April 11, 2007

Blogging (if uninterested in little local blogger disputes please move on to the next post)

Bloggers are good, if at nothing else, at introspection. Recently there has been a great deal of this on various websites- some prompted by an editorial in the Guardian. For those who want to catch up with the controversy- and honestly it isn't that fascinating, James Higham has a useful digest. At the same time as all of this, Tim Ireland has declared war on various aspects of Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes's blogs- most of the stuff is linked too from Tim's Bloggerheads blog. There has also recently been a controversy in the states about a blogging code of conduct- the relevant details are here. Given the amount of conflict that has gone on- I think its worth just making explicit for a moment the way that this blog operates and what I personally think of many of these issues. This is a post I will link back to on occasion.

This blog operates very simply- I am interested in politics, history and culture. I want to have discussions with people about those issues and also to for my own purposes record my reactions to books I have read and movies I have seen (like an eighteenth century common place book if you like). One of the advantages of running a blog is interacting with other blogs and discussing things in the comments. My general principles is to assume, though I have to say obvious link spammers are excluded from this, that people on this site genuinely think what they think, are genuinely interested and are basically well intentioned. I expect the same kind of treatment from those that visit this site for me. I am not out here to attack anyone particularly- possibly my rudest comments are reserved for journalists and commentators like Polly Toynbee or Bernard Lewis but even then I hope both could take what I write and correct it and I would be happy to accept any correction should I be shown to be wrong. I do and will delete gratuitously insulting comments- on the other hand I am very welcoming to those that disagree. Personally for me that's the right way forwards and it does not represent censorship at all. I do occasionally tweak the blog to make it more transparant- I am no techie- but as I discover how to do things like date stamps on comments (I'm trying to work out permalinks to comments any tips would be gratefully received and utilised) I put them in. I do allow anonymous comments at the moment- and will continue to allow them I think, if people start making unproven allegations or hiding behind anonymity to insult then anonymity will be removed as an option but so far anonymous comments have not been like that here and even if some people start doing that I may just switch to moderation and taking out comments rather than not allowing anonymous comments- this is something personally I am undecided about but at the moment things seem to be ok. Primarily I write this blog because its fun- and most comments, agreeing or disagreeing with me are fun to respond to even if they make me think again, an insult or a swear word directed at me or another commenter isn't fun and so I'm going to delete it.

Right next issue- the credibility of blogging. In my view, my blog does not fit within the criteria of the blogs that Oliver Kamm was attacking. I do not consider myself a gossip blog and I tend to give the government and anyone else for that matter the benefit of the doubt- where I don't I'm willing to withdraw allegations very quickly. I consider this blog to be part of a group of blogs- I'll leave you to guess the other names but its not difficult- that consider politics, history, literature in an interesting, semi-academic way. That is very different to the Guido or even Iain Dale style of blogging. Its different too to what you get in a newspaper- to be honest I think blogs like this do a job which no newspaper ever even endeavours to do- ie bring academic articles, films, literature together and try and represent the world in all its complexity. Broadsheets today in my view are poor intellectually- when was the last time that anyone on a broadsheet wrote a serious scholarly article about the distinctions between Shia and Sunni Muslims- given we are in Iraq I would have thought that that might be an interesting question. I report on things like that and comment on issues that interest me. I see this blog as analytical and thoughtful- I hope that's how others see it. Therefore I think Mr Kamm is wrong- he misunderstands that all blogs are not the same- furthermore he misunderstands a central point about blogging that it can and does bring out things that the media doesn't succeed in describing- just look at the article below this one and tell me which British newspaper has covered the Meiji Restoration's links to Russian anarchism in the last year or even decade. And there are plenty of other blogs like this out there- many that I've discovered, some on my blogroll, others that I haven't even seen yet. There are also other kinds of blogs out there- Mr Eugenides for example is a formidable destructive debater who deals in quick rebuttal.

