Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wherefore art thou, Blogiverse?

Thanks to my old mates at ALD, comes this reflection on the blogiverse and its place in the life of Alan Jacobs.

Now I confess to some sympathy for Neo-neocon and the recent affliction she had, from one particular troll, and there is a passage in Jacob's piece that reflects on this...
And then there are the "trolls": people who comment specifically in order to get a rise out of other commenters—people who have never transcended the discovery that being extremely annoying is one of the most reliable ways of getting attention. Most of us, by third grade or so, come to understand that hostile attention is probably worse than no attention at all, but trolls never learn to make such subtle discriminations. Thus no law of the blogosphere is more important—though also more widely ignored—than "Don't feed the trolls."

All in all, a blog is no place for the misanthropically inclined. Charlie Brown used to say, "I love mankind; it's people I can't stand," and I have discovered that in the blogosphere, people—in Mr. Brown's subtle sense of the word—are pretty much inescapable. Many's the time I have found myself hunched over my keyboard, my hands frozen above it, trying to decide which of two replies to make: the one assuming that my interlocutor is morally compromised, or the one assuming that he is invincibly ignorant.

No place for the misanthrope? Hmm...

Earlier, Jacobs has this -
...human nature is at work too. I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.

Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage. Also—and this is a problem especially on the political blogs—commenters can find themselves confronted with very different beliefs than the ones they encounter in everyday life, where they often are able to select their own society. A right-winger wandering into a comment thread on is likely to get a serious douse of vitriol for his or her trouble; ditto a liberal who plunges into the icy waters of No Left Turns. And the anonymous habitués of a given site are unlikely to show much courtesy to the uninvited guest. (This is one reason why sites like the two just mentioned get more rhetorically, and substantively, extreme over time: everyone is pulling in one direction, and scarcely anyone shows up to exert counter-pressure.)

How many times have we seen that?

Jacobs concludes in this vein...
As I think about these architectural deficiencies, and the deficiencies of my own character, I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as "that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation." For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, "could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure." Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

On a smaller scale, the same problems afflict the intellectual and moral environments of the blogs. There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant, the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly, and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog (and its associated technologies like rss), with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished, institution of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.


The thought has been picked up by Jack Grant, quite independantly...
With ideology rather than reason determining the predominant view, how can we ever hope to chart the most beneficial path for our nation?

At one time, for an all too brief period between the US Civil War and the 1980s, there was a genuine effort to examine data on a scientific, non-ideological basis, but since the Reagan era, everything, and I mean everything, has become politicized, from the potential benefits of a vaccine that prevents cerivical cancer that according to anti-sex extremists would supposedly promote promiscuity, to the obvious (to anyone who truly examines the data with a non-ideological view) effects of global warming, to the intelligence that warns us of the actions of potentially hostile governments...

I say, "Hear, Hear" Jack. Great post.

It is Matariki in NZ; the "Maori New Year". The rising of Matariki - the Pleiades. The time of coming renewal and fruitfulness; the time to prepare; the time before planting...

I am feasting tonight. That is one of the traditions.

I am also preparing the ground.

I will keep an open mind.

I will strive against unthinking acquiescence and compliant acceptance of the partial truth and total untruth.

I will consider with reason and logic, rather than arrogance and emotion

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