About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Noises off

A month back, I wrote a post in which I said that I'd be taking this blog back to basics - to something more like what it was when it began back in 2006. I noted, though, that I'd be disabling comments, and that I'd have more to say about this.

So far, I'm pleased with the experiment. I'm feeling free to write posts that might have appeal only to a niche audience - without worrying about popularity - and, to be honest, I find it liberating not to have comments. Anyone who reads what I have to say is free to respond on their own blog or elsewhere, but meanwhile I'm finding it much easier to express myself freely and quickly if I don't have to worry about providing yet another online forum.

In the past, my regular commenters were usually thoughtful and civil, but engaging and moderating was nonetheless time-consuming and a distraction from whatever else I was doing. And even then, there were some people who wore me down with negativity, attempted to hijack the blog to promulgate their own lengthy rants, or even (in one case in particular) posted threatening messages aimed at me and my family.

The bottom line is that - at least for the foreseeable future - I plan to avoid all that by using this blog as simply a place to express some views on issues that I happen to find interesting, develop (or merely play with) some thoughts, and record some events in my own life. Hopefully, there are people who will find the mix interesting enough to want to read, but if my approach diminishes the blog's popularity - and if it never regains the audience it had at its peak a few years ago - I'm not going to worry about that.

My attitude is bolstered by my general observation of the current state of debate and discussion within the blogosphere, on Twitter, and more generally in the social media. A great deal of it seems to consist of tribalism, dogma, mutual abuse, and rival attempts at "calling out" and shaming real or perceived enemies, rather than any rational attempt to identify what might be the strong points on various sides of current controversies, what room for common ground or compromise might be available, and what issues are left underdetermined by the available evidence (so that it is most reasonable to suspend judgment, or at least to hold opinions in a tentative and not-very-insistent way).

My general impression is that anyone who attempts to look in a rational, relatively detached, way at issues of current political or cultural controversy is simply going to be attacked from more than one side. Well, I fully intend to express views on some controversial issues. Those views won't please everyone, and some won't please anyone, because I feel that both (or all) sides have at least some legitimate points, and that both (or all) sides are engaging in hyperbole, demonization, and general unfairness.

I'm not usually going to be interested in attacking individual people - when I do criticise individuals, I'll try to do so in a fair and relatively moderate manner, especially if they are not especially powerful and they are merely expressing views that I disagree with. But I'm likely to express a few views of my own that even some of my friends will dislike because (perhaps) of my lack of zeal in a mutual cause, or because of my preparedness to look for the strengths, the legitimate grievances, and so on, in what is being said by opponents. In my view, that's how you make intellectual progress, but I don't fool myself that most people agree with me.

Once again, readers can discuss anything I say in other forums - though I hope they will do so carefully and charitably. In any event, I am not proposing at this stage to provide an additional forum, with all the distraction that goes with it in the current climate. I'll rethink this policy from time to time, but any change is likely to be a long way in the future.

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