Reply to Rory Litwin
Rory Litwin doesn't strike me as one of the greater thinkers of this age. In fact, right about now the most charitable thing I can think of to say about him is that he is a fool. Many LISNewsterz are familiar with his criticism of Blake's asking if it would be worthwhile to open a forum dedicated to conservatist discussion of library issues. A number of those members disagreed with Rory with varying degrees of courtesy to discourtesy. Rory attempted to defend himself, but in my estimation he didn't do a very credible job of it. Then, on 28 May, he put his foot in his mouth a second time with a criticism of the LISNews community. In between the two events, the realization came out that the ruggedly individualistic curmudgeons and old farts who patronize the LISNews board had coalesced into an online community. In fact, this coalescence derived directly from Mr. Litwin's attempt to defend himself and his first criticism. This community is the focus of Mr. Litwin's second kvetch. What makes Mr. Litwin a fool to my mind is that he obviously didn't learn anything from his first go around.
What's worse, I wrote him a little note in which I told him that the first rule of digging holes is: When you are in one, stop digging. He insisted that he had not dug himself into a hole and that he was right in all of his points.
Well, Mr. Litwin is wrong in all of his points, and the reason is that he cannot think beyond an examination of superficialities.
Blake Carver loves what he is doing with LISNews. Having a fairly simple site of my own, and taking into consideration the amount of time I spend on keeping up with censorship and free speech issues, I have no doubt that Blake lavishes an inordinate amount of time and energy on the LISNews board. (And cash; it has to be paid for.) It is clear to me, that Blake takes a great deal of pride in his work. Moreover, Blake is a civil libertarian. Despite calls for greater editorial constraints on
what material can be accepted, he refuses to implement such restraints, and allows for a wide range of stories that deal with civil liberties and human rights which are not directly library-related. Basically, Blake Carver is on the political left-wing. You'll note that Mr. Litwin complained that Blake was worried about the board becoming too left-wing, and wanted to "adjust" the balance toward the conservative. Stuff and nonsense.
Blake's overriding purpose in maintaining this board is to provide a milieu for a wide diversity of viewpoints. Blake's concern is that the preponderance of liberalism was overwhelming the conservative viewpoints and creating a chilling effect. His idea to create a preserve for such viewpoints was an effort to circumvent this chilling effect. In other words, he simply wanted to level the playing field.
I'm considering a new section @LISNews. I'm wondering if anyone might be interested in contributing to a Political Librarian Weblog. I don't think the intelligent-right gets enough press and that just ain't right. Those with view points that differ significantly from the usual library line should have a place where these views can be aired, shared, and discussed. I can think of at least 2 LISNewsterz that would be perfect for this, so I'm hoping for at least a yes or no vote from
Furthermore, Mr. Litwin ignored Blake's concerns and definitions of his position in asking about starting a forum for conservatist discussion. Which rationale was posted along with his question; to whit:
FAQ: 1. Why aren't you asking for people from the left? I think we already have them. I don't want this to be a left wing echo chamber, I want both sides to be represented, and I want both sides to be smart.
2. How are you defining right & left? I'm not, I leave that up to you.
3. What's your plan? A section devoted to political discussion.
4. What's political discussion? Discussion on laws that may or may not pertain to the LISWorld. Discussion on elections, politicians, constitutions, political parties, etc. For the most part stories posted to our index page tend to be related to libraries, and not often very political. This new section would be all about the stuff we all argue about.
5. Have you really thought this through? Doesn't LISNews already do just that? Yeah, maybe, but I think best when I get ideas from others. This may be a dumb idea, and no one will care to participate, but the idea is to get some feedback to see if there's any interest out there.
Now, this point is middling important. It is important because in Library Juice 7:11, Rory made the statement:
My brief editorial comments about LISNews in the last issue generated a heated response from "members of the LISNews community," much of that response consisting of personal attacks, innuendo, false accusations, etc. [...]
Golly-gee! -- if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black. For my money, Rory was projecting his shadow here. What, pray tell, is the act of putting quotation marks around members of the LISNews community if it is not an innuendo? The very clear implication being that we do not constitute a community, and that description of the group as such is somehow misrepresentative.
And false accusation?
Additionally, I pointed out that Blake's justification for calling for more conservative bloggers - that LISNews was a "left wing echo chamber" - was based on his own definition of the "political center" in librarianship, [...]
This despite Blake's written statement (above), in plain and simple English, that he was not making an effort to define political right from left, but would leave that up to the participants, and the very clear implication that he was simply polling the group to see if establishing such a preserve would be worth the time and effort.
