Do Words Matter?: Book Review of Political Discourse and Conflict Resolution – Debating Peace in Northern Ireland

I share many of the concerns of Andy Pollak, whose recent post ‘My Response to the Slugger Begrudgers’ zeroed in on the ‘relentless flow of negativity’ of some Slugger commentators.

Pollak’s post was largely concerned with the medium of the blog. Indeed, I think the anonymity of the online world encourages extreme discourse and allows people the perverse satisfaction of ‘speaking out’ without having to take responsibility for their views.

Pollak ends his post with a quotation from John Bradley, who contends that ‘the new electronic media … make it difficult to think deeply about issues, read longer papers, or examine issues in the appropriate context.’

A new book, Political Discourse and Conflict Resolution: Debating Peace in Northern Ireland (Routledge, 2011), edited by Queen’s sociologist Katy Hayward and independent scholar Catherine O’Donnell – like Pollak’s post – raises some provocative questions about the quality of our discourses here in Northern Ireland.

As an academic endeavour, it strives to provide the opportunities that Bradley writes about – to think deeply, to read longer analyses, and to delve into context.

A confession: I co-authored a chapter in the book with Amber Rankin, on ‘DUP Discourses on Violence and their Impact on the Peace Process.’ So my enthusiasm for what the book has to offer may be coloured by my participation in the process that produced it. Readers of this review are thus forewarned.

The book is set up with a useful introduction by Hayward, who identifies the unifying question of the book as:

‘What role does political discourse play in conflict resolution?’

She then identifies three roles for political discourses:

  1. The construction of a framework within which negotiations can take place
  2. The facilitation of agreement between moderate and extreme positions
  3. The forging of common ground

Several of the chapters neatly illustrate these points, such as O’Donnell’s on political discourse in the Republic of Ireland and P.J. McLoughlin’s on ‘Humespeak’ and the SDLP.

But readers should not jump to the conclusion that the book offers naïve assertions about ‘lessons to be learned from the Northern Ireland peace process.’

It is not a series of just-so stories about how learning to talk nicely to each other, and including actors previously outside the pale in negotiations processes, led to ‘peace.’

In fact Eamonn O’Kane’s chapter on discourses about Northern Ireland’s ‘model’ of conflict resolution points out that discourses around the ‘lessons from the peace process in Northern Ireland’ have been articulated mainly by republicans and the British Government, and that these discourses focus on ‘the factors which they can be seen as responsible for’ (p. 184).

These discourses, he says, fail to ‘acknowledge the preconditions and wider constraints that were in play’ during the Troubles and the peace process. So O’Kane warns that setting Northern Ireland up as a conflict resolution model may create ‘a discourse on the peace process … that is both historically inaccurate and potentially misleading’ (p. 190).

Owen McEldowney, James Anderson and Ian Shuttleworth also tackle misleading discourses in their chapter on ‘Sectarian Demography: Dubious Discourses of Ethno-National Conflict,’ arguing that media coverage around censuses and an accompanying moral panic around ‘growing apartheid’ has been sensationalist and oblivious to the empirical data. For example, they claim that data about residential segregation has been overblown, and argue that media coverage of it ignores other measures of segregation or integration, such data on mixed workplaces and increased social mixing.

Of course, all of the chapters in the book are grounded in the assumption that words matter – and several of the chapters include quite technical academic theoretical discussions about why discourses are important.

Most chapters in the book also highlight the contradictory and conflictual nature of political discourses in Northern Ireland. From the highest office holders in the land, down to the humblest of Slugger bloggers, people disagree – and the language they use to do so can be offensive and at times destructive.

(The book does not include an analysis of online discourses – but one can certainly see the at times exclusionary and violent language of our politicians reflected among Slugger commentators.)

At the same time, another major point of the book is that it is healthy for democracies to provide spaces for disagreement. As Hayward writes:

‘… we seek to conceive conflict resolution in terms that allow for multiple rather than shared discourses, dissonance as well as harmony. … in a process of transition from conflict, it is necessary to frame “peace” not only as a goal to be achieved but as a concept to be debated.’

As a co-author of a chapter it might be expected that I agree, and I do. I think it matters what people say, and I think it’s important that dissenting voices are not excluded from the public sphere.

But how many of our politicians are at a place where they see peace as a concept to be debated? Are people in Northern Ireland genuinely open to hearing what those who share different views actually have to say?

