New Freeland

Does PA System stifle leftist blogs?

Last week Tze Ming Mok gave her farewell to PA System. She is off to Europe to work and cites this as a major reason for her departure from PA System. But a little of her writing and reactions around other blogs reveal a deeper malaise in the “left wing” blogs. Something I would contend is the result of the stifling and virtual conservative nature of PA System, despite its supposed left wing bias. Let’s begin with Tze Ming Mok’s own words about this part of her exit.

… the PA System experiment is large factor in why you’re seeing the back of me. Although it’s been a very successful exercise in online community-building, and although I have had a lot of fun with it in places, it has, overall, been strangely isolating for people like me.

PA System is no doubt successful in its goal to build a sort of online community. But when you read it for a while you do notice the uniformity of the content, despite the range of authors. It is understandable that someone like Tze Ming Mok would eventually feel isolated. Just like any of the whitebread writers on PA would if they were the single white man on an Indonesian site. But that is human nature, as she realizes…

But I always knew that was how communities worked, and I knew even before it started that PA System would be dominated by a certain kind of perspective.

Communities are prone to conformist perspectives, fairly much tautologically. Online communities more so since if you don’t like it you can up and leave with no problems, unlike most real communities. In reality PA System is something of a sheltered world that brings together commenters from the majoritarian side of NZ culture in an area where they feel safe from much more rough and tumble side of other local blogs. The only comparable site was the defunct Sir Humphrey’s, which didn’t shelter anyone and if memory serves even the authors often had altercations on various subjects. The more right wing blogs are apparently far less interested in providing a haven for the majority of commenters and in so doing provide more diversity of thought.

I would argue that there is nothing more important to those “left wing” commenters than this conformance to the majority of NZ’s ethnic and political identity. It is vital to avoid argument and maintain the appearance of good natured community. Subjects that could lead to division and serious argument are complicitly ignored. This is the root of Tze Ming Mok’s isolation, real debate over race, sex and identity are simply not discussed at a deep level. The conversation is instead lead into ancient NZ musicians, Exclusive Brethren and George W. Bush.

Che Tibby, himself an ex-PA writer, says this in his lead into talking about Tze Ming Mok’s farewell.

Since its inception it has increasingly formed an alternative voice to places like Kiwiblog that pose an explicitly aggressive and right-wing dialogue.

Obviously here he is talking about the comments at Kiwiblog, as David Farrar is not aggressive in his writing. No more so than Che Tibby himself anyway. But the interesting way he writes reveals the underlying need for participants at PA, or the PA style of community, to feel sheltered and give the illusion of a romantic community. Why else link “aggressive” and “right wing” in the same breath? The commenting at Kiwiblog is obviously combative very often, but that is NOT just because of the right wing participants. Only and ideologue with a specific need to reinforce the false dichotomy of “left = cooperative, right = aggresive” could write something like that. The left wing commenters at Kiwiblog are just as responsible for the overall tone and aggression as the right. But it is somewhat typical of his writing that Che Tibby often sets up these strawmen in order to pull one of them down while putting lipstick and mascara on the other.

The fact is that there is self-evidently a wide range of “right wing” writing and debating style with regular disagreements, as well as agreements, in which the debate does not descend in to a slanging match. Take for example Peter Cresswell and the team at NZ Conservative. On the other hand there do exist left wing bloggers who are not afraid to hand it out to their “own side”. Tim Selwyn springs to mind here.

Che Tibby does make a series of good points about PA System reflecting real life and eventually comes to the evident conclusion that if you don’t like it you can leave and start up something to give your own voice. All fair enough and sensible, yet he still gives voice unintentionally to the nature of PA System and its natural inclination to provide a sheltered environment for the majority culture of NZ.

[PA System] listens to difference, and gets a bit awkward and uncomfortable when those voices get too loud, too direct, or too challenging.

And when those voices do get too loud, rightly or wrongly plays no role here, then the crowd gets “uncomfortable” and shuts down the debate. Just like the real world keeping down the uncomfortable voices by implicitly ignoring them. Here is how Deborah at In a strange land relates.

A couple of weeks ago one regular commenter made a gratuitously sexist reference to women politicians… and I longed to post something pointing out exactly what the problem was with the phrasing, but I do not have the energy to do it, nor the emotional wherewithal to withstand the rebukes that would come my way.

These women can’t all be wrong in their assessments, unless you subscribe to some weaker-sex idea, and of course if you know that the crowd is going to suppress you if you get “too challenging” you’ll eventually not bother. Naturally PA System is Russell Brown’s creation, it is his to do with as he wants. But to elevate its community to some position of idealist superiority over those “aggresive right wing” sites is fundamentally dishonest. Take Tibby’s closing paragraph.

The number of people who have delurked and posted their first comment to say goodbye to Tze Ming is a strong indication that there where plenty of readers directly interested in feminist and activist writers. If I remember correctly, Russell has pointed out that all Tze Ming’s posts were marked by high numbers of lurkers. This is a fairly strong indication to me that a market exists for these ideas, it just needs to find the right venue.