Mr. Litwin even acknowledged that point while ignoring it. He alluded to it and then mentioned about his writing there was no need for Blake to intervene. Which brings me to my next point. There was no intervention of anything or any plans to intervene. It is not intervention, in the context involved, to grant access to a greater number of viewpoints. In this context, intervention would mean:  interfere; come between so as to prevent or modify the result or course of events
(Oxford Canadian Dictionary). That would necessitate editorial restraint, and as I have already pointed out, Blake has refused that option. Now, you've got to understand that Blake could tighten those criteria and it would not at all be prior restraint to do so. Every artist creates a work with a certain vision in mind, and every editor sets the editorial direction of a publication along the lines of his or her vision for that publication. As part of the editorial direction for this board (not
web log, thank you very much), Blake allows for the inclusion of stories that are only peripherally related to librarianship instead of requiring they be directly related.
Next we get to all the complaints about political leanings. I've never been able to get all that left-wing/right-wing claptrap. My touchstone for politics is right/wrong, where "right" means correct and is a move which fully respects the human dignity and the rights of the individual. Whether it is a conservative move or a liberal move is irrelevant. Still, I can grapple with the concept of wrong-wing as an intellectual exercise. And one of the plaints expressed in the Litwin fiasco of 7:10
is that LISNews had become too conservative. Strictly speaking, that could not happen unless Blake did actively intervene to block stories of dissent and opposition to the conservative agendas of filtering and USAPA. Amusingly enough, some of the conservatives seem to be agree that LISNews is too liberal. What Rory and most people haven't considered is the solipsistic nature of personal beliefs. Each and every person always considers him- or herself to be perfectly rational and quite moderate;
dead center, politically speaking. As a result, we do not judge the political position of others by their relationship to any objective criterion, but by their relative position to ours.
This is irrelevant to the board, which is not the message, but the medium by which messages are transmitted. Accusing LISNews of political bias is like executing the messenger for bad news. LISNews participants have political bias, and it is this which colours one's perceptions of the board in general, but the board itself, as Blake stated, is neutral. This point of difference, I'm willing to chalk up to an equivocation. Rory seems to be using the term to describe the political
atmosphere of the board, while Blake seems to be using it to describe editorial (read: collection development) policy.
So the question arises: what is the political leaning of the LISNews community?
Off the top of my head, I would say that the majority of librarians tend to be civil libertarians. Considering that the entire purpose of having public libraries is to make information accessible to the general public. Of course, librarians come from the general population, and as individuals they have a wide range of political viewpoints.
Narrowing down the focus to LISNews, how would that range of viewpoints affect the perception of this board's political stance? Well, I think that one of the driving forces behind liberalism is a laizzer faire attitude, and that liberals tend to not be as vocal and as active as conservatives do. For one thing, the mainstream is liberalist; we have the upper hand. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be much more vocal; they have to work a lot harder to promote societal conservatism. As a
result, conservative LISNewsterz post more frequently.
The second part of the complaint is that the political tilt has been increasing over the last several months. Has it? I'll say, unequivocally: Yes. And I believe that I know why.
"So, what is it?" you demand. "Cosmic rays? Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds? A commie-pinko left wing agenda? What?!"
I am a five hundred pound gorilla in cyberspace.
(Where does a 500 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to.)
It's not that I deliberately move into a board and take over, but as I have said elsewhere, "I have strong opinions and I'm not afraid to bludgeon someone with them." Plus, I don't do things by half measures. As a participant at LISNews, I moderate, metamoderate, suggest stories, comment, post an occasional entry to my journal, read the journals of others, and even use the FRIEND/FOE/FAN/FREAK icons. More to the point, I frequently make an effort to be deliberately provocative. My primary
purpose in doing so is to get other people all excited over what they believe. Usually I'm provocative enough just by questioning my own beliefs.
The fall out from this, correlated with my viewpoint about conservatist participation, means that more conservative LISNesterz reply to my comments and stories than do the liberal. If this reasoning holds up, that would explain the percieved tilt and supposed conservativism of the board in general.
But to say that LISNews is a force for conservatism is silly on another level. If the whole point of the board is to make accessible the widest possible diversity of viewpoints so as to allow participants to make up their own minds, the board is necessarily a liberal force, as personal choice is generally antithetical to conservatism. The neutrality, then, is not a political neutrality, but is analogous to a chemical neutrality (Ph 7.0). This nuance is the equivocation behind the
ultra-conservative complaint that libraries serve various liberal agendas. It creates an oxymoronic condition in which liberalism serves conservative movements.
One last point, and while it's a minor one, it drives home the final nail in the coffin of Rory's credibility. His complaint about unfair moderation. I have a journal entry in which I explain how moderation works in general, and I remember that when Rory complained about his messages being moderated downward, someone explained to him that messages from anonymous users are not automatically accorded a bonus point. Personally, I do not
moderate messages posted anonymously (unless they are especially well crafted or informative), although, as I point out, there are those who moderate maliciously; or so I believe. This feature is easily circumvented: sign up for an account and adjust your COMMENTS page to surf at -1. Yet, even after being told this in plain English, Rory misrepresented the state of affairs in his latest attack against LISNews, and still will not avail himself of this feature while attempting to defend his