Star Foster, the Great Lady of the Pagan Portal over at Patheos.com, has taken a blogging sabbatical as of a few days ago. You should go and read her explanation of why this is, because it is eye-opening, and profoundly disturbing…at least from my viewpoint.
I know that some people don’t like Star or the work that she’s been doing. I have always found her to be very open, friendly, receptive, and delightful to work with, and I try and tell her this as often as possible–I am someone who tries to appreciate the people in my life whenever and however possible, but most generally through words of appreciation and encouragement. No, I don’t entirely agree with her on every possible theological or sociological point, and in fact I’ve had some good fodder for my own reflections here based on things that she’s written with which I’ve disagreed; but, it has never been my intention to ridicule or demean her in my critical responses on various topics–and, unfortunately, I might be in the minority in that approach, as far too many people go right to the personal insults and ad hominem attacks when things like this are concerned…and, because it’s “the internet,” and it is a lot more disembodied and de-personalized a medium of interaction, people are all the more likely to be mean, petty, and abusive because they don’t see the person on the other end as anything more important or worthy of regard as any number of Little Goombas on Super Mario Brothers, who are there to be flattened and forgotten. But, I digress…
Let me just say right here that Star Foster has built the Patheos.com Pagan Portal up from–quite literally–nothing, and has recruited a diverse group of bloggers from all across the various modern pagan spectra (and, note, there’s more than one “spectrum” in modern paganism!). She did such a good job with it that Jason Pitzl-Waters eventually moved The Wild Hunt Blog over to Patheos.com when things weren’t going very well on a technical/practical level for his very important work. That, dear friends, speaks volumes on its own. And if the litany of other major modern pagan worthies who contribute to the Pagan Portal needs to be selectively stated as further evidence, I offer you two names: Gus diZerega and T. Thorn Coyle, two individuals who produce high-quality work on a consistent basis, and who do not waste their time nor suffer fools gladly. Star deserves a great deal of appreciation and acknowledgement for this, as well as thanks…
But she does not deserve nor warrant death-threats–no one does under any circumstances!–and she does not deserve nor warrant people critiquing her personally or physically or in any other manner in blog comments or private e-mails. And, really, no one does.
If someone has a problem with something someone has stated, it is perfectly possible to calmly and rationally disagree with the person in question, and phrase one’s disagreements with civility and moderation. The other person is under no obligation to change their mind because you disagree with them, and if they continue to disagree, they can do so in a manner that does not demean the other person. Simply saying “I appreciate your input, but I can’t agree with that” is enough in most cases. However, it is rare to stick with that…and, I know I’ve screwed up in this regard on many occasions, but I’m at least trying very damn hard to maintain a level of civility in my discourse at all times.
And, I think I do a pretty good job of it, most of the time.
However, here’s my question. I’ve been writing this blog since August of 2010, and I’ve written more than 800 posts. I often do blog posts several times a day, to the point that some people have complained that I’m overwhelming them with stuff to read. (Well, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to!) But, the majority of comments on my blog aren’t actual comments by other humans who have read my blog, they’re links that I’ve made back to earlier posts I’ve done, etc. They’re the cross-references in this particular corner of the worldwide web, which makes this section of the web especially densely packed with the spider-filaments of my own web patterning…but, again, I digress!
Both in the “Queer I Stand” column (and elsewhere) at Patheos.com’s Pagan Portal, I don’t get a ton of comments. I have had a few columns over there that have had some really good attention and have generated a bit of very useful discussion, and I’m grateful for those. When The Wild Hunt links to something I’ve written here, I tend to get a big spike in readership for a day or two, and those kinds of occurrences have accounted for most of my largest number of blog hits days in the nearly two years that I’ve been doing this. On average these days, I get around 200 hits a day–sometimes more, sometimes less–and often that is before I have posted my latest entry for a day (as that may not come until the last quarter of the day). I have rarely had more than 20 spam comments in a day either. So, while all of these numbers could be better (more hits, less spam), that’s not my main concern at present.
What I’m concerned about is when I’ve read things by Star (and others) that people are so totally un-civil and are so poorly behaved in comments and in private e-mails as to demean a blog author personally or to give them death-threats. All of the death-threats I’ve had in my life (and I’ve had several) have not been due to blogging.
And, as far as arguments and such go on blogs and over at Patheos.com in my various writing activities there, about the worst I’ve had on a scale of one to ten (with one being “OMG I luv u n I totally agree! <3 <3 <3" and ten being "shut the fuck up you twisted fat bald hermaphrodite freak, why don't you die") is a three-point-five to a four, at very worst, which is pretty much "disagreeing, but not strongly enough to be overly argumentative."
While that's the level of discourse that I would prefer to keep things at (I'd think of anything over "five" on this scale as being in the realm of moving less from a point of disagreement and more from a position of insulting the other person in various ways), I really have to wonder: am I either doing something so right here (and there) that I'm not attracting that kind of negative attention, or I'm maintaining discourse at a level that puts off potential negative commenters from responding; or, am I doing something entirely wrong here and there such that I'm not creating any controversy and the things I'm talking about are so irrelevant that no one cares to comment on them?
Yes, of course, I realize that the overall project of the present blog is a lot less widely appealing and is much more niche in its primary interests–Antinous and the deities and divine figures related to him, and the customs, texts, theologies, and practices that have existed or are coming into being for that purpose–than many other modern pagan blogs happen to be. However, I have dealt with a number of theological topics that are much more wide-ranging than that–and, in fact, it is those posts that tend to draw the most hits, the most links from elsewhere, and the most comments. But, even there, things remain pretty civil.
I'm finding myself in the odd position that the lack of scandal with my present blogging may be a negative thing, in a very twisted and strange way! What would Sanctus Oscar Wilde say about this, for example–is it good that when I do draw any wider attention, it tends to be relatively good attention? I’m also reminded of what, if I recall correctly, Raven Kaldera has been quoted as having said: “‘Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.” I am left to assume, therefore, that either I’ve never blown a mind with the present blog, or that the minds which are so blown after reading it are in a state of not being able to respond at all because they’ve been turned into mush…!?!
As a heavily Hermes-influenced person, communication is a really key element to a lot of my work in every aspect of my spiritual practice. However, I’ve got no small amount of Dionysos in my life either, and as a result, I am also aware that what I’m doing here is not just communication, it’s performance–I’m playing the role of Doctor, and I should play it as well as possible. As I am also the more conventional and pedestrian form of “Dr.” as a means of livelihood–which is to say, a college professor–I always worry when I’m in front of a class and no one seems to be responding to what I’m saying, and when I say “Does anyone have anything to add or discuss?” and I get the “Bueller?” response, I worry that I’m not doing my job correctly. No performer likes to go out on stage and do their best, and then have the audience be silent and not drown out the chirping crickets that are miles away–one hopes for applause, though often one gets boos, and sometimes one gets a mix of those two things.
Don’t misunderstand me–I’m not asking for a few negative comments just to even things out, or to just have some random death-threats just to make me feel like I’m actually doing something useful or important in the world (and, seriously, if you think death-threats are a joke, you can stop reading right now and go and do something else for a very long time, please!); I’m simply wondering if there is something structurally or atmospherically that has made people less likely to comment here, or if there is something structural or atmospheric about the writing on this blog that simply brings the best out in people. If I were to adjust the atmosphere to generate more comments and discussion, or heighten it to make the discourse that does happen here that much more civil and positive, what would be the key things to which attention should be paid in order to do that?
Your comments, as ever, are greatly appreciated and highly valued!