Monday, February 12, 2007

"No, you're a nihilist!"

The blogging catfight (I refuse to dignify it with the term "war") between Tim Ireland and Guido Fawkes has now involved Iain Dale. It is all becoming more bizarre by the day. I'm going to leave aside the more recent events in the main Guido-Ireland dispute as I don't want to inflict it upon my readership. The latest twist is that Iain Dale has become a part of the whole affair thanks to supposedly calling Ireland a nihilist.

Someone on 18 Doughty Street chose Ireland's post attacking Guido as his 'blog of the day' and described Guido as a nihilist. To this Iain responded along the lines of "isn't Tim Ireland one too?" I don't think either of the two really understand what a Nihilist is. A nihilist is someone who believes there is no objective meaning or purpose. Mr. Fawkes is a libertarian, most likely an objectivist, as can be seen from his endorsement of the crazy libertarian cartoon. As an objectivist/libertarian he believes in an almost absolute natural right to ones property which is about as far from nihilism as can be. There is no sensible reason to think that Ireland is a nihilist either.

More importantly, how is being called a nihilist an insult? I'm pretty certain that if someone called me a nihilist I'd respond in roughly the same way as if they called me a guinea pig: baffled amusement. It's a philosophical position not a character flaw. The best explanation for why Iain and his correspondent would be throwing the term around is that the guest had no idea what it meant and thought it meant "disliking the state" and Iain was just confused and trying to play it cool. As such, Ireland's taking offence at this seems somewhat feigned.

Neither of the 'lies' that Ireland identifies Iain as telling is quite a black and white issue. First, Iain didn't call Ireland anything as he merely asked a question. Second, it could well be that Iain didn't know that there was a specific discussion page for each Wikipedia entry and might have thought it was a link to a general Wikipedia forum. What purpose is really served by blowing tiny and rather implausible dishonesties into something more sinister?

When Ireland calls upon others to respect netiquette he might want to note that he has, himself, fairly severely broken that code by forcing an anonymous blogger to come out into the open. This is just as unpleasant when done to a minor celebrity like Fawkes as it was when Chad Noble attempted the same thing with the Devil. If you don't like Fawkes' response to comments then don't read his blog. Does a second wrong make things right?

At first Ireland was supposed to be trying to influence the future of the blogosphere and prevent it imitating Fawkes' way of doing things but with his hyper-sensitive response to perceived assaults elsewhere on the blogosphere (not deleting a comment doesn't imply endorsing it) he is widening this into a left/right divide in blogs that is a real shame. One of the best things about blogging are those rare moments of genuine engagement and debate across partisan lines, I would cite my ongoing debate about historical nationalism with Westminster Wisdom as an excellent example of this, such debate cannot take place against a backdrop of such hostility. Ireland may feel that he is the one who has been wronged but surely he can see it is within his power, after Iain made a call to end things, to stop the madness. Any offences Guido may have committed against blogging are surely better ignored than answered with this unseemly confrontation.

As this vendetta is pursued it looks more and more bizarre and is inviting some denunciations which I understand must be hurtful. What might have been an attempt to point out the flaws in the style of one prominent blogger has become close to frenzy and is creating a vicious cycle of unpleasant accusations. It should end.

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