Saturday, December 25, 2004

Baha'i Email Lists

I promised earlier, to give reviews of various Baha'i forums -- and I started thinking "Why am I doing this?" I'm not sure anybody's looking at my blog, except friends who are already very familiar with these places, so it's probably a waste. I had the thought yesterday, that I spent my time on Baha'i forums to get over the shock I felt about what I found on the web about the Baha'i administration, and that maybe I need to talk about my experience in these groups to, in some way, "get over" my experience there. Not that it was all bad; quite the contrary, much of it was good. I started out very naive and idealistic, full of righteous anger, but willing to debate or talk to anyone, willing to make a friend out of anyone who was halfway sympathetic. And, I learned so much -- new texts, new ideas, new friends; it was like a whole new world opening up. But, I also got worn out from emotionally-draining battles, had major head-trips played on me, had friends viciously turn on me, made some mistakes that I really regret. Now, with 20/20 hindsight, it didn't have to be that way -- someone who picks one or two good lists can get the intellectual stimulation, without getting tangled up in the dark side of Baha'i cyberspace -- and by "dark side", I'm not talking about anyone's ideology, but the sort of game-playing I mention above. I threw myself into everything headlong, without using much caution, and I rapidly became well-known, which made me a target. Just to be reassuring, my experience is rather atypical. After all, as the previous post about Juan and the "shitstorm" shows, the blogosphere is not without its nasty fights, but the vast majority of us are unlikely to become visible enough for anybody to attack. In Baha'i cyberspace, I became a big fish in a little pond, and was rather unprepared, and probably ill-suited by temperament, for the role.

Another reason to talk about it is that Baha'is in the blogosphere might not have made their way to the forums yet, and in spite of the down side of my experience, I think Baha'is should make their voices heard in as many places as possible: forums, websites, blogs, what-have-you. Real voices, about the real Baha'i experience, both the positive and negative aspects. I firmly believe that this kind of honest and openness can only be good for the Faith in the long run.

There have been Baha'i email lists since the early '90s, but the ephemeral nature of cyberspace is such that most of the early ones aren't around anymore. Baha'i Discuss is an oldie, but one must be an enrolled member of the Baha'i Faith in order to subscribe -- like you have to give your i.d. number and everything. Of course, now there are hundreds of Baha'i lists, on places like Yahoo! Groups. As with everything else in cyberspace, as soon as easy-to-use software comes in, the numbers explode. When I was a raw newbie in late '99, I went looking for the famous Talisman list, and only finding an email address, I had no idea at all how to get on the thing. Nobody had ever told me how to subscribe by email, but very soon after the move to Onelist (later Egroups, then Yahoo! Groups) in December, I signed up. Another advantage to these websites is that archiving is automatic. There are large (and disputed) gaps in Talisman history, simply because those early lists didn't have archives, and gathering all those posts together is difficult. A lot of lists that still have subscriptions managed the old-fashioned way have archives done on Yahoo, or elsewhere. The old lists tended not to be moderated, something that changed as controversy and persistent flame wars became a problem.

I put Baha'i email lists in three basic categories: Academic, Intellectual, and Casual. These tend, now, to be further split along the lines of "liberal-managed" and "conservative-managed". Since I'm finding that this post is getting very long, I think I'll get into the discussion of specific lists next time.

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