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April 13, 2003

Meta Agonist Blowback

A number of people are knicker-twisted over a plagiarism scandal over at the Agonist. I haven't heard so much whimpering since the days of Brill's Content. Remember when? Let me be the one to suggest that while there is something morally fungible about stealing words, one has to understand exactly how cheap words are. They are practically worthless and losing value by the moment.

In the days of yore, somewhere around December a good Agonist post was something like this or this. On subjects like North Korea, he was brilliant. In the billions of words that slog through the blogosphere, these clusters were demonstrably useful. They were original analysis. The Sean-Paul Kelley indeed was an agonist as he defined it:

The germ of the idea behind The Agonist came to me last October while I was walking atop the Acropolis in Athens. As I looked down into the well of an ancient amphitheatre I recalled that in Ancient Greek tragedy there was always an 'agonist', usually the lead and someone beset by intellectual or spiritual conflicts, and an 'antagonist', the principal opponent or foil of the main character. I remembered Antigone and her struggle between honoring her brother, whether he was shamed or not, and obeying her king. It was an honest, if tragic struggle she waged. The odd, stream-of-consciousness associations of the mind led me to the idea of a weblog dedicated to an honest intellectual struggle to understand the world, its nature and its past.

The new Sean-Paul Kelley on his best day is a human Google. He is a now less an analyst and agonist than a news aggregator. Granted, he a news aggregator with excellent instincts and taste but something about the popularity of his site has mitigated his value as a writer. In fact, he has transformed the flavor and impact of his website entirely since he became a star. I for one was disappointed at the change in direction and I said as much. Understanding that the war and popularity changed what the Agonist website has become, I am less inclined to browbeat Kelley for plagiarism, not that it's such an awful charge to level at anyone blogging as an aggregator.

This adds to the list of reasons we should all hope this conflict ends soon. We can get back to the business of second guessing and analyzing and reinterpreting and otherwise restating the obvious with our own (mostly) unique, original, individually generated blather. That it won't be about war will devalue the words even further, and we can continue our petty thievery once more below the scrutiny of the self-righteous guardians of intellectual property.

Posted by mbowen at April 13, 2003 08:58 PM

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