Friday, June 17, 2005

[Sigh] That, I Regret To Say, Is My Archbishop

UPDATE: The Times article on which this post is based was thoroughly misleading, to a degree that cannot but have been deliberate. As you can see from the post, I suspected as much all along, but I went ahead and wrote a sort of "if it's true, then here's my reaction; but I have my doubts about its truth" post. Now I've confirmed that the Times coverage is very far indeed from being the truth. So this post is now out of date and hereby superceded by this one.


Poor Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury...I can only hope that he was badly misquoted in this story. Having myself been in the past pretty badly misquoted in newspaper articles and even (difficult as this may seem) television interviews, I do have hope that he's not quite as much as moron as he seems to be.

But still, unless he was very badly misquoted indeed, he described the conversations of the WorldWide Web as "close to that of unpoliced conversation" -- as if that were a bad thing. How cockamamied a view of the world do you have to have to think that, in the choice between policed conversation and unpoliced conversation, it's the latter that is to be condemned?

This, from a man whose leadership style within his own church shows a clear preference for conversation ad infinitum rather than action. Talk, for the Rt. Reverend Rowan Williams, is a very good thing, as long as it doesn't ever result in actual action or resolution or decision. In every definite action that the Anglican Communion has taken under Williams, his hand has been forced by people who insisted on action of one sort or another, much to Williams's dismay.

Then again, if Williams has a preference for policed conversation, it probably comes from his recent failures successfully to control the conversation within the Anglican Communion. Williams likes talk as an alternative to action, and as a way to avoid having to take action. But both the true-believer progressives and the true-believer conservatives in his Communion have said, pretty much literally, "The hell with that, we're acting." The progressives in North America fired the first shot, so to speak, and the conservatives put their food down, and poor Rowan stands in the middle wringing his hands and saying, "Can't we just talk about this some more? Why do all you people keep doing things?"

In the recent gathering that resulted in the Primates' communique disinviting North American progressives from future Anglican Communion events, the accounts I've read of the gathering tell an interesting story. When the Primates arrived, they were handed an agenda prepared by the Archbishop's staff, an agenda that filled up the whole weekend with workshops and similar sorts of "conversations" -- but all carefully designed (one might even say "policed") to keep everybody's eyes averted from the elephant engaged in pooping copiously on the carpet. The contingent from the Global South took one look at the Archbishop's agenda and said, "Sorry, buddy, no frickin' way." And the Archbishop backed down, threw out the agenda, canceled the workshops, and allowed discussion of the issue -- with the predictable (and from Williams's lets-all-just-get-along viewpoint highly regrettable) result that the Anglican Community's overwhelming majority of conservatives told the North American progressives to repent or get out.

So the Archbishop whom the Times represents as being unhappy about the idea of "unpoliced conversation" is an Archbishop who has spent the last few years trying desperately to control the conversations going on in his Communion -- and utterly failing. The conversations in the Communion escaped the Archbishop's control long ago, and he no longer sets the subject matter, the tone, or (most painfully for him) the limits that are to be placed on real-world actions allowed to arise from what he desperately desires to be permanently hypothetical conversations. And I don't believe he is at all happy about that.

Is it possible that what Williams finds so offensive about the "unpoliced conversation" of the blogosphere is precisely that blogosphere talk tends to lead to actual results? I think that has to be recognized as a real possibility.

But there's also the possibility that he was misquoted. This is, after all, a newspaper report. And newspapers (despite the "professionalism" that the Times implies sets them apart from "the relative disorder of online communication") just aren't really all that good at getting their facts straight. So here's hoping that this is a Times problem, not an Archbishop problem.

Hat tip to VodkaPundit.


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