Passing Up the Spade

I’ve suggested before that Paul “The Thinker” Richards has a complicated relationship to truth.

Here’s another piece of confirming evidence.

In a response to a comment on his blog posted earlier this afternoon, Paul “The Thinker” Richards writes: “Well, I would not be so immodest to call myself ‘the thinker’ – that’s the name of the blog…”

So, if there was any doubt, this would seem to settle things: Paul Richards is the person; The Thinker is the name of the blog, just as — to draw a handy parallel — the Virtual Stoa is the name of the blog you’re currently reading, whereas my real name is Chris Brooke, and that’s the name that appears under each post. Simple. Open and shut case. Not a problem.

Except for the details…

First, there’s the trivial fact that he sometimes refers (e.g., here and here) to two other people he calls Mrs Thinker and The Thinker Jr, and I’m guessing that those are references to his spouse and offspring, placing in slight tension the earlier claim that “The Thinker” referred only to the blog, and suggesting that it might refer more generally to Paul “The Thinker” Richards’ online persona more generally.

Second, more interestingly, and to confirm this last suspicion, we might notice how both in the early days of his new blogsite and when commenting on other people’s blogs, Paul “The Thinker” Richards did in fact habitually sign his comments, “The Thinker”, thoroughly collapsing this neat distinction between the person and the blog. (For examples, look at the comments boards here, here and here, or from a typical intervention at Harry’s Place, look here.)

So it does seem as if once upon a time he was “immodest enough” to call himself “The Thinker”, because it was very much a person, and not a blog, who posted those various comments under that particular self-designation.

All of which raises the question of how Paul “The Thinker” Richards discovered the modesty that led him to dispose of his immodest soubriquet? Can we track the twists and turns of his sentimental education?

I think we can. For we can date the timing of this shift in nomenclature pretty precisely to around lunchtime on 10 November 2003. For in the morning, Paul “The Thinker” Richards was signing his comments “The Thinker”, but by the middle of the afternoon he had successfully navigated the shift to “Paul Richards”, and although there was a brief flirtation with the less formal “Paul” over the next few days — roughly 11-14 November by my estimation, though I can’t be bothered to check this with any accuracy — he has (as far as I can be bothered to find out) stuck with “Paul Richards” ever since.

What might have happened at lunchtime on 10 November to prompt this change of heart? Perhaps we will never know. But it might just be the case that it was Jon’s funny and withering post to the blog on the evening of 8 November (reproduced and discussed here) which prompted a little jolt of self-realisation, leading him — perhaps gradually, over an almost 48 hour period — to see quite how stupid his self-presentation as “The Thinker” really was, and further prompting him to beat a retreat from this absurd self-identification — leading ultimately to this codification of the separation between the Person and the Blog, a denial of which he now considers to be “immodest”.

At the Virtual Stoa he will of course continue to be Paul “The Thinker” Richards, now and evermore…

And — one final thought and then I’ll give up for the evening — one might think that Paul “The Thinker” Richards respects Thought, whether it comes from himself or from other people.

But his publication earlier today of the minutes of a recent Compass meeting reminded me of what Paul “The Thinker” Richards wrote about Compass, a worthwhile group that is embarking on an attempt to raise the level of intellectual exchange on the British centre-left, at the time of its launch last year. For when Compass published its founding statement of principles — a generally intelligent document — he attempted to dismiss the the initiative by noting that some of the signatories “haven’t been seen at a local Labour party meeting in years” and that “Right now, what Labour needs is do-ers, not talkers”.

Actions not Words! Deeds not Thoughts!

Forward with Paul “The Thinker” Richards!

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