A short commentary on comments to the mariculture article

February 9th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

The comments started rolling in Sunday after the StarAdvertiser hit the streets. Although there were a couple of online comments that seemed to agree with me (“State must save, not end, open-ocean fish farming”) a number of other comments were negative or incomprehensible.

In theory, I appreciate any comment on anything I write, and certainly all the comments on this article. Just spell my name right. But I do wonder why the paper still allows anonymous comments. This was a problem with the Advertiser and led to some pretty wild comments. Wouldn’t it be better for the paper to require commentators to use real names? That only seems fair, doesn’t it?

Some commentators suggested we should open up the mariculture issue for further debate. That’s a backward step, since the issue has already been debated years ago and it’s been state policy ever since. Re-debate assumes the debate isn’t over, and the guys who lost it last time can have another shot, and maybe another one after that. That way, either side can prevent the issue, or initiative, from ever coming to rest. That’s not good or predictable government, here or anywhere else.

This problem is exacerbated when government adopts a policy but doesn’t follow through on it. Although mariculture has been longstanding state policy, the state has done little to incentivize it and in fact has made raising capital more difficult in recent years. Development of the industry hasn’t been anywhere close to what it might have been had it had more enthusiastic state support.

The attack on mariculture is fueled by the fact that it’s still early in development and capital formation, and thus still vulnerable. Like all those 221 companies, it hasn’t yet had a chance to thrive. This vulnerability makes it easier to attack. When it becomes stronger, it will be more difficult to attack. That’s why progress is so threatening to those who want to bring it down.

Some people feel we can have the extravagance of closing down a food industry. Do that and you'll see what happens – we’ll pay a terrible price. We’ll pay higher prices for lower quality food from far away, and our money will go there, not here. There won't be jobs, there won't be food security and there won't be self-reliance or sustainability. We'll be strapped into a cargo cult dependency that will strangle us, from which we’ll have greater and greater difficulty escaping. And if you didn’t realize it, the people with modest incomes will suffer the most.

My sense from the online comments is that lots of people are in a long-term denial overlaying the past and the future, and would rather stand still and perseverate. I sincerely hope they will see the reality and where Hawaii really stands. I hope they will see that eternal argument works against us all. It is not the solution, but the problem. Hit and run commentators don’t make good policy. They only defocus our priorities and undermine any chance of collective will.

I’ve also found that when I write a column like this, the most thoughtful comments of all come not in the online but by email. I appreciate them all the more for writing to me directly, and I can tell you that after this article was published I got lots of email from people who roundly agreed with me. That very nearly made up for my disappointment with the online comments.

In fact, one reader liked the article so well he suggested that I email it to the entire legislature. I told him that as the author I was reluctant to do that, but he could do it if he wanted.

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One Response to “A short commentary on comments to the mariculture article”

  1. zzzzzz:

    There's good and bad about anonymous commentary.

    There are people who wouldn't participate in online discussions without the cover of anonymity, and many of those can make valuable contributions. In particular, those with some inside knowledge can provide valuable insight, but might not do that without anonymity.

    And shouldn't all inputs be judged on their merits, not on the person providing the input? Anonymity can prevent that sort of personal clouding of discussion.

    The main drawbacks I see to anonymous commentary is that, in many forums, they clutter the discussion and reduce the level of civility.