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I would like to say something about this very fine Erasmus article itself. It is a shame such a thoughtful piece goes past like a puff of nothingness.
Studying a religion does not mean you have to become a convert. The two things are separate.
Indeed, it is more often the case people who are extremely religious in one religion know less about the same than people outside it who study it, particularly the history aspect of it.
Confounding two entirely different mental processes speaks a very sad case about certain religious persons who fall prey to mixing apples and oranges. These folks, when they are from certain subsets of all 3 Abrahmic religions (Cf. newest Erasmus article - The 3 Amigoes), more often than not, are extreme tribalist to the extent they would rather see eradicated (by physically killing) all believers in other religions in the world (there are 10 major ones counted by American theologian and Comparative Religion scholar Huston Smith, 1919- 2016) than live peacefully with them. In the name of love and peace.
A religious belief, or nonbelief, is the key to the lock of a human mind.
Open the lock, you have a better chance at one day achieving peace on Earth. Nevermind Heaven. That comes later if a person is so concerned about it to the extent of being obsessed, and to the extent of thinking it is their business to mind everyone else's afterlife business. In any case, no co-human is a judge and assignor of where another goes after this life. What nerve! Some call that "nerve" "superstition". I call it worse - usurping the role of God if there is one. Whew! I think the world has a few too many of these folks. Therefore it is good their number is diminishing. But Religion should be studied. It is an important subject, at least as important as Economics.
If the sudden decision by Economist to review its comments policies was motivated by the recent FBI expose of Russian troll factory, what took you so long?
It is about time the Economist kicked out Putin's trolls who have taken over so many blogs and spammed them with fake news and anti-western conspiracy theories, masquerading as Americans and who knows what else.
We the humble folk who post in the readers comments blogs, have long noticed the Russian trolls. Unlike the Guardian which identified the take over of is readers blogs by Russian trolls and kicked them out, the economist never took any action despite this being exposed a few years ago.
It should be very easy to identify the Putin's trolls, just check their IP addresses.
While you are at it, please kick out the Chinese government trolls too, they go berserk whenever Tibet is mentioned.
Excuse me for not talking much about religious education today. I had plenty in my childhood and it does form and deform your character, for both good and evil. I would say that matters of fact are to be taught to children, and matters of opinion better be left for the time they have grown to decide by themselves. The implicit, often semi-conscious moral codes that are truly indispensable for a society to function- and the absence or abuse of which determine the varying pitfalls of different cultures- are better transmitted by virtue of example, and attempts to rigidly categorize and forcibly inculcate them have throughout History proven futile, if not counterproductive.
But what I wish to share at this point is my opinion on the very existence of The Economist's comments, and their greatly overlooked value.
In a way this is related to the religious education issue discussed by the article whose umbrage we are now using for arguing about this not smaller dilemma: are media outlets a vehicle to educate the public on facts (classical XIX century liberal thinking) or on opinion (the unfortunate Edward Bernays school of thought)? If we choose the first option, reader's comments are indispensable, if the second, they would be considered a nuisance or an outright danger.
The Economist is one of the very few venues that allows for intelligent conversation among informed people. The NYT, the Guardian and other newspapers have comments by the thousands, of very uneven quality, and hence dialogue is impossible. Most periodicals of note either do not allow comments (Foreign Affairs, Brookings Briefs) or have just a handful of people willing to comment, mostly with no intention of sustaining but the most superficial of conversations. As for Facebook comments to the articles thrown into that platform like crumbs to a pond of eatable fish by this newspaper, they are so short and shallow that inevitably comes to one's mind the Orwellian concept of IngSoc Newspeak: soon a few tones of groans will suffice.
The Economist has seized a golden middle ground: its readership has first-hand knowledge of how the world works and is mostly reasonable, yet those willing to put in writing their opinions-and we know that with today's technology this can be an act of courage depending on the circumstances- are few enough for manageable conversations to be able to develop. To casually discard this asset would be like throwing away a polished gem.
There are many cases I can remember when comments have enriched articles or outright surpassed their analysis, or on occasions said what had to be said yet couldn't be officially put in writing by this our esteemed newspaper.
There was the case of Tom Wainwright when he was Mexico City bureau chief. His knowledge of Mexican politics was wanting and I constantly corrected him; he must have hated my comments, but over time he did improve his articles along the proposed lines.