So whilst Tze Ming Mok was feeling increasingly isolated in the world of PA System her posts were actually read by a large number of people. These commenters felt able to comment only when she left! One has the sneaking suspicion that had these lurkers spoken up with something “uncomfortable, possibly even “direct” or “challenging” she might have persisted and there would still be a market for her ideas. It probably didn’t help that the most striking discussion she did create ended up with her basically being told to “deal with it” about supposed bullying in the System. But before I move on from Che Tibby’s comments let’s take a look at his concluding line.

I, for one, used to go over to Span when I wanted to read a feminist or women’s perspective on issues. And now, I go to In a Strange Land.

I really can only hope he is not as patronising as that in real life. Otherwise I hope that someday someone writes a farewell article for him that concludes with…

I, for one, used to go over to Che when I wanted to read a bogan posing as an intellectual.

If I was Tze Ming Mok, or the departed Span, I would get annoyed with being the amusing alternative view as well. “Look, the wee girl is trying to express and point-of-view. How cute! Now when is Blam Blam Blam playing?”

Whatever, it is evident that while diversity, minority issues and so on are buzzwords for leftist intellectuals the readers and commenters are far less comfortable with openly discussing these ideas. What is typically attributed to the “right” is much a trait of the “left”. The latter just cover it up by not deigning to debate it and find their areas of discomfort.

Another interesting feature of the right wing blogs is that there are strong women there writing. Whether you agree or disagree with them Cactus Kate and Lucyna survive perfectly well on their own account. Possibly this has something to do with them not playing the games of identity politics or feeling the need to be accepted by the “big boys”. Whereas Russell Brown feels an actual need to address a supposed imbalance

And yes, I have an idea about refreshing our gender and ethnic balance too.

The problem Russell is not so much with the balance of your writers, it is the readership and commenters do not feel comfortable giving debate to the minorities you take on board. The intrinsic leftist reflex is to not take such a writer to task, or even seriously debate on the fundamental issues, so any such writer is going to get bored and isolated. The only reason to be part of PA System is to be part of the community and experience the feedback, good or bad.

This is why I would contend that PA System has the ironic effect of stifling the left wing side of the blogosphere in NZ. It has drawn to it the large audience that is uncomfortable with having their views directly challenged into a chamber in which they are not confronted, except in a very superficial way, with anything resembling an alternative to their own brand of self-congratulatory liberalism. In a manner reminiscent of Maoism they comfortable look out on the real world and merely tut while any opposition is derided as rightist (a self-evident evil), quietly strangle dissent within and let their younger fellows battle it out on the rougher blogs to give them a self-satisfied glow about how civilized their world is.

Left wing bloggers who are truly not afraid to take the debate to their own “side” are rare but do exist. Tim Selwyn, in writing about an anthology of NZ essays, sums up PA System well even when writing about the book.

Dedicated to “the bloggers,” media personality and Labour Party apologist, Russell Brown has had his smirk come to life in a shambolically uneven historical homage that would sit smugly with his complacent white middle class acolytes whose ignorance of it’s failure on almost every level is, inevitably, a prerequisite of their membership.

My emphasis. Here is an unashamed leftist who is definitely not happy to sit aside and watch the comfortable majority of NZ be quite so comfortable if he can help it. In Tibbyian terms he is positively rightist in his aggression. However, Selwyn is definitely not the sort of middle-class communitarian like Tibby or Brown who is happy to sit in his self-made echo chamber mouthing platitudes to the minorities while ignoring the injustices of their own favoured party and elites. I would say in passing that it is remarkably indicative that Tim Selwyn is far more appreciated by the right, despite the diametric opinions held, than by the left. Again I think that Selwyn captures the reason when talking about the book.

There is no internal challenge. No rejoinders, no debate as such. There are no working class voices here. No James K Baxter, no John A Lee, no Bruce Jesson or Tim Shadbolt or Warwick Roger let alone Bob Jones or Roger Douglas – and certainly no Maori “militants” who Brown evidently thinks unworthy or perhaps incapable of ideas or “great writing.”

This is equally well applicable to PA System as it is to the dreary book Selwyn is reviewing. There is definitely no internal challenge. All anger and criticism is directed outwards. Remember the vitriolic bile directed at Sir Humphrey’s? As far as I could tell it was because of the temerity of criticising the government in less than polite words, giving a convenient excuse to ignore-by-not-ignoring the site. Even when the unrepentantly leftist Psycho Milt turned up (from Kuwait? Somewhere in the Middle East anyway) there was no expressed solidarity of a kindred spirit, nor enquiry after his experiences in that part of the world. Perhaps because what he had to say sometimes challenged the comfortable quiet existence in our backwater of the world. It doesn’t seem to have changed now that No Minister has reborn some of those writers, Psycho Milt among them.

In another irony, from the point-of-view of minorities or anyone not comfortable as a middle class socialist obsessed with doctrine, PA System is in fact a heavily conservative weight on the left wing blogosphere. There is certainly nothing revolutionary nor progressive there, apart from occasional diatribes against foreign right wing politicians when needed as a distraction from Labour’s problems in NZ. This unfortunately is mostly due to the influence, probably unintended, that Russell Brown exerts. There is no similar personality on the right. No one could really care less what bands David Farrar hangs around with, and he is certainly no more “aggressive” than Brown. Yet Brown does exert a remarkable sway over the discourse at PA System, intentional or not.

