Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Update on Spencer and his Readers


On my previous essay, Spencer and his Readers: Ideas for Improving Jihad Watch, I noted only briefly the unseemliness of Spencer reaching out for help to his population of readers when coupled with his overall aloofness from them, sometimes amounting to disrespect, in his general ongoing behavior, and I used this as a springboard to pose various constructive ideas for Jihad Watch.

I note today (July 4, 2007) that Spencer has posted a new update thread on his original plea to his readers. I note also that apparently many (if not most) of his readers do not share my misgivings and vague sense of visceral dissonance occasioned by the spectacle of Spencer reaching out for help from the very same population that he ordinarily, for the most part, treats as though he wouldn’t want to catch their germs from getting too close to them. On the original plea thread, there are now as I write over 104 responses, and on the update plea thread recently posted, there are already 40 responses.

I can understand the argument of, “Put aside your distaste for what you think is Spencer’s unseemly comportment here; the anti-jihad movement is of uppermost importance, and if Spencer needs help, by Gum, let’s roll up our shirtsleeves and help him!”

Still, it seems unseemly to me that Spencer is, effectively, using his readers’ exigent concern for the danger of jihad in order to help him by spending their time—worth money just as much as his time is—when he does not return the favor by involving them more in his site’s operation in various ways (some of which I brainstormed in my previous essay linked above and will likely update in the near future due to some good feedback from the reader Nobody), and in fact more often than not seems to treat them like lepers because, apparently, he wants to maintain a plausible deniability when people try to link him to the ostensibly egregious “hatemongering” and “bigoted” language of some of his readers.

So, yes: we should help Spencer in his time of need, since it is also Jihad Watch’s time of need. But can’t we pat our heads and rub our stomachs at the same time, and go ahead and help Spencer, but at the same time expect him to express his gratitude in concrete ways to his readers, who have shown themselves—not only in this instance, but also on other occasions when he has reached out for help—so eager to spend their valuable time?

Thus, Spencer today writes:

If anyone knows how to find out what single group may be responsible for this, or what I might be able to do about it, please let me know. . . I am at a loss as to what to do. Any advice anyone may have is much appreciated.

All I wonder is, how will he show his appreciation?

5 comments:

Kab-bin-Ashraf said...

Hesp,

Let's not forget the time Spencer made a special appeal to his readers for money*--not that there's anything wrong with that in itself.

*That was separate from the regular donations.

Let's also not forget Hugh's suggestion that some JW readers take up the Handbook project.

I don't have a serious problem with either of the above examples of appeals to the readership, but they do support your claims.

Kab-bin-Ashraf said...

...and just a day or so ago Greg has asked for readers to give favorable reviews to help boost sales for their DVD.

To be clear about what I think of JW's obligation to the readers, I think it is only to provide a good and reliable source of information about the significant problems with Islam and its impact on the west and other non-Muslim peoples. To this end, they should provide more up-to-date information about Islamic law, make more use of summary statistics in regards to various issues (e.g., Muslims' opinions on apostasy, etc.), and of course they should produce the Handbook as the most efficient way to handle the pervasive apologetics.

With regard to the Handbook, I do not think it would be beneficial for JW to take it up. There are too many weaknesses and gaps in their presentations. What we need are some experts who are willing to incorporate the full template and to thoroughly expose the apologetic tactics.

Erich said...

Kab,

"With regard to the Handbook, I do not think it would be beneficial for JW to take it up. There are too many weaknesses and gaps in their presentations."

I agree, but I don't think that is what I have ever advocated. What I would like JW to do is to become the vehicle for getting the Handbook on the table as a project -- not actually do the project of creating the Handbook. Imagine: With two or three threads, unprecedentedly (as far as I know) co-authored by both Spencer and Fitzgerald, they could issue, and articulate, an appeal for such a Booklet.

This appeal would have at least four components:

1) Publicizing the project

2) Soliciting ideas from readers (for format & style) and help (research, editing, etc.)

3) Soliciting money for the project

4) Soliciting experts.

"What we need are some experts who are willing to incorporate the full template and to thoroughly expose the apologetic tactics."

I agree that experts would be needed -- however, two things in light of this:

1) IMO, the Handbook should avoid wherever possible the notion that it must be rocket science: I distinguish the degree of knowledge that an Orientalist scholar has from the knowledge necessary to defend/refute points for the Handbook. Of course, the two degrees of knowledge will often converge -- but the point is, they do not always have to converge: in fact, I would say that they need to only less than half the time. Excessive rocket science requirements is just one of many ways that the Handbook's style can become bogged down and too complex to be effective. Uppermost IMO for the Handbook is its form of being as ruthlessly streamlined and utterly fat-free as humanly possible.

2) Even if we had a team of experts, they would still need editorial and stylistic direction. A team of all the right experts could easily produce a disastrously complex and bogged down Handbook.

And last but not least, my disagreements with you and the others (both as a block and in certain instances individually) underscores the fact that the Handbook requires a preparatory phase before it gets off the ground: there has to be a period of time during which a consensus is reached about the style & format of the Handbook. This period of time has to be long enough to respect the ideas of all parties, so that a real consensus is reached, rather than a hasty and slapdash one. Although of course time is of the essence and this is an urgent enterprise, time will only be more wasted down the line if we do not get all the ducks in the row first.