When Osama bin Laden was executed some of us argued that to kill a suspect and prime interrogation source of what should have been the most important criminal case in American History, was wrong: I argued that he should have been taken alive, paraded in a Popemobile through 5th Avenue if you want, but processed within the justice system. It was an unpopular opinion, but someone had to say it, and I am not sure TE could afford to do it without help from the readers.
During the tense back and forth that preceded the Iran nuclear deal it was politically correct to silence any defense of war against Iran. But without the threat of war looking real to the Iranians, they would have never signed the agreement, and the world would be a far more dangerous place today. I argued vehemently in favor of all-out war against Iran, which was rather unpopular, but I think it was useful.
During the initial debates on climate change some years ago I was surprised to see a coincidence of debating tactics and arguments by participants whose records showed that they had never before participated in conversations on The Economist, or only on a few articles always related to climate change and always arguing in favor of the fossil fuel industry. I am the first to acknowledge that it is mostly thanks to oil that humanity is better fed and clad than ever before, and I am not qualified to render a certain opinion on global warming, but that we had a case of vile manipulation attempts on behalf of the dirty energy industrial complex was beyond doubt. They were innovators in the "bot" business well before tovarish Putin. Without comments, a wealth of points on this tricky subject would have been lost.
Often comments complement the companion article with very relevant numbers that the official writer couldn't or wouldn't dare to include. There are innumerable cases of this, and comes to mind one of the last ones, when Mugabe was finally forced out of power in Zimbabwe. Per capita income in that nation as a percentage of that of America, which I often use as baseline for international comparisons, fell from 4.4% of the US level during the Colony to 4.0% under Ian Smith to 1.7% under Mugabe. The thing is that the numbers for the same period in other less noisy former British colonies in Africa are very, very similar: ergo Mugabe, bad as he was, was average, and the average of post-colonial governments in Africa is dismal. Perhaps we can understand the article's author not wanting to pour salt on old wounds by highlighting this point, but certainly as readers people need to be informed in full. The comments section is instrumental in filling such gaps.
Sometimes writers are just intellectually lazy. During the events in Catalonia last year, it could have been the path of least resistance to just mechanically relay the claims of both sides, giving rise to a psychologically normal feeling of sympathy for the underdog. Some of us supported with a barrage of numbers the view that at least half the Catalans (and all of the rest of Spaniards) would never accept any secession under any set of circumstances. Confronted with this reaction in the comments section, the next article on the subject was far more nuanced and numerically underpinned. Without comments TE would have descended into a The Guardian opinion piece by a disgruntled backbencher territory on this, and other examples of complex issues hard to grasp without some guidance by informed readers.
The examples of the value added by comments could go on and on, but let me just mention a last one: inclusiveness in an age of increasing resentment over perceived exclusion.
During the 2016 Primaries I argued that Trump could not be denied the nomination if he had pretty much the votes to earn it. We may want to remember the horror that overpowered many when he kept on winning Primary after Primary. The shenanigans that were plotted at the time to prevent him from being the nominee sounded plausible inside the Beltway, but from an average Joe's perspective were utter undemocratic lunacy. Someone had to point this out.
Once the Fall came it was clear that Hillary was very much sub-optimal. A variety of views was necessary to form a healthy picture of reality, and most of the serious media, TE included, was in such a state of panic that outside contributions were very much necessary to keep perceptions if not grounded, at least closer to the average definition of normalcy. I strongly condemned Trump up until the aftermath of the first debate, but after the second I saw a diminished Hillary that really didn't have any fire in her besides the ego-eroticism of power. I very much hoped for a re-run of the 1990s Clinton Era, happy times for me and I believe that for many, and perhaps the last fully happy times in America for a while to come. But I was well aware that Trump had far more of a chance than what the MSM wanted people to believe. Like many, I kept silent except for some oblique allusions here and there. On election night, when early on the spread for North Carolina was known, it was clear that what we saw coming with disbelief for a year and a half had finally arrived. It is a dangerous time when the thinking and managerial segments of a population are so divorced from the views of the base of the pyramid. Inclusion is what is needed, and a desire for understanding. You can't have inclusion when you exclude the comments from precisely the kind of people you should want to understand.