I’m not convinced. That’s why we still have discourses like those which Rankin and I analyse in our chapter – words that dehumanise and misrepresent others, using some of the strongest possible language to do so. We recognise that:

‘Some may be tempted to say that the past is the past, words are only words, and now it is time to move on.’

But we argue that both the memory of harsh words about others, and worse – the continuation of such discourses – can hinder post-conflict transition by making it more difficult to establish trust and build working relationships among our politicians.

Yes, strong words are preferable to bullets and bombs. But that doesn’t mean that they are helpful, and that we in Northern Ireland shouldn’t be challenged to think more carefully about what we say.

Political Discourses and Conflict Resolution provides 14 chapters to stimulate some of that thinking, on topics including discourses in the early phases of the Troubles, in the Republic of Ireland, New Labour, the SDLP, the DUP, the Orange Order, and among republican former prisoners.

Unfortunately, the book is only out in hardback and is prohibitively expensive (£76 and £53 for the kindle edition) for those who don’t have access to an academic library. With the closure of the Queen’s Bookshop, there’s also not much hope of going into a shop in Belfast and browsing through it. However, earlier editions of many of the papers are available in the online journal Peace and Conflict Studies.

  • Mick Fealty

    I have a slightly hippy TED presentation set up for the Friday thread with some of this in mind. In fact, the guy offers little in the way of specific answers to the blunt discourse of t’Internet, but he traps some of the concerns people have in an era when everyone wants to speak rather than listen, often just because they can.

    As some early reading, I recommend 12 years old but still brilliant and inspiring. I’ve a presentation to make in Dublin this autumn, in which I hope to pick up some of the threads you’ve brought together here, and possibly provide some responses to the worries raised by and in Andy’s earlier post.

  • Words are indeed important.
    And Im sure Gladys Ganiel would accept that my views while differing from her own on the concept and value of “Conflict Resolution” would not be considered extreme or unhelpful.
    There is also a difference between “anonymous posting” and having a nom de guerre. I am not a public figure and fuly entitled to use a nom de guerre. The only stipulation is taht I remain in a single identity and post a consistent viewpoint on the various platforms in which I engage.
    I think my view carries as much or as little weight as anyone else.

    If “quality of discourse” is the test then maybe the Internet Blog is the wrong area in which to carry out the Discourse.
    Academic Discourse has a different framework and many bloggers would find it alien.
    While I personally deplore offensive language on message boards (I stand by my own record) I realise that the Blogosphere is a vulgar way to express ideas. But I have to live with it.

    ” But how many of our politicians are at a place where they see peace as a concept to be debated? Are people in Northern Ireland genuinely open to hearing what those who share different views actually have to say?

    Peace is NOT a concept to be debated.
    It is simply to be accepted.
    For most of us…..thats enough.
    And our politicians are to be congratulated on avoiding a “debate”.
    The notion that only the “helpful” views that agree with the Conflict Resolution blueprint are somehow acceptable is risible.

  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Here in Northern Ireland, it has led to inventions in mediation processes – bringing mediation out of the legal field into finding common ground between women on either side of a peace wall. It has also led to innovations in democracy, such as the de Borda preferendum process and voting system. The voting system rewards options that people will settle for, if they cannot get their first choice: hence it is a consensus-finding system. But it starts out by getting each group to explain what they want, in their own words, discouraging attempts to hide strong views.

    It is possible to set up on-line environments to support such consensus-forming processes. Aldo de Moor got loggers and environmentalists to co-write a forestry policy for British Columbia. But discussion fora (be they web chats, IRC or comments on a blog) simply encourage continued conversation, whether it be nasty or nice.

  • Alias

    If folks wanted to read a bunch of mollycoddled academics pontificating about NI they’d spend the 80 quid or so on one of the 150 or so copies of the latest book peddled by them.

    It’s a case of knowing your market, and that isn’t why folks browse Internet forums. If you want the peace and decorum of a library then go and read there but don’t confuse those who read these foums as being in chronic need of your ‘conflict resolution’ services or such forums as ad hoc clinics…

  • So how would Alias, or others, design a forum that would work as a clinic?

  • Alias

    Well, you’d take LSD to make you think it was a good idea. Failing that, you’d get the peace processing industry to grant aid it.