Kab-bin-Ashraf said...

Hesp,

"And last but not least, my disagreements with you and the others (both as a block and in certain instances individually) underscores the fact that the Handbook requires a preparatory phase before it gets off the ground:"

We had and were still involved with the preparatory phase. Doing drafts--experimental models of what the project rebuttals might look like--is part of that preparatory phase.

"there has to be a period of time during which a consensus is reached about the style & format of the Handbook. This period of time has to be long enough to respect the ideas of all parties, so that a real consensus is reached, rather than a hasty and slapdash one."

"Respect the ideas of all parties" sounds PC(!). I hope by this you only mean that an idea should be considered before being rejected, accepted, or modified. If the ideas are not good and defensible, they should be criticized ruthlessly.

Several months part-time (for non-experts) is not hasty or slapdash. During that time, I think that we have established that any rebuttal that doesn't meet the requirements of the template won't work. Anything that's removed from the major parts of the template constitutes a hole which will be exploited by the apologists. However, with the right group of experts who are motivated and willing to do this, a working consensus--and note I say working consensus, not unanimity on every aspect--should be achieved within a couple of weeks of full-time involvement.

One of the major problems in getting experts is that, if they are professionals, they will be effectively signing on to a project that will be in competition with their own work. Even if they are paid for their work on the Handbook, once the Handbook is complete and is made available on the net, there will be far less demand for reading the reams of material on Islam, including their own work subsequently.

"Although of course time is of the essence and this is an urgent enterprise, time will only be more wasted down the line if we do not get all the ducks in the row first."

I agree. However, you will have to provide more in the way of specifics than you've provided by phrases like "ducks in a row" or "rocket science." I still don't have a clear idea of what you want (except that we all agree the rebuttals should be as concise as possible, trim excess verbiage, etc.), and therefore would, once again, reiterate my request that you provide a model of what you want. Even if it is not filled in with details, at least give us a schematic of a rebuttal spelling out what each part should contain.
(And yes, I have read your previous essays on this...they do not spell out the specifics. For example, what part of our template, if any, would you remove?)

Erich said...

Kab,

"We had and were still involved with the preparatory phase. Doing drafts--experimental models of what the project rebuttals might look like--is part of that preparatory phase."

I disagree: I think there needs to be a preparatory phase of hashing out the style & format before any drafts (i.e., models) are created.

" "Respect the ideas of all parties" sounds PC(!). I hope by this you only mean that an idea should be considered before being rejected, accepted, or modified. If the ideas are not good and defensible, they should be criticized ruthlessly."

Well, "not good" and "not defensible" may not be universally agreed upon. I of course recognize that on certain points a consensus can never be reached. It could well be that there will not be one Handbook, but more than one in the future. That to me is regrettable -- since the singularity of the Handbook is in my view of extreme importance -- but, alas, sometimes such things are unavoidable when many individuals become involved.

"Several months part-time (for non-experts) is not hasty or slapdash."

It is slapdash when you proceed from the phase of nailing down a style/format, to the phase of actually spending time producing models.

"One of the major problems in getting experts is that, if they are professionals, they will be effectively signing on to a project that will be in competition with their own work. Even if they are paid for their work on the Handbook, once the Handbook is complete and is made available on the net, there will be far less demand for reading the reams of material on Islam, including their own work subsequently."

I don't think this is necessarily the case, as your fear here is predicated upon the notion that large numbers of people will clearly see the use of this Handbook and will cease to plumb larger, messier, richer sources of info on Islam. Even if a Handbook is produced, and even if it has experts contributing to it, and even if the Handbook is great and singular, that doesn't mean it will be widely appreciated. And even the people appreciating it may not have uniform conceptions of what it is, and may still feel the need to read supplementary materials on Islam.

Also, there is the concept of "more punch" per point. I.e., IMO the Handbook for each point would have a sufficient impact of efficiency to posit/refute, but that doesn't mean each point could not benefit from more "punch", which could be supplemented with the more information the experts have in their extraneous writings -- more info to be gathered up by readers on their own spare time, for those who want "more punch" to really bludgeon their opponents with rather than merely knocking them out for an official countdown. (i.e., a reader can do extra-curricular work to amass 500 cases of wifebeating around the world by Muslim men, even though the Handbook would provide ample data for a minimum victory to prove that one point).

"Although of course time is of the essence and this is an urgent enterprise, time will only be more wasted down the line if we do not get all the ducks in the row first."

"However, you will have to provide more in the way of specifics than you've provided by phrases like "ducks in a row" or "rocket science." I still don't have a clear idea of what you want (except that we all agree the rebuttals should be as concise as possible, trim excess verbiage, etc.), and therefore would, once again, reiterate my request that you provide a model of what you want. Even if it is not filled in with details, at least give us a schematic of a rebuttal spelling out what each part should contain.
(And yes, I have read your previous essays on this...they do not spell out the specifics. For example, what part of our template, if any, would you remove?)"

I will try to do so in the next couple of days.