As anyone can tell by the long silence on this blog, we’re not committed or prolific bloggers. Norman Geras (http://normblog.typepad.com) however, was: he wrote his blog for 10 years, posting on politics, ideology, philosophy, literature, music and cricket among other subjects.
Norm died last week and his passing has been greatly mourned in the blogosphere, with Harry’s Place alone carrying two tribute posts (here’s one: http://hurryupharry.org/2013/10/19/it%E2%80%99s-still-out-there-norman-geras-1943-2013/). He is greatly missed by his family and friends and by those of us who enjoy reading blogs.
Why was Norm so beloved? It is all down to his style. Norm was a Marxist, and argued his views powerfully and cogently. He always had respect for those who did not agree, which is precisely why he argued so forcefully – he thought his views, and the objections of others, were worth addressing fully and that other people could be persuaded to agree – or if not, that everyone could be clear on why they did not agree.
There was never any hint in Norm’s views that his opponents acted purely out of bad faith, malice or stupidity, which is a standard position among the blogosphere and now increasingly in the political sphere as well. That respect – which is not to be confused with respect for the actual view being contested – is what gave his blog its uniquely challenging but friendly atmosphere.
When you visited Norm’s blog, you knew you were there to think. You knew were respected as a reader and as a thinker.
He didn’t always set out to challenge: he posted some more relaxing stuff too. But Norm’s writings on music and cricket were also interesting and always thought-through: without being essays, but like articles for serious newspapers, they allowed the reader to feel comfortable while providing perspectives and ideas worth thinking about.
Norm invited others onto his blog, to share their views through questionnaires and through detailed discussions of favourite literature. The latter were more like essays and would examine a theme or a storyline or the influence of a text.
Norm never allowed comments onto his blog, believing that the blog was about the posts. In many blogs, comments generate far more heat than light anyway. But he would always engage bloggers directly on his own blog or privately via email. He would be prepared to stand by his views but was always unfailingly polite with it.
As a result, Norm’s blog would begin or take part in debates that didn’t degenerate into the Mitchell and Webb sketch where the two protagonists are reduced to shouting “Stalin!” and “Hitler!” at each other.
Many of Norm’s obituaries have made this point. I wanted to add my £0.02, simply because I experienced Norm’s intelligence and decency first-hand on a couple of occasions and it it left me optimistic for the potential of the blogosphere. If we have largely failed to realise this potential, it is our fault for assuming our opponents to be enemies.