  • “Alias” puts it much more strongly than I do. But he is……right.
    Conflict Resolution is an acedemic discipline that has been created by academics purely for the benefit of other academics.
    The least important people in the whole process are “real people” who may be dismissed as being “unhelpful” if they disagree with conflict resolutionists.
    As I have said before there is no real benefit in making an issue of the Peace Process.
    Clearly Republican, Unionist and Liberal dissidents and dysentery are dangerous people.
    Unwittingly perhaps…..conflict resolutionists are dangerous.
    I dont deny that Conflict Resolution is “interesting” in a purely academic way.
    Many courses as advertised on university notice boards are tempting …..but by no stretch of the imagination can these courses be described as “useful”.

    Lets be frank here. Few academics will fork out seventy quid for a book. They wont of course have to do that. In a lot of cases the university libraries will order in some copies.
    And er who funds university libraries?
    Ordinary people……..and some of us say negative and unhelpful things.
    But at £70 a book……we have earned the right.

  • Dixie Elliott

    While on the subject of Conflict Resolution, Peace and things such as…
    I came across this rather confusing piece in the Derry Journal from Dr. Laurence McKeown.

    “Derry republicans have been told it is normal to feel uneasy about the direction of political change.

    Laurence McKeown, a former hunger striker and IRA commander in Long Kesh made the comment as the national hunger strike exhibition was staged in the Guildhall last week.

    Dr McKeown said he felt uneasy while attending a protest against the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr alongside people who were previously critical of the IRA.

    “I attended because I felt it was the right thing to do. But it felt uncomfortable. I was standing alongside people who had often been condemnatory of the IRA. I wondered if they now felt vindicated, or morally righteous, that republicans now joined them to condemn the actions of other republicans. But actually that’s okay; because it’s always been okay for republicans to condemn or criticise the actions of other republicans. In fact that has been the strength of the Republican Movement down through recent decades. Such criticisms were rarely voiced openly, people not wanting to give a hostile media yet another opportunity to condemn those from their own community, but they were voiced nonetheless, and more importantly, taken on board,” he said.”

    The former IRA commander also said questioning long-held beliefs is healthy. “It’s ok to feel uncomfortable or uneasy at times because that way you know you’re being challenged. It makes you more thoughtful, more reflexive, self-critical of your deeply-held opinions and assumptions. Feeling uncomfortable or uneasy is much better than someone else feeling grief,” he said. ‘

    which left me thinking. Is he feeling uncomfortable because he risks serious spinal injury in trying out such feats of contortionism each time he tells eager listeners
    what they need to hear most; that ten men really did die on Hunger Strike so that Sinn Fein could ‘churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots’ [taken from a Bobby Sands quote now forgotten by shinners]

    What Dr Laurence should really tell us all is…What is politically changed about the direction the SDLP were going?

  • Turgon

    Do you think that you and me could coauthor a book and charge for it? Not being important: indeed being decidedly “unhelpful” I doubt we could charge £70 but we might get away with £50 and since there would only be two of us for the royalties to be shared between we could maybe make as much or more from it than the conflict resolutionists.

    That said we would have to use our spare time for it: the conflict resolutionists can probably write these books during their work time: which is of course already paid for by the tax payer.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Apologies for the tangent but did Pollak ever respond to his (many) critics on that Begrudgers thread?

  • Alias

    The principal protagonists to the conflict in NI have successfully reconciled with each other, rendering the professional conflict resolutionists to be a redundant expense.

    Contrary to myth, there wasn’t any civil war in NI or anything that even remotely approximated it. The murders were committed by organised murder gangs (most of the state-sponsored) and by the security services, with almost no murders committed by Catholics or Protestants who were not in the employment of the murder gangs. Since the Catholics and Protestants were not in violent conflict, there is no actual need for conflict resolutionists to bother them with their wares.

    Those protagonists were (a) murder gangs (b) the British and Irish governments, (c) the political parties, and (d) the security services and the murder gangs.

    The murder gangs have stopped murdering people and are now celebrated by the society they once plagued. The two governments have settled their territorial dispute. The political parties now sit around the same table and share power with each other, and the security services are satisfied with the various ceasefires and disarmaments.

