I’ve been quickly re-skimming Doris Lessing’s African Laughter, her musings on a number of trips to Zimbabwe after 1980. In 1988, reflecting on a friend’s growing disillusionment with official corruption, Lessing writes, “To be in love with a country or a political regime is a tricky business. You get your heart broken even more surely than by being in love with a person. You may even lose your life. I knew a woman political activist in the old days–in this case, the 1950s. She spent her days and her nights working to undo the white regime in South Africa. Needing a rest, she went to visit Nigeria, to see her dream made flesh, found it was run by human beings, and committed suicide. Everyone who has been involved with idealistic, rhetorical, politics knows a thousand versions of this story, from all over the world”.
I’ll try to post on Zimbabwe itself soon, but this reflection by Lessing made me think about something entirely different. I’m going through one of my periodic bouts of disaffection with reading aggressively political or partisan blogging, but I don’t feel any comfort or shelter in studied moderation, either. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it, but it just doesn’t seem worth the time or the bother because there isn’t anything I recognize as a conversation going on a lot of the time in many political blogs, nor does there seem anything like a remotely adult sense of weary awareness about the messiness of the world as it is lived and experienced by most people.
Lessing helped me to recognize that one feeling I’m having is that I simply don’t trust people who are selling this kind of “idealistic, rhetorical, politics” and yet don’t confess to having experienced this kind of heartbreak. Or worse yet, tell themselves that if they can only find the right romantic partner, the next time everything will be perfect and there will be ponies and rainbows for everyone, that it was only this regime, these people, this leader, that disappointed. Or, from what I can see in a lot of American conservative writing, it was the damned political opposition or overseas enemies or corruptors of the youth or some such again that kept all the good magical things from happening which otherwise would inevitably have happened.
Most of the time, it seems to me that trying to write anything more reflective, more ambiguous, more exploratory in a blog is either going to bore an audience that’s come seeking their Two-Minute Hate or it’s just going to be willfully misconstrued by someone else who needs fresh meat for their own hounds to feed upon. Read the comments section at Inside Higher Education, for one example. There’s no point to trying to talk about nuance or complexity or what makes for a good research design or anything else in that kind of back-and-forth.
In most online conversations I’ve been involved with, you eventually come to a point where the people interested in an evolving, exploratory dialogue, in learning something new about themselves and others, in thinking aloud, in working through things, find themselves worn out by a kind of rhetorical infection inflicted by bad faith participants who are just there to affirm what they already know and attack everything that doesn’t conform to that knowledge. (Or by the classic “energy creatures” whose only objective is to satisfy their narcissism.) I used to think that was a function of the size of the room, that in a bigger discursive space, richer possibilities would present themselves. Now I don’t know. Maybe it’s a product of the form itself, maybe it’s a sign of our times, and maybe it’s my own unfair expectations or my own character that’s the problem. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the nastiest and truest thing that an online antagonist has ever said about me is that online I talk like I think I’m smarter than other people, entitled to scold them, but that somehow I expect them to like me for it. So here’s another of those kind of posts, and thus maybe nothing more than my own hang-ups and inadequacies with this whole blogging thing.