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Every day that we throw out some seeds is Christmas for the local birds!

Every day that we throw out some seeds is Christmas for the local birds!

I have now been blogging for three years, three months, and a day. Traffic has roughly doubled every year since 2014 to the dizzying heights of 20 unique visitors and 40 page views per day and ten comments a month. My post on learning Sumerian is still popular, as is my outline of “Armour of the English Knight,” my confession of error about the historical fencers, and my posts on whether we have any evidence that the Greeks used glued linen armour and on the scale armour from Golyamata Mogila. No other posts received more than 300 visits in the year.

Amongst people who like to write on the internet in English, there is a meme that 2016 has been an especially bad year. For many people, that is political news and the death of favourite celebrities. For me, it is sickness, a serious illness in my family, and watching people react to that political news in ways which are very human but make the problem worse. From ever-fiercer posturing against evil outsiders, to shouting louder and louder about the meaning of events, to sitting down and writing another column which attempts to predict the future using the same methods which just failed to predict the present, a lot of people are doubling down on strategies which they know do not work. But as I look back, I notice a big contrast between the real world that I live in and the artificial world of the media (from blogs to newspapers).

In the real world, I see politeness, reasonable arguments, and willingness to stretch to find common ground. I see a living wage in my account twice a year from Canada for writing a thesis about ancient Persia in Austria (!) I have chats with mechanics from Benin selling the street paper outside the local Spar, pizza with plattners in Poland, and coffee with couch-surfing carpet merchants frustrated that they were not able to take me for as much as they hoped, and that I get to go back to a republic which is not Islamic and has an unemployment rate in the single digits. I see the Turkish restaurant in Konrad Seusenhofer’s house between the movie theatre and the Hotel Mondschein, and scholars from California or Estonia coming to dig through our library or drink the heretical brew of the Innsbruck school of ancient history (and maybe a craft beer or two). I see a world that is not perfect, but has the mix of joy and sorrow that the old stories teach us to expect.

Quite a few people are not in such a fortunate position at the end of this year, and I don’t have much to say to console them. But that is another thing: for all of their flaws, the changes in the media have cracked the walls built up to make sure that only some people got to speak. If you want to hear what First Nations activists in Canada have to say about treaty negotiations, or see what sex workers in Bangkok or Berlin feel about the legal regimes under which they work, or learn about troubles in Syria or Mexico from people who actually live there and speak the local language, they are a click of a mouse away. Reaching out like that is hard and frightening, and many people are doing everything they can to shut out the voices of people who are not like them. But its not any harder than listening to the prosperous and protected playing the pipes of madness in opinion sections and comment threads. And words have power, even if they are never enough on their own.

Thanks to those who have stuck with me for three years, and to readers who just found this blog. I try to make this blog a place which is calm and healthy even if I don’t know how to fix the wider culture. Sometimes that means shelving posts so I can focus on promoting things that deserve praise, not criticizing things which already get too much attention. I also try to make some of the treasures of Innsbruck available to people who live away from universities and big libraries or don’t have the luxury of being able to devote themselves to study. I hope that in 2017, more people show self-restraint before they send in that essay or reblog that tumblr post, and admit that the verb “to mean” requires two objects (“to mean something to someone“).

Further Reading: Jessamyn West, “Bad Comments are a System Failure” https://medium.com/message/bad-comments-are-a-system-failure-932e6961bbc2, Sandra R. Taylor, “Pain In Its First Moment” http://www.onecobble.com/2016/11/11/pain-in-its-first-moment/, Maciej Cegłowski, “Fan is a Tool-Using Animal” http://idlewords.com/talks/fan_is_a_tool_using_animal.htm {thanks Alexiares}