To the editor of the Reader,

No treatment of the smear campaign against the Chicago Sun-Times’s Jay Mariotti [Hot Type, July 14 and August 18 and 25] would be complete without a few words about the phenomenon of hate speech and the Internet, about how well exemplifies this phenomenon, and last, how the so-called wiki philosophy of open, community editing (“anyone can edit”) that lies behind the Wikipedia project is a disaster in the making.

As Michael Miner has noted (sincerest apologies to the great majority of you who aren’t interested), for my one and probably only adventure in Wikiland, I proposed an entry that summed up ‘Jay the Joke’ as follows:

“The phrase ‘Jay the Joke’ now may be taken to denote a range of meanings that refers not only to this particular website, to its administrators and posters, and to the smear campaign it conducts. But the phrase also denotes a legacy in which a smear campaign carried out against one single person via a website created for this specific purpose (‘hatred of Jay Mariotti’) encouraged and rapidly morphed into a platform for hate-speech and acts of intimidation and virtual violence more generally.”

This little paragraph expresses my sense of how structures of lies rapidly coalesce around demonized figures, no matter whom they are. The scapegoating of demonized figures, along with the license to hate them, is an enduring pathology of human relations. The relative anonymity that the Internet provides only magnifies it–greatly magnifies it, I’m afraid. is a case in point. Unfortunately, it is far from alone.

My Wikipedia entry didn’t survive of course and doubtless never will. I could go right on reinserting my description of for as long as Wikipedia’s administrators would let me; in no time someone would revise it away from what I think essential toward something lame or, worse, simply false. This kind of process is endless. And gets us no place fast.

As a friend of mine who is quite familiar with the politics of truth wrote to me, “In principle, Wikipedia’s a good idea, but it suffers from the illusion that there is no concentration of power and resources–we are all free and equal. In a democracy, the idea would be very good. In the real world, it will face obvious problems.”

My topic of choice happened to be trivial. But what about truly contentious issues in which something important is at stake? What happens when the drafting of history is little more than a pissing contest, and the principle to be embraced states that the guy with the biggest you-know-what wins?

Then again, maybe it’s always been.

David Peterson

Near west side