by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VI, No. XXXVI

This Week's Clue: The Rules of Civil Discourse

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This Week's Clue: The Rules of Civil Discourse
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Brand Name Spam
What Was False, What Was Real
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of September 9, 2002

As the Internet has been assimilated into the general culture it's become fitting that we discuss cultural issues here that are reflected online.

One such issue is the general coarsening of public debate.

As I've remarked before the Internet contributes greatly to this. It's much easier for us to become online "dittoheads" when the drug of hate speech can be consumed privately, without sound, without company and without interruption.

This has been reflected since the beginning of the Web in such hate-filled sites as Lucianne and Free Republic . Recently liberals have begun fighting back (sort of) at sites like Buzzflash and MediaWhotes .

Some analysts on the left want to go further and bring this attitude to TV and radio. They ask, where's our Bill O'Reilly, where's our Rush Limbaugh? But this solo screeching seems to be a conservative preference, as the poor ratings of Phil Donahue attest. Or it could just be that liberals prefer watching conservatives get beat-up, as ratings for "Crossfire" have increased dramatically with feistier liberal hosts .

Yet neither Carville nor Begala pleases me, and they shouldn't please you, either. Radio, TV, and the Internet have seen an increasingly course public dialogue over the last decade. No one listens. And while that may turn on the committed, it turns off everyone else. Not only is voting down, but so is general interest in the democratic process. "They're all crooks" is a withdrawal from reality that aids, not just crooks, but demagogues.

You defend democracy the way you defend your health, by exercising it. Now is most definitely the time to come to the aid of the party. But just as overdoing a few days' workout will leave you feeling worse than when you started (and desiring a big ice cream cone ) the same is most assuredly true when you go running ahead into what passes for political debate.

Screaming at a rage-aholic does no one any good. The way you change the tone is by insisting on some rules, and rejecting those voices who violate them regularly. Sure, we all shout sometimes - I've written some real monster flames myself. When that happens we forgive ourselves, seek forgiveness from others, learn from our mistakes, and go on.

What kinds of rules should we look for? We can start with my "Eight Don'ts:"

  • Don't interrupt - Shouting down someone else's point merely makes your own less important.
  • Don't personalize - Avoid the use of the word "you" when speaking to a point.
  • Don't generalize - You don't take a specific situation and say everything is like that, because it's not.
  • Don't categorize - Claiming that an argument made by one person is held by everyone who agrees with that person concerning that argument is both misleading and irrelevant.
  • Don't dehumanize -- Democracy ends, and murder begins, when anyone in an argument denies the basic humanity (and goodwill) of their opponent.
  • Don't build straw men - Creating a false example, then attaching your opponent to it, is misleading.
  • Don't misrepresent - Claiming to speak for your opponent in order to belittle them doesn't do anyone any good.
  • Don't extrapolate - Taking a position on one issue, and extrapolating it into a ridiculous position on a different issue, doesn't move anything forward.

A lot of these rules will be familiar to anyone who's been through family or marriage counseling. Don't say the word "you," avoid terms like "always" and "never." The aim must not just be to get validation, but to listen, and to be heard in turn.

Feel hopeless about this, given the continued ratings-produced rise in the temperature of political talk? (Even the "solid citizens" of "Talk Back Live" spin like political dervishes.) Don't be. The proof there's a desire for civil discourse (as opposed to shouting) might be seen in this year's U.S. primaries, where quieter candidates, and positive ads, were dominant for the first time in ages. Those on the extremes who won their primaries seem to be failing in polls leading up to the general election. (Maybe September 11, the ultimate flame, taught a positive lesson.)

I refuse to lose hope. One of the most promising developments I've seen in political science has been the recent rise of "rhetoric" classes and "debate clubs" in high schools. This not only teaches young people to talk coherently, but helps them tell the difference between fair argument and unfair argument.

Of course you can't make your opponents play fair. You can't un-sell Ann Coulter's "Slander" or force Faux News to become truly balanced. You can't do this anymore than you can force an alcoholic spouse to give up drink or make someone love you. You have to just stand up for yourself, play the game by your own lights, keep plugging away, train your own children right, and trust to democracy.

If you believe in anything, whether it's love, liberty, a merciful God or civil discourse, you practice it and trust in it. You don't give up and walk away. In a democracy government isn't "them," it's "us."


SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Attention Aussies! I'm trying to arrange a "book promotion" tour for February or March down under, promoting my new book "Moore's Lore: Stories That Let You See The Future." Drop me a note if you can help. And if you're in Atlanta this week I'll be spending time at Interop . I hope to see you there.

GlobalPOV has taken a piece I wrote on identity cards and why Americans won't take 'em. (You can respond on their forum here Marketingprofs has taken an occasional column similar to work formerly done at ClickZ. I'm presently negotiating with Corante to do a blog based on my upcoming book about Moore's Lore. But I'd love more work, and I'm waiting for your e-mail .

My other books include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive

I'd like more readers, so tell your friends, clients, partners, and Congressperson about You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know .

Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Shameless Promotion

Rob Frankel is the best branding expert on the planet. He doesn't waste your money on fancy offices or sycophantic underlings - he just gets the j-o-b done.

And you don't have the buy his whole package. You'll find much of his "secret sauce" in his books and tapes . Try before you buy. And if you've got a list that isn't pulling its weight, check out I-Legions .

Oh, and when you sign your name on the line which is dotted, tell Rob it's because you've got A-Clue.


Takes on the News


Now that my draft of "Moore's Lore" is done it's time to do the thing I hate - market it.

I write about marketing a lot. I play a marketer on TV. But I love writing more than anything else, and talking about myself gives me a headache.