    So that is the old conflict resolved. But what about the new conflict? That would be between those who object to members of murder gangs in government and those who voted for them to be in government, and also between those citizens who were victims of the murder gangs requiring justice from the gorvernment which now comprises the members of the murder gangs that victimised them and who, unsurprisingly, use their power to deny justice to their victims.

    Well, the new conflict isn’t really ignored by the State. In reality, it is why the professional conflict resolutionists are sponsored by the State. But it isn’t to resolve their conflict but rather to downplay it by insisting that the new dispensation is Nirvana and that progress depends on the new conflict being ignored by the citizens.

  • Turgon

    Scáth Shéamais,
    Just to continue the tangent: he didn’t reply to you but do not feel left out he did not reply to anyone. I posted a reply to him on his own blog: here. You can now see it but until very recently (I think today) the comment was “awaiting moderation”. I am left with the impression that Mr.Pollak does not really like having to interact with commenters on his blog be they begrudgers or not.

  • Scáth Shéamais.
    No he didnt.
    I think there were two “Boston” (or was it “San Francisco” rich families).
    Family A only talked to Family B……and Family B talked only to GOD.

  • Turgon,
    I could only agree to such a proposal if our book was launched with tea and vol au vents at the Lanyon Building at Queens University. And we got to be slapped on the back (academically) by fellow non-enthusiasts of Conflict Resolution.
    I have put your suggestion to Mrs FJH who has suggested that I have never had a thought worth anybody paying £50 or £75 to read.
    With the possibility of another Slugger Quiz Night looming, I think that those of us who feel the same way might form a team to compete. We could call ourselves “The Conflict Resolutionists” or “Healing Thru Amnesia” Obviously we would need a very big table to accomodate those who share our feelings.
    As we would….obviously… a cross community quiz team……..this means that we could get a grant to finance our entry fee and refreshments (vol au vents optional) for the evening.
    Oh and taxis home. Obviously.

  • pauluk

    I read Slugger to be entertained and even informed. I certainly don’t read it to be lectured to by uppity intellectuals who think they are a cut above the rest and sound like they have just come out of some old stuffy, under-the-stairs study.

    Slugger is a lot about chat, banter, spouting off and pontificating on your favourite hobby-horse. It doesn’t need the killer kiss of academic analysis.

    Of course words matter, but don’t take everything so seriously.

  • Greenflag

    @ I think the anonymity of the online world encourages extreme discourse and allows people the perverse satisfaction of ‘speaking out’ without having to take responsibility for their views.

    While that may be true of some online blogs I would think that most Slugger on line commenters and bloggers are pretty consistent in their posts and when they slip up as they sometimes do as Turgon may have recently they quickly discover that they are reminded of straying from their principles . Those who do post ‘extremist ‘ views or cross a line even if that line is not entirely defined -soon find out and usually withdraw or are red carded sooner or later . So at least on Slugger a modus vivendi has been reached even while people remain resolutely ‘loyal’ to a particular political or religious viewpoint .

    I happen to believe that that situation would not be any different on slugger even if people used their ‘real names ‘ .

    ‘Pollak ends his post with a quotation from John Bradley, who contends that ‘the new electronic media … make it difficult to think deeply about issues, read longer papers, or examine issues in the appropriate context.’’

    Well Andy Pollak certainly got that right . Nicholas Carr in his book ‘ The Shallows ‘ gives a more detailed expose of what the internet is doing to ‘our ‘ brains ‘ at least in those cases where we still have any left after the overloading of our senses by a non stop stream of never ending info 😉

    I have to agree with Fitzjameshorse and Turgon and Alias in their healthy skepticism . I can understand that in the ‘effete ‘world of academia the ‘blood and guts ‘ of unseemly discourse on slugger may seem a tad extreme and too salty for many . But then on slugger people continue to talk to and at each other while holding diametrically opposed viewpoints and surely thats the point . I don’t ever expect the politicians to ‘agree’ on the constitutional ‘issue’ other than to agree to disagree . Nor do I expect them to like each other or to achieve some ‘cooperative ‘ Nirvana in which all is sweetness and light .

    As long as they don’t start shooting each other and drag the rest of a weary and politics sick people into a another generation of stupid violence -that will do for me and I suspect many others .


  • BluesJazz

    To answer Glady’s question, the answer is No.
    And her whole ‘concern’, that of many “professionial healers” here is/are guided by money and, of course, ‘guidance’. A perennial money spinner, and stupid academic sideshow. Go home, yes we know there is money to be made in the victim industry, especially by the churchy-pseudo academic lobby. But the government vol-au-vents are finished. The party’s over.

