Agonistas – What do you believe? What should we be? What do we need to get there?

thinker1The Agonist is either an éminence grise or a grande dame of internet blogs.  It’s been around for over a decade with some of the most interesting posters and users around.  Changes over the past few weeks put the continuation of this site at risk  Having overcome that, it’s time to do an inventory to determine how the blog should work in the future, who contributes, what resources offered. (Image: Wikipedia)

Technical fixes include the restoration of diaries where posting is unrestricted (well, almost;)  But the following questions are about the audience and what it wants.  Answer any and all questions, make up your own, beg the question, but let us know what you would like..

     What do you believe?

     What should we be?

     What do we need to get there?


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Michael Collins

DC area

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  • Interesting questions.
    I no longer see sites like this as being more than a place to commiserate/argue the various points presented by the posts/threads. I guess, rather naively, I thought they were intended to make a difference.
    That said; I’ve learned quite a bit here over the years.
    I’m not even clear on the original intent of the Agonist.
    I’ll admit to a fair streak of cynicism, given what I’ve witnessed over the 10+ years since I left the states. I might not be the best at answering your questions; but maybe I’ve offered a smidgen of food for thought.

  • One thing the Agonist has been, and I think should focus on remaining, is a forum for civil discussion of differing viewpoints on topics of the day. Too many discussion forums are merely homes for expounding the same viewpoint in a mutually adoring way, and harshly condemning anyone who does not share their viewpoint. A sample:

    In one discussion (not here) I suggested that we really needed to get past merely calling Republicans evil and otherwise bashing them, and that we should focus on offering solutions and positive ideas. The “health care reform” is fine, I said, but it isn’t going to get us out of Afghanistan or create jobs going forward, and the badmouthing isn’t going to bring people to our side. You don’t call people names and accuse them of evil and make them want to join your side. I was called an idiot and told that calling Republcans evil was true and felt good and we should continue to do it. A dozen or more responses were harshly critical of my thought and not one person was even tolerant of it.

    I’ve had soem fairly heated discussions here with some fairly divergent points of view, and it has for the most part been very civil and enjoyable. Whatever you have to do to maintain that…

  • What do you believe?
    That’s a personal question, so speaking personally:

    I believe the benefits we get from being members of society and a community far outweigh the costs of participating.

    I believe we are all unique in ways that are usually not particularly important to anyone but ourselves, but that we are all alike in the ways that matter.

    I believe that failing to recognize and respect the humanity of others diminishes my own humanity.

    What should we be?
    That’s a philosophical question and my view is:

    We should be a place which supports activity which benefits humanity at large.
    We should be a place which resists activty which restricts the benefits of society to a self-chosen few at the expense of the many.

    What do we need to get there?
    That’s a practical question and my suggestions are:

    We should support social, political and economic movements in line with our beliefs.
    Those of us actively engaged in such movements should use the Agonist to discuss, promote and explain them.

    Instead of exchanging WarmFuzzies with like-minded people, we need to connect with the general population. We need to open a dialog not with Fox News et al but with those who are being brainwashed by them and their ilk. To that end, I think our posts on current issues (as opposed to simple link elsewhere) should show that we have heard both sides and indicate why we have come to position we hold. Studies and personal experience show that it is much more effective to present a position in personal terms rather than in a political context.
    Asking someone whether it is right to let people die for lack of medical care will get a different reaction than asking if they support Obamacare.
    If they agree with the first point, we can at least discuss the options.

    There may be differing points of view as to the cause and cure of homelessness, but most would agree that – as a society – we’re doing something wrong when there are many more vacant homes than there are homeless people.

    There are many sites viewed as right or left and we definitely fall on the left side of the aisle. IMHO this is because we have rather aggressively promoted progressive views and put down opposing views. I think that’s quite in line with the stance of most of our members but it may be counter-productive in terms of reaching the audience we need to reach.

    I believe we should try to get a reputation as a place which examines all sides of an issue. This is not to suggest in any way that we abandon our principles. I am confident (arrogantly so?) that when issues are viewed dispassionately and fairly, the progressive position will in most cases be obviously correct. And if we’re proven wrong, we can and should change our minds.
    There’s a difference in a reader saying, “All things considered, that makes sense” and the reader dismissing us out-of-hand for presenting our views ‘ex-cathedra’.

