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Discussion > Amiability, anger and apologies

This is a response from me to Chris M, because I think it would clog up the original thread - so another experiment with the theme "Separate That Thread!"

Chris wrote three days ago (and please note I've waited till now to reply, because there seemed so much else of value going on):

Skiphil, I too value amiability. In that spirit I await R Drake's apology for his blatant trolling of me on Dung's original thread. It is not the first time ...

Blatant trolling was a ridiculous description of what had happened on a thread that had begun with Chris M saying DNFTT of me, after Dung's angry and mocking intro, because I'd asked for general GHE discussion to be moved from the Ridley thread.

But when you say "It is not the first time" you don't give details, let alone link to them. Here is a link, the moment our host said, on 17th November 2012, Would people please avoid making personal comments about other commenters. The evening before you'd said of Martin A and myself, using an expression of the form 'Martin Armstrong' for Martin, which everyone assumed was an attempt to provide a real name for someone with whom you had an issue:

Why bother Dung? This thread is already way past its tipping point, a private conversation between two City types to the exclusion of others. If I were a UK resident I would be, like Delingpole, attempting to steer the Tories towards policies reflecting traditional middle class conservatism, not the clubby exclusivity of Mayfair. And [Martin A], this is entirely on topic; if you want to criticize the BBC you need to show that your fundamental mindset is different from theirs, something you have thus far failed to do.

And, when Dung had said that he couldn't understand you (not that there was anything wrong with such personal remarks, interestingly) you added:

Sorry Dung, I must have been obscure without knowing it. I find your presence on this blog very positive, and wholeheartedly agree with most of your posts. No, my criticism was directed towards Martin and Richard, who seem to want to exclude others from the conversation. Even though this is a discussion thread, we are all guests on BH and a little politeness wouldn't go astray. To say as Martin did "May I politely suggest" while being anything but polite leaves a lot to be desired imho. Not that they will care what I think. Richard has made a slighting "jokey" remark about Aussies in the past, so maybe there's a cultural element of Pom (of a certain type) vs. Aussie in this. I prefer to confront such behaviour rather than let them get away with it, in the forthright Australian tradition.

To this I replied:

Chris, you didn't create another discussion thread, as Martin politely suggested, "on the nature of power, the psychology of mobs and so on". Why not? This thread is about the BBC. I don't get the reference to Australia either. Love the place and a lot of the people, with whom I've had the pleasure of working pretty closely in years past. You seem to have a very thin skin compared to most Aussies I've dealt with though. Be that as it may, this thread is notable for its longevity, solely caused by the extent of the questions being asked about one of Britain's most famous institutions. If that doesn't interest you, no problem.

Drongo then made a joke against Australians and Dung sprang into action and attacked me:

I would not worry too much about Richard, he epitomises much of what is wrong with the BBC. Richard's method of dealing with criticism is not to confront it, not to argue his case but rather to make what he considers to be clever offhand but hurtful comments whenever the opportunity arises.

Dung then predictably raised the area of pseudonyms, which I had not raised - a age-old stick with which he likes to beat me. By now it was early hours on the 17th and I wrote:

Dung, we disagree about some things. That's all it is. I can cope with that. It's now the third anniversary of the Climategate leak, and my birthday, so I'm feeling good about the world. I'll add some stuff about the BBC in the morning and hope we can refocus in that way.

Note how I avoided any tit-for-tat. An hour later Chris M said:

Dung, thanks for your solicitude, much appreciated. I have started a new thread (not the one I was told to make) which I hope will spark some interest.

Laurie Childs then intervened, with this the most relevant I think for our analysis now:

Both Martin and Richard have made a fair number of comments on this thread. I don’t see that as in any way a problem. Nor do I see it as an attempt to exclude others. Far from it. They have both engaged with others throughout.

To me this was a simple statement of fact. The complaint that had been made was not only ugly but also wrong.

Next someone calling themselves 'Anon' tried for a second time to link to material defamatory to Alistair McAlpine on the thread and I challenged them about this. The Bish soon deleted both Anon's comments but you can still read my reply, which included some fairly positive thoughts about Labour MP Tom Watson.

Now RKS jumped in:

It's nice to see we have at least one contributor, with hardly disguised political pretensions over the course of his posts, prepared to defend the poor Labour MP vilified for his flagrant abuse of parliamentary privilege by using smear and innuendo to attack his political enemies.