The last point I suppose concerns the whole Ireland/Dale/Guido dispute and the new code of conduct for bloggers that some American bloggers want. I don't want to comment on other blogs- I don't care particularly about Guido Fawkes, I don't read him and am not interested in the kind of things he writes about. Iain Dale I do read- I think he is engaging- but I know where he is coming from and I wouldn't expect him to write fairly about Labour party policy or say Gordon Brown and the Smith Institute. I don't think either Guido or Iain should be banned. However one of the main things about having a conversation with a person is that there are social conventions which limit that conversation- there are ways that you shouldn't speak to people- those behaviours aren't banned but they are frowned upon and being impolite is seen as being wrong though it shouldn't be illegal. Sometimes it seems to me that blogtopia can be a bit like a conversation without the conventions of politeness- part of what I perceive Tim Ireland doing is a creation of those conventions- creation of conventions like for example not deleting comments just because they disagree with you, being transparant. It is in my view fine that there are blogs who aren't as mild as this blog and say will swear and shout, but so long as they are fair, ready to enter debate and transparant I have no problem. Overinsisting on conventions and being very technical about their breach of course can be abusive, but in general my view is that conventions are a good thing and holding people to those conventions, especially when they are big blogs, isn't a bad thing.

To roundup, in the 17th Century they used to talk about a republic of learning. What we have in the best of the blogosphere is just such a republic which now includes millions of people, reading important and interesting blogs, in such a republic there will be different tones of debate- everything from partisans to philosophers debating. There will be different types of debate- some will be very intelligent conversations in a pub (see Devil's Kitchen for some examples of what that could look like), some no more intelligent discussions in a seminar (see Chris Dillow for some examples of this). But all of them I hope will be conversations which abide by one rule of politeness- that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So if you swear and rant and rave, you won't mind people swearing and ranting and raving back. Personally I prefer bloggers who are open minded as well. I hope that is the rule by which this blog is run- I personally think its the rule by which many of my favourite blogs are run- a great character in this sense is James Higham for whom nothing seems to matter as much as community, we need more Highams in the world. I don't think that answers all the specific points raised in the blogwars- but I hope it does suggest firstly what kind of blog this is, and secondly what kind of blogtopia I personally favour.

Having now run its course- I promise never to write such a boringly introspective post again.

Oh and by the way, two further tiny points, I suppose I had better confess that my spelling is atrocious and my punctuation is worse- that's in the interests of transparancy- and if you got through all that you deserve a medal or execution for being boring enough to read an article about blogging- honestly this is the worst article I have ever written!


Graeme said...

That Oliver Kamm comment piece was silly. Yes, he's right that (political) blogs provide comment and not news, but who really claims that their blog is a news source? Perhaps Guido Fawkes does, but I wasn't aware of him or his blog until that Newsnight incident. As for blogging reducing the variety of opinion--that's absurd. Yes, there are a lot of closed-minded blogs and bloggers out there, but there are also some good ones. I regularly visit this blog because it has well-thought out pieces on topics that aren't covered elsewhere and I feel that I learn something or think about something slightly differently everytime I read it. I won't frequent blogs that I feel are just bilious echo chambers, which is the main reason I stopped looking at sites like Comment Is Free.

In any case, the medium is here and while there is talk of blogging having already reached its apex, I don't see it going away. It has changed things for better or for worse and the important question is what are we going to do with it? Though I think that Comment Is Free is largely a failure, I think the Guardian was smart to understand how technology and blogging is changing traditional forms of media. The idea was great, the implementation of it less so. I think we'll see more things like CiF in the future, and they'll probably be better. In any case, I say that the more debate we have out there, the better. It might not be all worthwhile, but that's certainly not specific to the blogosphere.

james higham said...

I think Guido himself made a good point today on my blog that the regulation issue is all wind. I suppose it is. It's a fascinating place, the blogosphere and the possibilities are enormous.

Another great post, Tiberius and not for the mentions [thank you] but for your summation of the medium.

MuseinMeltdown said...

I find it very grounding to read a selection of blogs, many of whose sentiments I don't readily agree with on first reading, but as these challenge my view (often skewed by incorrect reporting), they make me see the bigger picture and provoke thought and deeper contemplation.

Good piece - very thought provoking - thanks for sharing.