Getting beyond the toilet wall…

When it comes to the internet and the disaggregation of knowledge and power, I’m a believer. But, AC Grayling notes, it can also be an obscurantist’s charter:

The downside is the volume of rubbish, the anonymous viciousness and sneering, the ad hominem attacks, the paragraph-long pretensions to authoritativeness, the degrading of debate it freely permits, making it what I’ve before now called the biggest toilet wall in history.

He goes on to note more benignly that:

Well: it takes a lot of compost to grow flowers, so we have to put up with this; and anyway, some things deserve trouncing with the gloves off, even if not everyone can tell the difference between justified and irresponsible versions of that process.

Even the redoubtable Guido is suffering ‘info overload’… Grayling relates this to a weakening of the press in general. Now whether internet interactivity/bloggers caused this weakness to open up, or whether the weakeness has simply lain there unnoticed heretofore is moot point, but he argues that this dimunition of the political power of the papers is, in fact, an opportunity to do better what the media actually does best:

which in addition to reporting are to inform, challenge, explore and debate – to emerge more strongly, for the reason that the cacophonic Babel of voices created by the web makes the need for “expert filters” all the greater – as forums where a degree of responsibility, reliability and accountability places positive constraints on the quality of content.


Yet one can see the promise, and in fact already the presence, of a mutually positive relationship between the media and the blogosphere, chiefly in the latter’s hawkeyed challenge to the former. Columnists and leader writers once pontificated and enjoyed the luxury of hearing no raspberries blowing back; individuals who disagreed might write a letter to the newspaper or the individual journalist, a practically silent protest with little effect.

Now the entire world can know what responses a piece of journalism has evoked, and when it has got things wrong or been egregious in view or stupidity, it can be publicly castigated. This drastically diminishes the standing of the press, but can and should have the effect of making it ever more careful. And that enhances its function, described above, of serving as a more reliable, better informed, clearer voice than most in the overall tumult of noise.

Indeed. We’re hoping to lauch a number of initiatives this year, which are in effects to build upon that insight. Watch this space!

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  • gaelgannaire


    Presumably when you started Slugger you had noble aims (?) and intended that it was be a neutral and safe place where people could learn and come to postive understandings.

    Do you think this has happened or do you think it has become a toilet wall? I am genuinely interested.

    In your most learned opinion, Is there the danger that people having become more exposed to other peoples view actually may find that they now oppose them more than they ever did.

    For example, I am particularly interested in threads touching on the Irish Language and I feel that people become even more polarised (also read more determined, inspired, passionate, wound-up etc) as a result of what you yourself have described as ‘rioting’.

    This has been an experience of mine from some ‘cross community’ events, i.e. when we get to know each other sometimes we find we are not the same. Sometimes the ideology didnt alway fit with the reality and rock climbing can only do so much!!

    I myself am trying to stop looking at slugger as I feel that I have siad what I want to say and have learn’t what I want to learn.

    That is not to say it is a toilet wall (cf. Queens Seamus Heaney) but it is used by many, if not most as a venting of controlled anger, perhaps that is a good thing but.

  • topdeckomnibus

    It differs from a toilet wall in this respect.

    You can profile a person (not knowing if such a person exists) by what they would know.

    Then you can write. If someone, wedded to the idea of rules for thread debate, asks what you mean then I suppose you are bound to try to explain.

    This rarely happens since most bloggers are experts on everything.

    The reward, from time to time, is that the person with the knowledge elects to contact you and provide the information.

    This in my view is the power of the internet.

    For example in the last few months I was given information dating back to 1976 about top secret MOD equipment manufacture. The writer obviously felt it was in the public interest that I know. Also I obtained information about the last year of Leonard Cheshire’s life. I don’t suppose there is any reason people should not know this, I have sent an objection to the beatification of Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire.

    Echo sounding, upsetting all the little fishes and finding the occasional mine of information.

    No one changes their opinions because of internet “Debate”.

  • Mick Fealty

    I take your ‘but’ in the spirit in which it is offered. To be truthful, the biggest problem we had when Slugger started was getting people to speak at all. That’s the problem at Brassneck at the moment too.

    I find some of the conversation on Slugger genuinely takes people forward. Some are on genuinely difficult subjects and we get endlessly hooked on difficulty. Others are just an opportunity to knock seven bells out of each other.

    My constant frustration with it is in encouraging people who know stuff to speak. The ‘gaming’ that takes place on certain threads has a tendency to spill over onto others. And there are the ever present barflies, who turn up on any and every thread and have an opinion to offer, even if they are unfamiliar with the subject matter.

    There is a particular problem with the Irish language in that I am the only blogger on Slugger who uses it. In periods where it has been routinely used we have acquired a tolerance for its presence that it doesn’t always have when the output is fitful.

    The exception of course is when Irish is the subject of genuinely controversial politics. But generally speaking, I would like to beef up our output by bringing a competent Irish language blogger onto the team.

    The question of whether we can develop Slugger into a genuinely deliberative space where there is genuine respect paid to knowledge and intelligence is a matter for further experiment (and conjecture)…

  • gaelgannaire

    Thanks Mick,

    “The question of whether we can develop Slugger into a genuinely deliberative space where there is genuine respect paid to knowledge and intelligence is a matter for further experiment (and conjecture)…”

    We shall see, the problem is that there seems to be unionist knowledge and nationalist knowledge!

  • ulsterfan

    I once heard advice as follows “Say nothing unless you can improve on the silence and do not write anything unless it adds to our knowledge”
    If that was followed there would be few contributions to Slugger or any other Blog.
    I have however noticed one significant fact and that is people do not get involved in a serious debate.
    Choose any topic and concentrate on the main contributors who on the face of it are in discussion.
    This is not the case as they do not carefully read each others comments,and I am as guilty as anyone else. They go one step further and deliberately misrepresent the views of their opponent or worse put words in their mouth which were not actually said.
    Things will improve as we place greater value on sites such as Slugger and become more responsible.

  • Mick Fealty


    There are certainly (at least) two world views. The problem is we often have a reluctance to trade in facts and honest argument. Enter the ghost of DP Moynihan, again: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

    My sense is that sometimes, when we work over sensitive areas the first resort of many is to project (to give Freud a mention) internal ‘distress’ as ‘insensitivity’ onto opponents.

  • cutterschoice

    Slugger O’Toole is something you should be really proud of, Mick. I’m proud of it, and I only read it.