Obituary for Catallaxy

On a chance visit to Catallaxyfiles.com the other day, I found an announcement that the site was closing. It’s now apparently inaccessible, but there’s an archive at the National Library.

As the era of blogging draws to end, this departure is worth noting

Catallaxyfiles was started by Jason Soon in the earliest days of Australian blogging. Jason was soon joined by Andrew Norton, who still has a blog of his own It was one of the first sites I linked to i I started this blog in 2002. Jason and Andrew were and thoughtful people, inclined to the classical liberal version of libertarianism, but not dogmatic about it. We had lots of interesting discussions – here are the results of a search “https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=johnquiggin.com+jason+soon

Catallaxy declined rapidly after Jason and Andrew left, but until about 2012 I still engaged with them. But after one such exchange got out of control, we agreed to leave each other alone.  Occasional subsequent visits have confirmed me in the view that this was the right thing to do.

Catallaxy was an early example of the decline of libertarianism into what we can now call Trumpism.  By the end, the comments threads and quite a few of the posts were a toxic mix of racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories comparable to Sky After Dark or even Alex Jones

Catallaxy outlived its usefulness by quite a few years. But it was once a valuable contributor to Australia’s intellectual life, as was the early flowering of blogs in general. One day, perhaps, that will return.

34 thoughts on “Obituary for Catallaxy

  1. The decline and demise of group political blogs has been a sad process. Catallaxy long outlived Larvatus Prodeo, which is the only Australian leftist one I can think of, but which also fell away in quality.

    Nothing seems to be replacing them. That is a shame.

  2. It was quite bizarre how the virus of Trump infected that blog. Steve Kates in particular became a caricature of a caricature.

  3. What irony and temerity that they singled out Graeme Bird for banning, considering who else and what else they allowed a free rein to scribble, and be scribbled, on their digital toilet wall.

  4. Club Troppo is the only survivor from 2000s group blogging, though mostly a group of two these days with a few guest posts.

  5. I would say the emergence of online political magazines (even when volunteer-run) that we’ve seen in the US or the UK hasn’t really happened here so we go back to that period of early blogging as a valuable contribution.

  6. The decline of political blogs – group or otherwise – is a bit of a shame. I used to find them quite useful. I guess they just swamped by Facebook & Twitter when it came to reach, each of use & cross-connectedness (while also tending to echo chambers).

  7. I remember temperamental Jason and dour Andrew. But what a loss they became. Steve Kates and Currency Lad turned it into a ratbag pro-Trump anti-vax site. I used to contribute but exited a decade ago.

  8. In my memory, Currency Lad was initially non-crazy, and Kates was notable mainly for his advocacy of Say’s Law. But they turned into (or maybe revealed themselves as) absolute loons in the end.

  9. Back when Labor was in power federally I commented on Catallaxy regularly .I was always polite and respectful and was abused relentlessly .They eventually banned me without warning or explanation , I got banned from Andrew Bolts blog the in same way .Thats free speech for you I suppose .At that time the comments threads were overwhelmingly nasty and proudly vitriolic. Amongst other things they joked about boat refugees kids being eaten by sharks and thought it would be a good idea if someone assassinated Julia Gillard. Anyone who runs a blog like that is just a stain on humanity.

  10. I’m not sure if my commenting here is working; I tried to yesterday.
    Catallaxy showed that next to no moderation (because “free speech!”) just ruins social media forums, as they are taken over by the obnoxious and belligerent. I have been saying for years that I could not understand why Sinclair would want his own reputation tarnished by being the person who could delete rank sexism, homophobic and racist content – or at the very least, call for it to stop – but would not.
    It also shows the spread of the American epistemic breach (as David Roberts calls it) to Australia – whereby the Right wing mediaverse has created its own alternative fact reality, making its followers not just impossible to argue with, given their intensely arrogant certainty that they are the ones who can see through to the truth.

  11. This obituary is a bit late, it died a long time ago and under Davidson’s tutelage served as a place of decomposition – a meeting ground for the undead.

  12. Catallaxy and Trump did act as barometers when they were not acting as lightning rods. What was and is terrifying is the number of people revealed as crazy people, nasty people and/or people seemingly incapable of any logical or even kind thoughts. Intensity of emotions (usually nasty ones) and of belief are seen by such people as the only barometer of truth. They appear to have no other facilities for judgement.

    I guess I would call them lumpenconservatarians. “Lumpen” taken to mean a ragged “knave” as in a rogue, cheat, villain, rascal, scoundrel, and swindler: all words applicable their Lumpenconservatarian in Chief, Donald Trump.

    Lumpen also connotes to me “chaotic and formless” as in a lumpy, meaningless mass.

    The deliberate dumbing-down of the population by neoliberalism and the neoliberals own embrace of wilful ignorance swelled the numbers of the Lumpenconservatarians. A society dedicated to knowledge, education and equality would not produce half so many lumpen loonies.

  13. “….or even kind thoughts.”
    Yes, I was continually astounded that so many people in threads were either not realising, or not caring, that they were continuously advertising themselves to the world as nasty (or at least, unpleasant) jerks.
    monty, I have no idea why you want to still keep their company. Some sort of Stockholm syndrome?

  14. the thing about it, was that it was a place where i could suss out what was being said by people who would never see me if i saw them first.

    i was deleted once but i’ve been deleted here also.(more than once)
    so it goes.

