Thursday, June 21, 2007

The value of reading other blogs

NOW WITH MORE UPDATES! (Unless you've already seen them, in which case, there are no more updates, and I've disappointed you yet again....)

On a positive (?) note, Phila observes:

In an uncharacteristically lucid moment, Deleuze and Guattari observed that "it is precisely its impotence that makes power so dangerous." It's not just that we can't defeat this sort of enemy with technology; the larger problem is that our reliance on technology is itself a vulnerability.
Does this remind anyone else of anything?

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living ina a "new world order" and a "new economy" that would "grow" on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be "unprecedented."

VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to "grow" and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superceded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.

VII. We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.*

VIII. Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to "rogue nations," dissident or fanatical groups and individuals--whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homeland and our lives.
We still haven't learned these lessons of 9/11. We still accept all those beliefs. That was Wendell Berry, in 2001. From In the Presence of Fear, Three Essays for a Changed World, The Orion Society, Great Barrington, MA, 2001, pp. 1-3.

Change comes slowly indeed.

(*Ironic, no? I had no idea those words were in this essay until I looked it up after reading Phila's post.)

UPDATE: You'd think after years of preaching and having people hear what you didn't think you'd said, I'd have anticipated this reaction.

Yeah, you'd think. I'm beginning to feel like Wendell Berry after he published an essay in Harper's a few decades back about how he wrote everything on a manual typewriter so he wouldn't be using coal-powered electricity to produce his stories, essays, and poems. He got roundly slammed as a Luddite for that.

First, "blogging as therapy" is not really under challenge here. People who find friendships on blogs are welcome to them. My observations are not meant as personal critiques of how you spend your time or where you find your pleasures. (That's actually a separate issue, one that goes to identities and boundaries. You'd also think I'd recognize that people don't like having their source of identity messed with, and blogging clearly provides that for some people.) In fact, that's why I said, earlier:

I go to Eschaton because "expression is the need of my soul," and I find it far too easy to eat the peanuts of commentary (it's hardly ever a conversation) on the open bar there. Problem is, I can never eat just one...handful. I used to harangue my friends in long letters. Now I harangue anonymous strangers and stand on a soap box and sound my barbaric but well-educated and overly modulated and all too civilized "yawp" out to the rooftops. Over which it barely carries, it being so polite and tamed and all.
And why I said my point was critique, not criticism.

But true to form, it's being taken as criticism. Which, to me, is another failure of blogging, frankly. We've created a culture where, as we used to say in the "Politics" section of Table Talk at Salon, you don't stop at the red lights. There is a great difficulty at nuance in left blogistan which has bothered me for sometime. Pat Greene mentioned, in comments below, that:

Eschaton I read only as a marker for emerging stories; I admire your fortitude in wading into the comment section. I find it to be far too rough, with too low a signal-to-noise ration, for my taste.
and that:

some of the commenters at Eschaton strike me as being fairly divorced from reality.
I don't think that's entirely accidental, or entirely the result of who comments there. It's become a feature, not a bug. Commentary on most blogs is interpreted through a particular lens: snark and snideness and sharpness of commentary (that which draws blood, i.e.) are de rigeur and in fact highly prized. The other model is maudlinly personal. And I know already this is going to draw more howls of protest because I'm stepping on more toes, but: so be it. (In fact, let me explain this is an observation, not a criticism.)

We read comments, in other words, with a particular expectation in mind. An opinion that doesn't seem to conform to the normative one of the comments is immediately derided as "trolling" or suspect as "name-stealing." Why? Because we have expectations of what you mean, and because tone and nuance are damned difficult to get into print and distribute to strangers. As I mentioned before, I used to write long letters to my friends. My friends (with rare exceptions I still remember) knew what I meant when I wrote something, because they knew who was talking. Much as I appreciate exchanging ideas with ProfWombat or Thers or Phila, I wouldn't know them if they rang my doorbell, and I'd feel damned awkward inviting them in for coffee. Now part of that is just me: I'm a much shyer person than I imagine any of you realize. But part of that is: I simply don't know them, and they don't know me.

Tena mentioned, in comments in a thread far below, a commenter at Eschaton who made comments she couldn't agree with on blogs, but who was a generous, caring spirit in person. We make a mistake assuming what someone types is who that person is. At worst it's a literary form of the "pathetic fallacy," and while I thought that had been expunged from literary and textual analysis a generation or so ago, I don't think we'll ever be shed of it. So, on blogs, especially since we are talking (essentially) to strangers, they have to bring a set of expectations (a lens, if you will) with them through which they read what I, or you, say. And the more we conform to those expectations, the more we are expected to conform, until all conversation becomes: well, just saying the same thing over and over and over again.

That's part of it, anyway. The other part, as I say, is me, or rather, my background. I assume a position, of "Original Sin." At least I seem to more clearly assume that than some in my audience do. Think of it as the old "Between the Idea and the Reality/Falls the Shadow" stuff that Eliot was on about. I'm sure blogs have been good therapy or sources of friendship for some people, and that's fine. I enjoy them too, otherwise I'd just walk away from this. But blogs cannot engage in self-criticism? Really? Cause that seems to be the response I'm getting.

The Berry quote, for example, I found both insightful and, in the light of 9/11 and the subsequent "shock and awe" campaign and the debacle in Iraq (and the story on NPR this morning about how much time it will take to move just 150,000 troops out of hostile territory (v. the half a million we pulled from the friendly territory of Kuwait in Gulf War I), I think his insight a sound one: we depend on technology for meaning ("O machine! O machine!"), and a "virtual" community is especially dependent on that technology. The technology may be a shining hope, but "Between the Idea and the Reality...."

So don't mention that elephant in the drawing room either?

Pointing out these things is not condemning them. People use tools of all kinds for good and ill. Religion has been a force for good and a force for disaster. When Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris point this out, I don't decry them as violators of my sacred beliefs. I understand such thoughts exist, and to some extent such critiques are valid (not their critiques, necessarily, but there are valid critiques to be offered). Pointing out (as I only meant to do) that blogs are not the be-all and end-all of human existence, nor the next revolution (sorry, but anyone who thinks so is going to be as disappointed as the hippies who thought they were going to end all war everywhere, or the revolutionaries who thought they were going to usher in the new utopia) is not condemnation of blogs, or of the people who find them valuable. But I will admit: some of you find value there that I don't. So it goes.

Maybe it's just a question of the nature of salvation, after all. Which would be ironic, no?

Anyway, I stand by Berry: technology is not our salvation: human relationships to each other, and to the world, are. Blogs have established a new venue for human relationships, which I do not denigrate at all. Now, about our human relationships to this thing the Greeks called kosmos.....


But when I question whether blogs are the cresting wave of the Information Revolution, I get hammered in my comments for stomping all over the value of blogs as Communities-of-Wonderful-Like-minded-People-Who-Are-All-Friends-So-There! Yet when Alicublog posts this:

Admittedly, not every blogger who goes mwah-ha-ha over what he or she imagines to be the corpse of the "MSM" is the online equivalent of the Simpsons' Cat Lady. But if we are tempted to believe that blogs represent some kind of massive paradigm shift that changes everything forever -- that is, if we forget how foolish that sort of triumphalist blather almost always turns out to be -- we should remind ourselves: Just because someone is using relatively new technology does not necessarily mean that he or she is the wave of the future. The screaming fellow with the Bluetooth earpiece may not in fact be connected; he may in fact be screaming to himself, only using technology to conceal his madness from the world.
It winds up on the front page of Eschaton.

I'll retire to Bedlam....

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