Report on Belingcat

We had a great discussion around We Are Bellingcat tonight.
Note: After a lovely book club and it being 20:58, I walk away from the screen, and there is still a sliver of light in the sky out there – there is light after the darkness, gentlemen ;-
We missed you, Declan, but otherwise had full attendance, with Joe sliding quietly in there during the first half.
The book on offer was We are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins (The founder of the ‘movement’).
The book, on the whole, was well received, and all seemed to enjoy it in varying degrees, but it certainly was not contentious. Nonetheless, it did spark some thoughtful exchange, and I hope I can capture at least some of that.
I think everyone agreed it was a good read. 
It was generally noted to be a level, largely unbiased read. If not profoundly literary, it revealed aspects of the author’s character and, for some, even read like a thriller at times. Although some found the forensic detail repetitious at times or possibly a cherrypicking of the more spectacular, it captured the essence of what is Bellingcat. Moreover, it clearly demonstrated how a growing group of unlikely ‘citizen scientists cum activists’ found common cause in an organisation dedicated to exposing the evidence behind current events that traditional intelligence agencies could not seem to rival.
I was struck by the fact that BC found it a call to get involved – which I don’t think is necessarily unintentional on the author’s part. Moreover, it seems that this criticality and questioning also gave JOD a sense of hope – that there are people out there who question and passionately seek to use their talents, skills, and the internet’s affordances for good. Nonetheless, I think there was a useful contribution from Jim in this regard that questioned whether everything has an absolute good/bad – black/white dynamic (which he proposed and we all concur doesn’t exist), but that does seem to underly the functioning or ethos of Bellingcat. This begged the question of what happens next and where Bellingcat goes in the future – and, on a dark and less hopeful note, when does it become corrupted? Who controls it, and who seeks to control it? Who does it serve, and can it exist ‘without an agenda’?
The author’s enthusiasm was noted (BM), and this was something that was reflected in his writing style ‘clean, but nothing wonderful’ (RM). However, those listening through audible found this to be probably one of the most destructive choices in having the author read his own work – complaining of diction and dialect issues that made it near tortuous – if I catch the remarks’ temper. Of course, this only made me want to experience this – bravely willing to sacrifice the appreciation of the authenticity that I found in the voice of the author’s words ;-) There’s a lovely tangent for further exploration here as Fergal cited a description of the book as an ‘extended self-interview, and we possibly need to judge whether this may be good or bad in our own minds.
One of the interesting points raised was how we judge the book and separate the content from the delivery. I rated it based on delivery and then tacked on a grade because I felt it was an intriguing topic where BC felt that as a book club, we should judge a book on literary merit. This is an interesting point as it makes explicit the vast subjectivity of how we assign these magical metrics. ‘Tis definitely fodder for ongoing book club discussion.
The nature of the balance of detail in the novel is pure subjectivity – RM noted that this was clearly written for a layman and would have liked just a bit more. Fergal felt that the detail (and repetitive detailed aspects) detracted from the overall treatment for him. Tough to please all audiences. Jim suggested the author missed an opportunity to consider some broader ideas such as the nature of the impact and social dimensions of drawing all citizenry into carrying out justice and enforcing a moral law (if I caught the flavour of what you were suggesting J?)Clearly, the book offered something for everyone, whether in the content, the writing, the references to various tools or social media platforms that some know and others learned about. Mike was clearly warned to stay off 8Chan if he knows what’s good for him lest he be doxxed. MH just say no to 8Chan.
I, for one (maybe it’s ’cause I’m from away), was struck by this innate Irish hatred for Russian tourists. When you started pulling all these stories out of your hats – my God. I do have to wonder what the Russian tourists have done to you – but sure, the average Joe soap Russian is just fine. All in all, Belligcat was well received. I have to say I am glad that it did manage to raise some higher questions and observations about how a community is switched on (see didn’t go the woke route there) and takes action. Although, possibly to ends that might be debatable or might change over time and what form the evolving organisation takes. I think the emotional aspects of hope and the romantic aspects of truth came out in this. There seemed to be a sense that Bellingcat has risen to the times in which we find ourselves, but that the nature of socio-economic-politico organisation might challenge the confluence of what makes Bellingcat what it is and how much more it is than Eliot Higgins.
Anyway. I do hope that I caught some of the conversations. I enjoyed and apologise for any misrepresentation of missing contributions.
Thanks for all the thoughts gentlemen ( I sense you enjoyed it) and I escaped the dreaded round – I think you are up to 5 there now BC – it seems to grow every month ;-)
So the scored on the board and for the record are:
DK – 7 SD – 7.5 BM – 7.5 BC – 6.5 RM – 8 FOS – 6.5 MH – 7.5 JW – 6.5 JOD – 7.0
For an average of 7.11
We had three recommendations for next months read: MH:  A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke JOD: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell and SD: The Man Who Dies by Antti Toumainen

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