So I asked some experienced self-publishers to help with advice.

Julia Wilkinson looks too young to have written a memoir, but her "My Life at AOL" did fine at, and she followed-up with a book about book marketing . She turned me on to an interesting site called AuthorsDen .

What I got from her was discouraging and can be summed up as "write for the market, not for yourself." (The summary may be unfair to her, so let's play the quote directly.) "While I wouldn't say I've made much money at all on that book (My Life at AOL), I am glad I got the book out there. However, I have been doing pretty well profit-wise on my new e-books, all about online auctions and collectibles . What can I say; I guess people would rather read about making money than my years at AOL!"

Rob Frankel wouldn't publish any other way but on his own. His "Revenge of Brand X" is an Amazon best-seller, yet most of his sales are done directly on his site! .

"The big point is that the days of 'self-published stigma' are pretty much over, unless you're one of those ivory tower east coast publishers that still regard publishing as a noble art," he writes. "Shameless self-promoting cheap-o publications are seen as just that. But real, quality pieces from authors who refuse to be held hostage by publishing pirates sell like hotcakes. They're far more profitable, better marketed and implemented properly, wonderful new business tools."

Nick Wreden is, like Rob, an expert on branding, and offered the most actionable advice. "The real key is having money left over for promotion. Everyone says it's not writing, printing or even distribution -- it's all promotion, and there is a direct correlation between promotion and sales. For example, it's fairly standard to send out 300-500 books for reviews. That's 1500-2000 bucks just for that, and the rule of thumb is that you get reviews for about 10% of the books you send out."

Next week, let's talk about which self-publisher to self-publish at.


Brand Name Spam

The fact that spam is killing Internet marketing is not news, even in Australia . What may surprise you is how many brand names are in on the kill.

Recently I decided to look at the spam flood from a different angle. I spent a few days checking through my spam folders looking for major brand names. I wanted to see which major companies are enabling the spam flood by joining it.

In four days I saved 20 separate messages, out of about 500 spams received. That sounds like good news - only 4% of spam comes from otherwise-honest businesspeople. It's also possible that in some cases this spam was coming from sales channels, not from the brands directly. But in the end brands have to take responsibility for everything done in their name, and if someone in their channel is spamming the brand is going to be burned by it.

So who's in the "hall of shame?" Amazon, of course, three times. Taking every name in your database and sending it e-mail is horrible, and at least one of my Amazon spams was sent to a fictitious address,, that's frequently sold to spammers and defaults to my main box. (I have never had a box with that specific name - if you're sending mail there, you're making up the address and it's definitely spam.)

Some spammers use brand names in scams. That may be how Compaq got on the list - a scammer was claiming he'd give away a Compaq laptop to harvest your e-mail address. The same probably applies to Ramada Resorts. DKNY, DirecTv and Symantec (makers of Norton AntiVirus) may be victims of "channel spam," in which a re-seller spams people on behalf of a brand, often without the brand's knowledge. (Although I get several DirecTv and Norton spam offers a week - at some point failure to clean up your channel becomes an act of commission, not omission.)

What's the lowest of the low, among big companies? It's those who've chosen to sign up with spammers under the mistaken belief these are honest e-mail marketers. Lysol may not know that "Dailybargainmail" is a notorious spammer. Scholastic may be closing its eyes to the record of "equalamail" (although a one-minute Google Groups search would pick it up). Lending your good name to spammers' efforts to portray themselves as something different is a dangerous game - dangerous to you because spammers will never clean their names, nor their acts.

A special "booby prize," however, must go to two so-called "institutions of higher learning" that are using spammers in an attempt to lure students. Hey, University of Phoenix - when your e-mail goes out from "" what do you think is going on? The same is true for DeVry -- is a spam e-mail address, created specifically to get around filters.

An old rule from the porn business applies here, and should give urgency to those trying to outlaw spam. The tricks you see on a porn site today will be on Disney's site next year. (That's certainly true for pop-ups, isn't it?) If you get spam from a name brand, send it to the head of that company, and let them know you're sending a copy to state regulators as well.


What Was False, What Was Real

When the bear is voracious no one likes a talking steak. For that reason, and because it's in the current Administration's interest, many are wondering whether the 1990s was just a mirage .

It wasn't. This medium was, and is, a real revolution. Without it we wouldn't be questioning the CD industry, you wouldn't have friends and colleagues in other nations, and history could not have switched into overdrive. The travel business has moved online, as has much of the book business (especially the marketing end).

What the optimists didn't get then, and pessimists don't get now , is how evolutionary the Internet must be. People learn and change at their own pace, no matter how quickly technology moves ahead. Younger people change faster, older people more slowly, but just look back a bit to see how far we've come. How did you do research in 1994? How did you get answers to your questions? How did you learn? How did you decide what to buy, and how did you buy it? In all these areas we've seen tremendous change, and it's just getting started.

A boom and bust is what you get in every period of revolutionary economic change. Both are proof that change is real, and both are necessary. The only surprise is how we never seem to learn this important lesson. Our grandfathers went to movies and listened to the radio throughout the 1930s. We're luckier -- we'll have the Internet, growing and changing, throughout this decade. But the 1929 crash, and the 2000 crash, both left policymakers feeling helpless in their wake . The answer in both cases is the same - get new policymakers.

That wasn't just a dream. This isn't just a nightmare. Think of it as evolution in action.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in are major newspapers working to build networks that will sell online ads .

Clueless is the Washington Post implementation of its online surveys (designed to create numbers for online advertising). They asked lots of personal questions, all at once, without building a trust relationship. Thus they had no Clue whether people might be lying.


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