[OPE-L:5564] Archives

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Thu, 2 Oct 1997 07:53:59 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

A short comment on the great archives debate

1) I'd like to see Jerry's proposal implemented. I think it a
reasonable and fair compromise.

2) I'm not as pessimistic as Duncan about the use of
'permission'. Though cantankerous, I also think OPE members are a
serious lot and I trust them not to abuse the privileges of the
list. I'm pretty confident that if we agree on 'rules of
conduct', list-members will abide by them. I certainly will.

I think when OPE members do things to upset each other, it is
probably because of ambiguity in the rules, rather than malicious
contravention. This is a new idea and we're all learning, after

3) I think there's a real difference in what we each want from
the list, and this is probably what we need to talk about. I'm
sure it is no surprise to anyone (especially anyone who checks
the archives for my past views) that I would rather the list
worked differently from the way it does. I don't expect to
persuade other list members to my view but I'd like to re-
register it, especially now that the consensus seems to be edging
something I feel more comfortable with.

5) One possibility is to separate the future from the past. OPE
contributions have been made on the understanding that the
discussion was closed, and there should be consent for any
retrospective change in the rules. But I think it is fair to make
a change as regards future contributions to the list, provided

(a) contributors are aware of it
(b) it has majority support
(c) no-one will be deterred from taking part by the change.

My view is we've had a good run on the past rules, there's
been some excellent discussion, but the time has come to change.
If we feel uncomfortable about the implications of this for
things we've said in the past then I have a solution: why not
separate the archives into two parts? For the old part, from the
beginning until now, Jerry's proposal would apply. For the second
part, from now on, 'new rules' would operate (we'd have to decide
what these new rules were, first)

4) I think the rules for both past and future centre, when you
reduce it to the essential minimum, on normal citation etiquette.
OPE contributions to my mind have the status of working papers
circulated to friends: permission is needed before any part can
be quoted, but reference can be made (along the lines suggested
by Duncan). I think this compromise, which Jerry articulates
well, accomodates two conflicting needs:

a) a justified desire for informality and protection against
having partly-formed or unrepresentative views quoted.

b) a desire - also justified - to make an important and
productive discussion accessible to the wider public of scholars,
particularly when genuine clarity has been achieved whether this
is a clear agreement or a clearly-stated disagreement.

5) I think the future should work something like this: up until
now I think we have 'normally' taken contributions to be off-the-
record, that is, strictly non-quotable. I think this works to the
disadvantage of people like me for reasons I'll give below. From
now on I suggest contributions are 'normally' on-the-record, that
is, quotable with author's permission. I think this very small
shift in emphasis strikes the right balance; it still allows for
informal rapid exchange since if someone wants to contribute in
coffee-house mode, then it is quite easy to indicate this in the
message ('speaking off the top of my head', 'informally', 'off-
the-record' are sample phrases) and, as I said above, I am
confident this would be respected. But it also creates space for a
more formal mode of discourse that would have its benefits also.

6) What is the case for less informality? The best way I can think
to explain is a joke about the Rabbi who plays golf on the Sabbath.
Abraham, outraged, asks God to intervene. God accordingly points a
mighty finger as the Rabbi tees up for the First, the Rabbi drives,
and the ball thunders down the fairway, bounces once, and lands in
the hole.

-What in heaven did you do that for? asks Abraham. It's the
Sabbath, he's a Rabbi, he's playing golf, and you give him a hole
in one?

-'Nu', says God with a mighty shrug: 'Who's he going to tell?'

Well, who are we going to tell? Everyone says for nearly two
years now OPE has been having a very high quality discussion.
Since it was so good, shouldn't someone else see it?

I sympathise with Duncan [5520], Allin [5545] and Mike Williams
(various) where they explain that the informal nature of the list
lets them contribute with less constraint.

But pleasant as informality may be, we do lose something through
the constraints it imposes. I make no bones that I prefer a
discussion with a 'product', either something that helps the
public understand what we are trying to solve, or clarity of some
kind. I seem to remember OPE did once have the goal of making a
product, though I strenuously disagreed with what was proposed as
this product. I'm still keen on producing something; I think the
way things worked out, what we are actually producing is the
discussion itself. Fine: so let's produce it.

I have no desire to impose that on other people who don't want it.
Though I do find the present set-up very irksome, I'd rather stay
discussing in 'private' mode if the alternative is no discussion
at all.

Therefore all I want to do is to suggest that what we have gained in
informality, we have lost in other quarters and that in the long run,
what we are losing may be more precious than what we have gained,
and ask that other OPE members consider this point with open minds.

7) One final point: those who didn't witness the famous 'IWGVT
incident' may perhaps not fully grasp the frustration that Andrew
and myself both share: We play *strictly* by the rules even
though we disagree with them. I've been very careful not to quote
OPE discussions and suffered considerable embarrassment as a
result. It's a bit difficult, to say the least, when in the
middle of a conference a participant cites against us very OPE
debates which we so scrupulously refrained from mentioning to
anyone else.

The words 'Catch-22' come to mind.

Essentially, there was nothing we could do 'within the rules'
that wouldn't offend someone  and we didn't agree with the rules
in the first place!

I think OPE members might benefit from asking themselves what
they would have felt and done in our position. Indeed
suggestions, on and off the record, are welcome. After all, it
may happen again.