This I would attribute to the existing “right wing” bloggers being largely disinterested in personalities as such and being aggressively oblivious to the Wellington in-crowds of public servants or Auckland media personalities which dominate even the blog writers of the left. These same writers naturally have an interest in preserving the comfortable state of PA System (and their own blogs), or at least the illusion of that state which is momentarily cracked from time to time, in order not to attract too much attention from their employers whose time and resources they use to maintain their sites. It would not do for a public servant to contribute too much to real debate and bring reflection on their ministry, nor questions about the use of their paid-for time.

Ultimately I read the PA System comments as little as I do Kiwiblog’s. While the latter interminably descend into baiting and fighting, the former is a dreary round-after-round of predictable comfort with just as little information.

In short I can only agree with Deborah in her summation:

I can see why Tze Ming Mok is leaving.

I don’t think PA System is going to be an interesting influence for those of us outside the public service and media industry until they get some real diversity. And I don’t mean instituting ethnic or gender quotas on writers but the complacent commenters subjecting themselves to some diversity of commenting even if it does get a bit loud or challenging. In the meantime it will continue to stifle much interesting happening on the left side of the blogs in NZ.

10 December, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

39 Comments »

  1. Did PA System ever have an explicit political mission? If so, I don’t recall it. The vaguely leftish tone is a result of Russell and his mates’ politics, but that’s all. To criticise its failure as a vehicle for left-wing political discussion is pointless and irrelevant – that’s not what it’s for, while discussing ancient musicians IS what it’s for. The politics is accidental.

    I am bewildered at the notion that one blog can stifle others. How exactly does a blog do that? It would be a neat trick.

    You note that PAS has “has drawn to it the large audience that is uncomfortable with having their views directly challenged.” Assume that’s so. By definition, that audience is not going to go and seek out voices that make them uncomfortable. I think you have your telescope of blame the wrong way around.

    Comment by Stephen | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  2. Whether or not PA System has a political purpose or not is irrelevant. What I am interested in is the experience of Tze Ming Mok, Span and Deborah. It seems to me that their experiences parallel the decline in commenting on other leftist blogs and the vigor they once had. The PA System audience may not seek an uncomfortable environment naturally, but they should not kid themselves that they are in any respects better than any other site and do in fact implicitly isolate some of their “comrades”.

    Comment by Shea | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  3. PA System has been a fascinating experience, both in the community building realm (and there’s a fair qauntity and quality of material that relates to “life in NZ” as much as politics) and in the way the community has fractured.
    I think you’re largely right in pointing to a “collective discomfort” on the part of the mass of contributers/commenters with certain viewpoints. And there’s been a level of “mob-lyncing” of some dissent.
    Yet it’s also interesting to note how the community has fractured. Some of Tze Ming’s posts have generated brilliant lines of commentary. Challenge has been good for the site. It’s lead to some vigourous debate. Passions have flared, and the rhetoric has sometimes been inspiring. It’s given PAS it’s longest threads, and biggest viewer-numbers. The recent thread on “the terrorist files” is a case in point.
    My feeling is that the rather tepid debate and echo-chambering on other subjects will not last. People aren’t interested. Quite a few of us are drifting away. Accepting there are probably other factors, Tse Ming is also a symptom of that.
    Russell’s interesting experiment in promoting contributors to simply tell their stories on a subject is intermittantly successful- but also seems to be petering out. The site will only work if it hosts vigourous, and sometimes at least, uncomfortable debate. Perhaps despite itself, it’s done that at times. To maintain such energy and keep it relatively civil, is a big ask. To hope that a diversity of voices will be heard- above the egos of the white-boy geek club- may be forlorn.
    But it’s still a fascinating project- even more so looking back in from the “outside”…!

    Comment by rob | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  4. Far out. People think of Tim Selwyn as ‘leftist’?

    Comment by Tze Ming | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  5. Far out. People think of Tim Selwyn as ‘leftist’?

    heh. thought the same thing.

    tim is many things, one of which is “in his own universe”.

    Comment by Che Tibby | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m obviously biased at this point, but I appreciated much of this analysis.

    One of the things I can’t agree with, on a practical level, is that the solution is a rougher approach in the comments section (if that indeed is the solution suggested). In my experience, that would alienate feminist or non-white perspectives even more (even if it attracted the ‘rightist aggression’ of the angry-in-an-anorak brigade). For example, if the Sir Hump’s crew showed up more, diversity of opinion might stretch to more extreme statements, or a bit more shouting and abuse, which yes, might shake a few complacent people up and probably amuse the hell out of me at this point – but I don’t know if the quality of information exchanged would lift tremendously. I sympathise with the hopeful libertarianism, although I think it romanticises the ‘rougher’ style of comments sections in a similar way to how the PAS mainstays romanticise the ‘civilised’ style. I agree with Shea’s concluding sentiment, but in practical terms, it is unenforceable, even paradoxical – how do you *force* a group to *willingly allow* themselves to be *subjected* to something, especially when, as we have seen, it is impossible to get those hidden, challenging opinions out in the open in the first place? Being ruder doesn’t seem to work; I’ve tried, but I wasn’t tough enough to stick with it, and that’s the godawful lameass truth. And a soft-ass like *me* was as good as it got?

