Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Calgon, take me away!"

Fifth Sunday of Easter--

I wrote this a few days ago, then withheld posting it. This morning I came to check the news, but by habit went to Eschaton, where I find left blogistan in full war mode against another "enemy." It isn't just Atrios; follow the link to "Lawyers, Guns & Money," and you'll find a link back to Atrios in one of the comments, which in turn links to still other blog postings about Caitlin Flanagan (who?). Then read the blogrolls on any of those blogs, and they all link rather incestuously back to like-minded and similarly aroused (albeit, perhaps, on other subjects) blogs, and, well, it begins to seem that, indeed, left blogistan is all about creating community by selling a product and that product us: the "enemy."

Which is, according to sociologists, precisely how groups establish an identity. But it isn't much of an identity, to constantly declare how you are not like "them," and it isn't a healthy identity either, for the simple reason Nietzsche noted: "The man who fights dragons too long becomes a dragon himself."

Woke up this morning with that impertinent thought in my mind. I tend (I am a creature of habit, if not of addictions) to get up in the morning and "wake up" by turning the computer on and seeing what the news is/what the blogs are saying. This morning as I waited for the screen to rise I thought of that old ad, where the harried mother and housewife escapes all the pressures of middle-class existence (the struggle for survival! The labor in the fields! The battle with the elements! Okay, maybe not....) only with the purchase of yet another consumer product, one that does for her what all the other consumer products cannot, and I thought:

"Is that what I'm doing, and why I'm doing this? Computer, take me away?"

It's an old cliche that in a consumer society we can do nothing for ourselves, we can only do what we can purchase. The subtext of the Calgon ads was that we couldn't even find repose and rest, without buying one more product, one more thing to do it for us. We are actually quite systematized thinkers, in the sense that we all expect a system to take care of us: politics, society, the church, the schools, the policeman on the corner, capitalism. Someone will take care of us and all we need do is play our faithful part, press the bar and recieve our reward at the end of the maze.

Yes, I know, cliches abound.

But then it occurred to me: have we just brought that attitude over to blogistan? It isn't obvious at all, but aren't we all still consuming, buying, selling, what we are convinced we cannot provide on our own, by ourselves, as individuals? There is a tightrope here, a fine line, and a yawning abyss. We are social creatures, we need each other. But even blogs are essentially a one-way medium. The true communities of commentary are sharply defined, and the boundaries rigidly enforced. There is less an exchange of ideas than there is a transfer of agreements. But even that isn't the ultimate question. The ultimate question is: what do we expect from blogs? Power? Money? Control?

And how do we get that without selling a product, without promising to do for you, what you cannot do for yourself? And all without that "imponderable (and almost intolerable) bloom"?

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