15.246 Humanist and the tragic events in the U.S.

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Tue Sep 18 2001 - 04:28:55 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 246.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 09:17:53 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: discussion of the tragedy in the U.S.

    Dear colleagues:

    Once upon a time Humanist was (with the exception of Ansaxnet) the only
    discussion group in the world for people like us, and the medium was so new
    that any discussion by means of it was arguably a subject for study in
    humanities computing -- though our field hadn't yet been so named. Now the
    world is very different in this and many other respects. I think it's worth
    recalling that it wasn't long after the creation of Humanist that someone
    said something political that offended others, indeed it imperiled the
    success of a conference in our subject. Against all my cultural training I
    was forced to put a stop to the discussion, in particular to silence the
    offending individual, to protect this seminar, as I call it, from the
    consequences of a senseless flame-war. It's also worth recalling that the
    incident that provoked the offending message was military and concerned the
    suffering of a group of people, though not on the scale of the recent act
    of terrorism. Milton's Areopagitica was invoked (and then examined more
    closely), my "censorship" of the discussion was condemned and defended, and
    so on, as you can imagine.

    Forgive me for ruminations I am no more qualified to put forth than anyone
    else here, but as editor I think I must explain what I do. When I posted
    Jerry McGann's heartfelt and deeply moving message I had a fairly good idea
    that other messages would follow, and that I would feel I had to write this
    message and then act accordingly. I posted McGann's because I thought it
    important to signal that humanities computing is not unrelated to our
    common humanity (and inhumanity), that as with everything else we do, what
    we do has a socio-political context. His was just right for the purpose.
    One of the tragic consequences of war is that it tends to destroy where it
    does not deepen opportunities for thought, that it co-opts everybody and
    everything in the fury of destruction Jerry's message asked us to help
    avoid. I don't want Humanist to be so co-opted. So I would ask everyone
    while recognising that the events unfolding now are intimately relevant to
    us as human beings not to discuss them here. The simplistic polarities of
    black ("#000000") vs white ("#ffffff") would in a discussion immediately
    resolve into a myriad of shades and colours, because that's the way things
    are, and many of these being hot would start fires. Let's not have that please.

    One of you wrote thoughtfully that,
    >Indeed, this is about fighting a form of terrorism that
    >is intent on ending our civilized lives and our free exchange of ideas
    >epitomized by forums like this one, represented by the institutions of
    >higher education where we work.
    Part of what I think is involved in preserving this free exchange of ideas
    here and in our institutions is in identifying how we can best help when,
    as now, help is crucially needed.

    Allow me to suggest that we can contribute in ways for which Humanist is
    centrally qualified: how electronic communications are involved in what's
    happening, e.g. to provide us with multiple points of view on a very
    complex situation, as in the "News Sources in Central Asia" Web page at
    sent to me by Igor Kramberger. The Internet makes organising nasty actions
    of all sorts much easier, I suppose, but at the same time it gives us
    access to other perspectives which to understand makes our response as
    individuals much more difficult -- and potentially much more humane. (Is
    there historical evidence for such influence from earlier mass-media?) I
    realise too that my meta-perspective on all this is culturally conditioned
    or socially constructed, as you prefer, and so can, perhaps should be
    challenged. Those from other parts of the world than mine (N America and
    the U.K.) should have some interesting things to say about the cultural
    conditioning of Humanist as well as my own, I suspect.

    There are many things relevant to Humanist, to humanities computing, that
    are just our cup of tea. I would even go so far as to say that we are
    called upon by the current situation to identify and discuss them.

    So I ask for your understanding and help in finding a way, if you wish, to
    apply to the world we call real what this group is best qualified to do.


    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

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