1993-07-03 - Re: Ad Hominum attacks (was Re: PC Week Clipper article

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From: tcmay@netcom.com (Timothy C. May)
To: “Pat Farrell” <pfarrell@cs.gmu.edu>
Message Hash: 5a244be41ca7ccf5a569ce082171cf9dc5121c41eaa1211ad327a08b49dd9b97
Message ID: <9307032039.AA07619@netcom.netcom.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-07-03 20:39:04 UTC
Raw Date: Sat, 3 Jul 93 13:39:04 PDT

Raw message

From: tcmay@netcom.com (Timothy C. May)
Date: Sat, 3 Jul 93 13:39:04 PDT
To: "Pat Farrell" <pfarrell@cs.gmu.edu>
Subject: Re: Ad Hominum attacks (was Re: PC Week Clipper article
Message-ID: <9307032039.AA07619@netcom.netcom.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

I largely agree with Pat Farrell's comments about the vicious attacks on
various crypto folks.

I was the one who jokingly used the term "wicked witch of the East" in
reference to D.D., though I am almost 100% certain it was only to this
mailing list, and not to sci.crypt in general. Perhaps I let my enthusiasm
for my wit take precedence over judgment. And in other places, such as
sci.crypt, I have in fact defended Denning against ignorant comments along
the lines of "Who is this Dorothy Denning person? I can't find her name
anywhere in "The Codebreakers." She must not know anything about crypto."
Whatever we may think of her position on Clipper, criticizing her
personally and imputing motives to her that cannot possibly be known to
outsiders, is foolish.

What really bothers me is the type of criticism, which I also tend to call
"ad hominem" (but which rhetoriticians may have a special name for), in
which people impute _motives_ to others. Thus, we see seemingly endless
comments about the motives of Denning, of Bidzos, of Sternlight, and of
others. (When I posted on the topic of possible cooperation with Bidzos and
RSA, I was hit with a barrage of highly critical rebuttals. The substantive
ones were fine, and expected, but the ones speculating on my motives and
imputing evilness to me were uncalled for. I wrote them off as typical Net
zeal, and am still on good terms even with those who foamed at the mouth
the most.)

"Demonizing" our opponents, or making them look like dunces (as with the
many "I've never heard of Dorothy Denning before" posts), does not help our
cause. In fact, it probably weakens our cause, for two reasons. First, it
cuts off dialog with those we disagree with. Second, we tend to
underestimate people we have written off as stooges or dunces.

While I think Dorothy Denning is, for various reasons, hopelessly in the
camp of the NSA and FBI, I see nothing to be gained by demonizing her. Or
imputing evil qua evil motives. Personally, I think being close to the FBI,
Justice Dept., NIST, NSA, etc., and socializing with them, having lunch
with them, doing contract work for them (nothing evil about that, per
se...it's how academic departments fund their research), and generally
being in "the Washington scene" has polarized her somewhat, just as we
Cypherpunks are polarized by the support we get from our peer group, from
the "cognitive dissonance" of seeing mostly the evidence that supports our
existing point of view.

When you spend your time in a milieu, work with people on their problems,
you begin to adopt their world view.

Understand, of course, that I am not addressing the underlying issues of
who is right and who is wrong...I've already made my beliefs on this clear.
I'm just agreeing with Pat Farrell that we all need to be careful not to
demonize folks like Denning, Bidzos, or even Sternlight. We don't have to
be solicitous (overly polite) toward them, and we can knock down their
arguments, but we ought not to use cheap shots and cheap rhetorical tricks
(one I hate especially is the "sound effect" jab, the "<snicker, snicker>"
sort of comment inserted into postings, sometimes even into the direct
quotes of those being attacked!).

Pat writes:

>Even more annoying are the attacks on Jim Bidzos. He is trying to make a
>buck, which was legal last time I looked. And on many issues, he is far more
>in our camp than against us. He at least likes strong cryptography, and his
>disputable patents expire in a relatively short time. He has agreed to allow
>a PGP-compatible program to use RSA without cost, providing the legal
>version that many U.S. users would like to see.

I agree, though of course he and RSADSI did not fight as hard as they might
have, in my opinion, on the subject of the cross-licensing with the DSS and
Clipper/Skipjack products. I don't pretend to understand all of the issues
involved, though I certainly can imagine he felt a lot more pressure
(legal, export, classification) from the Feds than he felt from a loose
organization of crypto privacy advocates. We're not where the money is, at
least not yet. (In fact, Cypherpunks are generally not even customers of
RSADSI, so why should Bidzos really care about our views? The industry
security group that has denounced Clipper is undoubtedly much more

Meanwhile, I have no real interest, personally, in the whole RSA v. PGP
issue...let those directly involved work it all out. I will applaud loudly
if Phil Z. and the other PGP folks do in fact reach an agreement with
RSADSI, if only because it will remove one possible avenue of attack on
private encryption.

-Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
tcmay@netcom.com       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | Public Key: by arrangement
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