Re: Virtuous Discourse; a letter to Chris Bateman

Dear Chris,

It is an honour to be the recip­ient of the first entry in what I hope will become a long series of digital let­ters, a rein­vig­or­a­tion of online con­ver­sa­tion, rather than the exchange of only the briefest of thoughts and com­ments. That we, and Alan Wil­li­amson with us, share much of the feel­ings on the cur­rent state of the exchange of ideas on the internet sug­gests to me at most that there is some­thing amiss in our little corner of the web—games, philo­sophy, history—and what we want from it. To assume everyone har­bours the same mis­giv­ings feels a bit pre­sumptive, though I could be wrong. In the end, we’re mainly respons­ible for our own com­munities anyway, so whether the prob­lems we are seeing are uni­versal across the internet or not is of little import­ance.

To get down to it, though, I think your ana­lysis is cor­rect. Blogs don’t seem to have the momentum they once had, and many other online forms of com­mu­nic­a­tion are either too private (email, instant mes­saging) our too massive and brief (Twitter). The plat­forms that do allow longer posts (forums, Face­book, Tumblr) tend to com­promise their poten­tial for con­ver­sa­tion with mech­an­isms of com­pet­i­tion, pop­ularity, and power.

As such, I share Alan’s and your enthu­siasm for the form of the letter—the public letter, that is. It com­bines the per­sonal nature and urgency of dir­ectly addressing someone with the pos­sib­ility of igniting a wider con­ver­sa­tion with addi­tional cor­res­pond­ents. How­ever, per­haps the reason why we have to rein­vig­orate the format in the first place is that a letter requires non-trivial effort on our part. Unlike social media, which lure us into a false sense of con­ten­ted­ness by rad­ic­ally facil­it­ating shallow mini-conversations, let­ters require us to sit down and for­mu­late our thoughts at length, and to act­ively reflect on our own lives and that of the addressee.


The imple­ments in ques­tion.

The gain is very con­crete, though. I believe that any­thing we put real effort into acquires a spark of energy or emo­tion, and that others will be able to appre­ciate that. Of course, this is pos­sible in any medium in theory, but where is it more likely to happen? In a medium that dis­cour­ages effort by rewarding speed and easy diges­tion, or a medium that shifts some of the burden of time and effort to us? The final draft of this letter will be hand-written using pens, ink, and note­books that I have received as gifts from my wife and my mother. They have been gath­ering dust in a dis­play case over the years, empty dec­or­a­tions in a life that has been more about reading from paper than about writing on it. Per­haps that will change.

I think we are in agree­ment that we’d like to see a modern-day ‘republic of let­ters’, with blogs instead of sta­tionery, and social media instead of envel­opes, stamps, and mail. From now on, then, we can dis­pense with meta-letters and return to our other interests. Maybe some recent games that tickled our brains and/or hearts? Our per­haps the end­lessly fas­cin­ating con­cept of Chaos? You know I’d love to exchange ideas with you on that, and your eth­ical imple­ment­a­tion of the con­cept.

Until then, I wish you and yours all the best for the coming Winter.


This letter is a reply to “Vir­tuous Dis­course” by Chris Bateman, and “RE Vir­tuous Dis­course” by Alan Wil­li­amson.

While it is addressed to a spe­cific person, anyone who is inter­ested in replying is free to do so and join the con­ver­sa­tion, as explained by Chris in his ori­ginal letter.

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