    So what was my solution? Secession, I guess.

    Another thing Shea noted, grammatically directed at Russell: “commenters do not feel comfortable giving debate to the minorities you take on board. The intrinsic leftist reflex is to not take such a writer to task, or even seriously debate on the fundamental issues, so any such writer is going to get bored and isolated.”

    As Shea mentions in the rest of this post, I was well and truly taken to task on numerous occasions, and so was Deborah. Those moments weren’t boring, but they were isolating.

    Finally: Tim, a ‘leftist’? WTF? I get quite confused about Tim’s political orientation (remember, Martyn writes a lot of Tumeke but doesn’t necessarily represent Tim’s opinions), as I knew him right back from his university years, when he was best known for hating on the campus Maori nationalist’s and being an early supporter of ACT. All I can really conclude is that he’s a true libertarian.

    Anyway, interesting to see the responses.

    Comment by Tze Ming | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  7. God, “nationalists”. I really have retired.

    Comment by Tze Ming | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  8. “commenters do not feel comfortable giving debate to the minorities you take on board. The intrinsic leftist reflex is to not take such a writer to task, or even seriously debate on the fundamental issues, so any such writer is going to get bored and isolated.”

    that’s me exactly.
    and TMM, while i don’t comment on PAS anymore, i’m really sorry to see you go.
    good luck

    Comment by the sprout | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  9. I’m reading all this too, Shea, and I’m writing another post at the moment. More theoretical this time, as is my wont, but my training is in philosophy.

    Comment by Deborah | 10 December, 2007 | Reply

  10. [...] gotten some support for my Tze Ming Mok memorial post, and some criticism. None of it unreasoned, or [...]

    Pingback by Ideals and reality « In a strange land | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  11. Hi Tze Ming

    “how do you *force* a group to *willingly allow* themselves to be *subjected* to something”

    Obviously you can’t. And obviously if you ultimately don’t like it you move on. As you have done. My interest has been the underlying tension in PA System between its evident communitarian efforts and its paradoxical driving off of some specific types of thought that you’d naively assume to be at home there. Also the assumed superiority to various other blogs because of this tense civility. Which style you prefer is a matter of personal taste, but I see value in both although enjoy the rougher action if it is well displayed rather than a “cup of tea and a lie down”.

    Comment by Shea | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  12. Indeed, for me, the issues with PAS embody the identity problems of any liberal society; a self-image of all-inclusiveness community, coming up against the paradoxical reality that community is not, by its nature, all-inclusive. Critiquing that identity has led to some of the longest and most fraught threads I generated on that site. I think some of the participants felt that justifying their (Pakeha/male) identity on those discussions very powerful experiences for them. I must admit, I found it kind of boring. What’s in it for the provacateur? I guess you either like the taste of blood or you don’t… anyway, thanks again for your strong analysis.

    Comment by Tze Ming | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  13. I see that I seem to have contradicted myself. Yes, sometimes I was not bored (when I was under attack), and sometimes I was bored (when people wrote about their mainstream identity for an audience that was not me. I suppose plenty of people felt the same way about my writing!)

    Comment by Tze Ming | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  14. Being under attack is no bad thing, if it leads you to honestly abandon a position or confirm a conviction the other is wrong. Being under attack because you’ve unsettled a group who cannot rationally, even if forcefully, contradict you gets boring and off-putting. I suppose that was how you felt when the whole “bullying” thing was on at PAS. Seems you touched off a latent racial guilt complex that they enjoyed mistakenly seeing in the “right wing” blogs.

    Then again being bored because other people are discussing something like their own little ethnic worlds is not contradictory… you don’t need to appreciate every scintillating conversation in a bar to keep going there.

    Comment by Shea | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  15. OK, a reply. Let me say for starters that your post is well-written and intelligent. Great to see more blogs like this at a time when writers like Tze Ming are retiring. But, I think you’re also a master of the misquote, the misattribution and the personal attack, so let’s deal with these first.

    “Che Tibby, himself an ex-PA writer, says this in his lead into talking about Tze Ming Mok’s farewell. “

    Well… that’s not what I wrote. I can see that it’s easy to assume that I was talking to Tze Ming, and the content of some of the post could equally apply to her, but, the very first line of my post is “A challenging post by Deborah over at In a Strange Land turned up in my RSS this week, and I wanted to talk about it.”

    This is very minor. I thought it was important to start with though, because it sets to tone of the remainder of the blog.

    “But it is somewhat typical of his writing that Che Tibby often sets up these strawmen in order to pull one of them down while putting lipstick and mascara on the other.”

    The issue of the “aggression” strawman is, a strawman. The intention of using the word “aggression” and tying it to “right-wing” was in fact me being generous to David in my assessment of the comments on Kiwiblog. I note you prefer to romantise them as “combative”. But comments in Kiwiblog were in fact slightly more than combative, weren’t they? Moderation seems to have calmed the tone there somewhat, but they shared a lot of common ground with other sites you seem to have sympathy for, so let’s address that before we move on.

