Empathy, Hypocrisy, Comments and (re-climbing the) Dire Mountain

Attention Conservation Notice: Long (tl;dr) and solipsistic post about teachable moments, egos, blog commenting etiquette, intellectual and emotional courage and old “battles.” Not for anyone with a life, or who finds the picking of old scabs to be offensive.

I was running (alright, plodding) around the local oval the other night, having written but not yet published the blog post that I’m blockquoting below, when it occurred to me how little any of us ever learn, and how often, when a teachable moment comes, we clamber for the high moral ground instead. Self-righteousness because we fear our self may not be so right after all….

And it connected, as I ran (alright, alright, staggered) with something I saw weeks ago in the computer shop where I was getting a new power lead and battery for my beloved laptop. There was this customer (age and gender irrelevant) who just kept interrupting the guy behind the counter. And the guy knew his stuff, and was trying to give the options available, and good advice. But he could not finish his sentences. Customer, who presumably like the rest of us mere mortals, is nervous around computers, especially when they’ve gone wrong, was covering these nerves by just, well, blathering. And if Customer had managed to control the fear, he/she might have come away with more knowledge, and self-confidence. But it never happened, and after he/she’d left, I remember pausing for a few seconds to let the guy get over what must have been a pretty frustrating, if typical, encounter.
It had been, for me, one of those really clear moments, when you realise that every day there are ‘teachable moments’, which, if we are open to them, can help to make us more effective, better (more compassionate, resilient, empowered and empowering) people. But these moments are lost because we are not brave enough, compassionate enough, open enough. Deep, huh?

So, more blog posts on error-correcting mechanisms (and, to reframe it, error-maintenance mechanisms!) and mistakes and ways and means of self-knowledge and so on to come in the not too distant. [See previous post on “An error isn’t a mistake until you refuse to correct it”] For now, that blog post which was worming its way past my irony filters as I ran (alright, heffalumped) around the footie field.

Dire Mountain, the Fourth.

Attention Conservation Notice: For no particularly good reason, I take another pop at the “Dark Mountain” crew, this time for their inability to approve helpful comments. To be avoided unless the site of ageing middle-class bloggers bloviating does it for you. If it does, you really need help.

There’s a new blog post on the darkmountain site, talking about the next gathering. Long-term readers of Dwight Towers may recall these posts (one, two, three) about it. Oddly, these posts (especially the first) still get hits, and people still come to the site after a google search of “dwight towers dark mountain”.
To recap – there were stated goals for the Dark Mountain Festival 2010 that were, in my opinion and that of others, simply not met. I wanted my money back, but didn’t get it.

So, under the new post, about the likelihood of another Festival, I left the following comment, starting with a quote I pulled from the post.

“For one thing, we want to move away from a format which involves an audience in rows of seats and speakers sitting under spotlights.”
good luck.”

And when I went back today, they had published someone else’s comment, but not mine, and a new post was up as well. My comment had disappeared from the “awaiting moderation” status into… oblivion. Which is amusing, because during the commenting to-and-fro on my posts back in June or so last year, one of the principal Dark Mountaineers had done the whole “you won’t dare approve this comment” thing. (For the record, I did.)

Do I really care that they’ve not had the guts to post the comment? Not so much. But it does – IMHO – speak volumes about their emotional and intellectual maturity and courage that they were not able to do so.
And they need to know about open space – they clearly didn’t last May.

If they couldn’t stomach posting anything with the name “Dwight Towers” attached to it, they had the option of at least clipping the Open Space link and putting THAT in the comments. As a resource for other readers of their blog.
And I’d still like my £55 back.

So. In that above post I’ll admit to displaying a lack of empathy for these guys (I obviously don’t know who dumped the comment). To look at it from their perspective – last May they put on this big festival. Spent lots of time and energy. And one of the first things to appear on the tinterwebs about it was a scathing critique of its inadequacies. And now, a year later, the clown turns up to comment on their site.
But still and all, it comes down to this. If the Dark Mountain crew say we need to do things differently – they say that facing the future is going to require emotional and intellectual courage – then surely they have a duty to be a good example of that courage, and one way of being a good example is to publish constructive comments whether they come from a source they approve of or not?

Which puts me in mind of my (lack of) a comments policy.
First off, I like to believe I would not have deleted a similar comment from the Dark Mountain lot if the situation were reversed.
Second, I am in the fortunate position of not getting so many comments that I can’t respond to each. (But then, so are Dark Mountain, as far as I can see. (If you REALLY want to see willingness to engage with commenters, check out Tim Wise’s scrupulous and tireless efforts in the comments box after his essay on left racism).
So far I’ve not – to my recollection (could be wrong, self-serving memories and all that) – ever refused to approve something that wasn’t just spam/splog/sping. The stuff I’ve disagreed with (usually from climate denialist trolls) has been relatively easily dealt with (climate trolls, after all, pretty repetitive and brittle ditto-heads). Sometimes the engagement with someone who has disagreed with a post has lead to them writing some really good stuff that has educated me enormously (and hopefully my readers too).

