Eban Olivier Responds to My Blog Post

As some may know, I wrote a fairly extensive criticism of Mr Eban Olivier, regarding his reaction to Diane Coetzer. Mr Oliver has sent me an email in reply. It was not calling for my death, but actually attempted what I’d hoped for from Mr Olivier. With his permission, I reprint his email in full [and sic]. Continue reading


Bad Comments Round #3: Criticising The Arts – In Defence Of Diane Coetzer

Recently, Diane Coetzer wrote a negative review of The Parlotone’s concert Dragonflies and Astronauts. Due to her criticisms, Eban Oliver of Catalyst Entertainment responded with unnecessary vitriol on Facebook. The whole incident is painting him in an ugly light, proceeding before lawyers and the courts, and could be the first such case in which South Africa considers defamation in terms of social media. Here, I’m looking at how criticism (of the arts works) and why it’s necessary for artists themselves. Oh, and why we need to be adults about criticism, on both sides.

There appears to be a problem with criticism. As I’ve previously explained elsewhere, labeling things ‘opinions’ and ‘feelings’ are unhelpful when we are critiquing or arguing for or against something. What matters is not that what we offer is an opinion – that’s a neutral term and, besides, everybody has one. What matters is whether it’s a good opinion. By good, I mean well-argued, reasoned, ideally with evidence and so on. This, note, can be given by experts or lay people like myself. It’s just that we expect experts to be consistently providing good arguments (mainly in their field but sometimes outside, too). This is the basis for scientific explanation and understanding. Using good arguments, with evidence and so on, the best approximation of what’s true and what is nonsense. Continue reading

Andrew Cohen on Capital Punishment

Duane Buck

I’ve been considering capital punishment, due to the recent case of Duane Buck. Andrew Cohen has written an important essay in The Atlantic. Well-written, it also cuts through obvious partisan lines to state upfront various positions on state-sanctioned killing, as well as the inadequacies of each. However, importantly, Cohen responds to a practical and common response from many people, when they let their emotional reactions become entangled in policies. Continue reading

“What’s Your Opinion?”

How do we handle ‘opinions’? Everyone seems to have them. Indeed, even here I’m giving my opinion about opinions. It’s a never-ending battle of everyone having an opinion and those who complain about everyone having an opinion, often not realising that they’re doing the very thing the are complaining about. Anyway, perhaps a way to do it is just to get back to what we want to see inherently in all good arguments and viewpoints: soundness, quality, consistency, evidence and so on. But of course this has other implications.

Everyone’s got an opinion. But what should concern us is whether these opinions are worthwhile or not. When news channels obtain soundbites from random pedestrians, it’s perhaps meant to convey a sense of fairness or engagement: “Look,” says the media, “we care what you think.” As Charlie Brooker, for example, has pointed out, the media (a horribly broad term, I realise) is now often dictated by the public, driven by demand and is now no different to any other type of product in the world, driven by consumer demand. The difficulty though is trying to figure out what isn’t driven by those who will pay for it.

Continue reading