[… before I get to the topic, … a note for this blog’s Annals of Outrageous Hypocrisy. It’s the usual suspect, I’m afraid, Guardian News and Media (GNM). Any number of us who have commented on blogs on The Guardian’s website in recent years have seen our posts deleted when they support — or simply mention — bloggers disagreeing with the paper’s moderation decisions or policies. I last saw this happen only weeks ago. . . But hark! comrades, here is The Guardian – as quoted by Noam Cohen in The New York Times – once again posing as the great liberator and friend of free speech:
… Last month, a British judge ruled that material obtained by Guardian journalists about a multinational corporation had to be kept secret. […] That is, The Guardian was forbidden to report that it had been gagged.
… When, thanks to his Twitter-ing, The Guardian’s editor got the gag order untied, he exulted:
But last week’s events show that a variety of Internet projects, including Twitter, are making it harder for the traditional gatekeepers to control of the flow of information.
Certainly, The Guardian was in full celebratory mode last week. “Twitter’s detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters,” Mr. Rusbridger wrote about his initial tweet. “My 104 characters did just fine.”
Hmm …and now that you know what, er…. heavy-handed moderation …. feels like yourself, Alan Rusbridger, how about telling us that you understand how we feel about your minions’ restraints on our free speech? How about apologising for routinely dishing out through your moderators the kind of censorship and silencing you apparently can’t take yourself?]
adj. 1. Failing to do what law or duty requires.
2. Overdue in payment: a delinquent account.
[Latin dēlinquēns, dēlinquent-, present participle of dēlinquere, to offend : dē-, de- + linquere, to leave, abandon; see leikw- in Indo-European roots.]
… Yes, I know. . . I know. The long gap between posts – if nothing else – proves that nearly all shades of that word apply to the writer of this blog. But whereas most people wander from their accustomed haunts when the days are long and the weather balmy, some of us put off going away until the wind picks up, the thermostat plummets, and we can maximise our chances of surreal experiences. I’ve been busy haggling over steamer trunks, mules and camels, and calculating how many tents I’ll need.
I’ve been recalled to duty at this site by @ISA, also known as Philip Hall, who has just launched an experiment in collaborative blogging. If Phil had consulted me beforehand about timing – never mind that there’s no reason why he should have done — I’d have explained that I couldn’t accept either his invitation or his ‘all hands on deck’ summons over at Ars Notoria, or certainly not in the immediate future.
I wish the new site every success. Its launch has dovetailed tidily with reflections over the last few days on what I’ve learnt from running acciaccature — one year old next month, when I might not have access to a computer or even a net-capable mobile telephone. Moments before I had Phil’s birth announcement, and looking for attractive trunk-lining, I came across this paragraph in an excellent travelogue by Rebecca Solnit in last October’s issue of Harper’s Magazine:
Iceland is the only part of Europe that never begat monarchs or a hereditary aristocracy […] Iceland’s national parliament, or Althing—the word for “assembly” being, in Icelandic, thing—was formed in 930 a.d., about sixty years after the first settlers came over from Norway. They met at a site whose name, Thingvellir, “the plain of the thing,” still commemorates this ancient annual gathering, which was a combined parliamentary session, court review, and country fair.
Aha, I thought, re-reading that – a nation founded in the spirit of collaborative blogging, which Phil’s charter demonstrates to perfection. I dearly hope that Ars Notoria can avoid the obvious pitfalls of all such idealistic enterprises, never depicted more splendidly than by Orwell’s hypocritical, self-righteous oinks ‘more equal’ than the other beasts in Animal Farm.
About Icelandic government, though, what Solnit mentions as its most glaring flaw puzzled me at first. That, it seems, is cowardice – lily-livered citizen-governors – on which she quotes Svanur Kristjánsson, an Icelandic professor of political science:
“You can run into your prime minister at the store,” he said. “You know the minister, the president—you can make an appointment with the president.” But at the same time, there is “an incredible lack of civic courage” within the governing class, “a lack of people standing up and telling the truth,”
The idea seemed less surprising after I remembered the striking ratio in this very spot between the swarms of clicks, indicating reader interest, and the low comment count, for posts critical of The Guardian — taking it to task not just for silencing dissenting voices but far, far worse.
Whether or not Icelandic cowardice has any application at Ars Notoria – I’d guess none, if it turns out to be just a friendly chat forum, or one where bloggers with strange hobbies embrace fellow-hobbyists — countries could supply the best fast metaphors for what collaborative blogs should and shouldn’t aim at being.
Since most of the bloggers I know and love best are almost militantly independent, I suspect that we’re most like nations made up of hardy and idiosyncratic mountain peoples when we attempt to blog together. Think of Switzerland, a country of only seven and a half million inhabitants splintered into twenty-six cantons speaking either wholly different languages or different dialects of the same language, and operating something like fractal micro-Switzerlands with their own laws.
Well, … perhaps not Switzerland, as after the 19th century its tribes, acting collectively, seem to have acquired a mysterious gift for attracting peace to themselves – or certainly for keeping out of international disputes.
Afghanistan would be its opposite, since that’s a mountainous nation that you might suppose to have a magical knack for magnetising conflict.
Collaborative blogging – in my experiences to date, starting with Desmond Swords’ heroic blogger-nation, Lit-Lovers’ Forum, in 2007 – is rather more like Afghanistan.
When I can help with Ars Notoria (and if Phil’s invitation still stands) I almost certainly will – though that won’t be for several weeks. Why the note of hesitation? Since Phil has some connection never quite spelt out with administrators at The Guardian, I confess that I’ve been wondering whether we aren’t being invited to act, unpaid, as laboratory mice for an experiment in moderation-free blogging whose most constructive and productive features will simply be copied by that newspaper.
I have trouble completely believing my suggestion myself – since Phil, unlike GNM, is as far as possible from a hypocrite or, as the subject has been mentioned, coward. I’m more deeply in his debt than anyone else’s for posting notices of this site’s existence in other places, and he has been unstinting with every form of encouragement. But for family-related reasons he has openly explained, he feels bound by respect and affection to certain editors at that newspaper.
I don’t envy him his complicated tight rope act, supporting both us and them. If I’m right in my guess … and I could be wholly mistaken … and if the policy-makers and online publishing strategists at The Guardian make the apology they owe a few of us for outrageous mistreatment; if they can be modest enough to ask for our help in trying out new kinds of blogging platforms; if they compensate us in some way for our effort, I’ll sign on. Who would doubt that that’s the right way forward for any newspaper serious about thriving in the ethersphere?