    I also believe restoring the Diaries functionality would go far toward increasing participation and our visibility.

    • Actually anyone of differing thought is welcome. The problem has always been that those way on the other side have a different view of civil discussion, that and the inability to provide credible links to back up what they are saying. Anyone is welcome to posts, but they also must be able to be handle being questioned on their beliefs and be able to provide something other than talking points.

  • For me – (in no order)

    to be fun[I make no attempt to define “fun”], not all of the time or even most of the time, but some of the time.

    to make me curious not all of the time or even most of the time, but some of the time- enough to look something up.

    to make me angry not all of the time or even most of the time, but some of the time- enough to comment.

    and so on and so on


  • I enjoy this blog for a number of reasons, including: 1) links to articles you don’t find anywhere else, 2) a variety of blog contributors, some great some not so great, 3) a comment system that is fairly wide open and doesn’t involve the very annoying “captcha” system, and 4) the Saturday morning music video tradition. Those are just some of the things I like about this blog.

    I didn’t understand the reason all the contributors left recently, and I still don’t – frankly, I felt that it was all kind of immature. But anyway, that’s the way I see this place and I still like it. Does that help?

  • What do I believe?

    “Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

    Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”

    What should we be?”

    What we were. When we were asking these questions a while back I dug around and found an old piece by Don that I was going to link to as an example of what we were. It was trashed in the change over to wordpress…, not the piece itself so much…, but the comments that were the heart of what I wanted to convey about the “old” Agonist…, was totally trashed because they were all completely out of sequence. The piece I am referring to was “Juneteenth day”. I would link to it…, but the “new” Agonist doesn’t allow that (multiple links that is), if I remember correctly. If I hadn’t remembered the name of the piece I may never have found it again. So…,

    What do we need to do to get there?

    Go back to Dupaul. Hey…, I’m an narcissistic egotist…, I like to read what I wrote way back when. I like to read stuff that Don and a lot of others wrote way back when (like a week ago). And I want to be able to find it. I suspect there are others who feel the same way out there. This wordpress system sucks. Go back to Dupaul.

    And…, I would put my Quillayute Cowboy tag here…, if I could use multiple links 🙂

    Right on all you Agonists…, write on.

    • The old Drupal was badly out of date. We had to move into something more current. Tried several times to upgrade Drupal but couldn’t make it work – can’t put a 350HP engine in a Model T and expect to cruise down the freeway at 90.
      The Diaries feature wasn’t Drupal, it was BuddyPress add-on. There are compatibility issues between the current BuddyPress and WordPress and we’re hoping to get the bugs ironed out and bring back Diaries.

      For those interested, Juneteenth Day

      BTW: Browsing thru Don’s post (worth reading), he was wondering what life had been like before the Europeans. Just finished 1491, interesting reading.

        • WOW !!! How did you get that Raja? My search had it all screwed up. I copied all my posts (with comments) here when the word went out about the change over…, but couldn’t get all my comments through the years. Would kind of like to do that…, maybe…, someday 🙂 Thanks again partner.

          • I tried using Google first, but that didn’t work out.

            Then I went to and looked up Then, since the post was dated June 20, 2009, I looked at the nearest date past that that was archived, scrolled down the front page, and found it. Then I clicked ahead a couple snapshots (using the control near the top of the page) to make sure I got most of the comments.

      • Don’t know or understand the technical details…, seems that Steve’s justification for the change over was something about not being able to register new users. If there were other issues he didn’t mention them. But whatever the issue…, I just don’t cotton to the new wordpress…, just sayin’…, And I bet this isn’t being placed in the proper response to Steeleweed’s post.

    • Scott-
      Steve tried to upgrade the Agonist , as we had tried with SPK twice before, and it would not run to completion-
      the database had been corrupted and the software was too out of date.

      There was no software we could use with that version of Drupal to prevent spam attacks and so registration had had to be done manually. It was a situation no new editor could really live with.

      Since the owner agreed to provide funding for the conversion in order to regain the power to automate new user capability, and since Steve and co had some knowledge of WordPress,that’s why it was converted to WordPress.