    Remember the vitriolic bile directed at Sir Humphrey’s? As far as I could tell it was because of the temerity of criticising the government in less than polite words, giving a convenient excuse to ignore-by-not-ignoring the site.

    Well… in actual fact, in “real world” fact, they were misogynistic, racist, sexist, homophobic, and at time contained threats of actual violence. At one stage they explicitly chose to take the piss out of RB’s kids. That particular thread was removed when they woke up to what they were writing. But the rest of the content, including the time WhaleOil describing stalking a man with a rifle, remained. But we’re not putting lipstick on pigs, are we?

    Now, I can’t speak to your assertion that things over at Not PC or NZ Conservative are more tame. And that’s because I’ve made the choice that these are not the kinds of bloggers I want to read, much the same way you, and others, have opted out of PA.

    You know, this is me walking the talk.

    Now, the personal attack.

    I, for one, used to go over to Span when I wanted to read a feminist or women’s perspective on issues. And now, I go to In a Strange Land.

    I really can only hope he is not as patronising as that in real life. Otherwise I hope that someday someone writes a farewell article for him that concludes with…

    I, for one, used to go over to Che when I wanted to read a bogan posing as an intellectual.

    Well, I think you’re setting the bar a little too high there. In writing about Span I was indicating a willingness to read, engage, and learn. And then indicated that I now go to speak with Deborah for the same reasons. But! This is apparently patronising! Oh dear! So while Sir Humphries can talk about women as objects or cunts they’re expressing “temerity”, I go to read and learn (and explicitly try to push traffic to In A Strange Land), and I’m patronising…

    And, your choice of ‘bogan’ as a insult, because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? I think that’s pretty revealing. Obviously ‘bogan’ = ‘bad’. Combine that with what seem to be libertarian and right-wing extreme conservative links in your blogroll and I think you might have exposed your elitist roots there Shea. But, I’ll not go jumping to any conclusions. However,

    Selwyn is definitely not the sort of middle-class communitarian like Tibby or Brown who is happy to sit in his self-made echo chamber mouthing platitudes to the minorities while ignoring the injustices of their own favoured party and elites.

    That is an assumption. So… on one hand I’m bogan, and therefore a low-class individual, and on the other a “middle-class communitarian”. Confusing. Which am I Shea? Low-class or middle-class? Because you seem to use both as deriders. Do me a favour and leave your libertarian elitism at home, please.

    And, because I need to go back to sleep, the rest of your post just kind of echoes what I myself said. I explicitly stated disappointment in PA System, I explicitly stated that it is Russell’s voice (be that good or bad), and I explicitly stated that what’s needed is a space where voices like Deborah’s aren’t shouted down (or bullied) out by the stifling centre-left. So… rock on.

    Basically I agree with Rob (above), debate on System has become somewhat tepid, but that’s just because there’s nothing interesting to talk about in New Zealand… Next year is the General Election, and it should heat up again.

    Comment by Che Tibby | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  16. Che my man I think you have the wrong end of the stick.

    Combative I would equate with aggressive sometimes. Other times it is more jousting. Kiwiblog shows both and yes, it is mostly tiring which is why I haven’t ventured in there in a long while. Maybe moderation has cleaned it up.

    I remember that thread on Sir Humphrey’s. It got nasty, but I think I remember pretty well that it was someone else (Whaleoil?) that took a shot at kids. I’m not interested in defending any particular blog. Sir H was a counterexample multi-author blog with a different attitude to comments and even author relations.

    Sorry if you feel offended by the bogan comment. Again it is a counterexample since I was trying to put a little perspective on how these women have maybe been feeling. I don’t know you from a bar of soap but I did wonder at the way this particular theme (when I want a xyz perspective…) is expressed so often. Bogan is not bad per se, more a state of mind. No more an insult than feminist in the right mouth. I’d have thought “posing as” was more the insult! Most of my school mates grew up to be good bogans since that was what we did as well as the girls who ended up feminists. I don’t see any class being bad either. I was born into lower middle class I suppose. Now I’m firmly upper middle after working some years. You could call it libertarian elitism, I call it getting on. People change class, I read somewhere where you called yourself a bogan originally (or maybe someone else wrote that? It was a while ago). Clearly now you are middle class whatever your roots. People change class, it isn’t set in stone. I’m sure as a middle class man you still have access to your bogan heritage.

    My blogroll is not extremely conservative and never will be. NotPC is Peter Cresswell, of course, who is not conservative. QandO are a bunch of American libertarians who I appreciate for their American views against both Democrats and G W Bush as appropriate. Classical Values is mostly just Eric who is a gay mostly-libertarian concerned primarily with his dog’s rights half the time. If any of them are extremely conservative, or even marginally conservative, I’d be eating my own shorts in surprise. Shit I may even blogroll you as it expands.

    I’m sorry but I do see something of a complacent attitude at PAS. Maybe I expressed it too challengingly but then… so? This isn’t PAS and I don’t much care if someone hands me my ass. I am glad that it has drawn a lot of comments both ways on my first ever post. I’m even more glad that I think I gave myself some insight into Tze Ming’s and Deborah’s way of thinking, and now even yours. Cheers for that.

