Having maintained my non-posting stand over the last seven days, and after enjoying the period of cool, considered reflection this afforded me, I began to re-consider my own ‘flouncing off’. After the ‘break’ from a 14 year relationship, I’d even started to imagine what might constitute an online newspapers version of ‘make-up’ sex.
Then I saw this beauty from everyone’s favourite columnist, Andrew Brown:
I have been sitting quite hard on the comments in the last few posts on the Catholic scandals, and I wanted to thank everybody who played along, and to point out exactly what has been gained as a result. I could say that the comments have been much more interesting and pleasurable to read if they weren't full of expressions of disgust and accusations of complicity in paedophilia or its cover-up. That's true so far as it goes, but you might object that there are plenty of people who delight in abuse and love to breakfast off a cappucino of hot frothing outrage on a base of acid bitterness. Why should those poor souls have to go elsewhere for nourishment? Because we don't learn anything from them, that's why.
The great thing that comments can supply is contact with the people who do know better than the writer does about the story, either because they are smarter, nicer, better informed, or more experienced, or have spent longer thinking about it. These aren't always the people they think they are.
Like any decent journalist, I am confident that I know more about any particular story than 98% of the readers. This may sound horrendously arrogant, but that's the nature of news. The person who has it does think themselves better informed than the one who hasn't.
I am also conscious that I know a lot less about any given subject than the remaining 2% of the readers. These figures are of course adjustable up and down to taste, and depending on the subject involved. If I were to write about piano music, or football, the novels of Charles Dickens, or East Enders, almost anyone interested in the subject would know a lot more than me. But on religion and some sorts of science I do know a decent amount. I am correspondingly grateful to the people who know more and point out the errors. Certainly I have learned a lot from the discussions of the last few blogs, and been forced to think a lot. Thanks.
This sounds as if it is all about me, but it isn't. It's for the benefit of everyone who reads the site. But it won't work without reasonably strict moderation, because it's much harder to think clearly when you're being called an ignorant idiot and the accomplice of criminals. I don't believe that expressing sheer naked contempt changes anyone's mind; it certainly doesn't work on the despised object. With a subject like this, where sentiment runs all the way from Old Bathrobe to Stevhep it really matters that we play the balls and not the men.
This isn't a plea for agreement. A good thrash will often sharpen and widen disagreement especially when it's on a subject of real importance, as this one has been. But that happens only when the participants think they are being listened to and there's no quicker way to kill off that feeling than angry pre-packaged responses. Whether these are personal abuse or trolling, they are clearly banned in the talk policy and that is quite strictly enforced here.
Now, this is something a bit special, for several reasons, but particularly in the context of events last week.
Indeed, one of the ‘strikes’ accrued by Lord S, prior to the third that led to his banning, was a result of comment he made on an Andrew Brown thread, after AB had made some quite erroneous claims about Terry Sanderson and the NSS ATL, that were widely disputed and criticised by many BTL, and after Brown had then himself joined the debate to casually mention that he thought the ‘majority of those below the line had a mental age of less than 10’.
Therefore, to me at least, this would seem to fly right in the face of Andrew Brown’s claim to know more than 98% of readers (who were, on this occasion, more than willing to show Andrew his errors, even using proper links, facts and quotes and that, which for us non-journo types, was surely a very challenging business).
Likewise, the episode would also seem to undermine Brown’s stand against personal abuse, what with his original errors amounting to a personal attack on someone by, at best, deliberately twisting and mis-representing their position to suit his own ends.
I mean, I’m no expert, but making unjust, unsubstantiated claims against a ‘person’, in an attempt to vilify them, would seem to me like quite a good example of personal abuse, would it not?!
Finally, Andrew Brown’s own BTL salvo, embarked upon with the purpose of calling us all mentally retarded, would, again, seem to be an almost textbook definition of the ‘trolling’ phenomenon that he seems so keen to take a stand on, right!?
Seriously, you couldn’t make this shit up!!
But wait, just when I thought that I could never possibly agree with Andrew Brown, on anything, ever, he then joins in Below the Line too, offering us this little gem:
It may sound arrogant, but finding out about stuff quickly is one of the core skills of journalism, and if I'm no good at it by now, I might as well give in.
Well, Andrew, to be fair, you’ll get no argument from me on that one....