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Foxdenuk

Forays into Web 2.0

Promoting political dialogue

Notes to self:

There is no aim to this post beyond documenting a conversation that is hard to track in the comments of one blog and in the comments of another blog where I should not have posted as a comment.


I have been exploring how people engage in decisions at various levels including the personal, professional and political, for several years.

Since I had/have a personal stake in the EU referendum in the UK, I both took part in the discussion and tried to follow the different factions. As part of that, although I was on the Remain side, I wanted to make sure that I had the Leave perspective too. I found that Dr Richard North is extremely knowledgeable on the technical aspects of the EU and followed his blog. I also followed Pete North who also seemed to know an enormous amount.

I did notice however, that in amongst the technical knowledge there was always a tendency to refer to people who disagreed with them in negative terms. It did not seem possible to read a post about the intricacies of Article 50 for example without also reading about how lazy and ignorant the other side was.

So far, so normal in terms of what political discussion seems to look like these days. But one thing I found strange is that Dr North is actually advocating for devolution of political power on a huge scale down to the local level with his Harrogate Agenda. I have a lot of sympathy with this, if not down to the exact detail that he advocates. But it struck me that if you want people to engage with local politics to a much greater degree than they do now, then you are going to have to pull people in. So I asked in a comment whether always referring to opponents in negative terms was not going to put people off from engaging in politics rather than draw them in.

He responded with a reference to a blog post by Pete North which basically showed that the negative tone was part and parcel of the approach. As I’m interested in the mechanics of political dialogue I wanted to know the URL of this post so went to Pete North’s blog.

Breach of online etiquette

The search box on his blog did not find it for me. I also tried a plagiarism checker but that did not find it for me either. I could not see a way of contacting Pete North on his blog except by leaving a comment (but these should disappear soon). I thought about this before doing it as it is a breach of etiquette to post a comment that has nothing to do with the blog post.

I asked:

There is a search box on your blog but it has not helped me to find your post on Why being rude in blogs is an effective political strategy.

A reader who had not seen the lead up to this comment on Richard North’s blog thought I was being unfair.

Anne – isn’t that a little unfair?
Read beneath the words and he has a good point here: the EU is a failed project and we need to get with the action is the rest of the world.

I think he thought I was commenting on the post but I wasn’t. It was a technical question.

But how else was I supposed to ask for a post that advocated rudeness as a policy, without saying ‘I’m looking for that post that you wrote on how being rude is the best way to promote my political viewpoint?’

Another reader commented:

I think you should apologise to Pete.

I read the context – your remarks on EUReferendum – where you affect an air of injured intellectual probity, based on a fallacy of your own creation.

I agree that I need to apologise for posting a comment unrelated to the post. But I’m not sure if the second commenter wants me to apologise for something more.

Injured intellectual probity

This is probably where the second commenter thinks I affected an air of injured intellectual probity.

The blog post that started it all bemoaned the ignorance of UK MPs in their discussion of the EU. I suggested sending out a glossary so that terms such as the Single Market and customs union could be better understood. Richard North referred me to his books and monologues, which as I have mentioned before are very helpful. But what I was suggesting was a bridge to these materials with something short and manageable.

I said:

You are right that much is lost in simplification but as an educator I know that there have to be entry levels and yes MPs should be beyond entry level. But as an educator, I also know that *reinforcement* is important and a simple glossary could act as reinforcement. As I mentioned before I did write a low level textbook about the EU many years ago (not promoting as it would be foolish to buy it now). So I knew a great deal then but have learned loads from this site since. In particular I have to *keep reminding myself* about the difference between the Single market and the Customs Union especially since one does not sit inside the other. Perhaps this is old age creeping in but I need constant reinforcement about this. This site is a great resource for more information. On a technical note I would really appreciate a search box on the front page so that I could search on a term such as customs union. On another note, I persisted exploring this site even though the epithets most often nused for detractors is *ignorant* and *lazy*. From a psychological point of view, people learn better when they are not branded as lazy and ignorant. I am here in spite of the tone not because of it. And I write this with an unsteady hand because I have now laid myself open to similar epithets.

Richard North responded:

You are dealing with people who do not want to be educated. Largely, they operate on devising a series of “pocket narratives” to be fished out when needed to cover the subjects they have to deal with.

In the main, these are group narratives (“the line to take”), which take precedence over any other source of information. These people are not concerned as to whether the information is right or wrong – they seek conformity more than anything else, and will reject material which challenges their orthodoxy.

As to calling them “lazy” and “ignorant”, I have had this from so many people endlessly, that only if we we nicer, more polite, more emollient, etc., etc., then people would take note of what we say. That is a fallacy. Here is what my son had to say on the matter:

Two people today have independently accused me of being extremely rude on Twitter and elsewhere. They then note that more people would listen if only I was a deferential good mannered little boy. I have noticed other bloggers taking that deferential approach only to get an occasional pat on the head, but are then generally ignored and excluded.

The whole post is apparently Pete North’s Facebook profile so only accessible to those who are friends with him on Facebook but in the meantime is also buried in the comments of the Richard North post..

Pete North advised me to find similar posts on his Facebook page:

Go to my Facebook where you will find several posts on why I’m not minded to give a solitary toss whether people read the blog or not. People tell me more people would read by blog if only I was a bit nicer, but then the chances are they wouldn’t read it anyway. Meanwhile, hits continue to climb so I must be doing something right.

Then he added this as an afterthought.

  • Oh, by the way, is there a blog on how making snide, completely irrelevant comments makes people listen to you?

I repeat:

There is no aim to this post beyond documenting a conversation that is hard to track in the comments of one blog and in the comments of another blog where I should not have posted as a comment.

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2 thoughts on “Promoting political dialogue

Add yours

  1. the Norths are very obnoxious and self opinionated, i see you have had one of your comments deleted, they certainly dont believe in free speech,its up to you , but personally i wouldnt bother with them, they are not academics writing peer reviewed research, mostly propaganda to support leaving the EU.

  2. Since my whole point all along has been about mutual respect then forgive me for giving people who I barely know the benefit of the doubt. Thanks for following this. To put the record straight, it is me who is deleting my comments on Pete North’s post. I intend to get rid of them all as soon as I can since it was deemed a breach of etiquette to use the comment function to ask for help in tracking the post that his father reproduced in reply to one of my comments elsewhere.

    When Richard North said:
    I have had this from so many people endlessly, that only if we we nicer, more polite, more emollient, etc., etc., then people would take note of what we say. That is a fallacy.

    I thought maybe the clue was in the sentence as “many people endlessly” give him the same message. I get that he probably does not value the opinion of everyone in that group but I’m thinking there must be some whose opinion he respects who are saying this.

    I would never have taken this up if this was simply about arcane arguments about the EU. What puzzles me about the whole thing is that the ultimate aim is a strong local democracy. And I just don’t think that you can build strong local democracy on negativity. Some people may argue about horses for courses ie that arguing the finer points about Brexit requires different tactics to building the momentum for strong local democracy. But I must say that it is Richard North who has linked the two topics and made them two parts of the same mission so that is why I wonder at what point (if ever) will the negativity give way to the positivity that will surely be needed to build solid local democracy.

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