give ME the brain!

In this post, I will quote a comment from another blog in order to illustrate a problem with yet a third blog, employing a metaphor first coined on Usenet. This obviously makes for some small personal watershed “arrival” moment as a blogger, and probably means that any sane person will stop reading right now.

Okay, like a lot of my friends, I’m a regular reader and fanatical admirer of James Lileks, for reasons which are pretty much self-justifying: the man writes beautifully, and he’s laugh-out-loud funny as often as not.

But Lileks has a daily not-quite-a-blog column on his site, and reading it has become an increasingly uncomfortable experience. It’s not just that he’s a frothing supporter of the war in Iraq, it’s the particular flavor of feral, unexamined (and indeed examination-proof) freudian-angst-transferrence expression of that support that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and it’s been getting substantially worse over the past few months.

Today he managed to outdo himself by going nuclear on Salam Pax, the mildly famous “Baghdad Blogger” who provided some first-person updates of notional interest from Iraq in the days leading up to the war. The actual exchange is here; you can read it or not as you like, since I’m not actually trying to address its particular content here; suffice it to say that it’s stunningly nasty and comes off as almost an unintentional parody of the stereotypical warblogger position.

Anyway, Lileks’ rant kicked off the depressingly predictable chain-reaction on discussion sites both pro and con, and has provided at least a day’s worth of grist for the very small mills that process this sort of thing (your humble correspondent very much included). You can go read all that at the usual places if you’re interested, but for me the only truly worthwhile observation came in the comments section of Kevin Drum’s blog, wherein a fellow named Carlos managed to not only put his finger on what’s been disturbing about Lileks’ slow slide into shrill self-parody, but actually managed to express the problem cogently and amusingly. Since it was pretty much buried in the slurry of substantially less interesting commentary, I’m doing my part for humanity by presenting it here in toto:

Let me introduce a term of art from another forum into the discussion: the Brain Eater.

Very roughly, it’s when an idee fixe begins to overwhelm any previous good qualities a writer might have, and at the same time, any perceived dissent by others from the idee fixe goes to reinforce other mental rigidities said writer might have.

It’s a wholly bipartisan ailment; but for some reason, engineers seem especially prone to it.

It is highly correlated with being wrong, though of course not one hundred percent. (Although, in the advanced stages, the Brain Eaten victim might as well be a stopped clock.)

While there have been documented remissions, and even reversals, it is usually a one-way decline.

It seems pretty clear that Lileks has been under heavy attack by the Brain Eater for quite some time now. Right, wrong? Chomp chomp.

Posted by: Carlos at November 21, 2003 01:22 PM

Chomp chomp indeed. Carlos is, of course, referring to a Usenet coinage properly known as Brain-Eater Syndrome, and he’s so on-target here that I’m writhing with jealousy that I, with my long tour of duty in the trenches of alt.religion.kibology and other areas of kook-baiting, didn’t think of it first.

So the next time you find yourself confronted with someone who can’t seem to remember that six months ago he was sure we were going to war in order to prevent Saddam from releasing VX nerve gas in the NYC subways and now is 100% sure that our only goal was the moral uplift of the Iraqi people, don’t lose your cool, and consider a moment of passing pity: his brain has been eaten, after all, and that can’t have been comfortable.

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