One of the things about the late Hugo Young that always amazed me was that he always, but always, replied to letters (this was long before email) sent to him, or at least so I found. Even to rather rude ones: when I disagreed with him once, somewhat over-assertively, about unilateral nuclear disarmament, his postcard (it was invariably a postcard, rather in the manner of Shaw) began, “Thank you for your indignant letter”.
I think it might have been during the height (or depth) of the row over the Perdition affair, and the days and days of letters in the Guardian that were part of it, or alternatively it might rather have been in the wake of what he referred to (in a postcard he wrote me) as his “notorious piece on Mrs T and the Jews”, that (and it surprised me that he was so open about this) he referred to the Letters pages in the Guardian as “the single most damaging part of the paper”, adding that if were editor (this was in Preston’s day) “rather than a mere contract writer”, he would do something pretty radical about it.
I’m inclined to think that if he were around today he might well say this, probably not of the main CiF writers themselves, but of the wretched commenters’ space underneath. (Full disclosure: I’m an occasional wretched commenter.)
I know (I think) why the Guardian and others do it, I can see the rationale, I just think it’s a ghastly mistake — who needs it? Not so much a marketplace of ideas as a flea market for second-hand, second-rate thoughts.
I don’t know, Brian. I like the idea that Comment Is Free now. It’s a good barometer, and it makes very clear the need for critical citizenship as a curriculum goal. It’s just a shame it’s also so cheap. I suppose it’s all very new at the moment – maybe in a decade or so once we have settled into the idea of internet identity comments threads will have become a lot more deliberated and civil, and we’ll look back with incredulity about how incontinent we were in the beginning…
I copy below a post that I have made directly on Andrew Collins’ blog:
The obsession with Israel with some commentators is deeply worrying. I recently wrote an article praising a young socialist feminist writer for the blog, Harry’s Place. This article was copied, without my approval but not to my annoyance, to a different blog, Socialist Unity. In no place in the article did I refer to Israel, to Palestine, to Zionists, to Jews, to Arabs or Muslims, yet this is not what one would realise had they solely read the comments. As anyone can see from checking the Socialist Unity post, from comment number two, the thread deteriorated into an an ad hominem attack on me on the grounds that it is alleged that I am involved in “attempts to white-wash zionist crimes.”
When I responded noting that I would ignore the abuse, I was told (and I apologise for the vulgar language, but I quote directly), “Fuck off you pro-war, zionist, hang assange, prick. Hopefully your snake like efforts to co-opt a young left wing journo into your filthy little world will fail.” In other words, it was deemed that the reason I wrote the post praising the young socialist journalist was purely for nefarious reasons: to try and snare the journalist into becoming a Zionist. The possibility for this commentator that I might simply enjoy reading the journalists vibrant writing was an impossibility.
Such behaviour really is a shame. Those that wish to direct venom at anyone born in Israel or to those with names such as “Ezra” who do not preface an article on any subject by condemning the State of Israel should consider what has happened to their own moral compass.
That was a nice piece you did about Laurie Penny, Mikey. It’s bizarre of the Socialist Unity commenters to accuse you of plotting. (Incidentally, Socialist Unity who hate the idea of a separate Israel and Palestine, haven’t given any attention to Sudan’s referendum to split into two states. One reason they attract such Zionist-obsessed commenters. But that doesn’t explain the ominous development whereby if a journalist writing about an actor mentions her Israeli identity but not her politics with regards to Palestinians, he is liable to be subjected to a political test himself. I thought he handled it well.)