  • Lets not get sidetracked into “Anonymous” and Pseudo nom de guerres.
    Nobody criticising their use (and they are much different) is actually too bothered what my real name is. Or Turgon. Or Alias.
    Its not about our names. Its about “who/what” we are.

    In the academic world, journalistic world……its about the credibility that can attach to “who/what” we are. The source.
    Thus the Professor of International Relations at Harvard might carry more weight than the “ordinary Joe” and thats the real irritation.
    You just cant tell..
    Nobody would care if the contributions of “Ordinary Joe….or er Ordinary Josephine” were nonsensical.

    But if the contributions of the “Ordinary Joe” appear well informed and well argued, then that presents a dilemna for those who are brought up in disciplines respecting “source”

  • wild turkey


    “And this is good old Boston,
    The home of the bean and the cod,
    Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
    And the Cabots talk only to God.”


    i would like to be humbly considered for a chapter or two in your proposed learned tome. two things

    1. I will forward you, and perhaps FJH ?, my current working draft of “Conflict Resolution: A Rocket or a Racket?”

    2. the possibilities of obtaining public funds to carry out primary research which will subsequently form the basis for the, uh, chapters in the “prohibitively” expensive book.

    ya know guys i think there is a view amongst some of us that in the conduct of our day to day lives, the guidance and nurturing of our children, our civic committments we can be and are quite genuine about conflict resolution while at the same time casting a weary eye on those players and pontificators in the “industry”.
    with respect to the pontificators, i’m reminded when a young a John Lennon was asked by a “serious” interviewer if he was a mod or a rocker.

    Lennon responded “I’m a mocker”

  • Kevin Barry

    ‘In the academic world, journalistic world……its about the credibility that can attach to “who/what” we are. The source.
    Thus the Professor of International Relations at Harvard might carry more weight than the “ordinary Joe” and thats the real irritation.
    You just cant tell..
    Nobody would care if the contributions of “Ordinary Joe….or er Ordinary Josephine” were nonsensical.’

    I love how you equate those who post on a blogging site such as this as an ‘Ordinary Joe or Ordinary Josephine’ FJH, for that is not the case whatsoever.

    The problem the likes of you, Turgon, Alias and a whole host of the regular contributors on this site shall always face is the very fact that you are neither; you are in fact (and I hope that no offense is taken), cranks, and for that very reason, you shall never be taken seriously by the outside world, but here in the little bubble of slugger, ironically, each of your opinions and contributions carry certain weight due to previous contributions just like in the real world.

    Sorry folks, but Ordinary Joes/Josephines do not, nor would not, give a site like this the time of day or post 164 seemingly well thought out and different comments in the month of August alone on various topic matters unless they had:

    i) Lots of free time;
    ii) A massive interest in the various subject matters; and
    iii) They liked the sound of their own voice and feel a need that no one else feels to share their opinions.

    I really do not wish to offend you all here, but Gladys and Andy Pollak should really cut to the chase and just say what is obvious:

    i) In their field of work, they actually do value the opinions of what we shall call ‘Ordinary Joes’, it’s good for their research;
    ii) An Ordinary Joe is someone who does not take an especially large interest in politics and does not feel the need to engage with the various different goings on in any great detail;
    iii) Those who do feel the need to get involved in politics in a serious way on the internet by using aliases in some cases but are not interested in it enough to look at it as an academic discipline or laugh at those who devote their life’s work to researching politics in its many forms are clearly cranks, who may provide a valuable insight at times but more often than not will not (in their opinion) provide an insight into a matter as they are too ideologically wedded to their beliefs and know it in far too much detail.

    Sorry for insulting many, and undoubtedly I may get the reply of ‘you post on this site too’ (a fair point), but my contributions are a whole lot more limited than most.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Perhaps the targets of Kevin Barry’s (don’t want to be) offensive piece will respond. Perhaps it will raise nothing more than a wry smile.

    The three-point plan for crankhood could equally apply to the great and good that Barry so gallantly rides to rescue from, hush my mouth massa, anonymous Internet ‘cranks’. The only addendum to the plan being that the Great and Good have their “free time” funded.

