Time to privatize?

Mon Nov 7 15:09:49 UTC 1994

A list such as INDOLOGY is both open and unmonitored, which makes it
especially vulnerable to intrusion by people from outside our discipline
who may wish to use it as a cheap pulpit to preach to a captive audience
of about 150 unassuming and innocuous scholars of classical India who
have remarkably little influence in the allegedly real world and who
thrive on their very irrelevance and otiosity. (Perhaps I am being
overly autobiographical, but why anyone would think it worth the effort
to try to interest a Sanskritist in anything other than the correct
interpretation of a rule of Paa.nini is beyond me; and yet there do
appear to be people who, tired perhaps of bungie jumping, like to rise
to this exciting challenge.)

There are many different ways of setting up a discussion group on the
Internet. Any listserv program (and many programs similar to listserv)
can be set up as a closed discussion group, which means that new
subscriptions can be added only by the listserv `owner' (the person
responsible for maintaining the list), and postings can be made only by
duly registered subscribers. Any subscriber who fails to follow the
guidelines for discussion for the group can then be dropped from the
subscription list. In discussion groups I have belonged to, guidelines
have varied from imposing a limit on how long a message may be, to
setting a limit on how many messages any one subscriber can post per day,
to setting very strict limits on what topics may be discussed; anyone
who disregards a first warning about a breach of the guidelines, or of
general courtesy, can simply be dropped from the list by the owner. It
is not unusual for discussion groups, especially in the sciences, to be
restricted in this way. I myself would favour such a private group for

A less restrictive kind of discussion group is one in which subscription
is open to anyone, in which all messages are screened by a monitor
before being forwarded to the whole subscription list. BUDDHA-L is one
example of such a group. Rarely do seriously distracting flame wars
occur on that list; indeed, there would probably be no flame wars at
all if Richard P. Hayes, the list owner, were not so undisciplined and
irresponsible about sending his own incendiary messages out to the wider
public. (Coming from a long line of pastoral thieves, Hayes still seems
to derive some kind of childish pleasure in such capers as getting
people's goats.) Monitoring a list does take time, and it is not the
sort of expenditure of time that translates into academic merit and
prestige in the scholarly community. It's one of those many thankless
tasks that is rarely noticed unless it is done badly, so it is not easy
to find anyone willing to do it. But if INDOLOGY cannot be turned into a
private list, and if a community-minded monitor could be found, I would
favour at least turning this into a monitored forum.

This message will no doubt strike some as a terribly political stance to
take, but such an appraisal will, I suspect, be advanced primarily by

Richard P. Hayes                                 <cxev at musica.mcgill.ca>
Faculty of Religious Studies              Associate, Dept of Philosophy
McGill University                                      Montreal, Quebec

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