All entries for Monday 08 November 2004

November 08, 2004

Blogs, the scope of offensiveness, and the democratic process.

To legislate against 'offensiveness without intent', whilst at the same time failing to specify the legally admissable scope of offensiveness, would itself be dangerous. There are many countries where this happens. The uncertainty acts to discourage people from speaking publicly, from taking any risks at all.

One solution would be to try to comprehensively define the scope of offensivness. That can of course only go so far, and may only be based on a concensus.

We should step back from this debate and consider what has gone wrong with society to lead to it. To begin with we do want people to be uncertain about the scope of offensiveness, we do want them to be self-critical. But we also want people, especially university students, to be adept at testing out the boundaries and feeling there way through the moral issues in a safe and controlled environment. Indeed we want them to learn how to set up and maintain such environments.

Traditionally, one would have friends with which one would talk, testing ideas (sounds rather Ancient Greek!). Of course that group of friends should not be entirely like-minded people. Friends with whom one can experiment, offend, be corrected, and be forgiven.

And then there must be extensions out from these groups of friends, networks into which ideas and opinions can be tested in a wider and less unpredictable environment.

And finally, once one is certain of one's ground, it is safe to go public.

I had thought that was what universities are about.

The blog system that we have designed aims to work in this way. Blog collections based on existing academic groupings already exist. We will, very soon, have the ability to create our own collections of arbitrary blogs and publish them. This will encourage the operation of the process described above. Temporarily, as a means to publicise the system, we have an entirely open blogs homepage onto which anyone may get their ideas published to the public without developing that safety. This is in some instances has a detrimental effect, but as the system gets more sophisticated in how it encourages groups of friends, this effect will subside.

Personally I see blogs, when properly implemented (and we are near to that point), as a powerful means for developing democratic society.