It was fine to disagree with me about Watson but the insinuation about my "hardly disguised political pretensions" was not just ridiculous but bound to lead to further disruption of the thread. However (and this is well worth meditation) RKS's challenge did lead me to spot something I had said that was inaccurate:

I'll have to backtrack and say [sic] that Watson didn't specify which party was in power when the senior aide to a Prime Minister in question was said to have been involved in criminal acts. That's very important to be precise about. I owe Watson and readers here an apology about that.

But Dung by now was joining in with gusto, with a long post devoted just to me, ending:

I perceive Richard as a threat to the ethos of Bishop Hill and I have attempted to confront that threat.

This heroic stand and cause, in his own mind, meant that Dung found nothing to criticise in the recent contributions of Chris M, RKS or even 'Anon'. RKS meanwhile continued to feed in "my personal opinions of your political aspirations". And then the Bish made his appeal.

So note that in this thread less than two months ago we have many of the themes and problems we have been trying to tackle since, about a lack of amiability and a surfeit of anger. We also have three different BH contributors, Chris M, Dung, RKS attacking one person but from different directions. And that person at once made an apology where I found something wrong in what I'd previously written.

But Chris M wants an apology from me now and that's harder. I don't think it was wrong to indicate my amusement at something he'd written. It was done gently, calling him 'my friend'.

The real problem, as Skiphil implies, is a breakdown of amiability generally. I don't have the answer but apologies have to be real. I made one above which was sincere. I don't have one to make now to Chris M of the same authenticity. And I have questions about the way Chris attacked Martin A and then three contributors attacked me on the thread above. I would vote for the removal of such intemperate posts in future and indeed these ones now. But the host has spoken of how hard this is to police and I fully acknowledge that point too.

Jan 7, 2013 at 1:49 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Can I propose that his discussion topic be deleted?

It's one thing talking about climate science and politics, it's another thing to have a discussion which has the primary task of discussing the motives and behaviour of the discussers, I don't think we need to clutter the place with it, sorry.

Jan 7, 2013 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

You can propose that James. You can also agree with me that some of the posts I've quoted from should also be deleted. That I would be very happy with.

Jan 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Honestly, you two, grow up and get over it. You remind me of elderly academics cavilling about alleged slights in the Junior Common Room in 1963.

You can't stand each other, we get that. Please stop insulting our intelligence by dreaming up new angles for attack It doesn't fool anyone, and doesn't achieve anything.

Jan 7, 2013 at 4:08 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Wha's the two? There's only Richard here from the combatants

Jan 7, 2013 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Johanna: Which two? Among various other things I'm showing how Chris M, Dung and RKS seemed to join forces in attacking me, from different directions, once it was clear that Chris was in trouble, having been asked by Martin M to take what Martin felt were unhelpful, off-topic thoughts elsewhere. Chris's original attacks on Martin and myself, in a thread that had been going extremely well, with multiple contributors and a good deal of amiability, were factually wrong and personally inaccurate and offensive. I think we sometimes need to go back to such problem moments - because if we don't we'll not have a clue about how to recover amiability broadly across BH.

Another notable aspect of these few days on Martin's thread is that, although Chris, Dung and RKS succeeded in making Martin and myself the subject, for a while, rather than a possible tipping point at the BBC, and the thread did indeed stutter, it didn't die. I was the first to spot Nick Pollard's report had been released on 19th December and that led on to some further, fruitful debate with multiple contributors again taking part.

But Martin's excellent thread deserved better than two major interruptions of off-topic material (the first being Shub and Dung importing heated debate of pseudonymity). The lesson in both cases was that we should have started two separate threads - or gone back to old ones where the themes weren't off topic. Chris M was specifically asked to do this by Martin and initially refused, leading to almost terminal disruption and thread death, and that's also worthy of note.

So there are two very interesting areas here, IMHO. One is how we separate concerns into separate threads. I think we're making progress on that but still have much to learn. The more difficult issue is how to restore amiability when relationships have broken down. Apologies are I think essential to this but they are by no means a catch-all, not least because they require sincerity. This interaction on 16th November included an apology from me but that sure didn't lead straight to amiability! Despite the progress we've made recently full amiability may not be so easy, given what has gone before. But I feel what I've written allows some grounds for hope.

Jan 7, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake