The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
16.2 (Spring 2016)
The Polis vs. Progress
Confessions of a Very Flawed Editor, or Duped by Internet Con Games
John R. Harris
Though ideologue utopians and monkishly sequestered nerds may insist otherwise, Internet con games and the unwitting misrepresentation implicit in e-life grow worse as “progress” sweeps us forward.
The year 2016 is yet young, but so far it has not been kind to me as an author, editor, and would-be paladin in the cause of basic human liberties. I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes. Don Quixote, move over.
Of the two that I feel honor-bound to confess publicly, one is inexplicable folly. If I were to volunteer, not an excuse or even an explanation, but a kind of logbook chronology detailing how I managed to plow into the iceberg, it would run something like this.
I was very much cheered by the amount of money donated to The Center at the end of the year. I wanted to do something really meaningful with it. Yet I was in no great hurry to reach a decision, because the Spring semester loomed large on the horizon and might have rushed me into a careless judgment if I tried to clear the deck too hurriedly. I bring home papers to be graded every weekend during both long semesters, transforming my professional life into a seven-day-week kind of affair. And the Spring semester carries the added burden of tax returns to be filed both with Texas and the IRS in order to keep our state exemption and 501(c)3 status in good repair. Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand’s doing around here—a condition recommended by Jesus, but not, I think, in the context of operating a successful business.
I had numerous possibilities for upgrade running fantastically through the back of my mind, then, when I received an email alerting me that our domain name’s registration would expire in a few short months. I instantly recalled the trauma of a previous incident when our “literatrevalues.org” domain was shanghaied within hours of the registration’s lapse and then offered for sale to me—after visitors to our site were being redirected to some sort of travel agency—for almost a thousand dollars. Naturally, I couldn’t begin to scrape together that kind of loot, nor would I have tried to do so when the objective was to reward a nameless, faceless Internet hooligan. An immensely laborious process therefore began of reconstructing our site under the present “literatefreedom.org” moniker.
With that lesson seared into my memory, I responded almost reflexively to the alert from Internet Domain Registration Services. I thought I might as well renew for the generously discounted five-year plan, after which time The Center and I would likely be famous, defunct, or at least willing to part company permanently. Temperamentally, I am always receptive to solutions that free me from having to worry about nagging little matters that distract me from what I consider more important endeavors.
Of course, there IS no Internet Domain Registration Services, or not as a legitimate business enterprise. I’ll call that operation a bunch of nameless, faceless Internet hooligans, since that phrase is both handy and printable. I had taken almost two hundred bucks of our organization’s precious funds and set a match to them. Would that I had literally done so, in fact! I would have rested much easier reflecting that the money had simply been vaporized than knowing, as I do now, that it went to reward the skulking, cowardly pickpocketing of a gang of punks.
I will make amends, once my semester ends. Out of my own pocket, I will devote an amount at least equaling the loss to having Bluehost’s technicians upgrade the site (which investment, alas, probably won’t finance more than a month’s expert monitoring and overhaul). It’s the least I can do to buy a better night’s sleep.
For the umpteenth time over the past twenty years, I find myself “schooled” in the hard lesson that the Internet is a den of vipers. You don’t see people, you don’t speak to them a quattr’ occhi, you don’t know where they live, you don’t know their spouses or friends… the Net’s world is a fabulous one where some knave who has discovered the Ring of Invisibility gets to steal food, spill drinks, utter insults, and slap faces with complete impunity, like Dr. Faustus at the Pope’s banquet. Now my blood pressure has yet another reason to edge upward when utopian idiots warble on about how much more sharing, caring, and sociable our world has become thanks to Uncle Internet. I cannot abide such insipid blather any longer. Yes, I was the fool in this instance—foolish for failing to remember, in a moment’s preoccupation, that you trust no one on these waves; foolish for remembering all too keenly, thanks to an enduring trauma, the time when my pocket was picked because I hadn’t been preemptive enough. So goes the Internet, and all its gear: you get robbed blind for being slightly distracted, and then the “professionals” who promise to fight off the scammers scam you; your files are destroyed by a virus, and then you pay protection money to a “virus shield” company that lets in periodic viruses to demonstrate the need of constant upgrading; you shift your entire site to WordPress because it’s almost cost-free, and then WordPress decides to start charging you for attaching more than one keyword phrase to a file. The uninitiated will recognize this tactic from their regular dealings with outfits like Suddenlink and Direct TV.
So… foolish? Yes, I have admitted to being a fool. But I grow weary, as well, of a brave new world in which one can trust absolutely nobody—which eventually proves to be impossible, by the way. At least I will never be such a fool as to say that this transformation has made our lives better. Maybe if you’re a professional crook.