I suppose my comments policy, (subject to revision of course) would be
*ad hominem attacks will only get published if they are genuinely witty
* anything that says people of colour/women/muslims/white men etc are all “x” or “y” or “z” must have links to decent supportive evidence or it’s going in the trash, cos them’s fightin’ words
* anything that is abusive but contains useful information/coherent statements will get snipped and clipped, time and interest permitting
* if a commenter repeatedly wanders off topic after agreeing not to, I’d suggest they set up their own blog, and I’d take to deleting their off-topic messages, approving only their on-topic ones.

I sincerely doubt that this policy will ever need updating for reasons of volume of traffic!

What do people think?

Comments policies
Profitplus.com’s suggestion
Sue Gardner‘s comments policy (She’s the Executive Director of the Wikimedia foundation)
Andy Beard has a good list, aimed at spammers

PS There has been a bit of a kefuffle in the Australian blogosphere because The Online Opinion site has not been moderating its comments to a level that you might expect, or consistently, according to its critics.

See also the “Small Epiphanies” site about the Guardian newspapers comment moderation efforts.

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9 Responses to Empathy, Hypocrisy, Comments and (re-climbing the) Dire Mountain

  1. peekay72 says:

    I’m glad to see that we are still getting under your skin, after a whole year 😉

    For the record, I don’t think anyone has deliberately deleted your comment. Perhaps someone confused it with spam. We get a lot of that. The two of us, unpaid, have a lot of traffic and emails to deal with, so doubtless sometimes we make mistakes. If you post it again I’ll personally make sure it’s approved.

    You’ll be glad to hear that this year’s festival will include some open space elements. A number of helpful, positive people have got involved after last year and are helping us make this and many other good things happen. This is how things evolve when helpful, positive people choose to be helpful and positive.

    • dwighttowers says:

      But you’re not going to give me my money back, are you Paul? The 55 quid I spent on the ticket for something that simply didn’t deliver what it advertised?

      “Some open space elements”. And still a lot of ego-foddering I suspect.

      Interesting (well, not really) that you bundle “helpful and positive”. By saying that negative comments cannot be helpful, you make it pretty clear than only things that do not challenge your ego are going to get through your filters. That’s really going to help everyone change at the speed they need to, isn’t it, if you only take comments that make you feel good about yourself (unless perhaps you have a new and different definition of “positive” that I’m not familiar with). If you actually read the initial post by me that riled you so much, you’d see a series of constructive suggestions.

      It’s kind of ironic that for a man who posits himself as so willing to challenge the orthodoxies of Western “progress” and “civilisation” that you have such a brittle conception of YOUR OWN orthodoxies.

      An object lesson, in many senses.

  2. peekay72 says:

    That was Paul Kingsnorth, by the way, in case there were any doubts.

  3. peekay72 says:

    It would be difficult, I think, for you to comment on whether the festival ‘delivered what it advertised’ since you left after half a day.mThis consumer attitude is very interesting though. We’re trying to build a movement here, not sell you a product.

    We’re not going to be running a purely open space festival, because it doesn’t fit in with our vision of what the festival should do. It doesn’t seem to be something demanded by the large majority of people we had feedback from last year, either. At some stage, you might have to accept that we are not going to do with this movement exactly what you would do if you were curating it.

    I wouldn’t call offering well-presented talks by people like Alastair McIntosh, Jay Griffiths or Mario Petrucci – acknowledged experts in their field with much wisdom to offer – to an audience ‘ego foddering’. I think it’s disrespectful, and wrong.

    We did run a one-day open space event at a community orchard in London last year. I was sorry not to bump into you.

    Negative comments? They can sometimes be useful, sure. Some people offered them to us, and we offered some ourselves after last year. There have been a lot of good get-togethers in which both pros and cons have been frankly discussed. Again sorry not to see you. We think this year will be an improvement. But I’m slightly at a loss as to how redesigning our logo on your blog and repeatedly calling us names (‘Dire Mountain’) is either helpful or is a good way to offer feedback in a useful spirit.

    Please do post that comment again. It was obviously important to you.

