Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shorter Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs, "What Blogs Can and Can't Do"

  • Blogs are only suitable for lazy, shallow people who refuse to acknowledge the dizzying complexities of Life's Imponderables and who believe, risibly enough, that they can express something without devoting decades to focused hermetic study. I spit on blogs!

I think this misrepresents the nature and extent of the "blog architecture" and therefore drastically understates the scope of discourse blogs enable. Consider the case Jacobs cited, that starts with the observation that many blogs discuss book reviews like Jerry Coyne's recent one at The New Republic. Book reviews such as Coyne's distill a few high points a reviewer finds worth highlighting -- in this case, high points from two books. Those two books take on substantial questions about science and faith. They are but two small contributions to a discussion that has been ongoing for centuries in the form of more books, course cirricula, and so on. That discussion is but a subset of what might be called the Western Intellectual Tradition, which in turn is a significant subset of Human Discourse.

You either enter this enormous conversation and flow at its approximate speed or you don't. If you don't, your contributions will be limited to snarks about Jessica Simpson's body weight, bragging about your name appearing in your small-town newspaper, complaints about the variety of diet soft drinks, or the like. If you do, there is every chance you'll start by saying something on point but also idiotic, ill-informed, or repetitive. But if you're doing it right, you'll take notice and listen when someone responds, and if nothing else you'll get gradually better at picking out thoughtful from thoughtless contributions. Reading will beget further reading, and if you work at it, you might just learn something and express it. (It can happen to you!) Blogs can be a means to this -- just as entire books can be, just as entire philosophical schools can be. Pick your entry point.

It is a question of attention and critical thinking, not of word count, medium, or layout.

Obviously, some bloggers will be content to be brainless, shouting hacks. Many will be brainless carnival barkers even as they believe they are something more exalted -- a common condition that long predates the blogosphere. Which is to say some human beings will turn out to be brainless, shouting carnival barkers. At most, the blogosphere makes these people more visible than they used to be, but it also opens a space for people who actually want to move beyond carnival barking.

'Shorter' concept lovingly borrowed from Sadly, No!


Hank said...

If you are doing anything for Darwin Day again this year, let us know so we can get the word out. http://www.scientificblogging.com/darwin_day_2009

Dale said...

Hank, thanks for the reminder. I just posted an item for that and left a comment at your place.