    Comment by Shea | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  17. no worries. you obviously asked for someone to step up, so… there i was. feathers now unruffled.

    i think we’re in agreement on most points. PAS has settled into something like 30s and 40-somethings discussing things that interest them. and some of those things are awfully dull.

    but i don’t think that the PAS conversation weakens the left. if it did you’d have to argue that a comparable centrist blog, David Farrar, weakened the right, which it does not. before PASystem there was only Just Left and No Right Turn, both of which have at times switched off comments because subjectively right-wing commenters have “taken things a little too far”.

    if anything, as middle of the road as it is, PASystem has *strengthened* the left because left-leaning people can actually have a conversation without personal abuse being thrown about. it is also running against the conventional wisdom that blogs are full of ranty nutters.

    and with all that said, it remains a predominantly male and mainstream space. but so does society in general, which was my original argument.

    Comment by Che Tibby | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  18. Blogging is nearly impossible for middle grounders. The Peter Dunne’s if you like. They are exposed as sellouts and not true to themselves.

    “Balance” should be created solely by the reader. They get to choose what they will read and then can go seek someone of polar opposite opinion to get the other side of the story. They can then make up their own mind and comment if they want.

    Middle grounders want to do this all for the reader and have an irritating desire to act as some sort of news bureau. They tend to treat the reader like a 5 year old who needs their own mind made up for them.

    Personally I would rather read a Pinkos blog. At least it stands for something, even if that something is completely wrong.

    Comment by Cactus Kate | 11 December, 2007 | Reply

  19. It’s not PA System that stifles left-wing blogging in NZ, it’s the left-wing bloggers. Your quote from Deborah sums it up nicely:

    I longed to post something pointing out exactly what the problem was with the phrasing, but I do not have the energy to do it, nor the emotional wherewithal to withstand the rebukes that would come my way.

    In other words, leftists don’t comment because it would take the effort of forming an argument, and the delicate flowers would then have to suffer people publicly disagreeing with them. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how PA System could possibly avoid stifling leftist commenters. Leftwing bloggers will be “unstifled” once they stop imagining that the likelihood of a commenter writing “I disagree. You’re wrong, and here’s why:…” is rendering commenting impossible for them. And don’t even get me started on leftists expecting bloggers to provide a “safe” or “comfortable” environment for them to comment in. Most of us expect commenters to be able to make an argument and defend it. If that’s too scary a prospect, then yes, commenting is not for you.

    Comment by Psycho Milt | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  20. Good point Milt. PAS has set itself up to be that way from the start, a haven from fear of personal abuse that makes it Cactus Kate’s middle of the road news bureau. Pretty inevitable, it has become less and less challenging in its thought. With the departure of Che, who although I deeply disagree with at least could write something requiring thought and Tze Ming now not giving the white boys something unsettling to consider. Russell is still there, it is his baby but his writing is, well, less than challenging. Maybe when Labour is in opposition he will spring back to life. Is it really turning into the Listener in drag? Is it really like a new Simpsons episode: predictable, safe and with an obligatory Iraq reference thrown in every episode for no apparent reason?

    Basically any large multi-author site that draws the vast bulk of commenters to it, as PAS does, will define how that side of the blogs works. If it emphasises “safety” over challenge, even if that safety reflects a large portion of real society, it will beome CK’s boring place for kiddies. Sure it fills a demand, just like One & Three News. That starves other blogs of commenters, just like the bland big networks divide up the bulk of viewers.

    Ironic. Doncha think?

    Comment by Shea | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  21. I’m not sure how robust this thesis is: a glance at the PAS threads about the ‘anti-terror raids’ reveals extremely vigorous debate with some viewpoints bordering on the clinically insane; hardly the middle-of-the-road blancmange that’s described here.

    It’s also worth noting that one of the most prolific posters on PAS is Craig Ranapia who defies Tze-Ming’s white-boy liberal stereotype to an almost absurd degree.

    The demographic balance IS skewed towards white middle class guys like my good self, which is a bit of a shame and, yes, a little bit dull, but PAS is a glimmering rainbow of ethnic and gender diversity compared to most of the rest of the NZ blogging community.

    I made fun of Tze-Ming on occasion but this was generally when she was being a wee bit precious and self-important, not because she was ‘unsettling me’ by challenging my imperialist phallocentric mindset.

    It’s a shame to see her go though, not least because her and Kieth used Public Address as a vehicle for the Grand Coddington Take Down of 07, one of the highlights of the blogging year. Well done there.

    Comment by Danyl | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  22. I meant to include before and rudely left it out, thanks for the mention and also for the link to No Minister!

    @Che: Whaleoil didn’t write for Sir Humphreys – maybe you’re confusing it with stuff on his blog? He certainly wrote plenty of stuff I didn’t like much in the SH comments threads, but that’s what happens when you provide comments threads.

    Comment by Psycho Milt | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  23. That starves other blogs of commenters, just like the bland big networks divide up the bulk of viewers.

    Does it? How? Are you saying PAS lays an exclusive claim to my commenting? What am I doing here (and on Deborah’s blog, and on Shea’s, and …)?

    The notion that people only comment on one blog (or for that matter, watch only one TV channel) is bizarre.

    leftists don’t comment because it would take the effort of forming an argument, and the delicate flowers would then have to suffer people publicly disagreeing with them.

