As part of the ongoing search for extraterrestrial intelligence, scientists have been beaming messages announcing the presence of humanity, and detailing the achievements of our species, in the general direction of various constellations deemed capable of supporting life. To date, there has been no unambiguous response. In many cases, the speed of light being lamentably slow over great distances, the messages will not even reach their destinations for many decades, even centuries. And when they do, will there be any reply? Will the aliens shrug their green shoulders, thinking us too primitive to be worth bothering with? Or will they engage us in philosophical debate? Or attempt to convert us to their prevailing religion? Or will they rather think, like Homer Simpson, "Aaah, doughnuts" and launch their battle fleets?
Who can tell? We beam our messages into the darkness, and hope that someone out there is taking some sort of notice. It's a bit like blogging. I've been writing this stuff for some months now, emitting my thoughts into the darkness of cyberspace, hoping that it is serving some purpose. And occasionally, the odd comment makes it back, like a photon bouncing off the nucleus of an atom. But not very many, and although the situation has been improving somewhat in recent days beneath too many posts I still find the depressing legend "0 comments". Not surprising, then, that one of my correspondents yesterday described this blog as my "lonely tower".
I know that there are people out there reading my little essays, and in (generally) increasing numbers: the stats tell me so. But do you like what you see, does it provoke in you thoughts of your own, of agreement or denunciation? Or are you just bored? It's hard to tell. Although the comments I do get, I must say, are generally very kind. I particularly appreciated this one from Rachel:
I thought, Why is no-one commenting on this excellent, thoughtful prose? And then when I wanted to make a comment, I found all I really wanted to say was "Exactly!". I don't want to inundate the Heresiarch with "Me too" posts. Many things have me shouting at the screen these days, but very few have me shouting "Yes, that's the point!"
That's sweet of you, Rachel, but it's not good enough. A blog is a vehicle for debate, for the exchange of ideas, not merely an opportunity for authorial pontification (though there's room for that, too). Comments are the fuel that keeps a blog in orbit, or at least on the road. They are, to switch metaphors, the currency of the blogosphere, and most of you, I'm sorry to say, would appear to be freeloading.
I happened upon an interesting online article today entitled 4 reasons you should encourage, foster and harness dissent on your blog. "A group of sheep is not a community", declares the author, Muhammad Saleem:
Most of us write because we want to comment on new ideas and have conversations rather than simply have people agree with us. By encouraging dissent on your blog you are encouraging each community member to think for himself or herself and write their opinion on the matter rather than just echoing your thoughts. Eventually you help your entire community’s intellectual capital grow.
His third reason is, I think, particularly telling, if a little harsh:
One-sided conversations are no fun for the author and they are no fun for the community. If everyone is agreeing with you, you might as well turn the comments off and call it a day. Multiple, opposing viewpoints offer colorful conversation for everyone and ensure that there is enough debate for people to want to come back for more. This not only gives people to return to the same post again and again, but these opposing viewpoints also create opportunities for further posts and more conversations on previously covered topics.
I must say I rather like the idea of Heresy Corner as a community. If nothing else, as a "community leader" I would no doubt become eligible for government funding, and be consulted by ministers on all the major issues. But I can't do it on my own.
I know my readers are intelligent, discerning people with heads brimming with interesting and original thoughts. So let's hear some of them.
Over to you.