    Barry alleges that the Great and Good target:

    i) only the disinterested add value to ‘research’
    ii) the OJ does not engage with the subject but may offer an uninformed opinion.
    iii) anyone with an opinion who breaks the Cardinal Rule (posting under a nom de poste on the Internet) are persona non grata and should take themselves off.

    As a self confessed non-OJ (he does give this site the time of day) perhaps Barry will tell us the Magic Number of Monthly Posts that changes someone from a Valuable Contributor (himself) to a Crank (me).

  • Absolutely no offence taken. I am indeed a crank and happily welcome the label. I have referred to my own Blog as a “Blag” because I simply cant take the whole Internet, Bloggy thing as seriously as other cranks.
    Some think Blogging and tInternet and all that citizen journalist stuff is the most significant advance since the Printing Press.
    I prefer to liken it to the hula hoop………kinda interesting in 1959 but I never really got the hang of it……and something else got invented anyway.

    Indeed the latest manifestation of my (locally based) Blag (sic) is called “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” for precisely the reason that I am an eccentric crank. And a tip of the hat to a similar eccentric crank in the 1850s.

    Im keeping an eye on Barak Obama, David Cameron and a host of others. Its my ………duty. Likewise with the Conflict Resolution “industry”.
    The point is that other cranks take it seriously. My crankiness is about pointing out THEIR pomposity and self-regard and acknowledging my own.

    While Slugger is indeed a bubble that I like to stick a pin in at times……ironically from the inside………Real Life isnt a bubble.
    Out there real people…..people I knew……died. I reserve the right to take THEM seriously.
    And there are others who might more legitimately claim that the world of Academia or Conflict Resolution is a “bubble”.
    Maybe Slugger is a bubble……..And perhaps it can be expanded without being burst. Away from the cosy “insider” world. I can have a lot of respect for Slugger and its leading players without being joined at the hip. Or being “on message”.

    Maybe youre right Mr Barry. Maybe Gladys Ganiel and Andy Pollak should take no notice of the likes of me. To be frank theyve never really given me the impression that they do take any notice.
    And if I was them, I wouldnt either.
    Id stick with the Ordinary Joes and Josephines who are not “too” interested in Politics. “Helpful” people who will aid the research.
    No questions asked. Norn Iron as a laboratory and its people as lab rats.

    Not for me. And I will say so. …164 times. 😉

  • Wild Turkey,
    I welcome you as a valued member of “Healing Thru Amnesia”.
    At the moment I am targetting ex-prisoners (preferably those who think they are journalists) for membership.
    We can get better funding…..and more credibility…if we have some ex-prisoners on board.

  • Rory Carr

    Words certainly matter, even if they are French, which is why Fitzjameshorse might have better referred to the name he gives himself when participating in online discourse as anom de plume (a pen name such as “Saki” or “Mark Twain”) rather than a nom de guerre (a war name such as “Stalin” or “Carlos the Jackal” or even “Michael”, the nom de guerre adopted by Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir in honour of Michael Collins when, as leader of guerrilla group Lehi he was terrorising the British in Mandatory Palestine).

    The latter form of pseudonym might tend to suggest a more belligerent approach, one not best suited to a forum on conflict resolution .

  • Rory Carr

    Editing matters as well and unfortunately mine above was not the best, permitting italicised emphasis to run on past its intended target. I would blame the poor editung function but for that old saw about “a poor workman…” running across my conscience like an Edwardian mantra So, my apologies are offered.

  • Oh I deliberately use “FitzjamesHorse” as a nom de guerre. My little Jacobite joke.

  • Kevin Barry

    Sorry Chaps, hope I didn’t ruffle a few feathers with my piece 😉

    ‘perhaps Barry will tell us the Magic Number of Monthly Posts that changes someone from a Valuable Contributor (himself) to a Crank (me).’

    Nice try SOS but I won’t be drawn on such a silly little question. While the number of contributions made by someone helps in deciding who is clearly a crank as opposed to someone like myself (a few contributions on this site) or even an Ordinary Joe (zero) I think you know that this is but one of the measures.

    FJH, I actually enjoy your contributions the vast majority of the time, and I am a follower of your blog (have you guessed who I am yet?), I would liken blogging and the amount of involvement one gives to it to be something like going to the Ashburn’s night-club in Lurgan.

    There are those who go as often as they can and they truly love it. For the purposes of clarity, in the slugger world, that’s the cranks.

