Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 246.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 09:17:53 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: discussion of the tragedy in the U.S.
Once upon a time Humanist was (with the exception of Ansaxnet) the only
discussion group in the world for people like us, and the medium was so new
that any discussion by means of it was arguably a subject for study in
humanities computing -- though our field hadn't yet been so named. Now the
world is very different in this and many other respects. I think it's worth
recalling that it wasn't long after the creation of Humanist that someone
said something political that offended others, indeed it imperiled the
success of a conference in our subject. Against all my cultural training I
was forced to put a stop to the discussion, in particular to silence the
offending individual, to protect this seminar, as I call it, from the
consequences of a senseless flame-war. It's also worth recalling that the
incident that provoked the offending message was military and concerned the
suffering of a group of people, though not on the scale of the recent act
of terrorism. Milton's Areopagitica was invoked (and then examined more
closely), my "censorship" of the discussion was condemned and defended, and
so on, as you can imagine.
Forgive me for ruminations I am no more qualified to put forth than anyone
else here, but as editor I think I must explain what I do. When I posted
Jerry McGann's heartfelt and deeply moving message I had a fairly good idea
that other messages would follow, and that I would feel I had to write this
message and then act accordingly. I posted McGann's because I thought it
important to signal that humanities computing is not unrelated to our
common humanity (and inhumanity), that as with everything else we do, what
we do has a socio-political context. His was just right for the purpose.
One of the tragic consequences of war is that it tends to destroy where it
does not deepen opportunities for thought, that it co-opts everybody and
everything in the fury of destruction Jerry's message asked us to help
avoid. I don't want Humanist to be so co-opted. So I would ask everyone
while recognising that the events unfolding now are intimately relevant to
us as human beings not to discuss them here. The simplistic polarities of
black ("#000000") vs white ("#ffffff") would in a discussion immediately
resolve into a myriad of shades and colours, because that's the way things
are, and many of these being hot would start fires. Let's not have that please.
One of you wrote thoughtfully that,
>Indeed, this is about fighting a form of terrorism that
>is intent on ending our civilized lives and our free exchange of ideas
>epitomized by forums like this one, represented by the institutions of
>higher education where we work.
Part of what I think is involved in preserving this free exchange of ideas
here and in our institutions is in identifying how we can best help when,
as now, help is crucially needed.
Allow me to suggest that we can contribute in ways for which Humanist is
centrally qualified: how electronic communications are involved in what's
happening, e.g. to provide us with multiple points of view on a very
complex situation, as in the "News Sources in Central Asia" Web page at
sent to me by Igor Kramberger. The Internet makes organising nasty actions
of all sorts much easier, I suppose, but at the same time it gives us
access to other perspectives which to understand makes our response as
individuals much more difficult -- and potentially much more humane. (Is
there historical evidence for such influence from earlier mass-media?) I
realise too that my meta-perspective on all this is culturally conditioned
or socially constructed, as you prefer, and so can, perhaps should be
challenged. Those from other parts of the world than mine (N America and
the U.K.) should have some interesting things to say about the cultural
conditioning of Humanist as well as my own, I suspect.
There are many things relevant to Humanist, to humanities computing, that
are just our cup of tea. I would even go so far as to say that we are
called upon by the current situation to identify and discuss them.
So I ask for your understanding and help in finding a way, if you wish, to
apply to the world we call real what this group is best qualified to do.
Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
+44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/
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