  15. the comment was my one and only on that site—something about bitcoin.

    gone,gone,gone
    don’t know if i’m happy
    don’t know if i’m sad.
    gone,gone,gone
    don’t know if i’ll cry
    don’t know if i’ll die
    laughing.

  16. I don’t even know myself Steve. Just that, like Prof Q, I think it would be a shame if there were no group Australian poliblogs any more, and if I’m the only one who can keep the flame alive, I guess I’ll have a lash.

  17. it is kind of sad. I think we’re losing the ability as a society to contest ideas. I really thought that blogs were going to help bring us all together…. bit unfortunately no…. they just tribalise us. I’m an occasional visitor to this site because I respect John and value his views even if I disagree with most of them (I’m a libertarian and think nuclear power is great!).

    in this modern world – how are we going to debate ideas and reach common ground?

  18. A tadge unfair, JQ. I gave up on Catallaxy a long time before you did, but not because of some alleged lurch to the loony right.

    I can’t say I paid much attention to it after, but under Sinclair Davidson I would characterise the tone simply as conservative, particularly on cultural issues, which was less the case than under the more liberal Jason Soon.

    However, this association with “Trumpism”, with racism, misogyny yada yada smacks of tribalistic Trump Derangement Syndrome. I don’t think the crowd at Catallaxy were in any way extremist. Right wing, certainly, and increasingly a rudely intolerant echo-chamber, but not Far Right.

    It’s this kind of lazy labelling and, again, bloody-minded tribalism, seen on both left and right wings of politics – Larvatus Prodeo was also prey to the same intolerant tribalism, for example, but just from the left wing – that has made any kind of pluralistic political discourse so difficult online. If you insist on labelling the other side as horrid -ists, don’t be surprised when they treat you with the same hostility.

    Catallaxy made a great contribution to online political discourse and I’m genuinely sad that it’s folded.

  19. @Fyodor Here’s Steve Kates denouncing the Murdoch press (!) as anti-Trump, on the strength of a couple of critical columns amid the generally slavish support. The comments, as always are worse. https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20201018225615/https://catallaxyfiles.com/2020/10/17/proving-by-the-absence-of-a-contrary-argument-why-donald-trump-should-be-re-elected/ I can’t be bothered digging out the routine examples of birtherism, “Stop the Steal” etc, along with misogyny and sexism. Possibly you left before it got as bad as this.

  20. To appropriate Carl Sagan’s words, Catallaxy in its latter days was “a celebration of ignorance” frequented by people “unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true”.

  21. Sinclair Davidson’s simplistic political tastes have determined his tastes in economics. He was a key factor in the degeneration of Catallaxy. I wonder if, at the end, he looked at the monster he had help create and gulped. I am unsure he has that capacity for self-reflection, but this is a more plausible explanation that the ones he offered for closing it down.

    The bigoted nonsense spread by Catallaxy is a lesson in how things can go wrong when the ignorant lead the just plain ugly.

  22. I’m wondering if Davidson had in his blog, like JQ, insisted on no personal attacks and no foul language, that his blog might have had higher quality discussions.

  23. @JQ. Steve Kates criticised a couple of Oz journalists for writing shallow “Orange Man Bad” articles? That’s it? I also read the comments and found nothing egregious – certainly nothing more horrible than Catallaxy of the late aughts, which was frequently a free-fire zone of invective. I’m not pushing you to substantiate your opinion – you’re entitled to your perspective and you don’t have to prove anything to me – but that’s weak sauce.

  24. @Fyodor, on more than one occasion, Kates pushed the theory that ‘Dreams from My Father’ was ghost written by Bill Ayers. He also signed up fully to the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. As JQ says, there’s too many examples of his lunacy to be bothered looking for receipts. But you can find them easily enough if you want to look.

  25. Don’t forget some very good political economy sites;

    CasP – Capital as Power – Brilliant monographs and papers. Some blogging possible

    RWER Blog – Real World Economic Review. (Blog and links to papers and PAECON Real World Economic Review (Papers) – Blogging available.

    Professor Richard D. Wolff. (Might be some blogging, not sure, doubt it.)

    MMT Bilbo – Prof. Bill Mitchell. (Blog – Blogging available.)

    Monthly Review – Brilliant papers, no blog that I know of.

    Note: There is another conservative American Bill Mitchell. Avoid him and any sites. He is this guy:
    “Trump supporter Bill Mitchell, with over half a million followers, permanently booted from Twitter for ‘opposing masks’” – RT.

  26. @Rob. So, if I’m reading you correctly, your beef is that Kates: 1) accused a politician of using a ghostwriter; and 2) disputed a presidential election result.

    Gasp. *clutches pearls*

    From your and JQ’s examples I have discovered that Steve Kates is guilty of tedious tribalism. Oh, the humanity. Won’t someone think of the children.

  27. Once again, Ikonoclast puts the twenty years into perspective: the dumbing down of Australian media and education and critical thinking.
    A nation walking near a cliff blindfold only gets what it deserves- make no bones, much of the country IS complicit with the Murdoch Clive Palmer IPA perversion, even if some of it comes of an information vacuum…lazy, selfish people.
    Those of us not yet brain dead, put on a parachute, for where the rest are dragging us..

  28. Re Catallaxy,

    Already too much has been said about too little. An obituary is generous for something that could be easily dispatched by a lazy flick with a damp tea towel.

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