Only a few months ago, I had never heard of Poe’s Law. Now it’s a rare day in which it doesn’t crop up several times. Invocations of the Zeitgeist are inherently improbable, but if there were to be a persuasive illustration of the phenomenon, it would be something like this.
According to the succinct Wikipedia entry (already linked), Poe’s Law is less than a decade old. Among it’s precursors, also relatively recent, a 2001 Usenet comment by Alan Morgan most closely anticipates it: “Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.” In other words, between a sincere intellectual position and its satirization, no secure distinction can be made. (There is nothing about this thesis that restricts it to ‘extreme’ opinion, although that is how it is usually understood.)
The latest opportunity for raising this topic is, of course, @Salondotcom. (There’s an entertaining interview with the pranksters behind it here.) The offense of this account, which led to it being suspended by Twitter last week, was clear beyond any reasonable doubt. Quite simply, it was nearly indistinguishable from the original, a fact that has itself been explicitly noted (and tweeted about) innumerable times. Parody Salon slugs, so ludicrously over-the-top that they had @Salondotcom readers in stitches, were funny precisely because they were such plausible mimics of Salon‘s own. Readers were laughing through @Salondotcom, at Salon. This is almost certainly why the account was suspended.
Without wandering too deeply into the realm of speculation, it’s worth noting this:
"Twitter's policies require that impersonation reports come from the individual being impersonated” https://t.co/wSo7YkwZOo hmm
— J. Arthur Bloom (@j_arthur_bloom) July 17, 2014
Poe’s Law is ultimately indistinguishable from another recent, rapidly popularized rhetorical concept: the Ideological Turing Test. An intellectual criticism can be said to understand its foe if it is able to reproduce it with adequate fidelity. The ITT is therefore a cultural procedure for winnowing-out straw-man arguments and other misrepresentations. If you cannot imitate the enemy case, you cannot be considered to have engaged it seriously.
Evidently, Poe’s Law can be construed as a filter of the same kind. Satire is effective to exactly the extent it can be confused with the satirized. (This can be taken in comparatively serious directions.)
What Poe’s Law tells us, is that antagonism is irreducible to argumentation. It is thus inherently anti-dialectical (and thus tacitly secessionist). There can be perfect understanding of what the enemy is saying, without even the slightest degree of approach to consensus. In other words, there are discrepancies entirely indissoluble in discussion.
Cutting satire does not reconstruct a cognitive position in order to make it laughable. Instead, it re-states such a position, as faithfully as possible, within the register of laughter — which is to say: hostility. It asserts a dissensus that no process of reconciliation can ameliorate. Our ‘disagreement’ is not the sign of a missing conversation. It is the call for a coming split.
ADDED: Even Newsweek notices “… there was a problem: Few could tell the difference between @SalonDotCom and the real thing.”
ADDED: So two Edgar Allan Poe twitterbots started following me …
ADDED: Agree, Amplify, and Accelerate