    Then there are those, like myself, who come here, roll my eyes up at huge swathes of the stuff that goes on, whether it is some 22 year old courting some 40 year old married woman (Ashburn) or Quincey’s contributions (slugger), but occasionally finds something or someone he likes and engages with it. I don’t come that often or get involved and I swear I won’t come back as it’s crap but I like car crashes and enjoy those cranks crashing and burning.

    Then there are those, the vast, vast majority who would never touch this place with a barge pole as it is full of cranks, otherwise known as over-zealous people, some of whom may be unbalanced in the fight for their chosen cause.


    The problem the cranks will always face is that as they are, for the most part, unwilling to get involved in their chosen cause on a professional basis, and as such, it is very hard to take them serious. You don’t like it, tough.

    Looking forward to reading your next 164 contributions btw!

  • Rory Carr

    Kevin Barry is probably right about the wider public’s perception of most dedicated contributors to a site such as this as ‘cranks’.

    Further when I read his list of necessary qualifications to apply when seeking to determine ‘crankiness’:

    i) Lots of free time;

    ii) A massive interest in the various subject matters; and

    iii) [A liking for] the sound of their own voice and [a tendency to] feel a need that no one else feels to share their opinions.

    that I am possibly over-qualified in all three.

    It is often said that the ability to know oneself truly is the beginning of wisdom so I am indebted to Kevin Barry for providing me with means by which I was at last able to truly see myself ‘in the round’ as it were (although Herself says that she has been seeing me in nothing else but ‘in the round’ for years. I
    don’t think she means quite the same thing somehow.)

    P.S. Fitzjameshorse,

    Touché, Chevalier mon brave.

  • Kevin Barry

    Very good Rory.

    Granted, the ‘necessary qualifications’ I have come up with are not merely confined to my 3 points seeing as I came up with them off the hoof so to speak.I really should have been somewhat more of a crank and worked on my list

  • leftofcentre

    Well said Kevin Barry. At times I think Mick should just throw the keys of the site down and let the extremist take over of slugger be done with.

    Yes people should be allowed their views but the rush of the usual suspects to pile into every post puts off other people from commentating.

    It would be an interesting project for some student to analyse the comments on slugger. To my casual eye it seems 80% of the comments come from less than 5 people.

    The message is: don’t trust academics – they are elitist, any person fool enough to put their views out in the public has a vested interest, do not even bother to try to change anything in northern Ireland – things will never change, do not ever be positive or constructive, just snipe at everyone and drag them down.

    It is like waldorf and statler without the humour.

  • Rory Carr

    “It is like waldorf and statler without the humour.”

    We should all be indebted to LeftofCentre then for his hilarious contribution above.

    Shouldn’t we ?

  • leftofcentre

    This better?

  • wild turkey

    “…but my contributions are a whole lot more limited than most.”

    Kevin, I respect your cajones for publically sharing your profound personal revelation.


  • Rory Carr

    Now that was hilarious. And this exchange:

    ” Now that’s talent- an opera singer who tap dances and sings cowboy songs.”

    “I wonder if there’s anything she isn’t good at.”

    “Yes, choosing what show to be on.”

    made me see where you might be coming from and reappraise this comment from your contribution above:

    “Yes people should be allowed their views but the rush of the usual suspects to pile into every post puts off other people from commentating.”

    Can’t say as I disagree.

  • Rory Carr,
    Probably not. He sounds like he might be an academic himself. ;).
    I think Slugger has changed from my “first time around” but it has changed to the extent that tInternet.
    Certainly when I came back to Slugger (Jan 2011) I usually began my comments with a reference to “who wrote the article” or whatever and was usually rebuked as seemingly the source did not matter as much as the substance.
    My belief is that they are entwined.

    The discipline of Academia is to value the source….indeed in her post Gladys Ganiel refers to John Bradley and Katy Hayward for example. Necessarily Gladys Ganiel will value these folks more than she will value my anonymous (as she sees it) contribution.
    The (in)discipline of the Internet treats us all very democratically. Our opinions are seemingly of equal merit.
    Which begs the question that an internet message board is perhaps the wrong forum for an academic.

    I have also thought that Mr Fealty might hand in the keys and let the cranks like myself take over. Possibly limiting the number of posts in a month say 500, (sic)) is an option…….but the logic of the Internet says otherwise.

