Sunday, December 10, 2006

Free to Comment

Here's a couple of recommended picks from the Guardian's Comment is Free section. A while back I was a bit despairing about what appeared to be the lost potential of blogs as a vehicle for intelligent debate. Even on what you'd expect to be a place for measured discussion, every comment thread, almost regardless of the topic, seemed to degenerate within ten posts into a vicious circle of name calling: "Right wing neocon!". "Saddam-loving surrender monkey!". And so on, ad infinitum.

But happily, the standard seems to have improved, at least in some of the threads. There's lots of interesting ones there. As a matter of taste, these two particularly appeal to my brand of geekiness.

If you're a follower of the British gallery of pundits and columnists, this one is like a star-studded grudge match for a sports fan. Rising star Zoe Williams goes into bat for the much maligned Polly Toynbee, who's been pilloried by the big names across the right wing spectrum - libertarian (Boris Johnson), frothing neocon (Melanie Phillips) and grumpy paleocon (Peter Hitchens) - on charges of hypocrisy and chardonnay socialism.

The comments thread turns out to be excellent - a searching examination of the issues at hand: can you really advocate for the poor when you yourself are wealthy; and is sending your children to a private school hypocritical when you argue for more support for public education? The involvement of the various personalities adds colour. But more importantly, the debate remains polite and articulate for the most part.

This one is even more punchy. Muslim academic Ziauddin Sardar attacks Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie for pushing a "neoconservative" agenda in their punditry and (less plausibly) their novels. About 80 percent of the comments disagree, but almost all are politely worded enough, and many add something distinct to the discussion. I came away from both enlightened and with a more nuanced personal view.

Is all this just hot air that make no difference? Middle class guardianista intellectuals sipping tea and splitting hairs, while outside the world continues to rage? Perhaps. But the way I see it, you can have some intelligent debate, or no intelligent debate at all. Given that there are a range of different views expressed here, by people from what appear to be at least be a few diverse backgrounds, it's not just blabbing amongst the converted.

Yes, they're mostly educated and middle class, but educated middle class people have also been known to blow things up. Even the best blogs won't save the world, but they do show that civilized disagreement is still possible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speech should only be constrained by civility.