29 April 2014

Some more on blogging

My recent post Catacombs of the blogosphere has attracted a fair amount of attention, including one of the meatier comment threads I've had in a while.  Most recently, Frank Moraes wrote a response which prompted a few thoughts -- I started doing a comment there and realized what I was saying was really too long for that format, so here it is.

What struck me first of all was this:

Blogs are, by their nature, ephemeral. And in a fundamental way, I think that political blogs are unhealthy. They force us to consume a lot of politics and then they attract (in my case) conservatives who, nine out of ten times, add nothing to the conversation. They spout talking points that I have usually addressed many times before. It's exhausting.

I would agree with much of this where political blogs are concerned.  A blogger can indeed be forced to "consume a lot of politics" if he feels he has to say something about every big political story that comes along.  I think that approach is a mistake because it's trying to imitate the role of a news site like TPM or Crooks and Liars, something a blog can never do.  There are many news stories I never mention because I have nothing of any special value to say about them; if I do post about a news story, it's because I have some observation about it which I haven't seen others make, or because it involves some field like the Middle East, or certain forms of technology, where I have background knowledge that others might find of interest.  If I can't add anything to what regular news sites are already saying, why bother?

There's also a risk of monotony when too many posts are of the form "here's the latest dumb thing said by a right-winger" (granted, they do give us a lot of material!) or, worse, of sameness.  During the struggle to pass Obamacare, there were days when it seemed like every political blog had the same video embedded and was saying pretty much the same things about it.

The problem of right-wing trolling of comment threads is one I've addressed before, and there are grounds for thinking that dragging bloggers into those exhausting arguments is actually their main purpose.  It's why I use moderation, and occasionally remind certain people that a blog is not the same thing as a debating forum.

I would disagree that blogs are ephemeral, though.  As I said in the earlier post, when a blog stops being updated but is not deleted, it becomes "a frozen monument which may endure as long as the internet itself does."  That could be quite a while, since the internet (or some vastly more advanced elaboration of it) will probably exist as long as the human race does.  That blog you abandoned last year might last longer than the pyramids.

In any case, not all blogs are political, and not many are entirely political.  I've emphasized that my own blog isn't a political blog; it's a blog about anything I happen to thing is worth writing about, and politics is one of many subjects which comes up.  This is the value of the "idiosyncratic" quality I mentioned.  If I can get even one person thinking about something outside their normal range of reading, I feel like I've accomplished something.

And as Frank says:

A better question than "Why have they stopped?" is "Why did they take it seriously for so long?" And I think the answer to this is extremely positive. It shows self-actualization; it shows commitment; it shows passion. Bloggers really are the best of what we are.

For some people, their passion is politics.  (Not me -- to me, politics is an obnoxious but necessary activity of self-defense against malignant forces which threaten our society and me personally, though in that way it's very important.)  But whether it's politics or whatever else, the best blogs are the most individual.  "We spin our webs as a reflection of who we are."  It's a way of asserting one's individuality and one's very existence.

It can seem futile sometimes, but remember that in most cases when you make a difference, you won't be aware of it. Way back before blogs were thought of, I once received a letter from a person who told me that some of my writings had convinced him to abandon his belief in fascism. How many other people have I swayed somewhat or at least encouraged to start asking questions, that I know nothing about? It's rare that a person changes a strongly-held view as a result of a single brilliant argument. More often it's an accumulation of many influences of various kinds. If you can provide a few of those influences for some number of people, then you made a difference, and your work was not futile.


Blogger Unknown said...

I absolutely was talking about political blogging. The other stuff (which is about 40% of what I write) does not fall into that. In fact, my writing about Don Quixote has turned me into something of an expert on the many and varied translations. So there is no doubt that the other writing is useful, at least to me.

My focus in terms of politics is mostly economics. Most news stories just go by me because I really don't care. And I totally agree with you about when to write about politics: when I have something to add. Or at least that's what I try to do. Sometimes I find myself simply grinding out articles.

But my focus on economics is very hard because I do think it is the worst area in politics for partisan insanity. When I first took economics 30 years ago (Yikes!) many things were standard--no one disagreed. But today, it isn't just the politicians who spout nonsense; it's many of the academics. I was appalled to see how prominent economists totally changed their tune on stimulus from the Bush to the Obama administration. And then, when they thought Romney might win, they softened their opinions. Not that I'm talking about anyone in particular, but Greg Mankiw in particular.

Regarding trolls, I did read your comment policy back a week or two ago. It was a revelation. I'm thinking about making some changes to my procedures. The way it is now, I allow anything from an actual human being. Sometimes I shut off comments if it gets too bad. I offended a lot of people when I attacked Moe Tucker. There are a lot of Velvet Underground fans out there!

What I meant about blogs being ephemeral was also specific to the political blogs. I still get an enormous amount of traffic on things I wrote years ago. But that isn't so true of the political stuff, even though I'm not focused on news of the day.

Also: I've been looking for a way to continue the blog after I'm gone. One thing I hate are dead links. Normally, I can find things on the internet archive, but still. Interestingly, some of the worst sites are not "little people" like us, but rather blogs attached to news organizations. That's the worst.

That last paragraph you wrote should be part of the bloggers' mission statement. It's inspiring. Really.

29 April, 2014 10:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Frank: I suspect the unmooring of economics from objective reality is part of the general conservative rejection of objectivity and of reliance on evidence. If evolution and anthropogenic global warming can be rejected despite overwhelming evidence, being instead judged purely by how they fit an ideology, why not economics as well?

Even aside from trolls -- who generate huge wastage of time on some blogs -- there are plenty of people out there who will lecture you on how you should run your own blog. I used to get berated about the comment moderation, for example, though that happens less now that more and more blogs find they have to use it. Hence the car bumper sticker analogy in the policy. One has to maintain one's sense of the imappropriateness of what such people are doing.

I firmly believe what I said in that last paragraph. I think we are all doing our part. A point you make in a blog post might stick in the mind of someone who reads it, who later uses that point in debating a right-winger, perhaps not even remembering where they got the idea. One thing I do know is that we won't accomplish anything by staying quiet.

30 April, 2014 06:43  

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