Sunday, 3 April 2011

Educate, agitate and organise

Since the dawn of the internet, or my involvement with it anyway, I've played backgammon at a site called dailygammon. No money involved or anything, just the game and associated discussion boards.

Plural. There used to be just one, but then 9/11 happened, and things got somewhat heated on the discussion board, so one became two. A new "politics" board was set up for inflammatory subjects and was left more or less unmoderated, while the original board was for discussions about backgammon and any old fluff.

The politics board, meanwhile, festered. It was and is like almost any other political discussion board on the internet - full of partisan bickering from the party fanboys, and personal disputes. Site admin set it up as a shit trap, to keep the main board cleaner, and I sense an unvoiced contempt for those that choose to lock horns on the politics board.

Of course, since things were this way, anyone interested in genuine debate tended not to bother contributing, so the signal to noice ratio reduced still further until the board was dominated by a handful of posters, obsessively chasing their own tails around an increasingly stale set of positions.

Back in the early days, when I was still finding my feet online, (and pretty immature, truth be told) I used to be a part of the squabbles.

How dare someone think X, when I think Y!

As time has passed, I've come to realise that it's ideas that matter, not individuals. I've also worked out that people have a right to their opinion. They have a right to be wrong, if you like. And more pragmatically, I've realised that if you wish to change someone's opinion, calling them rude names is never going to work.

In a sense, individuals do matter of course. The usual crew of flame warriors do not have the respect of anyone that reads the board. What they have to say goes generally unread, except by those that wish to read it merely in order to spit fire and brimstone back. But I'm just dots on your computer screen. "I" am an abstract. "I" am whatever image I choose to project, assuming I am capable of, projecting it.

So I've been trying something for the last few weeks. I've been posting selected posts from Dorian Cope's "On This Deity" on the politics board. It's astonishingly good writing anyway, but accustomed as we all are, to mud and murk, it shines out like an arc light.

I always follow the same format. The post title contains day and month (but not generally year) and then usually a name. For example, today's post title was "April 2nd - Jeannette Rankin" (oops, I didn't expect it to paste the link formatting, but it can stay. Unless you have an account at dailygammon, you'll just get taken to a login screen, not the post itself)

The body of the post contains a clickable hyperlink to the original article as a header, and then I've pasted the text beneath. The board does not display images, and urls have to be done longhand, so they have to be manually added when they are part of the original article.

The link to the original article is done as a header in order to make it clear that I'm not the author. When people have praised me for what was written, I explain that it's either Dorian Cope, or a guest writer that they are in fact thanking or praising.

Having posted the article, I make no effort to join any resultant debate and there are a couple of reasons for that.

Firstly, so far they have generated very little actual argument. Being historical, and a mile from the usual topics, people's buttons are not being pressed, and the usual party political shenanigans tends not to happen.

Secondly, if such partisan debate does occur, I have no interest in being the mouthpiece for either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

Thirdly, I want this stuff to be listened to. I want it to stand out. If it's just another circular repetititve slanging match, like every other thread on that board, it becomes anonymous, and I become just another warrior.

I don't post every single day. Partly because I don't want to hog the board, and sometimes because the readers of the board are mainly US citizens, so occasionally, if an entry is particularly critical of the US, I will not post it. I'm not posting this stuff to start a shitstorm. I'm posting it, as this blogpost title says, to educate and agitate. To inspire.

And it's working. There are people commenting who would never bother to contribute to a thread by any of the usual suspects. The balance of the board has been shifted at least a little bit, from mindless dualism, to serious political commentary. And the comments are overwhelmingly favourable. The Walt Whitman entry, in particular, was beautifully written, and generated some wonderful comments.


Jim Bliss said...

Ahhh... that explains why I had a spate of incoming links from "dailygammon" round about the time of my Karl Marx post to On This Deity.

(I assume)

Paul said...

Someone complemented me on writing the piece, because they read it on the board rather than following the link, so I explained about on this deity, added that this particular entry was written by you and not by Dorian Cope, and included a link to numero57, so the mid march spike was indeed because of me. You can go to sleep tonight secure in the knowledge that there is a cadre of politically minded internet backgammon players that is now slightly more au fait with Irish politics and mass delusion in the face of imminent shitfanhittery.