  • Rory Carr

    Well said, Wild Turkey.

    Kevin’s faux pas at displaying his cojones so publicly was almost on a par with your demonstration of your own literary skills.

    It seems that not only do words matter and their correct placement but correct spelling often helps a little as well.

    As a measure of this I had to go back over this little effort three times to check that I won’t be left with egg on my own face.

    And, even as I press ‘Submit’ I still won’t be quite sure.

  • Kevin Barry

    @ wild turkey


  • “Pollak ends his post with a quotation from John Bradley”

    fjh, perhaps we’re witnessing an exercise in corporate promotion; John Bradley appears to be a contributor to Pollak’s Cross Border Studies project.

  • “the source did not matter as much as the substance”

    I’d have said they’re inextricably linked, fjh. Regular contributors to SO’T will probably know what to expect when I publish a detailed account of the activities of certain developers or refer to independent investigations carried out by Government departments.

  • Nevin,
    All these things …….Platform for Change, the golden halo in Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, Cross Border whatevery are really about networking and mutual congratulation. Theyre not about real people.
    My own experience (Slugger passim) was that everytime I mentioned the background to an article, including the author, I was quickly rebuked about sticking to the point. As you observe, they cannot be taken seperately.

    In the world of the Blind, the one eyed man is king. And on the Internet there are no people with 20-20 vision. The best to be hoped for is that people have one eye.
    Sadly its often the case that the one eyed praise each other for their perfect vision…….and are somewhat dismissive of people who point out that they are as one-eyed as the rest of us.

  • Alias

    “Its not about our names. Its about “who/what” we are.

    In the academic world, journalistic world……its about the credibility that can attach to “who/what” we are. The source.”

    That’s a sharp point. I had assumed that those in the peace processing industry who complain about speech via a non-state controlled medium such as internet forums did so because such voices were skeptical and sometimes derisive about that peace processing industry, and usually objected to their taxes funding said voodoo but such complaint could be rooted in that university mentality too. But either way, experts – even experts on peace processing voodoo – have a vested interest in presenting their opinions on the subject as being more authoritative than another person’s opinion since if all opinions were equal then there would be no commercial value attached to the opnions of the voodoo experts and so there would be no state funding for them.

    It’s also nonsense to claim that people are not accountable for their words when online. Any state agency that wanted to know a poster’s identity could find it out via his or her IP within a matter of minutes. But it doesn’t matter if the poster is annonymous since that is just a pretext to dismiss a voice that cannot be controlled by the state in the way that other mediums have been brought to sing from the same state-written hymn sheet.

  • Well the less cynical way of looking at it is that a University is not exactly a “democracy”.
    In that world…
    A person with A levels carries more credibility than a person who has O Levels.
    A person with a MA is more credible than a BA.
    A PhD more credible again.
    And so on.
    Sooner or later every first year Uni student comes accross a tutor…….who wants more footnotes and can be dismissive if you happen to choose the “wrong” academic to quote.
    And no good saying “well I just know it Dr Spock, youre wrong”. Because Dr Spock will inevitably say that he/sh is the one with the PhD.
    In the deferential refined world of Academia thats accepted.
    Alas in the real world, its more “democratic”.
    The anonymous (as they would have it) world of the internet is probably even less deferential than “real life” and not an ideal platform for academics. Especially if they arent used to being told that they are wrong…….without copious footnotes quoting even more important people than they are.
    Thus its not about Alias or Drumlins Rock or Turgon or FitzjamesHorse being Billy Smith or Paddy Murphy or whoever………its about who Billy Smith and Paddy Murphy are.

  • Alias

    It would be foolish in some technical disciplines not to award more credibility to the opinion of an expert and to scale the award in accordance with the level of expertise. For example, one medical doctor can offer a different opinion than another, so without an appeal to a higher level of expertise (the over-paid consultant) you wouldn’t be able to determine which opinion is more likely to be true.

    Likewise, you should always award an architect’s opinion about structural integrity more credence than your builder’s opinion, and then award a consulting engineer’s opinion more credence than your architect’s opinion but in matters of voodoo – such as the peace processing industry – you can safely award all opinions equal credibility…

    I’m not impressed by those who demand to taken more seriously than others on the basis of an appeal to misleading authority and who do so because no one should rightfully take them seriously at all.