I see now a storm gathering in the Korean Peninsula that might end in thunder or in a deconstruction of the post-WWII order. Trade partner pecking order figures for major countries in that region are but one among many signs of a coming inflection point. Perhaps unpopular decisions will be made. But this is not a reason to silence informed opinion, but to learn from it. Nobody knows so much that he or she can't learn something from somebody who may know less, yet see more from a different perspective. The Economist's comments section is eminently suited to harness and highlight such currents of thought and opinion.
If present management at this work of art in a sea of shallowness that still is The Economist wants informed debate and wide-open outside input, they should cherish their comment options and find ways to cultivate and elevate them.
If current management just wants a Bernays platform, well, it will be Historically not unexpected but certainly quite a pity.
The backchannel e-mail address is: email@example.com
The password is, Podesta style, "PassWord", although Google doesn't like people sharing e-mails and will give all kind of access trouble. Of course one could always write from one's own email to the "shared" email and be answered by those who didn't have trouble getting in.
silos and ignorance -- that's a formula for trouble with a lot of issues, not just religion.
Well, this one worked, but when I tried to access the one about Putin's chef I ran into a wall.
The thing is, given the obvious interest and us setting up all kind of back doors and alternative ways, wouldn't it be reasonable for TE to just explain what the fuck they are doing? Nobody is saying it isn't their platform or that they can't shut down comments if they want or they can't purge the accounts that are allowed to comment on THEIR platform, but we all should expect a straight attitude. This looks cowardly, a weasel way to shut us all up.
it took 2 phone calls and 4 emails over the course of a week or so for me to get this:
"We are continuously reviewing our digital products and looking for ways to improve your experience on Economist.com.
We have temporarily removed the ability for our readers to comment on articles and blogs because we are currently reviewing our strategy about encouraging debate on our website. While we shape the new strategy and listen to our readers’ feedback, in the next few weeks we will enable comments on selected articles only."
i agree that they could have been more upfront about it and told them so. i almost canceled my subscription, after 30 years of 'religious' reading of this publication.
so, here we are - debating the comments policy, instead of passing our opinion on religious education in Britain.
is this their new strategy?
I apologise for the copy/pasting but this is something I already wrote:
I don't actually remember it because I was nine when communism ended in Hungary but of course my high school history and literature teachers did vividly how things were in the last year's of that regime.
It wasn't exactly that you couldn't speak, it was just difficult to do so meaningfully and you often got shouted down by true believers.
It wasn't that there were no news, but you had to read between the lines, spot reality and truth by the shape their absence left on the pages.
I see that happening in the world today. And this might just be a mistake at TE, but there are other worrying signs. Google is demonetizing libertarian and hard left critical content - pushing them to page 6 on the results page, changing the YouTube algorithm so they don't show up among the recommended videos. At the same time they are promoting the "approved" outlets.
Previously quite reasonable newspapers refuse to offer platforms to those who are too critical of the narrative, and journalists who seemed quite sensible only a few years ago are beginning to spew utter nonsense.
And the really scary thing is that when this state of affairs set in in communist Hungary in the 70s and 80s - it was an improvement. Now we are on a downward trend.
I worry that their strategy is to shut us up...
Also there is an email address set up (courtesy of jvictor) for those of us who want to keep in touch.
It is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Password: "PassWord" capital P&W
i don't think that it's their intent to shut us up, but just to steer us into a spot where we can debate to our hearts desire and be ignored entirely as our voices and opinions will become just an irrelevant noise and cost of doing business of shaping public opinion - or maybe that's just propaganda?
btw, thx for letting us get in on the hack of adding the slash comments.
Simple courtesy would have resulted in posting something on the home page about what was being done any why. After all, what does any company gain by gratuitously irritating their customers?
Wisdom would have included leaving comments open for that one. They might have learned something useful.
Enabling comments in some articles but not others sounds like a recipe for going off topic. Readers will use articles they can comment on but are not interested in to comment on articles they are interested in but can't comment on. Who's the genius who came up with this idea?
By the way, it's funny that The Economist, which is always going on and on about open societies, open debate, open this and open that wants to close a door (build a wall?) in its readers' faces.
Please let us know if you hear the latest update on the Economist's comments policy changes.