      No one who spent time on the Drupal Agonist is very happy with the limitations of the WordPress Agonist- but this is what we have working .

      WordPress allows 3 levels of embedding comments and then it can’t handle any further.

  • What do you believe?

    I believe that everyone has a right to live in freedom and dignity, pursue their goals and expect and receive respect from fellow citizens, employers, and the various governing bodies. I believe in striving for a rule of law domestically and internationally, which means we don’t allow our government to engage in bullying and thuggish behavior even if it is in “vital national interests.”

    I’m convinced that money and power corrupt and give some, not all, people who achieve excessive amounts of money and power, the incentive to use their position to perpetuate the status quo (their means of making and keeping money/power). Further, I believe that this dynamic is the enemy of creativity and progress and often the excuse to deny people their freedom and dignity.

    I also believe in the “right to life,” which to me is not about abortion. It’s about the right for everyone on the planet to live free of manmade calamaties from climate change and pollution.

    What should we be?

    The Agonist, imho, should be a forum for creative responses to the tedium and the outrages of a society in decline. It should also be a place for engaging and provocative writing.

    The site should continue to provide some of the most engaging comments on the internet. It was like that in the past and, even with the transition to a new site and various other distracting events, it still is a place for first rate comments.

    What do we need to get there?

    WE NEED MORE PEOPE WRITING ORIGINAL POSTS … PLEASE. That’s the key to maintaining a presence with our membership and audience in this interim period. I can’t stress enough the importance of that. Ideally, many of you would write occasionally or some of your would write frequently. It doesn’t need to be an article, just a well reasoned post with an argument, observation, or idea that provokes some thought and conversation.

    In addition, there are clear technical issues that need to be addressed. Diaries need to come back and soon for general posting. The Newswire needs to be more prominently displayed and functional in terms of commenting. We need to have a modern (or even post modern) opening page that captures the best or most engaging material currently on the site.

    This is an excellent set of responses. I’m looking forward to going over this and coming p with a composite to share with everyone.

  • WHAT DO I BELIEVE: The Agonist, whilst North American in focus, allows voices globally.
    WHAT SHOULD WE BE: A voice for echoing a critical view on mainstream news but quirky in spotting something different occasionally.
    WHAT DO WE NEED: Echoes from the ground – Posts that identify with the reality of living: the day to day grind; and the amazing things that happen, and cats and music.

  • What do you believe?

    I believe that the greatest gift that you can give someone is the ability to see an issue clearly. I believe that most people do not see clearly, for a whole range of reasons ultimately tracking back to lack of need and lack of desire to see clearly. I believe that most people do not value clarity of sight over clarity of belief, and that that is principally why they fail.

    I believe westerners almost without exception lead much better lives than they truly realize, even given the amount of pious lip service they reflexively pay to the notion and I believe that the guilt and self-loathing that arises from the small part that they do comprehend is just the flip side of “white man’s burden” – and even more counter-productive and limiting. I believe that many westerners lead these awesomely good lives in part because hard men and women skew the balance of power for them in myriad ways, big and small. I believe that people who despise those they stand behind because they do unattractive things on their behalf, yet still partake of the excess that is the product of that relationship and who do not strive endlessly to act in ways that make those hard people unnecessary bear ultimate responsibility for the long, long list of things they find so unattractive.

    I believe most of the challenges that the west faces come down primarily to the personal behaviours of its citizens and could be largely mitigated by changes in those behaviours. I believe that the vast majority of people find it much more convenient to point vocally at things that are difficult change so that they do not have to significantly change things that are easy, but inconvenient, to change (i.e., their personal behaviour). These people also bear ultimate responsibility for the things done on their behalf by the hard people many of them despise.

    Most relevant to this venue, I believe that the most powerful force in the world is a good idea, clearly expressed and patiently operationalized. I believe that politicians (many of whom are those hard men and women) are limited creatures with very constrained option sets and little understanding of the world around them. Public discussion of good ideas demonstrates that there is a base of political support for politicians who might seek to use those ideas and step outside their constrained option sets. I believe that those who point to big money and other conveniently unaddressable issues as the sole factors limiting political expression, without seeking to advance good ideas are just another manifestation of generalized unwillingness to change personal behaviour because it is inconvenient and difficult.