    Harsh, and unfair. If you are part of the majority, you don’t need to defend assertions of the majority position. They’re self-evident, obvious, accepted. If you’re part of the minority, asserting a minority position, you have to put a lot more work in to maintain it. There are days when that’s all a bit much like work. And so the minority position is put even less than the number of its supporters would suggest, because they have to do more work.

    Haven’t we all had the experience of half-composing something, realising that no matter how well-put ones response is it will be ignored, and saying “to hell with it?”

    Comment by Stephen | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  24. Shea? Che! You annoyingly homonymous people.

    Comment by Stephen | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  25. i think that’s homophonous

    Comment by the sprout | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  26. @psycho, yeah, but that thread where cameron threatened to beat someone up for suggesting was gay did start on SH. methink the asshole doth protest too much…

    @all. let’s not be too harsh on russell about his writing people. the brother’s just trying to turn a coin off information, which is what he’s excellent at.

    like i said on one of the many blogs this conversation seems to be happening on, election year might spark pa system up again. there’s been some good arguments on that blog, and it’s set something of a standard for non-vitriolic debate (if that’s your cup of tea)

    Comment by Che Tibby | 12 December, 2007 | Reply

  27. Harsh, and unfair. If you are part of the majority, you don’t need to defend assertions of the majority position.

    I don’t believe it’s either harsh or unfair. Of course you don’t need to defend assertions of the majority position if no bugger ever challenges them. Over at blogs like NZConservative and The Briefing Room, people like me (and Danyl, above) are clearly representing minority viewpoints that most commenters on those sites reject out of hand, often without bothering to be polite about it. So what? As the lurkers de-lurking to say goodbye to Tze Ming Mok show, the readership of a blog is much wider than the people who comment.

    If you make a good case for the majority assertion on a blog being bullshit, a lot of people read that. Doing that isn’t some kind of moral obligation, but at the same time, if you exercise your absolute right not to bother publicly disagreeing and presenting a counter-argument (as we all do every day if we read a bunch of blogs), you can’t accuse the blog owner of stifling debate – you chose to do that yourself.

    Comment by Psycho Milt | 13 December, 2007 | Reply

  28. Che Tibby said “like i said on one of the many blogs this conversation seems to be happening on, election year might spark pa system up again.”

    I have my doubts. The only person who gets angry is the resident angry gay and national party member Craig Ranapia and I doubt he attracts many left wingers to PA/Hard News. In fact most of the erstwhile “lefties” on PA seem to be in full blown denial mode, and I suspect a lot of them have become middle aged over the last eight years and have lost their apetite for a fight with the angry-as-hornets right.

    It seems to me than when people say “PA” they are really talking about “Hard News,” and Hard News has evolved into an online community of 30 or 40 something establisment technocrats. They gossip about yesterday’s bands and who they know with an underlying theme of how witty and well connected they all are. Hard News is now permeated by a complacency that reflects the fact that the party of their choice has been in government for eight years now.

    I notice Graheme Edgler is the new contributor. Now, I am not saying he doesn’t deserve a column, but does PA really need another centre-ish white guy? Significantly absent from PA is any union voice, any feminist voice, any youth voice, any social activist voice, any environmentalist voice…

    I don’t know if that tells us there are no articulate and hard hitting columnists in those areas out there, or what. But its not good for PA to look like a cosy club of chardonnay socialists.

    Comment by toms | 13 December, 2007 | Reply

  29. I’m amused at the rush in various places to poke at the perceived subtext of Tze Ming’s post, and at the contradictory theories that are put up in response.

    But … I feel like some sort of public utility. I’ve been writing Hard News in one form or another for 16 years, most of that without any financial reward. It is what it is, and it’s the peril of any community to be declared an in-group by people who don’t empathise with it, or don’t wish to.

    Ironically Shea, I’ve also recently been trying to respond to complaints about PAS that are the polar opposite of yours: that it’s too political, too combative, etc. Those people love all the stuff about bands and music. People have lives, you know.

    As much as anything, I’m deeply uncomfortable with being considered a drag on, or symbolic of or a traitor to, or anything else to do with some concept of “The Left” that I don’t really relate to. I didn’t go to university and I can’t really answer to expectations to be “revolutionary”. I just try and write well every morning.

    I’m also, as Che says, trying to turn a coin off it. It’s the work I enjoy most of all, and it makes sense to try and get it to pay, so I can keep doing it. The online ad market’s tanked a bit in the past three months, unfortunately, so it’s a good thing I still have a day job. (It’s perhaps worth noting that Tze Ming’s blog always generated plenty of traffic.)

    Sorry you found the book “dreary”, Shea. I’m assuming you actually did read it.

    I’m proud of it for a range of reasons — getting ‘Fretful Sleepers’ into print again (and handing two royalty cheques to Bill Pearson’s former partner, who took a leap of faith in letting me post it online in the first place), creating the only published transcript of the Lange speech, concluding it with Tze Ming’s ‘Race You There’ essay. Talking to Bob Gormack (and sending him a good bottle of whisky) was pretty special too. We get traffic to the text and audio of the Lange speech every day, much of it via Wikipedia, and of course there’s the dance track that uses the speech (and was possible because I held out for derivative use when I got the audio).

