Some Thoughts on Shuttering
The Institute for Peacetime Discussions*
To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, on a long enough timeline the survival rate of any blog drops to zero. And so the timeline has had its way with our little art project, The Liffey Accord.
When we embarked on this adventure, I had just finished reading Laurent Binet’s The Seventh Function of Language and imagined The Liffey Accord as a sort of low-risk Logos Club: an underground debating ring where the loser got to keep all their fingers. Despite the increasingly oppressive climate of online discourse, I figured the supra-personal nature of the debating format would afford us a safe space within which to explore various minor heresies, test tenuous hypotheses and generally have a gray ol’ time.
And for a while, it did.
But then the ’Rona descended like Saturn on a playground, driving everyone and their anxieties, all day every day, into the centrifuge of social media. In this environment, embracing the entropy and ambiguity that used to make creative writing fun (and ironically, examining one’s own biases productive) became, well—a chore. If not, vaguely dangerous.
Suddenly, the potential loss of a finger seemed decidedly lower stakes than potentially losing one’s livelihood. Especially for a couple of freelancers at the mercy of a fickle industry and international clientele.
Faced with the growing temptation to throw a match (in the sporting sense, not the arson sense) it became difficult, if not impossible, to approach a given debate with the intellectual honesty required to make it interesting. Especially when, as Eamon’s eulogy will explain, people who didn’t bother reading a piece in full, felt fully comfortable branding the writer with their assumed position. Despite explaining the blog’s mission and format on the landing page, it seems not everyone got it (and perhaps some chose not to).
As the internets say, What a time to be alive!
So where to from here? Who knows! There’s no map for the territory we find ourselves in—even if history offers some clues. But if I could leave you, gentle reader, with some final thoughts befitting of this virtual fridge door of ours, it be this:
When next you feel inclined to rush to another’s judgment, consider the programming of your tribe, and the programming of theirs. As Jung said, “People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”
Then, do not despair of exploring honest questions, or interrogating orthodoxies honestly. As Mandela said, “Fools multiply when wise men are silent.”
And if you must be silent, so be it. Just don’t let your poets lie to you.
*The Institute for Peacetime Discussions was among the blog names we had shortlisted, but discarded on the basis of its too-subtle facetiousness.
Reflections on the Dangers
that can Lurk in The Shallows
It seemed appropriate to us that, as we bring The Liffey Accord project to an end, we should write a reflection on what a year of writing the blog has taught us.
When we started work on The Liffey Accord in summer 2019, we did so primarily because we were unhappy with the polarised nature of the commentary that we observed, throughout the media, on matters of public importance.
Our project was to write a blog that would present both sides of each argument, and, by so doing, encourage the reader to open their own minds and to respect the views of those with whom they might instinctively dis-agree.
If anything, since The Liffey Accord was born, this problem of the polarised nature of debate, and its sometimes vicious tone, has become more accentuated. This accentuation has been caused by the nature of events that have taken place since then. It has also been caused by the nature of the media in which opinions are most frequently expressed these days.
I guess the most interesting part of The Liffey Accord, from a writer’s perspective, has been the importance of the choice of subject matter.
We set out deliberately to avoid topicality per se, seeking out subjects that would provide an uber-narrative around the cause of events rather than debating the nature of those events themselves.
Thus, early topics included big picture subjects including Truth and Post-Truth, the Climate Emergency and the rise of Surveillance Capitalism. We went on to debate the value, or lack of, an Arts Education, the means to remedy under-representation of Women in the Boardroom and even whether Ireland, a small nation on the world stage, was, like many others of its size, in fact simply a Vassal State of big institutional powers.
(We had – and have – more of these topics up our collective sleeve. As our version of ‘The Parting Glass’, we’ve published them all on the blog this week. They include musings on the future of the Advertising Industry, on the possibility that Brexit might just be the right strategic choice for Britain, and even on the not so fanciful notion of a lifespan that might stretch all the way to 120 years.)
So far, so provocative. We were pleased with the experience of writing the blog and with the response of those who read and engaged with it, many with evident enjoyment.
Then, as the ‘turbulent priest’ of a year that is 2020 unfolded, we felt we could not let the implications of either the COVID-19 crisis or the Black Lives Matter movement go undiscussed on the blog. We debated some of the structural implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the response of the WHO to the crisis; the role, if any, of Neoliberalism in creating the conditions for the pandemic; and finally, its implications for Liberal Democracy.
It was when we dealt with COVID-19 that we felt the nature of interaction with the blog among some members of our separate social networks begin to change. As the temperature of the debate changed, so the feedback became a tiny bit more intemperate. Each of us received some ‘offline’ commentary in our personal social media channels that suggested that the views being aired on the blog were being read both as our personal views (which they were not necessarily) and more than a little superficially.
Undeterred, the blog next tackled Black Lives Matter, and the issue of whether the reaction to this powerful social movement had revealed as much about present-day ‘liberal intolerance’ as it had about the flawed and problematic creation myth of the USA. It seemed like a fair and important question to us. Alas, it became clear that, for some of the members of our wider social network at least, there were indeed some points of view, and even some terms and language (like #political correctness!) that could not be used without attracting some fairly trenchant personal criticism. It was also dispiritingly clear that some correspondents had not read beyond the article headline before commenting animatedly on the subject at hand – or on what they believed they would have read, had they invested the time to do so.
None of which felt like too much fun anymore, to be honest. So, as we close the page on the grand experiment that was The Liffey Accord, it causes us to reflect on the reality that there are indeed points of view that cannot easily be aired these days. There is language, there are terms or phrases, whose meaning is interpreted in ways that make them unsayable or unusable. Lastly, the nature of social media fosters a culture in which reasoned debate is becoming progressively less feasible.
In fact, rather than The Commons, Social Media has, in the words of the author Nicholas Carr, given us The Shallows. In The Shallows, there is little time or appetite for deep engagement. Instead, there lurks in there the constant whiff of intolerance and the breeding ground for dis-information. We hope sincerely that The Liffey Accord has, in its short lifetime, helped shine a light on The Shallows. Most of all, we hope that The Liffey Accord raised consciousness among its readers of the dangers that lurk therein – and of the value of tolerance, respect and critical thinking in helping to counteract them.
And with that, to paraphrase the immortal words of Morecambe and Wise,
‘It’s goodnight from me – and it’s goodnight from us.’