    What should we be?

    Part of the solution, not part of the problem. Right now, this venue is, at a minimum, symptomatic of the problem and more likely an active participant.

    What do we need to do to get there?

    Frankly, I’m not sure that you can get there. This place has gone from one where there was a great multiplicity of viewpoints to one where there are very few, closely related viewpoints. The expression of these viewpoints in the main takes the conventional blog form of going from artificial authority to supplicant (i.e., from poster to commenter). The venue does not any longer work communally to seek to really understand things (comments and comment threads are orders of magnitude smaller than they used to be). Instead, it stops at rough political consensus. That sort of environment does not serve to demonstrate that there is a constituency for good ideas that could broaden political option sets.

  • Afterthoughts after thoughts.
    In many case, posts of ‘original’ material represent one’s attempts to understand an issue, the sort of ‘thinking out loud’ which is the glory and the bane of the Internet.

    We all have many things that affect our lives to greater or lesser extent, yet we all have ‘professional level’ skills and knowledge in a limited subset of those areas. This leaves us vulnerable to accepting the opinions of others who may or may not be experts and who usually have their own agendas. Our ability to detect the myriad flavors of bias and come to a rational conclusion may be limited, no matter how cynical we are. And sometimes even a meaningful search for fact escapes us simply because we don’t know enough to define our search effective. (Nobody knows everything about IBM mainframe software, but some of us know enough to be able to find out whatever we need to know. Others just flounder around ineffectively in a huge universe of User Manuals).

    Often, understanding an issue requires the ability to simultaneously hold in mind several aspects, each of which must be thoroughly mastered in its own right. I’ve been successfully designing computer applications for 50 years because I have in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the process. Those whose skills are limited to one piece of hardware or one Operating System or only to programming don’t have a wide enough experience to arrive at opinions which can be accepted – and there’s a lot of crappy systems out there proving my point.

    I’m not saying we should limit ourselves to our professions, certainly not in comments, but it might be quite productive if we could do regular posts from the POV of our special knowledge and skills. Whatever they may be, they probably concern many of us. For example, Numerian’s posts on financial matters & JPD’s comments on military/political issues are always informative. I think it more productive to share any special knowledge we may have via posts rather than trying to clear up misunderstandings via comments.

    • True- posts from which we learn something are more rewarding- nevertheless it takes many Agonist lurkers a long time to get up enough courage to even write a comment.

      Without a good post, there is nothing to comment on, of course.

      But without a good comment, the air around the post can feel very thin.
      Where would Socrates have been without his straw men? 🙂

      The comments that don’t address the post, but just express the owner’s feeling on some topic marginally related to the post seem to me the hardest to be sympathetic to, for someone who has taken the time to rewrite and rewrite a post.

      I wish there were somewhere attached to put the comments like that which are not trolling .
      I guess most people have learned to ignore them. Grading never worked on the Agonist in the brief time we tried it- it just seemed to inspire meanness.


      Trying to clear up misunderstandings again, but probably sounding like a nitpicker:-)

      • You’ve been around [here] longer than I have and seen different things tried: some worked, some didn’t.
        Kinda like Life, eh?

        Re: “the air around the post can feel very thin” – instead of preaching to the heathens or at least the choir, it sometimes feels like preaching to one’s self. 🙂

  • What do you believe?

    What should we be?

    What do we need to get there?
    What do I believe?
    Ideally, nothing. But in reality, as little as possible.
    Belief is a cesspool one doesn’t want to swim in, IMO.

    What should we be?
    Questioning, critical, and skeptical.

    What do we need to get there?
    Where is there? What is there? Is there an end? A finish line? A place to rest?
    I think the proper answer to “What should we be?” would suffice for an answer to the third question.
    There is no beginning, no end, no place to rest. Just one step at a time with the proper equipment.

  • I believe I’ll have another beer.

    One thing I’ve always liked about the ‘Gon is the diversity of stories: we do a healthy job of insight into American politics and culture, but we don’t ignore the larger world around us, both geographically as well as factual. We don’t focus, for instance, on American sports or American science (if there is such a thing). We are citizens of the world and should remain so.

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