    Can you relate to those things Shea? If you can’t, I’d suggest that it’s you, not me, who’s stuck in a bubble.

    Comment by Russell Brown | 13 December, 2007 | Reply

  30. Hi Russel, nice to see you here. Don’t get me wrong about your whole PAS baby. If it makes you money doing what you love then you are a lucky man. I’m talking most specifically here about the particular political angle that people *see* in PAS even if it isn’t/wasn’t your intent, the type of debate and who goes there… and what happens to people like Tze Ming. I am not concerned about the music and the rest although clearly a lot of people go there for that. If you have a tonne of people reading for that then fabulous, it isn’t my cup of tea but if you’re earning off their enjoyment good and well. Having said that I of course am interested in talking about peoples’ politics and views which I think are free topics anywhere. Like I said to Che I don’t mind if you spank me, if you can get me to change my mind then it is a job well done. So far I’ve modified my view a little but haven’t really seen anything to change the underlying thought I had. I’ve read Hard News on and off virtually since it began by the way. I don’t agree with quite a lot but good work in keeping it going so long.

    Comment by Shea | 13 December, 2007 | Reply

  31. Good to see something a little more positive from Shea there. The original post seemed to smack of jealousy to me. The criticisms of Che Tibby seem bizarre, his online presence is always reasonable.

    If you don’t like PA system, start your own blog.
    Why knock something that people are happy with, and is reasonably inclusive while still mainstream?

    Comment by Bevan | 14 December, 2007 | Reply

  32. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

    Comment by Idetrorce | 16 December, 2007 | Reply

  33. What a fascinating post and comments. But I’ve found it a month too late!

    You will have discovered from it – if you hadn’t observed already – that a thoughtful post will spur thoughtful comments – an axiom all too often neglected (and I’m guilty of not putting enough effort in lately I admit as quality has been sacrificed to volume).

    Despite the near-abusive tone of that review of mine there were actually a few worthwhile pieces in Russell’s anthology. And I regard it as one of my best reviews because Russell provokes such strong reactions due to his position in the blogosphere and his ideological stance that one ends up arguing with more passion than would otherwise be the case.

    I’m writing this for you, Shea because the thread here is dead: you have written a very well constructed and insightful post – marred by the inevitable personal criticisms that give enough flavour and edge to entice a rebuttal – although true to form Russell doesn’t really attempt one :)

    Since my name and my ideological credentials have been questioned: For your information I was a libertarian at 17 – well before I knew what one was and what that label meant and before Perigo’s magazine and all that. At Auckland University I fought against the prevailing dogma and regime there which was heavily left wing and I would say prone to cronyism and petty corruption… and then you move out into the real world of reactionary/conservative/populist/middle/mainstream NZ and find you’re a goddamn lefty liberal hippy in everyone else’s eyes just because you think that Maori shouldn’t be screwed over and people should be able to smoke a joint without being a criminal. I’ve never regarded myself as “left” – ever, but I do appreciate the objective outside observers making their own call based on my postings. I have said previously that I am a “reformed libertarian”. All I can guarantee is that under MMP I will never vote National because those people are so inherently conservative that the interests of the wealthy class that they represent will always come – not just before, but at the expense of – everyone else: and that preference to enhance the power of the establishment is unfair. So maybe I’m a small r radical?

    Comment by Tim Selwyn | 22 January, 2008 | Reply

  34. Hi Tim.

    Thanks for the feedback, very much appreciated. I agree that you aren’t exactly a typical leftist, certainly not of the smug PA kind. I don’t think you’re a hippy. I agree with never voting Natonal (nor Labour, nor NZ First, nor Green,…)

    I don’t think personal “criticism” mars posts. If we are going to talk specifically about writing and blogs then that is what has to be said. But sure, RB didn’t actually attempt much of a rebuttal. The focusing on the book was irrelevant since I was using your reviews to comment about PA. Sure I too would have expected a rebuttal or comment to not talk about the book.

    In hindsight I still like this post and wouldn’t change much of it. I certainly didn’t anticipate the reaction and unfortunately I don’t think much of it was very well addressed, which makes my point even more.

    Comment by Shea | 22 January, 2008 | Reply

  35. Speaking of labeling people: I’ve added your blog to the nz blogosphere watchlist and put you down as “Right – Libertarian”. If the details are wrong please advise in the comments section.

    Comment by Tim Selwyn | 22 January, 2008 | Reply

  36. [...] Address diversified Good to see Russell introducing diversity to PA as I mused on a few weeks ago, I thought he would go for a woman or an ethnic but seems that he went the whole hog and took a [...]

    Pingback by Public Address diversified « New Freeland | 2 February, 2008 | Reply

  37. [...] about the state of PAS over the last few days, here and here on this blog, on ObjectDart, and on New FreeLand, beautifully picked up and described and enhanced by the ineffable Jolisa Gracewood here, and even [...]

    Pingback by Why I am a feminist « In a strange land | 25 January, 2009 | Reply

  38. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Comment by sandrar | 11 September, 2009 | Reply


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