Chaotic volume of mail

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Apr 30 10:35:28 MDT 1995

On 25th April Jon wrote

So far this month (which is not, of course, over) there have been c. 575
messages sent to this marxism l*st--a rate of around twenty a day!  I
think this is a significant increase in messages compared to last month
and, I think, to just about every other month previous.

While in many ways this demonstrates the liveliness of discussion and
collective interest in the issues, and it is a great thing to see the
list thriving, it is also a *lot* of traffic.  I know I can't keep up
with all of it, and I suspect it might put many off the list.

It is only 10.30 on a sunny Sunday morning in London and there are
already 20 posts from the marxism list (including some good ones from
Australia) recorded as having arrived on my system since midnight. And
the USA has not yet woken up.

Jon's warning and suggestions point to a quantitative change that
has led to a qualititative change. The list is teetering on the
edge of the chaotic - and yet has a creative life of its own,
perhaps because it is on the edge of chaos.

And it is also much more rational I would suggest in handling a
number of major issues and linking theory and practice. It is not
necessary for everybody to read everything for it to function as
a rational self-organising system.

The sectarian absurdities have been swept aside. It is clear to
anyone that the list is pluralist but committed, and that no one
can claim a monopoly of the truth. If they do, their post is
swept away the next day!

But if even only a few people are motivated to comment on more than
one previous post we have a non-linear multiplier of a very
powerful nature. We are all intelligent people with an interest
in politics and it is tempting to comment on more than one post.

The list behaves chaotically yet has patterns. One pattern is
formed out of the struggle of individuals who may post very
actively for a several weeks, until they collapse. My guess from
introspection is that particularly to newcomers this list becomes
an extension of your own consciousness as you struggle to make
sense of your own political position in relation to others. This
can acquire great intensity.

>From the point of view of the *others*, the list then becomes a
working out of political ideas mediated through the consciousness
of one or two individuals. This is by no means inherently invalid
or a disaster, but the feel of the list can change a lot
according to who is posting frequently. To some extent therefore
there may be advantages in having a volume higher than any one
individual can read.

However I think we have some conscious choice about
the extent we wish to see it develop as a left-wing political
chat forum and how much it clarifies the relevance of Marxist
ideas. I favour the latter, so long as it is linked with practice
and this seems to be the direction things are going in.

In recent weeks I have experienced Justin as the hegemonic poster
on the list and although I suspect Analytical Marxism of being
a bit eclectic, I think the experience has been constructive. I
think Justin has been a sort of buffer in chemical terms,
stabilising the content and tone of the list. The other buffer,
in the long term more important, are the 50-100 people who may
post only once a fortnight but who come in with something well
considered on which they can make a particular contribution.

sub*scribers today 30th April via "who marxism"         259
over one month ago 25th March                           261

It is hard to work out the turnover because the names are not in
alphabetical or chronological order. (Any chance of improving

There does not in fact seem to be a falling off but it would be
nice if the list size could expand to several hundred, which
would require people to identify posts really valuable to them

I can't see how the digest option helps if it delivers mail every
40K as this may be generated most days.

I do think Jon's suggestion about making sure that the title of
the post is relevant to busy browsers is important if this list
is to become useful more widely.

Although we probably all have different software on our own
macines, is it possible to tweek the majordomo system to inhibit
replies to a previous thread, which is by far the easiest in that
you can quote and you don't have to type in the address? Could
we even consider withdrawing this facility so that to link onto
someone else's comments you should copy the post to him or her?
Ideally I suggest we have to be able to quote but we should be
able to alter the title to whatever is relevant.

Some sort of negative feedbacks are now necessary to balance the
powerful positive feedbacks in the system, if this list is to
stabilise and grow in its relevance. (*Negative* feedback is
indispensible for all living systems, and should not be regarded
as nasty.) While we may not wish to spend a lot of time examining
ourselves, a gentle form of negative feedback is to comment on
what appears to be happening in group terms. Hope these comments
seem relevant.

Chris Burford.

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