate coolies, has proved to be nothing more than a common internet troll, and a mendacious one at that. When posters on MetaFilter attacked his Wall Street Journal piece, "How to Get a Real Education," he logged in as plannedchaos and proceeded to sing his own praises.
"He has a certified genius I.Q., and that's hard to hide," proclaimed Adams, in his secret identity. "Is it Adams' enormous success at self-promotion that makes you jealous and angry?"
Such gaucherie. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Twitter. The third-person reference would be an honest affectation, not a cowardly disguise.-- except Kanye would do it on camera or
I pass these judgments as Mr. Adams' very junior colleague. I’m a columnist and feature writer for Patheos, an online magazine that aims to become the "premier online destination" for "the global dialogue about religion and spirituality." My most popular piece was "Catholics Need their Own ‘Book of Mormon’," so I guess you could call me a crossover artist. Be it said: our combox gets pretty darned lively. People of faith may be a little more decorous than the rest of the world, but they’re no whit less vehement. If folks don’t like what you write, they probably won’t call you an asshat, but they might well call you a heretic, or worse, a hack.
No less than Mr. Adams, I am a very sensitive person. I’m also an incurable procrastinator. If I can put off writing my next piece by defending my honor, I will. Only I make sure to observe some basic, commonsensical rules of engagement. I will post them here for Mr. Adams in the hope that they might help him continue his real education.
1. Post as "The Author." Seriously. It sounds pompous, but in a way, that’s the point. It shows you’re a big enough person to address your critics head-on, but also a distinguished enough personage to insist on a certain distance. Ifhadn’t tinkered with this formula -- calling himself "Aquarius," "Norman" and "Mailer" in his journalistic pieces -- he might not have gone guano on .
2. Never Underestimate the Competition. You may be the certified genius, but so was Wile E. Coyote. Look how he kept ending up. Some of these combox cavaliers are very, very sharp. Conversely, a lot of published work is piffle. Don’t be surprised if someone confronts you with the fact that you were a complete fraud the day you wrote whatever it is they’re hewing up.
3. Play to Your Strengths. Are you a master of repartee? A dab hand at close reasoning? Can you disarm your opponents with the grace of an fifth-dan Aikido black belt? Judging by the quotes I’ve seen posted around, I’d say you’ve yet to think these questions through. Your self-justifications sound slippery, or as we religion writers like to say, Jesuitical. It must have been years since you’ve dealt with intelligent pushback. Pick a strategy and perfect it. If it fails sometimes -- oh, well. Even Ali ran from that sumo wrestler.
4. Fear Not to Take a Powder. Let’s say the critics corner you -- don’t sweat it. It happens. Since you’re not on webcam or the Daily Show, you can slink from the field, either temporarily or permanently, without having to see your rage-mottled face reflected in anyone’s triumphant eyes. You can tell yourself your good sportsmanship will make a memory for the masses: the day we beat the great Scott Adams like he owed us money. Who knows? It may even be true.
5. Call for Backup. When Saracens encircled his rearguard at Roncevalles, Roland refused to summon Charlemagne’s main army until practically everyone was wearing a scimitar in his skull. Knowing a teachable moment when they saw one, the French have been very choosy about making last stands ever since. Flip that script. Put out an APB on Facebook for people who will defend you without actually turning out to be you. Never mind if you barely know them. A friend in the combox is a friend indeed.
6. Go Meta. Back in February, a National Catholic Register columnist named Pat Archbold published a piece called "Personalities of the Catholic Combox." A couple of months later, I stole the idea and published "Nine Types of Catholic Commenters." It was all pretty catty stuff, to be sure. But in its own way, it was revolutionary. We were booing the boo birds, no less than a baseball team could do by lining up, facing the bleachers and chanting, "CHEAPSKATES!" or "COUCH POTATOES!" To their immense credit, most readers took the ribbing like pros.
There’s good reason for that, I think. The Internet has ushered in the age of both spirited amateurism and slipshod professionalism. Inevitably, the two are going to meet, clash, learn from one another, and become conflated. In hisprofile on , " ," reveals that the former VP candidate hired a screenwriter named Rebecca Mansour to "police" her website. If any dissenters drew on Palin, Mansour "ripped them mercilessly." Get it? Internet trolling is now an honorable profession. Who knows where this will lead? It won’t surprise me a bit if facing our critics in the combox becomes one more way in which artists and writers sing for their supper.
Don’t fight the change, Mr. Adams; make it work for you. A man’s conduct on the Internet may soon be thought his true measure.