What are we hoping to achieve by contributing here? Are we having any impact? Does our dialogue make any difference?
As a group of political bloggers we feel we have something to say about the state of politics in this nation. The Political Sword, which has n
o allegiance to any party or political movement, provides the opportunity for its visitors to draw attention to what the Fourth Estate is saying, point us to what others in the Fifth Estate are saying, thanks largely to Lyn’s Daily Links, inform us about what the politicians are thinking and doing, express views, and enter into discussion with others who contribute here, even if they have a different viewpoint or a different take on political events or personalities.
Recent difficulty with the site during the upgrade to the most recent version of the blog engine we use has brought forth expressions of support from regulars and offers of financial support. Over the end-of-year break we will assess the future of TPS and what support it might need.
The last few days have shown something more – a sense of camaraderie among contributors, who value each other’s opinions, who enjoy the company the site provides, and who gain satisfaction from sharing their views with like-minded souls and at times with those who are of a different mindset. The feeling of family that has been fostered by visitors has become amazingly strong. It adds significantly to the enjoyment of blogging here. New visitors are welcomed when they offer a comment, often by several regulars. We are a big family. Although over a hundred make comments here, some almost every day, our site statistics show that there are many more who visit regularly but choose not to leave a comment. The number of visitors is increasing.
As we come towards the end of another year, and look to what 2011 holds, it behooves us to review what we want from TPS, how we might contribute to the discourse, how we ought to conduct our discussions, and what we might hope to achieve.
Starting with the latter, for my part I hope we can influence the thinking of those who visit here, some of whom are referred from other sites. Cross-linking in the Fifth Estate is prevalent. Lyn gives us a great set of links every morning to a variety of sites. Her research saves the countless hours it would take to look individually for these links. They enables us to read what others think and say, enrich our understanding of the contemporary issues, garner facts hitherto unknown to us, and modify or reinforce our opinions accordingly. Users of the blogosphere are thereby among the best informed politically, and are well placed to give balanced
and informed opinions.
So what might we contribute? Already Bushfire Bill and HillbillySkeleton have joined me in writing for TPS (BB is having a rest just now), and any others of you who feel you have something to say in the way of an original piece can send it to me by email for assessment.
We have also attracted satirists and poets. First Acerbic Conehead, then Patricia WA, NormanK, Talk Turkey and more recently D Mick Weir and 2353 have had a go. Not only are your poems witty, they add greatly to our enjoyment of the site.
The contributions of visitors through comments are already exceptional. Few sites attract such detailed and informative comments and such a rich variety of links. Moreover, the courtesy with which you make them gives TPS an ambience of thoughtfulness and fairness. Of course sometimes your responses express frustration, even annoyance at the substance and style of some who comment here, especially when they make assertions that are not backed up by verifiable facts and well-reasoned argument to which we feel we are entitled. Yet even when you are in fierce disagreement courtesy usually prevails.
As we have been on the road a lot, we listen to talking-books. Currently it is the talking-book version of Edward de Bono’s A beautiful mind. It has some sound advice for those who enter into discourse with others, which apply particularly to those of us who blog.
His first piece of advice is to avoid agreeing with everything another is saying as that can soon take on an aura of obsequiousness, even insincerity. On the other hand, always being in disagreement is even more obnoxious. Both approaches lead to either useless or unpleasant dialogue. It’s the old story of the bell-shaped curve – those who operate around the middle are the ones who provide the most balanced dialogue – those who operate at the extreme tail-ends, the extremists – are the ones who stifle discussion, anger or bore others, and advance thinking very little. At times we have experienced this on TPS, but the facilitatory approach taken in response by many bloggers here has tempered somewhat the extreme statements.
De Bono insists that finding points of agreement can make an otherwise dissonant conversation pleasant. He describes disagreement as often a battle of competing egos as each strives always to be ‘right’. He describes disagreeing with everything as ‘silly’, something our politicians need to learn. He also eschews labels such as ‘stupid’ or ‘hopeless’, when disagreement arises. He suggests that where agreement seems impossible, we might like to explore whether under special circumstances, or within the opponent’s value system or prior experience agreement might be possible. Making an effort to see where the other person is coming from can change perceptions and turn an argument into a useful learning exercise. Dialogue is facilitated when some points of agreement can be found and acknowledged. We see this on TPS, and find it does make for better dialogue.
He points out how sweeping generalizations are difficult to agree with, and make conversation difficult or impossible. ‘Labor cannot manage money’, or ‘Labor always runs up debt’ are two such generalizations that are manifestly untrue, yet are trotted out mindlessly by Labor’s opponents. Likewise, to say ‘the Coalition always opposes’, is not the case, even although it often looks that way. ‘No politician can be trusted’ is equally untrue. Dogmatism, rigidity, prejudice and bigotry represent box-like thinking, with people or ideas being positioned either in the box or outside it – with nothing in between. He describes the classic errors that bedevil discourse: errors of logic, misinterpretation of data and selective perception. He emphasizes the importance of politeness even when disagreeing, instead of using rudeness, aggressiveness and bullying to get one’s way. I thought as I listened how germane his advice was to bloggers.
To return to the beginning, why do we blog here on TPS? There are many reasons: advancing our political knowledge and understanding, getting in touch with emerging trends – HillbillySkeleton’s last piece is a classic example – communicating with others of similar interest, expressing our views about policies, parties and politicians, pointing to those with which we agree or disagree, plying our knowledge and reason to political issues, advocating or opposing causes with passion and conviction, and not least enjoyment, entertainment, conversation with our blogger friends, lapping up their satire or poetry, enjoying their camaraderie, and feeling part of an extended family, all laudable.
But do we make a difference? Do we influence thinking? How much weight do we carry?
There seems little doubt that we inform each other and influence thinking among our visitors, sometime positively, and at time perhaps negatively. But how far does our influence extend beyond TPS? Many who blog here also blog on both Fourth Estate and Fifth Estate sites, and thereby carry facts, views and opinions from here to elsewhere. Some who have their own blogs, such as Grog, Nasking and Miglo, blog here and cross-pollinate. Occasionally another blog will pick up something on TPS. There was an example of this the other day when North Coast Voices picked up on something written about Tony Abbott on TPS in Does Labor fight too ‘clean’? that linked to that piece on TPS. The extent to which those in the Fourth Estate read blogs at all and this one in particular, is unknown. From feedback, we know some do, but how much is a mystery. The fact that Grog’s celebrated piece about the poor standard of reporting by the MSM of the election campaign was picked up by Mark Scott of the ABC, promulgated at a public conference, and taken up by journalists at The Australian, leading to James Massola’s ‘outing’ of Greg, was compelling evidence that some blogs do catch the eye of those outside the Fifth Estate.
We shall probably never know how far what we contribute here travels, how much influence it has, and how much it changes others’ opinions. But the feeling that it may, and probably does, keeps us going as we fight for what we believe is fair and just and in the nation’s interest. It seems well worthwhile to me. What about you?