Confession Number Two is of an entirely different sort… I think. Then again…
In the premier issue of 2016, I published a piece recounting the travail of Mahin Mousapour, an evangelical minister who had converted to Christianity from Islam and was currently trying to carve out an existence for herself and her small congregation in Frankfurt, Germany. The struggle greatly intensified when Chancellor Merkel, Pope Francis, and other moral beacons whose light shines much brighter than does yours and mine identified a holy obligation to allow hundreds of thousands of “refugees” (young men fleeing tedium and unemployment, mostly) to flood Europe. Rev. Mousapour delivered an impassioned speech in a Frankfurt park which was posted on YouTube. Concurrently, she sent around public letters describing how she and her parishioners were routinely being bullied and threatened. I found her story piquant, so I did my small bit to broadcast it yet further: I translated one of her public letters from German to English (shared in my post on this site), and later I added a slightly edited email that she had sent me in broken English.
This latter act of publicization infuriated Rev. Mousapour, apparently. She informed me that I had betrayed her and that she wanted nothing more to do with me. The message was an emailed slap in the face that literally made me sick: I spent the next week fighting down something like a mild case of flu. To this day, I cannot spot the foul. Strictly speaking, yes, I had published a private letter without the author’s consent; but a) there was nothing private in Rev. Mousapour’s initial email to me unless the same details bullhorned over the streets of Frankfurt were to be considered a confidential communication, b) I was on the cusp of my new semester and had no time to await a week-to-ten-days confirmation from the Reverend’s pony-express Web server, and c) the letter’s tone effectively personalized her for the general audience and showed her (rather mistakenly, as it turned out) to be more than just another humorless voice screaming “discrimination” shrilly. The one new titbit in the private communiqué was that she considered moderate Muslims a better bet than spineless EU Christians in her search for allies. Was that supposed to be a state secret? Why? Would the spineless Christians suddenly grow vertebrae if they read the remark? Would radical Muslims step up their persecution of moderate Muslims if they heard that Mahin Mousapour wanted to make common cause with the latter?
Or was I dealing with a paranoid who would post a YouTube video one moment, then demand the next that all her private emails be printed out and eaten within an hour of receipt?
Or was Mahin Mousapour other than what she represented herself? The refrains of “Diskriminierung” in the video had always disturbed me a little; after all, any Christian is supposed to expect a degree of persecution, as Jesus promises—and a woman who is “threatened” with a knife yet lives to scream about it is perhaps being threatened because she screams, just as boys fling rocks at a stray dog to see it cringe and growl. What (I asked myself for the first time) was Rev. Mousapour really requesting from the world? Free legal service? In what sort of litigation? Whom did she expect to sue? Radical Islam? The social-engineering machine in Brussels? Or was she looking for unencumbered cash to use in an indiscriminate fight against discrimination—of Christians, of Christian converts, of Iranian expatriates, of women, of female ministers? What did this person expect would make her life better as a result of her on-again-off-again publicizing?
Upon lengthy reflection, I cannot see how any sort of scam could have been built upon this distressing series of communications. It looks more like the meltdown of a psychology under excessive pressure. I am sorry, in any case, that I used our journal to publicize Rev. Mousapour’s miseries. The lesson I learned is that most misery, like all politics, is local. Resources like the Internet cozen us into believing that we understand what’s happening halfway around the world… but we really don’t. Clannish rivalries and ethnic animosities transplanted from one soil to another may look to us like a clear case of sexual harassment or religious persecution, yet a thorough grasp of the situation’s complexities would require a graduate degree in history from a reputable university. (And where now do you find a competent history department?) Global solutions are usually parochial boondoggles transformed into confidence rackets. The most and the best that anyone can do for a person engaged in a moral struggle a dozen time zones away is probably to lend personal support through personal emails and the like. I should have urged Rev. Mousapour—privately—to believe that I, as a Christian, grieved for her ordeal and held her constantly in my thoughts. For her part, maybe she should have stayed away from YouTube, or at least uploaded an exhortation to endure all challenges with steady faith rather than a Philippic resonant with, “Discrimination… discrimination… discrimination!”
Where are all the faces now—real faces, with eyes that seek contact or flee it, lids that open wide or flutter and veil? Whom do we really know any more? The more global our acquaintance becomes, the more impoverished it is. The more we gain, the more we lose. We cannot shut Pandora’s box; but we should at least, I think, never forget that we have opened it. An old samurai handbook warns the apprentice that he enters a war zone every time he steps across his threshold into the street. Now we enter that zone every time we press a button and our PC or Mac croons its start-up of electronic angel harps.
John Harris is the founder and current president of The Center for Literate Values.