  4. dwighttowers says:


    I’d be very grateful for my £55 back. Here’s why: The three talks, by you, Vinay Gupta and the artist, did NOT deliver “provocative snapshots of what the world looks like after you give up hope.” If I’d wanted an analysis of what’s wrong with Western Civilisation, the corruptness/complicity/stupidity of big NGOs (a point I agree *wholeheartedly* with you on, and hugging in bankers in phone boxes, I wouldn’t have travelled to Mid-Wales. The first two I know about, the third I didn’t need to know about.)
    And then, after watching Monbiot and your colleague have a debate that shed far more heat than light, I left. I didn’t want to throw good time after bad (fallacy of sunk costs and all that).

    I am not in England at present. This may be why you’ve not seen me around.

    Since you are trying to build a movement (which I think is the right thing to do, though my recollection from Douglas and other things I read and saw was that you were explicitly NOT trying to do that), then please facilitate the mingling of people at your next festival on the basis of where they live, what they do as a job (or if retired/unemployed), what skills they want to learn, what skills they have to offer, what they’re already doing, what they’re finding “difficult” and also what they’re interested in topic wise (food, energy, policy, conflict mediation)

    A concept that I think you would like is “post-ecological thinking” by Ingolfur Bluhdorn, and even more so “agentic deadlock” by Daniel Hausknost. Citations available on request.

    Finally, I made NO comment on the quality of the presentations by Mr MacIntosh, Mr Petrucci or Ms Griffiths (I heard hers was very good, though plagued with technical difficulties beyond her control), and it’s a bit sad that you insinuated that I did.

    As I said in the comment that went missing (the full text of which I have put in the post above) “Good luck”

  5. Antonio Dias says:

    I originally “liked” this post as a form of Dissensus and having been swayed by a call to rally against an injustice.

    I’m losing my enthusiasm. For Dissensus to work, there has to be a respect for the people behind opinions we disagree with. I hold such respect for both parties in this dispute. The problem is that if we insist on maintaining an adversarial posture – and neither side lets go – then we spiral into polarized and useless argument.

    As I’ve said before, Actions and the way we present ourselves make our cases for us, not arguments. I don’t see that going on here.

    I’ve removed my “like.” I maintain my respect for both sides in this dispute and just hope we can all find ways to get beyond this kind of “discussion.”

    This isn’t simply a cry that we all get along. We don’t “have to” get along, but we do need to acknowledge – if only to ourselves – our own wrongs; and having someone shout at us with their list of our mistakes just isn’t helpful.

    This isn’t to say, let’s just “be positive.” I’d rather be useful. Neither “positivism” or “negativity” is useful in and of itself.

    Kindness, conviviality, an acknowledgement of vulnerability, were the sources of the benefit I received from the Dark Mountain Camp and Festival. I’ve also felt them here in my dealings with this site’s author. I see little of those attitudes in this interchange.

    • dwighttowers says:

      Thanks for the comment Tony. It’s always good to have someone telling you that the red mist has descended, because the very nature of the red mist is that you can’t see it. Paul’s latest post was – by and large – consisting of more content than previously. I tried (and failed?) to address these points in a similar de-escalating tone of “voice”.
      These sorts of exchanges are tricky, and it’s very easy to get the “tone” wrong without access to all the non-verbal cues. That said, that’s the Internet – we’ve known that for 15 years, so it’s not a particularly compelling ‘excuse/explanation’ and it’s the same for all participants.
      Best wishes

  6. peekay72 says:

    I’m sorry, but I think this is disingenuous. From the very beginning, the posts on this site about Dark Mountain have been deeply unpleasant, unnecessarily personal and very bitter. I don’t see name-calling as a useful form of ‘dissensus.’ I have certainly responded in kind, and probably should not have done. But when someone punches you in the face you tend not to stan still.

    One of my weaknesses is to go wading into online discussions with fists flying when I should shut up. In this case I should have shut up right from the start, as it was clear what was going on. But I have the tone, if not necessarily the content, to be so unfair and personal that I felt compelled to respond. The more fool me.

    Dark Mountain has, from the very beginning, been about engaging and involving people to create something new. Mistakes are made, lessons are learned, and when they can be learned in an atmosphere of mutual support rather than spite and anger they last longer, in my experience.

  7. leavergirl says:

    Well, gosh. Here we are again… 🙂
    Yeah, I am with Tony. Sniping gets tedious fast for the onlookers.

    Paul, I think you would have been far better off refunding the money to the one seriously disgruntled customer, eh? Is all the left over bitterness and unpleasant publicity worth it? A measure of civility results in a commercial culture if the “no fuss return policy” is implemented. After all, it would distressing to be confronted with the necessity of justifying myself if I attempted to return a coat. I would not go back. Moreover, it would put pressure on you organizers to avoid making promises you can’t keep. Just thinking out loud.

    “We’re not going to be running a purely open space festival”

    Are you planning to run a mostly open space festival? Three quarters? Half? Just curious what your comment means.

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